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Significant Scots
Colonel Daniel MacKinnon

MACKINNON, COLONEL DANIEL.—This brave soldier, who acquired high military reputation in the Peninsular war and at Waterloo, was born in 1791, and was second son of William Mackinnon, chieftain of the ancient clan of that name in the Western Highlands of Scotland. This chieftainship, however, had dwindled into a mere lairdship, in consequence of the abolition of the patriarchal government in the Highlands, and Daniel, whose energies a century earlier might have been wasted in some petty feud or spreagh, was reserved to be one of the honoured heroes in a great European warfare. At the early age of fourteen he entered the army as ensign in the Coldstream Guards, and quickly won the esteem of his brother officers by his activity, cheerfulness, and kind disposition, which was further increased when he had an opportunity of showing his valour in the field. His first service, however, was nothing more than a little harmless marching and countermarching; for his regiment, which was ordered to Bremen in 1805, to co-operate with the Prussians and their allies, never came in sight of the enemy. After its return, the Coldstream in 1807 was sent with the armament against Copenhagen, where the land-service was not in requisition. Two years more elapsed of mere parade and warlike demonstration, which, however, was brought to an end when Mackinnon embarked with his regiment for the Peninsula in 1809, after he had attained the rank of lieutenant in the Guards.

The military life of an officer so young as Mackinnon, and holding his sub-ordinate rank, can be nothing else than a record of personal daring and hair-breadth escapes: he obeys the commands and fulfils the wishes of his superiors, through every difficulty and at whatever risk, and thus establishes his claim to be a commander in turn. Such was the case with the subject of this brief notice. He was appointed aide-de-camp to General Stopford, who commanded the Guards, and had thus an opportunity of distinguishing himself through the whole course of that terrible and eventful war from 1809 to 1814. And these opportunities were neither shunned nor neglected, so that the bivouac and the mess-table were enlivened with tales of his personal prowess and daring. On one occasion, his supreme contempt of danger partook of the ludicrous. While our army was passing a defile, and debouching from it, there was one spot in which part of the troops were exposed to a very heavy fire. But in this post of peculiar peril, Captain Mackinnon was found performing the duties of the toilet, and lathering and shaving his chin, as coolly as if he had been fifty miles from the scene of action. No sight was better calculated to animate dispirited soldiers; they rushed immediately to the onset, and drove the French before them. No wonder that the soldiers loved and were ready to follow an officer who, let the risk be what it might, was ready to encounter or abide his full share. But he was equally endeared to his brother officers, by his overflowing kindness and invincible good nature, so that, during the whole of these trying campaigns, in which patience was tempted to the uttermost, he never gave offence, or adopted a subject of quarrel. Some of these veterans still survive, by whom the amiable qualities of the gallant Celt are affectionately remembered.

After having taken part in every battle from Talavera to Toulouse, the peace of 1814 released Mackinnon from active military duty. It is pleasing also to add, that his services had been appreciated, for he was at once raised from the rank of captain to that of lieutenant-colonel in the Coldstream regiment. Relying upon the promise of a lasting peace, he returned to England, but was suddenly roused, like many of his brethren upon leave of absence, by the escape of Bonaparte from Elba, and the astounding events that followed in quick succession. Napoleon was once more upon the throne of France, and a fresh war was inevitable. Knowing this, Colonel Mackinnon hurried to Ramsgate to join his regiment, now quartered in Brussels, but not finding the expected vessel ready to sail, he threw himself, with another officer, into an open boat, and reached Ostend in time to join in the engagements of the 16th and 17th of June, and finally, in the great battle of Waterloo.

Of the many hundreds of episodes that constitute this great military assize of the nations, and out of which so many volumes of history and biography have been constructed, and amidst the mélée of wonderful charges and brave deeds that occurred every moment, and over every part of the field, we must limit our attention to a thousandth part of the great event, and attend exclusively to the movements of Mackinnon. Amidst the fire, he had three horses shot under him. In one of these volleys by which he was successively brought down, he was himself shot in the knee, his sword flew from his hand, and in falling, he alighted upon a prostrate French officer, who was wounded like himself. Mackinnon immediately took possession of the Frenchman’s sword, with an apology for using it, as he had lost his own, mounted a fresh horse, and continued to charge at the head of his regiment, until he was detached with 250 of his Coldstreams, and 1st regiment of Guards, for the defence of the farm of Hougoumont. This was the key of Wellington’s position, and Mackinnon was ordered to defend it to the last extremity. And well do the records of Waterloo testify how faithfully this command was obeyed. For a considerable period, the whole interest of the conflict was converged round this farm and its outhouses, the possession of which was of the utmost importance to Napoleon, so that mass after mass of French grenadiers was hurled against it in rapid succession, with golden promises to the first who entered; but as fast as they approached the walls, the close, steady fire from within tore their ranks into shreds, and strewed the ground with the dead and wounded; and as fast as they fell back, Mackinnon and his little band sallied from their defences, piled up the dead bodies in front of the doors as a rampart, and hurried back to their posts as soon as a fresh inundation of fire and steel came sweeping down upon them. Again and again was this manoeuvre successfully performed, but in the midst of imminent peril, by which the brave band of defenders was reduced to a handful. Still, the utmost efforts of Napoleon upon this point were defeated, and Hougoumont was saved. At last the farm-house was relieved, and Mackinnon with his party joined the British army, now assailants in their turn. But the wound which he had previously received in his knee from a musket-shot, and which he had disregarded during the whole of the action, now occasioned such pain, accompanied with loss of blood, that he fainted, and was carried off the field in a litter to Brussels, where he was treated with the utmost courtesy and kindness. The wound was healed, but the buoyant activity which had hitherto made exercise a necessary of life to him was broken. As for the sword, which he had appropriated to his own use at such a curious crisis, he not only fulfilled his promise, by using it gallantly in the defence of Hougoumont, and through the whole action, but ever afterwards wore it on field-days and parade, as a fair trophy of Waterloo.

Thus, at the early age of twenty-four, the military career of this intrepid soldier was closed by the return of universal peace—not, however, without a ten years’ service, and having won by his merits a rank which few soldiers so young are privileged to occupy. He still continued to hold his commission in the army; and a majority in the Coldstream having become vacant, he was induced to purchase it, by which he obtained the rank of a full colonel in the service, and the ultimate command of the regiment.

From the foregoing account, it could scarcely be expected that Colonel Mackinnon should also obtain distinction in authorship. Entering the army at the raw age of fourteen, when a stripling’s education is still imperfect, and returning to domestic life at a period when few are willing to resume their half-conned lessons, and become schoolboys anew, we are apt to ask, how and where he could have acquired those capacities that would enable him to produce a well-written book? But this, by no means the easiest or least glorious of his achievements, he has certainly accomplished. Soon after the accession of William IV., his majesty was desirous that a full history of the Coldstream Guards should be written, and he selected no other than the gallant colonel of the regiment to be its historian. Such a choice, and the able manner in which it was fulfilled, show that Mackinnon must have possessed higher qualities than those of a mere swordier however brave, and that he must have cultivated them with much careful application after his final return to England. For this, indeed, if nothing more than recreation had been his motive, there was an especial inducement, arising from his wound received at Waterloo, by which he was prevented from more active enjoyments. Although such a task required no small amount of historical and antiquarian research, the origin of the Coldstreams dating so far back as the year 1650, he ably discharged it by his work in two volumes, entitled "The Origin and Services of the Coldstream Guards," [volume 1 & volume 2] published in 1833, and dedicated by permission to his Majesty. In this work he has traced the actions of this distinguished brigade in England and Scotland during the wars of the Commonwealth, Restoration, and Revolution; its services in Ireland, in Holland, and upon the continent; and finally in the Peninsula, and at Waterloo; and while he has shown a thorough acquaintanceship with the history of these various wars, his work is pervaded throughout not only with the high chivalrous magnanimity of a British soldier, but the exactness of a careful thinker, and the taste of a correct and eloquent writer.

The rest of Colonel Mackinnon’s life may be briefly summed up, as it was one of peace and domestic enjoyment. After he had settled in England, he married Miss Dent, the eldest daughter of Mr. Dent, M.P. for Pool, a young lady of great attractions, but who brought him no family. With her he led a happy and retired life, surrounded by the society of those who loved him; and cheered, as we may well think, by those studies which he turned to such an honourable account. It was thought that, from his strong robust frame and healthy constitution, he would have survived to a good old age; but the sedentary life to which his wound confined him, proved too much for a system so dependent upon active and exciting exercise. After having scarcely ever felt a day’s illness, he died at Hertford Street, May Fair, London, on the 22d of June, 1836, being only forty-six years old.

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