76th Regiment of Foot: "Macdonald's Highlanders"
aka: The Immortals
AMERICAN REVOLUTIONARY WAR
This work has been gleaned from the book
"SKETCHES OF THE SCOTTISH REGIMENTS"
by Stewart of Grant
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, Moere, Boisdale, and others of his own clan, and likewise from those of others, as Mackinnon, Fraser of Culduthel, Cameron of Callart, etc, 750 Highlanders were raised. The company of Captain Bruce was principally raised in Ireland. Captains Cunningham of Craigend, and Montgomery Cunningham, as well as Lieutenant Samuel Fraham, 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 1,086 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 42nd 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 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 the 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 attach on Jersey; in consequence of which, the transports, with the 76th on board, were ordered to the relief of the island. When they were on the passage, Lord Berridle 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 tile 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 died in the dress, of their country and of their forefathers.
But the French being repulsed before the regiment reached the 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 this 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 Lord Killmorey, 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 engaged in the most incessant and fatiguing marches through difficult and hostile countries, they appeared to look 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 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 Dundas, 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 attach, pushed forward a strong corps, forced the picquets, who made an admirable resistance, and drew up in front of the British line. (1)
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 they were drawn up in an open field, and exposed to the attach 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.' (2) The enemy was 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 food, 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 of Fraser's Highlanders. (3)
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. (4)
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 for 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 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 those honourable soldiers, any restrictions or coercion of a more sever 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 same their misconduct would bring on themselves, as well as on their country, their relatives, and friends.
1. 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 latter 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 preserved in the attach, ordered Lieutenant Wemyss, with twenty-five men forward, he found the party without an officer, and therefore remained and defended the post till himself and every individual was either killed or wounded. When Lieutenant Wemyss had been appointed Adjutant, he bound the want of the Gaelic language a great disadvantage, as more than 300 of the Highlanders spoke no English. By frequent communication 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.
2. At the moment Lord Cornwallis was giving the orders to charge, a Highlander soldier rushed forward and placed himself in front of his officer, Lieutenant Simon Macdonald of Morer, afterwards Major of the 92nd 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 not 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 of 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 Maceachen, or the Sons of Hector; the same branch of which Marshal Macdonald, Duke of Tarentum, is descended.
3. Lord Cornwallis's Dispatch.
4. This is certified by officers who were also prisoners, and eye-witnesses of this honourable regard to principle.
Macdonald's Highlanders or Seventy-sixth Regiment
In the year 1779, this corps was ordered up from Fort George for embarkation, and quartered in Burntisland and Kinghorn. Soon after they arrived there, great numbers of the Highlanders were observed in parties in earnest conversation. In the evening of the third day, each company gave a written statement, complaining of non-performance of promises, of bounty money unpaid, etc. and accompanied their statement with a declaration, that, till these were satisfactorily settled, they would not embark. They requested, at the same time, that Lord Macdonald, the chief and patron of the regiment, should be sent for and see justice done to them. An answer not having been returned soon enough, or in the manner they expected, they marched away in a body, and took possession of a hill above the town of Burntisland, continuing firm to their purpose, but abstaining from all violence; and when several other young soldiers wished to join them, perhaps as much for the sake of the frolic as any thing else, they ordered them back to their quartets, telling them they had no cause of complaint, and no claims to be adjusted; and that, therefore, they ought to obey their officers, and do their duty, and leave them (the Highlanders) to answer for their conduct.
Things remained in this state for some days, the Highlanders regularly sending parties to the town for provisions, and paying punctually for what they received. It happened fortunately, that the regiment was at the time commanded by Major Alexander Donaldson, an officer of great experience, and not less firm than conciliating. Born in the Highlands, he had served for nineteen years in the 42nd regiment, and understood perfectly the peculiarly habits and dispositions of his countrymen. Aided by Lieutenant David Barclay, the paymaster, an investigation took place, and every man's claim was clearly made out. When this statement was laid before Lord Macdonald on his arrival, his Lordship and Major Donaldson advanced the money, and took the risk of recovery in from those whose conduct had nearly ruined a brave and honourable body of men, as they ought not to be overlooked, and which I have from the best authority, (as, indeed, are all I state,) that, when the individual claims were sent to the Isle of Skye, all, without exception, were found to be just; - a circumstance which, no doubt, was taken into consideration by those who had to form a judgment of this act of insubordination. No man was brought to trial, or even put into confinement; and when all was settled, the Highlanders embarked with the greatest cheerfulness; but, before they sailed, all the men of Sky and Uist sent their money home to their families and friends.