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

Fencible Regiments


This year Donald Cameron of Lochiel was appointed Colonel of a regiment of Fencibles, to be raised in the north of Scotland, and to be called the Lochaber Fencible Highlanders.

The ready zeal with which this gentleman's ancestors had entered into every measure which tended to support the Royal Family of Scotland, is well known. This zeal was equally exerted to preserve them on the throne, and to restore them when driven from it. In the Rebellion in the reign of Charles I., Sir Ewen Cameron was the last who held out against the power of Oliver Cromwell, to whom indeed, he never fully submitted, constantly annoying and cutting off the supplies of the garrisons planted in the country during the continuance of the Commonwealth.

The share which his grandson had in the Rebellion of 1745 brought ruin on his family. He was attainted, and escaped to France, where he died in 1757. [A brother of this gentleman, also an exile in consequence of the Rebellion, believing that the terrors of the law, which had for some years hung over him, would be softened by the lapse of time, returned to London in 1752. But he was apprehended, tried, and executed on his original attainder.]

No gentleman in the Highlands was more respected for his virtues and accomplishments, or commanded more influence in proportion to his property, than this Chief. To this day the name of Lochiel is never mentioned in Lochaber without a sigh of regret, and an expression of respect. [The generous attachment of his tenants, who remitted to him their full rents, while they paid to Government those which it demanded, has been a -ready noticed, as also the affection shown towards his son, when a company was raised for him in Fraser's Highlanders in 1775.] There was, therefore, reason for the belief that some family influence still remained. But Colonel Cameron laboured under great disadvantages. Born and educated in a distant country, he was almost a stranger in the land of his ancestors; but his name, which, sixty years before, would of itself have raised a warlike host, still excited a feeling of respect and attachment to his family, which only required his appearance to turn it to the best advantage. Colonel Cameron accordingly found, that, in Lochaber, all were ready to support him. By this means, and the exertions of officers in other parts of the country, a body of 800 men was assembled at Falkirk in May 1799. Of these the Highlanders exceeded 560 men. This number was afterwards increased, to fill up vacancies occasioned by men volunteering into regiments of the line; making the total number 740 Highlanders.

The regiment was immediately removed to Ireland.

In the course of remarking on the character and conduct of different corps, there has been, I fear, too much sameness and repetition, as, indeed, must necessarily happen, when there is a similarity of subject throughout. But, as it may be interesting to many to mark the character supported by corps, either collectively or individually, I have generally noticed only the most prominent traits. I was also desirous of inquiring whether the people who form my subject, preserved the same character in corps of limited and home service, as in those which were called to meet the enemy. With regard to the Lochaber regiment, it may be said of them, as of many others, that three-fourths of the men were not only irreproachable, but exemplary, in their conduct; but as little interesting can be said of the service of a regiment in country quarters among friends, I shall add a few notices of the military character, capability, and talents exhibited by the Chief of the Camerons and his clan in the seventeenth century, as an example to those of the name who remain in their native country, and to show that courage, loyalty, and independence of spirit, enabled this clan to set at defiance the troops of a man no ways disposed to show mercy to those opposed to his usurpation; and that, at last, when Lochiel entered into a treaty with Cromwell, no oath was required of him, his word of honour being deemed sufficient.

Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel was born in 1629, and educated at Inverary Castle, under the guardianship of his kinsman the Marquis of Argyle, who took charge of him in his tenth year, [Agreeably to an ancient custom in the Highlands, he lived the first seven years with his foster-father, whose children became the foster-brothers and sisters to the young laird. The foster-fathers were generally at the charge of the education of gentlemen's children, while they remained with them; and when their pupils returned home, these fathers often gave them a portion equal to what they gave to their own children.] and endeavoured to imbue him with his own political principles, and prevail with him to join the Covenanters and Puritans. But the chivalrous spirit of his pupil was ill adapted to the cant and gloomy fanaticism of that party; and, at the age of eighteen, he broke loose from Argyle, with an intention of joining the Marquis of Montrose,—a hero more congenial to his own character. He was too late to be of service to that great but unfortunate general, whose reverses had commenced before Lochiel left Inveraray. But he was not idle. He kept his men in arms, and completely protected his estate from the incursions of Cromwell's troops. In the year 1652, he was the first to join the Earl of Glencairn, who hoisted the royal standard in the Highlands. In different rencounters with General Lilburne, Colonel Morgan, and others, he highly distinguished himself, and in particular in a smart skirmish between Lord Glencairn and Lilburne in Brae-Mar, where Lochiel was posted at a pass, which he defended till the royal army had retreated to a distance. In the mean time, Lilburne came round and attacked Lochiel in the flank. This he also resisted for some time, till at last, finding himself unable to repel the enemy, who now brought an additional force against him, he gradually retreated up the hill, showing a front to the enemy, who durst not follow him far, as the ground was steep and covered with snow. Glen-cairn's army was at that time in a disorganized state, owing principally to the conflicting pretensions of a number of independent chiefs and gentlemen, who would not yield to one another, and sometimes not even to the General. Lochiel kept clear of the whole, and, stationing himself on the outposts, was uniformly successful in skirmishes with the enemy, whom he constantly harassed. How his services were estimated by Glencairn we learn from a letter of Charles II. to Lochiel, dated 3d November 1653.

"Charles R.

"To our trusty and well-beloved the Laird of Lochiel:

"We are informed by the Earl of Glencairn with what courage, success, and affection to us, you have behaved yourself in this time of trial, when the honour and liberty of your country is at stake; and therefore we cannot but express our hearty sense of such your good courage, and return you our thanks for the same; and we hope all honest men, who are lovers of us and of their country, will follow your example, and that you will unite together in the ways we have directed, and under that authority we have appointed to conduct the prosecution of so good a work: so we do assure you, we are ready, as soon as we are able, signally to reward your service, and to repair the losses you shall undergo for our service, and so we heartily bid you farewell.—Given at Chantilly, Nov. 3, 1653, in the fifth year of our reign."

In pursuance of this line of conduct, Lochiel kept his men constantly on the alert, and ready to act wherever his service might be required. In 1654 he joined Lord Glen-cairn's army, with a strong regiment, to oppose Generals Monk and Morgan, who had marched into the Highlands. Lochiel being opposed to Morgan, a brave and enterprising officer, he was often hard pressed, and encountered many difficulties; but his presence of mind and resolution never forsook him. General Monk made several attempts to negotiate, and made the most favourable proposals to Lochiel on the part of Cromwell, which he uniformly despised and rejected. At length Monk resolved to establish a garrison at Inverlochay, in Lochiel's neighbourhood, to force him and other loyal chiefs to surrender, or at least to give them so much employment in their own country as would prevent their undertaking expeditions against those who had sub-mitted to Cromwell in the Lowlands. Colonel Bigan, the commander of the expedition, carried his troops, stores, and materials for building, by sea, and soon raised a small fort, forming a temporary defence against the musketry, swords and arrows of the Highlanders. Lochiel watched their motions from a hill north of the fort, and had spies who informed him of all that was passing among the strangers. On the fifth day he was told that 300 men were to embark and sail a few miles along the coast, for the purpose of landing at Achdalew, and of cutting down his wood, and carrying away his cattle* He had only 38 men with him at the time; and, there not being a moment to lose, he hurried along in a line with the vessel, but covered by the woods, came close to the place where they landed, and was soon able to count 140 armed men, besides a number with axes and working instruments. He immediately consulted with his friends. The younger part were for an instant attack, but the elder and more experienced remonstrated against it as a rash and most hazardous enterprise. Lochiel then asked two of his people who had served under Montrose, whom he wished to consider as his model, and whose name was seldom out of his mouth, if they had ever seen him engage against such odds?—The men declared they never had. However, Lochiel, eager to signalize himself, and to be thought worthy of being ranked in the same class with the hero he wished to imitate, addressed his men in a few energetic words, and called on every man, who loved his King and country, to follow him, adding, "If every man kills his man, I will answer for the rest." On this they all started up, and declared they would instantly attack the English, but entreated that he and his brother Allan would remain behind ; as, in case of any serious accident happening to them, no victory over the English could compensate their loss; and, as to any casualties among themselves, they would be soon supplied and forgotten. Lochiel, as might be expected, spurned at the proposal with regard to himself, but ordered that his brother Allan should be tied to a tree, and a little boy left to attend him; but young Allan flattered or terrified the boy to release him, and was immediately with his friends.

The Camerons were armed partly with muskets, and partly with bows, but all with broad swords. They rushed forward close to the enemy, keeping up their fire till they almost touched their breasts, when, on the first round, every shot told. They then attacked with their swords, the English defending themselves with the bayonet. The skirmish was long and obstinate. At last the English gave way, but retreated slowly, contesting every step, with their faces towards their enemy. Lochiel, with a view of alarming them, and to prevent their escape to their boats, sent two men round the flanks to the rear, to fire and make a noise, as if a fresh party had arrived. This made the English desperate. Instead of throwing down their arms, however, they only fought the harder, expecting no quarter from such determined savages: but, at last, being completely borne down, they fled, and were pursued by the Camerons chin-deep into the sea, till the people in the boats received their friends and drove back the Highlanders. Of the enemy ] 38 were killed, more than three times the number of Lochiel's men, who lost only 7, some accounts say only 5, men. They had here the advantage of being the assailants, and, from the first surprise, pressed forward on the enemy, who had not an instant's remission to recover from the confusion in consequence of the rapidity and force of the attack.

[Lochiel made several narrow escapes. When the English retreated, one of the officers retired behind a bush. While in this situation, Lochiel passed alone, when the officer sprung out and attacked him. He had the advantage in size and strength, but Lochiel was active, and master of his weapon. After a short contest, he jerked the sword out of the hand of his antagonist, who closed upon him and threw him down. The officer got uppermost, when Lochiel seized him by the collar with his left hand, and, making a spring at his throat, he bit it quite through with his teeth, and kept such fast hold that the officer was obliged to yield.

After this rencointer, he joined his men, who were by this time chin-deep in the sea, in pursuit of the enemy. One of Lochiel's foster-brothers, observing a man on board the vessel aiming at him, leaped forward in his front, and received the shot in his mouth and breast. This was the father of the man who acted in the same manner towards Lochiel at Killiecrankie.]

In a few days afterwards, and before the alarm and sur-prise of this disaster had subsided, Lochiel cut off a small foraging party from the garrison. But he was now called away to join Lord Glencairn, and, collecting his men. joined the General's army in Athole. He had not been long with his Lordship, when he heard that the garrison had taken advantage of his absence, and sent parties to harass and plunder his people. He returned in great haste with 150 men, leaving the greater part with the General in Athole, and received a report, the day he arrived, that the troops were the following day to visit his kinsman Cameron of Glenevis's lands. Early that morning, he took post, with 190 of his own and Glenevis's men, near the river side at the foot of Ben Nevis, then covered with wood near half a mile up the mountain. He had not waited long, when about 500 of the enemy passed him. He gave the signal to his men, who rushed upon the soldiers like furies, totally routed them, and continued the pursuit close to the fort. Upwards of 100 were killed, and many wounded, but the killed always doubled the wounded in these close and desperate encounters. Not one officer escaped; the soldiers had now suffered so much from his attacks, that it required the greatest exertions on the part of the officers to keep them to their duty, consequently, they were the more exposed, and suffered accordingly. In this manner, he gave the garrison no rest; for, when they did not send out parties for fear of meeting with him, he frequently opened a fire of musketry upon the garrison at night, as if he meant to attack by assault; thus depriving the soldiers of rest, as well as preventing excursions into the country. Indeed, his name now carried: so much terror, that a report of himself or his men being in the neighbourhood prevented all egress from the fort, and his country and people were not disturbed for a long time.

General Middleton being unsuccessful in a skirmish with General Morgan at Lochgarry, sent for Lochiel to come to his assistance. Upwards of 300 Camerons were immediately assembled, and joined the General, who had retreated to Brae-Mar. In the course of this expedition, Lochiel had several rencounters with General Morgan, but the judgment and promptitude with which the Chieftain took the advantage of the nature of his ground, the great activity of his men, and the consequent celerity of his movements, gave him such decided advantage, that he lost very few men, while he slew a considerable number of the enemy, who were often attacked both on the flanks and the rear, when they knew not that an enemy was within many miles of them.

An instance of this happened at Lochgarry, in the Braes of Athole, in August 1653, when Lochiel, passing north with only a few men, was joined by about 60 or 70 Athole men to accompany him through the hills; at the same time, with the hope of some opportunity offering to revenge the defeat of their friends, a short time previously, on the same spot. Cromwell's troops were marching southward, and had encamped on the plain of Dalnaspidel, north of the lake; the Highlanders divided themselves into three parties, one on each point of the two hills divided by the river, and the third on the face of the hills north of the present high road. They were posted in this manner at midnight, and preserved perfect silence. A short time before sunrise, the party on the point west of the river quietly slipped down to the plain, and fired several shots at the camp. This gave the alarm, and they got quickly under arms. Being now daylight, the Highlanders retired slowly, followed by the enemy, who did not perceive the other two parties, as they had kept themselves out of view till they saw the enemy well advanced in pursuit of their friends along the side of the lake. The party above the road then dashed down to attack those who remained in the camp, while the others hastily crossed the river at the end of the lake, and followed up in the rear of those who had attacked their first party. The enemy in advance being thus between two fires, and the camp attacked at the same time, a desperate and deadly conflict must have ensued, had it not been that the handful of men of which the Highlanders consisted, were only about 50 or 60 men in each party, while there were two complete regiments of Cromwell's troops. But the thing was only intended for a surprise, and one of those kind of alarms with which the Highlanders constantly harassed the troops. In this case the object was completely accomplished; they killed a number of the enemy, who got entangled in the mosses of Lochgarry, and had no small difficulty in regaining their camp, where also they lost many men by the fire of the party which had attacked them from the hill. On the whole, the enterprise was planned with judgment, and executed with gallantry.

But all their exertions could not avail; and General Middleton being without money, and the exhausted country furnishing but small supplies of provisions, he was at length obliged to submit, and the war was now finished, except with Lochiel, who still stood out, and would neither forswear his allegiance to the King, nor submit to the encroachments of the troops quartered in a garrison so near him. Encouraged by the submission of General Middleton, and the absence of Lochiel, who had accompanied Middleton to the Isle of Skye, whence he embarked for England, the garrison sent out hunting parties to Lochiel's lands, and not always satisfied with killing the deer and small game, they occasionally made a sweep of the cattle and goats. When Lochiel heard of this, he hurried back from Skye, and being told of an intended hunting party from the garrison, he determined to disturb their sport. He arranged as many men as he thought necessary in different places, and giving directions how to act, waited the appearance of the military. He had not to remain long, when the Highlanders seeing the party within proper distance, rushed out in their usual manner, killing several, and taking the others prisoners, without allowing a man to escape back to the garrison.

Soon after this rencounter with the hunting party, he received accounts that General Monk had sent four English and two Scotch Colonels, with a number of other officers and attendants, to survey the estates of the Lairds of Macnaughton, Maclachlan, and those of some other loyalists in Argyleshire, and that they intended to build forts to keep down the King's friends. Lochiel resolved to interrupt their design, and assist his friends. He picked out 100 chosen men of his clan, and marched to Argyleshire, keeping the tops of the hills to prevent a discovery, but at the same time sending notice of his intentions to the Laird of Macnaughton, who accordingly met him on the hills behind Ardkinglass. He then gave him the welcome intelligence that all the officers were to be the following night at a house on the side of Lochfyne, with a strong guard of soldiers, as they were to commence their operations of surveying and taking possession of the estates. He accordingly made his dispositions, which were so well understood by his people, and executed with such skill, activity, and success, that the officers and soldiers were all taken and carried, without halting, to the Camerons' country, and placed in security before they had recovered from the surprise which their unexpected capture had occasioned. The officers were at first terrified at falling into the hands of such a savage people, from whom their friends had suffered so much, and of whose ferocity they had heard so many tales. In this expectation, however, they were greatly and agreeably disappointed. Their treatment was kind and gentle. Lochiel contributed to make their time pass agreeably, and formed different hunting matches in the Highland style for their amusement. This brought on an intimacy, in the course of which they recommended a treaty with the General. But he declared he would never submit to their canting, hypocritical, and ambitious Protector. He resisted several attempts to prevail with him to yield, and although he was most anxious for an honourable treaty, as his country was impoverished, and his people nearly ruined, he continued to protest, that rather than disarm himself and his clan, abjure his King, and take oaths to a usurper, he would live as an outlaw without regard to the consequences. To this it was answered, that if he only showed an inclination to submit, no oath would be required, and he should have his own terms. Soon afterwards General Monk, the Commander-in-Chief in Scotland, drew up certain conditions, and sent them to Lochiel, who made a few slight alterations, and sent them back by Colonel Campbell of —, [I have heard two or three gentlemen of Argyleshire mentioned as the person who was prisoner, and carried the letter to General Monk at Dalkeith; but not being certain which of those mentioned was the person, I decline giving any names.] one of the prisoners released on parole, to General Monk, with his acceptance;—and well he might accept of them, for they were of the following honourable tenor, as we learn from General Monk's letter:

"No oath was required of Lochiel to Cromwell, but his word of honour to live in peace. He and his clan were allowed to keep their arms, as before the war broke out; they behaving peaceably. Reparation was to be made to Lochiel for the wood cut by the garrison of Inverlochay. A full indemnity was granted for all acts of depredation, and crimes committed by his men. Reparation was to be made to the tenants for all the losses they sustained from the troops. All tithes, cess, and public burdens which had not been paid, to be remitted." All that General Monk demanded of Lochiel was, that he and his men should lay down their arms in the name of King Charles II., before the garrison of Inverlochay, and take them up again in name of the States, without mentioning the Protector, and that he would afterwards keep the peace, pay public burdens, and suppress all tumults and depredations.

Such was the reward of his chivalrous gallantry, unconquerable zeal, and honourable fidelity to the cause he had espoused. The day the treaty was to be signed, Lochiel drew up his men in companies, led by the heads of the most respectable families of the clan, such as Cameron of Glenevis, Callart, Lindevra, Errach, Dungallon, &c. marched to Inverlochay as if going to battle, with pipes playing, and colours flying, and formed them in line in front of the garrison, while the troops marched out to receive them in the same manner. The commanders saluted each other as friends, the treaty was read, the ceremony of laying down and taking up the arms performed, and both parties dined together, the Governor having prepared a great entertainment for the occasion. This was in June 1654.

Lochiel and the Camerons lived in peace till the Restoration. The celebrity which the name of Cameron had acquired, the respect in which the character of the Chief was held, and his readiness always to redress the grievances of his clan, and to prevent encroachments on his property, formed the best guarantee of a permanent peace.

Lochiel joined the standard of King James in 1689, although General Mackay offered him, by orders of King William, a title and a large sum of money; and at the battle of Renrorie, (or Killiecrankie, as it is called in English), he had a conspicuous share in the success of the day. Before the battle, he spoke to each of his men individually, and took their promise that they would conquer or die. When General Mackay's army shouted at the commencement of the action, Lochiel cried out, "Gentlemen, the day is our own; I am the oldest commander in the army, and I have always observed something ominous or fatal on such a dull, heavy, feeble noise, as the enemy made in their shout." These words spreading quickly through the army, animated the troops: they rushed on the enemy, and the battle was finished, as has been already noticed, in half an hour. After this battle, Lochiel, disgusted with the want of capacity of Colonel Cannon, who succeeded Lord Dundee, retired to Lochaber, and left the command of his men to his son. This chivalrous hero, and honourable chief, died in 1718, in the 89th year of his age. [Energetic and active as was the mind of Sir Ewen Cameron, it yielded to the inroads of age. Some years before his death he became a perfect child, and was rocked to sleep in a kind of hammock, or cradle.]

He was thrice married—first to a daughter of Macdonald of Sleate, a second time to a daughter of Maclean of Dow-art, and a third time to a daughter of Barclay of Urie; and, as it is an honour to be descended from such a man, and as I have so much of what is called Highland superstition about me, as to wish that his descendants, like the ancient Gael, would believe themselves bound to support the honourable character of their ancestor, and be, like him, loyal, high-spirited, and independent—disdaining to sub-rait to oppression, or to accept of dishonourable terms, I now subjoin the names of the gentlemen to whom the daughters were married. By his three wives he had four sons and eleven daughters. The eldest of the daughters was married to Macgregor Drummond of Balhaldie, the second to Maclean of Ardgour, the third to a brother of Sir Donald Macdonald of Sleate, the fourth to Grant of Glen-moriston, the fifth to Cameron of Glendessary, the sixth to Macpherson of Clunie, the seventh to Cameron of Dungal-lon, the eighth to Campbell of Barcaldine, the ninth to Campbell of Achallader, the tenth to Barclay of Urie, and: the eleventh to Macdonald of Morer. His four sons also married and had families, and as each of his daughters had also several sons and daughters, his progeny must have been numerous at his death.

A narrative, such as the foregoing, may, as I have already said, appear somewhat out of place in filling up the service of a fencible regiment; but as few corps can boast of a service displaying such courage and enterprise, I cannot, at least it appears to me that I cannot, produce any example more worthy the imitation of the clan. Various causes and circumstances, which have had too great prevalence in the Highlands, have contributed to thin the name of Cameron, in the glens where this spirit of independence originated, and was cherished and preserved till a very late period.

Should the circumstances of the times, at any future period, render it necessary to arm his clan, and should there be so many left as would furnish a body of them, sufficiently numerous to establish for themselves a distinct character—that character, whether good or the reverse, will be their own. But they should remember, that the undaunted courage of their ancestors was productive of peace to their district, restitution of all their losses, and security and happiness for a long succession of years.

Part of the account of Lochiel's campaigns is taken from a manuscript preserved in the family, and the rest from tradition ; but tradition so uniformly and so fully confirmed, that there cannot be a doubt of the correctness of the details. Lord Glencairn's and General Middleton's letters, General Monk's frequent attempts to enter into a friendly alliance with Lochiel, and his last letter, dated at Dalkeith, stating the terms of the treaty, are sufficient proofs of the facts. The treaty itself, with a great number of curious family papers, was unfortunately destroyed when Lochiel's castle was burnt in 1746.

The military duty of the last Lochaber regiment was short. In 1800, the corps was removed to Ireland, and remaining there till 1802, returned to Scotland that year, and was reduced in the month of July at Linlithgow.

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