Wellington once called Picton, commander of the 5th British Infantry Division at Waterloo, as “rough, foul mouthed a devil as ever lived”. He was certainly coarse, moody and impetuous but was also an able commander who had the grudging respect of his troops and perhaps their love.
He was originally commissioned into the 12th Foot (East Suffolk)at 13 years of age. By the time he was twenty he had attained the rank of Captain. He spent many years in the West Indies where he eventually became the first Governor of Trinidad. His career then took a turn for the worst when he was sent home in disgrace for condoning the torture of a local woman.
Despite this setback his career continued to flourish but not without controversy. Of particular note was his falling out with 88th Foot when he had 2 men flogged for stealing and then lambasted the whole regiment stating that they would be known in the Army as the “Irish Footpads”. The 88th were never to forgive Picton and refused to contribute to a plate presented to him by his division.
Despite his faults Picton was extremely brave and was often in the thick of the fighting or leading his division from the front throughout the Peninsular War.
By the time the British army had crossed the Pyrenees and reached Toulouse Picton had grown weary of soldiering. This outlook was not helped by his bitterness of not being awarded a peerage. Thus at the age of 56 Picton retired and it took all of Wellingtons persuasive skills to get Picton to join him for the final battle of Waterloo.
His division was badly mauled at Quatre Bras before withdrawing to Waterloo. During the battle of Waterloo Picton was to lose his life leading his division in a counter attack against Donzelots division.
Without doubt Hill was Wellingtons most trusted general, often given independent commands during The Peninsular War. He fought throughout the Peninsular War where his battlefield skills ensured his rapid promotion from brigade commander to divisional commander and then lieutenant general in less than 3 years.
He gained a reputation for a military mind that not only looked for victory but also looked after the concerns of his men. His military planning was meticulous and benefited from cunning foresight. As a person he was “kind and charitable” and became known to his men as “Daddy Hill”.
Originally commissioned into the 38th Foot (Stafford’s) he then had a peripatetic career serving as commander of the 53rd Foot (Shropshire’s) and the 90th Foot (Perthshire Volunteers) as well as a staff officer in the defence of Toulon.
At Waterloo his corps had little involvement in the battle with only the 2nd Infantry division seeing action against the French. Despite this Hill remained one of Wellington’s favourites’ and on his death the Duke wrote “nothing ever occurred to interrupt for one moment the friendly and intimate relations that subsisted between us”.