Alison, Sir Archibald, second baronet 1826-1907, general, born at Edinburgh on 21 Jan. 1826, was eldest son of Sir Archibald Alison, first baronet [qv.], the historian, by Elizabeth Glencairn, daughter of Lieut.-colonel Tytler. In 1835 Possil House, near Glasgow, became the family home. The father educated his son privately, till he went to Glasgow University. There, at the age of fifteen, he gained the first prize for an English essay on the character and times of Sulla, and reviewed Thierry's History of the Gauls in Blackwood's Magazine. Between Alison and his father there was always the closest intimacy. They shared the same tastes, and the son replied in Blackwood (May 1850) to the criticisms in the Edinburgh Review on the continuation of his father's history.
On 3 Nov. 1846 Alison was commissioned as ensign in the 72nd foot (afterwards Seaforth highlanders) and joined the depot at Nenagh. He was promoted lieutenant on 11 Sept. 1849, and joined the headquarters of the regiment in Barbados. Yellow fever was raging there, and his father had arranged for an exchange, but Alison refused to leave his regiment at such a time. He went with it to Nova Scotia in 1851, and came home with it in October 1854, having been promoted captain on 11 Nov. 1853.
After some months at Malta, the regiment went to the Crimea in May 1855, and having taken part in the expedition to Kertch, was placed in the highland brigade at the end of June. While serving with the regiment in the trenches before Sebastopol, Alison attracted the notice of Sir Colin Campbell [qv.], by opportunely producing a sketch plan of the trenches, which he had drawn on the inside of an envelope, as well as by his coolness under fire during the assault of 8 Sept. He was mentioned in despatches, was made brevet-major on 6 June 1856, and received the Crimean medal with clasp and the Turkish medal. On 19 Dec. 1856 he left the 72nd for an unattached majority.
When Sir Colin Campbell left England at twenty-four hours' notice on 12 July 1857 to deal with the Indian Mutiny, he took Alison with him as his military secretary, and a younger brother, Frederick, as his aide-de-camp. In the second relief of Lucknow both brothers were wounded, the elder losing his left arm. He returned to duty early in 1858, but the stump inflamed, and he was invalided home (10 March). He had been mentioned in despatches (Lond. Gaz. 16 Jan. 1858), was made brevet lieut.-colonel and C.B. (28 Feb. 1861), and received the medal with clasp. On his arrival in England he dined with Queen Victoria. When entertained by the corporation of Glasgow, he explained Sir Colin Campbell's work, and wrote on Lord Clyde's Campaign in India in Blackwood (Oct. 1858).
Alison was unemployed for the next four years. From 17 March 1862 to 19 Oct. 1867 he was an assistant adjutant-general, first with the inspector-general of infantry at headquarters, and three years afterwards in the south-western district. He became brevet-colonel on 17 March 1867. On 1 Oct. 1870 he was placed on the staff at Aldershot as assistant adjutant-general. At the end of 1873 he went to the west coast of Africa in command of the British brigade sent out for the Ashanti war, with the local rank of brigadier-general. He took part in the battle of Amoaful, the capture of Bequah, the action at Ordashu, and the taking of Coomassie. At Amoaful the fire was very hot, and the dense growth made direction difficult, but his staff were struck by his self-possession and the precision of his orders. When abscesses in his only hand made him nearly helpless, he bore his suffering with sweet — serenity. He was repeatedly mentioned in despatches (Lond. Gaz. 6, 7 and 17 March 1874), received the thanks of parliament and the medal with clasp, and was made K.C.B. on 31 March 1874. After a few months at Aldershot, Alison went to Ireland as deputy adjutant-general on 17 Oct. 1874. He received a reward for distinguished service on 6 Oct. 1876, and was promoted major-general on 1 Oct. 1877. After four months as commandant of the Staff College at Camberley, he was deputy quartermaster-general for intelligence, and helped at the headquarters staff (1878-82) to meet the Egyptian crisis of 1882.
On 6 July Alison left England to take command of a force which was assembled at Cyprus to secure the Suez Canal. The bombardment of Alexandria took place on the 11th, and Alison landed there on the 17th with two battalions which were soon reinforced. On the 24th he occupied Ramleh, and receiving instructions to keep Arabi constantly alarmed, he made repeated demonstrations towards Kafr-ed-Dauar, especially on 5 Aug. Thus Arabi was led to expect that the British advance on Cairo would be from Alexandria, and not from Ismailia, as was intended. In that advance Alison commanded the highland brigade, consisting of the highland light infantry, Camerons, Gordons, and black watch. This was the leading brigade of the second (Hamley's) division in the storming of the intrenchments at Tel-el-Kebir; and Alison took a personal part, revolver in hand, in the confused fighting inside. After the surrender of Cairo he was sent to occupy Tanta with half a battalion of the Gordon highlanders (17 Sept.). He found there an Egyptian force of all arms disposed to resist; but by coolness and tact he induced them to lay down their arms (Maurice, p. 103). He was mentioned in despatches (Lond. Gaz. 29 July, 6 Oct., and 2 Nov.), received the thanks of parliament, and was promoted lieut.-general for distinguished service on 18 Nov. 1882. After Lord Wolseley's departure Alison was in command of the British force in Egypt till 17 May 1883. On his return to England a sword of honour was presented to him by the citizens of Glasgow, with a tiara for Lady Alison.
Alison held the command of the Aldershot division from 1 Aug. 1883 till the end of 1888, with the exception of part of 1885, when he acted as adjutant-general during Lord Wolseley's absence in Egypt. He received the G.C.B. on 21 June 1887, and was placed on the retired list under the age rules on 12 Jan. 1893. He was given the colonelcy of the Essex regiment on 24 Nov. 1896, and was transferred to his old regiment, the Seaforth highlanders, on 30 March 1897. He was also honorary colonel of the 1st volunteer battalion of the highland light infantry, 25 July 1883, and was made honorary Doctor of Law of Cambridge, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. In 1889 he was appointed a member of the Indian council and remained on it for ten years. He died at 93 Eaton Place, London, on 5 Feb. 1907, and was buried at Edinburgh with military honours, the Seaforth highlanders taking part in the ceremony. On 18 Nov. 1858 he married Jane, daughter of James Black of Dalmonach, a Glasgow merchant. She died on 15 July 1909. She edited her father-in-law's autobiography, and was a woman of many gifts. They had two sons and four daughters. The eldest son, Archibald (the third baronet), was born on 20 May 1862. At his residence, Possil House, Copse Hill, Wimbledon, there are portraits of Alison by S. West (1865) and by Miss Munro (1900).
Modest and self-effacing to the very verge of humility, he never asserted his individuality until duty summoned him to the front; but he knew how to combine courtesy with insistence on duty. Among contributions to Blackwood, besides those mentioned, were articles on the British army and its organisation (1869 and 1892) and on Armed Europe (1893-4).
Cornhill Magazine, March 1907
Blackwood's Magazine, March 1907
The Times, 6 Feb. 1907
Autobiography of Sir Archibald Alison (first baronet), 1883
Major Brackenbury, The Ashanti War, 1874
Sir Frederick Maurice, The Campaign of 1882 in Egypt, 1908
Shand, Life of Sir E. Hamley, 1895.
Contributor: E. M. L. [Ernest Marsh Lloyd]