Balfour, Nisbet

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Balfour, Nisbet

BALFOUR, NISBET. (1743–1823). British army officer. Balfour was one of five sons of the laird of Dunbog, Fife, all of whom followed their father into the army. Nisbet became an ensign in the Fourth Regiment, called "The King's Own Foot" on 27 January 1761. By 1770 he was a captain, but he had never been in action when the war of American Independence broke out in 1775.

Balfour was badly wounded at Bunker Hill on 27 June 1775, but he recovered in time to fight in the New York campaign in the summer and autumn of 1776. Promoted to the rank of major, he was sent home with General William Howe's dispatches and his own gloomy appreciation of the progress of the war. His views were, however, ignored, and he was sent back to New York with orders to encourage greater energy on the part of the British generals. He took part in the Philadelphia campaign and became a lieutenant colonel in the Twenty-third Regiment in 1778. By October he was appreciably more optimistic about the war, arguing that a modest reinforcement would guarantee victory. At the end of the year he went home on sick leave but returned in time to take part in Sir Henry Clinton's expedition against Charleston in 1780.

It was in the south that Balfour achieved prominence. When the British pushed inland to secure the South Carolina hinterland, he was given command of the key isolated post at Ninety-six, together with three battalions of Royal Provincials and some light infantry. From here he supported Patrick Ferguson's recruitment of 4,000 Loyalist militia. However, Balfour was acutely aware of the political dimension of what was a bitter civil war. He was sensitive to the need to conciliate as well as the need to secure territory, and like General Charles Cornwallis, he was highly critical of the behavior of some of the Loyalist troops. When in August Cornwallis prepared to move up country to join Francis Lord Rawdon for the Camden campaign, he summoned Balfour—technically Rawdon's senior—to take command in Charleston. It was Balfour who put down a rising in Rawdon's rear in the summer of 1781 and brought one of the rebel officers, Isaac Hayne, before a court of enquiry. Hayne, who had been released in 1780 on condition that he would no longer serve against the British, was condemned to death for breaking his parole.

After the war Balfour was promoted colonel, made aide de camp to George III, and served as a commissioner to adjudicate Loyalist compensation claims. In 1790 he was elected as the member for the Scottish seat of Wigton Burghs, which he held until 1796. From 1797 to 1802 he sat for Arundel, in Sussex. A loyal supporter of the younger William Pitt (prime minister of Britain from 1783 to 1801 and from 1804 to 1806), Balfour was promoted to major general in February 1793 and in 1794 he served in Flanders. He rose to lieutenant general in 1798 and general in 1803. He died on 10 October 1823.

SEE ALSO Bunker Hill, Massachusetts; Charleston Expedition of Clinton in 1780; Philadelphia Campaign; Rawdon-Hastings, Francis.


Mackesy, Piers. The War for America 1775–1783. London: Longman, 1964.

                              revised by John Oliphant