Articles by Ian McCulloch
So Many Dangers”:
"I enlisted in his Majesty's 77th Regt. Of Foot, commanded by Colonel Archibald Montgomery in the latter end of the year 1756," Robert Kirkwood recorded on the opening pages of his Memoirs, "from which time I was employed in recruiting and Disciplining the regiment, which was mostly composed of impress'd men from the Highlands." Kirkwood's regiment (initially called the First Highland Battalion, later numbered 62nd, then re-numbered the 77th Foot) was not a typical marching regiment, being one of two Highland battalions specially raised for service in North America.
Through So Many Dangers is the first reprint in over 250 years of this young Scot’s personal experiences of battle & captivity in the wilderness of North America during the Seven Years War. Originally entitled The Memoirs and Adventures of Robert Kirk; Late of the Royal Highland Regiment, this small, obscure book was first published in Limerick, Ireland, 1775, just before the American Revolution. Kirkwood’s story constitutes a very rare voice-from-the-ranks account of the previous conflict, a remarkable chronicle by a private soldier of some of the sharpest woods fighting and skirmishing ever encountered by the British army.
Kirkwood experiences were indeed remarkable: taken prisoner by the Shawnee at Fort Duquesne in 1758; a participant on Robert Rogers’ famous raid on St Francis in 1759; a light infantryman at the storming of craggy Signal Hill in Newfoundland in 1762; a survivor of Henry Bouquet’s celebrated victory over the western Indians at Bushy Run, 1763; and, one of 100 Black Watch soldiers who went down the Ohio to the Mississippi in 1765 to take possession of Fort de Chartres in the Illinois country.
Robert Kirkwood's Memoirs not only serve to highlight the evolution of the British redcoat and Highlander into professional all-purpose soldiers but is also the story of the "American Army" writ large, an army adapting itself into a tough, flexible and innovative force whose victories ultimately won the respect of British and American alike during Britain's first global conflict. Kirkwood's performance and many others like him caused Major-General Jeffery Amherst to say of his old "Americans" that it was an honour to command such soldiers whose "constant steady good conduct and unwearied exertion of their abilities in carrying on the extensive and successful war in this country" entitled them "to his most sincere acknowledgements."
Kirkwood could rightly claim in his Memoirs that “few Men have traveled more than [me] in the back parts of North America.” From Niagara Falls to Newfoundland, from the Carolinas to the great western plains flanking the Mississippi, this soldier of the 42nd and 77th Foot covered some 5,000 miles by foot, canoe, whaleboat and transport ship in the course of his ten years’ campaigning. On his return with the Black Watch to Ireland in 1767, after ten years of “service truly critical" in North America, our roguish hero was an accomplished marksman, hunter, and tracker, proficient in the use of canoes, snowshoes and tumplines, the ultimate "Light Infantryman" of the self-styled "American Army".
Thus, Robert Kirkwood’s Memoirs, - an unique historical source and a rare literary phenomenon - should appeal to the general reader and scholar alike. This reprint constitutes a superb team effort from several experts in their chosen fields. Through So Many Dangers is wonderfully illustrated with paintings by reknowned American artist, Robert Griffing. An excellent and insightful Introduction by best-selling British historian, Stephen Brumwell, (author of the critically-acclaimed Redcoats), sets the scene, while annotations, biographical notes, and essays by Seven Years’ War historians, Lt Col Ian McCulloch and Timothy Todish, provide a solid framework whereon the whole tale hangs.
It is hoped that this new edition will help stimulate interest in Robert Kirkwood and the frontier environment that provided the dramatic raw material for his Memoirs. At a time when scholarly books and articles on colonial North America’s ‘backcountry’ are emerging thick and fast, Through So Many Dangers offers a fresh and compelling voice from a man who experienced that violent and fascinating world first hand – and who, against all the odds, lived to tell the tale.
Publication Date: May 2004
EXCERPT from INTRODUCTION
A SCOTTISH SOLDIER’S STORY:
ROBERT KIRKWOOD AND HIS
In the early hours of 14 September 1758, on ground where modern Pittsburgh now stands, a hellish scene unfolded. It was illuminated by the flames of burning buildings and punctuated by a cacophony of discordant sounds. Spine-tingling war whoops mingled with screams of pain and fear, throbbing drums and the crashing reports of musketry; and cutting through it all like a well-honed knife, the banshee skirling of bagpipes.
That night, a formidable force of British regulars and American provincial troops had marched to within striking distance of French Fort Duquesne. Their commander Major James Grant aimed to reconnoitre the stronghold and harass its garrison. But even before the last skeins of early morning mist had dissipated, his plans were already unravelling.
By 7.00 a.m. a succession of blundering and half-hearted advances had sown confusion amongst Grant’s command; the Major then compounded the chaos by ordering his drummers to beat the reveille. He hoped this stirring noise would stiffen his men’s morale; instead, it drew out the enemy like angry hornets. As the French and their Native American allies swarmed through the woods around them, Grant’s hunters were swiftly transformed into panic-stricken prey.
Those who scrambled blindly through the disorientating forest included a Scottish soldier named Robert Kirkwood. Winged by a blast of buckshot, he hobbled ever more feebly in a futile bid for freedom. Nimble Shawnee warriors easily overhauled the limping redcoat and raised their hatchets and knives to finish him off. But the flurry of blows never fell. Instead, the shocked, bleeding and bewildered youngster was spared: he owed his life to the timely intervention of another Shawnee, who viewed him as a divinely ordained replacement for his dead brother – and a prime candidate for adoption into the tribe.
For Kirkwood himself, this unexpected outcome was a most fortunate one. But historians of Colonial America also have cause to be grateful for his miraculous deliverance. Years later, and an ocean away, Kirkwood published his recollections of that memorable morning, and of many other episodes of life and death on the early American frontier.
For reasons that will soon become clear, Kirkwood published his little book under the name of ‘Kirk’. Although hitherto virtually unknown even to specialists of the period, it offers a remarkably vivid and valuable eyewitness perspective upon a pivotal epoch in North American history.
This short essay seeks to introduce Robert Kirk/Kirkwood, to provide some context for his remarkable Memoirs, and to assess their significance – both as work of literature, and as an eyewitness account of the bloody war that erupted in the Americas 250 years ago.
For the British Empire, 1756 brought unmitigated disaster. The Seven Years’ War had barely begun before Admiral John Byng failed to prevent the fall of Britain’s prized Mediterranean base of Minorca; this was an oversight for which he subsequently faced a firing squad. In India, captured Britons were crammed into a congested cell – the ‘Black Hole of Calcutta’ – where scores of them suffocated during a single stifling night. And from across the Atlantic, where fourteen British colonies lined North America’s eastern seaboard from Nova Scotia down to Georgia, the news was equally grim: the notorious disunity of these ‘provinces’, and the humiliating impotence of the Anglo-American war effort, were highlighted that August when the French captured the outpost of Oswego, on Lake Ontario, with almost contemptuous ease.
Desperate times demanded drastic responses. As they trawled for military manpower to shore-up crumbling battlefronts, hard-pressed British ministers reluctantly agreed to authorise a major recruiting drive in the distant Highlands of Scotland. Their hesitation to do so was understandable. Barely a decade had passed since an army of rebel Highlanders had marched deep into England, coming close to toppling the ruling Hanoverian dynasty and replacing them with the exiled Stuarts.
That Jacobite threat was bloodily eradicated at Culloden in April 1746. But the British Army officers responsible for crushing the rebels – not least their commander, William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland – couldn’t help but be impressed by the sterling fighting qualities of their opponents: should occasion arise, as tough professionals like James Wolfe realised, such clansmen might be employed for the benefit of the regime they had so recently menaced; and there was no better destination for them than distant and troubled North America.
Even before the ’45 rebellion Highlanders had served within the British Army; they were not only concentrated in an exclusively Highland regiment – the celebrated ‘Black Watch’ – but could also be found within the ranks of non-Highland units. But the manpower crisis of 1756 prompted a far more methodical effort to harness such clansmen to the service of the state. Two Highland battalions were authorised, both of them on a large establishment of 1,040 rank and file. Originally ranked the 62nd and 63rd regiments of foot, these units were subsequently renumbered the 77th and 78th. In keeping with long-standing custom, they became better known by the surnames of their lieutenant-colonel commandants, Archibald Montgomery (Montgomerie), and Simon Fraser.