Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thackwell, Joseph

THACKWELL, Sir JOSEPH (1781–1859), lieutenant-general, born on 1 Feb. 1781, was fourth son of John Thackwell, J.P., of Rye Court and Moreton Court, Worcestershire, by Judith, daughter of J. Duffy. He was commissioned as cornet in the Worcester fencible cavalry on 16 June 1798, became lieutenant in September 1799, and served with it in Ireland till it was disbanded in 1800. On 23 April 1800 he obtained a commission in the 15th light dragoons, and became lieutenant on 13 June 1801. He was placed on half-pay in 1802, but was brought back to the regiment on its augmentation in April 1804, and became captain on 9 April 1807. The 15th, converted into hussars in 1806, formed part of Lord Paget's hussar brigade in 1807, and was sent to the Peninsula in 1808. It played the principal part in the brilliant cavalry affair at Sahagun, and helped to cover the retreat to Coruña. After some years at home it went back to the Peninsula in 1813. It formed part of the hussar brigade attached to Graham's corps [see Graham, Thomas, Lord Lynedoch], and at the passage of the Esla, on 31 May, Thackwell commanded the leading squadron which surprised a French cavalry picket and took thirty prisoners. He took part in the battle of Vittoria and in the subsequent pursuit, in the battle of the Pyrenees at the end of July, and in the blockade of Pampeluna. He was also present at Orthes, Tarbes, and Toulouse. On 1 March 1814, after passing the Adour, he was in command of the leading squadron of his regiment, and had a creditable encounter with the French light cavalry, on account of which he was recommended for a brevet majority by Sir Stapleton Cotton. He served with the 15th in the campaign of 1815. It belonged to Grant's brigade [see Grant, Sir Colquhoun], which was on the right of the line at Waterloo. Its share in the battle has been described by Thackwell himself (Siborne, Waterloo Letters, pp. 124–128, 141–3). After several engagements with the French cavalry, it suffered severely in charging a square of infantry towards the end of the day. Thackwell had two horses shot under him and lost his left arm. He obtained his majority in the regiment on that day, and on 21 June 1817 he was made brevet lieutenant-colonel, as he had not benefited by Cotton's recommendation. He succeeded to the command of the 15th on 15 June 1820, and after holding this command for twelve years, and having served thirty-two years in the regiment, he was placed on half-pay on 16 March 1832. He was made K.H. in February 1834.

On 10 Jan. 1837 he became colonel in the army, and on 19 May he obtained, by exchange, command of the 3rd (king's own) light dragoons. He went with that regiment to India, but soon left it to assume command of the cavalry of the army of the Indus in the Afghan campaign of 1838–9. He was present at the siege and capture of Ghazni, and he commanded the second column of that part of the army which returned to India from Cabul in the autumn of 1839. He was made C.B. in July 1838, and K.C.B. on 20 Dec. 1839. He commanded the cavalry division of Sir Hugh Gough's army in the short campaign against the Marathas of Gwalior at the end of 1843, and was mentioned in Gough's despatch after the battle of Maharajpur (London Gazette, 8 March 1844). In the first Sikh war he was again in command of the cavalry at Sobraon (10 Feb. 1846), and led it in file over the intrenchments on the right, doing work (as Gough said) usually left to infantry and artillery. He was promoted major-general on 9 Nov. 1846.

When the second Sikh war began he was appointed to the command of the third division of infantry; but on the death of Brigadier Cureton in the action at Ramnagar, on 22 Nov. 1848, he was transferred to the cavalry division. After Ramnagar the Sikhs crossed to the right bank of the Chinab. To enable his own army to follow them, Gough sent a force of about eight thousand men under Thackwell to pass the river higher up, and help to dislodge the Sikhs from their position by moving on their left flank and rear. Thackwell found the nearer fords impracticable, but crossed at Vazirabad, and on the morning of 3 Dec. encamped near Sadulapur. He had orders not to attack till he was joined by an additional brigade; but he was himself attacked towards midday by about half the Sikh army. The Sikhs drove the British pickets out of three villages and some large plantations of sugar-cane, and so secured for themselves a strong position. They kept up a heavy fire of artillery till sunset, and made some feeble attempts to turn the British flanks, but there was very little fighting at close quarters. In the course of the afternoon Thackwell received authority to attack if he thought proper; but as the enemy was strongly posted, he deemed it safer to wait till next morning. By morning the Sikhs had disappeared, and it is doubtful whether they had any other object in their attack than that of gaining time for a retreat. Gough expressed his ‘warm approval’ of Thackwell's conduct, but there are some signs of dissatisfaction in his despatch of 5 Dec. An officer of fifty years' service is apt to be over-cautious. This was not the case with Gough himself, but Chilianwala, six weeks afterwards, went far to justify Thackwell. He was in command of the cavalry at Chilianwala, but actually directed only the left brigade. At Gujrat he was also on the left, and kept in check the enemy's cavalry when it tried to turn that flank. After the battle was won he led a vigorous pursuit till nightfall. In his despatch of 26 Feb. 1849 Gough said: ‘I am also greatly indebted to this tried and gallant officer for his valuable assistance and untiring exertions throughout the present and previous operations as second in command with this force.’ He received the thanks of parliament for the third time, and the G.C.B. (5 June 1849). In November 1849 he was given the colonelcy of the 16th lancers. In 1854 he was appointed inspecting-general of cavalry, and on 20 June lieutenant-general. He died on 8 April 1859 at Aghada Hall, co. Cork. He married, on 29 July 1825, Maria Andriah, eldest daughter of Francis Roche of Rochemount, co. Cork; he had four sons and three daughters.

His third son, Osbert Dabitôt (1837–1858), was lieutenant in the 15th Bengal native infantry when that regiment mutinied at Nasirabad on 28 May 1857. He had been commissioned as ensign on 25 June 1855, and became lieutenant on 23 Nov. 1856. He was appointed interpreter to the 83rd foot, was in several engagements with the mutineers, and distinguished himself in the defence of Nimach. He was present at the siege of Lucknow, and, while walking in the streets after its capture, he was killed in the street by some of the sepoys on 20 March 1858.

[Gent. Mag. 1859, i. 540; Burke's Landed Gentry; Cannon's Historical Record of the 15th Hussars; Kauntze's Historical Record of the 3rd Light Dragoons; Despatches of Lord Hardinge and Lord Gough, &c., relating to the first Sikh War; Thackwell's Narrative of the Second Sikh War (by his eldest son, who was also his aide-de-camp); Lawrence-Archer's Commentaries on the Punjab Campaign of 1848–9; Gloucestershire Chronicle, 8 and 29 May 1897.]

E. M. L.