Sir John Slade, 1st Baronet
|Nickname(s)||Black Jack Slade|
|Born||31 December 1762|
Maunsel House, Somerset, UK
|Died||13 August 1859 (aged 96)|
Norton Fitzwarren, Somerset, UK
|Years of service||1780-1859|
|Awards||Army Gold Medal, Royal Guelphic Order, 1835|
|Other work||Baronet, 1831|
General Sir John "Black Jack" Slade, 1st Baronet, (31 December 1762 – 13 August 1859) served as a general officer in the British Army during the Peninsular War. Slade was praised in official reports, including by Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, who also voiced some criticisms of him privately. Slade received an Army Gold Medal, and was honoured three times with the thanks of Parliament. Slade's descendants include two admirals, namely son Sir Adolphus Slade and grandson Sir Edmond Slade. Despite achieving high rank during and after active soldiering, Slade was criticised as a general of cavalry by some contemporaries and historians. Sir Charles Oman, for example, states that he was capable only of following definite orders and lacked initiative.
Slade was the son of John Slade (d. 1801) of Maunsel House, Somerset, a Victualling Commissioner, and his wife, Charlotte née Portal. He obtained a commission as cornet in the 10th Dragoons on 11 May 1780, and became a lieutenant on 28 April 1783, captain on 24 October 1787, major on 1 March 1794, and lieutenant colonel on 29 April 1795. On 18 October 1798, he exchanged to the 1st Dragoons (the Royals). He was appointed equerry to the Prince Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland in 1800, and became a colonel in the army on 29 April 1802. In June 1804, he was made brigadier, and gave up command of the Royals.
In October 1808, Slade was sent to Corunna in command of a hussar brigade. He led the 10th Hussars in the successful cavalry action at Sahagún on 20 December. The 10th arrived too late to play an active role in the action, primarily because Slade insisted on making a stirring, and apparently over-long, speech ending in the words: "... blood and slaughter, march!" Slade made an enemy of Henry, Lord Paget, who commanded all the cavalry in the Corunna campaign. Paget made no pretence of hiding his low opinion of Slade, once calling him "... that damned stupid fellow", in a voice that many nearby officers and troopers heard. Slade shared in the arduous work of the cavalry during John Moore's retreat, and served as a volunteer at the Battle of Corunna, when the cavalry had embarked.
He was employed on the staff in England for six months, but returned to the Peninsula in August 1809 with a brigade of dragoons, and served there for four years. He participated in the battles of Busaco and Fuentes de Oñoro. He commanded the cavalry division, in Stapleton Cotton's absence, during André Masséna's retreat from Portugal in the spring of 1811. Wellington mentioned him favourably in his dispatch of 14 March.
On 11 June 1812, when he was under Rowland Hill in Estremadura, Slade was beaten by Charles Lallemand in a cavalry action at Maguilla. Each side deployed 700 dragoons in two regiments. The British had the advantage in the first encounter, and followed headlong in pursuit through a defile, beyond which they found the French reserve drawn up. Their own reserve had joined in the pursuit and lost its formation. The brigade panicked, was pursued by the French for several miles, and lost more than 100 prisoners.
Slade rode with the leading squadrons, instead of attending to the supports, and Wellington and others blamed him. Wellington was furious, writing privately: "I have never been more annoyed than by Slade's affair. Our officers of cavalry have acquired a trick of galloping at every thing. They never consider the situation, never think of manoeuvring before an enemy, and never keep back or provide for a reserve." Such criticism from his commander-in-chief was echoed by some of his subordinates; one cavalry officer wrote: "As a leader of cavalry he was deplorable. He was a byword for inefficiency throughout the army." Another officer wrote, commenting specifically on the Battle of Sabugal: "[General Slade] ... let no possible opportunity for inaction to pass him - pretending not to comprehend orders, which the events passing before him would have made comprehensible to a trumpeter, ... a curse to the cause, and a disgrace to the service."
It has been claimed that Slade eroded the morale of his brigade between 1811 and 1812, with this being partly the cause of the reverse at Maguilla. That Slade, accused of ineptitude by contemporaries, remained in command of a brigade until mid-1813 has been attributed by commentators to Wellington's widely perceived inability to rid himself of undesirable senior officers, except by employing various subterfuges.
In May 1813, Slade's brigade was transferred to Henry Fane, and he went home, and was employed for a year in Ireland. The official reason for Slade losing his command was that he was senior to Major General Henry Clinton, who had been given the local rank of lieutenant general. Slade received an Army Gold Medal and one clasp for Corunna and Fuentes d'Oñoro. He had been promoted to major general on 25 October 1809, became a lieutenant general on 4 June 1814, and a general on 10 January 1837. In 1831, he was given the colonelcy of the 5th Dragoon Guards; on 30 September 1831 he was made a baronet, and in 1835 he was appointed a GCH. He was honoured three times with the thanks of Parliament. He died on 13 August 1859 at his home, Montys Court, and was buried at Norton Fitzwarren, near Taunton, Somerset, having been 'the oldest living member of the army save one'.
Sir John married firstly, on 20 September 1792, Anna Eliza Dawson (died 24 December 1819), daughter of James Dawson of Forkhill, County Armagh. They had seven sons (six of whom joined the military) and two daughters:
Secondly, Sir John married Matilda Ellen Dawson, his late wife's sister, on 17 June 1822, (d. 12 September 1868). He had four more sons and two more daughters:
The National Portrait Gallery posits that one of Robert Dighton junior's military etchings in its Reference Collection was "probably" of Slade. Slade also features as a general in Allan Mallinson's earlier novels in the Matthew Hervey series.