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The Story of the Royal Scots
Chapter X - The Prince of the Great French War, 1793-1799

A Brief Sketch of Causes—The Second Battalion at Toulon, Corsica and Elba—The First Battalion in St. Domingo —Ireland and the ’Ninety-eight.

We have seen that The Royals took a successful part in wresting Canada from the French, but none will regret that they had no share in the long campaigns against the American colonists, forced on them by the stupidity of George III and his advisers, and culminating in the Declaration of Independence. The story fills the least attractive pages in our annals, and as The Royals were on service at home or in the West Indies all the time, this bare reference to the American War of Independence is enough for our purposes. For a like reason we pass over the Indian campaigns under Eyre Coote and Cornwallis, and proceed to the war of the French Revolution.

In 1789 the long and grievous misgovernment of France, the ineptitude of Louis XVI, the corruption of the aristocracy, the exactions of a horde of officials, a year of terrible famine, the disorganization of the army and impending bankruptcy, brought things to a crisis.

The three Estates of the Realm met amidst a whirl of rioting, and in June the Commons House declared itself a National Assembly. Power had passed from the King to the people. Lafayette, who had fought on the side of the American colonists and was full of windy notions of the Rights of Man, found himself at the head of a new army of National Guards, but without the solid genuis of a Washington to control the storm.

The state of France went from bad to worse, the wise counsels of Mirabeau were disregarded, and the extremists, with their doctrines of blood and violence, gained an increasing influence.

In June 1791 the King made his ineffectual attempt to escape from Paris. By November the Girondists were threatening death to all emigres who did not return, and sought for a foreign war to divert attention from their follies at home.

Meanwhile, the rest of the monarchs of Europe were profoundly uneasy at the success of the revolution and were assisting the Royalists as far as they could. Leopold of Austria was prominent in this movement, and proposed a European Concert to re-establish the position of the French king and to crush the revolution. By March 1792 he had died, and his successor, Francis, failed to secure immediate aid in pursuing his father’s schemes. The Empress Catherine of Russia and Frederick William of Prussia found it a convenient time to begin a scheme for the partition of Poland, and to leave Austria to fight it out with France. England, under Pitt’s guidance, remained watchfully neutral.

On April 20 France declared war on Austria, but her armies effected nothing. The failure embittered the situation in Paris; the Girondists were succeeded in power by the more violent Jacobins, and King Louis was thrown into prison. By July, Prussia, sufficiently bribed by Austria to join in the war against France, w'as marching on Paris, but the Allies were soon quarrelling, and by October France was freed from her peril, and began to dream of retaliatory conquest and plunder. Preparations were made to attack in turn the Austrian Netherlands, Spain, Sardinia, and Naples. Meanwhile Pitt was considering the probable outcome of French operations in Flanders, viz. the absorption of Belgium into France and an attack on Holland, whose safety we had guaranteed. Then, as to-day, it was an imperative feature of British policy that Holland's ports should not be at the service of a naval enemy of England, and that Belgium should be a buffer state between France and Germany. The only difference was that the danger then was from the west frontier of Belgium, whereas now it is from the east. He was watchful, too, of the French attempt to spread revolutionary doctrines in England, fostered as they were by Fox.

On January 21, 1793, Louis XVI was executed, and the news filled England with horror. Pitt expelled the French ambassador, and on February 1 the Convention declared war against England and Holland.

The French had their hands full, for they had also to deal with the Prussians and Austrians. England sent a Brigade of Guards to Holland, but the defeat of the French under Dumouriez was the work of the Austrians under Coburg, and the first round ended with their being driven helter-skelter out of the Austrian Netherlands and back within their own borders. With the following campaigns in the Low Countries we are not concerned, and can only note that the Duke of York proved unequal to the thankless task as commander of the British contingent of the allied armies. The War Secretary, Dundas, exceeded all precedents in ineptitude and administration, and Pitt’s war policy was hopelessly wrong. By the beginning of 1795 he saw the folly of continuing the effort, and the Expeditionary Force returned to England in April.

We must now look back to the starting-point of the war early in 1793. In France the Jacobins did not hold sway undisputed. The revolt of La Vendee gathered all the elements which still held to Church and King, but by the end of the year it had been crushed. In the south of France the movement promised to do better, the more so because Admiral Hood, with the British fleet in the Mediterranean, was available to help the monarchists. Marseilles, Lyons, and Toulon declared for Louis XVII. The Republicans soon dealt with Marseilles, and marched on Toulon. In August, Hood took possession of the port, and a motley mixture of troops was gathered to defend it. Spaniards, Sardinians, Neapolitans, Piedmontese and French Royalists were reinforced from Gibraltar in October by fifteen hundred British, including The Second Royals, only four hundred and twenty strong. The battalion was engaged in the defence of Fort Mulgrave with a detachment of artillery, and beat back a strong body of Republicans, getting little help from their various allies. A later assault on a battery on the heights of Arenes was so impetuously done that it carried the attackers into the arms of strong enemy supports, and they lost heavily. By December the difficulty of holding fifteen miles of defences with so motley a collection of forces became too great; the Republicans broke through, and Hood decided to destroy the shipping and arsenal and to embark his troops to a pleasanter climate. The Royals covered the evacuation, and Lieut. Ironmonger was the last officer to quit the dockyard gates. An extra aide-de-camp to Lord Mulgrave, who commanded the British land forces, was Mr. Thomas Graham, of Bal-gowan, a gentleman of over forty, who had taken to soldiering at that ripe age to assuage a private grief. He afterwards became Lord Lynedoch and Colonel of The Royals, with whom he thus made acquaintance at the outset of his remarkable career.

With the besieging army was a young lieutenant-colonel of artillery, Napoleon Bonaparte by name, to whose brilliant capacity the Republican success was mainly due.

From Toulon the fleet moved to Hy&res Bay with its burden of disheartened troops, and by February 7 had begun an assault on the French in Corsica destined to prove of rather more military value than the bungle at Toulon. The Corsicans under Paoli had already invited British protection, and Lieut.-Colonel (afterwards Sir John) Moore had surveyed the French strength, not very accurately as events proved. The first task for the landing party, which included The Second Royals, was to secure the shores of the Gulf of San Fiorenzo, so that the fleet might ride there safely. On a promontory commanding the entrance to the inlet stood a strong masonry towrer called Martello, and another like it, called Fornali, stood by the shore

to the south of Martello. Behind Fornali was the powerful Convention Redoubt. David Dundas, who was in command of the military arm, failed in his first attack on the Martello, and Moore found the Convention Redoubt (which he hoped to take from the rear) altogether too strong for an assault. Two days later Dundas so damaged the Martello by artillery fire that it surrendered, and Moore begged that the guns should be taken up the rocks to batter down the Redoubt. It was a desperate labour, and the sailors and The Royals between them carried the heavy pieces up the almost perpendicular heights on their shoulders. After a heavy cannonade, Moore, with The Royals and the Fifty-first, moved on the night of February 17 to the assault. The Fiftieth, with the Twenty-fifth and some Corsicans, attacked from other points. The Royals were the first to rush the French works, and the Redoubt was captured.

Bastia, an important fortified town across the mountains on the eastern shore, and Calvi were next besieged and taken, and the Corsicans then solemnly declared themselves subjects of King George. The French were no longer masters of Corsica, and The Royals were garrisoned at Bastia and Calvi for nearly two years, John Drinkwater, a major of the battalion, being Secretary of the Military Department of the Kingdom of Corsica.

But the island was not long a British possession. The French threatened Elba, and The Royals were detached to hold it. The Corsicans began to be proud of their compatriot Bonaparte, and plotted against the British; so Corsica was evacuated and the rest of the troops joined The Royals at Elba. Then Elba \vas given up, and the British regiments went by way of Gibraltar to Lisbon. There they remained until June of 1799, when they returned to England.

We must now return to the doings of the first battalion, which had sailed for Jamaica in January 1790. One of the results of the French Revolution was to spread republican principles to the French West Indies, and particularly to the Island of St. Domingo (now the black Republic of Hayti). Paris set going an organization called the “Negro's Friends,” which preached the equality of black and white. Commissioners were sent out by the Revolutionary Government to establish the rights of man, and they supported the blacks against the whites, with the result that a bloody rising followed. The white planters appealed for help to the British Governor of Jamaica. The Home Government delayed action, but sent more troops to Jamaica.

When war broke out between France and England, the unhappy French Royalists in St. Domingo again pleaded for help, and in September some battalions were sent from Jamaica to seize Jeremie and the Mole of St. Nicholas in St. Domingo.

It was not until the next February that The Royals were sent to join them at Jeremie and to help in the operations against the French republican troops. They made a spirited and successful attack on the fortress at L'Acal, and did heroic things in other small engagements. Yellow fever proved a far more terrible foe than the French and the negroes. Only four hundred strong when it landed in February, the battalion shrank until there were only one hundred and twenty-three in September, and though drafts from home brought the number up to two hundred and forty-seven by December only one hundred and forty-eight were returned as fit for duty.

When the new year opened the seven battalions on the island could muster only eleven hundred men in condition to fight. Despite all this the troops managed to hold most of their positions in St. Domingo until the end of 1796. Some idea of the horrible conditions may be gathered from a report dated July, which tells of one hundred and twenty-nine officers and five thousand seven hundred and twenty men (of all regiments) lost between October 1793 and March 1796, whereas only one hundred fell in action. Of this grim total The Royals contributed five officers and four hundred men. It is difficult in these days of preventive medicine to realize what campaigning in tropical countries meant during the eighteenth century. But this terrible test of the regiment's constancy came to an end in the following year, when the stricken remnant of The Royals returned to England—ten officers, forty-five (!) sergeants, twelve drummers, eighty-eight rank and file fit and a few sick. The next year the battalion went to Ireland, but it does not appear that it took any direct part in the unhappy task of stamping out the Irish Rebellion of ’ninety-eight.

In the last year of the century the ranks of the first battalion were filled by recruits from the Irish Militia, and two hundred and twenty-three joined The First Royals.

In order that we may round off the century in this chapter, reference may be made to the part taken by the second battalion in the campaign in North Holland of 1799.

The Dutch had been under French dominion since 1794, and as Napoleon was busy in Egypt, the British and Russian Governments determined to release Holland from her servitude and re-establish the Prince of Orange. The Royals were included in Major-General John Moore's Brigade of the force which landed in the north of Holland at the Helder. The disembarkation was fiercely resisted by the French and Dutch, but was effected successfully, and the menacing batteries of the Helder Fort were evacuated the same night. The Dutch fleet hoisted the Orange flag and was transferred to Great Britain. But the heart of the Dutch nation was not in the movement for its own emancipation from the French yoke, and the campaign dragged on to an inconclusive end. In one action however, that of Egmont-op-Zee, a struggle amongst sandhills, The Royals did good service, and the name appears amongst their battle honours. For all that, their losses were so trifling when compared with those of the other regiments of the brigade that it is difficult to think that they played a prominent part in that very inconclusive battle. The brigade was not engaged in the heavy action which took place four days later. An armistice soon followed, and a foolish campaign was closed with the return of the whole army to England at the end of the month.

So far the war of the French Revolution had given The Royals work in various small and inglorious campaigns, but the dawn of the new century was to see them on larger fields.

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