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


Military Annals of the Highland Regiments

Eighty-Ninth,
or
Gordon Highland Regiment
1759

The ease and rapidity with which the ranks of Fraser's and other Highland regiments had been recruited, encouraged Mr Pitt to follow up his plan of giving commissions to the gentlemen of the Highlands, and of employing the young and active in his Majesty's service. With this view, Major Staates Long Morris (who had married the Duchess Dowager of Gordon) received instructions to raise a regiment in those parts of the Highlands where the influence of the Gordon family prevailed; and, as an inducement to the youth of the North to join this regiment, the Duke, then very young, was appointed captain, Lord William Gordon a lieutenant, and Lord George an ensign.

The political influence of the Duke of Argyll being at that period, very great in Scotland, few important measures passed without his concurrence. In this case, however, George II. appointed Major Morris, at the solicitation of the Duchess. She dreaded the authority of Argyll, (who was anxious to direct the local influence of the Gordon family in the minority of the Duke), and considered the names of her sons indispensably necessary to secure success in raising men. She was a native of the country, being a daughter of the Earl of Aberdeen, understood well the feelings and characteristic prejudices of the people, and knew how to work on them. She represented the youth of her son, and the danger that would result should his political influence, in his minority, be directed to another family, and especially to that family between which and her own so many ancient feuds had subsisted, the seeds of which still remained, if not in the minds, at least in the traditions of many. Greater exertions were, in consequence, made to support what the Duchess called the cause of her son, and the honour of his family. This attempt was successful. In a few weeks 960 men assembled at Gordon Castle, and marched to Aberdeen in December 1759, when the following officers were appointed.

The regiment soon marched from Aberdeen for Portsmouth, embarked there for the East Indies in December 1760, and reached Bombay in November 1761.

The Duke of Gordon left College with the intention of embarking with his friends for the East Indies. This spirited resolution, however, was checked by George II., who recommended to the Duchess to send her son back to finish his education. There being only nine Dukes in the kingdom of Scotland, he could not, he said, suffer him to leave his native country, and, commending his spirit and patriotism, he added, that he had more important services in view for him than any he could perform as captain of a company in the East Indies. This advice, so like a mandate, was of course followed, and the Duke remained at home.

After the 89th had been stationed in different parts of India, Major Hector Munro, with a strong detachment of the regiment, joined the army under the command of Major Carnac, in the neighbourhood of Patna, at a very critical period, a considerable portion of the troops being then in open mutiny. Major Munro succeeded Carnac in the command, and being well supported by his own regiment, his decision and firmness completely crushed the mutiny, and saved the army. Twenty-five of the ringleaders were tried on the spot, eight of them blown from the mouths of the cannon, and the rest sent for execution to other cantonments.

A proper state of discipline being thus established, the commander was enabled to meet the enemy at Buxar on the 23d of October 1764, when he completely overthrew and dispersed a force nearly five times more numerous than his own. The enemy left on the field 6,000 killed, and 130 pieces of cannon, while the loss on the part of the victors was almost too trifling to be mentioned; amounting to 2 officers, and 4 rank and file killed, of his Majesty's troops. The casualties among the Company's troops were more in proportion to their number, but the whole afforded sufficient proof of the low state of the Native armies at that period.

The victory was complete, and highly important in its results, and was the more honourable to Major Munro, (who was immediately promoted to the brevet rank of Lieutenant-Colonel), as he had gained the battle with troops who had been recently in such a state of insubordination. In a letter from the President and Council of Calcutta to Major Munro, it is said, "The signal victory you gained, so as at one blow utterly to defeat the designs of the enemy against these provinces, is an event which does so much honour to yourself, Sir, in particular, and to all the officers and men under your command, and which, at the same time, is attended with such important advantages to the Company, as call upon us to return you our sincere thanks."

The regiment was soon afterwards ordered to Britain, and in the year 1765 was reduced. This uncommon circumstance attended their service, that, although five years embodied, four of which were spent in India or on the passage going and returning, there was neither death, promotion, nor any change whatever among the officers, except that of Lieutenant Lord William Gordon promoted to the 67th regiment, and that of his successor to his lieutenancy.

There was another circumstance more remarkable, and in itself highly honourable to this respectable corps, and which rests upon the best authority, that out of eight companies raised by the Duke of Gordon, Major Munro, and Captains Macgillivray, Grant, Macpherson, and others, in all 780 men, not a man was brought to the halberts, or deserted during these five years. Of the whole regiment there were only six men brought to corporal punishment. When soldiers exhibit such fidelity to their trust, and such principles regulating their conduct, it were desirable that a less ignominious punishment could be substituted for that personal castigation, so humiliating and degrading to the feelings, and the infliction of which generally destroys all sense of shame and honour, and renders a man indifferent to his future conduct. The difficulty consists in finding a proper substitute. Care ought, however, to be taken that degrading punishments be inflicted only on men who have already lost their character, and on whose obdurate feelings no other motive than simple pain is capable of acting with sufficient force. The foundation of a system, calculated to surmount this difficulty, and to establish modes of punishment sufficient to operate as a check on the depraved, without annihilating their sense of shame, is a subject equally important, difficult, and desirable. Much will depend upon officers capable of understanding the feelings, and making due allowance for the casual infirmities of human nature, and possessing the firmness and decision necessary to control and overawe the turbulent and incorrigible. Many good soldiers have been ruined by the infliction of infamous punishments, while to men of such bold spirits and depraved minds, as frequently enter our army, the terror, and often the infliction of severe punishments are absolutely necessary.


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