Frederick Adam

General Sir Frederick Adam GCB GCMG (17 June 1781  17 August 1853) was a Scottish major-general at the Battle of Waterloo, in command of the 3rd (Light) Brigade. He was the fourth son of William Adam of Blair Adam and his wife Eleanora, the daughter of Charles Elphinstone, 10th Lord Elphinstone. He was later a Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands, who built Mon Repos, Corfu and other important landmarks in that Protectorate.

Sir Frederick Adam

Frederick Adam as painted by William Salter, 1848 or after
Born(1781-06-17)17 June 1781
Died17 August 1853(1853-08-17) (aged 72)
Allegiance Kingdom of Great Britain
 United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army, Artillery
Years of service1795-?
Commands held3rd (Light) Brigade
Battles/warsPeninsular War: Battles of Castalla, Alicante, Biar, Ordal
War of the Seventh Coalition: Waterloo
AwardsKnight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Relationsfather: William Adam (MP)
Other workLord High Commissioner, Ionian Islands
Governor of Madras

Military career

He was born at the family home of Blairadam House, just north of Kelty in Fife.

At the age of fourteen in 1795, Frederick Adam entered the British Army. He trained at the artillery school at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich. In the same year, he was commissioned as a first lieutenant and in 1796 he was promoted to second lieutenant.

He took part in the campaigns in the Netherlands and Egypt under Sir Ralph Abercromby, he was promoted to the rank of major in 1803 and a lieutenant colonel in 1804. From 1806 to 1811 he was stationed on Sicily. Between 1812 and 1813 he was in Spain fighting in the Peninsular War, where he was severely wounded at Alicante. On 12 April 1813, while commanding the Light Brigade in John Murray's expeditionary force, Adam led a brilliant rearguard action against the corps of Marshal Louis-Gabriel Suchet at Biar. The following day, his 2/27th Foot battalion inflicted 350 casualties on Suchet's 121st Line Regiment during the Battle of Castalla. He was wounded again in an action at Ordal on 13 September 1813.


On 18 June 1815, Adam commanded the 3rd British Brigade in Henry Clinton's 2nd Division at the Battle of Waterloo. At the crisis of the battle, Adam's 1/52nd (Light) Foot performed a left-wheel to enfilade the flank of the French Imperial Guard's main attack while the British Guards engaged the head of the column. Under fire from two directions, the French guardsmen put up a brief resistance then fled. After their unsuccessful attack on the British centre, the Guard rallied to their reserves of three (some sources say four) regiments, just south of La Haye Sainte for a last stand against the British. But a charge from Adam's brigade threw them into a state of confusion and those which were left retreated towards La Belle Alliance. It was during this stand that Colonel Hugh Halkett took the surrender of General Cambronne.

The French Imperial Guard made a last stand in squares on either side of the La Belle Alliance. General Adam's Brigade charged the square which was formed on rising ground to the (British) right of La Belle Alliance and again threw them into a state of confusion. The other square was attacked by the Prussians. The French retreated away from the battlefield towards France. The French artillery, and everything else belonging to them, fell into the hands of the British and Prussians.

Battle Order of the 3rd Light Brigade at The Battle of Waterloo
Unit Commander Strength Casualties
3rd (Light) British Brigade Major General Frederick Adam 2,937 men 698
1/52nd Regiment of Foot (Oxfordshire Light Infantry) Lt-Colonel Sir John Colborne 1,130 199
1/71st Regiment of Foot (Highland Light Infantry) Lt-Colonel Reyner 936 202
2/95th Regiment of Foot (Rifles) Major Norcott 666 247
3/95th Regiment of Foot (Rifles) Major John Ross 205 50

Later life

Statue by Pavlos Prosalentis in Corfu

From 1817 to 1824, Adam continued his career in the army. Between 1824 and 1832 he was a popular Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands. His commissioning of the construction of public buildings on Corfu was appreciated by the local population.

From 25 October 1832, to 4 March 1837, he was Governor of Madras and, in 1846, he was promoted to general.

Military commands

Incomplete list of military commands:

  • 1813 - commanded Anglo-Allied Light Brigade at Biar and Castalla.
  • 1813 - commanded Anglo-Allied Advanced Guard at Ordal.
  • 1815 - commanded 3rd (Light) British Brigade at Waterloo.
  • 1829 - 1835 Colonel of 73rd Perthshire Regiment of Foot.
  • 1835 - Colonel of 57th Foot who were stationed in India.
  • 1843 - Colonel 21st Fusiliers.


  • Keegan, John. The Face of Battle. Vintage, 1977.
  • Smith, Digby. The Napoleonic Wars Data Book. Greenhill, 1998.

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