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Sketches of The Character, Manners, and Present State of the Highlanders of Scotland


Military Annals of the Highland Regiments

Seventy-ninth Regiment
or
Cameron Highlanders
1793

This respectable regiment was the second raised in this war. On the 17th of August 1793, Letters of Service were granted to Allan Cameron of Errach, for the purpose of raising a corps of Highlanders. To regiments embodied in this manner, Government generally allowed a bounty, but under no certain regulation, being higher or lower, according to time and circumstances. But, in this instance, no bounty whatever was given, and the men were recruited at the sole expense of Mr Cameron and his officers. How well they succeeded in the execution of this task appeared by the rapid completion of the corps. It was inspected at Stirling in February 1794, and embodied under the number and denomination of the 79th or Cameron Highlanders. Mr Cameron was appointed Lieutenant-colonel-commandant. The success of this first effort encouraged him to proceed; and, in a short time, the corps was completed to 1000 men.

Not having been able to procure any detailed account of the movements and service of this regiment, beyond such a sketch or outline as must be familiar to all general readers, as well to military men, I shall, therefore, only state that it was employed in the campaign of 1794 and 1795 in Flanders; and that in the summer of the latter year it embarked for the West Indies. A duty of two years in Martinique reduced the strength of the corps considerably.—In July 1797, a proposition was made to the men to volunteer into other regiments. Such of them as chose to return to Europe were to join the 42d regiment, then under orders to embark, and those who preferred the West Indies were at liberty to make choice of any regiment destined to continue on that station. The officers, and non-commissioned officers, were to return to Scotland to recruit for another battalion. Many of the men chose to remain in the West Indies. Those who preferred the 42d—a number amounting to 210 men—came home in 1797, and in such good health, that five companies of 100 men each, including the men of both corps, landed at Portsmouth on the 31st of August, in perfect health. It has been already mentioned, that when the report of the regiment was sent on shore, on the arrival of the ships at Portsmouth, it was supposed that the number of sick had been omitted through mistake, and no small surprise was expressed when the correctness of the report was ascertained.

Colonel Cameron and his officers came home in the same fleet, and were immediately ordered to Scotland to recruit Great exertions were now made, (although there was less inducement on the part of the officers, who obtained no rank for their exertions, as their predecessors had done), and, in an especial manner, Colonel Cameron himself was so zealous and successful, that, in the year 1798, a fresh body of 780 men was assembled at Inverness, and afterwards formed part of the expedition to the Helder in 1799. The loss in this service, as well as all others, in which the regiment was engaged with the enemy, will be seen in the annexed lists of killed and wounded, which show, at one view, the actions in which the corps was engaged, and the total loss sustained from the beginning to the conclusion of the war. [See Appendix.]

In 1800 the regiment was embarked for Ferrol, under Lieutenant-General Sir James Pulteney. From thence it proceeded to join the force under Sir Ralph Abercromby, off Cadiz, and accompanied the expedition to the Mediterranean and to Egypt.

[In the action of the 21st of March, near Alexandria, Lieutenant Patrick Ross was wounded, and his arm amputated close to the shoulder. By a good habit of body, and an excellent constitution, he recovered rapidly, and, with spirit equally honourable and exemplary, he refused the leave of absence offered him to go home for the cure of his wound. Eager to be at his post, he joined his regiment before the skin had closed over the amputated limb; and, on the 25th of April, less than five weeks after his arm was cut off, he mounted picquet, and continued to perform every duty, however fatiguing, during the whole campaign, in the course of which, at Rhamanich, he had nearly lost his other arm, a six-pound shot having passed under it as he was in the act of giving directions to his men. On many, indeed all occasions, he displayed the same spirit; and the Duke of York, with that attention which he has always shown to merit, when made known to him, promoted Lieutenant Boss to a company in the 69th, at the head of which he was killed at the storming of Fort Cornelis in Java, in 1811, on which occasion he was animated with the same enthusiastic zeal and heroic bravery.

Those who have faith in the hereditary influence of blood, will also believe that this young man had a hereditary predisposition to firmness and bravery. His father, Mr William Ross, late tacksman of Brae in Ross-shire, evinced similar qualities in very early life. In the summer of 1746, when so many gentlemen who had been engaged in the Rebellion were forced to take shelter in the woods and mountains, and when the troops were quartered on their e-states, Ross of Pitcalney, a chieftain of the clan, was an object of more than ordinary search, having joined the rebels in opposition to the remonstrances and threats of his uncle, the Lord President Forbes. As no concealment from the people was necessary, Pitcalney was in the habit of sleeping in bad weather in his tenants' houses, but always going to one or other of his hiding-places before day-light, in case of a search of the house by the troops. One night he slept in the farm-house of Brae, and remaining later in the morning than ordinary, Mr Ross, then a lad of fifteen, was directed by his father to accompany Pitcalney through the most unfrequented parts of the woods, in case the troops should be stirring at that late hour of the day. The lad had performed his task, and was returning home, when he met a party of soldiers, who knew him, and, suspecting where he had been, questioned him very sharply about his knowledge of Pitcalney's retreat. He pleaded total ignorance and persisting in doing so, they threatened to shoot him, or to hang him on the next tree—a menace which in those times was the most usual mode of extorting confession. But this having no effect, they proceeded to action, and tied him up to a tree, placing four men before him with their pieces ready to fire if he still denied what they were sensible he knew. But all in vain; neither the fear of death, nor the previous preparation, which, to a boy of his age, must have been sufficiently trying, could induce him to betray the friend and landlord of his father. So strong were the principles of affection and regard to promise and to principle instilled thus early by the instructions of his parents, and the example of his countrymen. The party, either respecting the boy's firmness, or not wishing to carry matters to extremity, released and allowed him to go home. When he told the story he always concluded, When I shut my eyes waiting to be shot, I expected to open them again in Heaven. Such was the father of that brave soldier Captain Patrick Ross.]

In 1804 a second battalion was added to the regiment, the officers raising men for their promotion. This was an excellent and efficient corps of young men, of good morals, and healthy constitutions; and formed an excellent nursery of recruits for the first battalion, which, being for several years actively employed, constantly required a regular supply for the consumption occasioned by the usual casualties of war.

In 1808 the regiment embarked for Portugal, and entering Spain under Sir John Moore, accompanied all his movements till his fall at Corunna. In the following autumn they embarked for Zealand, under Lieutenant-General the Earl of Chatham, and suffered so little in this unfortunate expedition, in which so many thousands of our best soldiers fell a sacrifice to the climate, that in a few months the corps was again efficient, and in 1810 sailed for Spain.

The returns of killed and wounded will indicate the successive engagements in which they bore a conspicuous share, till the battle of Toulouse, [The very distinguished part this regiment had in the conquest and subsequent defence of the batteries on the heights of Toulouse, will be found under the head of the 42d Regiment.] on which important occasion the steady bravery of this corps was most eminently displayed, as, indeed, it had been in every instance in which, during the preceding campaigns, they came in contact with the enemy. At Fuentes de Honor, on the 3d of May 1811, they highly distinguished themselves, and mainly contributed to repulse one of the formidable columns sent forward by Massena in his reiterated and desperate assaults on that village.

[At Fuentes de Honor Colonel Cameron lost his eldest son, Lieutenant-Colonel Philips Cameron, a young officer of talents and professional promise.

At Bergen in 1799 the regiment lost Captain James Campbell of Duntroon, who, with great intelligence, an open and generous mind, and a personal appearance the most prepossessing, exhibited in every view, according to the opinion of an old Highlander, a perfect model of one of the heroes described by Ossian. In Egypt Lieutenant-Colonel Macdowall, nephew to the Earl of Dumfries, died of his wounds. Major Lawrie was killed at Burgos, and Captain Purves, only son of Sir Alexander Purves, at Toulouse. These Were officers whom their regiment and friends had much cause to lament.

Colonel Cameron's second son, a Major of his regiment, died of sickness caught in the service, but the veteran himself, who entered the army at an advanced period in life, never lost one day's duty with his regiment when any service was to be performed, till his promotion rendered his regimental duty incompatible with his rank of Major-General. He accompanied his regiment Flanders, to the West Indies, to Holland, Egypt, Portugal, and Spain, period of life when men of less strength of mind, and of common consituations and habits, would have been incapable of encountering such changes of climate, and such exhausting duties. ]

The same observation applies to their conduct at the passage of the Nive in December 1813, when the cool and well-directed fire of this regiment was more destructive to the enemy than almost any similar instance of the kind during these campaigns.

On the termination of hostilities, the regiment embarked at Bourdeaux for England, and in 1815 was again ordered to serve in Flanders. At Quatre Bras, where their discipline and military qualities were put to a severe proof, they supported the reputation which they had acquired at Fuentes de Honor and Toulouse, and had their full share in the duties of that hard-fought day. In this battle, which laid so good a foundation for the great victory which soon ensued, the regiments were frequently compelled to fight separately, each on its own ground, independently of the support of others, the enemy pouring down in separate columns of attack on the different corps as they reached the ground, so that each regiment had to stand or fall by its own individual exertions. In these trials of courage and firmness the Cameron Highlanders were uniformly successful. Not satisfied with repelling the enemy, they followed up the blow, and drove them off the ground, yet at the same time, preserved such regularity of formation, that they were prepared for every fresh attack. These attacks were repeated, and received sometimes in position;—at other times they advanced to meet the charge of the French infantry, which never stood the onset. The cavalry were received in squares, and with equal success. It is remarkable, that, on this day, the enemy never combined their different arras. When the infantry advanced, the cavalry were at a distance, which again pushed forward in their turn, but never in any combined effort. If the cavalry had followed close upon the attacks of the infantry, and made their charge so immediately succeeding the repulse of the latter, as to prevent the proper formation of a square, our troops must have found a greater difficulty in presenting a proper resistance to such bold and experienced squadrons.

At Waterloo, this regiment, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Neil Douglas, was in Major-General Kempt's brigade, with the 28th and 32d regiments, and formed the centre of Lieutenant-General Picton's division. The 32d and 79th were stationed 150 yards in rear of a hedge occupied by a corps of Belgians and part of the Rifle brigade. About two hours after the commencement of the battle, three heavy columns of the enemy, preceded by artillery and sharpshooters, advanced with a seeming determination to take possession of the hedge. The Belgians fired a volley, and retreated in great confusion. The 32d, 79th, and Rifle corps, instantly pushed forward, occupied the ground left by the Belgians, and, forming upon the hedge, fired a volley, and charged. This threw them into confusion, as the enemy were deploying into line. They then made an attempt to get towards their right, but were received by the 28th, which made a desperate attack upon the right of the enemy as they advanced. The other two regiments pursued their advantage, each attacking the column opposed to them, till at length the enemy gave way in the greatest confusion. At this moment General Picton was killed, and General Kempt severely wounded; but the latter never left the field. Like his old commander, Sir Ralph Abercromby, to whom he had been confidential secretary, he allowed no personal consideration to interfere with his duty; and, although unable to sit on horseback from the severity of the wound, he would not allow himself to be carried away from his soldiers, whose situation, pressed by a brave and powerful enemy, required every assistance from his presence and talents.

The enemy, anxious to gain the position behind the hedge, repeated their attempts, but every attempt was repulsed. It was less, however, by these desperate attacks of the enemy, than by the cannonading and skirmishing of sharpshooters, that the regiment suffered. An enemy who is so quickly driven back will seldom fire steadily. Not so with the artillery and sharpshooters, whose distance enables them to take a better and cooler aim. This regiment, which had been warmly engaged on both days, suffered severely ; but what they lost in numbers was compensated by the honour which, in common with other corps, they acquired in this decisive battle.

The regiment remained some time in France, and returned to Britain in 1818. As they had been more successful in recruiting than any other Highland corps, and as a number of the old and disabled men have been discharged, two-thirds of those who now compose the regiment are in the prime of life, active and efficient. Although the Highlanders have not lately enlisted readily in their own country, Major James Campbell, of this regiment, enlisted nearly 200 young men in Edinburgh and Glasgow in a few weeks. They had come up from the North in search of work; and, having been unsuccessful, they engaged with him.

The casualties will, in all probability, be so few for many years, that they will be easily supplied, and none but good men received. The returns and lists in the Appendix will show the number of killed and wounded. There are also 342 discharged men on the strength of Chelsea Hospital, receiving pensions for length of service, and from being disabled by wounds or disease. But many of the pensioners have suffered so little, that they have been again called to serve in veteran battalions.

The number of soldiers killed, from 1793 to the peace of 1814, has been 89; and at Quatre Bras and Waterloo, 55; in all 144, down to the final peace of 1815, an eventful period of twenty-two years' warfare, in the course of which this regiment bore an active share, in Europe, Africa, and the West Indies.


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