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Scottish Regiments
The Black Watch - Flanders


Near the end of May the remainder of the regiment was sent to Flanders, where it joined the army under the command of Field-Marshall the Earl of Stair. During the years 1743-44, they were quartered in different parts of that country, and by their quiet, orderly, and kind deportment, acquired the entire confidence of the people among whom they mixed. The regiment "was judged the most trust-worthy guard of property, insomuch that the people in Flanders choose to have them always for their protection. Seldom were any of them drunk, and they as rarely swore. And the elector-palatine wrote to his envoy in London, desiring him to thank the king of Great Britain for the excellent behavior of the regiment while in his territories in 1743 and 1744, and for whose sake he adds, 'I will always pay a respect and regard to a Scotchman in future'.

Lord Semphill, who succeeded the Earl of Crawford in the colonelcy of the regiment in 1740, being appointed in April 1745 to the 25th regiment, Lord John Murray, son of the Duke of Athole, succeeded him as colonel of the Highlanders. During the command by the titles of its successive commanders, as Lord Crawford's. Lord Semphill's, and Lord John Murray's Highlanders.

Baffled in his efforts to prevent the elevation of the Grand Duke of Tuscany to the imperial throne, the King of France resolved to humble the house of Austria by making a conquest of the Netherlands. With this view he assembled an immense army in Flanders under the command of the celebrated Marshal Saxe, and having with the dauphin joined the army in April 1745, he, on the 30th of that month, invested Tournay, then garrisoned by 8000 men, commanded by General Baron Dorth, who defended the place with vigor. The Duke of Cumberland, who arrived from England early in May, assumed the command of the allied army assembled at Soignies. It consisted of twenty battalions and twenty-six squadrons of British, five battalions and sixteen squadrons of Hanoverians, all under the immediate command of his royal highness; twenty-six battalions and forty squadrons of Dutch, commanded by the Prince of Waldeck; and eight squadrons of Austrians, under the command of Count Konigseg.

Though the allied army was greatly inferior in number to the enemy, yet as the French army was detached, the duke resolved to march to the relief of Tournay. Marshall Saxe, who soon became aware of the design of the allies, drew up his army in line of battle, on the right bank of the Scheldt, extending from the wood of Barri to Fontenoy, and thence to the village of St. Antoine is sight of the British army.

The allied army advanced to Leuse, and on the 9th of May took up a position between the villages of Bougries and Maulbre, in sight of the French army. In the evening the duke, attended by Field-Marshall Konigseg and the Prince of Waldeck, reconnoitered the position of Marshall Saxe. They were covered by the Highlanders, who kept up a sharp fie with French sharp-shooters who were concealed in the woods. After a general survey, the Earl of Crawford, who was left in command of the advance of the army, proceeded with the Highlanders and a party of hussars to examine the enemy's outposts more narrowly. In the course of the day a Highlander in advance observing that one of the sharp-shooters repeatedly fired at his post, placed his bonnet upon the top of a stick near the verge of a hollow road. This stratagem decoyed the Frenchman, and whilst he was intent on his object, the Highlander approaching cautiously to a point which afforded a sure aim, succeeded in bringing him to the ground.

Having ascertained that a plain which lay between the positions of two armies was covered with some flying squadrons of the enemy, and that their outposts commanded some narrow defiles through which he allied forces has necessarily to march to the attack, the Duke of Cumberland resolved to scour the plain, and to dislodge the outposts, preparatory to advancing upon the besieging army. Accordingly at an early hour next morning, six battalions and twelve squadrons were ordered to disperse the forces on the plain and clear the defiles, a service which they soon performed. Some Austrian hussars being hotly pressed on this occasion by the French light troops, a party of Highlanders was sent to support them, and the Frenchmen were quickly repulsed with loss. This was the first time the Highlanders stood the fire of the enemy in a regular body, and so well did they acquit themselves, that they were particularly noticed for their spirited conduct.

Resolving to attack the enemy next morning, the commander-in-chief of the allied army made the necessary dispositions. Opposite the space between Fontenoy and the wood of Barri, he formed the British and Hanoverian infantry in two lines, and posted their cavalry in the rear. Near the left of the Hanoverians he drew up the Dutch, whose left was towards St Antoine. The Franch in their turn completed their batteries, and made the most formidable preparations to receive the allies. At two o'clock in the morning of the 11th of May, the Duke of Cumberland began his march, and drew up his army in front of the enemy. The engagement began about four by the guard and the Highlanders attacking a redoubt, advanced on the right of the wood near Vezon, occupied by 600 men, in the vicinity of which place the dauphin was posted. Though the enemy were entrenched breast-high they were forced out by the guards with bayonets, and by the Highlanders with sword, pistol, and dirk, the latter killing a considerable number of them.

The allies continuing steadfastly to advance, Marshal Saxe, who had, during three attacks, lost some of his bravest men, began to think of a retreat; but being extremely unwilling to abandon his position, he resolved to make a last effort to retrieve the fortune of the day by attacking his assailants with all his forces. Being far advanced in a dropsy, the Marshall had been carried about the whole day in a litter. This he now quitted, and mounting his horse, he rode over the field giving the necessary orders, whilst two men supported him on each side. He brought forward the household troops of the King of France: he posted his best cavalry on the flanks, and the king's body guards, with the flower of the infantry in the center. Having brought up all his field-pieces he, under cover of their fire and that of the batteries, made a combined charge of cavalry and infantry on the allied army, the greater part of which had, by this time, formed into line by advancing beyond the confined ground. The allies, unable to withstand the impetuosity of this attack, gave way, and were driven back across the ravine, carrying along with them the Highlanders, who had been ordered up from the attack of the village, and two other regiments ordered from the reserve to support the line. After rallying for a short time beyond the ravine, the whole army retreated by order of the duke, the Highlanders and Howard's regiment (the 19th) under the command of Lord Crawford, covering the rear. The retreat, which was commenced about three o'clock in the afternoon, was effected in excellent order. When it was over his lordship pulled off his hat, and returning thanks to the covering party, said "that they had acquired as much honor in covering so great a retreat, as if they had gained a battle". The carnage on both sides was great. The allies lost, in killed and wounded, about 7,000 men, including a number of officers. The loss of the French is supposed to have equaled that of the allies. The Highlanders lost Captain John Campbell of Carrick, whose head was carried off by a cannon-ball early in the action. (Captain John Campbell of Carrick was one of the most accomplished gentleman of his day. Possessing very agreeable manners and bravery, tempered by gaiety, he was regarded by the people as one of those who retained the chivalrous spirit of their ancestors. A poet, a soldier, and a gentleman, no less gallant among the ladies than he was brave among men; he was the object of general admiration; and the last generation of Highlanders among whom he was best known, took great pleasure in cherishing his memory, and repeating anecdotes concerning him. He married a sister of General Campbell of Mamore, afterwards Duke of Argyll). Ensign Lachlan Campbell, son of Craignish, and 30 men; Captain Robert Campbell of Finab; Ensigns Ronald Campbell, nephew of Craignish, and James Campbell, son of Glenfalloch; 2 sergeants, and 86 rank and file wounded.

Before the engagement, the part which the Highlanders would act formed a subject of general speculation. Those who knew them had no misgivings; but there were other persons, high in rank, who looked upon the support of such men with an unfavorable eye. So strong was this impression "in some high quarters, that, on the rapid charge made by the Highlanders, when pushing forward sword in hand nearly at full speed, and advancing so far, it was suggested that they inclined to change sides and join the enemy, who had already three brigades of Scotch and Irish engaged, which performed very important services on that day". All anxiety, however, was soon put an end to by the decided way in which they sustained the national honor.

Captain John Munro of the 43d regiment, in a letter to Lord-president Forbes, thus describes the battle: - "A little after four in the morning, the 30th of April, our cannon began to play, and the French batteries, with triple our weight of metal and numbers too, answered us; about five the infantry was in march; we (the Highlanders) were in the center of the right brigade; but by six we were ordered to cross the field, (I mean our regiment, for the rest of our brigades did not march to attack), a little village on the left of the whole, called Fontenoy. As we passed the field the French batteries played upon our front, and right and left flanks, but to no purpose, for their batteries being upon rising ground their balls flew ovr us and hurt the second line. We were to support the Dutch, who, in their usual way, were very dilatory. We got within musket-shot of their batteries, when we received three full fires of their batteries and small arms, which killed us forty men and one ensign. Here we were obliged to skulk behind houses and hedges for about an hour and a half, waiting for the Dutch, who, when they came up, behaved but so and so. Our regiment being in some disorder, I wanted to draw them up in rear of the Dutch, which their general would scarce allow of; but at last I did it, and marched them again to the front. In half an hour after the Dutch gave way, and Sir Robert Munro thought proper we should retire; for we had then the whole batteries from the enemy's ground playing upon us, and three thousand foot ready to fall upon us. We retired; but before we had marched thirty yards, we had orders to return to the attack, which we did; and in about ten minutes after had orders to march directly with all expedition, to assist the Hanoverians, who had got by this time well advanced upon the batteries upon the left. They behaved most gallantly and bravely; and had the Dutch taken example from them, we had supped at Tournay. The British behaved well; we (the Highlanders) were told by his royal highness that we did our duty well. By two of the clock we all retreated; and we were ordered to cover the retreat, as the only regiment that could be kept to their duty, and in this affair we lost sixty more; but the duke made so friendly and favorable a speech to us, that if we had been ordered to attack their lines afresh, I dare say our poor fellows would have done it". (Culloden Papers, No. CCXLIII. "On this occasion the Duke of Cumberland was so much struck with the conduct of the Highlanders, and concurred so cordially in the esteem which they had secured to themselves both from friends and foes, that, wishing to show a mark of his approbation, he desired it to be intimated to them, that he would be happy to grant the men any favor which they chose to ask, and which he could concede, as a testimony of the good opinion he had formed of them. The reply was worthy of so handsome an offer. After expressing acknowledgements for the condescension of the commander-in-chief, the men assured him that no favor he could bestow would gratify them so much as a pardon for one of their comrades, a soldier of the regiment, who had been tried by a court-martial for allowing a prisoner to escape, and was under sentence of a heavy corporal punishment, which, if inflicted, would bring disgrace on them all, and on their families and country. This favor, of course, was instantly granted. The nature of this request, the feeling which suggested it, and, in short, the general qualities of the corps, struck the Duke with the more force, as, at the time he had not been in Scotland, and had no means of knowing the character of its inhabitants, unless, indeed he had formed his opinion from the common ribaldry of the times, when it was the fashion to consider the Highlander 'as a fierce and savage depredator, speaking a barbarous language, and inhabiting a barren and gloomy region, which fear and prudence forbade all strangers to enter").

The Highlanders on this occasion were commanded by Sir Robert Munro of Fowlis, their lieutenant-colonel, in whom, besides great military experience, were united all the best qualities of the soldier. Aware of the importance of allowing his men to follow their accustomed tactics, he obtained leave of the Duke of Cumberland to allow them to fight in their own way. He accordingly "ordered the whole regiment to clap to the ground on receiving the French fire; and instantly after its discharge they sprang up, and coming close to the enemy, poured in their shot upon them to the certain destruction of multitudes, and drove them precipitately through their lines; then retreating, drew up again, and attacked them a second time after the same manner. These attacks they repeated several times the same day, to the surprise of the whole army. Sir Robert was everywhere with his regiment, notwithstanding his great corpulency, and when in the trenches he was hauled out by the legs and arms by his own men; and it is observed that when he commanded the whole regiment to clap to the ground, he himself, stood upright, receiving the whole fire of the enemy; and this because, (as he said) though he could easily lie down, his great bulk would not suffer him to rise so quickly. His preservation that day was the surprise and astonishment not only of the whole army, but of all that heard the particulars of the action".

The gallantry thus displayed by Sir Robert and his regiment was the theme of universal admiration in Britain, and the French themselves could not withhold their need of praise, "The British behaved well", says a French writer, "and could be exceeded in ardor by none but our officers, who animated the troops by their example, when the Highland furies rushed in upon us with more violence than ever did a sea driven by tempest". I cannot say much of the other auxiliaries, some of whom looked as if they had no great concern in the matter which way it went. In short, we gained the victory; but may I never see such another!". Some idea may be formed of the havoc made by the Highlanders from the fact of one of them having killed nine Frenchmen with his broadsword, and he was only prevented from increasing the number by his arm being shot off.

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