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Fraser's Highlanders
Reformation of Fraser's Highlanders


The regiment joined the army of General Howe in Staten island, and though totally undisciplined, the 71st was immediately put in front, the general judging well from the experience he had had of Fraser's Highlanders in the seven years' war, that their bravery, if engaged before being disciplined, would make up for their want of discipline. The regiment was divided, the grenadiers being placed in the battalion under the Hon. Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Stewart, and the other companies, which were formed into three small battalions, formed a brigade under Sir William Erskine.

The first affair in which they were engaged was the battle of Brooklyn, referred to in the notice of the 42d. In this action they fully justified the expectations of the commander. They displayed, in common with the other troops, great eagerness to push the enemy to extremities, and compel them to abandon the strong position they had taken up; but from a desire to save the lives of his troops, General Howe restrained their ardor by recalling the right wing, in which the grenadiers were, from the attack. The loss sustained on this occasion by the 71st was 3 rank and file killed, and 2 sergeants and 9 rank and file wounded.

The regiment passed the winter at Amboy. The next campaign was spent in skirmishes, in some of which the regiment was engaged. They were also employed in the expeditions against Willsborough and Westfield, at the commencement of the campaign of 1777. They afterwards embarked for the Chesapeake, and part of them were engaged in the battle of Brandywine. They embarked for New York in November, where they received an accession of 200 recruits from Scotland. Along with 100 more from the hospital, they were formed into a corps under Captain Colin (afterwards General) Mackenzie. This small corps acted as light infantry, and formed part of an expedition sent up the New River to make a diversion in favor of General Burgoyne's movements. This corps led a successful assault on Fort Montgomery on the 6th of October, in which they displayed great courage. In the year 1778 the 71st regiment was employed in the Jerseys, under Lord Cornwallis, in which excursion an occasion occurred for distinguishing themselves.

On the 29th of November 1777, an expedition, of which the 71st formed a part, destined against Savannah, the capital of Georgia, sailed from Sandy Hook, and reached the river of that name about the end of December, under Lieutenant-Colonel Archibald Campbell, who had been exchanged this year. The 1st battalion and light infantry, having landed a little below the town, Captain Cameron, an "officer of high spirit and great promise", instantly pushed forward to attack the advanced post of the enemy, when he and three men were killed by a volley. The remainder advancing, charged the enemy and drove them back on the main body drawn up in line in an open plain behind the town. As soon as the disembarkation was finished, Colonel Campbell formed his army in line, and whilst he detached Sir James Baird with the light infantry, to get round the right flank of the enemy by a narrow path, he sent the corps, lately Captain Cameron's, to get round the left. The attention of the enemy being occupied by the army in front, they neglected to watch the motions of the flanking parties, who, on reaching their ground, made signals to the front to advance. These being instantly answered, the enemy now perceived they were nearly surrounded, and turning their backs fled in great disorder. They suffered severely from the light infantry, who closed in upon their flanks; they had 100 men killed, and 500 wounded or taken prisoners. The British had only 4 soldiers killed and 5 wounded. The town then surrendered, and the British took possession of all the shipping and stores and 45 pieces of cannon.

Colonel Campbell now advanced into the interior, and entered Augusta, a town 150 miles distant from Savannah, where he established himself. Meanwhile General Prevost, having arrived at Savannah from Florida, assumed the command. Judging the ground occupied too extensive, he evacuated Augusta. The Americans, taking courage from this retrograde movement, assembled in considerable numbers, and harassed the rear of the British. The Loyalists in the interior were greatly dispirited, and, being left unprotected, suffered much from the disaffected. The winter was spent in making some inroads into the interior, to keep the Americans in check. About this time Lieutenant-Colonel Maitland succeeded to the command of the regiment, in consequence of the return of Colonel Campbell to England, on leave of absence.

The regiment remained almost inactive till the month of February 1779, when it was employed in an enterprise against Boston Creek, a strong position defended by upwards of 2000 men, besides 1000 occupied in detached stations. The front of this position was protected by a deep swamp, and the only approach in that way was by a narrow causeway; on each flank were thick woods nearly impenetrable, except by the drier parts of the swamps which intersected them; but the position was more open in the rear. To dislodge the enemy from this stronghold, which caused considerable annoyance, Lieutenant-Colonel Duncan Macpherson (called Duncan of the Kiln), with the first battalion of the 71st, was directed to march upon the front of the position; whilst Colonel Prevost, and Lieutenant-Colonels Maitland and Macdonald, with the 2d battalion, the light infantry, and a party of provincials, were ordered to attempt the rear by a circuitous route of many miles. These combined movements were executed with such precision, that, in ten minutes after Colonel Macpherson appeared at the head of the causeway in front, the fire of the body in the rear was heard. Sir James Baird, with the light infantry, rushing through the openings in the swamps on the left flank, the enemy were overpowered after a short resistance. In this affair the Highlanders had 3 soldiers killed, and 1 officer and 12 rank and file wounded.

General Prevost next determined to dislodge a considerable force under General Lincoln, stationed on the South Carolina side of the river. With the troops lately so successful at Brien's Creek, he crossed the river ten miles below the enemy's position. Whilst the general advanced on their front, he ordered the 71st to attack their rear by a circuitous march of several miles. Guided by a party of Creek Indians, the Highlanders entered a woody swamp at eleven o'clock at night, in traversing which they were frequently up the shoulders in the swamp. They cleared the woods at eight o'clock in the morning, with their ammunition destroyed. They were now within half a mile of the enemy's rear, and although General Prevost had no yet moved from his position, the Highlanders instantly attacked and drove the enemy from their position without sustaining any loss.

Emboldened by this partial success, the general made an attempt upon Charleston; but after summoning the town to surrender, he was induced, by the approach of the American general, Lincoln, with a large force, to desist, and determined to return to his former quarters in Georgia. as the Americans were in arms, and had possessed themselves of the principal pass on the route, he was forced to return by the sea-coast, a course very injurious to the troops, as they had to march through infrequented woods, and salt water marshes and swamps, where they could not obtain fresh water. In this retreat, the British force was separated in consequence of Lieutenant-Colonel Prevost, the Quarter-master-general, who had gone with a party on a foraging excursion, having removed part of a bridge of boats leading to John's Island. The enemy, who had 5000 men in the neighborhood, endeavoured to avail themselves of this circumstance, and pushed forward 2000 men with some artillery, to attack a battalion of the Highlanders and some Hessians under Colonel Maitland, who were placed in a redoubt at Stone Ferry, for the purpose of protecting the foraging party. Hearing of the advance of the enemy, Colonel Maitland sent out Captain Colin Campbell (son of Campbell of Glendaruel, in Argyleshire), with 4 officers and 56 men, to reconnoiter. Whilst this small party was standing on an open field, the enemy emerged from a thick wood. Regardless of the inequality of numbers, Captain Campbell attacked the enemy with great vivacity; and a desperate contest took place, in which all the Highlanders and officers, except 7 of the soldiers, fell. When Captain Campbell was struck, he desired such of his men as were able to retire to the redoubt; but they refused to obey, as they considered that if they left their officers behind in the field, they would bring a lasting disgrace on themselves. The enemy, unexpectedly, ceased firing, and the 7 men, availing themselves of the respite, retired, carrying their wounded officers along with them, followed by such of the soldiers as were able to walk. The enemy then advanced on the redoubt, and the Hessians having got into confusion, they forced an entrance; but they were driven out by the Highlanders, at the point of the bayonet. The enemy were preparing for another attack, but the second battalion of the Highlanders having come up, the Americans retired with considerable loss.

After this affair, General Prevost retired with the main body towards Savannah, leaving behind him 700 men under Colonel Maitland, who took up a position in the island of Port Royal. In the month of September 1779, the Count D'Estaing arrived on the coast of Georgia with a large fleet, with troops on board, for the purpose of retaking Savannah.

The grenadiers of the 71st were not employed in Georgia, but were posted at Stony Point and Verplanks, in the state of New York, which places had been recently taken from the enemy. Wishing to make amends for allowing his post to be surprised by Major-General Sir Charles Grey, the American general, Wayne was sent to retake the posts of Stony Point and Verplanks. Accordingly, with a body of troops, he proceeded at eight o'clock in the evening of the 15th of July 1779, and taking post in a hollow within two miles of the fort, advanced unperceived, about midnight, in two columns. One of these gained the summit, on which the fort stood, without being observed, and the garrison being surprised, surrendered after a short resistance, with the loss of 17 soldiers killed, and 3 officers and 72 privates wounded. The piquet, which was commanded by Lieutenant Cumming of the 71st, resisted one of the columns till almost all the men composing it were killed or wounded. Lieutenant Cumming was among the latter.

After the surrender of Charleston on the 12th of May 1780, to the forces under Sir Henry Clinton, Lord Cornwallis was appointed to the command of the southern provinces. Having projected an excursion into the interior, he was joined by the 71st, which had remained at Savannah in quarters during the winter. In the beginning of June, the army, amounting to 2500, reached Cambden, and encamped in the neighborhood, the general making that place his head quarters. The American general Gates, having, in July, assembled a force of 7000 men, took up a position at Rugley's Mill, nearly twelve miles from Cambden. Determined to surprise and attack the enemy, the British general moved forward on the night of the 15th of August; whilst, by a singular coincidence, the American commander left his position at the very same hour, with the same intention. It was full moon, and the sky was unclouded. Before three o'clock in the morning, the advanced guards met halfway, and exchanged some shots; but both generals, ignorant of each other's strength, declined a general action, and lay on their arms till morning. The ground on which the armies lay was a sandy plain, with straggling trees, but a part on the left of the British was soft and boggy. Each army prepared for battle, by forming line. The British right consisted of the light infantry and the Welsh fusiliers; the 33d regiment and the volunteers of Ireland formed the center; and the provincials composed the left, having the marshy ground in their front. Whilst this formation was going on, Captain Charles Campbell, who commanded the Highland light companies on the right, mounted the stump of an old tree to reconnoiter, and perceiving the enemy in motion, as if they intended to turn his flank, he leaped down, muttering to himself, "I'll see you damned first", and calling to his men, said, "Remember you are light infantry; remember you are Highlanders: - charge!". The Highlanders instantly rushed forward, and such was the impetuosity of the attack, that the division of the enemy which was to have surrounded the right of the British was completely broken, and driven from the field before the battle commenced in the other parts of the line. In the contest which took place between these, the center of the enemy gained ground; but neither party seemed disposed to advance, a pause of a few minutes took place, as if by mutual consent, during which both parties remained stationary without firing a shot. Whilst matters were in this state Lord Cornwallis ordered the corps in the center to open their right and left; and when a considerable space intervened, he directed the Highlanders, who were getting impatient at being left in the rear, whilst their friends were fighting in front, to advance and occupy the vacant space. When the Highlanders had taken their ground, his lordship cried out, "My brave Highlanders, now is your time!". The words were scarcely uttered, when they rushed forward, accompanied by the 33d, and the volunteers of Ireland. The charge was irresistible, and the center of the enemy was completely overthrown. Meanwhile the right of the enemy, which was enveloped in the smoke of the fire, advanced unperceived, and gained the ground on which the Highlanders had been formerly posted as a reserve. Unaware of the fate of their companions, they gave three cheers for victory; but their joy was of short duration, for, the smoke immediately clearing up, they saw their mistake; and a party of Highlanders turning on them, the greater part threw down their arms, whilst the remainder flew in all directions. The loss of the British in this decisive action was 3 officers and 66 men killed, and 17 officers and 226 rank and file wounded. Lieutenant Archibald Campbell and 3 soldiers of the 71st were killed, and Captain Hugh Campbell, Lieutenant John Grant, 2 sergeants, and 30 privates wounded. (In a letter communicated to General Stewart by Dr Chisholm of Bristol, an eye-witness, the writer says that there were many acts of individual prowess. One will suffice. "A tough stump of a Sutherland Highlander, of the name of Mackay, afterwards my own batman, entered the battle with his bayonet perfectly straight, and brought it our twisted like a cork-screw, and with his own hand had put to death seven of the enemy").

Though the battle of the 16th of August was decisive, yet General Sumpter with a strong corps occupied positions on the Catawba river, which commanded the road to Charlestown, it was necessary to dislodge him. For this purpose Colonel Tarleton was directed to proceed with the cavalry, and a corps of light infantry, under Captain Charles Campbell of the 71st. On the morning of the 18th they came in sight of Fishing Creek, and observing some smoke at a short distance on their right, the sergeant of the advanced guard halted his party, and went forward to reconnoiter. He observed an encampment with arms piled, and, with the exception of a few sentinels and some persons employed in cooking, the soldiers were reposing in groups apparently asleep. The sergeant reporting what he had seen to Captain Campbell, the latter, who commanded in front, fearing discovery, formed such of the cavalry as had come up, and with 40 of the Highlander light infantry rushed quickly forward, secured the piled arms, and surprised the camp. The success was complete; a few men were killed, nearly 500 surrendered prisoners, and the rest fled in all directions. The loss was trifling, but the Highlanders had in an especial manner to regret the death of Captain Campbell, who was killed by a random shot.

The American general, Morgan, having entered South Carolina, in December 1780, with about 1100 men, Colonel Rerleton was detached with some infantry, of which the first battalion of the 71st formed a part, and a small body of cavalry. On the morning of the 17th of January 1781, intelligence was received that General Morgan was posted on a rising ground in front, which was thinly covered with pine trees. The front line was drawn up on the top of the rising ground, and the second, four hundred paces in rear of the first. Colonel Tarleton instantly formed in order of battle. In front he placed the 7th, or fusiliers, the infantry of the British legion, and the light infantry; the Highlanders and cavalry formed the reserve. The line, exhausted by running at a rapid pace, received the fire of the enemy at the distance of thirty or forty yards, which did considerable execution. The fire was returned, but without spirit and with little effect; and it was kept up on both sides for ten or twelve minutes, neither party advancing. The light infantry then made two attempts to charge, but were repulsed with loss. In this state of matters the Highlanders were ordered up, and advancing rapidly to the charge, the enemy's front line instantly have way; and this retrograde motion being observed by the second line, which had not yet been engaged, it immediately faced to the right and inclined backwards, and by this skilful maneuver opened a space by which the front line retreated. Eager to pursue, the Highlanders followed the front line, when Colonel Howard, who commanded the enemy's reserve, threw in a destructive fire upon the 71st, when within 40 yards of the hostile force. So disastrous was the effect of this fire, that nearly one half of the Highlanders fell; and the rest were so scattered over the ground, on which they pursued, that they could not be united to form a charge with the bayonet. Though checked, the Highlanders did not fall back, probably expecting that the first line and the cavalry would come up to their support; but they were mistaken: and after some irregular firing between them and Colonel Howard's reserve, the front line of the Americans rallied, returned to the field, and pushed forward to the right flank of the Highlanders. Alone, and unsupported, and almost overpowered by the increasing numbers of the enemy, the Highlanders "began to retire, and at length to run, the first instance (may it be the only one") of a Highland regiment running from an enemy!". A general rout ensued; few of the infantry escaped, but the cavalry saved themselves by the speed of their horses. The loss of the British, in this disastrous affair, exceeded 400 men. The Highland officers were perfectly satisfied with the conduct of their men, and imputing the disaster altogether to the bad dispositions of Colonel Tarleton, made a representation to Lord Cornwallis, not to be employed again under the same officer, a request with which his lordship complied.

The main body of the American army under General Green retreated northward after this action, and Lord Cornwallis made every execution to follow them. Previous to the march the two battalions of the 71st, being greatly reduced, were consolidated into one, and formed in brigade with the Welsh fusiliers and 33d regiment. General Gree retreated to Guildford Court-house, where on the 16th of March he prepared for battle. He drew up his army in three lines: the first occupied the edge of a wood with a fence in front of Hogstie farm; the second a wood of stunted oaks at some distance in the rear; and the third line was drawn up in the more open ground. The front line of the British was formed of the German regiment of De Bos, the Highlanders and guards under the Honorable General Leslie on the right; and the Welsh fusiliers, 33d regiment, and 2d battalion of guards under Brigadier-General Charles O'Hara, on the left. The cavalry were in the rear, supported by the light infantry of the guards and the German Jagers.

The order of battle being completed, the attack began at one o'clock. The Americans, covered by the fence in their front, reserved their fire till the British were within thirty or forty paces, at which distance they opened a most destructive fire, which annihilated nearly one-third of Colonel Webster's brigade. The fire was returned by the brigade, who rushed forward on the enemy. These abandoned their fence, and retreated on the second line. The contest was maintained with greater pertinacity on the more open ground, where the regiment of De Bos and the 33d retreated and advanced repeatedly before they succeeded in driving the enemy from the field. A party of the guards pressing forward without observing a body of cavalry placed in the right flank as a reserve, were charged in flank, had their line broken, and lost several men. The enemy, who had retreated, emboldened by the effect of this charge, halted, turned their face to the field, and recommenced firing. Whilst matters were in this state, and the Hessians warmly engaged, the Highlanders, who had rapidly pushed round the flank, appeared on a rising ground in rear of the enemy's left, and rushing forward with shouts, made such an impression on the Americans that they immediately fled, leaving their guns and ammunition behind. In this well-contested action every corps fought separately, each depending on its own firmness; amd having to sustain the weight of so greatly superior numbers, the issue was for some time doubtful. The British had 7 officers and 102 non-commissioned officers and rank and file killed, among whom were Ensign Grant and 11 soldiers of the 71st; and 20 officers and 419 non-commissioned officers and rank and file wounded, including 4 sergeants and 46 soldiers of the same regiment.

No solid advantage was gained by this battle, as Lord Cornwallis found it necessary to retreat, and was even obliged to leave his wounded behind in a house in the neighborhood. The British took the direction of Cross Creek, followed close in the rear by the Americans. The settlement of Cross Creek was possessed by emigrant Highlanders, who had evinced great loyalty during the war; and they now offered to bring 1500 men into the field, and to furnish every necessary except arms and ammunition, but stipulated that they should be commanded by officers from the line. This reasonable offer was declined; but it was proposed to form them into what was called a provincial corps of the line. This proposition was rejected by the emigrant Highlanders, who retired to their settlements, after a negotiation of twelve days. The army then marched for Wilmington, where it arrived on the 17th of April. Here Lord Cornwallis halted till the 26th, when he proceeded on the route to Petersborough. After traversing several hundred miles of a country chiefly hostile, he arrived at Petersborough on the 20th of May, where he formed a junction with Major-general Philips, who had recently arrived from New York with 3000 men. With the united forces, which amounted to 6000 men, Lord Cornwallis proceeded to Portsmouth, and whilst he was preparing to cross the river at St James's island, the Marquis de la Fayette, ignorant of the strength of the British army, gallantly attacked Colonel Thomas Dundas's brigade, with 2000 men. The Marquis was repulsed, but not without a warm contest.

Arriving at Portsmouth, Lord Cornwallis continued his march to Yorktown, and took up a position on the York river, on the 22d of August. The place selected was an elevated platform, on the banks of the river, nearly level. On the right of the position, extending from the river, was a ravine about forty feet in depth, and upwards of one hundred yards in breadth; a line of entrenchments, with a hornwork, formed the center. Beyond the ravine, on the right of the position, was an extensive redoubt, and two smaller ones on the left, also advanced beyond the entrenchments. These defenses, which constituted the chief strength of the camp, were not completed when General Washington, who had been lately joined by the Count de Rochambeau, took up a position at the distance of two miles from the British lines. His force consisted of 7000 French and 12,000 Americans, being thrice as numerous as that of the British, which did not exceed 5950 men.

General Washington immediately proceeded to erect batteries, and to make his approaches. He first directed his fire against the redoubt on the right, which after four days bombardment was reduced to a heap of sand. He did not, however, attempt an assault on this point of the position, but turned his whole force against the redoubts on the left, which he carried by storm, and turned the guns of the redoubts on the other parts of the entrenchments. Some soldiers of the 71st, who had manned one of these redoubts, conceiving that the honor of the regiment was compromised by their expulsion from the redoubt, sent a petition through the commanding officer to Lord Cornwallis, for permission to retake it; but as his lordship did not think that the acquisition would be of much importance, under existing circumstances, he declined.

Finding his position quite untenable, and his situation becoming every hour more critical, the British commander determined to decampt at midnight with the elite of his army, to cross the river, and leave a small force in the works to capitulate for the sick and wounded, the former being very numerous. The plan would have succeeded had not the passage of the river been rendered dangerous, if not impractable, by a squall of wind. The first division was embarked, and some of the boats had reached Gloucestor Point on the opposite shore, when the General countermanded the enterprise in consequence of a storm which arose. Judging farther resistance hopeless, Lord Cornwallis made proposals of capitulation, and the terms being adjusted, the British troops marched out with their arms and baggage on the 8th of October 1781, and were afterwards sent to different parts of the country. The garrison had 6 officers and 150 non-commissioned officer and rank and file killed, and 6 officers and 319 non-commissioned officers and rank and file wounded. Lieutenant Fraser and 9 soldiers of the 71st were killed, and 3 drummers and 19 soldiers wounded.

The military services of this army, which were now closed, had been most arduous. In less than twelve months they had marched and countermarched nearly 2000 miles, had been subjected to many severe hardships, and besides numerous skirmishes had fought two pitched battles, in all of which they had been victorious; yet all their exertions were unavailing in the general contest.

With this misfortune also ended the military career of the Fraser Highlanders, who remained prisoners till the conclusion of the war. True to their allegiance, they resisted to a man the solicitations of the Americans to join their standard and settle among them, thus exhibiting a striking contrast to many soldiers of other corps, who, in violation of their oath, entered American ranks. In other respects the conduct of the Highlanders was in perfect keeping with this high state of moral feeling and daring, not one instance of disgraceful conduct ever having occurred in the old 71st.

The regiment returned to Scotland on the termination of hostilities, and was discharged at Perth in 1783.