Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Reed, Thomas (1796-1883)

REED, Sir THOMAS (1796–1883), general, son of Thomas Reed of Dublin, by Eliza, daughter of Colonel Sir F. J. Buchanan, was born in Dublin in 1796. He entered the army as cornet in the 12th light dragoons on 26 Aug. 1813, and became lieutenant 2 May 1815. He was present with his regiment at Waterloo. It was commanded by Colonel Frederic Cavendish Ponsonby [q. v.], and formed part of Vandeleur's brigade. On 19 Feb. 1824 he was promoted captain, and on 7 Oct. of the same year obtained a company in the 53rd foot, in which regiment he became major 15 June 1826. On 11 Aug. 1829 he was promoted to a half-pay lieutenant-colonelcy, and on 30 May 1834 he became lieutenant-colonel of the 62nd foot, a position he held for eighteen years. He was made brevet-colonel 23 Nov. 1841, and in 1842 aide-de-camp to the queen. Two years afterwards he was made a C.B.

When the first Sikh war broke out his regiment formed part of the force which held Ferozepore under Sir John Hunter Littler [q. v.], and at the battle of Ferozeshah (22 Dec. 1845) he commanded a brigade (including his own regiment) of Littler's division. His brigade was ordered to attack the strongest part of the Sikh entrenchments, where there was a large number of heavy guns served with grape and canister. The attack was unsuccessful, and Littler, in his report, said that the 62nd gave way to panic. This charge caused great soreness; for the regiment had lost seventeen officers and 185 men, and Reed stated that they retired by his orders, because he saw that they were exposed to a most destructive fire without any object, as they could not move forward. The commander-in-chief, Sir Hugh Gough, took an opportunity soon afterwards to assure the regiment that its conduct at Ferozeshah had received and merited his most cordial approbation. Reed, whom Littler spoke of in his report as zealous and indefatigable, was slightly wounded in the battle.

On 2 April 1852 he gave up the command of the 62nd, and went on half-pay, and was employed as colonel on the staff at Birmingham. He was promoted major-general on 20 June 1854, and in 1855 went out to command the troops in Ceylon. In 1856 he was transferred to a division of the Madras army, and soon afterwards to the command of the troops in the Punjab.

He was in this position when the mutiny broke out in 1857; and on General Anson's death (27 May) he became provisional commander-in-chief, as the senior officer in the Bengal presidency, until Sir Patrick Grant arrived at Calcutta (17 June). Leaving Rawul Pindi on 28 May, he joined the Delhi field force at Alipur on 8 June; but he was disabled by severe sickness and fatigue from being present at the action of Badli-ki-Serai on that day, and the immediate command of the field force remained with Sir Henry Barnard. Reed's letters to Sir John Lawrence during the early part of the siege of Delhi are said by Kaye to be full of interesting and important details, and distinguished by much clear good sense. He made two excellent appointments which showed his judgment of men: Neville (now Sir Neville) Chamberlain as adjutant-general, and John Nicholson (1821–1857) [q. v.] as commander of the movable column. In the council of war held on 15 June he gave his opinion, which was shared by Wilson and Barnard, in favour of waiting for reinforcements before risking an assault.

Upon the death of Sir Henry Barnard, on 5 July, Reed assumed command of the field force; but the exertions and anxieties of that position were too much for him, and on 17 July he reported to the governor-general that ‘my shattered state of health has compelled my medical officers to urge my immediate removal to the hills, and I accordingly leave camp for Simla to-night.’ He selected Wilson as his successor, and gave him the rank of brigadier-general, as he was not senior officer. The position at this time was thus described by Wilson on the following day: ‘Our force comprises 2,200 Europeans and 1,500 Punjabis. The enemy is without number, having been reinforced from all points, well equipped and strongly entrenched. The siege is on their part, not on ours. They attack us day after day, and are always repulsed, but not without considerable loss to us.’ Reed had strong reasons, therefore, for hesitating to adopt the proposals for an immediate assault which had been made by the chief engineer, Richard Baird Smith [q. v.], in the early part of July.

He saw no further service in the field. He was given the colonelcy of the 44th foot on 2 Aug. 1858, became lieutenant-general 4 May 1860, and general 1 Jan. 1868. On 1 Oct. 1877 he was placed on the retired list. He had been made K.C.B. on 28 March 1865, and G.C.B. 29 May 1875. He died at Romsey on 24 July 1883.

In 1835 he married Elizabeth Jane, daughter of John Clayton of Enfield Old Park, Middlesex.

[Times, 28 July 1883; Despatches of Lord Hardinge, Lord Gough, &c., 1846; Kaye's History of the Sepoy War; Forrest's Selections from State Papers of 1857–8, preserved in the Military Department, pp. 282, 315, 326–9.]

E. M. L.