Tuesday, 8 May 2012

92nd Foot (The Gordon Highlanders)

In 1787 the 75th Regiment, the forerunner of the 1st battalion The Gordon Highlanders, was raised for service in the Far east, but it was not until 1793 when the French Revolutionary Government had declared war on Great Britain that the Government asked the Duke of Gordon to raise another regiment.

    The Duke having agreed, he received the authority on the 10th February, 1794, and the command was given to his son, the Marquess of Huntly, at that time a Lieutenant-Colonel in the 3rd, now the Scots Guards. The Duke himself, and his son, took a personal interest in the recruiting and the celebrated Duchess Jean, still a beautiful woman, lent to it all the prestige of her high position and the grace and charm of manner for which she was famed. She rode to the country fairs in Highland bonnet and regimental jacket and it is told how she gave a kiss to the men she enlisted. Sometimes she is said to have placed a guinea between her lips.
  On the 24th June, 1794 the newly embodied regiment was paraded for the first time at Aberdeen when they wore the then almost new, and now famous, tartan which had been devised by Forsythe of Huntly. Forsythe had taken the standard plaid and woven in a yellow stripe, which, as he wrote to Lord Huntly, he trusted would appear "very lively."
    It was at Gibraltar that the regiment, at that time not yet the 92nd, but the 100th Regiment of Foot, received their first colours and soon afterwards they were in Ireland making the acquaintance of Major-General John Moore with whom they were to serve on many historic occasions. In 1798 they were numbered the 92nd and in 1799 were fighting for a foothold on the sand-dunes of Holland at Egmont-op-Zee, the 75th were plodding through the jungles of Mysore with Colonel Wellesley on their way to Seringapatam, where the ultimately stormed the breach and trampled Tippoo Sahib underfoot. Ten years later at Corunna, at the end of the great retreat, the regiment had a prominent place at the funeral of their distinguished commander and it is in Sir John Moore`s memory that black buttons are worn on the spats.
By the autumn of 1810 the 92nd had joined Wellingtons army before Lisbon to spend more than a year preparing to breach the defences of the Spanish frontier. 1812 was the decisive year when the British army moved steadily northwards driving the Emperor's forces back to France. Famous actions followed in quick succession, no less than six battle honours being added to the colours, Fuentes D'Onor, Almaraz, Vittoria, Pyrenees, Nive and, Orthes but it was in the mountainous Pyrenees that the Gordon Highlanders really came into their own and were in at every skirmish. They would attack with fury when Soult turned to face them on the Nivelle, and as the year came to an end they were campaigning outside Bayonne remembering the gallantry of their three pipers at St. Pierre, where, as they went into battle, one piper died and another took up the air; and when death silenced him, a third continued it. Soon the war was over, Wellington was a Duke and the Gordon Highlanders returned to Ireland.
       But their recall to service was not long in coming when the Emperor Napoleon, having escaped from Elba, landed near Cannes on 1st March, 1815. Thus they soon found themselves once more under Wellington's command and by mid-May they were in Belgian billets. On the evening of the day early in June when Napoleon hurled his whole command towards Brussels four Sergeants of the Gordon Highlanders were dancing reels to amuse the guests at a ball given by the Duchess of Richmond, the eldest daughter of Jean, Duchess of Gordon. Among those present was Cameron of Fassifern their commanding officer, but the military guests left early and at dawn the regiment was marching out of the city and by afternoon they had joined a mixed force of Dutch and Germans holding a position near the cross-roads of Quatre Bras. In the savage fighting which followed the 92nd lost their Colonel, that Cameron of Fassifern who had joined the regiment when first raised and of him Sir Walter Scott wrote :-
                        During twenty years of active military service,
                        With a spirit that knew no fear and shunned no danger
                        He accompanied or led
                        In marches, sieges, in battle
                        The gallant 92nd regiment of Scottish Highlanders.
                        Always to honour, almost always to victory.
        And it was not only Fassifern who had gone. That night though the men of the 92nd cooked their supper in the breastplates of the French Cuirassiers they had killed and the Pipe-Major played his music at the cross-roads, he played for half the men in vain
    In the chill of the next dawn Wellington came to the Gordon Highlanders and it was there he came to his great decision that he would "get back to the position at Mont St. Jean, where I will accept battle with Napoleon if I am supported by one Prussian Corps." Thus on Sunday, 18th June, the two armies faced each other at WaterlooWhile Grouchy sought for the Prussians the Emperor brought 70,000 men to bear upon Wellington's position in which he had scarcely 63,000 of whom 42,000 were foreigners.
       The Gordon Highlanders were in the second line behind the Netherlands Brigade when they heard the good news that the Prussians were on their way, but as the main attack developed they heard their Brigadier shouting to them "92nd you must charge, for all the troops to your right and left have given way." And that was their signal for the Dutch were no longer ahead and the French were on the ridge. But the 92nd came on four deep with levelled bayonets and screaming pipes; and beside them beyond all belief, a pounding charge of British cavalry thundered towards the French.
        And then the horsemen recognised their countrymen and a great cry went up "Scotland for Ever," and the Gordon Highlanders seized hold of the stirrups of the Scots Greys as they gave back the cry; and all together the whole thundering mass of men and horses, sabres, bayonets and muskets were hurled into the midst of the French lines. The Gordons were beside themselves as they took to the slaughter and an old piper shouted that he could see Fassifern, still leading them, his bonnet lifted as it always used to be. And there was nothing that could stand against Highland frenzy, but the Brigadier recalled them saying "You have saved the day Highlanders, but you must return to your former position; there is more work to be done." It was then only half past three and there remained five hours of daylight. The summer afternoon wore on and wave after wave of French cavalry came charging up the slope, but the squares of the 92nd did not flinch.
        But now they could hear the Prussian guns and, as the light began to fade, the last attack, the massed bearskins of the Emperor's Guards came up the hill, came closer still and then withered away under the blast of British musketry. And the whole allied line swept forward and the Gordon Highlanders found themselves cheering their allies at La Belle Alliance. The great day was over; they had lost Fassifern and half their strength at Quatre Bras. At Waterloo they had lost almost half that had remained, but those two days of savage fighting brought to the Gordon Highlanders imperishable honour such as can never be outdone.

You can now find the Gordon highlanders on the Brush too Far website along with the other Napoleonic Highland regiments. The figures are Victrix miniatures and come in a mixture of poses.

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