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Tartan Ferret
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Arms & Tactics

The Armament of the Highland Clans.

The following shrt article is from a 1911 copy of the Aberdeen Journal.

Always the armament of the clans was pretty complete, at least for the higher ranks. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the gentlemen dressed in a saffron tunic, the "yellow war-coat" of the chiefs, but for battle they might assume the ancient hauberk or jersey of iron rings: they carried bow and arrows, a broadsword, a small axe-spear or halbert, and in the belt a dagger with a single, very sharp edge. The lesser folk donned a jacket of quilted linen, smeared with wax or pitch, and over that, one of deerskin, English and the other Scots fought in a woollen garment. Later a Highland array was a museum of old-fashioned pieces of armour, as in the ' Highland Host' of 1678. On that occasion the Glencoe men had for their regimental ensign a bush of heath spread out on the top of a staff. At Glenlivat (1594) the "yellow standard" of Argyll was the mark for Huntly's cannon. By the first quarter of the eighteenth century the Highland warrior had accumulated more modern weapons to the extent of carrying when armed at all points, a target, a firelock, a heavy broadsword, a pistol, a dirk, and a small knife tinder the armpit - "in his own individual person a whole company of foot" scoffs the military critic. These, of course, were the front-rank men, "who called themselves gentlemen," and had a shilling a day in the Forty-five (Home).

The Highland tactic in mass was to charge in columns of clans, unequal in number, from higher ground if at all possible. Two things heartily disliked and feared were horsemen and cannon, neither being fair play to a mountain militia. Their awe of the latter was almost a superstition. About the time of the Reformation, Huntly was the " Cock o' the North' and one means he had of overawing restless Highlanders was a great cannon which he had brought north and kept ostentatiously displayed in the courtyard of Strathbogie Castle. The cowardice of the dragoons and the abandonment of the guns at Prestonpans relieved much of this terror. But the peculiarity of the Highland charge - the scattered volley from muskets which were then thrown down, the swinging claymores with which they fell upon the soldiers of the line and the way in which they turned aside the bayonet with the target of hide - was equally disconcerting to the regular troops "with their stiff, pipe-clayed drill, and accounts for the rapid victories at Killiecrankie and Prestonpans until the military ability of Cumberland devised a method that at Culloden destroyed, with so much else, the formidable nature of the Highland attack. Fire was restrained and concentrated, the bayonet lunged not straight forward, but towards the next man, under the guard - and the day of victory was over.-

W. M. Mackenzie in ''Home Life of the Highlanders 1400-1746 (Highland Village Association Limited', Scottish Exhibition, Glasgow 1911).





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