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STUART, General Sir Charles.

Letter Book of correspondence with Admiral Duckworth during the retaking of Minorca, 1798-9.

Mahon: 1798-9 Stock Code: 120807
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"The greatest of all the British officers of the period"

It is rare indeed that British Military History throws up a general who seriously could be considered as an exemplar of Sun Tzu's Sage Commander. And it is perhaps not particularly surprising, in view of the generally sanguinary tendencies of the historians of the British Army, that his greatest feat "being bloodless, has been absolutely forgotten" (Fortescue, History of the British Army, IV p.619).

The possession of Minorca was one of the keys to British Mediterranean and world strategy, "It was the short-lived French conquest of Minorca in 1756 which marked for the British the real commencement of the Seven Years' War. Admiral Byng, who was made a scapegoat for the island's loss, would be tried and shot to encourage other British commanders never to forget the Mediterranean's absolute centrality to British imperial pretensions, sea-power, and trade." (Colley Captives p.70) Stuart's management of this amphibious expedition to re-secure the island for Britain was exemplary and is commended by both Clowes - "these excellently managed operations" (IV p.378) - and Fortescue - "one of the most striking examples of the powers of impudence in war" (IV, p.619). Stuart, the fourth son of the 3rd Earl of Bute served with distinction with the 26th Foot (Cameronians) in the war in America, the regiment seeing action in Canada, in the New York theatre, operations in New Jersey, attacks on Forts Clinton and Montgomery, fighting at Monmouth Court House, and in 1777 he was promoted lieutenant-colonel. "During his service in America he returned twice to England in 1778 On the second occasion he was commissioned to inform the ministry of the army's plans. He was deeply critical of the conduct of the war by the army command and by Lord George Germain, the secretary of state, and he left America for good at the end of 1779, convinced that the American theatre of war was one 'where there is no honour to be obtained' (Wortley, A Prime Minister and his Son, p.162). Despite his criticisms of the high command, he won the confidence of General George Clinton, who offered him the post of adjutant-general and continued to correspond with him until the end of the war" (ODNB).

For the next fifteen years he received little opportunity, his father having become persona non grata with the king. However after his father's death Stuart was given command of the army in Corsica, collaborating with Nelson in the ejection of the French from Calvi, their last remaining stronghold on the island, and subsequently in 1797 he was sent to Portugal to assist in repulsing the threat of an Franco-Spanish invasion, succeeding in "transforming his army, made up partly of foreign troops who lacked discipline and motivation, into a very effective force". The following year he was commissioned to wrest Minorca from the Spanish. The letter-book opens with Stuart's announcement that "By a precipitate March with the Advanced Guard I took possession of Marcadal yesterday Evening 8th November at six o'clock " and that "By my present Position I have taken possession of the strong Passes of the Island " Communication between the two principal enemy strongholds, Mahon and Ciudadella, is thereby cut off. He is in doubt however that he has the strength of force to take the whole island without a certain degree of deception, " an appearance of more Naval Force off Ciudadella will greatly facilitate my Movements. It will also be proper that the Naval Officers should spread the Idea that a considerable number of Soldiers are still about to embark there and at Fornelfi".

Throughout Stuart performed superbly, skilfully manipulating the expectations of the occupying forces with a series of feints and gestures carried out in concert with Duckworth's naval squadron. To refer back to the ancient wisdom of Sun Tzu, "One skilled at moving the enemy forms and the enemy must follow, offers and the enemy must take. Move them by this and await them with troops" (Cleary, The Art of War p.18). He drew up his troops in front of the entrenchments before Ciudadella " presenting the appearance of two powerful columns Overawed by their aspect, the Spaniards evacuated their entrenchments and retired within the walls of the town" (Fortescue, p.618). Under cover of darkness he created the illusion of a further column, and then "solemnly threw up two batteries within eight hundred yards of the town and as solemnly armed them with three light twelve-pounders and as many light howitzers Then, when day broke, he formed the main body of his troops with great parade before the enemies batteries connecting them cunningly so as to present an imposing line, partly, as he said, real and partly imaginary, four miles in length" (ibid.). This accomplished the surrender of "153 Officers, 3258 Serjeants, Drummers, & Rank and File; 56 Horses. Besides General Staff, viz. 16 Officers, including the Governor, Lieut. Governor, One Major General &c. &c. with their Families, consisting of 13 Ladies with their Children" (20 November 1798).

Following the capitulation of Ciudadella he ensured that the captured troops were swiftly " conveyed by us from hence to the Dominions of His Most Catholick Majesty as their Force is still considerably superior to mine I earnestly entreat that no time may be lost in having Transports round for their Embarkation lest discovering my Inferiority and knowing my entire want of Heavy Cannon and the necessary Stores to reduce the place they should be troublesome" (16 November). The island had been taken by an inferior force, without the loss of a single man and despite the Secretary at War's desire to now push on to the conquest of Carthagena, Stuart was only too aware of the precarious position of Britain's Mediterranean strategy and Minorca's place in it. Many of the letters recorded here reveal Stuart's earnest desire to keep in touch with and co-operate in wider developments. He had served alongside Nelson in Corsica, and maintained an excellent relationship with the admiral, who was to describe Stuart as an officer who 'by his abilities would make a bad army into a good one' (Dispatches and Letters, 3, p.226). Stuart clearly saw the need to work closely with Nelson in order to retrench where necessary or capitalise where opportunity presented. On 20 February he writes to Duckworth to " beg of you to enclose as soon as possible Lord Nelson's Letter to Lord St. Vincent as he mentions it to me in a Private Letter, and it may be of consequence respecting some help which I have it in contemplation to afford him". This would seem to relate to Stuart's eventual departure from Minorca with the 30th and 89th to assist in operations in Sicily.

Following the collapse of Naples, Stuart "realised that the value of Minorca was thereby greatly enhanced, and that Spain would spare no effort to recover it" (Fortescue p.621). As governor he therefore redoubled his efforts to retain it, radically reforming the administration, making changes described by Irénée Lameire, the French historian of the British occupation, as "the most important ever effected in a country which had not been ceded by treaty" (Les occupations militaires de l'île de Minorque..., p.703). Relations with the local population had in the past been strained, but Stuart did what he could to place them on a more open footing. For example on 9 February he requests that Duckworth releases " the Minorquins taken in the Spanish Frigate". He also introduced himself into the negotiations with the Dey of Algiers for the supply of the island. Duckworth's attempts to negotiate were "in defiance of the Existing Treaty" and would "injure His Majesty's Minorquin Subjects by preventing them from obtaining the Necessary Supplies at a price they are able to afford". And he refers the Admiral to the "System of Free Trade" that "was carried on through the British Government of Minorca in the Year 1781" (28 April).

On a more immediately practical level he instituted a system of defences which would " consist in opposing a landing wherever it may be, in the first instance, to prevent if possible the Enemy's Progress through the Country in the Second, & ultimately to defend to the last Extremity the Line constructed on the site of Old St. Philips the Fort at Fornells (renamed Fort George by Stuart "in honor of His Majesty"), and the Octagon Tower at the mouth of the Harbour at Ciudadella " (14 April) Fortescue remarks that "British troops in those days, did not love work with the spade, but for Stuart they would do anything" (p.622). Certainly with this combination of a "hearts and minds" campaign, careful logistical organisation, and calculated defensive dispositions he had succeeded in making any assault on Minorca highly unappealing to the Spanish. As a result Stuart was able to go to the assistance of Nelson and Sir William Hamilton at Palermo and make a similar impact in terms of arrangements for the defence of Sicily. "he left Colonel Thomas Graham (later Lord Lynedoch) in command at Messina, and returned to Minorca. From thence, with health utterly broken down, he set out for England He had done more in six weeks to shape a good military policy for England than the whole of Pitt's Cabinet in six years" (ibid. p.625).

Stuart was subsequently offered command of an army in the Mediterranean to operate in concert with the Austrians, but he fell out with the Duke of York over the size and composition of the force and resigned. A flare-up that was a clear manifestation of the flaw in the character of this highly talented man, as the Duke of York aptly described it, his "impatience of controul". He died shortly after this intemperate huff and was buried at Westminster Abbey. An abrupt and unseemly end to the career of "a brilliant and courageous soldier... who Fortescue described as a man of rare talent both as administrator and commander, 'the greatest of all the British officers of the period'".

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Quarto (320 x 192 mm). Contemporary reversed calf ledger-book, dog-tooth rolled panel in blind to the boards, marbled endpapers, red edgestain; paper watermarked with Britannia within a cartouche surmounted by a crown, dated 1796 within the band, above crowned "GR" containing 46 pages of neat, highly legible manuscript, the rest blank.


Rubbed and with some stripping, joints cracked to the cords but holding, spine chipped and lifting towards the tail, contents lightly browned, but overall very good.


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