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


Military Annals of the Highland Regiments

Sutherland Highlanders
or
Ninety-third Regiment
1800

There are few regiments in his Majesty's service, which, in all those qualities requisite to constitute good soldiers, and valuable members of society, excel this respectable body of men. None of the Highland corps is superior to the 93d regiment. I do not make comparisons in point of bravery, for, if properly commanded, they are all brave; but it is in those well regulated habits, of which so much has been already said, that the Sutherland Highlanders have for twenty years preserved an unvaried line of conduct. The Light infantry company of this corps has been nineteen years without having a man punished. This single fact may be taken as sufficient evidence of good morals; for, although the Light company is composed of picked men, the choice depends less on character than on personal appearance, and these companies are frequently the most irregular; perhaps as much from that overflow of animal spirits peculiar to men in the prime of life, as from any great degree of immoral propensity. Such, however, is the character and conduct of this Light company, and of nineteen men out of every twenty in the regiment. Indeed, the few exceptionable characters in the corps were men raised in large towns, but the proportion of these has been small. On their first formation in 1800, the strength of the regiment was 596 men, and 34 sergeants. Of the soldiers 460 were Sutherland men; the others were principally from Ross, and the neighbouring counties. In 1811 the number of Scotch and Highlanders was 1,014, of Irish 17, and of English 18, and in these proportions they have continued down till the present time.

A Fencible regiment of Sutherland men, embodied in 1793, was disbanded in 1798, without any attempt to encourage the men to re-enlist in regiments of the line; but in May 1800 Major-General William Wemyss of Wemyss, who had been Colonel of that corps, received authority to raise a regiment of 600 men, with instructions to endeavour, if possible, to prevail on the men of the Fencible corps to return to their ranks in this new regiment, which was to be of the line. This was an arduous undertaking, for the men had been already eighteen months settled in different situations, which they were unwilling to relinquish. However, the complement required was raised, (of which, as I have said, 460 were men of Sutherland), and the corps was soon afterwards augmented, first to 800, and then to 1000 men, with officers in proportion.

The regiment was inspected by Major-General Hay at Inverness in August 1800, and in September embarked for Guernsey, where it was stationed till September 1802, when it was ordered to Scotland to be reduced. But symptoms of a renewal of the war appearing, the order for reduction was countermanded, and the destination changed for Ire-land. In that station nothing worthy of notice occurred, till the month of July 1805, when this battalion formed part of an armament embarked at Cork, under the command of Major-General Sir David Baird, intended for the reduction of the Cape of Good Hope. This expedition consisted of three companies of artillery, 200 men of the 20th Light Dragoons, and the 24th, 38th, 71st, 72d, 83d, and 93d regiments, with the 59th, destined for India.

The troops were embarked, and sailed in the beginning of August 1805, and after a boisterous passage reached the Cape, and anchored in Table Bay on the 4th of January 1806, when they were immediately brigaded. The 24th, 38th, and 83d, were under the command of Brigadier-General Beresford, and the Highland brigade of the 71st, 72d, and 93d regiments, under Brigadier-General Ronald C. Ferguson. The surf being violent, Brigadier-General Beresford, with the cavalry and 38th regiment, was detached to Saldanha Bay on the 5th, to effect a landing there. This was done without opposition, and on the 6th, the surf having somewhat abated, the Highland brigade landed in Lospard Bay, experiencing a slight opposition from a light corps of the enemy scattered along the heights bordering on the shore. On this occasion Lieutenant-Colonel Pack of the 71st and a few men were wounded, and 35 men of the 93d lost by the upsetting of a boat in the surf.

The stores being landed on the 7th, the troops advanced on the 8th, and ascending to the summit of the Blaw-Berg, (or Blue Mountain), the enemy was perceived drawn up on a plain, in two lines of about 5000 men, With twenty-three pieces of cannon. General Baird quickly formed his troops in two columns, and directed the first brigade, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Baird, (in the absence of Brigadier-General Beresford), to move towards the right, while the Highland brigade, thrown forward on the high road, advanced on the enemy, who opened a heavy fire of grape, round shot, and musketry. Seemingly determined to retain their position, the enemy kept up a smart fire as our troops approached, till General Ferguson gave the word to charge. The order was instantly obeyed. The charge was so impetuous, and apparently so irresistible, that the enemy, appalled and panic-struck, fired the last volley in a manner without aim or effect, gave way at all points, and fled in great confusion, having sustained a loss of more than 600 men killed and wounded, while that of the British was only 16 killed, and 191 wounded. The 93d lost 2 soldiers killed, and Lieutenant-Colonel Honeyman, Lieutenants Scobie and Strachan, Ensigns Hedrick and Craig, 1 sergeant, 1 drummer, and 51 privates, wounded. The enemy made no further resistance, and thus easily was this important colony acquired.

From that period the Sutherland regiment remained in garrison at the Cape till embarked for England. [In 1813, a second battalion was added to this regiment. It was formed at Inverness, and, after some instructions in discipline, was destined to join the army under the Duke of Wellington in France; but, owing to the peace of 1814, this destination was changed to North America. The battalion was embarked, and landed in Newfoundland, where it was stationed sixteen months; and then returning to Europe in 1815, was reduced soon after landing.] In August 1814- it landed at Plymouth, and in the following month was placed under the command of Major-General Keane, along with other troops destined to reinforce the army in North America. The fleet sailed on the 18th of September, and touching at Barbadoes, reached Jamaica, and there joined the squadron under Vice-Admiral the Honourable Alexander Cochrane, with 3500 troops on board. General Keane assuming the command of the whole, amounting to 5400 men, sailed from Jamaica on the 27th November, and, on the 13th December, landed near Cat Island, at the entrance of a chain of lakes leading to New Orleans. After a few preparatory arrangements, the troops were landed at the head of the Bayone on the 23d without opposition; but on the following night they were attacked by a considerable force of infantry, supported by a strong corps of artillery. After repeated efforts, the enemy were repulsed with loss. On the 25th Major-General the Honourable Sir Edward Pakenham arrived, and took the command of the army. On the 27th the troops made a forward movement, in two columns, and took up a position within six miles of the town, and immediately in front of the enemy's lines. Here they were strongly posted, with a morass and thick wood on the left, and the Mississippi on the right. Their front was protected by a deep and broad ditch, bounded by a parapet and breast-works, extending in a direct line about 1000 yards, and mounted with artillery, and a flank battery on the right bank of the river. The army being reinfored on the 7th of January 1815 by the arrival of the 43d regiment, the General determined to attack this position in front, and with that view detached a force under Colonel Thornton, with the 85th regiment, across the river, to take the enemy in flank, and attack some vessels which supported their right. The arrangements for the attack were as follow: General Gibbs, with the King's Own, Scotch Fusileers, 44th regiment, and three companies of the Rifle Corps, to lead the attack; the Sutherland Highlanders, with two companies of the English Fusileers, two of the 43d, and two of the Rifle Corps, under Major-General Keane, to form the second brigade, and the English Fusileers and 43d regiment to form the Reserve; a party of Black troops were ordered to the wood on the right, to occupy the attention of the enemy on that flank, and keep up a skirmishing fire. Fascines and rafts to fill up, and enable the soldiers to cross the ditch, were prepared, and in readiness, and also scaling ladders to mount a parapet raised on the inner bank of the ditch. The attack was to have been made on the 8th before day-break, but unexpected difficulties causing a delay, and it being necessary to wait for the co-operation of Colonel Thornton, whose passage across the river had been greatly retarded by the breadth, force, and rapidity of the stream, which carried the boats below the proper landing point, it was considerably after sun-rise before the troops could advance to the attack. Thus exposed to full view (the troops advanced on an open plain), the enemy opened a heavy fire from their whole line, and a battery on the right bank of the river; but when our troops reached the ditch, their farther progress was checked, as it was found impassable, the fascines and rafts having been left in the rear. In this state, unable to advance, and losing many men from the fire of an enemy beyond their reach, and completely under cover, they began to waver. The Commander had fallen, and Generals Gibbs and Keane, with many officers, were wounded. Discouraged by these losses, and unable to close upon the enemy, whose fire was the more formidable as it came from invisible hands, the troops retired in such confusion, that Major-General Lambert, on whom the command devolved, and who pushed forward with the Reserve, did not find himself justified, on a consideration of all the difficulties yet to be surmounted, to renew the attack. He, therefore, recalled Colonel Thornton, who had succeeded in gaining his position on the right bank of the river, and retired to the post whence the army had marched in the morning. There they remained till the 18th, when the wounded, (with the exception of those in too dangerous a state to be moved), and the artillery and stores, were embarked, and the army retired to the head of the Bayone (where they first landed), and re-embarked without molestation on the 27th of January. The loss, as in almost all unsuccessful attacks, was severe. Besides the high spirited and brave Generals Pakenham and Gibbs (the latter died of his wounds), 3 field officers, 5 captains, 4 subalterns, 11 sergeants, 1 drummer, and 266 rank and file, were killed; and 1 general officer, 10 field officers, 21 captains, 47 subalterns, 1 staff officer, 54 sergeants, 9 drummers, and 1126 rank and file, wounded. The 93d lost 1 field officer, 2 captains, 2 sergeants, and 58 rank and file, killed; and 4 captains, 8 subalterns, 17 sergeants, 3 drummers, and 348 rank and file, wounded.

Some other movements followed this disastrous attempt, but peace soon afterwards putting an end to all hostilities, the troops were ordered home. The 93d were sent to Ireland, and landed at Cork on the 28th of May 1815.

Thus ended the military service of this regiment, bearing no comparison in point of variety, extent, or fatigue, to that of some other corps of the same designation, who had so frequent opportunities of facing the enemy during the war.

From the relative situation of the assailants and defenders, the affair of New Orleans bore a striking resemblance to that of Ticonderoga, in the year 1758. The analogy was equally marked in the nature of the post and of the defences, in the manner of attack, and in the disastrous result. Ticonderoga was surrounded on three sides by a deep impassable morass, and approachable only by a long narrow slip of land, strengthened and defended in such a manner as to make an advance without a previous breach by artillery (which had not been brought forward) impossible in the face of a resolute enemy, or indeed of any enemy with a sufficient command of nerve to avail themselves of such formidable defences. This want of artillery at Ticonderoga and of the necessary means for surmounting the enemy's defences at New Orleans, may be assigned as the causes of failure in both instances. But, although so similar in some respects, the parallel is not complete. At New Orleans the high spirited commander was the first in the attack, animating all by his example, and was one of the first who fell, followed by his second in command (an officer well qualified to inspire and preserve confidence in his troops), together with several valuable officers killed and disabled, which so dispirited many of the soldiers, that they retired without orders, and in great confusion. At Ticonderoga the Commander-in-chief did not lead, but the troops persevered in the attack for four hours, with a determination and courage that deserved a better fate, and when farther exertions were considered unavailable, it was difficult to recal them, as they disdained to retreat while life or the least hope of success remained. It was not till after the third order that Colonel Grant could prevail on the soldiers of the 42d to give up the contest and retire, taking with them 306 of their number wounded, and burying 296 on the field.

It was unfortunate that the routine of duty did not allow the Sutherland regiment any share in the actions during the war, to which success has given such brilliant effect. Garrisoned at the Cape during eight years of constant and active warfare, and returning to Europe after hostilities with France had ceased, their duties, with the exception of the short service at New Orleans, were of the most peaceable description. How they performed these duties is in the recollection and esteem of those who witnessed their uniformly excellent conduct.

Judging from the establishment of the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge in the Highlands, and others with the same design, and also from the recent reports of missionaries, whose vocation (it may be observed) would fail if they stated that their hearers were pious and intelligent, it may perhaps be believed by many, that, previous to these apostolic expeditions and visitations, Christianity must have been little known or practised in the North. But, as the best proof of the existence of religious knowledge and general intelligence is exhibited by the moral character and actions of a people, we may apply this criterion to the case in question, so far, at least, as regards the Highlands, where, notwithstanding many disadvantages, and the confined means of religious instruction, from the great extent of parishes, the consequent scarcity of clergymen, and the frequent practice, which cannot be too strongly reprobated, of placing ministers in churches who preach in a language unintelligible to their parishioners; notwithstanding this custom, unknown, I believe and sincerely hope, in any other Christian country, [This mode of teaching people a knowledge of the gospel in a foreign and unintelligible language, is not new in the Highlands, as we find, that, in the reign of King William, acts were passed "for rooting out the Erse language, and for other pious uses. "Probably it was owing to such acts as these that this King was so unpopular, and his memory so detested in the Highlands. After the suppression of Episcopacy, a part of the revenues of the bishopric of Argyle and the Isles was given for erecting English schools, but the people were very refractory, and slow in paying them for that purpose. "Had the rents, says Mr Jamieson, in his edition of Burt's Letters, "been applied for making the word of God accessible in the language of their fathers, and other pious uses, the rents would have been cheerfully paid, and the government endeared to the people."] we find, by the conduct and character of the people, that these disadvantages have been in a great measure overcome, and, in the present instance, that the Sutherland men were so well grounded in moral duties and religious principles, that, when stationed at the Cape of Good Hope, and anxious to enjoy the advantages of religious instruction agreeably to the tenets of their national church, and there being no religious service in the garrison, except the customary one of reading prayers to the soldiers on parade, the men of the 93d regiment formed themselves into a congregation, appointed elders of their own number, engaged and paid a stipend (collected from the soldiers) to a clergyman of the Church of Scotland (who had gone out with an intention of teaching and preaching to the Caffres), and had Divine Service performed agreeably to the ritual of the established Church. Their expenses were so well regulated, that, while contributing to the support of their clergyman from the savings of their pay, they were enabled to promote that social cheerfulness which is the true attribute of pure religion and of a well spent life. While too many soldiers were ready to indulge in that vice which, more than any other, leads to crime in the British army, and spent much of their money for liquor, the Sutherland men indulged in the cheerful amusement of dancing, and in their evening meetings were joined by many respectable inhabitants, who were happy to witness such scenes among the common soldiers in the British service. In addition to these expenses, the soldiers regularly remitted money to their relations in Sutherland.

In the case of such men, disgraceful punishment is as unnecessary as it would be pernicious. Indeed, so remote was the idea of such a measure in regard to them, that, when punishments were to be inflicted on others, and the troops in camp, garrison, or quarters, assembled to witness their execution, the presence of the Sutherland Highlanders, either of the Fencibles or of the Line, was often dispensed with, the effect of terror as a check to crime being in their case uncalled for, "as examples of that nature were not necessary for such honourable soldiers!" Such is the character of a National or District corps of the present day. What they have been in former days I have also endeavoured to show.

It has been said that our regiments ought to be mixed, as the good men will, by their example, improve the bad. Certainly the latter object is desirable; but the price, perhaps, may be too high, and the efficacy of the means uncertain. [The instance just noticed in the 92d regiment, will show how uncertain, as well as how improper, such means are.] To degrade or lower the proper pride of a virtuous and honest soldier, by making him a companion to the dissolute and unprincipled, in the expectation that the latter will be improved, is rather a questionable measure. I have already noticed the change which took place in the habits and manners of the 42d by the great influx of indifferent subjects in 1795. Except when before an enemy, there was a visible alteration, particularly in their common conversation, which was previously so correct and so free from all indecency, that I do not recollect an instance of a man making use of improper language, without being reproved by his companions, and taxed with bringing disgrace upon himself and the corps.

But to return to the Sutherland regiment. Their conduct at the Cape did not proceed from any temporary cause. It was founded on principles uniform and permanent. When these men disembarked at Plymouth in August 1814, the inhabitants were both surprised and gratified. On such occasions it had been no uncommon thing for soldiers to spend in taverns and gin-shops the money they had saved. In the present case the soldiers of Sutherland were seen in booksellers' shops, supplying themselves with Bibles, and such books and tracts as they required. Yet, as at the Cape, where their religious habits were so free of all fanatical gloom, that they indulged in social meetings and dancing, so here, while expending their money on books, they did not neglect their personal appearance, and the haberdashers' shops had also their share of trade from the purchase of additional feathers to their bonnets, and such extra decorations as the correctness of military regulations allow to be introduced into the uniform.

While they were thus mindful of themselves, improving their minds and their personal appearance, such of them as had relations in Sutherland did not forget their destitute condition, occasioned by the loss of their lands, and the operation of the improved state of the country! During the short period that the regiment was quartered at Plymouth, upwards of L.500 were lodged in one banking-house, to be remitted to Sutherland, exclusive of many sums sent home through the post-office, and by officers. Some of these sums exceeded L.20 from an individual soldier.

There has been little change in the character of this respectable corps. Courts-martial have been very unfrequent. Twelve and fifteen months have intervened without the necessity of assembling one; and, in the words of a general officer who reviewed them in Ireland, they exhibited "a picture of military discipline and moral rectitude;" and, in the opinion of another eminent commander, "although the junior regiment in his Majesty's service, they exhibit an honourable example, worthy the imitation of all." [General Beckwith's General Orders.] On another occasion, the character, discipline, and interior economy of the 93d regiment, were declared to be "altogether incomparable;" and in similar language have they been characterized by every general officer who commanded them. General Craddock, now Lord Howden, when this corps embarked from the Cape of Good Hope in 1814, expressed himself in the following terms when describing "the respect and esteem of the inhabitants, with their regret at parting with men who will ever be borne in remembrance as kind friends and honourable soldiers:" "The Commander of the Forces anxiously joins in the public voice, that so approved a corps, when called forth into the more active scenes that now await them in Europe, will confirm the well known maxim, that the most regular and best conducted troops in quarters are those who form the surest dependence, and will acquire the most renown in the field."

Such were these men in garrison, and such the expectation founded, on their principles. How thoroughly they were guided by honour and loyalty in the field was shown at New Orleans. Although many of their countrymen, who had emigrated to America, were ready and anxious to receive them, there was not an instance of desertion; nor did one of those who were left behind, wounded or prisoners, forget their allegiance, and remain in that country, at the same time that desertions from the British army were but too frequent. Men like these do credit to the peasantry of their country, and contribute to raise the national character. If this conclusion is well founded, the removal of so many of the people from their ancient seats, 'where they acquired those habits and principles, may be considered a public loss of no common magnitude. It must appear strange and somewhat inconsistent, when the same persons who are loud in their professions of an eager desire to promote and preserve the religious and moral virtues of the people, should so frequently take the lead in approving of measures which, by removing them from where they imbibed principles which have attracted the notice of Europe, and place them in situations where poverty, and the too frequent attendants, vice and crime, will lay the foundation for a character which will be a disgrace, as that already obtained has been an honour to this country. In the new stations, where so many Highlanders are now placed, and crowded in such numbers as to preserve the numerical population, while whole districts are left without inhabitants, how can they resume their ancient character and principles, which, according to the reports of those employed by the proprietors, have been so deplorably broken down and deteriorated; a deterioration which was entirely unknown till the recent change in the condition of the people, and the introduction of that system of placing families on patches of potato ground, as in Ireland, a system pregnant with degradation, poverty, and disaffection, and exhibiting daily a prominent and deplorable example, which might have forewarned Highland proprietors, and prevented them from reducing their people to a similar state? It is only when parents and heads of families in the Highlands are moral, happy, and contented, that they can instil sound principles into their children, who, in their intercourse with the world, may once more become what the men of Sutherland have already been,—"an honourable example, worthy the imitation of all."


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