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Scottish Regiments
The Black Watch - Expedition to the West Indies

GOVERNMENT having determined to reduce the French and Dutch possessions in the West Indies, a large armament was fitted out under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir Ralph Abercromby. The land forces consisted of 460 cavalry and 16,479 infantry. The Royal Highlanders formed part of this expedition. Another expedition, destined also for the West Indies, consisting of 2600 cavalry and 5680 foot, assembled at Cork during the embarkation of the first. Great care was taken to furnish the troops with everything necessary for the voyage, and particular attention was paid to their clothing. To protect them from the damps and chills of midnight, they were supplied with flannel, and various changes were made in their clothing to guard them against the effects of the yellow fever. Among other changes, the plaid kilt and bonnet of the Highlanders were laid aside, and their place supplied by Russian duck pantaloons and a round hat; but experience showed that the Highland dress was better suited to a campaign in the West Indies during the rainy season, than the articles which superseded it.

The embarkation was completed by the 27th of October 1795; but in consequence of damage sustained by some of the ships in a hurricane, and the loss of others, the expedition did not sail till the 11th of November. On that day the fleet, amounting to 328 sail, got under weigh with a favourable breeze. Owing to accidents which befell two of the ships, the fleet did not clear the channel till the 13th of December; but it had scarcely got out when a violent storm arose, which continued almost without intermission for several weeks. The greater part of the fleet was scattered, and many of the ships took refuge in different ports in England. Admiral Crichton struggled with such of the ships as remained with him till the end of January, but was at last obliged, from the disabled state of some of the ships, to return to Portsmouth, where he arrived on the 29th of that month with about 50 sail. Seventy-eight of the ships which kept the sea proceeded on their voyage, and reached Barbadoes in a straggling manner. Had the troops been sent off in detachments as they embarked, these misfortunes would have been avoided.

After the partial return of the expedition, the destination of some of the returned regiments was changed. Five companies of the Highlanders were in a few weeks embarked for Gibraltar, under the commanded of Lieutenant-Colonel Dickson. The other five companies reached Barbadoes on the 9th of February in the Middlesex East Indiaman, one of the straggling ships which had proceeded on the voyage. The expedition again put to sea on the 14th of February, and arrived at Barbadoes on the 14th of March. By the great care of Sir Ralph Abercromby, in ordering the transports to be properly ventilated on their arrival, and by enforcing cleanliness and exercise among the troops, few deaths occurred; and of the five Highland companies, none died, and only 4 men with trifling complaints were left on board when the troops disembarked at St Lucia in April. The troops from Cork, though favoured with better weather, were less fortunate in their voyage, several officers and a great many men having died.

The first enterprise was against the Dutch colonies of Demerara and Berbice, which surrendered to a part of the Cork division under Major-General White on the 22d of April. On the same day the expedition sailed from Barbadoes, and appeared off St Lucia on the 2 6th, it being considered imprudent to attempt Guadaloupe with a force which had been so much diminished.

The troops landed in four divisions at Lengueville Bay, Pigeon Island, Chock Bay, and Ance ha Raze. The Highlanders, under the command of Brigadier-General John Moore, landed in a small bay close under Pigeon Island. The army moved forward on the 27th to close in upon Morne Fortunée, the principal post in the island. To enable them to invest this place, it became necessary to obtain possession of Morne Chabot, a strong and commanding position overlooking the principal approach. Detachments under the command of Brigadier-Generals Moore and the Hon. John Hope, were accordingly ordered to attack this post on two different points. General Moore advanced at midnight, and General Hope followed an hour after by a less circuitous route; but falling in with the enemy sooner than he expected, General Moore carried the Morne, after a short but obstinate resistance, before General Hope came up. Next day General Moore took possession of Memo Duchassaux. By the advance of Major-General Morshead from Ance la Raze, Morne Fortunée was completely invested, but not until several officers and about 50 of the grenadiers, who formed the advanced post under Lieutenant-Colonel Macdonald, had been killed and wounded.

To dispossess the enemy of the batteries they had erected on the Cul de Sac, Major-General Morshead’s division was ordered to advance against two batteries on the left; whilst Major-General Hope, with the five companies of the Highlanders, the light infantry of the 57th regiment, and a detachment of Malcolm’s Rangers, supported by the 55th regiment, was to attack the battery of Secke, close to the works of Morne Fortunée. The light infantry and the rangers quickly drove the enemy from the battery; but they were obliged to retire from the battery in their turn under the cover of the Highlanders, in consequence of the other divisions under Brigadier-General Perryn and Colonel Riddle having been obstructed in their advance. In this affair Colonel Malcolm, a brave officer, was killed, and Lieutenant J. J. Fraser of the 42d, and a few men, wounded. The other divisions suffered severely.

So great were the difficulties which presented themselves from the steep and rugged nature of the ground, that the first battery was not ready to open till the 14th of May. In an attempt which the 31st regiment made upon a fortified ridge called the Vizie, on the evening of the 17th, they were repulsed with great loss; but the grenadiers, who had pushed forward to support them, compelled the enemy to retire. For six days a constant fire was kept up between the batteries and the fort. Having ineffectually attempted to drive back the 27th regiment from a lodgment they had formed within 500 yards of the garrison, the enemy applied for and obtained a suspension of hostilities. This was soon followed by a capitulation and the surrender of the whole island. The garrison marched out on the 29th, and became prisoners of war. The loss of the British was 2 field officers, 3 captains, 5 subaltemns, and 184 non-commissioned officers and rank and file killed; and 4 field officers, 12 captains, 15 subaltemns, and 523 non-commissioned officers and rank and file wounded and missing.

As an instance of the influence of the mind on bodily health, and of the effect of mental activity in preventing disease, General Stewart adduces this expedition as a striking illustration :—" During the operations which, from the nature of the country, were extremely harassing, the troops continued remarkably healthy; but immediately after the cessation of hostilities they began to droop. The five companies of Highlanders. who landed 508 men, sent few to the hospital until the third day subsequent to the surrender; but after this event, so sudden was the change in their health, that upwards of 60 men were laid up within the space of seven days. This change may be, in part, ascribed to the sudden transition from incessant activity to repose, but its principal cause must have been the relaxation of the mental and physical energies, after the motives which stimulated them had subsided."

The next enterprise was against St Vincent, where the expedition, consisting of the Buffs, the 14th, 34th, 42d, 53d, 54th, 59th, and 63d regiments, and the 2d West Indian Regiment, landed on the 8th of June. The enemy had erected four redoubts on a high ridge, called the Vizie, on which they had taken up a position. The arrangements for an attack having been completed on the 10th, the troops were drawn up in two divisions under Major-Generals Hunter and William Morshed, at a short distance from the ridge. Another division formed on the opposite side of the hill. The attack was commenced by a fire from some field-pieces on the redoubts, which was kept up for some hours, apparently with little effect. As a feint, the Highlanders and some of the Rangers in the meantime moved forward to the bottom of a woody steep which terminated the ridge, on the top of which stood one of the redoubts, the first in the range. Pushing their way up the steep, the 42d turned the feint into a real assault, and, with the assistance of the Buffs, by whom they were supported, drove the enemy successively from the first three redoubts in less than half an hour. Some of the Highlanders had pushed close under the last and principal redoubt, but the general, seeing that he had the enemy in his power, and wishing to spare the lives of his troops, recalled the Highlanders, and offered the enemy terms of capitulation, which were accepted. The conditions, inter alia, were, that the enemy should embark as prisoners of war; but several hundreds of them broke the capitulation by escaping into the woods the following night. The total loss of the British on this occasion was 181 in killed and wounded. The Highlanders had 1 sergeant and 12 rank and file killed; and 1 officer (Lieutenant Simon Fraser), 2 sergeants, 1 drummer, and 29 rank and file wounded)

In order to subjugate the island, the troops were divided and sent to different stations, and military posts were established in the neighbourhood of the country possessed by the Caribs and brigands. Favoured by the natural strength of the country, the enemy carried on a petty warfare with the troops among the woods till the month of September, when they surrendered. The French, including the brigands, were sent prisoners to England, and the Indians or Caribs, amounting to upwards ol 5000, were transported to Ratan, an island in the gulf of Mexico.

[General Stewart says that in the assault on the redoubts, when proceeding from the second to the third, he found a lad of seventeen years of age whom he had enlisted in August preceding, with his foot on the body of a French soldier, and his bayonet thrust through from ear to ear, attempting to twist off his head. Lieutenant Stewart touched him on the shoulder, and desired him to let the body alone. Oh, the brigand," said he "I must take off his head." When told that the man was already dead, and that he had better go and take the head off a living Frenchman, he answered, "You are very right, Sir; I did not think of that;" and immediately ran forward to the front of the attack. Yet such is the power of example, that this young man, so bold, turned pale and trembled, when, a few days after he had enlisted, he saw one of his companions covered with blood from a cut he had received in the head and face in some horseplay with his comrades].

[In one of the skirmishes in the woods between a party of the 42d and the enemy, Lieutenant-Colonel Graham (afterwards a lieutenant-general and govornor of Stirling Castle) was wounded, and lay senseless on the ground. "His recovery from his wound," says General Stewart, "was attended by some uncommon circumstances. The people believing him dead, rather dragged than carried him over the rough channel of the river, till they reached the sea-beach. Observing here that he was still alive, they put him in a blanket and proceeded in search of a surgeon. After travelling in this manner four miles, I met them, and directed the soldiers to carry him to a military post, occupied by a party of the 42d under my command. All the surgeons were out in the woods with the wounded soldiers, and none could be found. Colonel Graham was still insensible. A ball had entered his side, and passing through, had come out under his breast. Another, or perhaps the same ball, had shattered two of his fingers. No assistance could be got but that of a soldier’s wife, who had been long in the service, and was in the habit of attending sick and wounded soldiers. She washed his wounds, and bound them up in such a manner, that when a surgeon came and saw the way in which the operation had been performed, he said he could not have done it better, and would not unbind the dressing. The colonel soon afterwards opened his eyes, and though unable to speak for many hours, seemed sensible of what was passing around him. In this state he lay nearly three weeks, when he was carried to Kingston, and thence conveyed to England. He was still in a most exhausted state, —the wound in his side discharging matter from both orifices. He went to Edinburgh, with little hopes of recovery; but on the evening of the illumination for the victory of Camperdoun, the smoke of so many candles and flambeaux having affected his breathing, he coughed with great violence; and, in the exertion, threw up a piece of cloth, carried in and left by the ball in its passage through his body. From that day he recovered as by a charm.

"The soldier’s wife," continues the General, "who was so useful to him in his extremity, was of a character rather uncommon. She bad been long a follower of the camp, and had acquired some of its manerisms. While she was so good and useful a nurse in quarters, she was bold and fearless in the field. When the arrangements were made previously to the attack on the Vine on the 10th of June, I directed that her husband, who was in my company, should remain behind to take charge of the men’s knapsacks, which they had thrown off to be light for the advance up the hill, as I did not wish to expose him to danger on account of his wife and family. He obeyed his orders, and remained with his charge; but his wife, believing, perhaps, that she was not included in these injunctions, pushed forward to the assult. When the enemy had been driven from the third redoubt, I was standing giving some directions to the men, and preparing to push on to the fourth and last redoubt, when I found myself tapped on the shoulder, and turning round, I saw my Amazonian friend standing with her clothes tucked up to her knees, and seizing my hand, ‘Well done, my Highland lad,’ she exclaimed, ‘see how the brigands scamper like so many deer ‘—‘Caine,’ added she, ‘let us drive them from yonder hill!’ On inquiry, I found that she had been in the hottest fire, cheering].

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