As I study the history of the
Highlanders and their descendants it becomes a challenge to me to
identify what made us the way we are and why we were able to punch
way beyond our weight all over the world.
I was reading a page about the
Highland regiments and included was...
"In the summer of the year 1779, a
party of the Seventy-first Regiment, consisting of fifty-six men and
five officers, was detached from a redoubt at Stoneferry, in South
Carolina, for the purpose of reconnoitring the enemy, which was
supposed to be advancing in force to attack the post. The
instructions given to the officer who commanded went no further than
to reconnoitre and retire upon the redoubt. The troops were new
troops, ardent as Highlanders usually are. They fell in with a
strong column of the enemy (upwards of two thousand) within a short
distance of the post; and, instead of retiring according to
instruction, they thought proper to attack, with an instinctive
view, it was supposed, to retard progress, and thereby to give time
to those who were in the redoubt to make better preparations for
defence. This they did; but they were themselves nearly destroyed.
All the officers and non-commissioned officers were killed or
wounded, and seven of the privates only remained on their legs at
the end of the combat. The commanding officer fell, and, in falling,
desired the few who still resisted to make the best of their way to
the redoubt. They did not obey. The national sympathies were warm.
National honours did not permit them to leave their officers in the
field; and they actually persisted in covering their fallen comrades
until a reinforcement arrived from headquarters.
Does it not amaze you that some 61
men thought it right to attack 2000? To me it's incredible and yet
as I read more about the Highland regiments this is by no means an
isolated incident. Many times you'll read of the Highland regiments
fighting against tremendous odds and as often or not actually
It was through the army that many
Scots ended up emigrating to other lands. A clue perhaps can be
reached when you read an account of the Highland soldier...
"A learned and ingenious author,
who, though himself a Lowlander, had ample opportunity, while
serving in many campaigns with Highland regiments, of becoming
intimately acquainted with their character, thus writes of them:-
"The limbs of the Highlander are
strong and sinewy, the frame hardy, and of great physical power, in
proportion to size. He endures cold, hunger, and fatigue with
patience; in other words, he has an elasticity or pride of mind
which does not feel, or which refuses to complain of hardship. The
air of the gentleman is ordinarily majestic; the air and gait of the
gilly is not graceful. He walks with a bended knee, and does not
walk with grace, but his movement has energy; and between walking
and trotting, and by an interchange of pace, he performs long
journeys with facility, particularly on broken and irregular ground,
such as he has been accustomed to traverse in his native country.
"The Highlanders of Scotland, born
and reared under the circumstances stated, marshalled for action by
clans, according to ancient usage, led into action by chiefs who
possess confidence from an opinion of knowledge, and love from the
influence of blood, may be calculated upon as returning victorious,
or dying in the grasp of the enemy.
"Scotch Highlanders have a courage
devoted to honour; but they have an impetuosity which, if not well
understood, and skillfully directed, is liable to error. The Scotch
fight individually as if the cause were their own, not as if it were
the cause of a commander only, and they fight impassioned. Whether
training and discipline may bring them in time to the apathy of
German soldiers, further experience will determine; but the
Highlanders are even now impetuous; and, if they fail to accomplish
their object, they cannot be withdrawn from it like those who fight
a battle by the job. The object stands in their own view; the eye is
fixed upon it; they rush towards it, seize it, and proclaim victory
"The Highlander, upon the whole,
is a soldier of the first quality; but, as already said, he requires
to see his object fully, and to come into contact with it in all its
extent. He then feels the impression of his duty through a channel
which he understands, and he acts consistently in consequence of the
impression, that is, in consequence of the impulse of his own
internal sentiment, rather than the external impulse of the command
of another; for it is often verified in experience that, where the
enemy is before the Highlander and nearly in contact with him, the
authority of the officer is in a measure null; the duty is
notwithstanding done, and well done, by the impulses of natural
"Their conduct in the year 1745
proves very distinctly that they are neither a ferocious nor a cruel
people. No troops ever, perhaps, traversed a country which might be
deemed hostile leaving so few traces of outrage behind them as were
left by the Highlanders in the year 1745. They are better known at
the present time than they were then, and they are known to be
eminent for honesty and fidelity, where confidence is given them.
They possess exalted notions of honour, warm friendships, and much
In the above statement can be seen
many reasons why the Highlander was so successful when emigrating to
other lands. They were used to living and travelling in rough
country. Their education made them want to understand the purpose
for which they were fighting. They were part of a "family" which
demanded honour. They also desired warm friendships and they did
have a national pride. Are these not a race of people you would
want with you in settling a new land?
Because of their pride it would be
natural for them to want their new settlements to be the best they
could be. We already know the Highlander was well educated as the
local church would see that the children could read and write. As
one writer put it...
"The Reverend Malcolm MacDonald, a
native of Whitton, Quebec, a descendant of the early Scots settlers
and of the first church established in the area, says:
"‘The Book of Books was the
library they opened, and the Church of Jesus Christ was the first
institution they established and that in their homes, and the Gospel
of Christ was the philosophy they espoused.’ "
"The most casual observer and
historian must admit that these early settlers played a leading part
in setting the course in which the Nation travels today.
"I am indeed grateful that we are
privileged to stand in the stream of a noble, spiritual, national
and cultural tradition, which has flourished in Scotland for
centuries, and for some 150 years established firmly on this North
American Continent, in both Canada and the United States."
So perhaps we have the clues now?
A people brought up in a religious faith, with good basic education.
Part of an extended family where bravery and honour were important
and a desire to be part of a community and to serve it well. Being
brought up in tough living conditions in terrain and weather they
were used to hardship and thought it normal. It is no wonder that
the Highlander made the very best settler of new lands and that they
contributed so much to the communities they became part of.
In previous articles I've often
mentioned how the Highland soldiers were warmly regarded by people
of different nations because of their fairness and sense of honour.
I've often mentioned how the Highlander got on well with Native
Indians in America due to the many similarities in their life
styles. The Highlander just likes people no matter of what country,
race or colour. Their reputation for hospitality is legend, even if
they do like to take a wee dram or two more than most :-)
As I am actually writing this
article on the 4th of July I can well understand how those
Highlanders of old wanted their new settlements and country to be
the best they could be. They wanted to have that same sense of pride
and community that they had in their old clan lands and it is why
they did "punch well beyond their own weight" in the communities and
country they helped to form. It is why I think there is so much
pride in being an American with all that the nation and its people
have achieved in the world. At the same time it is why there is
still so much pride in being of Scots descent due to the major
contribution the Scots and their descendants have made in building
such a great nation.
In a previous article I wrote
about the tremendous welcome I personally received when visiting
America in February 2003. I said then and I'll say it now... Our
ancestors are alive and well and living in America!