With Wolseley and the Black Watch to Coomassie

It was in the early months of 1857 that there were the first ominous signs of unrest in India.

We have already seen how our power in India was founded upon the position held by the traders of the East India Company; we have also read of Dupleix, the French Governor; of Robert Clive, who held Arcot for fifty days against thousands of the enemy; of the battle of Plassey, and the ‘Black Hole’ at Calcutta; we have dealt very briefly with the victories of Wellesley, but between the early part of the nineteenth century and 1857 there had been little actual conflict, while the progress of the British Government had been well sustained.

During these years the native army had been very largely increased in numbers, while the British forces had hardly altered. In Bengal there were twenty Sepoys for every English soldier, and naturally enough the Crimean War had not been a favourable time to increase our garrison. It is difficult to say whether the Russian campaign had any political effect upon the Indians, but it is probable that it gave an impetus to the general unrest. Railways, telegraph wires, with all the other new appliances that were being first introduced at this time, were regarded with the deepest hatred and suspicion.

Finally in the early part of 1857 it was rumoured amongst the Sepoys that a plot had been laid by the Government to crush their religious scruples by stealth. Certain Indians hold the belief that they lose their caste if the fat of a cow or a pig passes their lips. It was necessary, so it was stated, in using the new Government cartridge to bite it with the teeth before ramming it home down the barrel. The grease upon this cartridge was discovered to contain forbidden ingredients.

But it must not be taken for granted that these cartridges were the sole cause of the Indian Mutiny. They were not a cause so much as a fuse to set India ablaze. There was sufficient aggravation to play upon the feelings of thousands of fanatical people. “The real motive of mutiny,” says G. O. Trevelyan, “was the ambition of the soldiery. Spoilt, flattered, and idle, in the indolence of its presumed strength, that pampered army thought nothing too good for itself, and nothing too formidable.”

In utter secrecy, an emblem of unity like a kind of fiery cross passed from one Sepoy regiment to another. Something was happening, and it is foolish to believe that those in authority were altogether in the dark. But the Crimean War was raging, and it was hardly the time to act. Men like Sidney Cotton, Edwardes, Chamberlain, and, soaring above them all, John Nicholson, were not the kind of men to be blind to the state of affairs, or to be taken wholly by surprise. Nicholson, by an investigation of the native letters passing through the post-office, was well aware of the magnitude of the conspiracy. Young Frederick Roberts, who at this time was acting Deputy-Assistant-Quartermaster-General, wrote: “He impressed me more profoundly than any man I had ever seen before, or have ever met since. I have never seen any one like him; he was the beau-ideal of a soldier and a gentleman. Above all others, I had for him the greatest admiration and the most profound respect.”

Nicholson had gone out to India as a boy of sixteen. He was a man of very imposing presence, very reserved, and inspiring amongst the natives the greatest possible admiration and hero-worship. He made few friends, faced conspiracy and disturbances night and day; a man whose self-reliance was only equalled by his courage, and whose name has gone down in India as a kind of super-man, removed above the level of his contemporaries.

It was Meerut, well called ‘the cradle of the Indian Mutiny,’ that set flame to the fire that was to rage across India. The cavalry there refused point-blank to use the cartridges, for which insubordination the colonel placed several under arrest. For a time everything seemed to be quiet enough, and then on the next day (a Sunday) the native regiments decided to rise and put the English to the sword.

The bells were ringing for evening service and the English officers and their wives were making their way to church, when out of the silent night there thundered the alarming rattle of rifle shots and the doleful roll of drums. Dense masses of smoke circled heavenwards from the native quarters.

The Mutiny had taken birth.

Sepoys, turned suddenly into a maddened crowd of fanatics, shot their rifles in all directions. With that confidence in their men which was such a pathetic feature of the Mutiny, the English officers hurried towards their regiments, and fell riddled with bullets. The cry, ‘To Delhi! To Delhi!’ arose, and to the ancient city of kings the rebels set out. Delhi was the Mecca of revolt, from whence the trouble was to spread like the wings of the morning. It was already a rendezvous for the rebels from all parts of the country.

Meerut was not only the cradle of the Mutiny; it was also in a manner the death-warrant of the deserted English people in Delhi. There was a comparatively strong force of British troops in Meerut, but for one reason or another—principally, one gathers, because their commanding officer was so very aged—they did not attempt the succour of the English in Delhi. Had they done so they would have taken the Sepoys in their hour of mutiny and probably scattered them. It would have been no formidable task. All along the roads to Delhi were streaming rebel cavalry and infantry, riding at their ease, and the English troops could have had everything their own way. As it was, they made no move, and soon news came to Meerut of the terrible massacre at Delhi. Every European—man, woman, and child—on whom the rebels could lay their hands had been murdered. Well said was it, ‘The sorrow was in Delhi, the shame in Meerut.’

When the outbreak of the rebellion and the news of the Delhi massacre were reported to General Anson, Commander-in-Chief in India, he said that at any cost Delhi must be regained. It was the only way of preserving the prestige of the English race. Without delay, General Barnard was placed in command of the force, and on June 7th united his troops with those at Meerut. In due course he advanced against Delhi, taking up a position upon a commanding plateau, which stood like a revolver pointing at the heart of the city.

It was Delhi that was the heart of the Mutiny, and coupled with the name of Delhi is that of John Lawrence, the brother of the defender of Lucknow. Truly has Dr. Fitchett said, “At Cawnpore and Lucknow the British fought for existence. At Delhi they fought for empire.”

To besiege Delhi, no matter with how small a force, was to maintain British supremacy from the very start. The man who had made that possible was John Lawrence. He it was who founded the Punjaub Frontier Force, who inspired Nicholson, Edwardes, and Chamberlain, who, in a word, prepared for the trouble while it was barely a cloud upon the horizon. He it was who brought 50,000 Sikhs into the war, and “through him,” wrote Canning, “Delhi fell.”

It is not within our subject to deal with the siege and storming of the city. The few details that follow must only be regarded as rough indications of the conflict. As the heart of the Mutiny it would require a greater canvas than it is possible to give here.

The Ridge commanding Delhi formed not only a point of vantage but also a rampart of defence, standing some 60 feet over the city. Even then the situation was critical. The British forces were plagued with cholera, and possessed guns which could not be relied upon to fire with accuracy. It was a struggle between a mere handful of men on an open plateau and a fierce and relentless army secured behind fortifications.

For nearly six weeks the Delhi Field Force held its own on the Ridge, suffering attacks almost daily, and carrying out sorties that were sometimes successful, but were always accompanied by great loss of life, and holding on like grim death till the city should fall into their hands.

On August 7 John Nicholson arrived, bringing with him some artillery and cavalry, and also the wonderful corps of Guides. News from the rest of India was in no way cheering. During the siege of Delhi, Sir Henry Lawrence had fallen, Lucknow was not relieved, and Havelock was as yet far away. Perceiving the gravity of the position, Nicholson decided that the Sepoys must receive a blow from which they could not recover. “Delhi,” he said, “must be taken, and at once.”

The news of the massacre at Cawnpore, with all its tale of horror, had already reached the troops, and they set out with renewed determination, led by John Nicholson, “a tower of strength, a guiding star,” who, at the head of the troops, was the first to set foot upon the broken rampart. The advance of the British was irresistible, but it brought with it an irreparable loss. “It was almost more than I could bear,” says Roberts; “other men had daily died around me, other comrades had been killed beside me, but I never felt as I felt then. To lose Nicholson seemed to me at that moment to lose everything.”

It was at sunrise on the morning of the 21st of September, after days of hand-to-hand fighting in the streets of Delhi, that the British at last gained the ascendancy, but with the accomplishment of their long endeavour had come the death of Nicholson.

The news of this victory—and it was a great victory at such a time—passed through the whole of India and thence to England. After weeks of fighting not only Sepoys, but also the ravages of cholera, 10,000 troops had attacked and carried a city defended at every point, losing 3000, and with them one of the greatest men that have ever defended the British flag.

The conquest of Delhi was the conquest of revolt, and a handful of British soldiers had made possible the re-establishment of the British flag.

They carried Delhi city—
Men whose triumphant arms
Filled all the land with wonder,
And stirred with strange alarms
The Pathan in his fastness,
Or where by Jumna’s tide
The bold front of rebellion
Had flourished in its pride.[8]
Whilst this long siege was in operation much had happened elsewhere. At Lucknow Sir Henry Lawrence had delayed an outbreak for a considerable time. His influence over the Sepoys was very great, and it was only because of the success of the rebels elsewhere that they eventually decided to fling in their lot with the rising.

Lawrence had been left very much to himself during the earlier stages of the Mutiny. Hearing of the outbreak at Meerut and the fall of Delhi, he knew that in his isolated position he must act on his own initiative, and accordingly decided that he would concentrate the little force of British troops—together with their wives and families—in the Residency, the most hopeful place, in his opinion, for a small force to defend. Here he stored grain and built ramparts and trenches, and when by the end of May the Sepoys were in revolt, he was prepared to fight to the last.

At Cawnpore, where Nana Sahib, an Indian inspired by the deepest hatred of the English, was in command of the rebels, things were no more promising. Early in June the first signs of insurrection were visible, and the British, under Major-General Sir Hugh Wheeler, fortified themselves as best they could in a hospital barracks, where they were speedily besieged. It was a most ill-chosen place to make a stand. Their sufferings were terrible, but for all that they held out for eighteen days, after which, influenced by the frail hope that the women and children would be spared, General Wheeler came to terms with Nana Sahib. No word had reached them that they would be relieved or that Havelock was already on the road to Cawnpore. Trusting to the word of Nana Sahib, the garrison marched out—300 women and children, 150 soldiers, and the same number of civilians. For the terrible details of what followed one can best refer to Trevelyan’s Cawnpore.

“All the world knows of the cruelty that awaited them,” he writes. “They were permitted to embark in boats, and no sooner had they done so than the Sepoys opened fire. Those who were not slaughtered were conveyed ashore again and imprisoned. The white-haired General, the English officers and the civilians were speedily shot. But there still remained 122 women and children, who were placed in the Assembly Rooms, and here, and into this room—while Havelock was almost at hand—there were sent seven men to massacre the women and children and fling their bodies into a well. This hideous duty was not performed by the Sepoy soldiers, but by certain hirelings who were heavily paid by Nana Sahib.”

It was at this stage, when Lucknow was the next point of attack and Cawnpore had already fallen, that Havelock set out from Calcutta, where he had been preceded by the 78th Seaforth Highlanders.

The Persian campaign of 1856-57 was of little importance, but it is interesting as the scene of some activities—one cannot rate the foe more generously—on the part of the 78th Highlanders under Havelock and Outram, both fated to bear a great share in repressing the Mutiny. At Kooshab the “Ross-shire Buffs,” as the regiment was called, distinguished themselves by routing the Persian force most ignominiously. In consequence of this action Havelock was greatly impressed with their courage and stamina. “There is a fine spirit in the ranks of this regiment,” he wrote. “… I am convinced the regiment would be second to none in the service if its high military qualities were drawn forth. It is proud of its colours, its tartan, and its former achievements.”

It was with this veteran battalion that Havelock set out for Cawnpore.

Havelock was instructed that he should first quieten all disturbances at Allahabad, and then not lose a moment in relieving Sir Henry Lawrence and General Wheeler. His force was a comparatively insignificant one, lacking cavalry altogether, its guns drawn by cattle, and numbering only 1400 British soldiers. He was marching through a hostile country, and certain to encounter hundreds of thousands of well-armed Sepoys. Soon enough news came of the massacre of Cawnpore, but trusting that some at least of the garrison were still holding out, he struggled onward.

To return to Lucknow. The whole ambition of the rebels was now bent upon its destruction. Sir Henry Lawrence, driven to despair by the thought of what might happen to his helpless women, had made one sortie, which, unfortunately, had been heavily repulsed. He had been overpowered by numbers, and compelled to fight his way back into the Residency. So far everything was favouring the Sepoys.

The long and arduous siege began, and had it not been for his presence, it is doubtful whether the little force could have cherished the courage to hold out. To the last he urged them most earnestly never to surrender.

Early in July Lawrence was fatally wounded, and three days later died, leaving the heartbroken garrison to carry on the defence. Upon his tomb were written these simple and moving words: “Here lies Henry Lawrence, who tried to do his duty.”

On the 12th of July Havelock encountered the rebels. It was the first time that the Sepoys had come in contact with an efficient British force, but when they saw the Highlanders they cried to each other that here were the wives of the men slain in Cawnpore and Delhi. It is recorded that after a brief acquaintance with the Seaforths the Sepoys would willingly have fled from the English “women,” but there was no escape. Havelock ordered his men to charge, and to go on charging, and although the enemy were in a strong position and admirably armed, they were quite unable to resist the artillery and infantry that faced them. For twenty-four hours the British had been marching, and for as long a time they had tasted no food, but on the morning of the 15th they set out again upon their advance on Cawnpore. Again and again they confronted the enemy in ever-increasing numbers as they began to near the city. At last on the night when they came within twenty-three miles of Cawnpore, and fell upon the ground to snatch a little rest, Nana Sahib, hearing of their swift approach, signed the death-warrant of the hapless women and children. The next day—the 18th of July—saw the advance upon the city. “The rays of the sun,” says one writer, “darted down as if they had been concentrated through a lens.” After all their privations and their unconquerable march how tragic was their victory to prove.

In the meantime, the Indian army, composed of 5000 men with 8 guns, had come out to meet Havelock, and it was well for the British that Nana Sahib was anything but a competent general. The Indian leader had settled very definitely in his mind where Havelock was certain to attack him, and he made his plans accordingly. Fortunately Havelock was perfectly aware of this, and the Sepoys learnt his real intentions too late. One thing, however, was necessary, and that was the muzzling of the native guns. For this task the 78th Highlanders were chosen. Under Colonel Hamilton they advanced, and when they reached to some eighty yards of the Indian artillery, they brought their bayonets to the charge and flung themselves straight at the gunners. In a few minutes the artillery was in the hands of the British. The Sepoys retreated behind a howitzer. Again the Highlanders were rallied by Havelock, whose words, “Well done, Highlanders! Another charge like that wins the day,” rang out like a bugle call. Again the Sepoys broke and set out towards Cawnpore, rallying in a village some little way from the city. Instantly Havelock galloped up to the leading regiments and cried, “Who’ll take that village? The Highlanders or the 64th?” The rivalry thus inspired resulted very quickly in the evacuation of the position by the Sepoys, and the whole rebel army fell back towards Cawnpore.

The British were so exhausted by their unceasing march, lack of food, and the terrible sun, that they halted for a breathing-space, and Nana Sahib chose that moment for a final effort, opening fire upon their ranks with a large gun stationed upon the Cawnpore road. The crisis of the battle had come at last. Trevelyan has well pictured what followed. “Then,” he says, “the mutineers realised the change that a few weeks had wrought out in the nature of the task which they had selected and cut out for themselves. Embattled in their national order, and burning with more than their national lust of combat, on they came, the unconquerable British infantry. The grape was flying thick and true. Files rolled over. Men stumbled and recovered themselves, and went on for a while, and then turned and hobbled to the rear. Closer and closer drew the measured tramp of feet; and the heart of the foe died within him, and his fire grew hasty and ill-directed. As the last volley cut the air overhead, our soldiers raised a mighty shout, and rushed forward, each at his own pace, and then every rebel thought only of himself. Those nearest the place were the first to make away, but throughout the host there were none who still aspired to stay within push of the British bayonets. Squadron after squadron, battalion upon battalion, these humbled Brahmins dropped their weapons, stripped off their packs and spurred and ran, limped and scrambled back to the city that was to have been the chief and central abode of Sepoy domination…. At nightfall Dhondoo Punth (Nana Sahib) entered Cawnpore upon a chestnut horse drenched in perspiration, and with bleeding flanks. A fresh access of terror soon dismissed him again on his way to Bithoor, sore and weary, his head swimming and his chest heaving.”

The battle of Cawnpore was won, but the loss had been considerable, and the massacre of the hapless garrison was to take from the victory all its joy. There are few episodes in our history that have been conducted under more trying circumstances. There have been terrible marches undertaken, but few can be compared to the advance on Cawnpore. As Havelock said in issuing a report to the soldiers: “Between the 7th and 16th you have, under the Indian sun of July, marched one hundred and twenty-six miles, and fought four actions, but your comrades at Lucknow are in peril. Agra is besieged, Delhi is still the focus of mutiny and rebellion.”

During the night following the action a thunderous report reached the ears of the British force, to be followed by a dense cloud of smoke. It split the silence of the Indian night and died away. The rebels, before their retreat from the city, had blown up the magazine.

The next day the Highlanders marched into Cawnpore, a deserted city, with all the traces of the horrible thing that had taken place there. “Was it any wonder,” says one of the soldiers, “that when men carried back with them to camp a long heavy tress of golden hair, clean cut through as if by the slash of a sharp sword, and showed this token to comrades, who had been fighting and marching, and striving and straining that this thing might not be, was it any wonder that our soldiers swore to exact a merciless retribution as they stood around the dead, but eloquent witness of this oath.”

The task that lay before Havelock was one that might have made any man give way to despair. Well might he have said, in the heroic words of Scott: “I see before me a long tedious and dark path but it leads to stainless reputation. If I die in harness as is very likely, I shall die with honour. If I achieve my task I shall have the thanks of all concerned and the approval of my conscience.” Death and disease had reduced the numbers of his force to a bare 1500. They were still faced by some fifty miles swarming with the enemy, at the end of which they hoped to rescue the garrison of Lucknow. “The chances of relieving Lucknow,” said Havelock, “are daily multiplying against us; the difficulties of an advance are excessive.”

Continue Reading

The Highland Brigade at the Alma

The 1st Battalion of the famous Cameron Highlanders was founded in 1793 by Alan Cameron of Erracht, Inverness-shire, and owed its formation to the danger of invasion from France. The 2nd Battalion was not embodied until 1897.

The Camerons have not seen so much service as the other Highland regiments, but have always displayed daring bravery.

As we have seen in our last chapter the regiment won battle honours at Corunna, but at Fuentes de Oñoro it established a reputation.

Between the years 1809 and 1813 Wellington was in command of three armies in the Peninsular—his own English army, an admirable veteran force, the Portuguese troops commanded by Beresford, and the Spaniards. The latter were not very serviceable in the field, but had a perfect genius for guerilla warfare, and as they knew the country intimately and were not compelled to keep together, they proved a constant menace and irritation to the French, threatening their communications, cutting off their supplies, and sniping soldiers on the march or in camp. Wellington was anxious to establish his base in Portugal, and from there to push back the French until Spain was free. This task occupied him for four years, but in that time he was fighting not only for England but for Europe as well. The Peninsular War may appear a very small campaign in comparison with the vast movements of Napoleon, but it was sapping the strength of France. It drained Napoleon’s forces of some of their best and most reliable troops, and humiliated them in the eyes of the world. Napoleon might be victorious himself, but his arms and his generals suffered one defeat after another at the hands of Wellington. The legend of invincibility was broken, and all over Europe hope sprang into life once more.

The Highland regiments did not leave for Portugal in a brigade. The Camerons were with Wellington at Busaco on September 25, 1810, whereas the 2nd Battalion of the Black Watch did not embark for Portugal until April 1812.

The Camerons were commanded by Major-General Alan Cameron, and resisted the advance of the French general, Massena, prior to the retirement of the British army behind the lines of Torres Vedras. The long winter broke the strength of the enemy, and in the spring the battle of Fuentes de Oñoro was fought. In this action the following Highland regiments were engaged—the Highland Light Infantry, the Gordons, the 1st Battalion of the Black Watch, and the Camerons. Perhaps more than any other regiment the Camerons excelled upon that day.

Wellington had already invested the fortress of Almeida, and to break the advance of Massena he occupied the district between the two villages of Fuentes de Oñoro in Spain, and Villa Formosa in Portugal. It was on May 3 that Massena hurled his assault upon the former, where the Camerons and the H.L.I. were stationed.

Throughout the whole of one day the French strove to capture the village, and at times it was touch and go whether the British would not be compelled to evacuate the place.

A Cameron Highlander, who fought in the action, has recorded his experiences. “The village,” he says, referring to the initial stage of the engagement, “was now vigorously attacked by the enemy at two points, and with such a superior force, that, in spite of the unparalleled bravery of our troops, they were driven back, contesting every inch of the ground. On our retreat through the village we were met by the 71st Regiment (H.L.I.), cheering and led on by Colonel Cadogan, which had been detached from the line to our support. The chase was now turned, and although the French were obstinately intent on keeping their ground, and so eager that many of their cavalry had entered the town and rushed furiously down the streets, all their efforts were in vain; nothing could withstand the charge of the gallant 71st, and in a short time, in spite of all resistance, they cleared the village.”

But that was only the initial attack. Upon May 5, Massena came seriously to the assault. The light companies had now been withdrawn, leaving the H.L.I. and Camerons to hold the position.

In the morning the fiercest attack was made by the French. For a time they carried everything before them. The English cavalry was driven back, Ramsay’s horse artillery being cut off, and apparently captured. Mad with victory the French squadrons came full at the British infantry. Two companies of the Camerons were taken after a gallant resistance. The flood of the enemy passed on, obliterating the detachments of the defenders as surf covers the shore. Backwards the remainder of the Camerons and H.L.I. were forced, till at the chapel they made their stand. That day was full of brilliant incidents. One of the most dramatic and picturesque was the return of Ramsay, with his artillery cleaving the ranks of the French as a scythe cleaves the grain. Another was the spirit with which the Black Watch met the French cavalry as they galloped in dense squadrons upon the British lines. Down went their bayonets, the Highland ranks stood grim and unshaken as a granite rock. The cavalry flung themselves with desperate bravery upon the steel, recoiling towards their own lines, broken and defeated.

In the meantime the Camerons were carrying on their forlorn struggle, and at the climax of the battle they suffered their greatest loss. Captain Jameson has recorded how “a French soldier was observed to slip aside into a doorway and take deliberate aim at Colonel Cameron, who fell from his horse mortally wounded. A cry of grief, intermingled with shouts for revenge, arose from the rearmost Highlanders, who witnessed the fall of their commanding officer, and was rapidly communicated to those in front.”

The rage of the Highlanders knew no bounds. They flung themselves upon the French, who, surprised by the desperate vigour of the charge, were driven back. Supported by the H.L.I., the Camerons turned the scales at this point, and with the arrival of Wellington’s reserves the battle of Fuentes de Oñoro was won.

Ciudad Rodrigo was the next place to fall. We are told that the story of the assault can never be adequately described, and the bravery and determination displayed by the British troops was beyond all praise. It was certainly a masterly feat to assemble 40,000 men about the fortress of Castile without arousing the suspicion of the enemy, and following this up by a successful assault, capturing the stores and artillery of Marmont’s forces.

In a similar manner Badajoz was surrounded by 30,000 men, and three attacks were planned—on the right by Picton, in the centre by Colville, and on the left by Leith. The soldiers swarmed up the ruins in the broken walls, to be hurled down again and again by the besieged. With dogged courage they still persisted, and carried the place by storm, with a loss of 2000 killed and wounded. Portugal was saved.

It was early in June that Wellington began to move towards Salamanca. Of that engagement Napier has written: “Salamanca was the first decisive victory gained by the Allies in the Peninsula. In former actions the French had been repulsed; here they were driven headlong, as it were into a mighty wind without help or stay … and the shock reaching even to Moscow heaved and shook the colossal structure of Napoleon’s power to its very base.”

For their part in this battle the Camerons and H.L.I. were allowed to add the name ‘Salamanca’ to their battle honours.

Although the wars in the Peninsula were not ‘Highlanders’ battles’ in the way the Crimean and Indian Mutiny campaigns were—yet the regiments principally engaged, namely the Black Watch, Camerons, Gordons, and H.L.I., fought with the greatest distinction and gallantry.

On September 9, 1812, the Black Watch and Camerons stormed the hill of San Michael, carrying ladders and splicing them together under the very walls. A terrific fire was opened on them as they ascended, and for a long time every man who clambered to the top of the ladder was certain of death. This signal slaughter so discouraged the Portuguese that they would on no account support the Highlanders, and for this reason their loss of life was of no avail, as it was impossible to storm the garrison without reinforcements. And so Burgos was doomed to be a failure, and the retreat began. The loss of the 42nd in the storming of San Michael was exceedingly heavy, and with the abandonment of the siege the allied forces gave up the attempt and withdrew to the frontier of Portugal, where winter quarters were established.

In 1813 Wellington set his face towards France. With Graham were the Black Watch, the Camerons, and the Argyllshire Highlanders. Colin Campbell, who had been with Moore, and who was to see service in the Crimea and in the Mutiny, was in one of the battalions under Graham.

On the 20th of June Wellington was nearing Vittoria, while Graham, who had been despatched southward, was to attack the French right and force the passage of the Zadora. Graham approached this valley of the Zadora on the 21st, but before advancing it was essential that the enemy’s troops should be driven across the river.

This was accomplished successfully, and by this action Graham cut off the French from their only way of retreat to Bayonne, and the only possible road was rendered altogether impassable by the confusion of the troops and baggage. As an authority has pungently written, “Never was there a defeat more decisive, the French were beaten before the town, and in the town, and through the town, and out of the town, and behind the town”; indeed so thoroughly were they beaten that the whole French force at Vittoria relinquished its baggage, guns, stores, and papers, making it impossible to know what was owing or what was to be done, while even the commanding officers suffered considerably from an absence of clothes. In this action the H.L.I. lost very heavily. Their commanding officer, Colonel Henry Cadogan, gave them the lead, and almost immediately was mortally wounded. Like Wolfe at Quebec, his sole anxiety was whether the French were beaten, and the same answer was given him, “They are giving way everywhere.”

On that eventful day the H.L.I. lost 400 officers and men, the toll of gallantry commemorated in the jingle:

Loud was the battle’s stormy swell,
Where thousands fought and many fell,
But the 71st they bore the bell,
At the battle of Vittoria.
During the campaign of the Pyrenees the Highland regiments were not members of the brigades that saw most of the fighting. We have dealt with their achievements under Graham, and we must not forget that the 42nd were rewarded with the word ‘Pyrenees’ to commemorate the success of their arms, but on the whole the brunt of the fighting fell to other troops.

In September San Sebastian was taken, and on October 7 the passage of the Bidassoa was carried, upon which the British troops caught their first glimpse of the country of France, and, rushing up the slopes on the other side of the river, carried the Croix des Bouquets stronghold.

Along the river Nivelle rose the French lines of fortifications, but the British troops, in no way disheartened, forded the river on November 10, and carried the position by storm. It was for this action that the Royal Highlanders display the word ‘Nivelle’ upon their regimental colours. The humiliation which Soult suffered was in no way lessened by the desertion of his German troops, who, learning that their country had decided to throw off the tyranny of France, marched over to the Allies. Presently the French fell back towards Orthez, but a severe defeat compelled Soult to retire altogether from the coast towards Toulouse, after a loss of some 8000 men. By the first week in March the Allies were in hot pursuit, with Beresford threatening Bordeaux.

The campaign was approaching its final stages, and it was high time. “The clothing of the army at large,” records a Highlander, “but the Highland Brigade in particular, was in a very tattered state. The clothing of the 91st Regiment had been two years in wear, the men were thus under the necessity of repairing their old garments in the best manner they could. Some had the elbows of their coats mended with grey cloth, others had one-half of the sleeve of a different colour from the body; their trousers were in equally as bad a condition as their coats. The 42nd, which was the only corps in the Brigade that wore the kilt, was beginning to lose it by degrees. Men falling sick and left in the rear frequently got the kilt made into trousers, and on joining the regiment again no plaid could be furnished to supply the loss….

“It is impossible to describe the painful state that some shoeless men were in, crippling along the way, their feet cut or torn by sharp stones or brambles. To remedy the want of shoes, the raw hides of the newly-slaughtered bullocks were given to cut up on purpose to form a sort of buskins for the bare-footed soldiers.”

The writer finishes his reflections upon a cheerful note—just as true to-day as it was a hundred years ago. “We were getting hardier and stronger every day in person; the more we suffer the more confidence we feel in our strength; all in health and no sickness.”

On April 10, 1814, came the first movement towards the last decisive battle of Toulouse, and the final and culminating victory of the arduous Peninsular War was about to take place. Wellington was in command of some 40,000 Anglo-Portuguese troops, 12,000 Spanish troops, and 84 pieces of cannon. Under Soult were some 38,000 men, in addition to which there were the National Guard of the city, while 80 guns defended the formidable ramparts constructed by the townsfolk of Toulouse. Wellington advanced the Spanish, who, displaying great courage, were successful in driving the French back on to their own fortifications.

At the same time the lines of redoubt on the right were taken and carried by General Pack’s brigade with the Black Watch, Camerons, and Argylls. Unfortunately the Spaniards were not sufficiently experienced or proven to withstand the fire from the French batteries, and for a time were disorganised. On the extreme right Picton had not been any more successful.

This repulse of the Spaniards disarranged to some extent the plan of attack, and Beresford’s artillery was hurried up to shell the heights. After a brief rest the assault again began. With heroic courage the Spaniards advanced in the teeth of a heavy fire, but in each case were repulsed. General Pack’s brigade was then ordered to attack the works at the two centre redoubts under the full range of the enemy’s fire. It is recorded that they did not return a shot, but advanced with perfect steadiness. Before the Highlanders lay the enemy’s entrenchment, while “darkening the whole hill, flanked by clouds of cavalry, and covered by the fire of their redoubt, the enemy came down on us like a torrent, their generals and field-officers riding in front, and waving their hats amidst the shouts of the multitude, resembling the roar of an ocean.”

The Highlanders, unmoved by the spectacle, fired a volley which was returned by the French, then without pause charged the position, taking the redoubt. It was a brilliant piece of work, carried out mainly by the Black Watch and the Camerons.

Shortly after, General Pack rode up and uttered the following words: “I have just now been with General Clinton, and he has been pleased to grant my request, that in the charge we are now about to make upon the enemy’s redoubts, the 42nd shall have the honour of leading the attack. The 42nd will advance.”

During the next few minutes the artillery poured their fire upon the Black Watch. Men fell in heaps. There was only one thing to do before the regiment was annihilated, and that was to rush the batteries. Not a hundred of the 500 who had started were left when the redoubt was taken. But it was impossible to hold such a position with only a handful of men. The remnant of the Black Watch retired towards the Argyllshires, who were in position near a farmhouse. The enemy, determined to recover the lost ground, nearly achieved their purpose. With a force of some five or six thousand men advancing under sheltered ground they rushed impetuously upon the Black Watch, who were forced by sheer weight of numbers to fall back upon the 91st. It was but a momentary retirement. Suddenly, irresistibly, the two Highland regiments crashed upon the disordered front of the enemy. Panic overcame the French. Victory was assured.

It was the Highland regiments, and the Black Watch above all, that, in Fitchett’s opinion, saved Wellington from a reverse at Toulouse. Anton relates that, having once started towards the French entrenchments over ground difficult to manœuvre on, it would have meant annihilation to retreat. It was only the invincible character of the Highlanders’ charge that carried them to victory.

Toulouse was still within the range of the British artillery, and Soult decided to evacuate that evening, in order to avoid a siege without very much chance of holding out long. It was humiliating for a Field-Marshal of France to surrender the capital of the second Province, within whose walls a veteran army, that had already conquered two kingdoms, had rushed for protection following a series of defeats at the hand of Wellington.

The troops of Great Britain had come to the liberation of Spain and Portugal; had fought eight pitched battles against commanders only second to Napoleon, and had “out-manœuvred, out-marched, out-flanked, and overturned their enemy.” There only remained the decisive actions of Quatre Bras and Waterloo to convince Napoleon himself that the British Army and the British leader were not to be despised.

Toulouse was the final battle and the decisive victory of the Peninsular War. In a manner, however, Toulouse was more spectacular than serviceable, for eight days before the action took place Napoleon had resigned his crown; and while Wellington was beating back Soult step by step, first to the Pyrenees, then to Vittoria, to San Sebastian, and then to Toulouse, the enormous forces of the Allies were with the same inevitable progress driving the army of Napoleon towards Paris. Beaten in the field, and distrusted in Paris, he decided that the time had come to throw himself upon the mercy of the Allies, if by abdicating his throne he might at least retrieve some hope of the accession of his little son. The Allies in due course occupied Paris. Napoleon, deserted even by his wife, reached the little Isle of Elba, and Louis XVIII.—brother of that tragic Louis who was executed twenty-one years previously—ascended for a brief time the throne of France.

Egmont-op-Zee, Corunna, Busaco, Fuentes de Oñoro, Salamanca, Pyrenees, Nivelle, Nive, Toulouse, Peninsula, Waterloo, Alma, Sevastopol, Lucknow; Egypt, 1882; Tel-el-Kebir; Nile, 1884-1885; Atbara, Khartoum; South Africa, 1900-1902.

Raised in 1793. From 1873 to 1881 the 79th (Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders) Regiment.

The 2nd Battalion raised in 1897.

Continue Reading

The American War of Independence

We come now to a phase of our story that chiefly concerns two intrepid regiments, whose services were so valuable to the Government—namely, Fraser’s and Montgomery’s Highlanders. The Black Watch was not the only regiment raised during the middle of the eighteenth century. In answer to the appeal of the Government the clansmen followed the lead of their chiefs and enrolled themselves in several battalions, which saw service in America during the war with France, the trouble with the Red Indians, and later against the colonists. Amongst these regiments the best known was Montgomery’s Highlanders (founded in 1757), which, as we have noted, suffered a reverse under Major Grant at Fort Duquesne, and were also associated with the Black Watch under Amherst.

Fraser’s Highlanders, later to be enrolled in the Seaforths, were raised as the 78th Regiment in 1757, and the 71st Regiment in 1775, by the son of Simon, Lord Lovat, the Jacobite rebel. They served at the investment of Louisburg and at Quebec. The 71st Regiment took part in the American War of Independence.

Many other regiments were formed from time to time and either disbanded or absorbed. It was not until the latter part of the eighteenth century that the Highland regiments as we know them to-day, apart of course from the Black Watch, came to be formed.

Perhaps the hardest, most dangerous, and most thrilling task that was undertaken by the Highlanders at this period was the forlorn expedition of Montgomery against the Cherokee Indians.

There have been no savages who ever possessed in their cruelty and in their superhuman cunning so great a fascination in story as the Red Indians. Always behind the tools of their trade—the call of an owl, the silent arrow by moonlight, the war dance, the feathers and the paint—there lurked the glamour of the unknown.

Whether as the godlike figures of Fenimore Cooper, or the dreaded Redskins of Manville Fenn and Ballantyne, they have secured for themselves a kind of grim immortality. Other times may bring other tales, stories of submarines and aeroplanes, and the ingenious contrivances that have robbed war of what romance it may once have claimed, but never again will there be the same thrill that the simple snap of a twig in a breathless night could so painfully awaken.

We have noticed how favourably impressed the Indians had been with their first introduction to the Highlander. Like the Sikh and the Gurkha of India, like the Kaffir in Africa, and to some extent the Arab of the East, warlike peoples have always felt some link with the Highlander. But the Red Indian was to suffer some practical experiences of an activity and capacity for taking cover almost equal to his own. The Highlander at this time was skilled by centuries of marauding in the art of concealment, and in taking advantage of rough country. He was long-sighted, keen of hearing, and accustomed to move by night. There is a vivid scene in Stevenson’s Kidnapped where Allan Breck and David Balfour, bound for the sanctuary of Cluny Macpherson’s cave, heard but a rustle in the heather, and in a flash a clansman was at the throat of each of them.

The Highlander was no amateur in war.

In 1760 Colonel Montgomery led his regiment against the Cherokee Indians, who had become an increasing menace to the settlers. It was an undertaking as full of peril as the bravest soldier could have desired. “What may be Montgomery’s fate in the Cherokee country,” wrote one accustomed to the Indian, “I cannot so readily determine. It seems he has made a prosperous beginning, having penetrated into the heart of the country, and he is now advancing his troops in high health and spirits to the relief of Fort Loudon. But let him be wary. He has a crafty, subtle enemy to deal with, that may give him most trouble when he least expects it.”

No truer words could have been passed upon the character of Indian fighting.

When the Highlanders approached the Cherokee town Etchowee they entered a ravine densely wooded, at the foot of which ran a sluggish river. Suddenly the war-whoop resounded from every side, while the dark figures of the Redskins were seen flitting from tree to tree, firing from every quarter. Numbers of the soldiers fell in the first attack, unfortunately several of the wounded being lost in the impenetrable thicket, only to fall into the hands of the Indians.

The Highlanders charged the enemy, driving them up the sides of the ravine, but won no definite advantage. The Indians always preferred guerilla warfare to close conflict, knowing that the farther they enticed the invader into the wilds of their country the less chance would there be that he would win back to safety. Every one is familiar with the cruelty that the Red Indians practised upon their prisoners, and those unfortunate Highlanders who in this instance were carried away by the Cherokees fared exceedingly badly. The following story, as related by General Stewart, will give an idea not only of the treatment accorded to captives, but also of the extreme credulity of the Indians at this time.

“Several soldiers … fell into the hands of the Indians, being taken in an ambush. Allan Macpherson, one of these soldiers, witnessing the miserable fate of several of his fellow-prisoners, who had been tortured to death by the Indians, and seeing them preparing to commence the same operation upon himself, made signs he had something to communicate. An interpreter was brought. Macpherson told them, that provided his life was spared for a few minutes, he would communicate the secret of an extraordinary medicine, which, if applied to the skin, would cause it to resist the strongest blow of a tomahawk or sword, and that, if they would allow him to go to the woods with a guard, to collect the proper plants for this medicine, he would prepare it, and allow the experiment to be tried on his own neck by the strongest and most expert warrior among them. This story easily gained upon the superstitious credulity of the Indians, and the request of the Highlander was instantly complied with. Being sent into the woods, he soon returned with such plants as he chose to pick up. Having boiled these herbs, he rubbed his neck with their juice, and laying his head upon a log of wood, desired the strongest man among them to strike at his neck with his tomahawk, when he would find he could not make the smallest impression. An Indian, levelling a blow with all his might, cut with such force, that the head flew off at a distance of several yards. The Indians were fixed in amazement at their own credulity, and the address with which the prisoner had escaped the lingering death prepared for him; but instead of being enraged at this escape of their victim, they were so pleased with his ingenuity that they refrained from inflicting further cruelties on the remaining prisoners.”

After this affray Colonel Montgomery had no desire for a further acquaintance with the Indians. Employing the simple device of lighting camp-fires, he retreated post-haste before the ruse was suspected, making his way back to Fort George, and from thence to New York, remarking, when warned that he was leaving the unfortunate settlers to the mercies of the victorious Cherokee, that “he could not help the people’s fears.” Whether such an action and such a statement was prudent, or merely timorous, is not for us to say, but to the deserted Fort Loudon it was little better than a death-warrant. Besieged by the triumphant Indians, reduced to starvation point, and with the sure knowledge that further resistance only forestalled a humiliating surrender, the garrison came to terms with the enemy. What these terms amounted to does not greatly matter, for hardly had the unfortunate soldiers evacuated, and begun their retreat, than the Cherokees fell upon them, slaughtering a large number without mercy.

In 1764 the Black Watch and a detachment of Montgomery’s Highlanders set out for the relief of Fort Pitt, at that time besieged by Indians. The expedition was composed of about a thousand men, and was commanded by Colonel Henry Boquet. The whole country was swarming with the enemy, and the British force was compelled to advance through a narrow pass winding between precipitous hills. Many a time had Rob Roy and his Macgregors ambushed their pursuers in a similar spot. In those times, before long-range rifles, artillery, and aeroplanes, such places frequently proved a death-trap to an invading force, particularly soldiers unaccustomed to rough country and unable to get to close quarters with an agile enemy like the Red Indian.

One can picture the Highlanders, ill at ease, cautiously feeling their way up the silent gorge, their pack-horses stumbling along the narrow track, a strong body of the Black Watch ahead, and every man awaiting from one moment to another the attack that never came, while each step towards the centre of the defile magnified the prospect of annihilation. Suddenly, out of the stillness hummed a flight of arrows, while the dreaded Indian war-whoop echoed and re-echoed from every side. Unlike other savages, as the Zulu impi at Rorke’s Drift, or the Dervishes at Omdurman, the Red Indian preferred to kill by stealth, and in those times the ways of the Redskins were not so familiar to the white men as they became in the course of the terrible struggle which was eventually to sweep the Indian off the continent of America. On this occasion, although the Indians had inferior weapons, they possessed enormous superiority in numbers. They were also familiar with every foot of the country.

It fell to the Black Watch to drive them out of their position. This the Highlanders accomplished soon enough, and by their agility put the enemy to flight, but the attack was renewed and again renewed. The thickly wooded hill-side rang with the yells of thousands of braves—on every side they rose from amongst the rocks and undergrowth. The 42nd charged them with fixed bayonets, but they might as well have charged the wind. The Indians melted away before them, only to reassemble in another quarter, intent on causing a panic, dividing the British forces, stampeding the pack-horses, and keeping up the action until darkness drew on. Near at hand was a favourable plateau, and here the commanding officer decided to form his camp until the dawn. Through the brief summer night they awaited the assault, but as the expected rarely occurred in Indian warfare, none came. The Indians, confident that lack of water would necessitate an advance and the gradual destruction of the white men, contented themselves with false alarms and all those other time-honoured modes of wearing down the nerves and strength. It is also probable that they were none too ready to encounter more closely the strange men in tartan who played a game hardly less cunning than their own. At the same time it was important for the British to advance, for in their camp were many wounded, who could not hope to keep up with the main body, and who could under no circumstances be left to the fiendish tortures of the Indians.

Boquet was a man of resolute will. The following morning he feigned a retreat, when, with confident recklessness, the Indians rushed headlong upon his little force. Suddenly, out of the dense thicket, two companies of Highlanders appeared upon their flank. At the same time the main body advanced, and in an instant what had seemed to promise a severe disaster was turned into an overwhelming success. The British lost nearly a quarter of their number, but reached Fort Pitt without further danger, where the Black Watch passed the winter.

In the same year they set out on an expedition against the Ohio Indians, and once more the remarkable endurance and activity of the Highlanders was put to the test, with the result that, during an advance through almost impenetrable forests, there was not a single casualty through fatigue.

The war between England and France had concluded on February 10, 1763, with the Treaty of Paris. This Treaty deprived the French of rich territories both in North America and eastward of the Mississippi, but the conquest was in itself little better than a menace to the future peace of England. It was Vergennes, the French Ambassador at Constantinople, who wisely remarked at the time: “England will soon repent of having removed the only check that could keep her colonies in awe. They stand no longer in need of her protection. She will call to them to contribute towards supporting the burden they have helped to bring on her, and they will answer by striking off all dependence.”

In a time when we have witnessed the noble patriotism and loyal support of our colonies, such a statement may well appear unduly pessimistic, or even absurd. But unfortunately at this period the spirit of Empire was clouded over by arrogance and insularity. People far away in England were not sufficiently in touch with the new world of America to treat the colonists with tolerance or sympathy. England had squandered much money and many lives in the war with France, and was not prepared to come to an understanding with the settlers, for whose safety it had carried out the campaign. In another chapter we shall see how humiliating the consequences of the War of Independence proved, and the part that the Highlanders took in the struggle.

Continue Reading