Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Grant, James Hope

GRANT, Sir JAMES HOPE (1808–1875), general, youngest son of Francis Grant of Kilgraston House, Perthshire, was born 22 July 1808 and educated at the high school, Edinburgh, and at Hofwyl, Switzerland. He received his first commission as cornet in the 9th lancers in 1826, in which regiment he remained until 1858, when he was promoted to the rank of major-general. His career represents an experience of India and China warfare such as falls to the lot of few. He became captain in May 1835. He was a first-rate performer on the violoncello, and in 1841 Major-general Lord Saltoun, a great lover of music, who had been appointed to command a portion of the British forces in the first Chinese war, was in quest of a brigade-major. Grant's musical skill would render him a welcome associate during the then tedious sea voyage. This consideration, added to Grant's high military reputation, secured his appointment to the vacant post. It is remarkable that Grant was unable to execute one intelligible stroke of the most mechanical sketching, while his brother the artist, Sir Francis [q. v.], was scarcely able to distinguish one bar of music from another. Grant served throughout the first Chinese war, and was present at the attack and capture of Chin-kiang-foo and at the landing before Nankin. He had attained the rank of regimental-major in 1842, and for his services in China was nominated a C.B. In 1844 he rejoined the 9th lancers, which meanwhile had proceeded to India. He served with his regiment during the Sutlej campaign of 1845-6, including the hard-fought battle of Sobraon. In 1848-9 he commanded his regiment throughout the greater part of the campaign in the Punjaub, wherein the 9th lancers were actively employed, especially at the passage of the Chenab at Ramnuggur, and the desperately contested battles of Chillianwallah and Goojerat. For these services he received the brevet of lieutenant-colonel, and in 1849 he was gazetted to the command of his regiment.

During these operations, Grant on one occasion observed that an officer far his senior was manifestly intoxicated when the regiment was awaiting orders to move against the enemy. The day after he formally reported this fact to the second in command, who declined to meddle in the matter. Grant at once went to the offender and said to him, 'Unless you resign at once, I must report the fact that you were drunk.' The senior put his junior in arrest on the spot for insurbordinate language. A court of inquiry was assembled, Grant was kept in arrest for six weeks, and was only released by the finding of an open verdict which practically justified the action taken by the accuser. In May 1857 Grant was at Umballa on the outbreak of the mutiny. To describe the important part which he took in its suppression would be almost to narrate the history of the Sepoy war of 1857-8. He was appointed brigadier of the cavalry which marched from Umballa to relieve Delhi; he was in the action at Budlee-ka-Serai; in the operations before Delhi, and at the storming of the town; he commanded a movable column marching on Lucknow; was present at the engagement at Kallee Nuddee; the relief of the Alumbagh, and the first relief of Lucknow; the battle of Cawnpore; commanded a flying column which fought engagements at Serai Ghat, Goorsaigunj, and Meangunj; was at the second relief of Lucknow; commanded movable columns at Moosa Bagh, Koorsie, the Baree road, Sirsee, Nawabgunj, and Sooltanpore; and commanded the Trans-Ghogra force which fought the numerous engagements attending the final suppression of the revolt.

Many characteristic incidents occurred during these operations. The hand-to-hand fighting in which Grant was often engaged was of a most desperate nature. In one encounter before Delhi, when darkness was closing in and the overwhelming masses of the enemy were surrounding Grant's exhausted little knot of horsemen, a sepoy at a distance of five yards shot his charger dead, in the hope of capturing the rider alive. His native orderly instantly urged him 'to take his horse.' The general refused, but grasped the tail of his orderly's charger, and was thus dragged unharmed out of the throng. The four months spent on the Delhi ridges taxed his physical and moral energies to a greater extent than any other period of his life. Daily and nightly his rapidly dwindling cavalry was called out to repel the attacks of an enemy tenfold his number, and he used to quote his constant experience with the three successive generals in command, Anson, Barnard, and Archdale Wilson, as instances of the failure even of brave men to resist the strain of tremendous responsibility. No human being could have had a greater aversion to the infliction of the punishment of death than Grant. But on one occasion he did not hesitate to order the instant execution of twenty-five rebels who had been convicted on the clearest evidence of atrocities. Yet, with a justice rare in those days, he flogged twelve men of the 53rd regiment, although in actual presence of the enemy, whom he had caught looting. This very regiment so fully recognised the righteousness of the retribution, and became so warmly attached to their general, that when going into action they would on his approach laughingly warn each other, 'Now, boys, take care of your backs; here is the provost-marshal coming.' Grant was one of Lord Clyde's most trusted lieutenants, especially in the conduct of outposts. Whenever he was entrusted with this duty, Lord Clyde was wont to omit visiting the covering force. For his services throughout the mutiny Grant was raised from C.B. to K.C.B. (1858), and was promoted major-general, a reward which cost him the value of his commission, 12,000l.

In 1860 Grant sailed from Calcutta for Hongkong, having been appointed to command, with the local rank of lieutenant-general, the expedition sent out to China, in conjunction with the French. In three months the Chinese army received three defeats in the open, and was finally dispersed with a loss of 120 guns. The strong forts of Taku, mounting six hundred guns, were captured; Pekin surrendered, and a new treaty of peace was signed, the provisions of which have been maintained up to the present date (1890). This campaign is universally admitted to have been the most successful and the best carried out of England's 'little wars.' In recognition thereof, Grant's K.C.B. was changed to G.C.B.

The co-operation of his French allies proved a greater obstacle to his success than the antagonism of his Chinese enemy. Thus, the French commander, Montauban, insisted that the vulnerable point of the Taku forts was the earthwork south of the Peiho, whereas Grant was resolute that the attack should be directed against the north fort. The English general adhered to his determination, in face of the opposition of all the French and of some of the English officers. Montauban, in a formal written protest, washed his hands of all responsibility, and declined to participate in, what he considered a hopeless undertaking, though at the last moment, with a prudent care for possibilities, he despatched four hundred infantry and two batteries to 'put in an appearance.' After the unsoundness of his opinions had been practically demonstrated, he sent to beg for the return of his protest.

Again, when the two armies were within a short distance of Pekin, the French lagged behind, declared they had 'lost their way,' and made straight for the adjacent Summer Palace, the treasures whereof they proceeded to loot. Grant ultimately succeeded in securing a small portion of the booty for his own army, caused an immediate auction to be held, and, resigning his own share of the proceeds, distributed the money among his men without tedious reference to England. For this act he was informed by Lord Russell that he had 'taken a grave responsibility upon himself,' but that her majesty had under the circumstances approved of what he had done.

Grant on his return from China was appointed commander-in-chief of the Madras army, 1862-3. In 1865 he was made quartermaster-general at the Horse Guards, and in 1870 was selected for the command of the camp at Aldershot. His tenure of this post marks the beginning of almost a new phase of military instruction throughout the British army. Hitherto the Prussian system of manœuvring troops as two opposing forces had been angrily denounced by most of our military authorities as childish, and even pernicious. Grant held a different opinion, persisted in spite of all opposition, and finally succeeded in bringing to pass the autumn manoeuvres of 1871-2-3, the value of which has been so fully recognised that the practice thereof has been continued up to the present day. He reformed our entire system of outpost duties, in which he had had such wide experience during the mutiny, introduced the war game and military lectures at Aldershot, inaugurated a soldiers' industrial exhibition, and was a warm supporter of every institution for the social and religious welfare of those under his command.

An all-pervading feature of Grant's life was his resolute religious faith. From his early years in the 9th lancers till his command at Aldershot, every act and precept was regulated by the bold observance of the Christian profession. Indeed his maxim, 'Act according to your conscience and defy the consequences,' on more than one occasion very seriously militated against his professional prosperity. A most distinguished English general states: 'His example is always in my mind whenever I am tempted to do anything ignoble or unworthy.' Grant was one of the first to recognise the abilities of the present Lord Wolseley, whom he contributed more than any one else to bring under public notice. 'If I have attained any measure of military prosperity,' said Lord Wolseley when delivering a lecture on railway transport at Aldershot in 1872, 'my gratitude is due to one man, and that man is Sir Hope Grant.' Grant's discovery of the military worth of his staff officer, then Lieutenant-colonel Wolseley, dates from the Trans-Ghogra operations of 1859. He then mentions him in his private journals with warm approval, and subsequent entries show how much this favourable opinion was strengthened and increased during the China war of 1860. When others were somewhat aghast at what they considered the 'advanced views' of Wolseley, Grant would good-humouredly laugh, and in many instances tacitly supported or even openly advocated them. Subsequently he never lost an opportunity of advocating the merits of his former staff officer. Grant, in whose disposition not a particle of jealousy could exist, rejoiced beyond measure at the later success of Lord Wolseley, and was foremost in enlarging on it.

In 1847 Grant married Elizabeth Helen, daughter of Benjamin Tayler, esq., of the Bengal civil service. He died, aged 67, on 7 March 1875 of an internal malady, aggravated if not contracted by active service in tropical climates.

[Personal acquaintance; Sir Hope Grant's private journals; Incidents in the Sepoy War, and Incidents in the China War, by Sir Hope Grant and Major Knollys.]

H. K.