Thornton, William

Sir William B. Thornton, soldier, (b at Ireland 1778 or 1779; d at Greenford, Middlesex, England April 1840). William Thornton entered the British army as an ensign in the 89th Regiment of Foot in March 1796. By 1803 he had been promoted to captain and was appointed aide-de-camp (ADC) to Lieutenant General Sir James Craig, whom he accompanied to the Mediterranean, and later became ADC to Lieutenant General Earl Ludlow. He left this post when he was appointed major in the Royal York Rangers, which he commanded in Guernsey. In 1807 he went to Canada as military secretary and first ADC to Craig, returning to England with him in 1811. Thornton became lieutenant colonel of the 34th Foot and served in the Peninsular Wars in 1813.

Service in the War of 1812

When Thornton came to North America during the War of 1812, he was a colonel and had built a reputation for being capable and daring. He led the charge against Washington, DC, that ultimately destroyed the American capital. Severely wounded at the Battle at Bladensburg, after having launched the attack before reinforcements arrived, he was left behind to become a prisoner. He and other prisoners were taken to the British fleet after the failed British attack on Baltimore.

Thornton served in the expedition against New Orleans in command of some of the advance forces. He urged his senior commander, John Keane, to press on to New Orleans while the Americans were unaware of their position. Keane decided to wait for Edward Pakenham’s reinforcements, a decision that cost the British their best chance for a successful operation. He was badly injured in the battle while leading an attack on an American artillery position on the west side of the Mississippi River after Pakenham had pushed forward earlier than planned on the east side and the British had been driven back. Thornton had to give up command and retreat.

Post-war Career

Thornton returned to England in March 1815, and was promoted to major general in 1825. He was made a Companion of the Bath (military division) and served as lieutenant governor of Jersey from 1830 to 1835. He was made Knight Commander of the Bath in September 1836. In April 1840, he died by a self-inflicted gunshot wound, having suffered psychological problems many attributed to the wounds he had suffered in the War of 1812.

Author: Wes Turner

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