Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pennefather, John Lysaght

PENNEFATHER, Sir JOHN LYSAGHT (1800–1872), general, was the third son of the Rev. John Pennefather of co. Tipperary, and cousin of Richard Pennefather [q. v.], baron of the exchequer in Ireland. His mother was daughter of Major Percival. He entered the army on 14 Jan. 1818 as cornet in the 7th dragoon guards, became a lieutenant on 20 Feb. 1823, and a captain on half-pay on 5 Nov. 1825. On 8 April 1826 he was appointed to the 22nd foot (the Cheshire regiment), in which he became major on 22 March 1831, and lieutenant-colonel on 18 Oct. 1839. Up to this time he had seen no active service, but in 1843 his was the one European regiment in the small force with which Sir Charles Napier won the battle of Miani (Meanee) (17 Feb.), and it bore the brunt of that action, in which two thousand men defeated thirty-five thousand. The battalion was about five hundred strong, nearly all Irishmen, like their colonel and their general. ‘The noble soldier, Pennefather’ (as Napier described him), fell wounded—mortally, it was thought—on the top of the bank which bordered the river-bed and formed the crest of the Baluchis' position. He was made a C.B., and received the thanks of parliament. In 1848 he gave up the command of the 22nd regiment, and was placed on half-pay, and in the following year he was appointed assistant quartermaster-general in the Cork district. In 1854 he was given command of the first brigade of the second (Sir De Lacy Evans's) division in the army sent to the East, and on 20 June he was made major-general. His brigade consisted of the 30th, 55th, and 95th regiments. He commanded it with credit at the battle of the Alma, and in the affair of 26 Oct., when a sortie in force was made from Sebastopol against the heights held by the second division on the extreme right of the allies. But he had more opportunity of distinguishing himself ten days later, when the attack, for which this sortie was only preparatory, was made by the Russians, and the battle of Inkerman was fought (5 Nov.). Owing to the illness of Evans, Pennefather was in command of the division on that day. He had less than three thousand men under him, while thirty-five thousand Russian infantry were converging upon him. On 26 Oct. Evans had drawn up his force on the ridge immediately in front of the camp of the division, and allowed his pickets to be driven in rather than leave his chosen ground. Pennefather adopted an opposite course. He disputed every inch of ground, kept only a few men in hand on the ridge, but pushed forward all the men he could to support his pickets in resisting the several masses of the enemy. The thickness of the weather favoured these tactics, and the result justified them. As reinforcements, English and French, came up, they were similarly thrown forward by fractions. Lord Raglan was soon on the ground, and Sir De Lacy Evans came up from Balaclava during the course of the morning; but Pennefather was left to direct the fight, so far as any one person could direct it. ‘Always undaunted, always kindling with warlike animation, he was a very power in himself.’ Even when his radiant countenance could not be seen, there was comfort in the sound of his voice, ‘and the “grand old boy's” favourite oaths roaring cheerily down through the smoke’ (Kinglake). The battle lasted about six hours—from daybreak to 1 P.M.—then the Russians began their retreat, having lost nearly twelve thousand men.

Pennefather's ‘admirable behaviour’ was mentioned in Lord Raglan's despatch. A fortnight afterwards he was given the colonelcy of the 46th regiment, and he succeeded to the command of the second division when Evans returned to England in the latter part of November. He was invalided from the Crimea in July 1855, and on 25 Sept. he was appointed to command the troops in Malta, with the local rank of lieutenant-general. He remained there nearly five years, and after a short term of service in the northern district he commanded the troops at Aldershot from 1860 to 1865. He exchanged the colonelcy of the 46th for that of his old regiment, the 22nd, on 13 Feb. 1860. On 12 Nov. of that year he became lieutenant-general on the establishment, and on 9 May 1868 he became general. He had been made a K.C.B. on 5 July 1855, and received the G.C.B. on 13 May 1867. He was also a commander of the Sardinian order of St. Maurice and St. Lazarus, a grand officer of the Legion of Honour, and in the second class of the Medjidieh. On 27 Aug. 1870 he was made governor of Chelsea Hospital. He died on 9 May 1872, and was buried in Brompton cemetery. In 1834 he had married Katherine, eldest daughter of John Carr, esq., of Mountrath, Queen's County.

[Napier's Conquest of Scinde; Records of the 22nd Regiment; Kinglake's War in the Crimea; Annual Register, 1854, p. 565; Haydn's Book of Dignities.]

E. M. L.