26th Foot or Cameronian Regiment, was raised on 14th May 1689
in Douglas Lanarkshire from the ranks of the Covenanters,
taking its name from one of the most famous of their number,
Richard Cameron, 'The Lion of the Covenant'. The Covenanters
were men and women who had fought for - and .won – the
right to follow their Presbyterian faith and discipline when
the Stuart kings tried to impose the episcopal form of church
government upon the Scottish people. The unique background
and the traditions of the Presbyterian Church were maintained
by the Regiment throughout its long and illustrious history.
Only three months after its formation
and with no battle experience, the Regiment was despatched
to defend Dunkeld, arriving there on Saturday 17 August.
Experts felt that the town would be unable to hold out against the impending attack of some three
thousand Jacobite soldiers jubilant and confident after
their victory at the Battle of Killiecrankie.
Historian Sir Richard Burton describing
Dunkeld as the site for a battle wrote: ‘it is difficult
to imagine a position by the nature of the ground more dangerous
for a Lowland force, for it is deep sunk among hills commanding
it and cutting off a retreat while a rapid river forms the
diameter of the semi-circle.'
But the next day - despite the fact
that it was a Sunday - the garrison set about fortifying
Dunkeld Cathedral tower and the Duke of Atholl's new mansion,
On Monday morning, 19 August, two troops
of horse and three of dragoons arrived as reinforcements,
but later that day, after a brief skirmish, they were withdrawn
to-Perth. On Wednesday 21 August the whole Jacobite army
'crowded the hills', and the commanding officer of the Cameronians,
Lieutenant Colonel William Cleland, skillfully withdrew
his outposts and limited his defensive line to the church,
the mansion house and the edge of the park.
When the Highlanders, led by Colonel
Cannon, advanced in their traditional charge ('a sharp trot,
a discharge of firelocks and then a wild gallop with the
sword on the men lining the dykes'), the Cameronian defenders
repeatedly drove them back with pikes and halberts, which
proved to be excellent weapons at close quarters, Defence
was hampered, however, by attack from musketry in nearby
houses, and in retaliation the Cameronians sent out a party
'with blazing fagots on the ends of long pikes' to set.fire
to the dry thatch which roofed the buildings. They burned
every house in Dunkeld except three, in which some .of their
own troops were posted.
Fierce fighting raged until eleven
o'clock that night, when the Highland army fled to the hills,
leaving three hundred dead and saying that it ‘could
fight against men but was not fit to fight any more against
devils'. These 'devils' threw their caps in the air and
cheered; they then joined in praising God and thanking Him
for giving them the victory.
Although the Battle of Dunkeld was
a relatively small event, it had the effect of a major conflict,
in that it helped materially to determine Scotland's future
as a Presbyteriannation. The defeated Highlanders returned
home with whatever, plunder they could find on the way,
leaving their leader virtually without an army.
Sadly, Lieutenant Colonel Cleland,
who had so masterfully conducted the defence, was killed
in action. His body lies buried in the nave of the Cathedral,
beneath a simple stone bearing only his name.