Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cotton, Willoughby

COTTON, Sir WILLOUGHBY (1783–1860), general, colonel 32nd light infantry, only son of Admiral Rowland Cotton, a cousin of the first Viscount Combermere, by his wife, daughter of Sir Willoughby Aston, bart., was born in 1783, educated at Rugby School, where he was the leader of a rebellion in November 1797, when the boys burned the head-master's desk and books in the close. On 31 Oct. 1798 he was appointed an ensign in the 3rd foot guards, in which he became lieutenant and captain 25 Nov. 1799. He served with his regiment in Hanover in 1805, and as deputy assistant adjutant-general of the reserve, commanded by Sir Arthur Wellesley, in the Copenhagen expedition of 1807, when he was present in the action at Kioge, and was attached in the same capacity to the light division of the Peninsular army under General Crauford in the retreat to Torres Vedras and in the operations on the Coa. Upon his promotion to the rank of captain and lieutenant-colonel, 12 June 1811, he returned home, but rejoined the first battalion of his regiment in 1813, and was present at the battle of Vittoria, commanded the light companies at the passage of the Adour, and the pickets of the second brigade of guards in the repulse of the French sortie from Bayonne. He received the Peninsular medal, with clasps for Busaco, Vittoria, and the Nive. On 17 May 1821 Cotton, then senior captain and lieutenant-colonel 3rd foot guards, and one of the dandies of the brigade, obtained a lieutenant-colonelcy in the 47th foot in India, and on 25 July the same year became brevet-colonel. The 47th followed Sir Archibald Campbell's expedition to Rangoon at the end of 1824, and at the head of a brigade of the army, with the local rank of brigadier-general. Cotton bore a prominent part in the Burmese campaigns of 1825-6, in an unsuccessful attack, made in accordance with orders, on Donabew, at Simbike, and elsewhere, up to the ratification of peace in February 1826, when the British force was within four miles of Ummerapoora. In Burmah Cotton made the acquaintance of the future General Havelock, who became his aide-de-camp, and who in after years dedicated to Cotton his 'Narrative of the War in Afghanistan in 1838–9,' in 'grateful remembrance of his numerous acts of kindness since 1825, when Captain Havelock first served in the same army with him.' In 1828 Cotton exchanged to the 14th foot in Bengal, and was promoted to the rank of major-general 22 July 1830. The same year he was made K.C.H. From 1829 to 1834 he commanded the troops in Jamaica, during which period the island was under martial law from December 1831 to February 1832. In 1838 Cotton, then on the Bengal staff, was appointed to command the Bengal division of the army of the Indus commanded by Sir Henry Fane, and afterwards by Sir John Keane, which entered Afghanistan and captured Ghuznee 23 July 1839, on which occasion he commanded the reserve, which entered the city after the stormer had established themselves therein. In October of the same year he relinquished the command of the Bengal troops, then in camp near Cabul, for a command in the presidency. The same year he was appointed colonel of the 98th foot. In 1840 he was made G.C.B. On 23 Nov. 1841 he became lieutenant-general. From 1847 to 1850 he was commander-in-chief and second member of council in the Bombay presidency. At the outbreak of the Russian war. Cotton, despite his advancing years and unwieldy figure, again sought active employment, but without success. On 20 June 1854 he became a general, and was transferred to the colonelcy of the 32nd foot. In 1806, soon after his return from Hanover, Cotton married Lady Augusta Maria Coventry, eldest daughter of the seventh earl of Coventry, by whom he had a family, and who survived him and died in 1866. Two children, the present General Corbet Cotton, and Augusta, widow of Colonel Henry Vaughan Brooke, C.B., also survived him. Cotton died at his residence in Lowndes Square on 4 May 1860, in the seventy-sixth year of his age.

[Burke's Peerage, under 'Combermere;' Rugby School Registers; London Gazette, various dates; Hart's Army Lists; Narratives First Burmese and First Afghan Wars, various; Combermere Correspondence, vol. ii.; Gent. Mag. 3rd ser. (viii.), p. 628; Illustr. London News, xxxvii. (will proved 19 June 1860).]

H. M. C.