by An Eyewitness
[From the Dublin Penny Journal, Vol. 1, No. 19, November 3, 1832]
To the Editor of the Dublin Penny Journal
sir, - Taking a walk a few days ago towards the Phoenix Park, I had the good fortune to see a cavalry regiment marching out to a review on the Fifteen Acres, and casting my eye on the staff of officers in front, I was absolutely dazzled with the splendour of their attire, glowing with gold-lace. Each seemed to me a representation of Plutus, the god of wealth, or of Mars, the god of war. Thinks I to myself, it is a pity that all this millinery and brocade should ever be exposed to the rude shocks of war - surely such finery belongs more to the band-box than to the tented field! I was tempted forthwith to consider that such plumage does not belong to the eagle or the falcon, but to the popinjay, the peacock, and the cockatoo. But then I corrected myself, and assumed that these gallantries were only displayed in the piping time of peace - that these puppy youths were now reposing in the lap of their softer conquests, like Rinaldo in the gardens of Armida, or Achilles masquerading among the handmaidens of Deidamia. But still I could not help contrasting these gay trappings with the regimental accoutrements of my five grand uncles, whom, in my youth, I remember to have seen in the full costume of the Ligonier Guards, and which said accoutrements are kept with great veneration by an old bachelor relative. These old spolia have a different cut and character from the golden gauds that decorate our modern chivalry. Why, Sir, the old iron helmet, crested with red horse hair, would weigh down the head of one of our present striplings, while the basket hilted Andrea Ferrara would sprain the wrist of a modern pretty officer. To be sure, my grand-uncles were not sons of noblemen, who choose the army, pour passer le temps, but sons of an Irish gentleman who had nothing to give them but their swords, and thus sent them to win their way through the world, like true Irishmen, by fighting those whom they never saw before, and cutting away, right and left, all before them. They enlisted as privates in Lord Ligonier's Regiment of Black Horse, and in that boasted assemblage of "gentlemen," as their Commander with pride termed them, they passed through the gradations of wounds and promotions, and shared fully in the dangers and "hairbreadth 'scapes," which entitled the only remaining one who came home alive, with his skull trepanned, to retire as a "major." In order to show the contrast between the cavalry of the present day and that of a century ago, I call your attention to a paper published in the Dublin Literary Gazette some time ago, which, as that periodical did not gain the circulation it deserved, you might give a place in your extensively read Journal. I believe it was furnished by that excellent Irish antiquarian, Mr. Hardiman.
His Majesty's Fourth regiment of horse, commanded by Sir John Ligonier, continued upon the Irish establishment from the conclusion of Queen Anne's wars to the year 1742. This long period of thirty years, naturally brought the corps to be composed almost entirely of Irish, as I do not recollect at any time more than two or three private men in it of any other country. A Regiment eminently distinguished at the revolution, and in the Queen's wars under Marlborough, found no difficulty in recruiting. It was in general composed of the younger branches of ancient and respectable families, nor was it uncommon, to give from twenty to thirty guineas for a trooper's place. In the summer of 1742, the Regiment was ordered for foreign service, and so very unexpectedly, that the troop horses were taken up from grass, and the clothing of the men was in the last month of the period for which it was to be worn; under these disadvantageous circumstances was the regiment embarked for England, and upon their march for embarkation for Flanders, was reviewed, without respite or preparation, at Hounslow, by the king, in the centre between the Oxford Blues and Pembroke's horse, of nine troops each, newly and completely appointed, and which had only marched from the neighbouring cantonments for that purpose. No wonder that there was a manifest disparity in the appearance of the corps, the meagre horses of the Blacks, being scarcely able to crawl under the raw boned half-naked Hibernians who rode them. The old king, however, had judgment to discern the cause, and generosity to make the proper allowances, and wishing to afford their dejected Colonel (who no doubt experienced not a little uneasiness on the occasion,) some consolation, he good-humouredly said, "Ligonier! your men have the air of soldiers, despite of their clothes, their horses indeed look poorly, how is it? "Sir," replied he, "the men are Irish and gentlemen, the horses are English." The Regiment shortly afterwards embarked for Germany, and in the ensuing campaign, in June 1743, were of the brigade of English cavalry at the battle of Dettingen. The army being surprised into action, and not having an opportunity of calling in their outposts, the regiment was but 180 strong in the field; after having sustained a very heavy cannonade from three batteries for an hour and forty minutes, they charged the French gendermerie, drawn up six deep to sustain the weight of British horse. From a failure of one of the flank regiments of the brigade, of which the enemy promptly took advantage, the regiment was surrounded and overpowered, and forced to fight their way back through the enemy, as the only means of preventing their total annihilation. In this charge the regiment had fifty-six men, and six officers killed and wounded,* making nearly one third of the whole. For the remainder of the campaign the regiment did duty but as one squadron. Many had hitherto been the taunts and snouches which the two English regiments had thrown upon the virgin mary's guards, (for so the Blacks were termed, being mostly all Roman Catholics,) but from this period the tables were turned, and St. Patrick protected the honour of his countrymen. Having served in that engagement in the 33rd Regiment of foot, (johnston's) I had fortunately an opportunity of preserving the life of a French nobleman, and having occasion to Fall into the rere of the line, to protect my prisoner, I came immediately behind the Blacks, and I then saw an old veteran corporal, and half a dozen comrades, who had fought through the enemy, and were literally covered with wounds; he addressed his companions with observing their present wretched condition, that they had began the day well, and hoped they would end it so, and collecting this small squadron of heroes, they re-charged the thickest of the enemy, and in a second of time not a man of the little band survived. Cornet Richardson who carried a standard, received seven and thirty cuts and shots upon his body, and through his clothes, besides many on the standard, and being questioned how he contrived to save the colours, he observed, (like a true Hibernian,) that if the wood of the standard had not been made of iron, it would have been cut off. The regiment being provided with new standards the ensuing winter, each Cornet was presented with the particular standard he had himself carried, as an honourable testimony of his good behaviour. In 1745, the Regiment was at the battle of Fontenoy, and on that field there was not a man or horse wanting of their full complement. One man indeed had been left behind at Brussels, wounded in a duel, but there having been brought up to the Regiment, in a number of recruits, one man more than was wanting, the General had ordered him to be kept at his own expense till a vacancy should happen, so that in reality the Regiment was by one man more than complete in its number. In this action there was a trooper in the regiment, named Stevenson, whose horse had been shot early in the morning. The regiment saw no more of him till next evening, that he joined them at Ath. The men of his troop insisted that he should give an account of himself; that he was unworthy of being a Ligonier, and that he should not attempt to stay in the lines. Stephenson demanded a court-martial next day, it sat, and the man being questioned what he had to say in his justification, he produced Lieutenant Izard of the Welsh Fusiliers, who declared that on the morning of the action, the prisoner addressed him, told him that his horse being killed, be requested to have the honour of carrying a firelock under his command in the grenadiers, which was complied with; that through the whole of that day's action he kept close by him, and behaved with uncommon intrepidity and conduct, and was one of nine grenadiers that he brought off the field. Stevenson was restored to his troop with honour, and next day the Duke presented him to a lieutenancy in the regiment in which he had behaved so well.
Quarter-master Jackson was the son of a Quarter-master in the regiment. His father not having the means of providing for him, the young fellow went on board a man-of-war in a fleet going to the Mediterranean. A party of the crew made a descent on the coast of Spain: this was in 1734. The party was surprised, and Jackson made prisoner by the Spaniards. In order to obtain his liberty from a gaol, after twelve months captivity, he enlisted in the Spanish army, and the year following, being in command on the coast of Spain, his party was surprised by the Moors; he was made prisoner, carried to Oran in Barbary, and exhibited as a slave for sale; the English Consul seeing something in his appearance that made him suspect he was his countryman, spoke to him, and finding him a British subject, purchased him, brought him home to his house, and made him superintendant of his family. After some years, he obtained his discharge, returned to Ireland, and found his father still living. Lord Ligonier permitted the old man to resign his warrant to his son.
Some time after this, the regiment being upon Dublin duty, Jackson, in passing through the Castle-yard, observed a soldier standing sentinel at the gate, and perceived that as he walked by, the soldier turned his face from him, as if to conceal himself. Jackson returning to the barrack, found himself unusually distressed, He could not banish the idea of this same sentinel out of his mind; he had an anxiety that he could not account for or suppress, to know who he was; and going next morning to the Castle, he waited the relief of the guard, and found the man that he wanted. Jackson addressed him, told him that his face was familiar to him, and begged to know where he had seen him before: in short, in this soldier, he found his protector the Consul of Oran, who had redeemed him from slavery. The account that he gave of this extraordinary reverse of fortune, was, that shortly after they had parted, his affairs ran into confusion; he had out-run his allowance; had overdrawn, was recalled, and obliged to return to England, where, upon his arrival he enlisted with the first recruiting party that he met, and now was a soldier with his fortune in his knapsack. Jackson made every return in his power to his benefactor: obtained his discharge from the infantry, had him appointed a trooper in the Blacks, and shared his pay with him. But in the course of six months the unfortunate Consul died of brandy and a broken heart.
I returned with the regiment to Ireland, in March 1747. From the time of their leaving Ireland, there never was an instance of a man's having deserted - there never was a man or horse belonging to it taken by the enemy, nor a man tried by a general Court-Martial. - There was but six men who died a natural death; and there were thirty-seven private men promoted to commissions.
*Colonel Ligonier, Captains Stewart and Robinson, Lieutenant Cholmly, Cornet Richardson, and Quarter Master Jackson; Robinson and Jackson died.