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MacDonald's Highlanders


Old Seventy-Sixth Highland Regiment 1777-1784

Letter of service were granted in December 1777 to Lord MacDonald to raise a regiment in the Highlands and Isles, of which corps his lordship was offered the command; but he declined the commission, and at his recommendation, Major John Macdonell of Lochgarry was appointed lieutenant-colonel commandant of the regiment. Lord Macdonald, however, exerted his influence in the formation of the corps, and as a good selection of officers was made from the families of the Macdonalds of Glencoe, Morar, Boisdale, and others of his own clan, and likewise from those of other clans, as MacKinnon, Fraser of Culduthel, Cameron of Callart, Etc., a body of 750 Highlanders was soon raised. Nearly 200 men were raised in the Lowlands by Captains Cunningham, and Lieutenant Samuel Graham. These were kept together in two companies, and another body of men, principally raised in Ireland by Captain Bruce, formed a third company, all of which were kept perfectly distinct from the Highlanders. The regiment was inspected at Inverness in March 1778 by General Skene, and amounted to 1086 men, including non-commissioned officers and drummers.

The regiment was then quartered in Fort George, where it remained twelve months under the command of Major Donaldson, who, from his long experience, was well calculated to train them properly.

Being removed to Perth in March 1779, the regiment was again reviewed by General Skene on the 10th, and, being reported complete, was ordered to march to Burntisland for the purpose of embarking for America. Shortly after their arrival at Burntisland, numbers of the Highlanders were observed in parties in earnest conversation together. The cause of this consultation was soon known. Each company, on the evening of the third day, gavein a written statement, complaining of non-performance of promises, of their bounty-money being withheld, Etc., and accompanied by a declaration, that till their grievances were redressed, they would not embark. They demanded that Lord Macdonald should be sent for to see justice done to them. No satisfactory answer having been returned within the time expected, the Highlanders marched off in a body, and took possession of a hill above Burntisland. To show that these men had no other end in view but justice, they refused to allow some young soldiers, who had joined them in a frolic, to remain with them, telling them that as they had no ground for complaint, they ought not to disobey orders.

The Highlanders remained for several days on the hill without offering the least violence, and sent parties regularly to the town for provisions, for which they paid punctually. During this interval, Major Donaldson, assisted by Lieutenant David Barclay the paymaster, investigated the claims of the men, and ascertained that they were well founded, and Lord Macdonald having arrived, his lordship and the major advanced the money, and paid off every demand at their own risk. On a subsequent investigation of the indiviual claims, when sent to the Isle of Skye, it was ascertained that all, without exception, were found to be just, a circumstance as honourable to the claiments as it was disgraceful to those who had attempted to overreach them.

This disagreeable affair being fortunately settled, the regiment embarked on the 17th of March; but before their departure, all the men of Skye and Uist sent the money they had received home to their families and friends. Major Donaldson being unable to accompany the regiment on account of the delicate state of his health, and Lieutenant-Colonel Macdonell having been taken prisoner on his passage from America, where he had been serving with Fraser's Highlanders, the command of the regiment devolved on Major Lord Berridale.

The transports, with the 76th on board, touched at Portsmouth, and while lying at Spithead, the regiment was ordered to the relief of Jersey, which the enemy had attacked; but before reaching the island the French had been repulsed. They then proceeded on the voyage, and landed at New York in August. The flank companies were then attached to the battalion, composed of the flank companies of the other regiments, and the battalion companies quartered between New York and Staten Island. In February 1781, these companies embarked for Virginia with a detachment of the army, commanded by Major-General Phillips. The light company, being in the second battalion of light infantry, also formed a part of the expedition.

Lord Berridale, who had, by the death of his father this year, become Earl of Caithness, having been severely wounded at the siege of Charlestown, returned to Scotland, and was succeeded in the command of the regiment by the Hon. Major Needham, afterwards Earl of Kilmorey, who had purchased Major Donaldson's commission.

General Phillips landed at Portsmouth, Virginia, in March, and having joined the detachment under General Arnold, the united detachments formed a junction with the army of Lord Cornwallis in May. The Macdonald Highlanders, on meeting with men who had braved the dangers of the field, considered themselves as an inferior race, and sighed for an opportunity of putting themselves on an equality with their companions in arms, and they did not wait long.

The celebrated Marquis de la Fayette, anxious to distinguish himself in the cause which he had espoused, determined to attack Lord Cornwallis's army, and in pursuance of this intention pushed forward a strong corps, which forced the British picquets. He then formed his line and a warm contest immediately began, the weight of which, on the side of the British, was sustained by the brigade of Colonel Thomas Dundee, consisting of the 76th and 80th regiments. These corps, which were on the left, were drawn up on an open field, while the right of the line was covered by woods. Coming up in the rear of the 76th, Lord Cornwallis gave word to charge, which being responded to by the Highlanders, they rushed forward with great impetuosity upon the enemy, who, unable to stand the shock, turned their backs and fled, leaving their cannon and 300 men, killed and wounded, behind them.

After the surrender of Lord Cornwallis's army, the 76th was marched in detachments as prisoners to different parts of Virginia. During their confinement, many attempts were made by their emigrant countrymen, as well as by the Americans, to induce them to join the cause of American independence; but not one of them could be induced by any consideration to renounce his allegiance.

The regiment, on its return to Scotland, was disbanded in March 1784 at Stirling Castle.


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