Piper James Reid

Culloden Moor was the site of the last major battle fought on the British mainland.  The battle took place in the north of Scotland on April 16, 1746 and its outcome ended the Jacobite uprising of 1745.  The Jacobites had hopes of restoring the exiled Stuart dynasty to the throne of Britain, but those hopes were dashed that April day on the bloody field of battle.  The army of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” was crushed by government forces led by the Duke of Cumberland.  The battle took less than an hour but its repercussions would be felt for years to come. The brutal measures imposed after the battle brought to end the distinctive way of life and culture of the highland peoples of Scotland.

A discussion of the politics and motives for the battle will not be found here. Instead our focus will turn to one of the battles participants, James Reid.

Reid was one of several pipers who played at the battle. He was captured along with 558 men by Cumberland’s troops and taken to England. There James was put on trial and accused of high treason against the English Crown. Piper Reid claimed that he was innocent because he did not have a gun or a sword.  He said that the only thing he did that day on the battlefield was play the bagpipe.

After some deliberation the judges had a different opinion on the matter. They said that a highland regiment never marched to war without a piper at its head.  Therefore, in the eyes of the law, the bagpipe was an instrument of war. James Reid was condemned and subsequently hanged then drawn and quartered.

The decision of those judges has echoed down through the generations. It was the first recoded occasion that a musical instrument was officially declared a weapon of war. For hundreds of years and many conflicts to come the bagpipes, when listed among the items captured in combat, was counted among rifles, sabers, and munitions. It is interesting to note that bugles and drums were recorded as musical instruments, where the bagpipe ranked among the lists of weapons.  This continued through the Great War. Perhaps a fitting place for the pipes, but a tragic legacy for the piper James Ried who played at the last bloody battle of the Jacobites on Culloden Moor.

* Set of two drone bagpipes found on the battlefield and currently on display at the Culloden Moor Battlefield museum. Original owner, piper, of the set unknown.

* Actual Standards carried at the battle of Culloden.

About The Author

Ian is an acclaimed writer, producer, and director of documentary films and multimedia events. He is also a competitive bagpiper and has produced large scale multimedia concerts and pipe band recordings. It is his combined passion for film and piping that endow him with a unique and personal perspective for the Pipes of War project.


8 Responses to “Piper James Reid”

  1. Geordie says:

    Dear Ian:

    First of all, please let me begin by offering my sincerest and heart felt apologies for going on as I did a comment where I expressed disappointment at your website – I would like to strongly add that I should not have been so critical, not knowing any of the circumstances of your fine film organization. As someone who loves re-enactment documentaries and full length movies, I should have realized that it was a matter of money and also as you pointed out, the fact that you wanted to “get it right” with Jimmy’s story and create a story where we feel what this young lad must have felt standing on a parapet and going over the top. I would also thank you for being so gracious and wonderful by making me aware that it’s better to take your time (as in competition) produce a good showing for yourself as well as the judges, rather than rushing and maybe not coming out with the result you wanted in the first place.

    I would like to say how wonderful it is, that someone else wants to do a great film about combat pipers. Apart from films like “When the Pipers Play”, Tunes of Glory or the Drum (Zoltan Korda) and most recently “On the Day”; there are not that many Piping Movies, so kudos to you for having the immense courage and strength of will to undertake this very wonderful and ambitious project.

    Periodically I have checked back over the past few weeks and read the wonderful stories of PM Anderson etc. including the Little Big Horn. Tell me with regards to this would you try “mounting an expedition in search of this possible hidden cache of bagpipes” Now that would be a “Wicked film”. Now I should be off.

    In closing again please accept my sincerest apologies, but also my heartfelt wishes for success in all your piping and filming endeavors. With all the projects though, remember to consider your health first and keep time for yourself.

    Kindest and best regards


    • Geordie,
      I appreciate your kind words and sincere apology, but you need not apologize for being disappointed in the launch of our website. The fact is no one could have been more disappointed than I was. Our company had located what appeared to be an experienced and reputable design firm based in Chicago. They took a great deal of money and then failed to deliver the product by our deadline. Our attorneys have been pursuing a resolution in the matter. In the meantime we have been working with another developer and we are bringing new content and pages online every few days. I appreciate your understanding and forgiveness. It is a challenge to bring content to the web while juggling a film in production.

      I too have enjoyed the films from the Instrument of War series, feature films like Tunes of Glory, and documentaries like On the Day. They have served as an inspiration. John McDonald, who produced the film On the Day, has discussed his project at length with me. I have enjoyed them all, but have felt that each lacks something. It is this extra ‘something’ we intend to bring in our films. On the Day is a fine production, but its appeal is limited to the pipe band community. In spite of its production quality and excellent sound recordings, it lacks the emotional appeal required by a broader audience. The Instrument of War series appeals to an audience beyond the pipe band community because of its historical content. However, because of its broad and all-inclusive scope it serves as a great educational documentary but provides no focused dramatic experience to become emotionally attached to.

      This is where we will make a difference, where we will affect a paradigm shift. Our films will be the most ambitious pipe production to date. Our films are crafted as a hybrid between a documentary and a feature film. In this manner we can cover the factual history you expect from a documentary, while delivering the dramatic reenactments and emotional experience of a feature film. Such a film will appeal to a broader audience, reaching beyond the piping community to a more general audience at large. I call it a hybrid because if we produce a feature film, even if we state that it is based on a true story, everyone would say that we took artistic liberties. They would say it was Hollywood’s version of the truth. If we produce a talking-head run-of-the-mill documentary then we have done nothing to elevate the art of cinema, or anything to attract a broader audience and honor the memory of the pipers.

      Regarding the lost pipes on the Little Bighorn, I have had the chance to visit the battlefield and surrounding area on several occasions. Before I wrapped a kilt around myself and took up the pipes, I was obsessed with the old west. I was something of a mountain man complete with beads and buckskin. In my youth I studied the battle of the Little Bighorn in depth. It was then that I came across the story of the pipes. I think a documentary about a search for the lost cache of pipes would be fun, but before we would undertake a film like that we would need more information. The trail the cavalry marched that spring in 1876 is hundreds of miles long. When and where they were exactly before the battle is up to some debate. The general area is known, but the question is where to begin a search based on so little evidence. We don’t know how many days before the battle the pipes were buried. The article records it as being “a few days, ” additionally we don’t know if the pipers buried them on the open plain, in the foothills, etc.
      It has always been my hope that some scrap of evidence might turn up. To date, that has not been the case. With all of Custer’s command killed on June 25th all might very well be lost. The only members of the cavalry to survive were those under Major Reno and Captain Benteen’s command. It would be interesting to know if any of those troopers recorded something about the pipes in a journal or correspondence. Sadly many could not write and still fewer had pencil and paper, so unless something comes to light it would take a small miracle to discover those pipes. But who knows… maybe in my old age I’ll take a metal detector and start combing the plains hoping that the silver ferrules will be detectable.

      Best regards,

      Ian Williams

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  3. piperjames says:

    Hi I am a Piper living in Africa. I enjoyed this read herein and the story of the lost Pipes. I have a story about pipes that were used in a war and that were buried at the foot of the hill that was taken. It would make a brilliant story for it was in recent times too. May God bless you from Piperjames War Piper 4 Jesus Christ and the Mighty Men of South Africa.

  4. Jim says:

    Dear Ian,

    Ever since I was a very young boy I’ve loved listening to the pipes. I would never miss a chance to go to the Remembrance Day parade and get there early to be in front of the line so I could watch the pipers going by. My dad would ask me what is it about bagpipes that you love them so much and I would just say I don’t know I just do. I’m over 60 now and still never miss a chance to see and hear the pipers.

    When I read your story here a chill ran up my spine. You see my name is James Reid.


  5. […] plaid, but never the bagpipes. The misconception was probably strengthened by episodes such as the hanging of piper James Reid of Dundee. He was captured in 1745 in Carlisle and sentenced to hanging for treason, having taken […]

  6. […] plaid, but never the bagpipes. The misconception was probably strengthened by episodes such as the hanging of piper James Reid of Dundee. He was captured in 1745 in Carlisle and sentenced to hanging for treason, having taken […]

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