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Sketches of The Character, Manners, and Present State of the Highlanders of Scotland


Fencible Regiments

Argyle, Glengarry, &c.

Besides the twenty Fencible regiments, an account of which has been introduced in separate articles, there were six others of the same description raised in the years 1793, 1794, and 1799, several of which were almost entirely composed of Highlanders. Some were more mixed, while others, embodied in the Lowlands, contained many Highlanders, as, for instance, the Elgin regiment, which had about 300 men from the mountains. But as my information respecting the remaining Highland Fencible corps is very limited, I can do little more than mention their names, and the dates of their formation.

The Marquis of Lorn, following the example of his predecessors, applied for, and received Letters of Service to raise a regiment of Fencible infantry immediately after the declaration of war in 1793. The order was dated the 1st of March. The regiment was soon after embodied at Stirling, and after performing the usual duties, was reduced in the year 1799, along with other corps of the same description.

In 1794, a second Argyle regiment was raised, and the command given to Colonel Henry M. Clavering. This battalion did not contain so many Highlanders as Lord Lorn's, but the service was more general, being extended to Ireland, where the corps was stationed, till reduced in 1802.

In August 1794, Alexander Macdonell of Glengarry received Letters of Service for raising a Fencible regiment, of which he was appointed Colonel. This was a handsome body of men. More than one half was enlisted from the estate of Glengarry. Jersey and Guernsey were the principal stations of this corps till reduced in 1802, after which event the greater part of the Glengarry men emigrated, with their families and relations, to Canada, where they settled in a district which they have called by the name of their native glen. Every head of a family gave the name of his farm in Glengarry to his plantation in his adopted country. They also engaged two clergymen, who preach and instruct them in Gaelic, which is the only language in use in their community. [Ignorance of the English language on the part of these emigrants is perhaps the cause which has induced several travellers who visited the settlement to describe the people as uncultivated. As Highlanders are generally allowed to have a degree of native politeness, probably these gentlemen, could they have accosted them in their native language, would have found that the men of Glengarry have not lost it by their transfer even to America; a country which has not yet been remarked for the politeness and urbanity of its inhabitants.] An honourable trait of their native character was exhibited last war. They turned out in such numbers, that, along with some other emigrants, and the sons of emigrants, they formed a numerous, brave, and highly effective corps, called the Glengarry Fencibles, of whose good conduct, in Canada, the London Gazette affords satisfactory evidence.

In 1794, Sir Benjamin Dunbar of Hempriggs was authorized to raise a regiment which was called the Caithness Legion. This legion was removed to Ireland, and stationed there till reduced at the peace in 1802.

In 1794, also, Colonel William Robertson of Lude was appointed to the command of a regiment, which he denominated the Perthshire Highlanders. This was rather a misnomer, as the number of Perthshire Highlanders, or Highlanders of any country, was very limited. The regiment was early reduced.

The Ross-shire Fencibles were embodied in 1796, and Major Colin Mackenzie of Mountgerald appointed to the command. This was a small corps, but the deficiency of numbers was in one respect supplied by exemplary character, and physical capability. No man was punished, none died, and they were reduced as strong and efficient as when embodied.

Colonel Archibald Macneil of Colonsay was appointed Colonel of a third battalion of Argyle Fencibles raised in 1799. The name of Argyle did not properly apply to this corps, as the number of Argyleshire men was small. Their service being extended to all parts of Europe, the regiment was in 1800 removed to Gibraltar, to relieve the troops which were to embark from the garrison under the command of Sir Ralph Abercromby, and at the peace of 1801 was ordered home and reduced.

The Ross and Cromarty Rangers were raised and placed under the command of Colonel Lewis Mackenzie, the younger of Scatwell, in June 1799. The service of this regiment was also to extend to any part of Europe, but it remained in Scotland till its reduction at the peace.

The year 1799 was rather remarkable for the number of regiments raised in the north of Scotland. In the month of June, John Macleod of Colbecks was promoted to the command of a regiment, which he denominated the Princess Charlotte of Wales's, or Macleod Fencibles. This corps was inspected and embodied at Elgin by Major-General Leith Hay, afterwards marched, under the command of Colonel Macleod, to Portpatrick, and thence embarked for Ireland, where it remained till 1802, when it returned to England, and was reduced at Tynemouth Barracks in the month of June.

Colonel Macleod's was the last Fencible regiment raise in the Highlands. This species of force has been much approved of by some, and as much condemned by others. The limited nature of their service was undoubtedly a disadvantage; but perhaps this limitation, and the certainty of not being exposed to dangers from climate, the sea, or the enemy, induced many to enlist who would have hesitate if these risks had been the immediate consequences of their becoming soldiers. But as many brave men, who, when once engaged, show no reluctance to extend their service wherever it may be required, may, in the first instance, from the persuasion of friends, and other causes, manifest a very opposite spirit; in this view, and to lead them on by degrees to encounter the most arduous duties of the profession, such preparatory and apparently easy service may have had its advantages. Indeed, the Highland Fencibles furnished a most excellent and seasonable nursery of men for regiments of the line. The 72d regiment was in a few months filled up from 200 to 800 men by Fencible volunteers. Upwards of 350 men volunteered from the Clan Alpines into different regiments; 200 men of the Caithness Highlanders joined the 79th and 92d, and so of the others. Still it was a matter of regret, that, during the most trying period of the war, so many efficient corps were so fettered by their engagements, that they could not be employed on those important occasions where they would have formed a very seasonable aid, and where their military qualities could have been exerted to the utmost advantage. To officers, also, the Fencible, like the Militia regiments, presented both advantages and disadvantages. To many young men these corps formed a kind of stepping-stone to get into the regular army. Others, again, who passed too many years in them, gained no rank, spent their daily pay, and acquired little professional knowledge, beyond the parade and drill exercise; and when, at the end of six, eight, or ten years, they thought of looking out for some permanent means of subsistence, or some commission that might secure them rank and a future provision, they found themselves as far from the mark as the first day they entered the service.

Several friends, for whose opinion I have a high respect, wished to dissuade me from noticing the Fencible Corps, as nothing interesting could be said on a service confined to Britain. But it appeared to me, that an inquiry, whether corps of limited and temporary service supported the same character as that which had been acquired by old regiments of the line, so far, at least, as concerns the more peaceable duties of the Fencible regiments, was necessary to the unity and completion of the general plan. The short notices given of the general conduct of those corps have, it is presumed, fully proved that the more marked traits of character did not rest on any accidental cause, but on steady and permanent principles, and although their service was less important, so far as regarded opposing a foreign enemy, yet during the troubles in Ireland, no duty could have been better performed. Nor, indeed, was there any service of greater importance, or executed with more prudence and proper feeling, than that which was intrusted to them; and it was fully acknowledged, that tranquillity and obedience to the laws prevailed in many disturbed districts, immediately after the Sutherland, Caithness, and other Fencible corps came upon the station. The spirit of revenge and of fierce animosity to the Government was softened by the mild and conciliatory conduct of these men towards the deluded peasantry. This, in a very considerable degree, contributed to the restoration of the peace and order which ensued. When troops are stationed in an enemy's country, or are ordered to keep down internal insurrection, the influence which their conduct exerts on those whom they are to control is, in general, conspicuous. If troops are insolent, oppressive, or cruel, the hatred and opposition of those who were inimical before are increased and confirmed; and they may become what an eminent commander said of a part of the troops in Ireland, at that period, [Sir Ralph Abercromby.] "more dangerous to their friends than to their enemies." If, on the contrary, the soldiers are careful of giving offence; if they are what has been said of the Highland soldiers, "lambs in the house," and "children of the family," they make friends of their former enemies, and their duty becomes easy, requiring only the usual military routine.


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