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


HH, Page 247.  Remarkable Instance of Military Talent exhibited both in the Plans of the Commanders; and in their Execution

As instances of the disposition of the Highlanders for war, and of the facility with which, in the most untoward circumstances, they comprehended and executed very difficult operations, I give the following details of some occurrences in Athole during the Rebellion of 1745. The actors were a few country gentlemen and their tenants, none of whom had ever faced an enemy till the battles of Prestonpans and Falkirk. Some time previous to the month of March 1746, when the district of Athole was garrisoned by the 21st, or Scotch Fusileers, and another regiment, under the command of the veteran Sir Andrew Agnew, with a battalion of the Campbells, or Argyllshire Highlanders, Lord George Murray, commander-in-chief of the rebel army, wishing to dislodge those troops, and relieve his native district from their pillage and oppressions, marched from Inverness-shire into Athole with a battalion of the Athole Brigade, and, as they passed through Badenoch, took along with him 300 Macphersons, under their chief, the Laird of Clunie. Halting at Dalnaspidel, [It was on this spot the Camerons, under Lochiel, and the Atholemen. attacked Cromwell's troops in 1653. See Article Lochaber Fencibles.] opposite Lochgarry, near the confines of Athole, on the evening of the 16th of March, he divided his men into a number of parties, and sent them off by different routes to attack and surprise all the posts occupied by the King's troops ; many of the gentlemen's houses in the country, besides other stations, having small garrisons. Lord George marched to the Bridge of Bruar, two miles west from Blair Castle, the head-quarters of Sir Andrew Agnew, and waited the return of his detached parties. About break of day, and before any of them had joined at the place of rendezvous, he was informed, as related by Home in his History of the Rebellion, that "Sir Andrew Agnew had got his men under arms, and was coming to see who it was that had attacked his posts. When Lord George and Clunie received this notice, they had along with them only twenty-five private men, and some elderly gentlemen. They consulted together what should be done. Some advised that they should make the best of their way to Drummachtor; others were of opinion that it would be better to mount the hills that were nearest, and make their retreat where they could not be followed. Lord George differed from all who gave this opinion." If I quit my post, (said he), all the parties I have sent out will fall into the hands of the enemy. It was daylight, but the sun was not up. Lord George, looking earnestly about him, observed a fold dike, (that is, a wall of turf), which had been begun as a fence for cattle, and left unfinished. He ordered his men to follow him, and draw up behind the dike, at such a distance one from another, that they might make a great show, having the colours of both regiments flying in the front. He then gave orders to the pipers (for he had with him the pipers both of the Atholemen and the Macphersons) to keep their eyes fixed on the rood from Blair, and the moment they saw the soldiers appear, to strike up with all their bagpipes at once. It happened that the regiments came in sight just as the sun rose, and that instant the pipers began to play one of their most noisy pibrochs. Lord George and his Highlanders, both officers and men, drawing their swords, brandished them about their heads. Sir Andrew, after gazing a while at this spectacle, ordered his men to the right about, and marched them back to the Castle of Blair. Lord George kept his post till several of his parties came in ; and as soon as he had collected three or four hundred men, secure of victory, and certain that his numbers would very soon be greater, he marched to Blair, and invested the castle. When all the parties had come in and made their report, it appeared that no less than twenty posts, great and small, had been attacked between three o'clock and five in the morning, and all of them carried."

[My grandfather's house was one of those attacked on that night. It was garrisoned by a captain and 100 men of the 21st regiment, and a detachment of the Argyle Highlanders. The rebels rushed on the picquets, and took them prisoners without the least noise. Proceeding to the stables and out-houses, where some of the men slept, they seized upon them in succession. Those in the house knew not what passed till they heard the noise, and saw the court in front of the house full of men, threatening to set it on fire if they did not surrender. After some parley they capitulated without a person being hurt on either side, except an unlucky girl, the (laughter of one of the drummers of the 21st regiment, who slept in the house. When she heard the noise, she ran to one of the windows to look out, and being mistaken in the dark for an enemy, she was killed by a shot from the outside. The party who attacked was commanded by Mr Stewart of Bohallie, whom I have frequently mentioned.]

Here we have a body of men taken from their ploughs, or from tending their sheep and cattle, and commanded by a few country gentlemen, without the least military experience; with nothing but the natural genius for war which marked the Highland character of that age, planning and successfully executing a combination of attacks and surprises of posts, several of which were strong and defensible, being ancient houses of gentlemen, having thick walls, small windows and loop-holes, and being defended by disciplined troops. Their operations were conducted with such secrecy, dispatch, and address, and each party marched with such precision to the different points of attack, that the whole were carried within the hours appointed, although they had to cross large and rapid rivers, high mountains, and deep glens, and although several of the posts were many miles asunder. I know not if the whole of the Peninsular campaigns exhibited a more perfect execution of a complicated piece of military service.

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