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

Fencible Regiments


I have already stated the zeal and spirit with which the youth of this distant country engaged in his Majesty's service in the years 1759 and 1779. On the occasion in question there was no deficiency of spirit, and when it was known in Sutherland that their Countess was expected to call forth a portion of the most able-bodied men on her extensive estates, the officers whom she appointed had only to make a selection of those who were best calculated to fill up the ranks of the regiment, which was completed in as short a time as the men could be collected from the rugged and distant districts they inhabited. [An instance of this selection of men was seen in Perth when the regiment: was stationed there some time after it was established. So numerous a band of fine young men came up from Sutherland, that all could not be received, as the regiment did not require so many recruits. They were consequently obliged to return home. However, several enlisted into other regiments.]

The regiment was embodied at Fort George, and, including a company from Ross-shire, commanded by Mr MacLeod of Cadboll, amounted to 1084 men, with drummers and pipers. Colonel Wemyss of Wemyss, who commanded the Sutherland regiment of 1779, was appointed Colonel, and the Honourable James Stuart, brother of the Earl of Moray, Lieutenant-Colonel.

This regiment was fortunate in having a Colonel and Lieutenant-Colonel who understood the character of the men, and the discipline which suited them. The Adjutant did not, in the first instance, attend to this, and, resorting a system of coercion which experience proved to be unnecessary, the same horror at the thoughts of disgraceful punishments, and the same symptoms of resistance occurred as had been exhibited in other Highland corps in similar circumstances; but the judicious interference of the commanding officer checked the proceedings of the Adjutant, and this threatening storm instantly subsided.

[This man afforded an example of the propriety of keeping a vigilant eye over the conduct of some men, when suddenly or unexpectedly placed in authority. He had been upwards of twenty years in the 42d, and was Sergeant-Major when I joined ; he conducted himself with propriety, and was extremely attentive to his duty, but occasionally rather too imperious in his manner towards the soldiers. However, he was in a good school in that respect, and had he not followed the example of his superiors, he would have been quickly checked; but when he was promoted to a commission, and was appointed Adjutant to the Sutherland regiment, where he had full scope for the exercise of authority, his natural disposition broke forth, and although he perfectly knew the character and dispositions of the men, and that no severity was necessary, he irritated the soldiers by his harsh language and manners, to a degree that their spirit would not brook; and had not Colonels Wemyss and Stuart interfered, the consequences might have been of that kind of which there were too many instances in Highland regiments, all originating in the same cause.]

With the exception of the men put into confinement on this occasion, and that of a sergeant and two men for the escape of a deserter whom they were escorting, this respectable body of men saw five years pass without an individual offending in a manner that could be called crime.

In 1797 the regiment extended their services to Ireland. In that country, except some rapid marches, and one skirmish with the rebels, they had little opportunity of proving themselves in the field; but it was said of them, that "their conduct and manners softened the horrors of war, and they were not a week in a fresh quarter, or cantonment, that they did not conciliate and become intimate with the people."

Immediately after the conclusion of the disturbances, the regiment was ordered from Ireland, marched to Fort George, and there reduced. Considering the great demand for men at that period, and the character the corps had sustained, it was a matter of subsequent regret that no attempt had been made to encourage them to re-engage on a more enlarged scale of service. There is every reason to believe that almost all of them would have re-enlisted. Two thirds of the men returned to their native country. This oversight, how-ever, was in some measure remedied, and their service again called for. In what manner they answered this call will be seen by the service of the 93d regiment.

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