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Scottish Regiments
Military Character of the Highlanders


Hitherto the account of the military exploits of the Highlanders has been limited to their own clan feuds and to the exertions which, for a century, they made in behalf of the unfortunate Stuarts. We are now to notice their operations on a more extended field of action, by giving a condensed sketch of their services in the cause of the country; services which have acquired for them a reputation as deserved as it has been unsurpassed. From moral as well as from physical causes, the Highlanders were well fitted to attain this pre-eminence.

"In forming his military character, the Highlander was not more favoured by nature than by the social system under which he lived. Nursed in poverty, he acquired a hardihood which enabled him to sustain severe privations. As the simplicity of his life gave vigour to his body, so it fortified his mind. Possessing a frame and constitution thus hardened, he was taught to consider courage as the most honourable virtue, cowardice the most disgraceful failing; to venerate and obey his chief, and to devote himself for his native country and clan; and thus prepared to be a soldier, he was ready to follow wherever honour and duty called him. With such principles, and regarding any disgrace he might bring on his clan and district as the most cruel misfortune, the Highland private soldier had a peculiar motive to exertion. The common soldier of many other countries has scarcely any other stimulus to the performance of his duty than the fear of chastisement, or the habit of mechanical obedience to command, produced by the discipline in which he has been trained. With a Highland soldier it is otherwise. When in a national or district corps, he is surrounded by the companions of his youth and the rivals of his early achievements; he feels the impulse of emulation strengthened by the consciousness that every proof which he displays, either of bravery or cowardice, will find its way to his native home. He thus learns to appreciate the value of a good name; and it is thus, that in a Highland regiment, consisting of men from the same country, whose kindred and connexions are mutually known, every individual feels that his conduct is the subject of observation, and that, independently of his duty as a member of a systematic whole, he has to sustain a separate and individual reputation, which will be reflected on his family, and district or glen. Hence he requires no artificial excitements. He acts from motives within himself; his point is fixed, and his aim must terminate either in victory or death. The German soldier considers himself as a part of the military machine, and duly marked out in the orders of the day. He moves onward to his destination with a well-trained pace, and with as phlegmatic indifference to the result as a labourer who works for his daily hire. The courage of the French soldier is supported in the hour of trial by his high notions of the point of honour; but this display of spirit is not always steady. A Highland soldier faces his enemy, whether in front, rear, or flank; and if he has confidence in his commander, it may be predicted with certainty that he will be victorious or die on the ground which he maintains. He goes into the field resolved not to disgrace his name. A striking characteristic of the Highlander is, that all his actions seem to flow from sentiment. His endurance of privation and fatigue,—his resistance of hostile opposition,—his solicitude for the good opinion of his superiors,—all originate in this source, whence also proceeds his obedience, which is always most conspicuous when exhibited under kind treatment. Hence arises the difference observable between the conduct of one regiment of Highlanders and that of another, and frequently even of the same regiment at different times, and under different management. A Highland regiment, to be orderly and well disciplined, ought to be commanded by men who are capable of appreciating their character, directing their passions and prejudices, and acquiring their entire confidence and affection. The officer to whom the command of Highlanders is intrusted must endeavour to acquire their confidence and good opinion. With this view, he must watch over the propriety of his own conduct. He must observe the strictest justice and fidelity in his promises to his men, conciliate them by an attention to their dispositions and prejudices, and, at the same time, by preserving a firm and steady authority, without which he will not be respected.

"Officers who are accustomed to command Highland soldiers find it easy to guide and control them when their full confidence has been obtained; but when distrust prevails severity ensues, with a consequent neglect of duty, and by a continuance of this unhappy misunderstanding, the men become stubborn, disobedient, and in the end mutinous. The spirit of a Highland soldier revolts at any unnecessary severity; though he may be led to the mouth of a cannon if properly directed, will rather die than be unfaithful to his trust. But if, instead of leading, his officers attempt to drive him, he may fail in the discharge of the most common duties."

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 with exultation.

"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 instinct.

"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 national pride."

Of the disinclination from peaceful employment, and propensity for war here spoken of, Dr Jackson elsewhere affords us a striking illustration. While passing through the Isle of Skye ("The Isle of Skye has, within the last forty years, furnished for the public service, twenty-one lieutenant-generals and major-generals, forty-five lieutenant-colonels; six hundred majors, captains, lieutenants, and subalterns; ten thousand foot soldiers; one hundred and twenty pipers ; four governors of British colonies; one governor-general; one adjutant-general; one chief-baron of England; and one judge of the Supreme Court of Scotland. The generals may be classed thus :—eight Macdonalds, six Macleods, two Macallisters, two Macaskills, one Mackinnon, one Elder, and one Macqueen. The Isle of Skye is forty-five miles long, and about fifteen in mean breadth. Truly the inhabitants are a wonderous people. It may be mentioned that this island is the birth-place of Cuthullin, the celebrated hero mentioned in Ossian’s Poems. "—Inverness Journal). in the autumn of 1783, he met a man of great age whose shoulder had, through a recent fall, been dislocated. This condition was speedily rectified by our traveller. "As there seemed to be something rather uncommon about the old man, I asked if he had lived all his life in the Highlands? No :—he said he made one of the FORTY-SECOND when they were first raised; then had gone with them to Germany; but when he had heard that his Prince was landed in the North, he purchased, or had made such interest that he procured his discharge; came home, and enlisted under his banner. He fought at Culloden, and was wounded. After everything was settled, he returned to his old regiment, and served with it till he received another wound that rendered him unfit for service. He now, he said, lived the best way he could, on his pension."

Dr Jackson also strongly advocates the desirability of forming national and district regiments, and of keeping them free from any foreign intermixture. Such a policy seems to be getting more and more into favour among modern military authorities; and we believe that at the present time it is seldom, and only with reluctance, that any but Scotchmen are admitted into Scotch, and especially into Highland regiments, at least this is the case with regard to privates. Indeed, it is well known that in our own country there is even now an attempt among those who manage such matters, to connect particular regiments with certain districts. Not only does such a plan tend to keep up the morale respectability and esprit de corps of each regiment, but is well calculated to keep up the numbers, by establishing a connection between the various regiments and the militia of the districts with which they are connected. Originally each Highland regiment was connected and raised from a well defined district, and military men who are conversant in such matters think that it would be advisable to restore these regiments to their old footing in this respect. On this subject, we again quote the shrewd remarks of Dr Jackson:—

"If military materials be thrown together promiscuously—that is, arranged by no other rule except that of size or quantity of matter, as it is admitted that the individual parts possess different propensities and different powers of action, it is plain that the instrument composed of these different and independent parts has a tendency to act differently; the parts are constrained to act on one object by stimulation or coercion only.

"Military excellence consists, as often hinted, in every part of the instrument acting with full force—acting from one principle and for one purpose; and hence it is evident that in a mixed fabric, composed of parts of unequal power and different temper, disunion is a consequence, if all act to the full extent of their power; or if disunion be not a consequence, the combined act must necessarily be shackled, and, as such, inferior, the strong being restrained from exertion for the sake of preserving union with the weak.

"The imperfection now stated necessarily attaches to regiments composed of different nations mixed promiscuously. It even attaches, in some degree, to regiments which are formed indiscriminately from the population of all the districts or counties of an extensive kingdom. This assumption, anticipated by reasoning, is confirmed by experience in the military history of semi-barbarous tribes, which are often observed, without the aid of tactic, as taught in modern schools, to stick together in danger and to achieve acts of heroism beyond the comprehension of those who have no knowledge of man but as part of a mechanical instrument of war. The fact has numerous proofs in the history of nations; but it has not a more decisive one than that which occurred in the late SEVENTY-FIRST REGIMENT in the revolutionary war of America. 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.

In the narratives which follow, we have confined ourselves strictly to those regiments which are at the present day officially recognised as Highland. Many existing regiments were originally Highland, which, as our readers will see, had ultimately to be changed into ordinary line regiments, from the difficulty of finding Highlanders willing to enlist; the history of such regiments we have followed only so long as they were recognised as Highland, and in the event of their again becoming Highland regiments—as in the case of the 73rd and 75th—their history is resumed at that point. In this way the existing strictly Highland regiments are reduced to eleven— The Black Watch or 42nd, the 71st, 72nd, 73rd, 74th, 75th, 77th, 78th, 79th, 91st, 92nd, 93rd.


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