When it doesn't fit anywhere else
 #175531  by RiverRat
The mysteries of Peggy-O

The song Peggy-O is said to have originated from an older tune... The Bonny Lass o'Fivie. But how did the original song go from what it was to what it became?

The Song The Bonny Lass o'Fivie tells the story of the Captain of a contingent of Irish Dragoons involved in a military campaign in Scotland that involves several specific locations. The title of the song gives us Fyvie, a village in Scotland a some miles west of Aberdeen. It describes a series of movements through, Fyvie, the Brae o'Gight, Auchterlass (Auchterless), and Aberdeen. All location relatively nearby to each other.

The closest real events that happened around them was sending of the Irish Contingent in 1644 during the War Of The Three Kingdoms. In the early part of the war, Scottish unrest between the Royalists and the Parlimentarians cause massive upheaval and unrest in the kingdom of Ireland. The lead to British intervention in Ireland, resulting in a truce between the two kingdoms. As part of the truce, Ireland was to raise a military force that was to be sent to Scotland to help quell the unrest between the Royalists and Covenenters. That force was drawn mainly out of the north of Ireland, a region that had had an influx of Scottish Highlanders exiles from earlier unrest. One prominent region that was drawn on was Leinster.

Knowing the dates of the major battles of 1644 in Scotland, we can put the date of the Battle of Aberdeen as September 13, 1644. We also know the date the the first major battle of the Irish Incursion, the Battle of Tippermuir, as September 1, 1644. So from that, we can deduce that the events described in The Bonny Lass o'Fyvie happened during the twelve days of these battles. The first event is the captain falling in love in Fyvie. Fyvie is one hundred miles from Perth, the site of the Battle of Tippermuir. The British army marching standard of the time was 15 miles a day, so that means they marched for about a week from Perth to Fyvie. That means out original captain, Ned, would have fallen in love around September 9, 1644.

Apparently, according to the song, they marched about five miles out of the village of Fyvie to the Brae O'Gight. Somewhere within the vicinity of the Castle Gight, they got into an engagement, where our Captain Ned is mortally wounded. This would have happened on September 10, 1644. The Irish pull back and retreat to Auchterless, about ten miles away, carrying the wounded Ned. By the end of the day, September 11, 1644, Ned would be dead and buried. The Irish would then march twenty five miles on to Aberdeen and take the city on September 13, 1644. Involved in the defeat at Aberdeen, among the Covenenters, was one Sir William Forbes of Craigevar. His cavalry force would be resoundingly crushed in the battl`e and he would be taken prisoner. Not only were the Covenenters forces decisively defeated, but the city was also sacked and plundered, due to a perceived slight before the Battle. The city was burned.

Out of that we get The Bonny Lass o'Fyvie, but there is a small catch. The song makes much mention of guineas throughout, but the guinea wouldn't be issued in Great Britain until 1663, almost twenty years after the events in the song. So we can kind of deduce that the song was an invention of an older oral tradition of the telling of the story of the earlier war.


Fast forward about 150 years after the creation of the song, the British Army is engaged in a bunch of conflicts around the globe. The Napoleonic Wars in Europe were one. The upcoming showdown over the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 was another. In the raising of troops for these, the commission of a colonelcy to raise a regiment in the Aberdeen area was given to one General Honorable William Gordon of Fyvie. Gordon stood up the regiment, the 21st Regiment of Foot, and it embarked on campaigns in Europe against Napoleon until 1814.

At the conclusion of the hostilities against Napoleon in Europe, the 21st Regiment of Foot was ordered to America to assist the British forces fighting there. They began a campaign of attacks on the east coast, starting with Washington in August of 1814. They continue assaults up and down the East Coast until it is deemed to late in the season for fighting, so they make off to regroup in Jamaica. In December 1814, a battalion of the 21st Regiment is attached to a British force sent to take the city of New Orleans in Louisiana. They would anchor off the coast of Louisiana on December 10, 1814, and begin landing operations in preparation to march on New Orleans.

On December 23, 1814, a small contingent made landing on the east bank of the Mississippi River several miles south of the city, near the plantation of one Major Gabriel Villeré, the former French governor of the French Louisiana Colony. During that night, the American forces in great numbers attempted a nighttime assault on the British forces. The smaller British forces of the 21st Regiment was able to repel the Americans, but lost their leader in the process, One Captain William Conran. The Conran Clan had originated as Scottish Highlands exiles in the Leinster area of Ireland. The same region as the Irish captain from The Bonny Lass o'Fyvie.

The 21st Regiment would sustain significant losses over the next few days from Andrews Jackson's artillery, mainly in the form of devastating grape shot. The remainder of the 21st Regiment would again be chewed up on January 8, 1815 in the final decisive battle. The British would depart Louisiana in January 1815 to regroup in Bermuda, and return to Cork, Ireland in 1815. This would be the end of William Gordon's command on the 21st Regiment of Foot. He would die May 25, 1816, and the regiment would be disbanded, as was custom at the time. Coincidentally, the British Guinea would be last minted and issued this very same year.

Gordon's relatives that were involved in the War of the Three Kingdoms are too numerous to list. Clan Gordon was present in great numbers at the Battles of Fyvie, Aberdeen, and Gight. One relative, Lord George Gordon, was killed leading troops during the Battle of Alford. Gordon's great-great-grandfather, Sir John Gordon, 1st Baronet, of Haddo, was not involved directly in the hostilities. But due to his waivering loyalties to the royalists, and the animosity towards the parlimentarians, he was captured and executed by beheading in 1644 by the parlimentarians.

The 21st Regiment would be stood up again in June 1816, under the command of a James Ochoncar Forbes, 17th Lord Forbes. A distant relative of Sir William Forbes of Craigevar. He, like General Gordon previously, had numerous relatives involved in the War of the Three Kingdoms.


From one account of the battle:

December 23, 1814 British Landing and Night Battle: A British advance force ascends Bayou Catalan (Bienvenue) and Villeré’s Canal to the Mississippi River, capturing 30 Louisiana militiamen posted in Villeré’s house as well as Maj. Gabriel Villeré, who subsequently escapes. Jackson attacks after nightfall, stopping the British advance; the Americans fall back and begin construction of a defensive line behind the Rodriguez Canal.

"The British had done the impossible. Two officers, disguised as locals, had found the one bayou leading from Lake Bourgne to the Mississippi River that the Creoles, ignoring Jackson’s repeated orders, had failed to block. Suitably named Bienvenue, it had welcomed (with an assist from the smaller Bayou Mazant and a connecting canal) the midnight passage of General Keane, 2,080 men, and two guns to firm ground on the Villeré plantation along the Mississippi. At dawn on December 23, they had surrounded and taken prisoner the militia detachment supposedly guarding the bayou.[9]"


From another in depth account:

Aboard his flagship HMS Tonnant, Admiral Cochrane was studying maps and intelligence reports received from numerous spies within the city, most of them Spanish Creoles who hoped an English victory would return Louisiana to Spain. Brushing aside General Keane’s doubts, the admiral decided the route of choice was via Lake Bourgne. This broad, shallow arm of the Gulf came within six miles of the Mississippi River just above English Turn. From there, the invaders would have several options, including a right turn into nearby Lake Pontchartrain, which would enable them to attack New Orleans from the north. Or they might find a bayou that would allow them to reach solid ground and a road along the river leading directly to the city from the south.


On December 23, Andrew Jackson scribbled a letter to his wife, Rachel, ending with a reassuring, “All’s well.”

The general had barely sealed the letter when three mud-stained men burst into his headquarters on Royal Street to tell him that the British army had materialized only eight miles below the city without a shot being fired at them. There was nothing between them and New Orleans—not a fort, not a gun, not a soldier.

From the flabbergasted Jackson’s point of view, the British had done the impossible. Two officers, disguised as locals, had found the one bayou leading from Lake Bourgne to the Mississippi River that the Creoles, ignoring Jackson’s repeated orders, had failed to block. Suitably named Bienvenue, it had welcomed (with an assist from the smaller Bayou Mazant and a connecting canal) the midnight passage of General Keane, 2,080 men, and two guns to firm ground on the Villeré plantation along the Mississippi. At dawn on December 23, they had surrounded and taken prisoner the militia detachment supposedly guarding the bayou. The commander of the detachment, Major Gabriel Villeré, had made a daring escape and was among the messengers who brought the grim news to headquarters.

The general’s reaction was vintage Jackson. “I will smash them, so help me God!” he roared. Instead of frantically throwing up entrenchments, which would have shaken the spirit of his raw soldiers, as soon as darkness fell on December 23, Jackson attacked. He ordered Carroll and his Tennessee militia into New Orleans to act as his reserve, while he threw 2,131 troops at the British. The American attack was led by the 7th and 44th U.S. Infantry, John Coffee’s division of Tennesseans, and a battalion of free black refugees from Haiti that Jackson had recruited over the objections of the Creoles. For artillery, he ordered Patterson to send the 14-gun schooner USS Carolina down the river until it was opposite the British camp.

Surprise was total. The overconfident British were cooking their dinners over blazing fires when Carolina‘s guns blasted sheets of grapeshot into their camp. The American Regulars, free blacks, and some Creole militia rushed down the road along the levee, supported by two six-pounder guns, while Coffee’s veterans swung left through a cypress swamp to outflank the enemy. But darkness, river fog, difficult terrain, and fierce British resistance soon turned the battle into a melee fought by platoons and detachments, which was described by one participant as being ‘hand to hand, bayonet to bayonet, sabre to sabre.’ In his headquarters at the Villeré mansion, a distraught General Keane could make no sense of what was happening. “What kind of fighting is this?” he cried to an aide.

By midnight, Coffee and his men had shot their way through the British camp almost to the river. But they now found themselves under flank attack by companies from the second British brigade coming down the Bayou Bienvenue. Ahead of them Colonel William Thornton of the 85th Regiment had recovered from the initial shock of the American attack and organized a formidable defense in a ditch between the old and new levees. Coffee readily obeyed Jackson’s order to fall back. Two deserters had told the commander that the British had 6,000 men and all of them were coming down the Bayou Bienvenue. Jackson was convinced that this was the main British attack, and he could not risk losing even part of the force he had thrown at the enemy.

In the light of dawn, both sides counted their losses. American casualties were 24 killed, 115 wounded, and 74 captured. British losses were 46 killed, one hundred 67 wounded, and 64 captured. Among the captured British was Major Samuel Mitchell of the 95th Regiment, the man who had put the torch to the American Capitol in August.


And from The Historical Record of the Twenty-First or The Royal North British Fusiliers: From Its Formation in 1678 to 1849

The war in Europe having terminated, the first battalion of the ROYAL NORTH BRITISH FUSILIERS was selected to proceed to America, in consequence of Great Britain having become involved in war with the United States; it embarked from Genoa on the 12th of May, and arrived at Gibraltar on the 7th of June; and on the 11th, sailed with the Twenty-ninth and Sixty-second regiments, for the West Indies, where it joined the corps under Major-General Robert Ross. The fleet, with the troops on board, sailed from Bermuda on the 3rd of August, and proceeded to the Bay of Chesapeake, when the American flotilla fled for refuge up the Patuxent river. To ensure the capture or destruction of this flotilla, the troops landed at the village of St. Benedict, from whence they advanced to the delightful village of Upper Marlborough, when the Americans destroyed their flotilla to prevent its falling into the hands of the British. The object of the expedition had thus been accomplished; but the army had advanced within sixteen miles of Washington, and the enemy's force was ascertained to be such as would authorise an attempt to carry the capital. The troops accordingly advanced on the 23rd of August; routed some detachments on the road, and encountering the American army under General Winder, at the village of Bladensburg, gained a decisive victory over a force more than twice their own numbers, and occupying a position deliberately chosen. The light company of the regiment distinguished itself on this occasion; it had two men killed; Captain Robert Rennie, Lieutenant James Grace, and eleven rank and file wounded.

The season for active operations having passed, the fleet quitted the American coast, and the TWENTY-FIRST proceeded to Jamaica, where they were joined by a strong detachment from the second battalion, commanded by Major Alexander James Ross.

An attempt on New Orleans was afterwards resolved upon. The fleet again put to sea, and on the 10th of December anchored off the coast of Louisiana, opposite the Chandeleur Islands, from whence the troops were removed in boats to Pine Island, in Lake Borgne, where they were stationed, exposed to heavy rain by day and frosts by night, until the 22nd of December, when the first division proceeded in open boats to a desert spot about eight miles from New Orleans, where the regiments landed, and marched to a field on the banks of the Mississippi. The TWENTY-FIRST followed, and arrived in time to take part in repulsing a night attack of a very superior force of Americans, when the regiment had Captain William Conran and two rank and file killed; one serjeant, two drummers, and eight rank and file wounded; two men missing.


And lastly, from the Chalmette National Cemetery's Frequently Asked Questions

What became of the British soldiers after the Battle of New Orleans?

They are not buried in the national cemetery. There is no conclusive evidence where they are buried. One reference claims a British surgeon stated that he helped dig mass graves at the Villere Plantation. The only deceased soldiers taken back to England were Major General Edward Pakenham, General Samuel Gibbs, and Lieutenant Colonel Robert Rennie.


One of the first questions to ask about the later version, where is Fennario? If we are to follow historical record, the force that involved in the fighting that led to the death of Captain Cornan departed from Lake Borgne, east of the Mississippi River. It would ultimately take them to the plains south of the Chalmette and Villeré plantations. In order to get there, they had to march west through the bayous east of the plantations, through a bayou called Bayou Bienvenue. The word fen is synonymous with marsh, swamp, or... bayou. So Fennario... Fen area. It exists, it's the Bayou Bienvenue, east of Meraux and Chalmette, Louisiana.

As we row down to Fen Area

As we row down to Fen Area

As to where Sweet William is buried, that would be the Villeré plantation site. That's allegedly where all the British casualties were buried after the battle. That would include our dear, sweet Captain William Cornan. Captain in the 21st Regiment of Foot out of Fyvie, Scotland, killed in action December 23, 1814 during the Battle Of New Orleans.

How the revised version of the song made it's way back across the Atlantic from Scotland to the United States in the mid-19th century will probably be forever unknown. But there are birth and death records from members of Clan Cornan in Appalachia as early as the 1850's.

(I will make my list of footnote links available at some point in the future)