Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

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

National Corps and Highland Garb

Although so much has been already said about national corps, distinguished by their garb, or otherwise, I may still add a few observations on the effect the Highland regiments have had in directing the notice of the public to the military character of Scotland, which is now so much blended with the sister kingdom, that, while we hear of the English Parliament, and the English Navy and Army, Scotland is never once mentioned. In the great naval victories of Britain, we have never heard of Scotch sailors; and were it not for those corps distinguished by national marks, the northern part of the kingdom would have been as low in military as in naval fame, and as unnoticed at Alexandria and Waterloo as at Aboukir and Trafalgar. In Keith's and Campbell's corps in Germany in the Seven Years' War, 1200 Highlanders gave celebrity to the warlike character of Scotland; at the same time that, calculating from the usual proportions, there were at least 3000 Scotch soldiers intermixed with the English regiments under Prince Ferdinand; but, although each of these men had been as brave as Julius Caesar, we should never have heard a syllable of Scotland. Fortunately, however, there was no mistaking "the brave band of Highlanders," with their plaids and broadswords. The assault of St Sebastian was most desperate, and called forth stronger proofs of resistless intrepidity and perseverance, than almost any other achievement in the Peninsular Campaigns. On that occasion there were (besides the commander, General Graham of Balgowan, Generals James Leith, John Oswald, Andrew Hay, and many others) three times the number of Scotch officers and soldiers belonging to the different regiments engaged, that there was at Arroyos de Molinos, where the Gordon Highlanders were engaged, and where a detachment of the French army was surprised and dispersed. This was a mere skirmish in comparison of the assault at St Sebastian, in which Scotland was never mentioned, while the other affair, in which the men were distinguished by the Highland garb, is introduced into the ballads of the country, and the tune of "Hey Johnnie Cope" has gained additional celebrity by being played that morning, when the piper struck up the advance, in quick time, to the attack. It is well known that no regiment was more distinguished in the Duke of Wellington's campaigns than the late 94th, or Scotch Brigade, a great proportion of the men, and two-thirds of the officers of which were Scotch, and yet that courage, of which the French saw so many examples, never furnished them with one idea favourable or unfavourable to Scotland; because the Scotchmen had not a distinguishing mark. Neither the enemy nor our allies could know from what country they came. In short, if there were no Scotch regiments, and no Highland uniform, we should hear no more of the military character than we do of the naval exploits of Scotland. There might be, as there always have been, many individual instances of distinguished merit, but there would be no national character.

Few regiments are more purely Scotch than the Greys have ever been; and it is a curious fact, that in no part of Scotland is the broad Scotch dialect spoken in greater purity [Perhaps they retain a kind of regimental dialect, coeval with the formation of the regiment, when the language was very different from the present Scotch. Is it from a similar cause, that in the Scotch Brigade in Holland, and in the Irish Brigades in Austria and France, the national accent and pronunciation were found remarkable for strength and peculiarity?] than by the soldiers of this regiment, which has now for 144 years reflected honour on the south, as the Highland corps have more recently on the north of Scotland. It is a question whether there ever has been twenty Highlanders in the regiment since the first formation under General Dalzell in 1681. When the invincible charges made by this regiment at Waterloo called forth the admiration of Buonaparte, who exclaimed, "Qu'ils sont terribles ces Chevaux Gris," he knew not of what country they were. But, when he saw the Gordon Highlanders, in their kilts and bonnets, charge his solid columns, he at one glance discovered their country, and, while they contributed so much to blast his earthly glory, he could not suppress his admiration of "Les braves Ecossais."

If the men of the Black Watch had been distributed among other regiments in the year 1740, instead of being kept together as a separate corps, and if no Highland corps had been subsequently formed, the extent to which the Scotch retain the martial character of their ancestors would have been unknown. But this individualization of national corps has afforded a fair opportunity of appreciating character. The regiments who served under Gustavus Adolphus, and the brigades who were in the service of Holland, reflected honour on the Scottish name. National corps are accordingly respected to this day. In Scotland this feeling is still strong, and many look back with sentiments of additional esteem for the memory, and respect to the sagacity, of the Lord President Forbes, who contemplated these advantages, and first proposed their establishment in the North.

Except in two instances in the Duke of Marlborough's campaigns, where the Greys are mentioned, Scotland or Scotch soldiers are no more noticed than the soldiers of the ancient kingdom of the Picts, nor are they mentioned in the later battles of Dettingen, Minden, &c. In one word, were it not for these national bodies of men in distinct corps, Scotland must look back to the days of Wallace, Bruce, Chevy Chase, Flodden, and the campaigns of Montrose, for its military character. In the Highlands, indeed, there have been insulated cases, such as that of Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel; while the events of 1745 and 1746 gave the clans some opportunities of showing their courage; but undisciplined, almost unarmed, and without the confidence inspired by the consciousness of supporting a legal, (although they believed it to be an honourable) cause, they were in many respects unfortunate; and in the last struggle at Culloden, were brought into the field under great disadvantages. It is to after times, therefore, that we are to look for the consolidation of the present military character of Scotland; and although the people of this country cannot talk of their sailors or their ships, they can look to their soldiers and regiments without a blush, and exhibit them as a sample of the national character. Now, where could the sample be found in sufficient numbers to form a proper estimate, were it not for corps so marked that they could not be mistaken? When these national corps were properly constituted; when men believed that the preservation or loss of their own character was reflected on their corps and native country, the effect was conspicuous. The dress, too, had its influence, not only on the soldiers, but on individuals, in reviving and maintaining a love of their country.

[When the late Gordon Fencibles were reviewed in 1794 by his Majesty in Hyde Park, an old friend of mine, a native of the Highlands, which he had left in early life, resided in London. At the commencement of the French Revolution, he imbibed many of the new opinions, became an imaginary citizen of the world, and would not allow that he had any country. When the Highland regiment was reviewed, he refused to accompany a friend to the review, saying, in his usual style, that he had no country or countrymen, and that good men only, friends of liberty and independence, were his countrymen. However, he was prevailed upon to go; and when he saw the regiment, the plaids, and the bonnets, and heard the sound of the bagpipes, the memory of former days returned with such force, that his heart swelled, his eyes filled with tears, and bursting away from his friend, he exclaimed, "I have a country, after all: the sight of these poor fellows has given me a truer lesson than all my boasted philosophy." Ever afterwards, he used to smile at his sudden conversion, and never missed an opportunity of visiting his native country.]

The only Highland regiment we have, who can look back to deeds in former wars, is the 42d. Even the few English and Irish who have latterly been found in the ranks, have been roused and warmed by recollecting the character of their predecessors, (though not of their country), but which, at the same time, they considered themselves bound to support. How much greater, then, must be the effect of this talisman, if properly applied by an officer of judgment, to the feelings of mountaineers, in all countries enthusiastically attached to their native land? The Black Watch was established in the days of our great-grandfathers, and we have heard our fathers and grandfathers speak with enthusiasm of the manly and chivalrous virtues and personal appearance of these men. Hence it is, that in the North the people look with the same respect and regard to this corps, as they do to their ancestors and to men. of their own blood and kindred. There are few who have not at some period had a relation who served in it, and it is no doubt from this circumstance, that so much regret is expressed at the introduction of strangers into the regiment of their forefathers, as the 42d is called. With respect to the Highland regiments in general, if mixed with other men, however brave and excellent soldiers they may be, the charm, as I have noticed in another place, is broken, the incentive is gone; they are no longer the representatives of the sons of the Gael. Of this the Highlanders think with deep feeling, and dread that, if their national corps are broken up, no national standard of Scotch military character will remain. If the Greys, the Royal Scots, the two Inniskilling regiments, cavalry and infantry, the Scotch and Welsh Fusileers, the Connaught Rangers, and the Highland regiments, are preserved distinct, each county or district connected with those corps will have something on which to found a military character, and to prevent them from being lost in the general name of Britain. Then the proper pride which delights in the honour of a native country will encourage emulation, stimulate to the achievement of honourable actions, and tend to preserve the best principles, in opposition to the modern ideas of being citizens of the world, without any predilection or partiality for any country.

If such views accord with the opinion of those who have the power either to suppress or preserve distinct corps, it is desirable that measures were adopted to prevent the introduction of men from any other than the districts the names of which they bear. [It would certainly be desirable, that, while there are national or district corps, they should be so in reality, and not assume a name and garb unsuited to the birth, habits, and character of the soldiers. When Highland gentlemen complain of a surplus population on their estates, it were well that officers commanding Highland regiments sent recruiting parties to other places besides the disaffected districts in Ireland. If corps are to be distinguished by names, the Inniskillings and Connaught Rangers should get their ranks filled from Ireland, the Welsh Fusileers from Wales, the Greys, Royal Scotch, Royal Borderers, &c. from the south and centre of Scotland, and the Highland corps from within their mountain boundaries.] We have seen that, in the Highlands, the most beneficial effects resulted from the belief, that a man had not only his own character to support, but that of his clan and country. When turbulent, uncivilized, and without laws, their simple institutions, founded on love of country and kindred, and desire to maintain their honour and good name, was sufficient to make a man die on the spot rather than yield to an enemy. This belief also controlled the vicious and the mean, and produced many estimable traits of character. Might not the same result be expected in more civilized life, when the harsher features have been softened down or removed? Might not men believe that, in supporting a good name, they ought to look beyond self-interest and self-preservation? Such has been the case in Highland corps, when a call to remember their country, their honour, and their duty, elicited a display of courage, and produced a line of conduct not always seen in cases where no such stimulating excitement exists.

Such are the views taken of this subject by many people in the North; and, unless measures are adopted to show that the national corps will be preserved distinct in the same manner as the 42d was in former times, recruiting parties of other regiments need not now assume the disguise of the Highland uniform in order to induce men to inlist. The feeling of respect which facilitated that deception is still so strong, not only in the North, but in many distant parts of the world, that, in cases where the misconduct or disobedience of the Highland soldier is mentioned, it has generally called forth an expression of surprise, as a thing wholly unexpected, and which must have arisen from some cause of no common description. Inquiry is made into the cause—explanations are asked to account for this dereliction from general character. This sentiment being so strong, and so universal, it must surely be an object of importance to preserve the characteristic feeling, both moral and warlike, on which it is founded; more especially when the thing is not only simple and harmless in itself, but productive of the happiest consequences.

It has been remarked by high authority, that, in the late campaigns, the Highland corps showed an unbecoming jealousy of each other; and this feeling was, it seems, carried to such an extent as to cause some to doubt the wisdom of preserving them distinct; while others, again, pretended to detect in it symptoms of the degeneracy of the Highland character, and the absence of that spirit which marked the earlier regiments from the North.

Having been employed in a distant part of the world, during the greater part of the late Continental campaigns, I had little means of observing personally the nature and extent of this jealousy, or whether it existed at all. But I can safely affirm, that the feeling, if there be any such, is recent, and has more probably proceeded from an abandonment of the ancient system, than from the observance of it. So little attention had in fact been paid, even to the outward appearance of the soldiers of these corps, that, in some instances, the name was the only character of nationality they possessed; and the obvious absurdity of retaining the name alone, has very properly occasioned the change of denomination and garb.

[When a Highland regiment was reviewed by an illustrious personage some years ago, he remarked, that they might be very good and very true Highlanders, but apparently they exhibited no characteristic of Scotland except the officers' bonnets. It was certainly high time to change the designation of this corps.

The importance Government attached to the dress, and to its influence on the feelings and habits of the people, will be seen by the extraordinary oath administered to the Highlanders in the year 1747. If, therefore, the Highland garb is to be preserved in corps, the innovations introduced by commanding officers should be checked, and a warlike national uniform not rendered ridiculous by any absurd alteration, or desire to exhibit something new, that may strike the fancy of commanders.

The effect of this garb on the Highlanders, even of the present day, is curious. However clownish a young man appears in his pantaloons walking with a heavy awkward gait, and downcast look, if he dresses in the kilt and bonnet on a Sunday, he assumes a kind of new character, holds his head erect, throws his shoulders back, and walks with a strut and mien that might become a Castilian, or a knight of Old Spain.]

In Keith's and Campbell's Highlanders, in Germany, and in the 42d, Montgomerie's, and Fraser's Highlanders, during the Seven Years' war, the only rivalry or jealousy was, who should be the most successful against the common enemy. During the American War it was the same with the 42d, Fraser's, Macdonald's, and all the Highland regiments. Each corps was eager to promote the fair fame of the others. It was "clan na Gael guallen,". &c. the sons of the Gael, arm to arm, shoulder to shoulder, all in mutual support. It will be recollected, that, when Macdonald's Highlanders joined Lord Cornwallis's army in Virginia they bitterly lamented that they were compelled to return home, without having had an opportunity like Fraser's of distinguishing themselves. "They looked down upon themselves in comparison of their more fortunate countrymen, of whose gallantry they had heard so much." But not a whisper was heard of any jealousy, and nothing but an emulous desire to acquire and deserve the same name. In Sir Ralph Abercromby's expedition to Egypt, the same cordiality and friendship existed between the 42d, 79th, and 92d Highlanders. The 92d was brought forward in the action of the 13th, and the 42d was in the first line on the 21st of March, and each rejoiced and congratulated the other on their good fortune in being so placed, and the opportunity they had of facing the brave, the numerous, and hitherto almost invincible enemy immediately opposed to them. But who ever heard of so much as an allusion to such ungenerous jealousies as have been lately spoken of? It has also been remarked, with what truth I know not, that, in some cases, a few of the soldiers, and, perhaps, some of the officers, have indulged themselves in speaking of their own deeds. These should be left to the notice of others, who are better, at least, more impartial judges. The world has shown every disposition to do full justice to the military actions of the Highland regiments. In this justice and discrimination they should confide; and if individuals choose to put forth their own actions or those of their corps, they may rest assured they will lose more than they will gain by every such assumption of merit,

The popularity which the Highland regiments obtained in former wars, and the ease with which their ranks were filled, induced several noblemen and gentlemen to attempt raising regiments in the same manner, habited in the ancient Celtic garb. Government having given great encouragement to the measure, more Highland corps were embodied than what, perhaps, the districts whose name they bore could supply with men in the consumption of an active and lengthened warfare, when great numbers entered into other corps, and engaged in other avocations,—the consequence of the spirit of improvement and speculation that rose and increased with the war. It was therefore found necessary, as has been more than once mentioned, to change the designation and garb of six Highland regiments, and assimilate them to the English uniform. But now, when there are only five Highland regiments, a sufficient supply of men for the vacancies occasioned by natural casualties, (which in healthy stations must be few) ought to be obtained from a country containing, as is said, a surplus population. But that a difficulty of doing this exists, is evident from the circumstance of Highland regiments having recruiting parties in Edinburgh, Glasgow, &c. Various causes may be assigned for this seeming want of patriotism and disinclination to a military life among the Highlanders.

[I shall have occasion to mention a supposed want of military spirit noticed by different writers. Sir George Mackenzie, in a Report of the County of Ross, says, "The Highlanders are trumpeted forth as our only resource for soldiers, whilst it is notorious that the inhabitants have a strong aversion to a military life. " In the Islands, also, the military spirit is asserted to be so completely broken, that, according to Dr Macculloch, who states that he speaks from abundant information, "it may be truly said, that the population of 60,000 Highland insulars, which, according to the ordinary average of European military supply, would have afforded 600 soldiers, was defended, during the late war, by the artizans and manufacturers of England and the low country." Such, on the authority of these writers, and of others whom it is not necessary to mention, is the low state of patriotism and courage among the once chivalrous, warlike, and high-minded Highlanders. The time has been when they were not afraid or unwilling to defend themselves or their country without the assistance of Perth, Paisley, or Manchester weavers.]

I shall notice one which materially influences successful recruiting; and that is, the idle and too general reports of the destruction of lives in the Highland regiments. It has been stated in newspapers, and firmly believed in the North, that, during twelve years of the late war, nearly 14,000 men were killed or disabled in the 42d alone; when, in fact, the whole number which belonged to the regiment in a service of seventy-five years, was only 8792. [See Appendix] The 79th and other Highland corps are said to have suffered in the same manner. So firm and prevalent is this belief, that, when young men enter those regiments, it is considered much the same as if sentence of death had been passed upon them. Now, allowing young men a fair share of courage and military ardour, they may hesitate to enter on duties where death is said to be the certain consequence; and even should they evince an inclination for the army, they will find their families and friends decidedly hostile to their wishes. This would not be the case, nor would arguments be used to damp the spirit of young men, if the truth were known. But so misled are the people on these points, that they believe the 42d left 500 men dead on the field at Fontenoy, although only 30 were killed; that half the regiment fell at Alexandria, (only 48 were killed); and that more than 500 men were destroyed at Quatre Bras and Waterloo, when, in fact, there were only 40 men killed in the one and 5 in the other. This prejudiced view of the subject does not give full play to the military spirit of young men; and while it principally originates in the idle vanity of young soldiers, who talk loudly of the heavy lists of killed and wounded, under an erroneous idea, that the more men killed in battle, the greater credit to those engaged; when, in fact, it is quite the reverse. With a few exceptions in peculiar emergencies, as that of the 42d at Ticonderoga and Alexandria, their loss has in no manner exceeded that of other regiments, and in many cases has been much less,—as at Fontenoy, where they were engaged in almost every part of the field where the greatest resistance and danger were expected, and at last covered the retreat, and kept the enemy at a respectful distance; and all this with the trifling loss just mentioned, while other regiments, who were almost stationary, never charged the enemy, or resisted a charge, sustained a loss five times greater than that of the Highlanders.

In the late war of twenty-one years, ending in 1814, the number killed of the 42d regiment amounted to 235, of the 78th (first battalion) to 103, of the 79th to 89, of the 92d to 181, and of the 93d to 60; in all, 668 men of these five regiments killed in battle. The number of men who served in these five regiments was about 20,500, of whom 668 have, in twenty-one years, been lost to their country by the hand of the enemy, being nearly in the proportion of 1 man of every 30; or, taking the compound ratio of the numbers, (20,500), and of the time (twenty-one years), the proportion of killed to the sum total of men would be as 1 to 661 annually. If 1 man out of every 30 had been killed annually instead of in twenty-one years, the war would not have been so bloody as it has often been called. It is fortunate for the military character of this country that the scale is so moderate; for, so far from a long list of casualties being a proof of bravery, it is generally a proof of the very reverse. The greatest loss is almost always sustained in a defeat, and more are wounded when men are stationary, or in a slow and hesitating advance, than in a bold and rapid attack. Experience has shown, and in nine cases out of ten it will be found, that numerous wounds inflicted on individuals have usually been received when they were not in their proper place in their corps, but either in the rear, out of the line of their duty, or separated by some means from their comrades. When men boldly face their enemy in a compact body, in close support of each other, they are so equally exposed to danger, that it is very rare indeed for any individual to receive many more wounds than those close to him. If officers and soldiers keep steady with the body of their regiment, there will be less danger, and fewer wounds, than if they allow themselves to be separated. When men are in a line, for example, the enemy's shot, after passing it, can do no farther mischief, the surface exposed being rendered less by the linear formation. But when men are broken and separated, they become like the pieces on a chess board; the shot which passes one will hit another, and the same shot may thus disable a considerable number of individuals. By firing into the rabble of a crowd, more men will suffer than by firing against the same individuals, at the same given distance, after these individuals have been drawn up in military array,

When men talk of heavy loss sustained in battle, it should be remembered, that the smaller the loss the greater the honour, if successful, and, vice versa, the more loss the less honour. The killed and wounded of a Native army in India, in the time of Hyder Ali, would carry away the palm from the bloodiest of our battles; yet we do not find that the great losses of the army of the Sultan were considered as a proof of courage or military conduct. On the contrary, they are considered as improving in military skill when they fight with smaller loss than formerly. The French understand these matters well; and while they loudly proclaim their victories, and omit nothing that can give them an air of importance, they do not talk of their losses, nor endeavour to swell them by detailing every casualty, however trifling, afraid lest any should escape notice. They act differently; and justly believing that victory is more valuable, and more honourable, if gained with small loss, they rather lessen than exaggerate the amount. Hence, by the country and the army being told that their battles are easily won, an idea of great superiority is entertained.

Many men are cool, collected, and firm, whatever the danger may be; nothing, on the other hand, makes some men more brave, than when they think there is no danger. Hence we may discover one cause of the rapidity with which the ranks of the French army were so easily and so frequently completed, even after their most disastrous defeats. Would young men have served so readily had they been told that the enemy annihilated a whole corps in one battle, and that one regiment lost near 14,000 men in the course of twelve years? Would they not have also been startled, and felt hesitation in joining a regiment called, as the 42d has been in the Highlands, the "graves of the brave," or, in more homely language, "the slaughterhouse of the youth of the North?" Such accounts of death and destruction disparage and deteriorate the national character. They are unjust towards our brave troops, damp their ardour, check recruiting, and would lower their military fame, were it true that they cannot overcome an enemy without great destruction to themselves. How different this Is from the fact, will be seen by reference to Maida, Salamanca, Vittoria, Quatre Bras; in short, to every occasion where the troops have been led on with judgment and spirit, or have not been met by overwhelming numbers. At Maida, only 1 man out of every 104 engaged was killed; at Salamanca, 1 out of 90; at Vittoria, 1 out of 74; and at Quatre Bras, 1 out of 40.

[In our navy all the great victories have also been gained with small comparative loss, while that of the enemy was frequently great beyond all proportion. The loss in some of the single actions was hardly worth notice, except in the great superiority proved by a comparison of the number which fell on each side. In the instance of the Guerrier frigate, captured by Captain, Robert Barlow, with only 11 killed and wounded, the loss of the French frigate was about 300 men. The Guerrier, to be sure, was crowded with men, but still no disparity of numbers could balance the difference of killed and wounded. This must have proceeded from the ability with which the commander manoeuvred his ship, the courage and coolness of the officers and sailors, and the precision with which they took their aim. In Lord Howe's battle of the 1st of June 1794, the number of British engaged was 26 sail of the line, with 17,000 men. Of these 281 were killed; that is, in the proportion of nearly 1 to 60. In Lord Bridport's action of the 23d of June 1795, there were 14 sail, with about 10,000 men, of whom 115 were killed, or 1 of 87 of those present. In the action off Cape St Vincent's, there were 15 sail, with about 10,000 men, of whom 75 were killed, being 1 to 156. In Lord Duncan's action, on the 11th of October 1797, there were 16 sail, (including two 50's), with about 8,000 men, of whom 191 were killed; being as 1 to 41 of those in action. In the battle of the Nile there were 14 sail of the line, with about 8,000 men, of whom 218 were killed, or 1 in 36. In Lord Nelson's attack on Copenhagen, 1801, there were 11 sail of the line and 5 frigates engaged with about 7,000 men, of whom 254 were killed, or 1 in 39. In the battle of Trafalgar, there were 27 sail, with about 17,000 men, of whom 412 were killed, being as 1 to 41; and in this proportion was the loss in almost all other actions of the year 1793 and 1811. In the last action, that of Algiers, there were 5 sail of the line, and 5 frigates, with about 4850 men, of whom 131 were killed, being as 1 to 37, a heavier loss than any of the others; but this is to be attributed to the ships being exposed to the fire of batteries, and not to any difference in firmness or manner of fighting.]

Without noticing fractions, these are the proportions, and they cannot be called deadly. Wherever British troops have sustained a heavy loss, it has been occasioned, in four cases out of five, by some untoward accident, some error in judgment, or some unexpected obstruction. The only instance in which Fraser's Highlanders of the American War gave way before an enemy was at Cowpens in South Carolina. In this case, the loss was treble the amount of that in any other of those severe struggles in which that brave and estimable corps was engaged during the war, and in all of which, except the one just mentioned, the enemy were defeated. The loss of the 42d at Toulouse was principally occasioned by the inadvertency of occupying a wrong position; and at Quatre Bras, the greatest loss was sustained by permitting the enemy's cavalry to come too near, from an impression that they were Belgians,—a mistake originating in the similarity of their respective uniforms. Both at Quatre Bras and Waterloo, the casualties of the Cameron and Gordon Highlanders, in resisting the most desperate charges of the enemy, and in the rapid advances by which they were driven back, were light. It was from the succeeding desultory and distant firing,—a mode of warfare in which the French excel,—that the men suffered so severely. Had circumstances permitted, and had it been possible to support the corps who fought independently at Quatre Bras, there is not a doubt, that they would have completely repulsed the enemy with very little comparative loss. Hence, while reports of great losses, which are seldom well founded, check recruiting, lower the character of our troops, and raise the confidence of the enemy, the extreme correctness with which our lists of casualties are frequently drawn up may be noticed. It is certainly impossible to object to correctness, but perhaps it is going beyond the mark, to include all trilling scratches and bruises which no way disable men from the performance of their duty. Instances have occurred where reported losses were so quickly replaced, without an additional recruit, as to seem like resurrections,—as, indeed, they have been sometimes called. Few will be disposed to believe, that our troops fight less desperately at present than they did sixty or seventy years ago; yet a comparison of the killed and wounded in different battles might lead to such an inference. In many of the engagements of the late war, the wounded have been six to one of the killed, and in some cases ten and twelve to one. At Fontenoy the amount of the killed and wounded was 1269 of the former, and 2141 of the latter, officers included. At Culloden, where there was some desperate fighting, the Athole brigade had 19 officers killed and 4 wounded, and Stewart of Appin's regiment had 14 officers killed and 11 wounded, with men in. nearly the same proportion. Now, the difference of the present proportions of wounded to killed may in part be ascribed to the over accuracy of our reports. [On two occasions, my reports of wounded were returned for correction. 1 had included those only who required surgical aid, and had not mentioned one man with a contusion in his great toe, nor another whose arm had been grazed by a musquet ball, nor, indeed, any of those whose wounds were so slight as not to cause the loss of an hour's duty.] In distant firing, wounds may be more numerous, but they will in general be less severe, and, as has been already stated, the fewer killed, the more honourable the victory. If a racehorse gain the stakes with ease, his superiority is greatly enhanced. If a cool and scientific boxer repel every blow of his opponent, and cover him with blood and bruises, while he suffers little himself, his prowess is established.

When the British lost 41 men killed at Maida, and the enemy more than 1300 buried in the field, both armies consisting of disciplined troops, (and there being a great superiority of numbers on the part of the enemy), on a fair field, without any natural advantage on either side,—to whom should the palm of superiority be awarded? And would this superiority be so conspicuous had the British had 1300 killed, and wounded in proportion? Their victory would have been so dearly bought, that another such would have been their ruin, [After the battle of Malplaquet, Marshal Villars, in his dispatch, consoles the King of France, that, by six more such victories as the English had gained, they would be destroyed.] whereas they were quite ready, the same evening, to follow up the blow, while the enemy were entirely scattered, cowed, and totally unable to show themselves. So completely was their spirit broken, that whenever a man with a red coat appeared, they fled with precipitation and terror. [Several instances of this occurred. Two days after the action, a corporal and three soldiers, escorting General Stuart's baggage, mistook their road, and, instead of taking that to Monte Leone, followed the road to Cotrona, on which a corps of the enemy had retreated, and were resting themselves in a field near a rising ground. When the corporal was seen advancing on the summit, a cry of "The English are coming, the English are coining!" was passed, and without waiting to see their number or strength, the enemy instantly fled. The corporal, seeing his mistake, and perhaps equally alarmed, retired by the road he had advanced, and followed the proper route.] These were the consequences of the heavy loss they had sustained in the battle.

But let it not be believed that I argue in this manner from any apprehension of diminished courage. If our soldiers are commanded by men who understand their character, and can work upon their feelings, they will prove, that, if placed in front of an enemy on equal terms, they will conquer, as their predecessors have frequently done, with a loss so small, as not to lessen their strength in any material degree, or to disable them from pursuing their future operations.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus