1794 – 1814
French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars
For the Black Watch the Wars of the French Revolution (1792 – 1802) started with the unsuccessful British campaign in Flanders 1794/95, where for their action at Gedermalsen it is believed they were awarded the red hackle on June 4th, 1795. When the regiment was deployed to the West Indies afterwards, a storm scattered the convoy and only five companies reached Barbados. The other five companies and the headquarters found themselves in Gibraltar and it took until 1798 that the regiment was joined again. While the Barbados based companies had conquered St. Vincent, St. Lucia and Trinidad, the Gibraltar based ones had spent their time on garrison duty and service as sea soldiers on board ships of the Royal Navy.
Until 1800 the reformed regiment was involved in the British conquest of Minorca, Genua, Malta and Cadiz. In 1801 Britain started the invasion of Egypt with a maritime landing in the bay of Abukir and the Black Watch were among the first troops to land in the full view of the enemy. Sir John Fortescue reports that they "formed under heavy fire … repulsed the cavalry … and drove the infantry opposed to them out of the sandy hills".
In the following campaign the regiment distinguished itself at the Battle of Alexandria on March 21st 1801, where they won the honour of bearing the Sphinx in its colours. "The 42nd stands pre-eminent for a gallantry and steadfastness which would be difficult to match in the history of any army" was the admiring comment of Fortescue. In 1802 the Black Watch returned to the Highlands where again a second battalion was raised. Until 1808 both battalions served in Ireland and Gibraltar.
1808 the 1st Battalion, 42nd (Royal) Highland Regiment of Foot "Black Watch" finally joined the European theatre war when it formed part of a British expeditionary corps in Spain, commanded by General Sir John Moore. On January 16th, 1809, during the retreat to Corunna, the 1st Battalion, 42nd (Royal) Highland Regiment of Foot formed the centre in the decisive battle to delay the pursuing French forces at Elvina which gave the withdrawing British troops the time to reach their ships. After Corunna the 1st Battalion, 42nd (Royal) Highland Regiment of Foot "Black Watch" took part in the disastrous Walcheren expedition launched to capture the French shipyards in the Netherlands. The "Walcheren fever" rendered one in two soldiers dead or unfit for service.
Meanwhile the 2nd Battalion 42nd (Royal) Highland Regiment of Foot "Black Watch" saw action in the Peninsular War. Until 1812, when the remainder of the 1st Battalion joined the 2nd to form a new 1st Battalion they took part in the Battle of Busaco 1810, the defense of the Lines of Torres Vedras 1810/11, the Battle of Fuentes d'Onoro 1811 and the storming of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz in 1812. The 1st Battalion 42nd (Royal) Highland Regiment of Foot "Black Watch" then took part in the Battle of Salamanca, the siege of Burgos and the following retreat to Portugal. In Spring 1813 the British launched a new offensive which steadily drove the French back. After crossing the Pyrenees in November the war continued on French soil and the 1st Battalion, 42nd (Royal) Highland Regiment of Foot "Black Watch" fought in the Battle of Orthez on February 27th, 1814. On April 10th, 1814, the last battle of the Peninsular War was fought at Toulouse, where the 1st Battalion, 42nd (Royal) Highland Regiment of Foot "Black Watch" suffered heavy losses. Under heavy fire they performed an uphill bayonet charge against strongly fortified French positions. The charge routed the French opposition, but the evening roll call saw only 62 men fit for service, whereas 565 had reported for duty in the morning.
After Toulouse the 1st Battalion, 42nd (Royal) Highland Regiment of Foot "Black Watch"served with the occupation forces in Paris, left France for Ireland in June 1814 and returned to Belgium in 1815.