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


Part III

Military Annals of the Highland Regiments

Section VIII

Edinburgh Castle, 1791—Ross-shire, 1792— War, 1793—Embark —Join the army under the Duke of York at Menin, 1793— Ostend—Nieuport—England, 1794—Ostend—Join the Duke of York—Nimeguen—Inclement season—Bremen—England.

In consequence of preparations for an expected rupture with Spain in the year 1790, the establishment was augmented; but, as recent circumstances in the Highlands had excited a strong sensation among the people, the regiment was not successful in recruiting.

Several independent companies were this summer raised. One of these, a fine band of young Highlanders, recruited by the Marquis of Huntly, joined the 42d, along with his Lordship, who had exchanged with Captain Alexander Grant.

In November, the regiment marched to Edinburgh Castle, and was a year stationed in that garrison. In this interval, it was remarked, that more fires occurred in the town than during any known period of the same extent; and an opportunity was thus afforded for the display of that alacrity with which the men turned out on any alarm. After being reviewed, in June 1791, by Lord Adam Gordon, the Commander in Chief, they marched to the North in October. Their head-quarters were at Fort George : one company was stationed at Dundee, one at Montrose, two at A-herdeen, and one in Banff.

In the spring of 1792, they assembled at Fort George, from thence marched to Stirling in July, and were reviewed there by the Honourable Lieutenant-General Leslie. They afterwards marched northward, and were cantoned along the coast towns in the same manner as in the preceding year.

In autumn, the whole were ordered into Ross-shire, on account of some disturbances among the inhabitants, great numbers of whom had been dispossessed of their farms, in consequence of the new system of converting large tracts of country into pasture. The manner in which the people gave vent to their grief and rage, when driven from their ancient homes, showed that they did not merit this treatment, and that an improper estimate had been formed of their character. A few months after these cold-hearted wholesale ejectments, those who were permitted to remain as cottagers rose in a body, and, collecting all the sheep which had been placed by the great stock farmers on the possessions which they themselves had formerly held, they drove the whole before them, with an intention of sending them beyond the boundaries of the country; thinking, in their simplicity and despair, that, if they got quit of the sheep, they would be again reinstated in their farms. In this state of insurrection they continued for some time, but no act of violence or outrage occurred; nor did the sheep suffer in the smallest degree beyond what resulted from the fatigues of the journey, and the temporary loss of their pasture. Though pressed with hunger, these conscientious peasants did not take a single animal for their own use, contenting themselves with the occasional supplies of meal or victuals which they obtained in the course of their journey. To quell these tumults, which occasioned little less alarm among some of the gentlemen of Ross than the Rebellion of 1745, the 42d regiment were ordered to proceed, by forced marches and by the shortest routes, to Ross-shire.

When they reached the expected scene of action, there was, fortunately, no enemy; for the people had separated and disappeared of their own accord. Fortunate, indeed, it was that the affair was concluded in this manner, as the necessity of turning their arms against their fathers, their brothers, and their friends, must have been in the last degree painful to the feelings of the soldiers, and dangerous to their discipline,—setting their duty to their King and country in opposition to filial affection and brotherly love and friendship. [I was a very young soldier at the time, but on no subsequent occasion were my feelings so powerfully excited as on this. To a military man it could not but be gratifying to see the men, in so delicate and trying a situation, manifesting a full determination to do their duty against whomsoever their efforts should be directed; while, to their feelings of humanity, the necessity of turning their arms against their friends and relations, presented a severe alternative. Eighteen of the rioters were sent to Inverness for trial. They were eloquently defended by Mr Charles Ross, advocate, one of their own countrymen; but, as their conduct was illegal, and the offence clearly proved, they were found guilty, and condemned to be transported to Botany Bay. It would appear, however, that, though the legality of the verdict and sentence could not be questioned, these did not carry along with them the public opinion, which was probably the cause that the escape of the prisoners was in a manner connived at; for they disappeared out of prison, no one knew how, and were never inquired after or molested.]

After passing the summer and autumn in marching and countermarching, in consequence of the riots and insurrections of their countrymen against their landlords, a circumstance somewhat novel in these regions, and one of the first symptoms of the effects of that hind of civilization which is practised in the Highlands, the Royal Highlanders were, in the course of the following winter, as actively employed against the Lowlanders, who were rioting, and hanging, drowning, and burning the effigies of those whom they called their political oppressors;—a species of refinement in the expression of their sentiments towards their superiors, to which the ignorant Highlanders have not yet attained; but they are in full progress to this state of civilized and enlightened improvement, which must afford high gratification to those philanthropists and patriots who have so materially contributed to forward, and bring into practice, "those blessed results of our labours in the vineyard," as is reported by some societies established for the religious and moral improvement of the Highlanders. The inhabitants of Perth, Dundee, and some other towns, amused themselves with planting the tree of liberty, dancing round it, and threatening vengeance on all who should oppose them. The regiment was hurried South as rapidly as it went North; and, during the winter and spring, garrisoned the town of Dundee, and all the coast as far as Fort George.

Hostilities having been declared against France, the whole regiment was assembled at Montrose in April 1793, preparatory to a march southward. The establishment was ordered to be augmented to 750 men, but the regimental recruiting parties were not successful. The late transactions in Ross-shire began to show their baneful influence. It was not now, as in 1756 and 1776, when the regiment was completed to more than 1100 men in a few weeks;—as quickly, indeed, as they could be collected from their distant districts. Nor was it, as in 1755, when the Laird of Mackintosh completed a company in one day.

[In the year 1755, when the establishment of the regiment was augmented preparatory to the war, the Laird of Mackintosh, then a captain in the regiment, had the charge of all the recruiting parties sent from Ireland to the Highlands, and quickly collected 500 men, the number he was desired to recruit. Of these he enlisted 87 men in one forenoon.

One morning, as he was sitting at breakfast in Inverness, 38 young men of the name of Macpherson, from Badenoch, appeared in front of the window, with an offer of their service to Mackintosh; their own immediate chief, the Laird of Cluny, being then in exile, in consequence of his attainder after the Rebellion. The late General Skinner of the engineers was at breakfast with Mackintosh that morning; and being newly arrived in that part of the country, the whole scene, with all its circumstances, made an impression on his mind which he never forgot.]

The same corps, in 1793, must have gone on service with little more than 400 men, had not orders been issued for raising independent companies; so opposite were the feelings and dispositions of the people at different periods,—affording a striking example of the difference when people are harshly or kindly treated. Two of the companies raised by Captains David Hunter of Burnside and Alexander Campbell of Ardchattan, were ordered to join the 42d regiment. On the whole, these were good men, but not of the same description with those who, in former times, were so ready to join the standard of the Black Watch.

In May, the regiment marched from Montrose to Musselburgh, and embarked there on the 8th for Hull. In that town the appearance of the Highlanders occasioned much interest and surprise, as no plaids or bonnets had as yet been seen in that part of Yorkshire. The people showed them great hospitality, and were so well satisfied with their conduct, that, after they embarked for Flanders, the town of Hull sent each man a present of a pair of shoes, a flannel shirt, and worsted socks; a very seasonable supply for a November encampment.

In August they reached Gosport, and remained there till the middle of September, when they sailed for Ostend, where they landed on the 1st of October, and two days after, joined the army under his Royal Highness the Duke of York, then encamped in the neighbourhood of Menin. This camp was soon broken up; and his Royal Highness marched, with the combined armies, to join the Prince of Saxe-Cobourg, then before Maubeuge.

The 19th 27th, 42d, and 57th regiments were ordered back to England, to join an expedition then preparing under their old commander in America, Lieutenant-General Sir Charles Grey, against the French colonies in the West Indies. While those regiments lay on board in the harbour of Ostend, the enemy, who were then before Nieuport, pressed that town so vigorously, that it was necessary to send immediate relief. For this purpose, Sir Charles Grey and Major-General Thomas Dundas had come from England; and the 42d regiment, with the Light companies of the 19th, 27th, and 57th regiments, were disembarked and marched to Nieuport. The place was then garrisoned by the 53d regiment, and a small battalion of Hessians under Colonel de Wurmb, who defended the place, with great courage and firmness, against a very superior force. The reinforcement now sent was very seasonable; for the works were so extensive, that the men were obliged to be on duty without intermission. The enemy kept up so constant and well-directed a fire, that upwards of 400 houses were destroyed or damaged. However, on the appearance of this reinforcement, they seemed to have lost all hopes of success. After keeping up a brisk fire of shot and shells during the whole night, they were seen at day-break, moving off with great expedition, leaving several pieces of cannon, mortars, and ammunition. This sudden retreat occasioned great disappointment to many young soldiers of the Light infantry, and the Highlanders, who, having but very lately arrived in the seat of war, were thus disappointed of an opportunity of facing the enemy, when eager to make their debut under such men as Generals Sir Charles Grey and Thomas Dundas. Had the enemy waited another day, this opportunity would have been afforded, as it was resolved that General Dundas should attack the trenches; and with the ardour of this gallant leader, and the spirit which animated the troops, there would have been little doubt of success. The loss of the garrison was inconsiderable; Lieutenant Latham, [The fate of Lieutenant Latham of the 53d deserves to be noticed as a warning to young officers. He was on the advanced picquet, which was protected by a small entrenchment, three feet in height. He was strictly enjoined not to show his men, as the enemy's sharpshooters were all around, picking off every man who appeared. But in his eagerness to observe the motions of the enemy, he looked over the low parapet, forgetting a cocked hat half a foot higher than his head. An enemy took such a correct aim at the hat, that he sent his ball through Mr Latham's forehead, and killed him on the spot.] 1 sergeant, and 2 privates, were killed; and Captain (now General Sir) Ronald C. Ferguson, 1 sergeant, and 33 privates, wounded. Of this number the Highlanders had 1 sergeant and and 1 private killed, and two privates wounded. After the retreat of the enemy, the detachment marched back to Ostend, reimbarked for England, and arrived at Portsmouth, where the destination of the regiment was changed from an expedition to the west Indies, to another then forming against the coast of France, under command of the Earl of Moira.

At this time the command of the regiment devolved on Major George Dalrymple, Colonel Graham, who had held the command since the year 1781, being appointed to the command of a brigade. On the 30th of November, the expedition sailed in three brigades; the Highlanders being in the first, commanded by Brigadier-General Lord Cathcart. On the 1st of December, they reached the Coast of France, to the eastward of Cape la Hogue, and after cruising about for two days, put into Guernsey, where part of the troops landed, and remained till the 4th of January 1794, when the whole returned to Portsmouth. On the 21st the Highlanders were marched to Lymington, being still under the command of Lord Cathcart.

In this situation they remained till the 5th of June, when an encampment was formed at Netly, in Hampshire, under the Earl of Moira. On the 18th, the camp broke up, and the troops embarked on board the transports for Flanders.

During the preceding spring, France had made prodigious preparations, haying raised a force of more than 200,000 men, provided with every necessary accompaniment of artillery and stores; the whole to be employed in Flanders. This, with the partial defection of Prussia after having accepted the British subsidies, placed the allied armies in a very critical situation, particularly that small part under the command of the Duke of York. The French Convention sent into Flanders their ablest generals, Pichegru, Moreau, and Jourdan, who, exasperated by their defeats at Cambray, Landrecy, Cateau, and Tour-nay, determined to bring forward the utmost extent of force that they could command. In consequence of these preparations, the original destination of the force under the Earl of Moira was changed to this great theatre of the war, and again sailed, on the 22d, for Ostend, where it landed on the 26th of June. The amount of this reinforcement was 7000 men, and consisted of the following corps; the 19th, 27th, 28th, 40th, Royal Highlanders, 54th, 67th, 59th, 87th, and 88th regiments.

Lord Moira had now to decide on his future movements, whether he should remain in Ostend, and sustain a siege from an enemy who had already occupied Ypres and Thou-reut, and were ready to advance upon him; or whether he should force a march through the enemy, and join the Duke of York. To sustain a siege in Ostend, would have occupied a considerable portion of the enemy's troops, but it would have deprived his Royal Highness of a very necessary reinforcement, when opposed to so numerous a host as was now ready to attack him. It was, therefore, determined to march forward, and to embark all the stores from Ostend, along with the troops left to garrison the place. Both services were conducted with address and precision. The evacuation and embarkation were intrusted to Colonel Vyse, who had just embarked the last division, as the first of the enemy entered the town. The troops were stationed on the sand hills in the neighbourhood, and were ordered under arms in light marching order, the officers leaving all baggage behind, except what they carried on their backs. They moved off the ground on the evening of the 28th, and halting ten miles beyond the town, proceeded at midnight towards Ostaker, and reached Alost on the 3d of July. While in this place, about 400 of the enemy's cavalry dashed into the town, and, being mistaken for Hessians, were allowed to push forward unmolested to the market place. Colonel Doyle, who rode up to them, was wounded by a cut of a sabre, before the mistake was discovered. However, they were soon driven back by the 8th light dragoons and the picquets. [A Highlander passing through the market-place with a basket on his head as the enemy rushed in, one of them made a cut at the hand which held the basket, and wounded him severely. However, he drew his bayonet with the other hand, and attacked the horseman, who made off. Macdonald carried home his basket, murmuring, as he went along, that he had not a broadsword.]

On the 9th the troops marched by Warloo's camp, and joined the Duke of York's army at Malines. This was a fatiguing march, but it had been so well conducted, that the enemy, although in very superior numbers, under General Vandamme, did not venture upon any attack except this dash into Alost. A succession of petty skirmishes occurred until the 20th, when Lord Moira resigned his command, and was succeeded by Lieutenant-General Ralph Abercromby. The brigades of the army were changed on the 31st of August, and the third brigade, in which were the Highlanders, with the Guards, formed the reserve under the command of Lieutenant-General Abercromby. The enemy having obtained possession of Boxtel on the 14th of September, General Abercromby, with the reserve, was ordered to force them from this position. The third brigade, now under the command of the Honourable Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Wellesley of the 33d regiment, marched at four in the morning of the 15th, and joined the brigade of Guards, When they approached Boxtel, the enemy were discovered to be in too great force to be attacked with any prospect of success. Various movements took place till the 6th of October, when the army crossed the Waal at Nimeguen. In this position, there were several smart engagements till the morning of the 20th, when the enemy made a general attack on all the advanced posts of the army. The whole were defended, and the enemy repulsed with great gallantry; but the 37th regiment, mistaking a party of the enemy for Rhoan's hussars, allowed them to advance too close. In consequence of this mistake, that gallant regiment sustained a severe loss in officers and men. [The enemy, on many occasions, took advantage of the variety of uniforms in the British army, and frequently dressed parties in a similar manner for the purpose of deceiving our troops,—an artifice which sometimes succeeded.]

On the 27th and 28th, the enemy renewed their attacks on the outposts. In that on Fort St Andre, Lieu. tenant-General Abercromby was wounded. By a continuation of this system of incessant attack, the outposts were all driven in, and the enemy, having established themselves in front of Nimeguen, began to erect batteries, preparatory to a siege of the place. It was therefore resolved to attempt the destruction of these works, and on the 4th of November, the Hon. Lieutenant-General De Burgh, with the 8th, 27th, 28th, 55th, 63d, and 78th Highland regiment, supported by two battalions of Swiss in the Dutch service, and some regiments of dragoons, was ordered on this duty. The works were carried with all the gallantry to be expected from such troops. The enemy made a brave defence. The loss of the British was 1 sergeant, and 31 rank and file, killed, and 1 field officer, 5 captains, 5 subalterns, 10 sergeants, and 149 rank and file, wounded. As the enemy quickly repaired their batteries, and continued their approaches with fresh vigour, it was found necessary to evacuate the town.

After this evacuation, which took place on the 7th, the army was cantoned along the banks of the river, where they began to suffer much from the severity of the weather, and the want of necessaries, as the clothing for the year had not been received. So intense was the frost, that the enemy were enabled to cross the Waal on the ice, and, by availing themselves of their superior numbers, to commence active operations. As they threatened the towns of Culenberg and Gorcum, it was determined to compel them to repass the Waal. About 8000 British, among whom was the third brigade, marched against them on the 13th of December. The French were posted at Thuyl, the road to which was flanked by batteries planted in the Isle of Bommell, the place itself being surrounded with entrenchments. These obstacles were surmounted, and, notwithstanding their great superiority of numbers, the French were forced from all their posts, and obliged to re-cross the Waal, with the loss of a considerable number of men, and several pieces of cannon. The loss of the British was comparatively trifling, being only 1 field officer, and 5 rank and file, killed, and 1 drummer, and 18 rank and file, wounded.

The enemy having again crossed the Waal on the 4th of January 1795, and taken Thuyl, General Walmoden sent orders to Generals David Dundas and Dulwich, to collect their forces and drive them back. They were found, however, to be too strong; and, having advanced a considerable force, they attacked General Dundas at Gildermalsen, but were received with great firmness, and repulsed with the loss of 200 men. The British lost 3 privates killed, and 1 general officer (Sir Robert Lawrie), 2 captains, 1 subaltern, and 54 privates, wounded ; the loss of the 42d being 1 private killed, and Lieutenant Coll Lamont, and 7 privates, wounded. The severity of the weather, and the duties which pressed upon the troops, in consequence of the accumulated numbers, and successive reinforcements of the enemy, were such as few constitutions could withstand for any length of time. It was, therefore, determined to withdraw, and take up a more defensive position behind the Leck. During the preliminary movements in execution of this determination, the enemy advanced in considerable force, and on the 8th attacked the troops under Lord Cathcart. The attack was made, and received with such energy, that each party was alternately attacked and repulsed four times successively, till at length the enemy were forced to give up the contest, and retreated with considerable loss.

On this occasion, the 14th and Enniskillen regiments particularly distinguished themselves, as did the 28th, which came up towards the close of the action, and decided the day. The loss was 4 subalterns, and 13 privates, killed, and 5 field officers, 2 captains, 1 subaltern, and 52 privates, wounded.

Having crossed the Waal on the 10th in great force, the enemy pressed forward on the British, now much reduced by disease and accumulated hardships; [The most distressing of these was the state of the hospitals, of which it was observed, that whoever entered them never came out till carried to the grave; and when a man was sent to the hospital, his return was never expected. The consequent impression on the minds of the sick, and the fatal effects thereof, must be evident.] and, on the 14th, Pichegru made a general attack along the whole line from Arnheim to Amerougen, when the British, after a resistance which continued till night, retired at all points. But they had now to contend with a worse foe than the French, in the inclemency of a season the most rigorous ever remembered. In this dreadful winter, they had to traverse barren and extensive wastes, and to encounter the hostility of the country people, who could not be softened to the least kindness by the sight of any degree of misery, however extreme. Whether a British soldier was starving with hunger, or freezing to death, the doors of the Dutch boors were equally shut against him.

The misery of the succeeding retreat to Deventer was such as had not then been experienced by any modern army, and has only been exceeded by the sufferings of the French in their disastrous retreat from Moscow. There have been few situations where the courage, constancy, and temper of the British army have been more severely tried, than in the continuation of this eventful campaign, and when pursued by an enemy of more than thrice their numbers, through a country so hostile, that every house contained an inveterate and concealed adversary, ready to refuse the slightest shelter to the harassed soldiers. Exhausted by an accumulation of difficulties, the army, in the beginning of April, reached Bremen in two divisions. There the hospitality of the inhabitants formed a noble contrast to the conduct of those through whose country they had marched, and whose inveterate hatred little merited the forbearance with which they had been treated by the British.

On the 14th of April, the whole were embarked, and soon after sailed for England. The Highlanders, having landed at Harwich, proceeded to Chelmsford, and, in the month of June, were encamped in the neighbourhood at Danbury, under the command of General Sir William Meadows.

Throughout the course of the last campaign, the 42d were remarkably healthy; for, from the landing at Ostend in June, till the embarkation in April, the deaths in battle and by sickness had been only twenty-five,—a small number, considering the length of the service, the fatigue they underwent, and the severity of the weather to which they had been exposed. Of the soldiers, 300 were young men recently recruited. They had, indeed, a great advantage in forming themselves on the habits and example of the more experienced soldiers; for many still remained who had served in America. Without taking into account this advantage over a young corps, where all are inexperienced and unprepared for emergencies and hardships, it would not be easy, notwithstanding the acknowledged hardihood and capability of the Highlanders, to account for this small loss, in a service in which some of the newly raised regiments had lost more than 300 men by disease, and many who, left behind from exhaustion, fell into the hands of the enemy.

In September 1795, the regiment was augmented to 1000 men, from several Highland regiments which had been raised the preceding year, and were now to be broken up and drafted into different regiments. The Royal Highlanders received drafts from the 97th, or Strathspey Highlanders, the 116th, or Perthshire Highlanders, 132d, or Colonel Duncan Cameron's, and 133d, or Colonel Simon Eraser's regiment: 5 captains, 10 lieutenants, and 2 ensigns from the 116th, were also appointed to the 42d; the captains to be in second, or supernumeraries, and to succeed to companies as they became vacant. This was considered a serious injury, and a great check to the promotion of the subalterns, when on the eve of embarking on an unpleasant and dangerous service, as no step was to be expected till the five supernumerary captains had got companies. A representation was therefore made, and one of the captains was removed.

Although these drafts furnished many good and service able men, they were, in many respects, very inferior to former recruits. This difference of character was more particularly marked in their habits and manners in quarters than in their conduct in the field, which was always unexceptionable. Having been embodied for upwards of eighteen months, and having been subject to a greater mixture of character than was usual in Highland battalions, these corps had lost much of their original manners, and of that strict attention to religious and moral duties, which distinguished the Highland youths on quitting their native glens, and which, when in corps unmixed with men of different characters, they always retained. This intermixture produced a sensible change in the moral conduct and character of the regiment.


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