A history of the Gordon Highlanders
92nd Regiment of Foot
A few historical Accounts
The Marquis of Huntly, whilst a captain in the 3rd Foot Guards, having offered to raise a regiment for general service, letters were granted to him for this purpose on the 10th of February 1794. In his zeal for the service the marquis was backed by his father and mother, the Duke and Duchess of Gordon, both of whom, along with the marquis himself, took an active share in the recruiting. It is quite a true story that the beautiful Duchess of Gordon recruited in person on horseback at markets, wearing a regimental jacket and bonnet, and offering for recruits the irresistible bounty of a kiss and a guinea. The result was, that, within the short space of four months, the requisite number of men was raised, and on the 24th of June the corps was inspected at Aberdeen by Major-General Sir Hector Munro, and embodied under the denomination of the "Gordon Highlanders."
Battle of Maya Pass
On the 25th of July 1813, the 92nd was stationed in the Maya Pass, on the right of the road leading from Urdax, and the 71st still farther to the left. The enemy collected a force of about 15,000 men behind some rocky ground in front of the British right, and with this overwhelming force drove in the light companies of the second brigade, gaining the high rock on the right of the allied position before the arrival of the second brigade from Maya, which was therefore compelled to retrace its steps towards the village, instead of falling back to its left on the first brigade. Lt.Col. Cameron detached the 50th to the right the moment the action commenced. That regiment was severely engaged, and was forced to retire along the ridge. The right wing of the 92nd, under Major John M’Pherson, was sent to its support, and for some time had to stand the whole brunt of the enemy’s column. The right wing of the 71st regiment was also brought up, but such was the advantage of the position the enemy had gained by separating the two brigades, and in a manner descending upon the Pass of Maya, while a fresh division was pushing up to it from the direction of Urdax, that the small body of troops received orders to retire to a high rock on the left of the position. This movement was covered by the left wings of the 71st and 92nd regiments, which, relieving each other with the utmost order and regularity, and disputing every inch of ground, left nothing for the enemy to boast of. The brigade continued to hold the rock until the arrival of Major-General Edward Barnes’ brigade, when a general charge was made, and every inch of ground recovered as far as the Maya Pass.
On this occasion the 92nd was ordered by Lt.-General the Honourable Sir William Stewart not to charge, the battalion having been hotly engaged for ten successive hours, and in want of ammunition. The 92nd, however, for the first time disregarded an order, and not only charged, but led the charge.
The 92nd behaved with equal bravery on July 30th and 31st and August 1st, its casualties altogether during the passage of the Pyrenees being 53 rank and file killed, 26 officers and 363 rank and file wounded.
Battle of the Nive
In the passage of the Nive the 92nd had its full share of the fighting. On the 13th of December, besides being exposed during the day to a continued fire of musketry and artillery, the battalion made four distinct charges with the bayonet, each time driving the enemy to his original position in front of his entrenchments. At one time the 92nd while pressing onwards was arrested by a fearful storm of artillery. Of one of these charges Sergeant Robertson writes: —
"The order was given to charge with the left wing of the 92nd, while the right should act as riflemen in the fields to the left of the road. The left wing went down the road in a dashing manner, led by Col. Cameron, who had his horse shot under him, and was obliged to walk on foot. As soon as we came up to the French many of them called out for quarter, and were made prisoners. After the enemy had maintained their ground for a short time, they saw that it was impossible for them to stand against us. The road was soon covered with the dead and dying. The French now broke offto their own right, and got into the fields and between the hedges, where they kept up the contest until night. Although the action ended thus in our favour, we did not gain any new ground. After the battle was over, we were formed on a piece of rising ground about a mile to our own rear, when Lord Wellington came in person to thank the 92nd for their gallant conduct and manly bearing during the action, and ordered a double allowance of rum, and that we should go into quarters on the following day."
On this occasion Lts. Duncan M'Pherson, Thomas Mitchell, and Alan M’Donald were killed. Major John M’Pherson (mortally), Captains George W. Holmes, Ronald M’Donald, and Donald M’Pherson; Lts. John Catenaugh, Ronald M’Donald, James John Chisholm, Robert Winchester, and George Mitchell, and Ensign William Fraser were wounded. 28 rank and file were killed, and 143 wounded.
In commemoration of this action an honorary badge was conferred by His Majesty on Lt.Col. Cameron, bearing the word "Nive," and the senior captain of the regiment (Captain James Seaton) was promoted to the brevet rank of major. The royal authority was also granted for the 92nd to bear the word "Nive" on its regimental colour and appointments.
Battle at Quatre Bras
On the evening of the 15th of June the alarm was sounded in Brussels, and hasty preparations were made to go out to meet the enemy. Col. Cameron, who had that day been invested with the order of the Bath, and who was present at the famous ball given by the Duke of Wellington when the alarm was given, was quickly at the head of the regiment. The march was commenced at daybreak on the 16th by the Namur gate. Lt.-General Sir Thomas Picton’s division, to which the 92nd belonged, came under fire about two o’clock in front of Genappe, at Quatre Bras, where the main road from Charleroi to Brussels is crossed by another from Nivelles to Namur, and which served as the British communication with the Prussians on the left. The 92nd was formed in front of Quatre Bras farm-house on the road, lining a ditch, with its rear to the walls of the building and garden, its right resting on the crossroads, and its left extending down the front. Shortly after the 92nd was thus formed, the Duke of Wellington and his staff came and dismounted in the rear of the centre of the regiment. The enemy poured a very hot fire of artillery on this post, and his cavalry charged it, but was received by a well-directed volley from the regiment, and forced to retire with great loss of men and horses. Immediately after this the French infantry attacked the position on the right and in front, and the Gordon Highlanders, who had been standing impatiently eager for action, were now ordered to charge the advancing enemy: "92nd, you must charge these fellows," the Duke said, and with one bound the regiment was over the ditch advancing at full speed, and making the French give way on all sides. The 92nd continued to pursue the enemy, and was hotly engaged till nightfall, when the action ceased. It was very much cut up both in officers and men, as it was among the first to go into action, and, along with the other Highland regiments, had for a long time to resist the attack of the entire French army. Undoubtedly its greatest loss on this hot day was the brave and high-minded Col. Cameron.
The above mentioned anecdotes are just a few of the adventures which this gallant regiment and it's soldiers experienced during the Napoleonic Wars but give a splendid view of it's career and extraordinary behaviour.
Images from "Life of a Regiment: The History of the Gordon Highlanders" and text passages taken from ElectricScotland.