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.
BATTLE HONOURS OF THE (QUEEN’S OWN) CAMERON HIGHLANDERS
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.
Towards the end of 1814 there was an interesting assemblage of emperors, kings, generals, and representatives of the people at Vienna to settle once and for all the future peace of Europe. There was not a great deal of sympathy between the Allies, and now that Napoleon had shot his bolt, and was apparently for ever humiliated, disputes soon took the place of friendly overtures, while the Congress promised to disagree as ardently as any other peaceful gathering before or since. Napoleon, fretting at Elba, learnt how matters stood, and decided with his amazing promptitude that the day had dawned that might carry with it his re-accession to power.
In France Louis XVIII. was little better than a shadow upon a throne. The reaction that had set in against Napoleon at the time of his abdication had been altogether submerged by the impatience with which the French people regarded the deliberations of the Allies. The pride of France was touched, and the pride of France has ever soared very high. Like many another exile Napoleon by his absence attained a greater hold upon the imagination of his countrymen than he had ever possessed before. Those old soldiers who had been victorious under his standards were never tired of foretelling the time when the ‘Little Corporal’ would again return and sweep all the armies of the Allies before him like forest leaves. We may be perfectly sure that Napoleon was now, as always, in touch with the spirit of France, and that when he struck it was with everything as much in his favour as could be.
On a dark March evening, when the British war-ships were riding at anchor, and no whisper of danger reached the watching sailors, he left Elba and set foot upon the shores of France. The news of his arrival sped like wildfire through every village of the south, and was flung from lip to lip until it reached Paris itself. The mere presence of Napoleon, without arms, without money, without anything to win back an Empire, sent Louis XVIII. scurrying into exile!
It was a triumph indeed. But Napoleon was not foolish enough to ignore the apprehensions of the French people; whatever feelings were hidden within his own heart he stifled them for the moment under a pretence of peace. It was England who refused to discuss the situation on any terms. Napoleon was declared an outlaw and the enemy of Europe. As our countrymen pledged themselves a hundred years later to crush and overthrow Prussianism, so they pledged themselves then to fight until the danger was averted. The arrival of Napoleon had been so swift that it was quite impossible to assemble the Allies. The Austrian and Russian forces had to travel great distances, and only the Prussian army on the Rhine under Blücher, the English in Belgium under Wellington, with some Hanoverians, Belgians, and Dutch, were ready to withstand the swift onrush of the French.
With his unerring judgment Napoleon grasped the situation. He realised, like those German hosts in the summer of 1914, that he must win, if win at all, by forced marches and forced battles. His army was a small one, but was largely composed of veteran troops. It was perfectly within reason to achieve the separation of the forces of Wellington and Blücher, and defeat them in turn. The enthusiasm with which Napoleon was greeted by the French soldiers is one of the most remarkable episodes in history. To them he was the son of New France, the invincible ‘Little Corporal.’ When he left Paris to join the army he uttered these memorable words: “I go,” he said, “to measure myself with Wellington,” and when he arrived at the Imperial Headquarters he sent this message to his troops:
“Soldiers! We have forced marches to make, battles to fight, troubles to encounter; but, with firmness victory will be ours. Rejoice, the honour and the happiness of the country will be recovered! To every Frenchman who has a heart, the moment has now arrived to conquer or die!”
Napoleon aimed at the occupation of Brussels, then in the hands of the British, and there is no doubt that his intention was to surprise Wellington’s army by the rapidity of his advance. There is also little question that if he had succeeded in taking Brussels, a great part of Belgium would have risen in his favour. An examination of the map will show how many roads there are converging upon Brussels from the French frontier, and it was unknown to Wellington upon which Napoleon might march. Accordingly the English Commander-in-Chief distributed his forces so that he could concentrate upon any single point.
It would be foolish to praise one Highland regiment above another, for prowess is largely a matter of opportunity. In the action at Quatre Bras both the Gordons and the Black Watch were beyond praise, while at Waterloo the former took romance as it were by the stirrup iron, and added a new glamour to the old tale of Scotland’s glory.
At ten o’clock on that eventful night, when the dance in Brussels was at its height, Colonel John Cameron, commanding officer of the Gordons, left the ballroom and went to his quarters. Early on June 16, amidst torrents of rain, the 92nd marched out of the city for the impending conflict. The bagpipes screamed through the streets, bringing many a face to the windows to watch how the Gordons went to face Ney at Quatre Bras. They took up position near a farmhouse, where soon after their arrival the Duke of Wellington himself rode up to Colonel Cameron, and congratulated him upon the appearance of his men, checking for a while their impatience.
At Quatre Bras when the fight was high,
Stout Cameron stood with wakeful eye,
Eager to leap, as a mettlesome hound,
Into the fray with a plunge and a bound.
But Wellington, lord of the cool command,
Held the reins with a steady hand,
Saying, “Cameron, wait, you’ll soon have enough—
Give the Frenchmen a taste of your stuff,
When the Cameron men are wanted.”
In front of the farmhouse there was a ditch, and this the Gordons were ordered to defend, together with the outhouses and other buildings. They had hardly got into position before the attack commenced, and the Highlanders found themselves confronted by the forces of Marshal Ney. Their ranks were raked for a considerable time by the French artillery. This was only supplementary to a desperate charge by the French cavalry, at that time unrivalled in Europe. The chasseurs managed to work their way behind the Gordons, and Wellington was compelled to leap a fence to avoid capture. But the Frenchmen never broke out again. The 92nd accounted for them.
Meanwhile the 42nd—which with three other regiments formed Pack’s brigade—were brought up after a very long march and flung into the heat of the fighting, changing commanders no less than four times. Confused, separated, seeing their officers fall on all sides, they endured sufficient hammering to break the confidence of many a disciplined regiment; but the ranks of the Black Watch had never been broken, and they remained perfectly staunch until, in its turn, the French cavalry was shattered upon their bayonets.
Anton, who served in the Black Watch, relates how they marched out of the ancient gate of Brussels and entered the forest of Soignes. Shortly afterwards the frightened peasantry ran chattering past them, saying that the enemy were advancing. Then General Pack came galloping up, and reproved the Colonel for not having the bayonets fixed. A few minutes later the Belgian skirmishers came dashing helter-skelter through the open ranks of the 42nd, and next instant the Highlanders were confronted with their pursuers.
At the sight of the grim faces of the Black Watch the French fell back for the time being, while the Highlanders advanced, at which Marshal Ney ordered a regiment of Lancers to break upon their flank. They came with such rapidity that they almost took the Highlanders off their guard. “We instantly formed ‘rally-square,’” says Anton. “Every man’s piece was loaded, and our enemies approached at full charge, the feet of their horses seemed to tear up the ground. Our skirmishers having been impressed with the same opinion that these were Brunswick cavalry, fell beneath their lances, and few escaped death or wounds. Our brave Colonel fell at this time pierced through the chin until the point of the lance reached the brain. Captain Menzies fell covered with wounds, and a momentary conflict took place over him. He was a powerful man, and, hand to hand, more than a match for six ordinary men…. Of all descriptions of cavalry, certainly the Lancers seem the most formidable to infantry, as the lance can be projected with considerable precision and with deadly effect without bringing the horse to the point of the bayonet, and it was only by rapid and well-directed fire of musketry that these formidable assailants were repulsed.”
The Gordons having repulsed the cavalry at the point of the bayonet, awaited the advance of the veteran French infantry.
Their vigil was soon rewarded. The Duke of Wellington, perceiving that some French had gained a footing in the farmhouse which was of such strategic importance, shouted to their commander, “Now, Cameron, is the time; take care of the road.” Major-General Baines riding up shouted, “Ninety-second, follow me!” The order to charge was given, and the 92nd, leaping from the ditch, rushed forward impetuously upon the enemy, hurling them back at the point of the bayonet. The victory was won, but at great cost to the Gordons, for Colonel Cameron was shot by a bullet fired from one of the upper windows of the farmhouse, and was soon beyond human aid. He was conveyed to the village of Waterloo before he died, with the words: “I die happy, and I trust my dear country will remember that I have served her faithfully.” It is worth while recalling once again that powerful verse written by Sir Walter Scott:
Through shell and shot he leads no more,
Low laid ‘mid friends’ and foemen’s gore;
But ‘long his native lake’s wild shore
And Sunart rough and high Ardgour
And Morven long shall tell,
And proud Ben Nevis hear with awe
How upon bloody Quatre Bras
Brave Cameron heard the wild hurrah
Of conquest, as he fell!
The losses suffered by the Highland regiments had been very heavy, but they had won deathless prestige. Out of all the forces engaged Wellington selected four regiments for special mention. The Black Watch, the Gordons, and the Camerons were of that proud body. During this time the French and the Prussians had been engaged at the battle of Ligny, and although Blücher had superior forces to Napoleon he had lost the day, though had not actually suffered a defeat. After the action the Prussians retreated towards Maestricht in order to maintain their communications with Wellington’s army. Unfortunately for the British, the despatch-rider who was sent to inform Wellington that the Prussian army was in retreat did not reach him, and it was not until the 17th, at Quatre Bras, that the British General heard the result of the battle of Ligny. This news—that Napoleon had defeated Blücher—was something of a shock to Wellington, who had hoped, with Prussian support, to make a definite attack upon the French.
The Gordons At Quatre Bras
After the indecisive action at Quatre Bras, Wellington decided to march his army towards Brussels, and attempt to restore communication with Blücher. He despatched word to him that he intended to halt at Mont St. Jean, but only on condition that Blücher would pledge himself to the extent of 25,000 men. The Duke of Uxbridge covered the retreat of the British forces—for there is no denying that it was in the nature of a retreat—and the army halted for the night close to a little village that has gone down to history under the name of Waterloo.
BATTLE HONOURS OF THE GORDON HIGHLANDERS
Mysore, Seringapatam, Egmont-op-Zee, Mandora, Corunna, Fuentes de Oñoro, Almaraz, Vittoria, Pyrenees, Nive, Orthez, Peninsula, Waterloo; South Africa, 1835; Delhi, Lucknow, Charasiah; Kabul, 1879; Kandahar, 1880; Afghanistan, 1878-1880; Egypt, 1882, 1884; Tel-el-Kebir; Nile, 1884-1885; Chitral, Tirah; South Africa, 1899-1902; Ladysmith, Paardeberg.
1st Battalion, raised 1758, was disbanded. Re-formed 1787 as the 75th (Highland) Regiment of Foot. From 1862 to 1881 the 75th (Stirlingshire) Regiment.
2nd Battalion, raised 1794, as the 100th (Gordon Highlanders) Regiment of Foot. From 1861 to 1881 the 92nd (Gordon Highlanders) Regiment of Foot.
Many have been the explanations of Napoleon’s failure at Waterloo. It has been said that his star was on the wane and his health undermined, that he entrusted his fortunes to incompetent generals such as Ney and Grouchy, that his troops were not the soldiers of the early campaigns. But the truth of the matter is that Napoleon was beaten here as his troops had been beaten in the Peninsular simply by the dogged front of the British infantry. We have seen how the Highlanders withstood the cavalry at Quatre Bras, how they stormed the French position at Toulouse, how they were the better men at Fuentes de Oñoro. They were not alone in that quality of endurance and nerve. Throughout the whole British Army there was a confidence in itself that has remained till this day, and which is possessed by no other soldiers in the world. A remarkable testimony to this was made by General von Müffling, a Prussian officer, who in the curious changes of time was attached to Wellington’s staff. “For a battle,” he says, “there is not perhaps in Europe an army equal to the British; that is to say, none whose discipline and whole military tendency is so purely and exclusively calculated for giving battle. The British soldier is vigorous, well-fed, by nature both brave and intrepid, trained to the most rigorous discipline and admirably armed. The infantry resist the attacks of cavalry with great confidence, and when taken in flank or rear, British troops are less disconcerted than any European army.”
“Marshal Bugeaud,” says Captain Becke in his Napoleon and Waterloo, “has left it on record that ‘the British infantry are the best in the world,’—however, he was careful to add this significant statement—‘But fortunately there are not many of them.’”
It is probable that Napoleon was misinformed regarding the strength of Blücher’s forces, or else he underrated the efficiency of the Prussian army. At any rate he was satisfied with instructing Marshal Grouchy to occupy himself in the pursuit of Blücher while he dealt with Wellington. It has been stated that Grouchy failed in his duty, and that had he carried out the Emperor’s instructions Wellington might have been unable to withstand the furious assault of Napoleon’s veterans. But the French offensive was fairly checked before ever Blücher arrived.
In the meantime Wellington prepared for battle, having as implicit a trust in Blücher as had long ago existed between Marlborough and Eugene. Throughout the long day at Waterloo he maintained his ground in perfect composure and confidence, knowing that the Prussians were nearing him at every hour.
The strength of the army under Wellington was 50,000 infantry, 12,000 cavalry, 5000 odd artillery, with 156 guns. But of this number only 24,000 were British, and to quote from Napier: “A French soldier would not be equal to more than one English soldier, but he would not be afraid to meet two Dutch, Prussians, or soldiers of the Confederation.”
In the Military and Naval Museum in Whitehall there is a most admirable plan of the field of Waterloo of considerable size and drawn to scale, and more instructive than pages of explanatory notes. But to put the matter quite simply, there was a valley some three miles long, varying in breadth here and there, while in close proximity to this valley ran a chain of hills in parallel direction on each side. The British forces were ranged on the north with the French army on the southern range, where their artillery confronted each other, while the advances of horse and foot were made over the valley underneath. The village of Mont St. Jean was behind the centre of the northern hills, and the other village, La Belle Alliance, behind the southern range. Then there was a broad highway—a very important feature of the battle—leading from Charleroi to Brussels, and passing through both these villages, thus bisecting the English and the French lines. This road was the proposed route by which Napoleon hoped to reach Brussels, but was in reality to be the line of his retreat.
There were also some other important hamlets which were taken and retaken in the course of the day, on the right wing the Flemish farmhouse of Hougoumont, with its outbuildings, affording cover to whichever force was in possession. In the centre lay La Haye Sainte.
Napoleon has criticised Wellington for occupying the position he did. Strategically he believed that it was a treacherous one, as it could not afford him any retreat. On the other hand, it was a protection for Brussels, and in after years Wellington himself remarked: “They never could have beaten us so that we could not have held the wood against them.” He referred to the forest of Soignes, which certainly would have afforded cover for artillery against overwhelming forces.
On the morning of the 17th the 42nd marched from Quatre Bras to the undulating height of Mont St. Jean. On arriving there Wellington said, “We shall retire no farther.” This was the first occasion on which the English Commander had come into personal contact with Napoleon. Not since Scipio and Hannibal at Zama had two such military giants met face to face—Napoleon, who had swept victorious over Europe; Wellington, who, on a lesser scale, had, upon the fields of Spain, driven the greatest French marshals before him. And now, upon the eve of this great battle, Wellington stood upon high ground perfectly imperturbable, while not so far away Napoleon passed along his line, receiving tumultuous cheers, inspiriting his soldiers to carry the English position by assault, firm in the belief that if his veteran troops by their very prestige could fling back the English lines, the victory was as good as won. Certainly it was a manœuvre that had always, or nearly always proved successful against the armies of other nations, but had always failed in the Peninsular against the British soldier. The French formation on this occasion can best be compared to and was inspired by the same motive as the Prussian formation a hundred years later—it relied upon the discipline of men advancing in mass to carry a position at the point of the bayonet. The British army was in line.
Much has been made in recent years of the part that the Belgians played at Quatre Bras and Waterloo, and it is only fair to a nation so closely associated with us to-day to point out that had not the Dutch-Belgian forces withstood Ney’s first furious attack at Quatre Bras, British aid might have come too late to stem a disaster.
Upon the field of Waterloo the Dutch-Belgian brigade went into the action 18,000 strong, and lost 90 officers and 2000 odd men. The Dutch-Belgian troops were placed in front of Picton’s division, a hopeless position to withstand the full weight of the French bombardment and d’Erlon’s attack. That they failed is no reflection upon their gallantry. After their retirement past Picton’s division they returned to take an important share in the action.
The battle commenced at noon on June 18, 1815, after a night of terrible rain, and Napoleon opened the engagement by despatching his brother Jerome to attack the farmhouse of Hougoumont. The French poured down the southern heights, moving forward in unbroken regularity, only to find—as the Prussian Guard were to find long after at Ypres—that the British Guards were invincible. Meanwhile, under Sir Denis Pack were the Black Watch and the Gordons, holding the line to the left of the road to Brussels. Following the attack launched on Hougoumont came the second attack, which was directed against Picton’s division. The story of how the comparatively small force under his command managed to withstand this attack, and how the Scots Greys poured like a river upon the confused French soldiery is an immortal incident in the history of the British Army. After beating back the enemy, the command was given to the Highlanders to open ranks, and a few minutes later the Greys passed through, leaped the hedges, and prepared to charge the enemy. Presently a galloper rode up with the command, “92nd, you must charge, for all the troops on your right and left have given way.”
The Gordons, though exhausted with hard fighting, prepared to advance, and the Scots Greys assembled with them. The bagpipes struck up as the Greys passed into the ranks of the 92nd, and with one accord, and shouting “Scotland for ever!” the Gordons gripped the stirrups of their comrades and swept into the mad charge. Horse and man together, nothing could withstand that—for the glory of Scotland they were ready to win through or die in the thick of the fight.
The French column was struck to the ground. Two French eagles and 2000 prisoners were within a few minutes in the hands of the British. Sir Denis Pack rode up with the memorable words, “Highlanders, you have saved the day!”
But the Highlanders had not matters all their own way. For hours they stood under a harassing fire, and to quote General Foy: “We saw those sons of Albion formed up on the plain between the woods of Hougoumont and the village of Mont St. Jean. Death was before them and in their ranks, disgrace in their rear. In this terrible situation neither the cannon-balls of the Imperial Guard, discharged almost at point-blank, nor the victorious cavalry of France, could make the least impression on the immovable British infantry.”
At last, upon the far horizon to his right, were seen the dim moving columns of the Prussians coming to the aid of Wellington. Grouchy did not appear, and Napoleon, knowing that he must achieve success now or never, opened a furious artillery fire upon the opposing lines. It was now 3.30 in the afternoon, and no part of the British position had been lost. The French Cuirassiers were advanced against the English guns, and were decimated in their fruitless attacks on the right. Meanwhile the Prussians had attempted to carry by assault the village of Planchenoit, an important strategical position in the line of Napoleon’s retreat towards the frontier. A terrific conflict was waged here, for which Napoleon was compelled to devote some of his finest troops. It became all along the line a question of who could stand the hardest pounding. At last Napoleon, mounting his white horse, Marengo, started out from the farmhouse, in which he had remained studying his maps, and rode to the spot where his veteran Guard were to march past on their way into action. It was one of the most, if not the most dramatic moment in military history. Standing upon a hillock, a figure beloved by all the war-worn troops of France, he merely pointed his arm towards the distant lines of the enemy, as though he would point to them the place of honour. It was enough. They passed him with thunderous tread and loud shouts of “Vive l’Empereur!” and so marching down the slope, formed up for their famous assault. Just as the Coldstreams received in silence and flung back again the furious onslaught of the Prussian Guard at Ypres, so Maitland’s Brigade and the British Guards awaited the attack. The Frenchmen passed perfectly steadily across the open, shelled unceasingly by the British guns, and fired upon by the British infantry. They were quite unshaken. When Ney’s horse crashed to the earth beneath him he pointed the way on foot. It was like the tramp of a deathless army.
The British Guards were lying down to avoid the fire of the French artillery, but when the French came within some fifty yards one of the British officers cried, “Up, Guards, and at them!” at which historic words the British leapt to their feet and poured a round upon the French column. The Old Guard, unbroken, undismayed, advanced at a charge, but Maitland’s men never ceased pouring volley after volley into their crowded ranks. In an attempt to form into open column, the enemy became disorganised. The opportunity was not missed by their opponents. With a loud cheer the British charged, driving the exhausted Frenchmen back. Their position was tragic. All this time their left flank was receiving an unremitting fire from the English infantry. It was impossible under such circumstances for even veteran troops, such as Napoleon’s Guard, to remain in action, and the sight of the broken ranks of the flower of the French Army created more panic amongst the other troops than almost any feature of the battle. They were beaten but not dishonoured. How great then must their reverse have been!
Napoleon hastily advanced his remaining battalions, and shortly after Wellington knew the moment had dawned for the advance. The whole British line moved forward, having endured a ceaseless artillery fire for nine long hours, having repelled the impact of cavalry, and repulsed the French Guard. Wellington himself headed the advancing troops, and when warned of the danger replied, “Never mind, let them fire away; the battle’s won, and my life is of no consequence to me now.”
The pipes struck up, the bugles sounded, the drums rolled above the noise of feet. Away went the English Guards, the Black Watch, the Camerons, the Gordons, the Rifles—the triumphant British Army. The whole French line was swept back in confusion. The Old Guard still rallied, protecting Napoleon himself in one of its squares. But the day was lost, and soon the Emperor joined the rabble of fugitives and set his face towards Paris. The hour of his destiny had struck.
It was near La Belle Alliance that Wellington met Blücher. It was decided that, as the Prussians were not so exhausted as the British, they should follow up the flying French. Anton has given a little picture of the end of the day. “Night passes over the groaning field of Waterloo, and morning gives its early light to the survivors of the battle to return to the heights of St. Jean, on purpose to succour the wounded, or bury the dead. Here may be seen the dismounted gun, the wheels of the carriage half sunk in the mire; the hand of the gunner rests on the nave, his body half buried in a pool of blood, and his eyes open to heaven whither his spirit has already fled. Here are spread promiscuously, heaps of mangled bodies—some without head, or arms, or legs: others lie stretched naked, their features betraying no mark of violent suffering. The population of Brussels, prompted by a justifiable curiosity, approach the field to see the remains of the strangers who fell to save their spoil-devoted city, and to pick up some fragment as a memorial of the battle, or as a relic for other days.”
Well might little Peterkin ask then as now, “But what good came of it at last?”
Another passage I cannot resist quoting. It is from the narrative of a soldier in Dr. Fitchett’s Wellington’s Men, and relates to the march on Paris following Waterloo. “At noon arrived in the neighbourhood of Mons, where we overtook the Greys, Inniskillings, Ross’s troop of horse artillery, and several other corps, both of cavalry and infantry…. The Greys and the Inniskillings were mere wrecks—the former, I think, did not muster 200 men…. We crossed after the Greys, and came with them on the main road to Maubeuge at the moment a Highland regiment, which had come through Mons, was passing. The moment the Highlanders saw the Greys an electrifying cheer burst spontaneously from the column, which was answered as heartily; and on reaching the road the two columns became blended for a few minutes—the Highlanders running to shake hands with their brave associates in the late battle….”
The battle of Waterloo was the culmination of many years’ conflict between the English and the French, and the final struggle between Napoleon and Wellington. We have seen how the rivalry with France was fought to a finish in Canada and the West Indies, in India, in the Peninsular, and on the Continent. After Waterloo there was peace for many years. Napoleon, banished to St. Helena, was soon to die, and remain as a deathless memory amongst the old veterans of the armies he had led to victory. Wellington was to win new triumphs, though infinitely less enduring, in political life, and to lose the fickle popularity of an English mob, dying long after in 1852. The Highlanders, who had fought almost unceasingly for many years and in many parts of the world, and whose gallantry at Waterloo brought them new laurels, were mainly engaged upon home service until a new generation heard in the far Crimea the melancholy beating of the drums of war.
The years following Waterloo were free from war, but full of domestic unrest. The National Debt had risen from under 240 millions to over 860 millions, while the end of hostilities brought with it a fall in corn, a renewal of foreign competition in trade, and a tremendous increase in unemployment. Riots and plots abounded; the introduction and development of machinery was blamed for throwing people out of work. There was even, in the Cato Street Conspiracy in 1820, a futile idea of murdering the Cabinet.
In 1832 the famous Reform Bill was passed, resisted to the last by Wellington and the Tories, while the Abolition of Slavery followed soon after. In 1837 Queen Victoria came to the throne.
In 1854 the Crimean War broke out, after a peace in Europe lasting practically forty years.
The trouble in the Crimea was entirely political. England feared that Russia would crush Turkey and plant herself upon the shores of the Eastern Mediterranean. France was also alarmed and, to prevent the Czar overwhelming the Sultan, united her forces with the British. For two years they fought together as allies. In former chapters we have followed in the footsteps of Wolfe, of Moore, of Abercromby, and of Wellington, and now we meet, though not for the first time, a great Scots soldier in Sir Colin Campbell. He linked the Peninsular Campaign of 1809 with the Indian Mutiny of 1857, handing on the sword to Roberts, who in his turn was to be succeeded by Sir John French. Of Roberts and Wolseley and Lord Kitchener we will hear a great deal soon enough. It is of Colin Campbell, of Balaclava and Lucknow, that the next few years are full.
Colin Campbell was born in Glasgow on the 20th of October 1792. He was not sixteen when he joined the army as an ensign, and sailed at once for Portugal, receiving his baptism of fire at Vimiera. He served under Sir John Moore, taking part in the historic retreat to Corunna. Later on he was in the miserable Walcheren Expedition, and contracted a fever which visited him every season for thirty years afterwards. He was at the battles of Barossa and Vittoria, and in July 1813 served at the siege of San Sebastian. There he was severely wounded and was compelled to return to England, but on his recovery he sailed for Nova Scotia to join his regiment. He won experience in America, Gibraltar, and the West Indies; took part in the battles of Brandenburg and New Orleans, and fought in the Chinese War. Just as Lord Roberts was enjoying well-earned repose in 1899, Campbell contemplated retirement when his most important and historic work lay ahead. “I am growing old and only fit for retirement,” he wrote when the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny still lay buried in the future. He was sixty-two years of age when, in 1854, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Highland Brigade, and found himself in the proud position of leading the Black Watch, the Camerons, and the Sutherland Highlanders.
After a trying voyage, in which the troops suffered severely from sickness, the Black Sea was reached on the 19th of September 1854. The landing was accomplished in safety, and it was learned that the Russians were holding a very strong position on the left bank of the Alma, a shallow river confronting them a few miles distant. The Russian forces were well posted, strong in artillery, and numbering some 40,000 men and 106 guns. The attack was launched without delay. The French advanced on the right, and the British on the left. In this manner the West drew near to the East, and everything hung upon the success of the assault. Had the attacking columns suffered a reverse it would have been exceedingly difficult to save a retreat from degenerating into a rout. The Russians fully expected to drive their enemies into the sea.
Before the action Sir Colin Campbell rode up and joined the ranks of his Brigade, giving his men some words of advice before the advance commenced, begging them to keep their heads, and remember the land of their forebears.
Facing the British troops was a high entrenched slope upon which the Russians awaited their attack. “Now, men,” said Sir Colin, “the army will watch us; make me proud of the Highland Brigade.”
The soldiers were confident of success. “When,” records Kinglake, “the command travelled on along the ranks of the Highlanders it lit up the faces of the men one after another, assuring them that now at length, and after long expectance, they would indeed go into action. They began obeying the order, and with beaming joy, for they came of a warlike race; yet not without emotions of a graver kind; they were young soldiers, new to battle.”
Upon the right of the Highland Brigade were the Guards, while between the Coldstreams and the Black Watch rode Sir Colin Campbell. While they stood there the muffled thunder of guns on their right told every man that the engagement had already started, and that far away their French allies were already in action upon the Russian front. To the left of Sir Colin Campbell was a gorge where the enemy had constructed a large redoubt, flanked on each side by artillery upon the heights, while in support of the artillery were large numbers of troops. This redoubt was defended by fourteen heavy guns. The advance began under a merciless fire, but so fierce was the attack that the enemy were compelled to retreat until their reserves were called up, when they outnumbered the British by twenty to one. It was at this critical moment, when a reverse seemed inevitable, and the light troops engaged were recoiling, that Sir Colin Campbell shouted, “Forward, the 42nd!”—the bagpipes struck up, and the advance of the Highland Brigade commenced. Against his three battalions in echelon were twelve regiments of Russians in mass. But without a halt, without a pause, the 42nd forded the River Alma and faced the heights, advancing steadily and without faltering, the Sutherlands in the centre and the Camerons upon the left flank. For a few moments Sir Colin Campbell halted the Brigade to let them recover their breath, and then giving the order, “Advance firing”—a manœuvre in which the Black Watch were greatly expert—they drew nearer to the closely packed forces of the enemy. It was inevitable that they should lose very heavily, and that the fire that was opened upon them should be exceedingly hot, but always into the dense clouds of smoke that floated between the intervening distance the 42nd advanced. The time was nearly ripe.
“Charge!” cried Sir Colin, and down went the steel line of bayonets. But instead of a clear front a new situation arose which called upon all the strategic skill of the Scottish leader to avert disaster. The solitary regiment of the 42nd was not only faced by the hosts of Russians on their front; other battalions of the enemy were on the move preparing to attack upon the flank. Instantly he turned to the Sutherlands, ordering them to protect the flank of the Black Watch. In perfect order, amid the thunder of the conflict, the two Highland regiments charged straight at the enemy. It is difficult to believe that the Russians should have retired before two battalions with only one other in support, but they did. Whether it was the appearance of the Highlanders, or the invincible character of their advance, one cannot say, but after a momentary wavering the enemy gave way to panic. And then upon the other flank of the Brigade the Russians threatened a similar movement.
Again Campbell saved the situation and this time by calling up the Camerons. Kinglake has given a vivid impression of the effect of this new force of kilted troops appearing out of the smoke. “Some witchcraft,” he says, “the doomed men might fancy, was causing the earth to bear giants. Above the crest or swell of the ground on the left rear of the 93rd yet another array of the tall bending plumes began to rise in a long ceaseless line, stretching far into the east; and presently, in all the grace and beauty that marks a Highland regiment when it springs up the side of a hill, the 79th came bounding forward without a halt, or with only the halt that was needed for dressing the ranks, it advanced upon the flank of the right Sousdal column and caught the mass in its sin—caught it daring to march across the face of a Highland battalion—a battalion already near and swiftly advancing in line. Wrapped in the fire thus poured upon its flank the hapless column could not march—could not live.”
The Russian force was indeed in a position that was not tolerable, and its rout was complete and immediate. And now the three Highland regiments, with Sir Colin in the centre, extending in open order for nearly a mile, swept forward in perfect formation against the confused masses of the Russian army, to whom they presented a never-ceasing wave of soldiers, with (to their imagination) unending supports that would spring up just as readily as on the two occasions that they had attempted an outflanking movement. To the horror of their troops in reserve, who could well see how great was the difference numerically between their comrades and the British, the Russians took to their heels, overwhelming their own supports and carrying everything before them in their blind panic. The Highland Brigade had turned the scales, and the time was ripe to convert defeat into disaster. The cavalry were advanced to harass the broken Russian columns; the artillery commenced to shell their shattered ranks.
But, as Sir Colin wrote to a friend, “it was a fight of the Highland Brigade. Lord Raglan came up afterwards, and sent for me. When I approached him I observed his eyes to fill and his lips and countenance to quiver. He gave me a cordial shake of the hand. The men cheered very much. I told them I was going to ask the Commander-in-Chief a great favour—that he would permit me to have the honour of wearing the Highland bonnet during the rest of the campaign, which pleased them very much. My men behaved nobly. I never saw troops march to battle with greater sang-froid and order than those three Highland regiments.”
Not long after, when Sir Colin Campbell was returning, he addressed the regiments of the Highland Brigade, never thinking how soon he would be called upon to lead them again. “Our native land,” he said, “will never forget the name of the Highland Brigade, and in some future war that nation will call for another one to equal this, which it will never surpass.”
It was indeed a victory to be proud of. Three regiments had put to rout no fewer than twelve battalions, including the famous division of picked Czar’s Infantry.
The Russians retreated before the Highland advance across the Belbec River, falling back towards Sevastopol, a strongly fortified place upon the shore of the Black Sea. It is probable that had the pursuit been carried out energetically, as Lord Raglan advised, the Russians would have been utterly dispersed, and the war concluded, but the delay enabled them to enter Sevastopol at their leisure, and in consequence of this movement the Allies decided to march across the Peninsula to Balaclava, and by forcing the action from that point to invest the Russian forces in Sevastopol by land and sea.
In the Crimean campaign the regiments in the Highland Brigade chiefly concerned were the Black Watch, the Camerons, and the Sutherland Highlanders. At the battle of the Alma we have seen how the glory of the first advance rested with the 42nd, and the brunt of the flanking movements upon the Sutherlands and Camerons. In the siege of Sevastopol the 42nd and 79th were engaged in fatigue duty and in the trenches, the 93rd lying before Balaclava with Sir Colin Campbell. It was their good fortune to meet the Russians once again in the open. It was an amazing achievement that two ranks of Highlanders could attack and defeat twelve battalions of Russian infantry. An even greater achievement was it when the 93rd resisted successfully without supports the furious onslaught of the Russian cavalry.
The battle of the Alma was thus the first and last engagement in which the Highland Brigade fought together during the Crimean War. For two miserable winters they, with the other regiments of the British and French forces, were to endure privation and hardship such as had probably never before been experienced in a British campaign. The bitter cold, the lack of food, the absence of all hospital arrangements made the siege of Sevastopol one of the most ghastly tragedies in English history. Cholera, dysentery, with every other form of illness consequent on exposure and lack of sanitation, proved a more deadly antagonist than the Russian guns. Whatever the sufferings our soldiers had to endure in the trenches during the winter campaign of 1914-15, they were provided with good food, expert medical attendance, and, so far as was possible, with the relief and exchange of fatigue duty. In the Crimea no army was ever in a worse plight for the merest necessaries of life, and until Florence Nightingale was inspired to leave England for the hospital field there was very little hope of recovery from sickness. But then as now the various British regiments took their part in the trench work without complaint and in good heart—and when possible with the greatest distinction.
The 93rd Sutherland Highlanders were raised in 1799, and sailed for the Cape of Good Hope in 1806. After that they saw little active service of any distinction until the Crimea, though their sister regiment the Argyllshire Highlanders, raised in 1794, took part in the Peninsular War, but not in Waterloo. The two regiments became the 91st and 93rd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in 1881.
The Sutherland Highlanders took up their position before Balaclava with the knowledge that it was of first-rate importance to the safety of the whole army. The outer line of defences was held by some 5000 Turks; between the outer line and the inner line were 1500 cavalry, while the 93rd lay in front of the village of Kadikoi. The importance of Balaclava lay in its position. Lying upon the sea coast, it was not merely in communication with the outer world, but the only channel by which the Allies could receive their ammunition and stores. Were the Russians to take possession of Balaclava they would cut the British lines of communication at one swoop. It was therefore practically certain that sooner or later an attack would be made, and on the night of the 24th Sir Colin was informed by the Turks that the Russian advance was imminent. It came with the breaking of dawn, when the grey hordes of the enemy were seen flocking like ghosts down the hill-side, moving forward toward the Turkish redoubts. Compared with the little force defending Balaclava, the number of the enemy was infinitely superior, comprising 25 battalions of infantry, 34 squadrons of cavalry, and 78 guns. Presently their artillery found the range of the troops in the first redoubt, and in a very short time the Turks were in flight. Once this line of fortifications was taken it was hopeless to hold the corresponding flanks. The whole first line was beaten within a few minutes. The Sutherlands, drawn up under Sir Colin Campbell, stood at attention watching the fleeing columns of the Turks heading directly towards them. Perceiving that the Highlanders were perfectly at their ease, the Turks made a feeble rally and formed on either flank. The Russian advance was continued without halt, and their guns soon opened on the 93rd. To prevent unnecessary loss, Sir Colin drew back the regiment behind the slope of the hill, and from there awaited the next move. Presently the enemy’s cavalry, leaving the main body, galloped straight for his position. The moment of trial had come. Instantly he drew up the Highlanders in a line only two deep, shouting to them, “Now, men, remember there is no retreat from here. You must die where you stand!” at which there was a low murmur, “Ay, ay, Sir Colin; an need be, we’ll do that!” The whole line was advanced to the top of the hill, a movement that so excited the men that they nearly charged the Russians. But that was not Sir Colin’s intention, and halting them he calmly awaited the onslaught of the Russian cavalry, merely giving the order for the Sutherlands to stand in line. The noise of the thundering hoofs grew ever louder. It echoed in the ears of the Turks, and as dense masses of horses bounded in all their picturesque strength towards them, they broke on the instant and ran in a frenzy of terror to the rear, extending their hands to the vessels riding at anchor, and shouting in their panic, “Ship! ship!” To the Eastern mind it seemed the merest folly to await such a crash of cavalry.
But not a man of the 93rd moved. Just as the French Cuirassiers at Quatre Bras had come flaunting their swords and breastplates in the sunlight, so the Russian cavalry, on that winter’s morn, came rushing in their hundreds upon the ‘thin red line.’ Lord Wolseley has written that the pace of their advance must have been three hundred and fifty yards a minute, while behind them squadron upon squadron—like the successive waves of a sea—raced their supports. “In other parts of the field,” an eye-witness has recorded, “with breathless suspense every one waited the bursting of the wave upon the line of Gaelic rock.” Suddenly, when it was feared the Highlanders in their forlorn bravery were already overwhelmed, the splutter of fire passed down the line. It was done without flurry or haste, but the effect was incalculable. The whole front rank of the cavalry stumbled and recoiled; horses and men fell, the second rank was baffled and helpless, the speed was in an instant checked, and the Sutherlands, calmly reloading, discharged a second volley into the enemy. But the Russians were not beaten so easily. Breaking away, a detachment of cavalry cantered off to attack the 93rd on the flank. Quite calmly Sir Colin wheeled a company of his men to face them. This was done without any confusion, and another volley decided the action. It was stated afterwards that although few of the Russians were killed, nearly every man and horse was wounded. It had been a desperate moment, for, as Kinglake remarks, “the advance of the Russian squadrons marked what might well seem at the moment to be an ugly if not desperate crisis in the defence of the English seaport. Few or none at the time could have had safe grounds for believing that, before the arrival of succours, Liprandi (the Russian Commander) would be at all once stayed in his career of victory, and in the judgment of those, if any there were, who suffered themselves to grow thoughtful, the whole power of our people in the plain and in the port of Balaclava must have seemed to be in jeopardy; for not only had the enemy overmastered the outer line of defence and triumphantly broken in through it, but also, having a weight of numbers, which for the moment stood as that of an army to a regiment, he already had made bold to be driving his cavalry at the very heart of the English resources. If, in such a condition of things, some few hundreds of infantrymen stood shoulder to shoulder in line confronting the victor upon open ground, and maintaining from first to last their composure, their cheerfulness, nay, even their soldierly mirth, they proved themselves brave men by a test that was other than that of sharp combat, but hardly less trying.”
After Balaclava the Highland Brigade were employed in besieging Sevastopol, and on September 8, 1855, a scheme was nearly carried into effect that might have resulted in the fall of the Russian position by assault. Sir Colin Campbell drew out a plan in which the Black Watch were to advance to the attack, while the remainder of the division supported them. About midnight on the 8th, therefore, when the fire of the Russian troops had become almost silent, a little party went forward to the Redan to reconnoitre. To their astonishment there was no one to be seen, save the wounded and the dying. In the silence of the night the Russian forces had evacuated, leaving Sevastopol to fall into the hands of the Allies.
There is little more to tell of the part that the Highland Brigade took in the Crimean campaign. After the fall of Sevastopol the Black Watch was stationed at Kamara until peace was declared, and in due course arrived in England, accompanied by the Camerons and the Sutherlands. They little knew what trials lay before them. Already in the far-distant land of India the clouds were beginning to gather upon the horizon. Already in many a silent street the whisper was passing from lip to lip that was destined, within a few short months, to reverberate down the passages of Time.