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Historic Earls and Earldoms of Scotland
Chapter III - Earldom and Earls of Huntly
Section XVIII


GEORGE, FIFTH DUKE OF GORDON—HE JOINED THE ARMY—HE RAISED THE 92ND HIGHLANDERS, WAS APPOINTED COLONEL COMMANDANT OF THE REGIMENT—SKETCH OF THE SERVICES OF THE 92ND—THE REGIMENT IN EGYPT, PORTUGAL, AND SPAIN—HEROIC ACTION OF THE 92ND AT QUATRE BRAS AND WATERLOO.

GEORGE, fifth Duke of Gordon, was born in 1770. He joined the army in his 20th year; and in 1791 he was a captain in the famous 42nd Highlanders. He was present at the engagements connected with the Duke of York’s expedition to Flanders in 1793.

Afterwards the Marquis of Huntly (as he then was) exchanged and became a captain in the 3rd Foot Guards. While in this regiment he offered to raise a regiment for general service; and on the 10th of February, 1794, he received a commission for this purpose. The young Marquis’s zeal and Spirit for the service were admirably seconded by his father and mother, the Duke and Duchess of Gordon; and both of them, along with the Marquis himself, actively engaged personally in the work of recruiting. Such were their combined efforts that within four months, the requisite number of men was raised. On the 24th of June, the regiment was inspected by Major-General Sir Hector Munro at Aberdeen, and embodied under the name of the Gordon Highlanders. About three-fourths of the men were Highlanders, mainly drawn from the estates of the Gordon family; and the other fourth came from the Lowlands of Aberdeenshire and the neighbouring counties. The Marquis of Huntly was appointed Lieutenant-colonel commandant of the regiment. A few of the other original officers may be mentioned:-

Major Charles Erskine of Cardross was killed in Egypt in 1801. Amongst the captians Alexander Napier of Blackstone was killed at the battle of Corunna in 1809, when commanding officer of the regiment. Captain John Cameron, who had risen to the rank of colonel, was killed at Quatre Bras on the 16th of June, 1815. Captain William Mackintosh of Aberarder, was killed in the battle of Bergen, in Holland, on the 2nd of October, 1799.

On the 9th of July, 1794, the regiment embarked at Fort-George, and joined the camp at Netley Common in August, and then placed on the list of numbered corps as the 100th Regiment. On the 5th of September the Gordon Highlanders embarked for Gibraltar, where they continued till the 11th of June, 1795, when they were ordered to the Island of Corsica. In the following year the regiment returned to Gibraltar; and in the spring of 1798, they embarked for England, and landed in the middle of May.

In a short time the regiment was ordered to Ireland. The duties of the service in that distracted country were very arduous, as the men were kept almost constantly moving. On one occasion the regiment marched on three successive days a distance of 96 Irish miles, with arms, ammunition, and knapsacks. Yet the Gordon Highlanders in the execution of their duties won much respect in Ireland. When the regiment was about to leave one of its stations, the magistrates and people of the district presented an address to the Marquis of Huntly, the commander, in which they remarked that "peace and order were re-established, rapine had disappeared, confidence in the Government was restored, and the happiest cordiality subsisted since his regiment came among them."

The Gordon Highlanders left Ireland in June, 1799 proceeded to England, and joined the expedition then preparing for the coast of Holland. At this time the number of the regiment was changed to the 92nd.

The Marquis of Huntly, as colonel in command, accompanied his regiment. He led the 92nd at the battle of Bergen, fought on the 2nd of October, 1799, and in which he was severely wounded. The Gordon Highlanders were in General Moore’s brigade, and he was exceedingly pleased with their heroic efforts in this battle.

In the summer of 1800 the Gordon Highlanders disembarked on the island of Minorca, and they formed a part of the expedition against Egypt. In the battle of the 13th of March, 1801, against the French in Egypt, the 92nd greatly distinguished themselves. They not only firmly maintained their ground against the repeated attacks of the enemy, supported by a park of artillery, but also drove them back. In this action the regiment suffered severely—their commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Erskine, died of his wounds, other four officers, and nineteen rank and file, were killed; 6 officers, 10 sergeants, and 100 rank and file wounded.

At the memorable battle of Alexandria, on the 21st of March, in which the noble and brave General Abercromby, the Commander-in-Chief of the expedition, was fatally wounded, the 92nd was not much engaged, owing to their reduced condition. But the other Highland regiments were encouraged by General Abercromby, who called out to them—"My brave Highlanders, remember your country, remember your forefathers!":-

When smoke of cartridge filled the air,
And cannons loud did shake the plain,
Many a hero brave fell there,
That never will come back again.

The battle was won, though the loss of the British in killed and wounded was heavy. In September the French, numbering 27,000 men, capitulated and re-embarked for France.

On leaving Egypt the 92nd sailed for Ireland, and landed at Cork on the 13th of January, 1802. Shortly after they were removed to Glasgow, where they stayed till the renewal of the war in 1803. Then they were marched to Leith, and embarked for the camp at Woeley. The regiment formed a part of the expedition against Copenhagen, which sailed in 1807, and they served in Sir Arthur Wellesley’s brigade. In this campaign, by a spirited charge with the bayonet, they drove back a greatly superior force.

In 1808 the Gordon Highlanders embarked for Sweden, and immediately after the return of the expedition, the troops employed were ordered to Portugal, under the command of Sir John Moore. The 92nd accompanied all the movements of General Moore’s army, and were engaged in the Battle of Corunna, in which their commanding officer, Colonel Napier, was killed. Sir John Moore fell in the Battle of Corunna—one of the ablest and bravest generals that ever led a British army. [My father fought in the battle of Corunna, also in the battles of Vimiera, Badajoz, Salamanca, and Vittoria, in which he lost the thumb of his left hand, which he buried with the aid of his bayonet on the battlefield.] The Gordon Highlanders returned to England in the spring of 1809, and were quartered at Woeley.

The regiment was next employed in the expedition to Walcherin, which sailed in the end of July, 1809. In this expedition the Marquis of Huntly, being then a lieutenant-general, had command of a division of the force.

On the 21st of September, 1810, the Gordon Highlanders embarked for Portugal, and in October joined the British army under Lord Wellington at the lines of Tones Vedras. On the service of the regiment in the Spanish Peninsula and the south of France I cannot here enter, and it has only to be remarked that in all the battles in which they were engaged, they maintained their high character and bravery in the hour of peril.

At Quatre Bras the 92nd fought heroically. Though their brave commander, Colonel Cameron, was killed, they drove back a strong body of the enemy, and pursued them for a quarter of a mile.

The service rendered by the Gordon Highlanders at a critical moment in the battle of Waterloo was so important that it should be narrated at some length.

On the day of the battle the Gordon Highlanders were commanded by Major Donald Macdonald. They were in the 9th Brigade, with the Royal Scots, the 42nd Highlanders, and the 44th Regiment This brigade was placed on the left wing on the crest of an eminence, forming one side of the low valley which separated the two hostile armies. A brigade of Belgians, another of Hanoverians, and General Ponsonby’s Brigade of 1st Dragoons, Inniskillings, and the Scots Greys, were also posted on the left. About ten o’clock in the morning Bonaparte opened a severe cannonade upon the whole line of the British and their allies, and made a determined attack upon the post at Hougoumont. At two o’clock the enemy, covered by a strong fire of artillery, advanced in a close column of infantry towards the position of the Belgians. The fire of the Belgians and a few cannon checked the advance of the column for some time; but the troops of Nassau fell back and retired behind the crest of the eminence, leaving an open space to the enemy. The third battalion of the Royal Scots and the second battalion of the 44th Regiment were ordered up to occupy the abandoned ground; and there a severe conflict occurred, in which the two regiments lost many men and spent all their ammunition. The enemy’s column still continuing to advance, General Park ordered up the Highlanders, calling out—"Ninety-second, now is your chance. Charge!" This order was repeated by Major Macdonald, and the Highlanders gave a ringing shout. Though the regiment then only numbered 250 men, they instantly formed two men deep and rushed forward to charge a column ten men deep and 3000 strong. The enemy seemed appalled at the daring and rapid advance of the Highlanders, stood a few moments motionless, then panic seized the great column, and they fled in the utmost confusion, throwing away their arms. Swift as the Highlanders were, they were unable to overtake them. But the cavalry pursued them at full speed, slew many, and took 1700 prisoners. It was on observing this scene that Napoleon exclaimed—"Les braves Ecossais, qu’ils sont terribles ces chevaux gris!" when he saw a small body of Highlanders causing one of his favourite columns to flee, and the Greys charging almost up to his line.

From the date of the embodiment of the Gordon Highlanders to the battle of Waterloo—a period of twenty-two years—the regiment had fought in twenty-six battles. In this period they had 12 officers killed and 100 wounded, and 238 rank and file killed, and 1261 wounded—making a total loss of 1499.

Since the battle of Waterloo the Gordon Highlanders, on every battlefield where they have been engaged, have admirably upheld their character of brave and faithful soldiers.

Check out our Highland Regiments Page where you'll find a detailed account of the Gordon Highlanders


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