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Scottish Regiments
The Black Watch - Expedition to Minorca


In September, Sir Ralph Abercromby returned to England, when the temporary command of the army devolved upon Major-General Charles Graham, who was promoted this year from the lieutenant-colonelcy of the 42d to the colonelcy of the 5th West India Regiment. He was succeeded in the lieutenant-colonelcy by Major James Stewart. The commander-in-chief returned from England in February 1797, and immediately collected a force for an attack on Trinidad, which surrendered without opposition. He, thereafter, assembled a body of troops, consisting of the 26th light dragoons dismounted, the 14th, 42d, 53d, and some other corps, at St Christopher’s, for an attack on Porto Rico, whither they proceeded on the 15th of April, and anchored off Congregus’s Point on the 17th. The enemy made a slight opposition to the landing, but retired when the troops disembarked. As the inhabitants of Porto Rico, who had been represented as favourable, did not show any disposition to surrender, and as the Moro or castle was too strong to be attacked with such an inconsiderable force, which was insufficient to blockade more than one of its sides, the commander-in-chief resolved to give up the attempt, and accordingly re-embarked his troops on the 30th of April. This was the last enterprise against the enemy in that quarter during the rest of the war. The Highlanders were sent to Martinique, where they embarked for England, free from sickness, after having the casualties of the two preceding years more than supplied by volunteers from the 79th Highlanders, then stationed in Martinique. The Royal Highlanders landed at Portsmouth on the 30th of July in good health, and were marched to Hillsea barracks. After remaining a few weeks there, the five companies embarked for Gibraltar, where they joined the five other companies, whose destination had been changed by their return to port after the sailing of the expedition to the West Indies. The regiment was now 1100 men strong.

The next service in which the Royal Highlanders were engaged was on an expedition against the island of Minorca, under the command of Lieutenant-General the Hon. Sir Charles Stewart, in the month of November 1798. The British troops having invested Cittadella, the principal fortress in the island, on the 14th of November, the Spanish commander, who had concentrated his forces in that garrison, surrendered on the following day. The Spanish general, whose force greatly exceeded that of the invaders, was deceived as to their numbers, which, from the artful mode in which they were dispersed over the adjoining eminences, he believed to amount to at least 10,000 men.

The possession of Minorca was of considerable importance, as it was made the rendezvous of a large force about to be employed on the coast of the Mediterranean, in support of our allies, in the year 1800. The command of this army was given to Sir Ralph Abercromby, who arrived on the 22d of June 1799, accompanied by Major-Generals Hutchinson and Moore. A part of the army was embarked for the relief of Genoa, then closely besieged by the French, and a detachment was also sent to Colonel Thomas Graham of Balgowan, who blockaded the garrison of La Vallette in the island of Malta.

Genoa having surrendered before the reinforcement arrived, the troops returned to Minorca, and were afterwards embarked for Gibraltar, where they arrived on the 14th of September, when accounts were received of the surrender of Malta, after a blockade of nearly two years. Early in October the armament sailed for Cadiz, to take possession of the city, and the Spanish fleet in the harbour of Carraccas, and was joined by the army under Sir James Pulteney from Ferrol; but when the Highlanders and part of the reserve were about landing in the boats, a gun from Cadiz announced the approach of a flag of truce. The town was suffering dreadfully from the ravages of the pestilence, and the object of the communication was to implore the British commander to desist from the attack. Sir Ralph Abercromby, with his characteristic humanity, could not withstand the appeal, and accordingly suspended the attack. The fleet got under weigh the following morning for the bay of Tetuan, on the coast of Barbary, and after being tossed about in a violent gale, during which it was obliged to take refuge under the lea of Cape Spartell, the fleet returned to Gibralter.


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