Date added: 2 Apr 2015
Denis Dighton, 1821 detail showing Colonel Dan MacKinnon
In this painting by Denis Dighton of a group of officers and sergeants on Horseguards Parade, Dan MacKinnon is shown in dress uniform wearing his Waterloo medal
Colonel Daniel MacKinnon, known as Dan throughout the army, was the second and youngest son of William Alexander MacKinnon, chief of clan MacKinnon. Aged fourteen he entered the army as an ensign in the Coldstream Guards. His first taste of service, however, was nothing more than marching and counter-marching as his regiment, which was ordered to Bremen in 1805 to assist the Prussian forces and their allies, never faced the enemy.
In 1809 Dan, now a lieutenant embarked with his regiment for the Peninsula and saw service throughout the Peninsula War. He gained the reputation as a brave and fearless soldier, respected by his men and highly regarded by his fellow officers.
In 1814 at the end of the Peninsula War Dan returned to England and, in recognition of his service, was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in the Coldstream Guards. The escape of Napoleon from Elba and the dramatic events that followed meant war was inevitable. Dan, with a fellow officer, rushed to rejoin his regiment. Reaching Ramsgate and finding no ships ready to sail they hired a lugger and reached Ostende in time to join the fighting on June 16th. On June 17th the Coldstream Guards fell back with the rest of the British army and were quartered at Hougoumont.
The next day Dan, who was second in command, led his men against the French. Late in the day he was ordered to occupy the farm of Hougoumont with about 250 Coldstream Guards and the First Regiment of the Grenadier Guards. Wellington, aware of the crucial strategic importance of its position, ordered that it be defended to the last man. Dan could hear the French Grenadiers shouting, ‘L’Empereur recompensera le premier qui avancera’.
Each onslaught of the French was driven back by the Guards who inflicted severe casualties on the French and every time the French retired Dan and his men rushed out from their defences and piled up the bodies against the gate of the farmhouse to act as a rampart. During one of these charges Dan was shot in the knee, his horse shot from under him and he lost his sword. Falling on the body of a badly wounded French officer, he seized his sword saying he hoped they would dine together that night, mounted a fresh horse and appeared again at the head of his men. Dan kept the sword and often wore it on ceremonial occasions as a trophy of Waterloo. He and his troops held the farmhouse until the advance of the British line brought reinforcements to relieve them and hostilities ceased for the day. The wound from a musket shot which he had disregarded during the action had led to severe loss of blood and Dan was carried off the field in a litter and taken to Brussels.
In a letter to his brother, William, then M.P. for Lymington sent from Brussels on June 23rd 1815 he wrote ‘…my poor dun horse has been almost burnt to death, he has lost an eye. My servant says he must be shot. The day preceding I also lost a horse so you can see I have lost all three of my English horses.’ He added as a postscript ’…since writing this letter I have passed a good night and feel much better’.Dan stayed in Brussels just long enough to recover from his wound and then led a Grenadier Company during the march to Paris. He is reported to have been the last British officer in the city occupying Mont Martre on January 26th 1816 returning to England in April 1816.
Following the Battle of Waterloo, an elderly lady left a substantial legacy to the bravest officer in the army. Her executors sent the sum to Wellington who forwarded the bequest to Dan. The Colonel shared it with the Colour-Sergeant who had defended Hougoumont with him.
Submitted by Chris MacKinnon