Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Simpson, James (1792-1868)

SIMPSON, Sir JAMES (1792–1868), general, born in 1792, was the son of David Simpson of Teviotbank, Roxburghshire, by Mary, daughter of John Eliott of Borthwickbrae. He was educated at the university of Edinburgh, and was commissioned as ensign and lieutenant in the 1st (grenadier) guards on 3 April 1811. In the following year he was sent to Spain, and served there in the third battalion of his regiment from May 1812 to May 1813. He took part in the defence of Cadiz and relief of Seville, and, joining Wellington's army in the autumn at Salamanca, shared in the retreat from Burgos. In the first half of 1813 the two battalions of the 1st guards in the Peninsula lost eight hundred men from fever. Simpson saw no more of the war; but he served with the 2nd battalion in the campaign of 1815, and was severely wounded at Quatre Bras.

He had become lieutenant and captain on 25 Dec. 1813, and was made adjutant on 8 Feb. 1821. He was promoted captain and lieutenant-colonel on 28 April 1825, went on half-pay soon afterwards, and was made lieutenant-colonel of the 29th foot on 10 June 1826. He took that regiment to Mauritius, and remained there with it till 1837, when it returned to England. On 28 June 1838 he became colonel in the army. He exchanged to half-pay in 1839, but returned to the command of the 29th in 1842, and took the regiment to Bengal.

He soon left it to take charge of the Benares division, and in 1845 he was sent to Sind to act as second in command to Sir Charles Napier [q.v.] in his operations against the hillmen of Kachhi. He led the column which advanced up the Teyaga to Dera, and, when the whole force had united there, he took part in the movements which led to the final submission of the tribes. He was ‘an officer peculiarly exact in following his instructions’ (Napier, Administration of Scinde, p. 202).

He returned to England in 1846, went on half-pay from the 29th on 8 Dec., and was made commandant at Chatham. He was promoted major-general on 11 Nov. 1851, and in February 1855 he was sent out to the Crimea, with the local rank of lieutenant-general, as chief of the staff. The new war minister, Lord Panmure, especially charged him to report on the fitness of the officers composing it, as the current of feeling in England was strongly against them. He landed at Balaclava on 15 March, and on 26 April he reported that, though he had come out with some degree of prejudice, he found that there was not one of them that he would wish to see removed. ‘I do not think a better selection of staff officers could be made.’

On the death of Lord Raglan on 28 June, he succeeded to the command of the British troops as senior officer, and was confirmed in it. He was given the rank of lieutenant-general, and local general from that date. The general feeling in the army was that he was ‘a good man, a long-headed Scotchman,’ but hardly equal to so great a responsibility. On 8 Sept. the final assault was delivered by the French on the Malakhoff, and by the British on the Redan. The arrangements for the latter were not happy. In his despatch Simpson said: ‘I determined that the second and light divisions should have the honour of the assault, from the circumstance of their having defended the batteries and approaches against the Redan for so many months, and from the intimate knowledge they possessed of the ground.’ These divisions consisted largely of raw recruits. The assaulting column of one thousand men, preceded by a covering party of two hundred and a ladder party of 320, and followed by an armed working party of two hundred, reached the Redan; but the men lost all cohesion in their advance, and for the most part would not follow their officers inside the work. The first supports, amounting to fifteen hundred, joined them, but did not carry them forward. They were to have been further supported by the remainder of the two divisions and by other troops; but this was not done. Simpson wrote: ‘The trenches were, subsequently to this attack, so crowded with troops that I was unable to organise a second assault, which I intended to make with the Highlanders … supported by the third division.’ This was the more unfortunate as the men of the highland brigade were much the best in discipline and physique. The fight was maintained for nearly an hour; but the Redan, being open in rear, was difficult to hold; the Russians brought up strong reserves; Windham, who was in command, made the mistake of going back to the trenches to fetch supports, after having sent for them in vain, and in his absence the troops abandoned the work and fell back. At the same time the capture of the Malakhoff secured the fall of Sebastopol. Pélissier, in his joy, embraced Simpson and kissed him. ‘It was a great occasion,’ Simpson said, ‘and I couldna' resist him.’ Simpson was promoted general from 8 Sept., received the G.C.B. on 16 Oct., and was given the colonelcy of the 87th foot.

In October some further successes were obtained at Kinburn and Eupatoria, but the main Russian army remained strongly posted to the north of the Tchernaya and the harbour. The British government was impatient to see it driven out of the Crimea, but the allied commanders on the spot were not prepared to realise these great expectations, and the French had other views. Simpson determined to resign a command which he had accepted with some hesitation, and on 10 Nov. he handed it over to Codrington. He passed the rest of his life in retirement, and died at Horringer, near Bury St. Edmunds, on 18 April 1868. He had been made colonel of his old regiment, the 29th, instead of the 87th, on 27 July 1863. Besides the medal and clasp for Sebastopol, he received the grand cross of the legion of honour, and of the military order of Savoy, the first class of the Medjidie, and the Turkish medal.

In 1839 Simpson married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Robert Dundas, bart., of Beechwood, Midlothian. She died in 1840.

[Times, 21 April 1868; Hamilton's Hist. of the Grenadier Guards; Everard's Hist. of the 29th Regiment; Kinglake's Invasion of the Crimea; Sayer's Despatches and Papers relative to the Campaign in Turkey, &c.; Wood's Crimea in 1854 and 1894; Adye's Recollections of a Military Life.]

E. M. L.