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Book Reviews

Sons Of The Mountains: The Highland Regiments In The French & Indian War, 1756-1767

by Ian Macpherson McCulloch

Fleischmanns, New York: Purple Mountain Press, 2006
Toronto: Robin Brass Studio, 2006
Volume One: 392 pages, $35.00 (trade paperback, illustrated)
Volume Two: 208 pages, $24.00, (trade paperback, illustrated)

Reviewed by Howard G. Coombs

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Sons of the Mountains is a two-volume history of three Highland regiments that fought in North America during the Seven Years’ War. The author, Lieutenant-Colonel Ian McCulloch, has created a masterful account of the exploits of the 77th Foot (Montgomery’s Highlanders), the 78th Foot (Fraser’s Highlanders), and the 42nd Foot (the Royal Highland Regiment – or better known as the “Black Watch”). Aficionados of both Canadian and military history will appreciate the scope and detail of these books when reading the specifics of military engagements that occurred across the sparsely settled wilds of this continent – particularly the military actions at Louisburg (1758), Quebec (1759 and 1760), and St. John’s (1762).

McCulloch’s work combines the anecdotal richness of Richard Holmes Redcoat: The British Soldier in the Age of Horse and Musket, with the utility of a reference work. He provides life to these long-dead Highlanders with comprehensive tales of their daily exploits, while, at the same time, giving the particulars of their origins, and detailing the inner workings of these mid-18th Century Georgian regiments. Furthermore, Sons of the Mountains is an invaluable source of genealogical information for those wishing to trace the history of the Scots in North America.

Sons of the Mountains fills an empty niche in the history of the colonial period by dispelling the mythic image of the Highland soldier. Through rigorous and wide-ranging research in key archives across two continents, McCulloch deconstructs the stories and fables surrounding the Scots, and meticulously builds an accurate representation of those in the 42nd, 77th and 78th Regiments of Foot. His purpose is to create an understanding in the reader of “...the human dynamics at play in these particular eighteenth century Highland regiments,” and, without doubt, McCulloch is successful in this goal.

Volume One presents an easily readable series of narratives concerning the exploits of all three regiments, ranging as they did from the Atlantic coast to the banks of the Ohio River. These vivid and realistic accounts immerse one in the daily life of the Scottish regiments as they serve the interests of the Crown in a foreign land. The level of detail contained in these descriptions will delight all. Within this volume is also a hidden treatise dealing with the impact of the conclusion of hostilities on military organizations. The post-war disbandment of the 77th and 78th Regiments of Foot, as well as the reduction in strength and employment on garrison duties of the 42nd Foot, exemplify the military demobilization and integration activities that inevitably follow conflict.

Volume Two is a substantive reference work that includes biographies of all regimental officers – over 350 in total. McCulloch also provides an extensive survey of Highland dress, weapons, equipment, and the various officer/soldier specialties included within these three units. There are also a number of eclectic essays, ranging from oral histories of Captain Donull Gorm Macdonell of the 78th Foot, through an exposition of the Highland Chaplaincy, to the use of the bagpipe. Also incorporated are a collection of muster rolls and land petitions, along with an annotated bibliography that offers useful references for further reading or research.

These volumes are lavishly illustrated with artwork, prints, photographs, and diagrams. The excellent battle maps by Chris Johnson, whose work has graced numerous Canadian military histories such as the Fighting For Canada series edited by Donald Graves, deserve special mention. The sources are an inclusive collection of primary and secondary materials from Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Through painstaking research, organization, and writing, McCulloch is to be commended for producing a set of books that are of not only utility and interest to academics and military professionals, but to any enthusiast of Canadian history and heritage.

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Howard G. Coombs, an infantry reservist, is the Commanding Officer of the Princess of Wales’ Own Regiment. He is currently a doctoral candidate at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.