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Cathcart, Sir William Schaw

Cathcart, Sir William Schaw

CATHCART, SIR WILLIAM SCHAW. (1755–1843). British army officer and politician. Cathcart, son of a distinguished diplomat, was born at Petersham in Surrey on 17 September 1755. He entered Eton College in 1766 and moved to St. Petersburg in 1768 when his father became ambassador to Russia. There he learned Russian and was tutored in classics by William Richardson, later a professor of humanities at the University of Glasgow. Returning to Scotland in 1773, he spent three years training for the bar privately and at university in Dresden and Glasgow. He was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1776 and in August succeeded his father as the tenth baron Cathcart. In June 1777, having been powerfully attracted to a military career, he rejected law and bought a cornetcy in the Seventh Dragoons. After initial training he obtained leave to serve with the Sixteenth Light Dragoons in America.

There he served as aide de camp first to Major General Sir Thomas Spencer Wilson, baronet, and then to Sir Henry Clinton. He accompanied Clinton's Hudson Highlands offensive and took part in the storming of Forts Clinton and Montgomery on 6 October 1777. In November he became a lieutenant and in December was made captain in the Seventeenth Light Dragoons. He served in Pennsylvania, where he was instructed to form the Caledonian Volunteers, and fought at Monmouth Court House on 28 June 1778. In 1778, as major commandant, he was ordered to expand the Caledonian Volunteers into a large provincial legion of six troops of cavalry and six infantry companies, known at first as Cathcart's Legion and then as the British Legion. After marrying Elizabeth Elliot, daughter of the lieutenant governor of New York, on 10 April 1779, he was additionally made major in the Thirty-eighth Foot, quartermaster general in America, and finally local lieutenant colonel. After recruiting in Savannah from December 1779 he joined Clinton's 1780 expedition against Charleston; he was very ill, and command of the legion seems in fact to have been exercised by Banastre Tarleton. Invalided back to New York in April, and asked to choose between his commands, he finally relinquished the legion and took up his duties with the Thirty-eighth. He commanded his regiment in Knyphausen's Springfield raid in June; by October his health had so deteriorated that he was sent home to Britain. He was warmly welcomed by George III, who made him captain and lieutenant colonel in the Coldstream Guards.

In 1788 he was elected as a Scottish representative peer to the House of Lords, where he became lord president of committees. In 1789 he became lieutenant colonel in the Twenty-ninth foot, succeeded to the colonelcy in 1792, and became a brigadier general in 1793, major general in 1794, and lieutenant general in 1801. He served on the continent under Lord Moira in 1794 and 1795, was commander in chief in Ireland from 1803, took over the northern European command in 1805, and became commander in chief in Scotland in 1806. In 1807 he commanded the land forces at the siege of Copenhagen and became a British peer. He spent the next five years on duty in Scotland. On 1 January 1812 he was made a full general and in July became ambassador to St. Petersburg, a post he held until 1820. After returning home as earl Cathcart in the British peerage, a title he had been awarded in 1814, he occupied himself with family and estate matters as his interest in politics gradually waned. He died at Cartside, Renfrewshire, on 16 June 1843.

SEE ALSO Charleston Expedition of Clinton in 1780; Fort Clinton, New York; Fort Montgomery, New York; Monmouth, New Jersey; Springfield, New Jersey, Raid of Knyphausen; Tarleton, Banastre.

                            revised by John Oliphant

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