Moncrieff, James

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Moncrieff, James

MONCRIEFF, JAMES. (1744–1793). British military engineer and army officer. Born in Fife, Scotland, James Moncrieff trained at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, from 11 March 1759 to 28 January 1762, when he was appointed to the post of practitioner engineer with the rank of ensign. He served at the siege of Havana, where he joined the One-hundredth Foot and was wounded. When the One-hundredth was disbanded in 1763, Moncrieff transferred to the Royal Engineers, after-wards serving mainly in the West Indies and mainland North America. He was promoted sub-engineer and lieutenant on 4 December 1770 and to captain on 10 January 1776. He probably served in the New York campaign, and in 1777 built across the Raritan River a bridge that was sufficiently unusual for a model to be kept at Woolwich. He may have been briefly captured by American raiders on Long Island early in 1778, but at Brandywine he led the Fourth Foot Regiment across Chadd's Ford in the wake of the Seventy-first Regiment, Ferguson's Riflemen (named for their commander, Major Patrick Ferguson), and the Queen's Rangers. The following month Moncrieff was commended for his part in capturing an American warship, the Delaware.

It was, however, in the southern campaigns that Moncrieff became famous. He accompanied Andre Prevost's expedition to Savannah, Georgia, and participated in the abortive attack on Charleston, South Carolina, in May 1779. When Prevost fell back to Savannah, Moncrieff was with the rearguard that was left on James Island under John Maitland's command. On 20 June Moncrieff took part in the successful action at Stono Ferry, and personally captured an ammunition wagon, while in pursuit of the fleeing enemy. Arriving in Savannah, he energetically devised and built the defensive works that enabled Prevost to repulse an attack led by Benjamin Lincoln and Charles Hector Theodat D'Estaing on 9 October. He was brevetted major on 27 December, and remained at Savannah until the arrival of Henry Clinton's Charleston expedition in February 1780. At the siege of Charleston, it was the steady approach of his works and batteries, built with the aid of huge mantelets (protective screens) shipped from New York, that compelled Lincoln to surrender on 12 May. Moncrieff remained in Charleston as chief engineer, now with particular responsibility for its defenses. Breveted lieutenant colonel on 7 September 1780, he settled into Charleston society and was elected president of the St. Andrew's Society in 1781.

Moncrieff's works were built by hundreds of African (slave) laborers. Moncrieff was keenly aware of the Crown's responsibility for their welfare, and even suggested forming a brigade of black soldiers. It may have been he who organized the evacuation of about 800 slaves when the British left the city on 14 December 1782. The Americans called this theft, and accused Moncrieff of profiteering by sending 200 of them to his own plantations in Florida.

After the war Moncrieff was chiefly employed in southern England, becoming quartermaster general on 14 July, but he had to wait until 18 November 1790 to be promoted colonel in the army. On 25 February 1793, Moncrieff's extraordinary expertise and achievements brought him the post of quartermaster general (and unofficial chief engineer) to the duke of York's expedition to the Austrian Netherlands. Moncrieff, a regimental lieutenant colonel Moncrieff distinguished himself at the successful sieges of Valenciennes and Mons, but was mortally wounded during a French sortie from Dunkirk on 6 September. He died the following day, and was buried with full honors at Ostend on 10 September 1793.

SEE ALSO Maitland, John; Stono Ferry, South Carolina.


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

Pancake, John S. This Destructive War: The British Campaign in the Carolinas 1780–1782. Tuscaloosa: Alabama University Press, 1995.

                                   revised by John Oliphant