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


Part I

A Sketch of the Moral and Physical Character, and of the Institutions and Customs of the Inhabitants of the Highlands of Scotland

Sketches of the Highlanders

Section IV

Arms of the Clans.

In attempting to explain how a people living within their mountains, in an uncultivated and sequestered corner of a country, should, as warriors, prove a ready and efficient support to their friends, and formidable to their enemies, it may be proper, first of all, to describe their arms. These consisted of a broadsword girded on the left side, and a dirk, or short thick dagger, on the right, used only when the combat was so close that the sword could be of no service. [See Appendix, I.] In ancient times they also carried a small short-handled hatchet, or axe, to be used when they closed upon the enemy. A gun, a pair of pistols, and a target, completed their armour. [Rea, in the History of the Rebellion of 1715, describing the march of a party along the side of Lochlomond, says, "That night they arrived at Luss, where they were joined by Sir Humphrey Colquhoun of Luss, and James Grant of Pluscarden, his son-in-law, followed by forty or fifty stately fellows in their hose and belted plaids, armed each of them with a well-fixed gun on their shoulders, a strong handsome target, with a sharp pointed steel, of about half an ell in length screwed into the navel of it, on his arm, a sturdy claymore by his side, and a pistol or two, with a dirk and knife in his belt."] In absence of the musket, or when short of ammunition, they used the Lochaber axe, a species of long lance, or pike, with a formidable weapon at the end of it, adapted either for cutting or stabbing. This lance had been almost laid aside since the introduction of the musket; but a ready substitute was found, by fixing a scythe at the end of a pole, with which the Highlanders resisted the charge of cavalry, to them the most formidable kind of attack. In 1745 many of the rebels were armed in this manner, till they supplied themselves with muskets after the battles of Prestonpans and Falkirk. Thus, the Highlanders united the offensive arms of the moderns with the defensive arms of the ancients. Latterly, the bow and arrow [See Appendix, K.] seem to have been but rarely used. This is the more remarkable, as these weapons are peculiarly adapted to that species of hunting which was their favourite amusement; I allude to the hunting of deer, or what is commonly called "deer-stalking," where the great art consists in approaching the animal unobserved, and in wounding him without disturbing the herd. It is evident that the use of the bow and arrow must have ceased long before the disarming act, as we find in it no mention made of them, nor do we learn that the Highlanders ever availed themselves of the omission.

In addition to the weapons already mentioned, gentlemen frequently wore suits of armour, and coats of mail. With these, however, the common men seldom encumbered themselves, both on account of the expense, and because they were ill adapted to the hills and steeps of their country, and to their frequent, long, and expeditious marches.

Thus armed, the Highlanders were arrayed for battle, in that order which was best calculated to excite a spirit of emulation. Every clan was drawn up as a regiment, and the companies in every regiment were formed of the tribes or families of the clan. The regiments, thus composed, were under the control of the head or chief of the whole, while the smaller divisions were under the immediate command of the chieftains of whose families they were descended, or of those who, from their property, assumed the feudal rights of chieftainship. Thus, the Athole Brigade, which was sometimes so numerous as to form two, three, or more regiments, was always commanded by the head of the family of Atholl, in person, or by a son or friend in his stead. At the beginning of the last century, as we learn from the Lockhart Papers, "the Duke of Atholl was of great importance to the party of the Cavaliers, being able to raise 6000 of the best men in the kingdom, well armed, and ready to sacrifice their all for the king's service."

In 1707, his Grace took the field, with 7000 men of his own followers, and others whom he could influence, to oppose the Union with England. [A friend of mine, the late Mr Stewart of Crossmount, carried arms on that occasion, of which he used to speak with great animation. He died in January 1791, at the age of 104, having been previously in perfect possession of all his faculties, and in such full habit of body, that his leg continued as well formed and compact as at forty. He had a new tooth at the age of ninety-six. Mrs Stewart, to whom he had been married nearly seventy years, died on the Tuesday preceding his death. He was then in perfect health, and sent to request that my father, who lived some miles distant, would come to him. When he arrived the old man desired that the funeral should not take place for eight days, saying, that he had now out-lived his oldest earthly friend, and prayed sincerely that he might be laid in the same grave. He kept his bed the second morning after her death, and died the following day, without pain or complaint. They were buried in the same grave on the succeeding Tuesday, according to his wish.] With this force he marched to Perth, in the expectation of being joined by the Duke of Hamilton, and other noblemen and gentlemen of the South; but as they did not move, he proceeded no farther, and, disbanding his men, returned to the Highlands. In 1715, the Atholemen were commanded by the Marquis of Tullibardine, and in 1745, by his brother, Lord George Murray; but the smaller divisions and tribes were under the command of gentlemen, who had the entire direction of their own followers, yielding obedience to the superior only in general movements. In consequence of this arrangement, each individual was under the immediate eye of those he loved and feared. His clansmen and kindred were the witnesses of his conduct, and ready either to applaud his bravery, reproach his cowardice, or observe any failure of duty.

Before commencing the attack, they frequently put off their jackets and shoes, that their movements might not be impeded. Their advance to battle was a kind of trot, such as is now, in our light infantry discipline, called double-quick marching. When they had advanced within a few yards of the enemy, they poured in a volley of musketry, which, from the short distance, and their constant practice as marksmen, was generally very effective; then dropping their muskets, they dashed forward sword in hand, reserving their pistols and dirks for close action. "To make an opening in regular troops, and to conquer, they reckoned the same thing, because, in close engagements, and in broken ranks, no regular troops would withstand them." [Dalrymple's Memoirs.] When they closed with the enemy, they received the points of the bayonets on their targets; and thrusting them aside, resorted to their pistols and dirks, to complete the impression made by the musket and broadsword. It was in this manner that the Athole Highlanders and the Camerons, who were on the right of Prince Charles Edward's followers at Culloden, charged the left wing of the royal army. After breaking through Barrell's and Munroe's (the 4th and 37th regiments), which formed the left of the royal army, they pushed forward to charge the second line, composed of Bligh's and Semple's (the 20th and 25th regiments). Here their impetuosity met an effectual check, by the fire of those corps, when they came within a few yards, and still more by Wolfe's (the 8th foot), and Cobham's and Lord Mark Kerr's (the 10th and 11th Light Dragoons), who had formed en potence on their right flank, and poured in a most destructive fire along their whole line. At the same moment they were taken in rear by the Argyle, and some companies of Lord Loudon's Highlanders, who had advanced in that direction, and had broken down an old wall that covered the right of the rebels. By this combination of attacks in front, right flank, and rear, they were forced to give up the contest, and to charge back again, sword in hand, through those who had advanced and formed on the ground they had passed over in charging to their front. In this desperate conflict they left half their number dead on the field. The same kind of charge was made by the Stewarts of Appin, Frasers, and Mackintoshes upon the regiments in their front. These were the Scotch Fusileers and Ligonier's (the 21st and 48th regiments,) which they drove back upon the second line, but, being unable to penetrate, numbers were cut down at the mouths of the cannon, before they gave up the contest.

[Home in his History of the Rebellion, says that the "Athole brigade, in advancing, lost thirty-two officers, and was so shattered that it stopped short, and never closed with the king's troops." The Athole brigade had not so many officers in the field; nineteen officers were killed, and four wounded. Many gentlemen who served in the ranks were killed, which might occasion the mistake. I have conversed with several who were in the battle, and among others, with one gentleman still alive (1821) in my neighbourhood, all of whom differed from Mr Home's account.

Mr Home, during some years, spent part of every summer in the Highlands, ostensibly for the benefit of his health and for amusement, but actually in collecting materials for his history. The respectability of his character, and the sauvity of his manners, procured him everywhere a good reception. But his visits were principally made to Jacobite families, to whom the secret history of those times was familiar. They told him all they knew with the most unreserved confidence; and nothing could exceed their disappointment when the history appeared, and proved to be a dry detail of facts universally known, while the rich store of authentic and interesting anecdotes, illustrative of the history of the times, and of the peculiar features of the Highland character, with which they had furnished him, had been neglected or concealed, from an absurd dread of giving offence to the Royal Family by a disclosure of the cruelties wantonly practised, or by relating circumstances creditable to the feelings and character of the unfortunate sufferers. It is now very well known with what generous sympathy the late King viewed the sacrifice to mistaken loyalty, and the countenance and protection which he afforded to such individuals as lived to see him on the throne, and which he extended to their descendants. It is equally well known that there is not one individual in his family who would not listen with deep interest to the details of the chivalrous loyalty, the honourable sacrifices' and the sufferings sustained with patience and fortitude by those who are long since gone to their account, and who are no more objects of dislike or hostility to them than Hector or King Priam.

The only way in which the meagreness of this long meditated history can possibly be accounted for, in reference to the high name of the author, and the expectations entertained by the public, is the circumstance of an accident which befel Mr Home a few years before the publication of this work. In travelling through Ross-shire, his carriage was overturned, and he received a severe contusion on the head, which had such an effect upon his nerves, that both his memory and judgment were very considerably affected ever after.]

The Reverend Dr Shaw, in his manuscript History of the Rebellion, says, "The enemy's attack on the left wing of the royal army was made with a view to break that wing, to run it into disorder, and then to communicate the disorder to the whole army. This could not easily be effected, when a second and third line were ready to sustain the first. But it must be owned the attack was made with the greatest courage, order, and bravery, amidst the hottest fire of small arms, and continued fire of cannon with grape-shot, on their flanks, front, and rear. They ran in upon the points of the bayonets, hewed down the soldiers with their broad-swords, drove them back, put them into disorder, and possessed themselves of two pieces of cannon. The rebels' left wing did not sustain them in the attack, and four fresh regiments coming up from the Duke's second line under General Huske, they could not stand under a continual fire both in front, in flank, and rear, and therefore they retired. It was in this attack that Lord Robert Kerr, having stood his ground, after Barrell's regiment was broke and drove back, was killed." And farther we learn from the Lockhart papers, that "Lord George Murray attacked, at the head of the Atholemen, who had the right of the army that day, with all the bravery imaginable, as the whole army did, and broke the Duke of Cumberland's line in several places, and made themselves masters of two pieces of cannon,—though they were both fronted and flanked by them, who kept a close firing from right to left,—and marched up to the points of their bayonets, which they could not see for smoke till they were upon them." Such were the strength and dexterity with which these people used their arms, if not always to conquer, at least to amaze and confound regular troops.


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