26th Regiment of Foot

In Collaboration With Charles Griffin

Raising of the Regiment
The origin of the Cameronians is absolutely unique because it is the only regiment in the British Army which has a religious foundation. The name 'Cameronian' was given to the most militant of the Presbyterian sects which sought to prevent any dilution of the Presbyterian faith, and who upheld the principles of the National Covenant, signed at Greyfriars Church Yard in Edinburgh on 28th Feb 1638. Richard Cameron was leader of the sect and on 22nd June 1680 he made the Declaration of Sanquhar which denied King Charles civil and religious authority. This meant that membership of the Cameronians was a treasonable offence. They resorted to holding their religious worship in secret locations on hillsides, known as conventicles.

After numerous trials, endless debate, and frequent battles, and with the arrival of the protestant William of Orange to the throne in Nov 1688, the Covenanters were brought into government service as the Cameronian Regiment, commanded by Colonel James Douglas, Earl of Angus. The heraldic arms of the Douglas family has a Mullet (star) device which became the badge of the regiment.

The first muster of this unit took place at Douglas Parish Kirk, Lanarkshire on 12th May 1689. Here, a declaration was read out and explained to the assembled men:

"All shall be well affected, of approved fidelity and of a sober conversation. The cause they are called to appear for, is the service of the King's Majesty and the defence of the nation, recovery and preservation of the Protestant Religion; and in particular the work of reformation in Scotland, in opposition to Popery, prelacy and arbitrary power in all its branches and steps, until the Government of Church and State be brought back to that lustre and integrity which it had in the best times."

This extraordinary regiment was, therefore, as much a congregation as a military force. Each company had its elder and every man carried a Bible. Traditionally, the regiment posted sentinels at church parades and the sermon did not commence until an officer notified the minister with a shout of 'All clear!'

The Glorious Revolution and William of Orange's Wars

Battle of Dunkeld 1689

The recruits were organised into 20 companies of 60 men each and marched to Stirling where they received uniforms and weapons. They then took part in the war against the Jacobite highlanders known as Dundee's Rising. After the Jacobite victory at Killiecrankie the Cameronians were ordered to block the road to the south by securing the town of Dunkeld. It was not a fortified town so they took up positions in the Cathedral. There they were surrounded by 5,000 highlanders and exchanged fire for several hours. The commanding officer, William Cleland was killed early on, leaving Captain George Munro to lead the regiment. He bravely led a charge against the enemy which caused them to retreat. 300 highlanders were killed in the battle and the new regiment had earned a reputation as 'devils'.

Steenkirk 1692

The regiment went to the Netherlands in 1691 as part of King William's army, to fight the French in the War of the League of Augsburg. On 3rd August 1692 the Allies attacked the French garrison of Steenkirk, led by the young Earl of Angus. It was a badly organised assault which resulted in the death of Angus, the regiment's Colonel, and the defeat of the Allies. The Cameronians fought bravely with Angus and the chaplain, Alexander Shields in the thick of the battle. Much of the action was at close quarters, amid hedgerows, ditches and drains in the flat countryside. Renforcements were not moved up as requested to support the attack and an orderly withdrawal was hampered by French artillery and cavalry. Casualties depleted the regimental strength by one third.

Landen 1693

On 29th July 1693 the French commander Marshal de Luxembourg attacked the Allied trenches at Landen, or Neerwinden. The regiment, defending the village of Laer, were driven out, then mounted a successful counter-attack. But the French cavalry forced the allies back causing a retreat that could have been a disaster if they had pursued them. The allied casualties amounted to 19,000 while the French suffered 9,000. The Cameronians had only a few killed and wounded.

War of the Spanish Succession 1701-15

Blenheim 1704

26th at Blenheim
The regiment returned from the continent in 1699 and were based in Perth, employed on policing duties in the highlands. But when war broke out again in 1701 they were sent to the Netherlands in July 1702, twelve companies strong. They were part of the Duke of Marlborough's army which headed towards the Danube in early 1704. They took part in the storming of the Schellenberg on 2nd July 1704 and went on to Blenheim. The Cameronians were part of the brigade led by Major-General James Ferguson who was colonel of the regiment from 1693 to 1705. The brigade was in Lord Cutts's division of 16 battalions. On 13th August they mounted an attack on the French right flank which was holding the village of Blenheim. Four times they charged the defences in the face of withering fire, but were unable to dislodge them. The brigade was then ordered to take up a blocking position to neutralise their right wing while Marlborough's cavalry attacked the centre. The French, with their Bavarian allies, under the command of Marshal Tallard, were completely beaten. They lost 18,500 men that day while the army of Marlborough and Prince Eugene lost 12,700. The 26th suffered heavily but had taken part in one of the most important victories in military history and earned their first battle honour.

Ramillies 1706

The next major battle was on May 23rd at Ramillies where Marlborough was up against the French commander, Villeroi. The Cameronians were part of a diversionary attack under the Earl of Orkney, on the French stronghold in the village. This enabled the main allied attack to proceed against an over-extended French right and Marlborough had won another great victory.

Oudenarde 1708

The regiment was engaged in the sieges of Dendermond and Ath during 1707. After Wynendale they fought at Oudenarde, on the river Scheldt, on 11th July 1708. The French were at a disadvantage because their commander, Vendome had to cope with interference from the royal Duke of Burgandy. The 26th came under fire but were not actually engaged directly with the enemy.

Malplaquet 1709

The battle of Malplaquet was fought on French soil on 11th September 1709. The regiment was positioned in the centre, again under the Earl of Orkney. They managed to force a gap in the French line so that the British cavalry could exploit and break their defences. There were a few more years of campaigning and sieges before the Treaty of Utrecht was signed in 1713 and the 26th could finally march home. They had gained their first four battle honours

First Jacobite Rebellion

Preston 1715

The Jacobites marched south to Preston and established defensive positions in houses throughout the town. They were led by Thomas Forster and consisted of around 4,000 Scots and English supporters of the Stuart cause. A force led by Major-General Wills was sent against them. The Cameronians, coincidentally known as Preston's Regiment after the name of their Colonel, were commanded by Lt-Col Lord Forrester. As they approached the town they were halted by heavy fire but they found a way in via the Wigan road and managed to secure two houses. After a hard fought action in which the regiment sustained 92 casualties, they won the day and the rebels were captured or dispersed.

Anglo-Spanish War 1727-1729

Gibraltar 1727

After a period of duty in Ireland and service at sea as marines in 1726 the regiment was sent to Gibraltar during the Spanish siege of 1727. The British had captured the Rock in August 1704. The Spanish made an unsuccessful attempt to recapture it in that year and did not try again until 1727 when a force of 20,000 under Count de las Torres encamped in view of the garrison in December 1726 and began a siege that lasted from 11th Feb to 12th June 1727, known as the 13th Siege of Gibraltar. The Cameronians, referred to as Colonel Anstruther's Regiment, arrived on 3rd Feb 1727 and sustained losses mostly from artillery fire. The Spanish suffered the loss of at least 2,000 and failed to capture the fortress, whereas the British overall casualty figures were: 69 killed 207 wounded 36 died of wounds 49 died of sickness and 17 deserted. The Cameronians figures were: 6 killed 29 wounded 3 died of wounds 6 died of sickness and no desertions. They remained in garrison there for eleven years. They were then moved to Minorca from 1738 to 1748 to defend that island from France and Spain.

Service from 1749 to 1772
In 1747 the regiment was ranked 26th but was not named as such until 1751. During the years 1749 to 1767 they were stationed first in Ireland and then in Scotland. Although it took no part in the Seven Years War of 1756-63 the 26th supplied drafts for service in other Scots and English regiments. In 1767 the regiment embarked for the American Colonies to protect them from French Canadians and Spanish from the south. During this period they recruited from the colonies and were moved up to Montreal in 1772.
War of American Independence 1775-78

Fort St John's 1775

At the outbreak of the war in May 1775 the two forts of Ticonderoga and Crown Point were held by small detachments of the 26th who were unable to withstand attacks by superior numbers of colonists. The more important Fort St John's was held by a mixed garrison of 500 soldiers, of whom half were Cameronians. The remainder of the regiment were dispersed in detachments elsewhere in Canada. When an invasion of Canada took place, St John's was besieged and cut off. With the surrender of nearby Fort Chambly and the failure of a relief expedition, St John's also had to be surrendered.

New York 1777

It was 18 months before the regiment consolidated and reformed in New York as garrison troops. After the defeat of the British at Saratoga on 17th Oct 1777, the 26th were sent temporarily to defend Philadelphia, but later returned to New York.

Reforming the Regiment 1780
With the end of the war the men were looking forward to returning to the UK but most of them were drafted to other regiments in 1779 leaving only a small cadre to sail home to begin recruiting. The proportion of Scotsmen in the regiment increased substantially due to the efforts of of the new colonel, Lord Adam Gordon. The years 1783-7 were spent by the 26th in Ireland.
Corps of Drums and Musicians
The Two Fives
1689 - 1881
1689 - 1881
Commanding Officers
1689 - 1881
1689 - 1881
Battle Honours
War of Spanish Succession 1701-15

French Revolutionary Wars 1783-1802

Peninsular War 1808-14

First China War 1839-42

Abyssinian War 1867-8

Seventh Kaffir War 1846-7

1689 The Cameronian Regiment of Foot
1751 26th Regiment of Foot
1782 26th (or Cameronian) Regiment of Foot
1881 The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles)
Further Reading
Historical Records of the Twenty-Sixth or Cameronian Regiment
Edited by Thomas Carter
Byfield Stanford & Co, London 1867
A Regimental History of the Covenanting Armies 1639-1651
by Edward M Furgol
(John Donald Publishing Ltd
Edinburgh 1990)
The History of the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) Vol I 1698-1910
by S F H Johnson
Gale & Polden, Aldershot 1957
The Scottish Regiments
Diana M Henderson
Harper Collins 1993
The Scottish Regiments 1633-1996
by Patrck Mileham
Spellmount 1996
The Lowland Regiments: Lions Rampant
by Paul W Pratt
(Impulse Books, Aberdeen 1972)

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by Stephen Luscombe