The Highland bagpipe has long been associated with the military. The Highland Regiments of the British Armed Forces, and some of the Lowland Regiments as well, have had bagpipers since their first formation. Due to the close relationship the United States Armed Forces has historically had with the British the spread of the bagpipes was inevitable.
Bagpipes have been apart of the military forces in the United States long before their was even a United States. During the French and Indian War (known overseas as the Seven Years War) the 42nd Regiment of Foot, the Black Watch, served with distinction in New York State and along the frontier of the Ohio Territory.
The Black Watch did not have a Pipe Band at this time, almost no military unit did, though there are records of at least one piper in the ranks. This piper was a personal assistant, or valet, to one of the officers and was listed in the official army roles as a drummer. This was generally believed to be commonly done at the time.
At the end of the war, many members of the 42nd stayed on in the Americas having been awarded land grants.
The early to mid 1700s also saw a large influx of Scottish Immigrants to the Americas. This was mainly caused by the 1715 and 1745 rebellions. There was also the belief among many in the highlands that there was a better opportunity for advancement in the new world. The Scots congregated in upstate New York and the back country of the Carolinas.
The American Revolution saw more pipers in the Americas. Along with a return of the 42nd Regiment, there was also the 71st, 74th, and 76th regiments, all Highland regiments. These regiments were sure to have had bagpipers in their ranks but there is no definitive documentation of this.
The revolution also caused the formation of several home grown regiments. A Highland regiment formed in Canada, the 84th Regiment of Foot (Royal Highland Emigrants). This regiment was made up ex-members of the 42nd from the French and Indian War as well as local Scots settlers. This regiment was raised to fight the encroachment of revolutionaries from the colonies and later saw service along the Ohio frontier.
At least 3 loyalist Highland Regiments formed from residents of the colonies. In the Carolinas, there was the North Carolina Highland Regiment. A group also formed that eventually joined the Royal Highland Emigrants. Another regiment formed in the Carolinas was Martin’s Highland Regiment. All of these regiments were patterned on the 42nd Highlanders, with some former members in the ranks. It would be safe to assume that they might have also had pipers. Towards the end of the war these regiments were sent to join the main British force in New York and eventually disbanded in Canada.
There is evidence of at least one Highland battalion that fought for independence. Several regiments and battalions who fought in the war of independence lined the route to the capital building during George Washington’s inauguration parade in New York City. One of these battalions was described as being in traditional highland attire complete with kilts and bagpipers. It can be inferred that this battalion had fought in the war.
During the War of 1812 there are no records of American military units with pipers. The 93rd Regiment of Foot, the Sutherland Highlanders, fought against Andrew Jackson during the battle of New Orleans. Although they lost, they fought with distinction. There were pipers in the regiment but it is unclear if they took part in the battle.
The Battle of the Alamo, the defining battle of the Texas revolution prominently featured a bagpiper. Although not part of the United States at the time it is considered part of the history of the American military.
John McGregor, either a Scottish emigrant or the son of one, is known as the Piper of the Alamo. He kind of pops up out of nowhere in Nacogdoches, Texas. He fought and died at the Alamo. The stories say that McGregor and Davey Crockett, who played the fiddle, would have musical duals to raise the moral of the troops.