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Scottish Regiments
The Black Watch - War with France


In consequence of the war with France, the whole regiment was ordered south, and, preparatory to their march, assembled at Montrose in April 1793. An attempt to increase the establishment by recruiting proved unsuccessful, the result, in some degree, of the depopulating system which had lately been commenced in Ross-shire, and which soured the kindly dispositions of the Highlanders. The corps at this time scarcely exceeded 400 men, and to make up for deficiencies in recruiting, two independent companies, raised by Captain David Hunter of Burnside, and Alexander Campbell of Ardchattan, were ordered to join the regiment.

On the 8th of May, the regiment embarked at Musselburgh for Hull, the inhabitants of which received the Highlanders most kindly, and were so pleased with their good conduct that, after they embarked for Flanders, the town sent each man a present of a pair of shoes, a flannel shirt, and worsted socks. The regiment joined the army under his Royal Highness the Duke of York, then encamped in the neighborhood of Menin, on the 3d October.

The first enterprise in which the Highlanders were engaged was in conjunction with the light companies of the 19th, 27th and 57th regiments, in the month of October, when they marched to the relief of Nieuport, then garrisoned by the 53d regiment, and a small battalion of Hessians. On the appearance of this reinforcement, the besiegers retired. The Highlanders had 1 sergeant and 1 private killed, and 2 privates wounded. After this the regiment was re-embarked for England, along with the three others just mentioned, to join an expedition then preparing against the French colonies in the West Indies; but on arriving at Portsmouth, the 42d was ordered to join another expedition then fitting out against the coast of France, under the command of the Earl of Moira. Colonel Graham, who had held command of the regiment since the year 1791, being at this time appointed to the command of a brigade, the command devolved on Major George Dalrymple.

The expedition sailed on the 30th of November; but although it reached the coast of France to the eastward of Cape la Hogue, no landing took place. The expedition, after stopping some time at Guernsey, returned to Portsmouth in the beginning of January 1794. The troops remained in England till the 18th of June, when they were re-embarked for Flanders, under the command of the Earl of Moira. They landed at Ostend on the 26th. At this time the allied armies, in consequence of the advance of a large French army and the partial defection of Prussia, were placed in a very critical situation, particularly the small division under the Duke of York encamped at Malines. A junction with the duke became a primary object with Lord Moira, who accordingly resolved to abandon Ostend. He embarked all the stores and the garrison, and whilst the embarkation was proceeding, the troops were ordered under arms on the sand hills in the neighborhood in light marching order. The officers left all their luggage behind, except what they carried on their backs. In the evening of the 28th the troops moved forward, and halting ten miles beyond the town, proceeded at midnight towards Ostaker, and reached Alost on the 3d of July. Whilst these troops remained here, about 400 of the enemy's cavalry entered the town, and being mistaken for Hessians, passed unmolested to the market-place. One of them made an attempt to cut down a Highlander named Macdonald, who was passing through the market-place with a basket on his head. The dragoon having wounded the man severely in the hand which held the basket, the enraged mountaineer drew his bayonet with the other hand and attacked the horseman, who fled. Macdonald thereupon continued his course, venting his regret as he went along that he had not a broadsword to cut down the intruder. On being recognized, the enemy were driven out by some dragoons and picquets.

After a fatiguing march in presence of a superior force under General Vandamme, the reinforcement joined the Duke of York on the 9th of July. A succession of petty skirmishes occurred until the 20th, when Lord Moira resigned the command. He was succeeded by Lieutenant-General Ralph Abercromby, to whom the command of the third brigade, or reserve, in which were the Highlanders, was assigned. The army crossed the Waal at Nimeguen on the 8th October. Several smart affairs took place between the advanced posts of the two armies till the 20th, when the enemy attacked the whole of the British advanced posts. They were repulsed, but the 77th regiment sustained a severe loss in officers and men. By incessant attacks, however, the enemy established themselves in front of Nimeguen, and began to erect batteries preparatory to a siege; but on the 4th November they were driven from their works, after an obstinate resistance. The enemy still persevering with great energy to push their preparations for a siege, it was found necessary to evacuate the town.

This evacuation took place on the 7th of November, and the army was contoned along the banks of the river. They suffered greatly from the severity of the weather, and so intense was the frost, that the enemy crossed the Waal on the ice. They took post at Thuyl; but although the place was surrounded with entrenchments, and the approach flanked by batteries placed on the isle of Bommell, they were forced from all their posts, and obliged to repass the Waal, by a body of 8000 British, among whom was the third brigade. The loss of the British was trifling. The enemy again crossed the Waal on the 4th of January 1795, and retook Thuyl, from which it was now found impossible to dislodge them. In an attack which they made on the forces under General David Dundas at Gildermaslen, they were repulsed with the loss of 200 men, whilst that of the British was only about one-fourth of that number. The 42d had 1 private killed, and Lieutenant-Colonel Lamond and 7 privates wounded.

Compelled by the severity of the weather, and the increasing numbers of the French, to retreat, the British troops retired behind the Leck, after the division under Lord Cathcart had repulsed an attack made by the enemy on the 8th.

Disease, the result of a want of necessaries and proper clothing, had greatly diminished the ranks of the British; and the men, whose robustness of constitution had hitherto enabled them to withstand the rigors of one of the severest winters ever remembered, at last sank under the accumulated hardships which beset them. Such was the state of the British army when General Pichegru, crossing the Waal in great force, made a general attack on the 14th of January along the whole line, from Arnheim to Amerougen. After a continued resistance till morning, the British began a disastrous retreat to Deventer, the miseries of which have only been exceeded by the sufferings of the Franch in their disastrous retreat from Moscow. The inhumanity of the Dutch boors, who uniformly shut their doors against the unfortunate sufferers, will ever remain a disgrace on the Dutch nation. The hospitable conduct of the inhabitants of Bremen, where the remains of this luckless army arrived in the beginning of April, formed a noble contrast to that of the selfish and unfeeling Dutch.

In no former campaign was the superiority of the Highlanders over their companions in arms, in enduring privations and fatigues, more conspicuous than in this; for whilst some of the newly-raised regiments lost more than 300 men by disease alone, the 42d, which had 300 young recruits in its ranks. lost only 25, including those killed in battle, from the time of their embarkation at Bremen, on the 14th of April.

The Royal Highlanders having landed at Harwich were marched to Chelmsford, and encamped in June 1795 in the neighborhood of Danbury. In September the regiment was augmented to 1000 men, by drafts from the Strathspey and Perthshire Highlanders, and the regiments of Colonel Duncan Cameron and Colonel Simon Fraser, which had been raised the preceding year, and were now broken up. "Although these drafts", says General Stewart, "furnished many good and serviceable men to former recruits. This difference of character was more particularly marked in their habits and manners in quarters, than in their conduct on the field, which was always unexceptionable. Having been embodied for upwards of eighteen months, and having been subject to a greater mixture of character than was usual in Highland battalions, these corps had lost much of their original manners, and of that strict attention to religious and moral duties which distinguished the Highland youths on quitting their native glens, and which, when in corps unmixed with men of different characters produced a sensible change in the moral conduct and character of the regiment".

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