Communities : Wingham Village People : General William Miller

Wingham Village
Wingham Village | Buildings | Business | Community | Geographic | History | People  | Roads

People of Wingham Village

General William Miller

Grand Marshall of Ayacucho

William Miller was born in Wingham on 2nd December, 1795. He was the youngest of 8 sons of Mr. L Miller (a baker)

The Early Campaigns
William Miller was well educated and fluent in several languages. When he was 15 years old, he entered the Royal Artillery with a Commission. He signed up to fight in the Napoleonic Wars on 1st January 1811. By August he was serving with the Duke of Wellington's Army as an assistant commissary (Lieutenant) in the Artillery Supply Corps.
In Spain he saw action in the sieges of Ciudad_Rodrigo, Badajoz and San Sebastian and at the Battle of Vitoria. After crossing into France, Wellington headed eastward. William remained with Lieutenant General John Hope and was present at the unnecessary Battle of Bayonne.
North America
In June 1814 William boarded HMS Madagascar in Bordeaux and crossed the Atlantic. The Fleet was commanded by Admiral Alexander Cochrane. The troops were sent to provide reinforcement for General Ross in the fight against the United States of America in the War of 1812.
Ross met the troops when they landed at Chesapeake Bay and lead them towards Washington. After the Battle of Bladensburg they set fire to the public buildings of the capital, including the White House . We must assume that Miller was also at the Battle of North Point on 12th September 1814, where Ross was killed by snipers. This was a part of the much larger Battle of Baltimore. Despite the efforts from the Army on land and the bombardment by Cochrane's fleet, the battle resulted in a British withdrawal. 
By November 1814 Miller was serving under General Sir Edward Pakenham who replaced Ross as commander of the British North American army. The British suffered a heavy defeat on 8th January 1815 at the Battle of New Orleans. Like Bayonne the battle took place after agreement had been reached, the Treaty of Ghent having been signed on 24th December 1814. William and the rest of the army were forced to surrender after Pakenham was killed. They were taken prisoner and deported back to England . En route Miller was shipwrecked off Mobile and the crew and troops transferred to another ship.  

A Quiet Time
William Miller was still under 20 years old when he arrived back in England in June 1815, but already had extensive experience of war on two continents. Both wars were now over and William resigned from the Army and decided to pursue a career in commerce. To this end he  traveled  throughout Europe, but he became restless. He was aware of the commercial opportunities available in South America. He was also eager to get involved in the wars of independence taking place there. In August 1817, armed with letters of introduction he set sail for Argentina
South America
William Miller landed at Buenos Aires in Sep. 1817. His letters of introduction must have been impressive for he was presented to Juan Martin de Pueyrredon who was the Supreme Director of the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata . Pueyrredon was sympathetic to the struggle for independence in Chile and Miller entered a request for a commission in the Army of the Andes under  Jose de San Martin. The commission was accepted a month later.
Miller was received well by the business community of his countrymen and he became friendly with a Mr. and Mrs. Mackinlay. He had also received an offer of a partnership. 
William found time to travel as well. On one trip he covered some 1000 miles visiting the Estancias of  four gentlemen from Buenos Aires. On the trip he saw the living conditions of the Gauchos , visited Spaniards being held prisoners of war and began to developed his empathy with the plight of the Indians
The friendships he had formed and the prospects for commercial enterprise on offer were distracting William from his original aim of involvement in the South American war of independenceMrs. Mackinlay was clearly aware of his dilemma and raised the issue in conversation ending with the comment "Were I a young man, I would never abandon the career of glory for the sake of gain" Two days later, on the 6th January 1818, William Miller set out for Mendoza
He arrived nine days later and crossed the Andes into Chile via the Uspallata Pass arriving at Santiago on 24th January.  He then travelled to Las Tablas near Valparaiso and reported to General San Martin on 26th Jan. William Millar's quiet time was over. 

The South Amercan Campaigns
San Martin attached Captain William Miller to the Buenos Aires artillery . His first encounter with Royalist troops was on 16th March 1818 at the Second Battle of Cancha Rayada, under the command of Bernardo O'Higgins . The patriot forces were routed, but by 5th April  they had regrouped and were ready to make a stand at the Batle of Maipu. The patriots lost 1.000 men in the battle, but 2,000 Spaniards were slain and 3,000 captured. It was a resounding victory that virtually sealed independence for Chile.
Miller was dispatched to Valparaiso aboard the frigate Lautaro commanded by Captain O'Brien. Their mission was to break the Royalist blockade at the port by engaging with the the Esmeralda and the Pezuela. O'Brien was killed when the Esmeralda was boarded and the two Spanish ships eventually out maneuvered the Lautaro to escape, but abandoned the blockade in the process.
On 9th October 1818 the newly promoted  Brevet Major William Miller boarded the Lautaro as part of the small fleet under Leutenant Colonel Manuel Jose Blanco as Commodore,  of the First Chilean Navy Squadron. Their mission was to intercept a Spanish convoy under the protection of  the frigat Reyna Maria Isabela. The San Martin and the Lautaro found her anchored at  Talcahuano. at noon on 28th October. They attacked. The Spanish ship ran aground and the crew fled ashore.  
William Miller was sent ashore under a white flag, to offer the Royalists in the port the chance to surrender. He was take prisoner and condemned to death by the commander of the garrison. Fortunately two high ranking officers had friends who knew Miller from his time in Spain and argued successfully for his release. In the meantime a constant barrage was aimed at the Reyna Maria Isabella and she was afloat again and captured by the time Miller was back aboard the Lautaro. On 1st November the Squadron and its prize anchored near Santa Maria Island. When the squadron returned to Valparaiso on 7th November the haul from Talcahuano had enabled it to be enlarged from five ships to thirteen.
On 14th January 1819 the fleet set sail for Callao under the leadership of  Lord Cochrane.   Major Miller was in charge of the Marines . The enemy were engaged on 28th February. On the 2nd March Miller took possession of San Lorenzo Island, but with the original plan not going as expected Cochrane decided to change tactics and use a Fire ship. Miller was put in charge of a laboratory to mix suitable material. He was badly injured in an explosion. Severely burned on the hands and face, he was blinded for several days and confined to his cabin for six weeks. The fire-ship holed and filled with water when it ran aground and the attack on Callao was abandoned and the Squadron returned to anchor at Valparaiso on 17th June. 
Eight ships set sail from Valpraiso on 12th September 1819 carrying a total 250 guns and four hundred Marines. 28 days later they arrived at Callao and anchored off San Lorenzo. Two failed attacks deploying rafts, rockets finally an explosion-vessel  took place on 2nd and 5th October.
Cochrane gave orders for the Lautaro, the Galvarino and a former explosive vessel not used at Callao to go to Pisco, while the rest of the Squadron headed North. Their aim was to procure brandy for the Squadron. Millers Marines numbered 150 men, but on 7th November they and the use of rockets by the seamen, routed a force of 600 infantry, 160 cavalry and 4 field pieces. At the very end of the encounter Wlliam Miller was felled by musket shot. Feared close to death he was transferred to the the flagship, the O'Higgins.
Miller was recovered enough to be on deck when on the 18th January 1820  when the a spanish brig of war was taken. On 3rd of February the O'Higgins was anchored off Valdivia. The Spanish were suspicious and opened fire. William Miller and 40 Marines took a boat ashore. Miller's head being grazed by gunshot on the way. As more boats arrived their number swelled to 350. They took 5 forts before daylight and two days later the Capture of Valdivia was complete.
On 10th February, William Miller led 170 his of men ashore in an attack on Chiloe Island. On the brink of taking a third fort when they were forced to retreat under heavy fire. Millar was carried off by his troops with a bullet through his left thigh, his right instep crushed and a flesh wound. and two other wounds. He was understandably taken ill and a long convalescence followed. 
William was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. On 24th August he set sail with the Squadron from Valpraiso aboard the Sant Rosa with four Companies under his command.  The taking of Pisco was completed on 12th September and San Martin set up his headquarters there. The impetus was increased as more victories were earned.
Early in 1821, Miller and many of his men were struck down with ague. He was carried aboard the San Martin on 18th April. On 8th May he lead a landing force near Arica and pressed on to Moquegua and Arequipa gaining victory after victory. In the meantime San Martin had taken Lima and declared himself Protector of Peru  and Peru independent. Miller was richly rewarded for his exploits with property to the value of $25,000 and promotion to Colonel.
Colonel Miller was given command of a Battalion of seven hundred Infantry. A total of 3859 men set sail from Callao on the 10th and 12th October 1822 and arrived at Arica. On 21st December Miller sailed with a small force to  Quilca  to create diversion from the main attack. He landed with 25 men at midnight on Christmas day. The Lima Gazette described his exploits as "... prodigies of valour and military skill ..." as he "... traversed the country in the midst of numerous enemy, astonishing them by the celerity of his well-concerted movements"  before being struck  down by  Cholera at Chala. In the mean time the majority of Miller's battalion had been wiped out in the defeats at Torata and Moquegua  
On the 12th March 1823 William was taken aboard  HMS Aurora  to convalesce. In a letter home he wrote  "I regard the Aurora as my home afloat. The sight of her pendant gladdens my eyesight almost as much as would the vane upon Wingham church steeple."
With his reputation enhanced William Miller was raised to the rank of General of Brigade with command of 800 men. He was back in action (between bouts of illness) under General de Sucre from August through to his return to Lima in NovemberAgue and problems with the wounded thigh forced Miller to retire to Santiago
On 11th April 1824 Miller returned to Peru. He arrived at Huaraz on 19th May. This was the headquarters of  Simon Bolivar . who had long admired Miller and placed him in charge of the Peruvian  Cavalry. At the time the Royalist Army had a total of 19,000 men. Bolivar could boast less than 10,000.
Miller was sent across the Andes and arrived at Huancayo and was welcomed by the Montoneros in the area. His task was to reconnoiter and keep the way clear for Bolivar's advance. He did so by by making a nuisance of himself to the Royalists. Miller and Bolivar rendezvoused near Jauja 
The Battle of Junin
The Battle of Junin took place on 6th August 1824. The Royalists under, Major de Canterac  were advancing on Pasco when the two armies met. de Canterac looked for retreat, but gallantly led a cavalry charge against the Patriots. Miller with 250 cavalry was sent to outflank him, but the speed of the charge forced him to attack head on. After 45 minutes the Royalists were routed. 345 of their force were slain and 80 taken prisoner. Miller lost 45 men, with almost 100 wounded. The affair had been hand to hand, with not one shot being fired. The wounded on both sides died of cold over night.
Despite its brevity the skirmish proved to be a vital point in the war. Bolivar declared the cavalry to be the Hussars of Junin  It gave the Patriots morale a decisive boost in readiness for the task ahead. Leaving de Sucre in charge of the army, Bolivar headed for Lima to gather reinforcements. A game of cat and mouse between de Sucre and de Canterac. followed. On 8th December, de Sucre was at Quinua, near Ayacucho while de Canterac held a ridge above the plain.
The Battle of Ayacucho
The Battle of Ayacucho began on the morning of 9th December 1824 when  de Canterac descended from the ridge. Without Bolivar's reinforcements de Sucre had 6,000 men. de Canterac had slightly more. de Sucre ordered the attack. 
A charge by a division of Miller's cavalry caused panic in the Royalists ranks. With the slope of the ridge behind them, their retreat was severely hampered and many were killed or taken prisoner. The Royalist then attacked  from the left. With William Miller at their head the Hussars of Junin rode to meet them. Their assault was fierce and set the enemy in disarray, driving them back so that they abandoned their artillery and fled back to the top of the ridge. An hour after it begun the battle was over.
The Patriots had lost 370 men with 600 wounded. 1,400 Royalist were killed and 700 wounded. At Sunset de Canterac rode down and surrendered to de Sucre.

After the War
William Miller was appointed Governor of Puno arriving in the  city   on 4th February 1825. One of the wounds he had received became infected. Ill health and fatigue forced him to resign the position. He left on 29th March carried on a litter, but by 25th April he had recovered enough to ride a horse into Potosí  where he became both military and civil commander.  Because of recurring liver pains and general ill heath William was advised to return to London where he would have access to the best medical advice. Bolivar granted him leave and he left Potosi on 26th November.
Return Home
William Millar arrived in Buenos Aires on 6th January 1826, exactly eight years after he had left to join San Martin. He left for England on 14th March and landed at Falmouth on 6th July. He was granted the Freedom of the City of  Canterbury and was well received wherever he went in Europe.
After 17 years residing in England, Wiliam Miller was made British Commissioner to the Sandwich Islands. He landed at Honolulu  in January 1844 
In his absence  he was given 450,000 acres in the Argentine Republic for his services in South America to add to the land and money already bestowed on him in Peru. The Peruvian Government bestowed the title of Grand Marshal  of Ayacucho.
Return to Peru
In 1851 Millar was back in Peru where he retuned to his position in the Army. He served for a further 10 years, but the battles and illnesses he had endured during the war had taken their toll. Aware that he was dying he requested to be allowed to die on a British  Warship. He was taken aboard HMS Naiad.
Grand Marshall William Miller died on 31st October 1861.

Post Mortem
Miller's body was afforded every honour. During the embalming a total of 22 wounds were identified and two bullets were removed. His was carried ashore with great pomp and lay in state at the Callao  Arsenal until the next day when a Military Funeral took place. The entire Diplomatic Corps, public functionariesForeign Consuls and detachments of cavalry, infantry and artillery turned out to pay tribute.
William Miller continues to be hailed as a hero in South America, but for many years his exploits were virtually unknown in his home Village. This was rectified to a considerable degree in February 2007 when Ricardo Mendoza the Peruvian Ambassador visited a newly completed social housing project in Wingham. The estate had been given the name Miller Close . The ambassador also attended a service and unveiled a plaque donated by Peru 

Add Endum
This synopsis of this brave and intelligent man's life has concentrated on his heroics in battle. William Millar was more than just a fighting man. Much of his value in his campaigns was his mastery of languages. He was able to communicate with almost anyone he met and made many friends on both sides of the conflict.  He was also empathic. towards the Indigenous peoples.
To find out more about the friendships he formed, the terainne, people and political situation of South America at the time of his stay read: