The “General”

Here we go again! Another little recommendation that you visit our Research materials (slowly growing – please feel free to alert us if you see something you think should be posted/hosted here!), this time an article written by Niall MacKenzie.

A fascinating look on the role of bagpipes in military history, with insights in to martial practices, the Jacobite rebellion and changing meanings of the word ‘march’.

Of particular interest to those who know the tune “War or Peace” – this article shows its use as a military signal, as mentioned by Barnaby in his recent post on Singlings and Doublings. The signal concerned was called in English the “General” (French la générale, Spanish la generala) and it was usually delivered on drums or bugles in European armies without Highlanders. It served “to give notice to the troops that they were to march” or “to give notice of sudden danger, that all may be in readiness for immediate duty” (p. 10).

The “General” thus corresponds in function to the Gathering (cruinneachadh) or Assembly Tune (port tional).

Niall MacKenzie’s full article is here.


4 thoughts on “The “General”

  1. And those interested in this tune will want to revisit Kieth Sanger’s posting from October 26, 2015, in which he describes Roddy Cannon’s theory that Cogadh no Sidh may have been related to the old Long Reveille of the military. This reveille consisted of three tunes, one of which was “Three Camps” which does bear some resemblance. It was still played for reveille in the US military in the mid-19th century and can be heard here as notated in 1853: text

    1. Thank you Bob. I believe your link lets us hear the second of the 3 fife tunes which made up ‘The Long Reveille’, as reported by Roderick to Keith. An early notation of this tune, ‘The three Camps’, is at

      It was the first tune of ‘The Long Reveille’ that Roderick connected melodically to Cogadh no Sìth. Via Keith’s post, Roderick informs us that it was variously called ‘The Mother’ or ‘Point of War’ or ‘The Rouse at Daybreak’. Nevertheless, listening to the recording of ‘The Three Camps’ which you have linked to on YouTube persuades me of the likelihood of a cultural interaction here: I think Roderick was onto something!

      Keith Sanger’s post with its marvellous delta of comments is at and facsimiles of the earliest pibroch notations are at If anyone can supply a facsimile of an early fife notation for ‘The Mother’ / ‘Point of War’ / ‘The Rouse at Daybreak’, that would be a welcome addition to this page.

      1. As a short response, the link Bob posted is in fact The Three Camps, also known as The Mother and Point of War, and was originally simply The English Reveille.

        As a longer answer,

        The “Long Reveille” you’re referring to possibly comes into existence during the Napoleonic era when the British duty calls are consolidated from distinct English and Scottish calls, to a unified British set (which heavily favor the English…)
        Potter in his two manuals essentially takes the English Reveille and Scottish Reveille and creates a sequence of them which follows:
        1. The English Reveille (also known as The Mother, The Three Camps, The Points of War, The General Salute)

        2. The Rolls Introductory to the Scotch Reveille (which has an accompanying fife part; we’re not quite sure where it comes from)
        3. The Scotch Reveille
        4. A Reprise of the English Reveille

        The Americans have similarly adopted a Reveille sequence. My theory is that the sequence comes from their heritage during the American Revolution, in which many different nationalities were fighting for the Americans. Their Reveille sequence often has different organizations and/or additional tunes added into it, depending on whether you’re looking at US “regulation” manuals or manuals written for/by militia. In general, it breaks down into:
        1. The Three Camps (formerly the English Reveille)
        2. The Scotch Reveille / The Slow Scotch
        3. The Austrian
        4. The Dutch
        5. The Hessian
        6. The Rolls / Six Cheers
        7. The Scotch Repeat / The Quick Scotch
        8. Reprisal of The Three Camps – but generally just The Points of War / The General Salute (aka the first line of the Three Camps)
        Other notable additions are The Dawning of the Day and a Double Drag beating (several different fife tunes apply).

  2. To clarify the original post:

    The British “The General” signals for the entire army to prepare to break down camp. In this sense, it can signal an emergency, but only in the context of breaking down camp.
    “To Arms” signaled an immediate and urgent assembly under arms and would be used to address a threat. (There is some debate whether there is an different beating for The Alarm, which may have just been a long roll.)
    For the English, “The Singlings of the Troop, or The Assembly” was used to assembly the men by company, without any urgency. Typically it was used to assembly for guard mounting or drill.
    In this sense, “The Gathering” would most properly be associated with the English “The Singlings of the Troop, or The Assembly.”
    The Scottish fife duty includes a distinct call for “The General” and “To Arms”. I’ve included the fife music for comparison.

    The same tendencies remain true in the American army. In contrast, the French “la generale” was used both as the British used “The General” and as an alarm.

    The image comes from Thompson “The Compleat Tutor for the Fife” (1759). But really every fife tutor from the 18th century has the same info.

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