Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fletcher, Richard (1768-1813)

FLETCHER, Sir RICHARD (1768–1813), lieutenant-colonel royal engineers, son of the Rev. R. Fletcher, who died at Ipswich 17 May 1813, was born in 1768. He passed through the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, was gazetted a second lieutenant in the royal artillery 9 July 1788, and transferred to the royal engineers on 29 June 1790. In 1791 he was sent to the West Indies, and took part in the capture of Martinique, Guadaloupe, and St. Lucia. At the storming of the Morne Fortuné in the latter island, he was wounded in the head by a musket-ball. He for a time commanded the royal engineers at Dominica, and, returning to England at the end of 1796, was appointed adjutant of the royal military artificers at Portsmouth. On 27 Nov. of this year he married a daughter of Dr. Mudge of Plymouth, and continued to serve at Portsmouth until December 1798, when he was ordered to Constantinople, and appointed a major while employed in Turkey. On his way out he was shipwrecked off the Elbe, and had to cross two miles of ice to reach the shore. He reached Constantinople in March 1799, and in June of that year accompanied the grand vizier in his march to Syria. On his return from this expedition he was employed on the defences of the Dardanelles. In January 1800, ‘equipped as a Tartar,’ he left Constantinople on a special mission to Syria and Cyprus, returning in April, when he received a ‘beniche’ of honour from the sultan. In June he embarked with the division for Syria, landed at Jaffa, and was employed in constructing works of defence there and at El Arish.

In December he was sent off in the Camelion to Marmorice with despatches for Sir Ralph Abercromby, who, with the army, was on his way to Egypt. He was then sent with Major McKerras in the Penelope frigate to survey the coast of Egypt, with a view to the disembarkation of the troops. On arriving off Alexandria they shifted into the Peterel sloop of war, and proceeded in one of her boats to reconnoitre Aboukir Bay, and with great enterprise landed at the spot which appeared the most favourable for, and which was subsequently chosen as the place of, disembarkation. At dawn of day, as they were returning to the Peterel, they were surprised by a French gunboat. McKerras was killed by a musket-ball, and Fletcher was taken prisoner.

After the capture of Cairo and Alexandria and the capitulation of the French, Fletcher was released, and received for his services a gold medal from the sultan. He returned to England in 1802, and was stationed at Portsmouth, where he was employed in the extension of the Gosport lines of fortification. He was afterwards appointed brigade major to Brigadier-general Everleigh, and held the appointment until July 1807, when he joined the expedition, under Lord Cathcart and Admiral Gambier, to Copenhagen. In 1808 he was ordered to the Peninsula, where Sir H. Dalrymple was then commander-in-chief; he took over the command of the royal engineers from Major Landmann on 27 Aug., just after the battle of Vimeiro. The convention of Cintra followed, and Fletcher accompanied the army to Lisbon. On 21 June 1809 he was promoted lieutenant-colonel, having held local rank as such, with extra command pay of twenty shillings a day since the March previous.

On the appointment of Wellington as commander-in-chief, Fletcher joined his staff as commanding royal engineer, and accompanied him in the campaigns of 1809 and 1810 in Spain and Portugal. He took part in the battle of Talavera on 27 and 28 July 1809, and was complimented by Wellington in his despatch of 29 July. In October 1809 Wellington retired into Portugal. Fletcher, as chief engineer, superintended the designing and execution of the lines of Torres Vedras, under the immediate orders of Wellington, from October 1809 to July 1810, when the works were nearly complete. Fletcher then handed over the works to Captain (afterwards Sir John) Jones, and hastened to the scene of active operations on the Coa. He was present at the battle of Busaco, and Wellington in his despatch of 30 Sept. 1810 mentioned his particular indebtedness to Fletcher. The army retired behind the lines upon which Fletcher had bestowed so much labour, and he had the satisfaction of seeing the French effectually checked by them. In November 1810, in a despatch to Lord Liverpool, Wellington again specially noticed Fletcher's services.

Fletcher was present at the battles of Sabugal (2 April), Fuentes d'Onoro (5 May), and at the evacuation of Almeida by the French on 10 May 1811. At the first English siege of Badajoz in May, and at the second in June 1811, Fletcher had the direction of the siege operations, and was mentioned in despatches. In January 1812 he had the direction of the siege of Ciudad Rodrigo, and on its capture, Wellington, in his despatch of 20 Jan. 1812, stated that Fletcher's ‘ability exceeded all praise.’ The third siege of Badajoz took place in March and April 1812, and Fletcher again directed the attack. On 19 March the garrison made a sortie, and Fletcher was struck in the groin by a musket-ball. A silver dollar piece received the blow and saved his life, but inflicted a wound which disabled him. Wellington, however, insisted that Fletcher should retain the direction of the attack, and consulted him in his bed every morning until near the end of the siege. After the assault and capture of Badajoz, Fletcher remained there to place it again in a state of defence, and then proceeded on leave of absence to England.

In May 1811 the master-general of ordnance had represented his important services to the prince regent, and a pension had consequently been granted him of twenty shillings a day from 7 May 1811. He was now made a knight commander of Hanover, created a baronet, decorated with the gold cross for Talavera, Busaco, Ciudad Rodrigo, and Badajoz, and permitted to accept and wear the insignia of the Portuguese order of the Tower and Sword.

On his return to the Peninsula, Fletcher took part in the battle of Vittoria (21 June 1813), and was again mentioned in despatches. He then made all the arrangements for the blockade of Pampeluna, under Sir Rowland Hill, and arriving at St. Sebastian shortly after the commencement of the siege he directed the operations under Sir T. Graham, until in the final and successful assault on 31 Aug. 1813 he was killed by a musket-ball in the forty-fifth year of his age. Sir Augustus Fraser says, in a letter written at the time: ‘We cannot get Sir Richard's loss from our minds; our trenches, our batteries, all remind us of one of the most amiable of men I ever knew, and one of the most solid worth. No loss will be more deeply felt, no place more difficult to be filled up.’

Fletcher was buried with three other engineer officers on the height of St. Bartholomew, opposite St. Sebastian, where a tombstone recorded the fact. A monument to his memory, designed by E. H. Baily, R.A., was erected in Westminster Abbey by his brother-officers of the corps of royal engineers. It stands at the west end of the north aisle.

Fletcher left a son and five daughters, his wife having died before him; his only son died in 1876 without issue, and the baronetcy became extinct.

[Jones's Sieges in Spain; Jones's War in Spain; Wellington Despatches; Napier's History of the War in the Peninsula; Alison's History of Europe; Landmann's Recollections; Sabine's Letters of Colonel Sir A. S. Fraser; Conolly's Notitia Historica of the Corps of Royal Engineers; Corps Records.]

R. H. V.