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


Military Annals of the Highland Regiments

Seventy-fifth Highland Regiment
1787

This was the second Highland regiment raised in 1787. In the autumn of that year, Colonel Robert Abercromby was appointed Colonel of a regiment to be raised in the North of Scotland. When a man of good family in Scotia was thus appointed, the town in the neighbourhood of which his influence chiefly lay was usually fixed upon as head-quarters. This corps was therefore to be embodied in Stirling. But, in the present case, the property of the family of Tullibody, lying close to the base of the Grampians, on the southern side, where, short as the distance was, the inhabitants differ so materially in their manners and dispositions from those within the range, that Colonel Abercromby could not raise his men as has often been done,: in the Highlands—that is, without money. Highly respectable as the family of Tullibody is, an ordinary tacks-man of a good family in the Highlands could, under the ancient system, have sent more men to serve the King, not-withstanding Mr Abercromby's high character, and the eminence of his sons, who had risen to the head of their respective professions; so different was the character of a people divided from the rest of their countrymen only by a ridge of hills. To the south of those hills, no recruits could be obtained without money. In the north money had its influence, as in all other countries; but, in raising soldiers, it was less regarded than the character and family of the per-son recruiting, and with whose fortunes the young soldiers connected themselves. But, although Colonel Abercromby did not derive from his family the influence of a chief, he had an equivalent influence proceeding from the same causes. which gave the gentlemen of the Highlands so much command over the minds and dispositions of their tenantry. This was the respect and attachment to his person, entertained by a Light infantry brigade which he had commanded for six campaigns in the American war. Many of the men who had then served under him, and had been discharged at the peace of 1783, enlisted anew. Several companies of| this Light brigade had been composed of the Light infantry of the Highland regiments then in America. A considerable portion of these men, with about 300 more, enlisted at Perth and in the northern counties, formed the Highland part of the regiment. The regiment was embodied at Stirling in June 1788, immediately ordered for England, and embarked for India, where it landed in the latter end of 1788.

During the first eighteen months this corps remained in quarters, preparing under a sharp system of discipline for the subsequent campaigns. This system was carried into effect by one of the captains who commanded in the absence of the field-officers. He was an able and intelligent officer; but he had been educated in a school in which he had imbibed ideas of correctness which required no small strength of mind to enforce, and which, when enforced with severity, tended to break the spirit of the soldiers to a degree which no perfection in movement can ever compensate. When applied to the British soldier in particular, this system has frequently frustrated its own purpose. I mean, if too frequently or indiscriminately applied; for, while the pressure of the service, during war, renders it necessary for officers to look less to moral character than to physical strength and personal appearance, in the choice of recruits, severe restraints and punishments are often perfectly indispensable. Commanding officers must have full power to punish, and the profligate and unprincipled must know that this power is vested in their commanders, and will be exerted with sufficient severity. If tempered with justice, and exerted only when absolutely necessary, no good soldier will complain. It is in the proper discrimination between the unintentional faults of the thoughtless or ignorant, and those of hardened profligacy, that the value of a judicious, humane, and considerate officer is known. His system of discipline will not be that in which it was almost impossible to be perfect, and equally difficult to escape punishment. When men see that good character is no security against punishment, they will think less of the commission of a crime, than of escaping detection. The sense of honour is accordingly destroyed from the despair of preserving it. When a soldier's honour is in such little consideration, that disgraceful punishments are applied to trifling faults, it will soon be thought not worth preserving. To the young Highlanders the dread of corporal punishment not only checks their military propensity, and prevents their entering the army, but it conveys to their minds a greater degree of horror and shame than even death itself. When a Highlander is brought to the halberts, he considers himself as having lost his caste. He becomes, in his own estimation, a disgraced man, and is no longer fit for the society of his friends. To them, therefore, or to his native country, he can never return. The halberts have ruined many a good soldier, and have prevented many a good man from becoming a soldier.

In the system of the officer in question, which was form-ed on the old Prussian model, fear was the great principle-! of action; consequently, it became the first object of the soldiers to escape detection, more than to avoid crimes. To threaten a man with a prospective punishment before he is guilty, is to teach and make him believe that he is capable of being so, and will undoubtedly lower the tone of his moral feelings and character. Little attention was paid to such sentiments in this corps, where the manner of carrying on the discipline was so opposite to that practised by several judicious officers of Highland regiments, consequently there were more punishments in the 75th than in any other corps'; of the same description;—that is to say, during the existence of this discipline; when severity relaxed many crimes which would formerly have made punishment necessary, disappeared, and this regiment supported an honourable character throughout the course of its future service in the East.

Not only the 75th, but the whole army, now feel that general amelioration of discipline, which has proved so beneficial, and seems to have spread so genial an influence over their conduct and character. This improvement in disci-pline has already afforded the finest illustration of the success which may be expected in the army, when a Commander-in-Chief respects the honourable feelings of the soldier, improves his condition, exalts his station in society, and with a kindly attention, unparalleled in any public department, never allows a day to pass unnecessarily, without returning an answer to a soldier's letter, or any application made with regard to an officer, soldier, or their families, to pass unnoticed. On particular occasions, during the war, these applications, memorials, and letters, amounted to 150 and 200 in a day, the regular attention to which exhibited a degree of regard to the feelings and welfare of individuals, and an accuracy almost incredible, were it not for the admirable arrangements under which the whole is conducted. With such an example at the head, the beneficial effects must be great and universal. How high the army now stands in character, compared with the estimation in which it was once held by the public, may be judged from the dread and lamentations so often expressed before the peace, of the robberies and depredations which would follow the discharges, by which so many soldiers would be thrown loose from the usual control. But so much the reverse has the fact proved at the different Assizes in Scotland, within the first four years immediately after the peace of 1814, that only two soldiers have been capitally convicted, and, indeed, few tried at all. Thus, while there is an avowed and evident depression of general morals, the army is rising in character, which must undoubtedly proceed from the superior comforts now enjoyed by the soldier, A soldier sees his rights respected, and while he performs his duty, he is certain of being well treated, well fed, well clothed, and regularly paid; he is, consequently, contented in his mind, and moral in his habits. Where the case is otherwise, it will be found that, in many instances, the fault lies in the mismanagement or misapplication of the authority under which he is placed. From this gratifying view of the state of the army, what may we not expect, especially with the prospect of so many years of peace, when such a selection of men may be made, that we may see the military ranks filled with persons of good character, instead of being considered as the refuge of the profligate, as many people have done, or as a receiving hospital for all those incurables who had in vain attempted other professions?

But to return to the discipline of the 75th. The necessity of its severity was not proved by the results, when the regiment passed under the command of another officer. The system was then softened and relaxed, and much of the necessity of punishment ceased; the men became more quiet and regular, and in every respect better soldiers.

I regret much that I have not been able to procure any information of the service of the corps, except what may be seen in the historical details of the wars in India, from 1790 to 1806, when the 75th was ordered for England.

In 1790 the regiment took the field, under the command of Colonel Hartley, on the coast of Malabar, and, in 1791 and 1792, formed part of the force under Major-General Robert Abercromby on his two marches to Seringapatam. From the period above mentioned, till the next and last attack on Seringapatam in 1799, the regiment was quartered in the usual manner in different stations. In the assault of Seringapatam the flank companies led the left columns.

From 1800 to 1804, the regiment was employed in the provinces of Malabar, Goa, the Guzzerat, &c, and in 1805 was with the army, under General Lake, in the disastrous attacks on Bhurtpore.

In 1806 the regiment was ordered to England; such of the men as preferred India were left in the country, and in 1809 the designation of Highland was very properly changed, as, at that time, there were, in the corps, not one hundred natives north of the Tay.


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