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The 78th Highlanders or Ross-Shire Buffs


THE Covernor-General of India having declared war against Persia on the 1st of November 1856, an expedition was despatched the same month from Bombay to the Persian Gulf. The force consisted of one division only, comprising two infantry brigades, with cavalry, artillery, and engineers, the whole under the command

This expedition was subsequently reinforced by a second division, of which the 78th Highlanders formed part. Early on the morning of the 7th of January 1857 the left wing, consisting of 12 officers and 388 men, commenced its march under the command of Major M’Intyre, and the head-quarters, consisting of 16 officers and 421 men, under the command of Colonel Stisted, started on the morning of the 8th. A dépôt, consisting of 1 officer and 89 men, was left at Poonah in charge of Lieutenant Gilmore. After staying a short time at Khandallah, the regiment arrived at Bombay on the 19th, and embarked in three ships, which sailed the same day. Headquarters arrived off Busheer on July 1st, and disembarked immediately in light marching order, with no baggage except bedding, consisting of a settzingee, or cotton padded rug, and a pair of blankets. The left wing having arrived on the previous day, had already landed in the same order, and marched into the entrenched camp, where the whole regiment was assembled, occupying an outwork near the lines of the 64th Regiment, in which tents had been pitched for officers and men. Owing, however, to the insufficient supply of these, 30 men, or 2 officers and their servants, had to find accommodation in a zowtee tent, 10 feet by 8. Both officers and men were received in camp with great hospitality, the men of the different companies of the 64th and 2d Bombay Europeans sending their rations of spirits and porter to the corresponding companies of the 78th.

It had come to the notice of Sir James Outram that the Persian Government were making vast preparations for the recovery of Busheer, and that Sooja-ool-Moolk, the Persian commander, and reputed to be the best general in the Persian army, had assembled a formidable force at the town of Boorasjoon, 46 miles from Busheer, where he had formed an entrenched camp. This force consisted of a total of 8450 cavalry and infantry.

The Persian force was well supplied with food and ammunition, and it had been intended that it should form the nucleus of a very large army assembling for the recovery of Busheer.

At six o’clock in the evening of the 3d of February the following force was drawn up, in two lines of contiguous columns at quarter-distance, outside the entrenched camp:-

Cavalry—3d Bombay Light Cavalry, 243; Poona Horse, 176. Infantry (Europeans) —H.M, 64th regiment, 780; H.M. 78th Highlanders, 739; 2d Bombay European Light Infantry, 693. Infantry, &c. (Natives)—Sappers, 118; 4th Bombay Rifle Regiment, 523; 20th Regiment Bombay N.I., 442; 26th Regiment Bombay N.J., 479; Beloochee Battalion, 460. Guns—3d Troop Horse Artillery, 6; 3d Light Field Battery, 6; 5th Light Field Battery, 6. Total sabres, 419; Europeans, 2212; Natives, 2022. Total men, 4653; guns, 18.

The force was not provided with tents or extra clothing of any kind; but every man carried his great coat, blanket, and two days’ cooked provisions.

After a march of 46 miles in forty-one hours, during which the troops were exposed to the worst of weather—cold winds, deluging storms of rain and thunder, and clouds of driving sand, the greater part of the march lying through a reedy swamp—the force reached the enemy’s entrenched position near the town of Boorasjoon, on the morning of the 5th, but was only in time to find the enemy abandoning it. A smart brush, however, took place between their rearguard and the British cavalry, in which an officer and two or three troopers received some slight wounds. By two o’clock the force was in possession of the enemy’s entrenched camp, and great quantities of ammunition of all kinds, together with grain and camp equipage, were captured, the enemy having gone off in a most hurried and disorderly manner.

"The 6th and 7th of February were passed in the enemy’s position, destroying stores and searching for buried guns, which were afterwards ascertained to have been thrown down wells; their carriages and wheels, being found by us, were burned. Some treasure was also discovered, and many horses and carriage cattle secured. During this time no annoyance was experienced from the enemy, though an alarm on the night of the 6th caused the whole of the troops to stand to arms. From information received afterwards, and their own despatch, this alarm was not altogether a groundless one, as they fell up to our outposts; but finding the troops under arms, and it being a bright moonlight night, they attempted nothing. Many jokes were, however, current in camp next day on the events of the night, the picket of one regiment having taken a door prisoner, which was leaning against a bush in a most suspicious manner; and those of two other gallant corps skirmished up to, and were very nearly having a battle of their own with a patrol of the Poonah Horse. However, all passed off without accident.

"Many spies were doubtless in our camp during the entire period of our stay, and the enemy were well informed of every movement; regardless of which, however, intercourse between the villagers and camp was encouraged, and such strict precautions enforced that they should not be pillaged or ill-treated, that they were civil if not friendly, and at any rate gave no trouble."

The troops had been somewhat exhausted by their march of 46 miles through rain, mud, morass, and sand in forty-one hours; but being now recruited by their two days’ rest, and Sir James Outram having heard that the enemy had succeeded in getting his guns through the difficult pass of Maak, considered it better to rest content with the moral effect produced by the capture and destruction of their stores, and accordingly ordered a return to Busheer.

"At eight o’clock on the evening of the 7th," Captain Hunt says, "the return march to Busheer was commenced, the column taking with it as much of the captured stores as carriage was procurable for, and the military Governor of Boorasjoon as a prisoner—this personage proving a double traitor. The General’s intention that the return march should be a leisurely one had been so widely made known through the force, that the stirring events then so shortly to occur were little indeed expected by any one. . . . Shortly after midnight a sharp rattle of musketry in the rear, and the opening of two horse artillery guns, put every one on the qui vive, and that an attack in force upon the rearguard was taking place became apparent to all. The column at once halted, and then moved back to extricate the baggage and protecting troops. These, however, were so ably handled by Colonel Honnor (who was in command) as to need little assistance, save for the increasing numbers of the assailants.

"In about half an hour after the first shot was fired, not the rearguard only, but the entire force, was enveloped in a skirmishing fire. Horsemen galloped round on all sides, yelling and screaming like fiends, and with trumpets and bugles making as much noise as possible. One of their buglers had the audacity to go close to a skirmishing company of the Highlanders, and sound first the ‘Cease fire,’ and afterwards, ‘Incline to the left,’ escaping in the dark. Several English officers having, but a few years since, been employed in organising the Persian troops, accounted for the knowledge of our bugle-calls, now artfully used to create confusion. The silence and steadiness of the men were most admirable, and the maneuvring of regiments that followed, in taking up position for the remaining hours of darkness, was as steady as an ordinary parade, and this during a midnight attack, with an enemy’s fire flashing in every direction, and cavalry surrounding, ready to take advantage of the slightest momentary confusion. Pride may well be felt in the steadiness of any troops under such circumstances; and how much more so when, as on the present occasion, two-thirds had never before been under an enemy’s fire. The horsemen of the enemy were at first very bold, dashing close up to the line, and on one occasion especially to the front of the 78th Highlanders; but finding that they could occasion no disorder, and having been in one or two instances roughly handled by the cavalry and horse artillery, this desultory system of attack gradually ceased, and the arrangement of the troops for the remainder of the night was effected under nothing more serious than a distant skirmishing fire. The formation adopted was an oblong, a brigade protecting each flank, and a demi-brigade the front and rear, field battery guns at intervals, and a thick line of skirmishers connecting and covering all; the horse artillery and cavalry on the flank of the face fronting the original line of march, the front and flanks of the oblong facing outwards; the baggage and followers being in the centre. When thus formed the troops lay down, waiting for daylight in perfect silence, and showing no fire or light of any kind.

"Scarcely was the formation completed when the enemy opened five heavy guns, and round shot were momentarily plunging through and over our position, the range of which they had obtained very accurately. Our batteries replied ; and this cannonade continued, with occasional intervals, until near daylight, causing but few casualties, considering the duration of the fire."

It appears that, in abandoning their position at Boorasjoon, Sooja-ool-Moolk (reputed to be the best officer in the Persian army), with his force, had taken the direct road to Shiraz by the Maak Pass, and the Elkanee, with his horse, had retired to the one leading to the Haft Moola, and that they had planned a night attack on the British camp on the night that the troops marched. The explosion of the magazine at Boorasjoon gave the Persians the first intimation of the departure of the British force, when they hastened after it, in the expectation of being able to attack it on the line of march, and possibly create confusion and panic in the dark.

At daybreak on the 8th of February the Persian force, amounting to over 6000 infantry and 2000 horse, besides several guns, was discovered on the left rear of the British (northeast of the line of march) in order of battle. The Persians were drawn up in line, their right resting on the walled village of Kooshab and a date grove, and their left on a hamlet with a round fortalice tower. Two rising mounds were in front of their centre, which served as redoubts, behind which they placed their guns; and they had deep nullahs on their right front and flank, thickly lined with skirmishers. Their cavalry, in considerable bodies, were on both flanks, commanded by the hereditary chief of the tribes in person. The whole army was commanded by Sooja-ool-Moolk.

The British artillery and cavalry at once moved rapidly to the attack, supported by two lines of infantry, a third line protecting the baggage. The first line was composed of the 78th Highlanders under Major M’Intyre, a party of Sappers on the right, the 26th Regiment Native Infantry, the 2nd European Light Infantry, and the 4th Regiment Bombay Rifles on the left of all. The second line had H.M.’s 64th Regiment on its right, then the 20th Regiment Native Infantry, and the Belooch Battalion on its left. The light companies of battalions faced the enemy’s skirmishers in the nullahs, and covered both flanks and rear of their own army. A detachment of the 3d Cavalry assisted in this duty, and as the enemy showed some bodies of horse, threatening a dash on the baggage or wounded men, these were of considerable service. They had also in their charge the Governor of Boorasjoon, who, endeavouring to attract attention by placing his black Persian cap on a stick, and waving it as a signal to his countrymen, was immediately, and very properly, knocked off his horse, and forced to remain on his knees until the fortune of the day was decided.

"The lines advanced directly the regiments had deployed, and so rapidly and steadily did the leading one move over the crest of a rising ground (for which the enemy’s guns were laid) that it suffered but little, the Highlanders not having a single casualty, and the 26th Native Infantry, their companion regiment in brigade, losing only one man killed, and having but four or five wounded. The 1st Brigade, 1st Division, fared worse, as the shot, passing over the regiments then in their front, struck the ranks, and occasioned the greatest loss of the day. The 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, suffered equally, but had more killed among their casualties especially in the 2nd European Light Infantry.

"During this time .the cannonade had been continuous; but as the Persian fire in some degree slackened, our artillery advanced to closer action, making most beautiful practice, and almost silencing the opposing batteries. Some bodies of horse soon presented an opportunity for a charge, and the squadrons of the 3rd Cavalry and Tapp’s Irregulars, who had hitherto been on the right front, dashed at them, accompanied by Blake’s Horse Artillery, and made a most sweeping and brilliant charge, sabring gunners, and fairly driving the enemy’s horse off the field. The infantry lines were still advancing rapidly, and in beautifully steady order, to sustain this attack, and were just getting into close action when the enemy lost heart, and his entire line at once broke and fled precipitately.

"More than 700 of their dead were left upon the field, with many horses; how many were slain in the pursuit, or died of their wounds, it was of course impossible to ascertain. No great number of prisoners (said to be about 100) fell into our hands; their own cowardly treachery in many instances, after having received quarter, enraged the men, and occasioned a free use of the bayonet. One or two men of consequence were, however, among those taken. These brilliant results were secured on our part with a loss of only 1 officer and 18 men killed, and 4 officers and 60 men wounded. Among the unfortunate camp-followers, however, crowded together during the preceding night attack, several were killed and wounded, and many not accounted for."’

The troops bivouacked for the day in the battlefield, and at night accomplished a march of twenty miles (by another route) over a country rendered almost impassable by the heavy rains which fell incessantly. Through sticky mud, half clay and sand, the column marched the whole night after the action. The guide misled the force, and at four o’clock in the morning of the 9th a halt was called to wait for daylight. In the midst of pelting rain, sunk knee-deep in mud, and exposed to a biting north-easterly wind, two hours were passed, without a tree even in sight, and the swamp around looking in the hazy light like a vast lake. Yet men and officers alike stretched themselves in the mire, endeavouring to snatch some sort of rest after their exhausting labours. The foot of Chah Gudack was at length reached by ten in the morning, whence, after a rest of six hours, the march was continued through deep swamps to Busheer, which was reached before midnight; the force having thus performed another most arduous march of forty-four miles, under incessant rain, besides fighting and defeating the enemy during its progress, within the short space of fifty hours. Though the men were tired and fagged, they were in excellent spirits.

In Sir James Outram’s despatch to General Sir H. Somerset the name of Brigadier Stisted (78th) was particularly mentioned.

This wet march from Boorasjoon having completely destroyed the shoes of the men, Sir James Outram generously took upon himself to order that each man of the force should be supplied with a new pair free of expense, the cost of which was subsequently defrayed by Government. The marching hose of the 78th were all spoiled and rendered useless, and in many cases could only be taken off by being cut to pieces. A long gray stocking, procurable from the Government stores, was substituted, and continued to be worn until the adoption of the white spats in the following year.

On the return of the expedition it was the intention of General Outram immediately to proceed against the Fort of Mohammrah, situated at the junction of the Shut-el-Arab (the Euphrates) and the Karoon, but owing to the non-arrival of the requisite reinforcements from India, occasioned by tempestuous weather in the Gulf of Persia, and other causes, Sir James was unable to leave Busheer until the 18th of March. In the, meantime the troops were busily employed in erecting five formidable redoubts, four in front and one in rear of the entrenched camp. While lying before Busheer the light company of the 78th was supplied with Enfield rifles.

Brigadier-General Sir Henry Havelock, K.C.B.Brigadier-General Havelockhaving arrived in February, took command of the Indian division, and Brigadier Walker Hamilton, of the 78th Highlanders, arriving from Kurrâchee, where he had been for some months commanding the brigade, assumed command of the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, which had hitherto been commanded by Colonel Stisted of the 78th; the latter officer now resumed the command of the regiment.

In the beginning of March the embarkation of the troops destined for the bombardment of Mohammrah commenced, and continued at intervals as the weather permitted, until the departure of General Outram on the 18th.

The place of rendezvous for the expedition was about sixteen miles from the mouth of the Euphrates, opposite the village of Mohammrah. On the 16th of March the "Kingston" sailed from Busheer with 6 officers and 159 noncommissioned officers and rank and file, being No. 8 and the light company of the 78th, under Captain Hunt. These were followed on the 12th by headquarters, consisting of 9 officers and 228 men, under command of Colonel Stisted, accompanied by Brigadier-General Havelock; also by 6 officers and 231 men under Major M’Intyre. A few days previous to the attack on Mohammrah, Nos. 1, 2, and 3 companies, under Major Haliburton, joined the rest of the regiment.

All the ships comprising the expedition were assembled at the appointed rendezvous by the 21st of March, and the next two days were occupied in the arrangement of details for the attack.

For some months past the Persians had been strengthening their position at Mohammrah; batteries of great strength had been erected, consisting of solid earth, 20 feet thick and 18 feet high, with casemated embrasures on the northern and southern points of the banks of the Karoon and Shut-el-Arab, at the junction of the two rivers. These, with other earthworks, armed with heavy ordnance, cornpletely commanded the passage of the latter river, and were so judiciously placed and so skilfully formed as to sweep the whole stream to the extent of the range of the guns down the river and across to the opposite shore. Indeed, everything that science could suggest and labour accomplish in the time appeared to have been done by the enemy, to prevent any vessel from passing up that river above their position. The banks, for many miles, were overgrown with dense date groves, affording a perfect cover for riflemen; and the opposite shore, being neutral (Turkish) territory, was not available for the erection of counter batteries.

The plan of action resolved upon was to attack the enemy’s batteries with the armed steamers and sloops of war, and when the fire was nearly silenced, to pass up rapidly with the troops in small steamers towing boats, land the force above the northern forts, and immediately advance upon and attack the entrenched camp.

The Persian army, numbering 13,000 men of all arms, with 30 guns, was commanded by the Shah-zada, Prince Khanler Meerza, in person. The strength of the British force was 4886 of all arms, together with five steamers of the Indian navy, and two sloops of war, the entire command of the expedition being committed to Commodore Young of that service; the 78th Highlanders numbered 830.

On the morning of the 24th of March the fleet of ships of war and transports got under weigh, and made up the river to within three miles of the southern battery, opposite the village of Harteh, where they anchored.

By nine o’clock on the morning of the 26th the fire of the heavy batteries was so reduced by the fire from a mortar raft, followed up by that from the vessels of war, that the rendezvous flag was hoisted by the "Feroze" as a signal for the advance of the troops in the small steamers and boats. This was accomplished in admirable order, although at the time the fire from the batteries was far from being silenced. The leading steamer was the "Berenice," carrying on her deck the whole of the 78th Highlanders and about 200 Sappers.

Passing under the shelter of the ships of war, the troopships were brought to the banks above the forts, the water being sufficiently deep for them to lie close alongside the bank, and skirmishers were at once thrown out to cover the disembarkation of the force. In the meantime, the artillery fire from the Persian forts gradually ceased, and musketry was opened from them and from breastworks in their vicinity, and maintained with spirit for some time, when storming parties were landed, that drove out the defenders and took possession of their works and guns.

By half-past one o’clock the troops were landed and formed, and advanced without delay in contiguous columns at quarter-distance, through the date groves and across the plain, upon the entrenched camp of the enemy, who, without waiting for the approach of the British, fled precipitately after exploding their largest magazine, leaving behind them tents and baggage and stores, with several magazines of ammunition and 16 guns. Their loss was estimated at about 200 killed.

For the next few days, while the tents and the baggage were being disembarked, the army bivouacked under the date trees on the river-bank by day, and removed to the sandy plain by night, to avoid the unhealthy miasma.

It having been ascertained that the enemy had retreated to the town of Ahwaz, about 100 miles distant up the river Karoon, where they had large magazines and supplies, Sir James Outram determined to despatch an armed flotilla to that place to effect a reconnaisance.

The expedition was placed under the command of Captain Rennie of the Indian navy, and consisted of three small armed steamers, towing three gunboats and three cutters, and carrying on board No. 5 and the light company of the 78th, with Captain M'Andrew, Lieutenants Cassidy, Finlay, and Barker, and the grenadiers of the 64th Regiment; in all 300 men, under command of Captain Hunt of the 78th. This force came in sight of Aliwaz on the morning of the 1st of April. The whole Persian army was here observed posted in a strong position on the right bank of the Karoon. It having been ascertained from some Arabs that the town itself, on the left bank, was nearly deserted, it was determined to land the party, advance upon Ahwaz, and, if possible, destroy the dépôt of guns and ammunition.

At eleven in the morning the little band of 300 landed and advanced at once in three columns, covered by skirmishers, the whole party being extended in such a way that it appeared like a large body of men. The left column consisted of the light company of the 78th, with its skirmishers and supports, both in one rank, the remainder of the company marching in columns of threes in single ranks, with three paces distance between each man. The grenadier company of the 64th and No. 5 company of the 78th formed the right and centre columns in the same order. The gun-boats were sent off in advance up the river, and taking up a position within shell-range of the enemy’s ridges, opened fire upon them.

The troops thus marched in a mimic brigade, advanced under cover of the gunboats’ fire, and within an hour and a half Ahwaz was in their possession, and the Persian army, consisting of 6000 infantry, 5 guns, and a cloud of Bukhtyuri horsemen, numbering upwards of 2000, was in full retreat upon Dizful, leaving behind it 1 gun, 154 stand of new arms, a great number of mules and sheep, and an enormous quantity of grain.

Having remained at Ahwaz for two days, the plucky little force returned to Mohammrah, which it reached on the 5th of April, and where it received the hearty thanks of the General for the signal service which it had rendered.

[Captain Hunt, 78th Highlanders, "Persian Campaign. We may remark that Captain Hunt’s conduct of the Ahwaz force was very highly praised. Sir James Outram says in his despatch to Sir Henry Somerset, "Great praise is also due to Captain Hunt, 78th Highlanders, who so successfully carried out the military operations," and Sir Henry acknowledges this by alluding to Captain Hunt, "whose excellent disposition of his small force I have remarked with much satisfaction." Captain Hunt also received the thanks of the Governor-General in Council. This very promising officer unfortunately fell a victim to cholera during the Mutiny, and thus, at an early age, terminated a career which must have done honour to himself and reflected credit upon his regiment.—C. M.]

On the very same day news was received that peace with Persia had been concluded at Paris on the 4th of March; but the British forces were to remain encamped at Mohammrah until the ratification of the treaty.

On the 15th of April the regiment was inspected by Brigadier-General Havelock, 0.13., who expressed his extreme satisfaction at the highly efficient state in every respect in which he found it.

["Of the 78th Highlanders Havelock had formed a very high estimate, and in his confidential report of that corps, made before leaving Persia, a copy of which was found among his papers, he had said:— "There is a fine spirit in the ranks of this regiment. I am given to understand that it behaved remarkably well in the affair at Kooshab, near Busheer, which took place before I reached the army; and during the naval action on the Euphrates, and its landing here, its steadiness, zeal, and activity, under my own observation, were conspicuous. The men have been subjected in this service to a good deal of exposure, to extremes of climate, and have had heavy work to execute with their entrenching tools, in constructing redoubts and making roads. They have been, while I have had the opportunity of watching them, most cheerful ; and have never seemed to regret or complain of anything but that they had no further chance of meeting the enemy. I am convinced the regiment would be second to none in the service if its high military qualities were drawn forth. It is proud of its colours, its tartan, and its former achievements." —Marshmau’s Memoirs of Havelock.]

At length, on the 9th of May, a field force order was issued, directing the Indian division to be broken up, and the several regiments composing it to be sent to their respective destinations. In this order Sir James Outram bade the troops farewell, and expressed in the very highest terms his admiration of their conduct in every respect.

Thus ended the Persian campaign, during which the 78th had the good fortune to mature its campaigning qualities under the auspices of Outram and Havelock, names which were shortly destined to render its own illustrious.

A medal was sanctioned to be worn by the troops engaged in the Persian campaign.

In the regiment, Colonel Stisted, who for a time acted as brigadier, and afterwards commanded the regiment, was made a Companion of the Bath; and Captains Drummond, Hay, and Bouverie, who acted as majors of brigade at Busheer and Mohammrah, respectively, received brevet majorities. The regiment received orders to place the words "Persia" and "Kooshab" upon its colours and appointments.

On the 10th of May 1857, the 78th sailed from Mohammrah en route for Bombay. Touching only at the port of Muscat, the vessels all arrived safe in Bombay harbour on the 22nd and 23rd, and there received the astounding intelligence that the entire Bengal army had mutinied, seized Delhi, and in many cases massacred all the Europeans. The 78th was ordered to proceed immediately to Calcutta, along with the 64th, its old comrades, who had also just arrived from Persia. Colonel Walter Hamilton, having arrived from Persia, took command of the regiment, which, nurnbering 28 officers and 828 men, was transferred to four ships, which arrived at Calcutta on the 9th and 10th of June.