A comparison of British and French Military Identity and Organization during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars Timothy Paul Candlish Phd university of York History March 2012



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Attitudes

Though Highland soldiers played a role in all of Britain’s wars, the clearest evidence of their attitude can be found in the American War of Independence. To a modern perspective it would seem obvious for the Highlanders of North America to side with the rebel forces. The great surprise, from that same perspective, is that so many Highlanders in North America remained loyal to the crown, comprising approximately ten per cent of all loyalist troops.0 In one particular instance, that of Cross Creek in North Carolina, a call-up in February 1776 was answered 1200 local Highlanders, forty per cent of the eligible population.0 That so many Highlanders would fight for King and Country in North America is less surprising when their reasons for being there, and their situation once there, are considered. Like Scotland as a whole, the Highlanders had adapted remarkably well to being British, and also to being imperial. Marshal Wade described the attitudes he noticed among Highlanders in his 1724 report:


The virtue next to this in esteem amongst them is the loved they bear to that particular branch of which they are a part; and, in a second degree, to the whole Clan or name, by assisting each other (right or wrong) against any other Clan with whom they are at variance; and great barbarities are often committed by one, to revenge the quarrels of others. They have still more extensive adherence to one-another as Highlanders, in opposition to the people who inhabit the Low Countries, whom they hold in the utmost contempt, imagining them inferiour (SIC) to themselves in courage, resolution, and the use of arms; and accuse them of being proud, avaritious (SIC), and breakers of their word. They have also a tradition among them, that the Lowlands were in ancient times the inheritance of their ancestors, and therefore believe they have a right to committ (SIC) depredations, whenever it is in their power to put them in execution.0
The image is of a proud people, who would have taken umbrage at the idea of being in some way ‘subjected.’ Wade’s mention of the Highlanders regarding the lowlands as their own territory, understandable in light of their common history, offers an explanation as to why the Highlanders did not resort to separatism. It also explains something of what the Highlanders must have thought about their place in the British polity and what they intended to do about it. One aspect of this is that the Highlanders came to extend their sense of innate superiority to their fellow Britons as a whole. Their belief in their own racial superiority gradually developed into a belief in the moral superiority of the British Empire.0 This was how the Highlanders squared their pride in themselves with their new situation. If they were superior, then the British state and empire must also be superior, because they were a part of it.
The other main aspect derives from the mercenary aspect in Highland identity. It was not enough for the Highlanders to play a role in the maintenance and expansion of a morally superior empire. They also wished to improve their own status, both as Highlanders and as individuals, in material terms. The idea that serving as soldiers could bring significant material reward had caught on by 1767, as expressed rather succinctly in a contemporary poem:
’S cha gho` raiche dhuinn;

O’s ann aige tha ’n sto`ras;

Is co` ir air a’ Chru`n;

Bheir e ’m pa`igheadh

’nar do` rn duinn.
We will all serve King George;

And we are not foolish for it;

For he is the one with the provisions;

And right to the Crown;

He will give payment to us.0

Highlanders may have sought monetary rewards for their services, but to deride them as unscrupulous mercenaries would be unfair. The memoir of Colonel John Cameron mentions an incident in which Sir John Moore, having been wounded in the Battle of Egmont-op-Zee, was carried to safety by men of the 92nd regiment, of which Cameron was in command;


It ought to be added that Moore offered a reward of £20 to the soldiers who

had borne him off the field; but while this offer was publicly made known,

none ever came forward to claim the reward. It may be that those entitled to

it had subsequently fallen on the field, or had been cut off by the pestilential

vapours of the Holland fens, so much more fatal than the arms of the enemy.

If so, it says much for the truthfulness and honour of the survivors, that, where deception was so easy, no one attempted to practice it. We consider it probable, however, that their silence was owing to the utter dread the Highlanders generally entertain of participating in any matter, directly or indirectly, in what they call “blood-money;” that is, money received either for preserving the life of a friend, or destroying the life of an enemy. It is a popular belief that money obtained as the price of an enemy’s blood will infallibly entail on the receiver a curse and woe, both here and hereafter;0


This stands at odds with the interest in reward expressed in the poem earlier. It certainly cannot be literally true, or else no Highlander would have enlisted for fear of being cursed by his salary. A possible explanation is that this taboo, if it really existed, only applied to money acquired specifically for those tasks, rather than rewards earned in general service.
Aside from money, and the military rewards of promotion and status, reward could also come in the form of land. An advertisement in the August 10 1775 issue of the Quebec Gazette, advertising the raising of the new Royal Highland Emigrant Regiment, offered two hundred acres for every man who enlisted as a private soldier, and five thousand acres for volunteer officers.0 The post-Culloden wars offered any number of opportunities for willing Highlanders to become soldiers, and to enrich themselves in so doing. Captain Alexander Macleod of Berneray, having made his fortune in India, was able to purchase his native island of Harris from his clan chief in 1779, drawing on the income to fund his political career.0
Emigration, with or without the reward of land, was relatively uncommon among Scottish soldiers after discharge. The 1816 register of Scottish military pensioners showed over eighty-five per cent of those discharged returning to Scotland, often after army careers of twenty years, with most of the remainder settling in England.0 Returning Scottish soldiers tended to reintegrate as successfully into their respective localities as any other British soldiers, a process assisted by the great respect they were accorded. The presence of so many Scottish regiments, many of which were Highland, at Waterloo was a particular source of pride, and served to encourage enlistment. Those particular regiments actually became more Scottish in their character and makeup in the decades after the battle, rising from eighty-one per cent to ninety-seven per cent by 1843.0 With so many soldiers returning home to become minor local celebrities, it is no surprise that many of the boys and young men who grew up around them and heard their stories concluded that they might do well from the military life themselves.

If one were to look directly at the soldiers themselves for evidence of their motives, they would find interests and concerns not much different from those of other British soldiers. This is reflected in accounts of enlisted men, including that of Sergeant Daniel Nicol of the Gordon Highlanders. His description of combat has much in common with those of his English and even French counterparts;


As soon as the 90th had cleared the broken ground and began to ascend

the height, a heavy body of cavalry advanced to charge them. The 90th

formed in line, but before their line could get formed on the left the cavalry

was close on them. We thought it was all over with the 90th but they stood firm, and when the cavalry were about to strike at them they opened their fire ; it ran from right to left like a rattling peal of thunder. By this well-timed volley they saved themselves most gallantly, and the cavalry being so near, not more than 20 yards distant, it proved most destructive to them. Of those that wheeled past the left of the 90th few returned, and many horses were seen galloping with empty saddles.0


This account follows much the same style as those shown in earlier chapters, with combat being covered concisely and with a focus on what the author was immediately aware of. The one apparent difference is that Nicol’s account is considerably less sentimental, though this can be explained by the fact that it remained unpublished.
The prospect of wealth and status made the Highlanders willing to serve, even if it meant running the risk of harsh punishment or death in battle. But this did not mean that they would endure unfair treatment, as evidenced by their involvement in a series of mutinies in the latter half of the eighteenth century. As has been described in chapter one, British soldiers expected fair and considerate treatment in return for their services, and there is no basis on which to argue that the Highlanders’ expectations were any different. After the Duke of York became Commander-in-Chief in 1795, he banned the Prussian-influenced custom of beating soldiers with canes, and as a result no officer dared to strike a soldier. Flogging remained, with some support from ordinary soldiers, but could be carried out only after due process.0 The army mutinies of the late eighteenth century, including those of Highland regiments, need to be seen in light of this development. Though harsh discipline could sour a soldier’s attitudes, it cannot have been sufficient on its own to provoke mutiny, or Frederick the Great would have found himself without any army at any number of awkward moments. Where particular causes could be identified, the late eighteenth century mutinies were caused by practical complaints or a sense of having been treated unfairly.
The motives of the Black Watch mutiny of 1743 can be ascertained from the report of a correspondent of Gentleman’s Magazine, to whom several men of the regiment confided beforehand:
…they were retrenched of their pay; that they had not been regularly enlisted, and had been told that they should not go out of their own country, and were only coming to England to be reviewed; and that they were terrified for fear of going to Jamaica, as some had told them, rather than which they chose immediate death.0
This reluctance stands at odds with the historic Highland propensity for overseas adventures, and the fact that so many Highland soldiers in subsequent decades would go overseas in British service without apparent complaint. A particular dread of being sent to Jamaica was perfectly understandable, considering the reputation of the West Indies as a disease-ridden hell-hole. It was a concern that was shared with other Highland mutineers even after Culloden. Those of the 78th or Seaforth’s Highlanders who mutinied in September of 1778 were unshakeably convinced that they had been ‘sold’, that is to say that their regiment had been put at the disposal of the East India Company, and that they would be sent to ‘the Indies’. Because of this, their list of demands included their colours. A regiment that possessed a King’s Colour, or the Union flag, was considered to be in official existence and therefore could not be transferred to the Company.0 Their other complaints were rather more down-to-earth, that they had not been paid and that their officers had mistreated them.0 Non-receipt of pay was a common enough complaint, meaning that it can be regarded in this case as a contributing rather than a pivotal factor. That they should complain about mistreatment by officers shows that, like their English counterparts, they had certain expectations of fair treatment.
What sets the two mutinies apart is that they represented both of the approaches to Highland recruitment described previously. The issues of the 43rd can be explained in this context, with the soldiers having a mistaken impression of their intended duties made worse by the apparent dishonesty of their officers. The 78th was recruited in the later fashion, meaning that they were unlikely to have held the same illusions. In this respect it is worth noting that the 78th made no claim of a wish to remain in the Highlands, but specifically objected to being sent to ‘the Indies’, though it is unclear whether they made any distinction between west or east. This apparent shift in attitudes can be put down to mercenary motives, as seen in the example of the Argyll Fencibles mutiny, also in 1778. The area from which that particular regiment was recruited, the regions of Lorne, Cowal, and Kilbride, had already been visited by recruiters from the 74th. From a perspective of military recruitment, those found for the Argyll Fencibles were the dregs, signing on only in return for heavy bounties and promises not to be sent outside of Scotland except in the case of an invasion.0 Highland men had evidently come to realise what they and their sons were worth. It is possible to overstate the possibility of mutiny among Highland regiments, for of all those raised between 1689 and 1803 only a comparative minority, sixteen out of sixty-four, actually mutinied at any point in their history.0 This figure, while substantial, does not suggest an inherently mutinous tendency among the Highlanders.
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