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

Military Annals of the Highland Regiments

Seventy-sixth Regiment
Macdonald's Highlanders

In December 1777, Letters of Service were issued to Lord Macdonald to raise a regiment in the Highlands and Isles, allowing him the same military rank as the Earl of Seaforth and Lord Macleod, by whose influence so many men had been added to the military strength of the country. In such cases, gentlemen had been promoted to high rank in the army, without going through the previous gradations. As Lord Macdonald declined this rank, he recommended Major John Macdonell of Lochgarry, who was accordingly appointed Lieutenant-Colonel Commandant. But although his Lordship had no military rank, his influence was extensively and successfully exerted to complete the regiment; and, having made a good selection of officers from the families of Macdonalds of Glenco, Morer, Boisdale, and others of his own clan, and likewise from those of others, as Mackinnon, Fraser of Culduthel, Cameron of Callart, &c, 750 Highlanders were raised. The company of Captain Bruce was principally raised in Ireland. Captains Cunningham of Craigends, and Montgomery Cunningham, as well as Lieutenant Samuel Graham, raised their men in the Low country. These amounted to nearly 200 men, and were kept together in two companies; while Captain Bruce's company formed a third. In this manner, each race was kept distinct. The whole amounted to 1086 men, including non-commissioned officers and drummers, and were inspected, and reported complete, by Lieutenant-General Skene at Inverness, in March 1778, and immediately afterwards removed to Fort George, under the command of Major Donaldson.

The regiment remained twelve months in Fort George, under the guidance of Major Donaldson, an officer admirably calculated to command and train a body of young Highlanders. Being a native of the country, and having served for nineteen years as adjutant and captain in the 42d regiment, he had a full knowledge of their character and habits.

In March 1779, the corps was removed to Perth, and reviewed there on the 10th by General Skene. Being complete in number, and in a high state of discipline, they were marched to Burntisland, where they embarked on the 17th of March. In this place the men evinced an unmilitary spirit, owing to the non-payment of bounty and arrears of pay. The particulars of this transaction will be found in the Appendix.

Lieutenant-Colonel Macdonell having been taken prisoner on the passage home from America, where he had been serving with Fraser's Highlanders, and Major Donaldson's state of health being such as not to allow him to embark, the command devolved on Major Lord Berridale, who accompanied the regiment to New York, where they landed in August.

The regiment touched at Portsmouth. While they lay at Spithead, the enemy made an attack on Jersey; in consequence of which, the transports, with the 76th on board, were ordered to the relief of that island. When they were on the passage, Lord Berridale gave orders that the men were not to take their broadswords on shore, nor the officers to land in the Highland dress, but directed, however, that the orders should not be disclosed to the men till the moment at which they were to disembark,—influenced, probably, by an apprehension of their not wishing to part with their swords; but the officers were verbally told of the commanding officer's wishes. During the night on which they approached the island, the men did not sleep, but were busily engaged in preparing for the landing. Their swords seemed the objects of their particular attention, as they devoted most of their time to sharpening and putting them in the best possible order. Next morning, some of the officers appeared in the Highland dress, and all the men with their broadswords. When they were informed of the orders, they said that it might be so, but they hoped that, God willing, they would be allowed to fight with the arms, and die in the dress, of their country and of their forefathers.

But the French being repulsed before the regiment reached Jersey, they returned to Portsmouth, and proceeded on their voyage to America. On their arrival there, the flank companies were attached to the battalion of that description. The battalion companies remained between New York and Staten Island till February 1781, when they embarked with a detachment of the army, commanded by Major-General Phillips, for Virginia ; the Light company being in the second battalion of Light infantry, it formed a part of the army; the Grenadiers remained at New York.

This year, Major Lord Berridale having, on the decease of his father, become Earl of Caithness, and accompanied the army, as a volunteer, to Charlestown, was severely wounded at the siege of that place, and soon after returned to Scotland. The command of the regiment devolved on the Honourable Major Needham, now Earl of Kilmorey, who had purchased Major Donaldson's commission.

The detachment landed at Portsmouth, in Virginia, in March, and joined the troops under Brigadier-General Arnold. In May they formed a junction with the army under Lord Cornwallis. When the soldiers of the 76th regiment found themselves with an army which had been actively employed against the enemy, had fought several smart actions, and who had undergone the most incessant and fatiguing marches through difficult and hostile countries, they appeared to look down upon themselves as having done nothing which could signalize and enable them to return to their country and friends with that reputation which their countrymen, and brother soldiers, had acquired. "And they were often heard murmuring among themselves, lamenting their lot, and expressing the strongest desire to distinguish themselves. This was particularly observable, and their regrets greatly heightened when visited by the men of Fraser's Highlanders, who had been in so many actions to the southward." However, they soon had the opportunity which they had so much desired, and the spirit with which they availed themselves of it, showed that no more was wanting to prove that they were good and brave soldiers. On this occasion they were fortunate in being in the brigade of Colonel Thomas Dun-das, whose spirited example would have animated any soldier; but in this instance no excitement was necessary. On the evening of the 6th of July, the Marquis de la Fayette, eager to signalize himself in the cause of his new friends, and ignorant of the full strength of those he was about to attack, pushed forward a strong corps, forced the picquets, who made an admirable resistance, and drew up in front of the British line.

[The picquets in front of the army that morning consisted of twenty men of the 76th, and ten of the 80th, commanded by Lieutenant Balvaird of the Utter regiment. He was killed by the first fire, and a report sent to Colonel Dundas. As the duty was pressing, it being necessary to keep the enemy in check, no time was to be lost, and without waiting to call the officer who was next on the list for duty, Lieutenant Andrew Alston of the 80th, with the proper spirit of a soldier, offered his services to maintain the post to the last; and, instantly flying to the front, was mortally wounded in the act of leading some of his men to a spot where they could fire with more effect. Colonel Dundas, observing that the enemy persevered in the attack, ordered Lieutenant Wemyss, with twenty-five men of the Highlanders, to reinforce Lieutenant Alston. On marching forward, he found the party without an officer and therefore remained and defended the post till himself and every individual were either killed or wounded. When Lieutenant Wemyss had been appointed Adjutant, he found the want of the Gaelic language a great disadvantage, as more than 500 of the Highlanders spoke no English. By frequent communi-cation with the men, and by application on his part, he acquired the language, and allowing for some slight peculiarities of accent, spoke it nearly as well as a native.]

A smart engagement immediately ensued, the weight of which was sustained by the left of Colonel Dundas's brigade, consisting of the 76th and 80th, both young regiments; and it so happened, that while the right of the line was covered with woods, they were drawn up in an open field, and exposed to the attack of La Fayette with a chosen body of troops. " They made their debut in a very gallant style: The 76th being on the left, and Lord Cornwallis, coming up in rear of the regiment, gave the word to charge, which was immediately repeated by the Highlanders, who rushed forward with their usual impetuosity, and decided the matter in an instant."

[At the moment Lord Cornwallis was giving the orders to charge, a Highland soldier rushed forward and placed himself in front of his officer, Lieutenant Simon Macdonald of Morer, afterwards Major of the 93d regiment. Lieutenant Macdonald having asked what brought him there, the soldier answered, "You know, that when I engaged to be a soldier, I promised to be faithful to the King and to you. The French are coming, and while I stand here, neither bullet nor bayonet shall touch you, except through my body."

Major Macdonald had no particular claim to the generous devotion of this trusty follower, further than that which never failed to be binding on the true Highlander—he was born on his officer's estate, where he and his forefathers had been treated with kindness—he was descended of the same family, (Clanranald), and when he enlisted he promised to be a faithful soldier. He was of the branch of the Clanranald family, whose patronymic is Maceachan, or the Sons of Hector; the same branch of which Marshal Macdonald, Duke of Tarentum, is descended.]

The enemy were completely routed, leaving their cannon, and three hundred men killed and wounded, behind them, The conduct of Colonel Dundas and his brigade was noticed with great approbation, and it was also remarked that the Americans, on this occasion, exhibited more than usual bravery and skill under their gallant French commander.

Soon after this affair, Lord Cornwallis, wishing to throw forward an effective body of infantry to act with the cavalry, ordered a detachment of 400 chosen men, from the 76th, to be mounted on such horses as could be procured-Horses were soon found, but saddles and bridles were more difficult to be got. The whole were, however, mounted (although four-fifths of the men had never been on horseback before) and marched forward with Tarleton's Legion. As the horses were intended only for expedition, the Highland dragoons were to dismount when in presence of the enemy. After several forced marches, far more fatiguing to these men than any they ever performed on foot, they returned to the army heartily tired of their new mode of travelling. No other service was destined for the 76th until the siege and surrender of Yorktown in 1781, which has already been shortly noticed in the article on Fraser's Highlanders.

[While the officers of the 76th were sitting at dinner during the siege, the enemy opened a new battery, the first shot from which entering the mess-room, killed Lieutenant Robertson on the spot, and wounded Lieutenant Shaw and Quartermaster Barclay. It also struck Assistant Commissary-General Parkins, who happened to dine there that day. He requested that his Will, which was in his quarters, but not signed, should be instantly sent for. This was accordingly done; and when it was brought to him, he had sufficient strength to put his hand to it, and to request some of the officers present to sign as witnesses, when he expired.]

After the surrender of Lord Cornwallis's army, the kindness and attention of the French officers were most honourable. "Their delicate sensibility of our situation, and their generous and pressing offers of money, both public and private, to any amount, have really gone beyond what I can possibly describe, and will, I hope, make an impression on the breast of every British officer, whenever the fortune of war shall put any of them into our power." [Lord Cornwallis's Dispatch.]

After this unhappy surrender, the 76th was marched in detachments, as prisoners, to different parts of Virginia, where they met with many of their emigrant countrymen, by whom, as well as by the Americans, every endeavour was used, and many tempting offers made, to prevail on the soldiers to violate their allegiance, and become subjects of the American government. Yet not a single Highlander allowed himself to be seduced by these offers, from the duty which he had engaged to discharge to his King and country. [This is certified by officers who were also prisoners, and eyewitnesses of this honourable regard to principle.]

They were afterwards embarked for New York, sailed thence for Scotland, and were disbanded in March 1784 at Stirling Castle.

If, owing to accidental circumstances, the services of this respectable regiment were not so brilliant as those of others who had more frequent rencounters with the enemy, yet, from their physical strength, character, and general conduct, the men certainly exhibited the necessary qualifications for any military service. Their courage in the field was only once put to the proof, and we have seen how it was displayed. Their conduct in quarters stood a trial of six years, and during that period, there were only four instances of corporal punishments inflicted on the Highlanders of the regiment, amounting to more than 750 men; and perhaps it may be a matter of extenuation, in a moral point of view, to add, that these were for military offences. Thefts and other crimes, implying moral turpitude, were totally unknown.

It is grateful to the feelings thus to find a numerous body of men preserving their virtuous principles entire, and that, too, in a profession supposed to be destructive of such habits, and in which, indeed, depravity and dissipation sometimes prevail to such a degree, that the severest punishments alone can curb them. Among these honourable soldiers, any restrictions or coercion of a more severe nature were seldom called for, beyond that which a father would exercise towards his children; such as a temporary privation of some comfort, the prohibition of some favourite amusement, or the mention of the shame their misconduct would bring on themselves, as well as on their country, their relations, and friends.

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