George Sackville, 1st Viscount Sackville (January 26, 1716 - August 26, 1785) was a British soldier and politician who was Secretary of State for America in Lord North's cabinet during the American Revolution. His ministry received much of the blame for Britain's loss of her American colonies. His issue of detailed instructions in military matters, coupled with his failure to understand the either the geography of the colonies or the determination of the colonists may justify this conclusion.
Lord George Germain was born George Sackville, the third son of Lionel Sackville, the Duke of Dorset and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He had two careers. His military career had some distinction, but ended with a court martial. His political career ended with the North ministry after the loss of the American colonies. He graduated from Trinity College, Dublin in 1737 before he entered the army.
He started as a Captain in the 7th Horse (later the 6th Dragoon Guards). In 1740 he transferred to the Gloucestershire Regiment of Foot as a Lieutenant Colonel. The regiment was sent to Germany to participate in the War of the Austrian Succession. In 1743 Sackville was advanced to brevet Colonel.
George finally saw his first battle, leading the charge of the Duke of Cumberland's infantry in the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745. He was captured, but since he was wounded in the charge, the French treated and released him. When he returned home, it was to duty in Scotland as the Colonel of the 20th Foot (Lancashire Fusiliers) Regiment.
In 1747 and 1748 he again joined the Duke of Cumberland. He became Colonel of the 7th Irish horse and served in Holland. There was a break in his military career between wars when he served as first secretary to his father and as a MP in the Irish House of Commons. During this time he also earned a reputation for homosexual behavior.
During the Seven Years' War George returned to active service. In 1755 he was promoted to Major General and returned to active service to oversee ordinance. In 1758 he was given a fourth regiment and joined the Duke of Marlborough as a Lieutenant General. They joined the allied forces of Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick in Germany. When Marlborough died, Sackville became Commander of the British forces.
Battle of Minden
On August 1, 1759 the British Hessian infantry made a successful attack on the center of the French line in the Battle of Minden. Their attacking line formation even repulsed the French cavalry charge by holding till the last moment then firing a massive volley when the charge came within ten yards. As the French forces began to fall back on Minden, Ferdinand called for a British cavalry charge, but Sackville withheld permission for their advance. Ferdinand sent his order several times, but Sackville was estranged with Lord Granby the force commander. He continued to withhold permission for Granby to gain glory through an attack, and the allies lost the opportunity for a decisive victory or a rout. For this action, he was cashiered and sent home.
Sackville refused to accept responsibility for refusing to obey orders. Back in England, he demanded a court martial, and it a large enough issue that he got his demand in 1760. The court found him guilty, and imposed one of the strangest or strongest verdicts ever rendered against a general officer. The court's verdict not only upheld his discharge, but ruled that he was "...unfit to serve his Majesty in any military capacity whatsoever", then ordered that their verdict be read to and entered in the orderly book of every regiment in the Army. The king had his name struck from the Privy Council rolls.
Sackville had been a Member of Parliament at intervals since 1741. He had served terms in both the Dublin and the Westminster bodies, sometimes simultaneously. but had never taken sides in political wrangles. As George III took the throne, he began his political rehabilitation.
There did not seem to be negative repercussions to the European stalemate of the Seven Year's War. The victories over the French within the colonial empire provided a chance for events of the war to be forgotten. The difficulty of repaying the debts incurred to fight the war caused a period of unstable ministries and shifting political alliances. In 1763 King George quietly returned him to the rolls of the Privy Council.
He increasing lined up as a supporter of Lord North and in 1769 he made this alliance formal. Then in 1769 Lady Elizabeth Germain died without natural heirs, and left her estates to him. This not only improved his finances, it also gave him the chance to formally take that name. After 1770 he was known as Lord George Germain.
On November 10, 1775, Germain was appointed Secretary of State for the America. At that time North's cabinet had three secretaries of state; one each for Europe, America, and the rest of the world. Besides international relations, these secretaries were responsible for a great deal of Colonial administration and for military operations within their area.
This made Germain the primary minister responsible for suppressing the revolt in the colonies. He promoted or relieved Generals, took care of provisions and supplies, and became involved with the strategic planning of the war. His general approach as based on his idea that "...the rabble ... ought not trouble thmselves with politics and government, which they do not understand." and that "...these country clowns cannot whip us."
In 1776 he worked with General Burgoyne to plan, support, and issue orders for the Saratoga Campaign. However, the fact that his orders for General Howe were not clear contributed to the campaign's failure. In 1781 the confusion between orders for Cornwallis and Clinton contributed to the loss at Yorktown.
After the Revolution
When Lord North stepped down in 1782, Germain gave up both his cabinet post and his seat in parliament. King George made him a peer as the Viscount Sackville, but the controversy over his handling of the war continued. Some members were opposed to his seat in the House of Lords, but his declining health soon made the issue moot. He retired to his country home at Stoneland Lodge in Sussex, and died there in 1785.