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Scottish Regiments
The Black Watch - Skirmish at New York and White Plains


In conjunction with Fraser's Highlanders, the 42d embarked at Greenock on the 14th of April 1776, to join an expedition under General Howe against the American revolutionists. The transports separated in a gale of wind, but they all reached their destination in Staten Island, where the main body of the army had assembled. A grenadier battalion was immediately formed under the command of the Hon. Major (afterwards General) Sir Charles Stewart, the staff appointments to which, out of respect to the 42d, were taken by the commander-in-chief from that regiment. A light infantry corps was also formed, to the command of which Lieutenant-colonel Musgrave was appointed. The flank companies of the 42d were attached to these battalions. "The Highland grenadiers were remarkable for strength and height, and considered equal to any company in the army: the light infantry were quite the reverse in point of personal appearance, as the commanding officer would not allow a choice of men for them. The battalion companies were formed into two temporary battalions, the command of one being given to Major William Murray (Lintrose), and that of the other to Major William Grant (Rothiemurchus), with an adjutant quarter-master in each battalion; the whole being under the command of Lieutenant-colonel Thomas Stirling. These grenadiers were placed in the reserve with the grenadiers of the army, under the command of Earl Cornwallis. To these were added the 33d, his lordship's won regiment".

The whole of the British force under the command of Sir William Howe, including 13,000 Hessians and Waldeckers, amounted to 30,000 men. The campaign opened by a landing on Long Island on the 22d of August 1776. The whole army encamped in front of the villages of Gravesend and Utrecht. The American army, under General Putnam, was encamped at Brooklyn, a few miles intersected the country from east to west, divided the two armies.

The British general having resolved to attack the enemy in three divisions, the right wing, under General Clinton, sized, on the 26th of August, at night-fall a pass on the heights, about three miles from Bedford. The main body then passed through, and descended to the level country which lay between the hills and General Putnam's lines. Whilst this movement was going on, Major-general Grant (Ballindalloch) with his brigade (the 4th), supported by the Royal Highlanders from the reserve, was directed to march from the left along the coast to the Narrows, and attack the enemy in that quarter. The right wing having reached Bedford at nine o'clock next morning, attacked the left of the American army, which, after a short resistance, retired to their lines in great confusion, pursued by the British troops, Colonel Stuart leading with his battalion of Highland grenadiers. The Hessians, who had remained at Flat Bush, on hearing the fire at Bedford, advanced, and, attacking the center of the American army, drove them, after a short engagement, through the woods, and captured three pieces of cannon. General Grant had previously attacked the right of the enemy, and a cannonade had been kept up near the Narrows on both sides, till the Americans heard the firing at Bedford, when they retreated in disorder. Notwithstanding these advantages, neither General Howe nor General Grant ventured to follow them up by pursuing the enemy, and attacking them in their lines, although they could have made no effectual resistance. The enemy lost 2000 men, killed, drowned, and taken prisoners. The British had 5 officers, and 56 non-commissioned officers and privates killed; and 12 officers and 245 non-commissioned officers and privates wounded. Among the latter was Lieutenant Crammond and 9 rank and file of teh 42d.

About this time the broadswords and pistols which the men received in Glasgow were ordered to be laid aside. The pistols being considered unnecessary, except in the field, were not intended, like the swords, to be worn by the men by getting entangled in the brushwood. "Admitting that the objection was well-founded, so far as regards the swords, it certainly could not apply to the pistols. In a close woody country, where troops are liable to sudden attacks and surprises by a hidden enemy, such a weapon is peculiarly useful. It is, therefore, difficult to discover a good reason for laying them aside. I have been told by several old officers and soldiers, who bore a part in these attacks, that an enemy who stood for many hours the fire of musketry, invariably gave way when an advance was made sword in hand. They were never restored, and the regiment has had neither swords nor pistols since".

The army encamped in front of the enemy's lines in the evening of the 27th of August, and next day broke ground opposite their left redoubt. General Washington had crossed over from New York during the action at Brooklyn, and seeing resistance hopeless, resolved to retreat. With surprising skill he transported 9000 men, with guns, ammunition, and stores, in the course of one night, over to New York; and such was the secrecy with which this movement was effected, that the British army knew nothing of it till next morning, when the last of the rear-guard were seen in their boats crossing the broad ferry and out of danger.

Active operations were not resumed till the 15th of September, when the reserve, including the Royal Highlanders, crossed over to New York, and, after some opposition, took possession of the heights above the town. The Highlanders and Hessians fell in with and captured a body of New England men and Virginians. Next day the light infantry were sent out to dislodge a party of the enemy from a wood opposite the British left. A smart action ensued, and, the enemy pushing forward reinforcements, the Highlanders were sent to support the light infantry. The Americans were then driven back to their entrenchments; but they renewed the attack with an increased force, and were again repulsed with considerable loss. The British had 14 men killed, and 5 officers and 70 men wounded. The 42d had 1 sergeant and 5 privates killed; and Captains Duncan Macpherson and John Mackintosh, and Ensign Alexander Mackenzie (who died of his wounds), and 1 piper, 2 drummers, and 47 privates wounded.

General Howe, in expectation of an attack, threw up entrenchments; but General Washington having no such intention, made a general movement, and took up a strong position on the heights in the rear of the White Plains. To induce the enemy to quit their ground, General Howe resolved to make a movement, and accordingly embarked his army on the 12th of October in flat-bottomed boats, and passing through the intricate narrow called Hell Gate, disembarked the same evening at Frogsneck, near West Chester. In consequence of the bridge which connected the latter place with the mainland having been broken down by the enemy, the general re-embarked his troops next day, and landed at Pell's Point, at the mouth of Hudson's river. On the 14th he reached the White Plains in front of the enemy's position. As a preliminary to a general engagement, General Howe attacked a post on a rising ground occupied by 4000 of the enemy, which he carried; but General Washington declining battle, the British general gave up the attempt, and proceeded against Fort Washington, the possession of which was necessary in order to open the communication between New York and the continent, to the eastward and northward of Hudson's river. The fort, the garrison of which consisted of 3000 men, was protected by strong grounds covered with lines of works. The Hessians, under General Knyphausen, supported by the whole of the reserve, under Major-General Earl Percy, with the exception of the 42d, who were to make a feint on the east side of the fort, were to make the principal attack. The Royal Highlanders embarked in boats on the 16th of November, before day-break, and landed in a small creek at the foot of the rock, in the face of a smart fire. The Highlanders had now discharged the duty assigned them, but determined to have a full share in the honour of the day, they resolved upon an assault, and assisted by each other, and by the brushwood and shrubs which grew out of the crevices of the rocks, scrambled up the precipice. On gaining the summit, they rushed forward, and attacked the enemy with such rapidity, that upwards of 200, unable to escape, threw down their arms; whilst the Highlanders, following up their advantage, penetrated across the table of the hill, and met Lord Percy's brigade as they were coming up on the opposite side. On seeing the Hessians approach in another direction, the enemy surrendered at discretion. In this affair the Royal Highlanders had 1 sergeant and 10 privates killed; and Lieutenants Patrick Graham (Inchbrakie), Normal Macleod, and Alexander Grant, and 4 sergeants and 66 rank and file wounded.

(Major Murray, being a large corpulent man, could not attempt this steep ascent without assistance. The soldiers, eager to get to the point of their duty, scrambled up, forgetting the situation of Major Murray, when he, in a melancholy supplicating tone, cried, 'Oh soldiers, will you leave me!'. A party leaped down instantly, and brought him up, supporting him from one ledge of the rocks to another till they got him to the top").

To secure the entire command of the North river, and to open an easy entrance into the Jerseys, Fort Lee was next reduced, in which service the Royal Highlanders were employed. The enemy, pursued by the detachment which captured that post, retired successively to Newbridge, Elizabeth Town, Newark, and Brunswick. On the 17th of November General Howe entered Prince Town with the main body of the army, an hour after it was evacuated by General Washington. Winter having now set in, General Howe put his army into winter quarters. The advanced posts, which extended from Trenton to Mount-holly, were occupied by the Hessians and the Royal Highlanders, who were the only British regiments in front.

If, instead of suspending active operations, General Howe had continued occasionally to beat up the quarters of the Americans whilst dispirited by their late reverses, it is though that he would have reduced them to the last extremity. General Washington availed himself of the inactivity of the British commander, and by making partial attacks on the advanced posts, he not only improved the discipline of his army, but, in consequence of the success which sometimes attended these attacks, revived the drooping spirits of his men. On the 22d of January 1777, he surprised and completely defeated the detachment of Hessians stationed at Trenton; in consequence of which reverse, the Royal Highlanders, who formed the left of the line of defense at Mount-holly, fell back on the light infantry at Prince Town.

During the remainder of the season the Royal Highlanders were stationed in the village of Pisquatua, on the line of communication between New York and Brunswick by Ambuy. The duty was severe, from the rigor of the season and the want of accommodation. The houses in the village not being sufficient to contain one-half of the men, the officers and soldiers were intermixed in barns and sheds, and they always slept in their body-clothes, as the enemy were constantly sending down nocturnal parties to fire at the sentinels and picquets. The Americans, however, always kept at a respectful distance, and did not make any regular attack on the post till the 10th of May 1777, on which day, at four o'clock in the afternoon, a body of 2000 men, under the command of Maxwell and Stephens, American generals, attempted to surprise the Highlanders. Advancing with great secrecy, and being completely covered by the rugged nature of the country, their approach was not discovered till they had gained a small level piece of ground in front of the piquets, when they rushed forward, and attacked them with such promptitude, that the piquets had hardly time to seize their arms. At this time the soldiers were either all differently employed, or taking the rest they could not obtain at night; but the piquets, by disputing every inch of ground, gave time to the soldiers to assemble, who drove he enemy back with great precipitation, leaving behind them upwards of 200 men in killed and wounded. On this occasion the 42d had 3 sergeants and 9 privates killed; and Captain Duncan Macpherson, Lieutenant William Stewart, 3 sergeants, and 35 privates wounded.

"On this occasion Sergeant Macgregor, whose company was immediately in the rear of the piquet, rushed forward to their support with a few men who happened to have their arms in their hands, when the enemy commenced the attack. Being severely wounded, he was left insensible on the ground. When the picquet was overpowered, and the few survivors forced to retire, Macgregor, who had that day put on a new jacket with silver-lace, having, besides, large silver buckles in his shoes, and a watch, attracted the notice of an American soldier, who deemed him a good prize. The retreat of his friends not allowing him time to strip the sergeant on the spot, he thought the shortest way was to take him on his back to a more convenient distance. By this time Macgregor began to recover; and, perceiving whither the man was carrying him, drew his dirk, and grasping him by the throat, swore that he run him through the breast if he did not turn back and carry him to the camp. The American finding this argument irresistible, complied with the request, and meeting Lord Cornwallis (who had come up to the support of the regiment when he heard the firing), and Colonel Stirling, was thanked for his care of the sergeant; but he honestly told them that he only conveyed him thither to save his own life. Lord Cornwallis gave him liberty to go whithersoever he chose. His lordship procured for the sergeant a situation under government at Leith, which he enjoyed many years".

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