Friday, April 16, 2010

Culloden Part 2

Yesterday, we left off with the Highlanders standing on Drumossie Moor, awaiting the English under the Duke of Cumberland and his army to come and give them battle. The mustering was confusion; officers were riding around, trying to get the Highland men into proper battle formation. There were many deserters, leaving the field because they lost hope that there would be a fight at all. Highlanders are not very patient when it comes to fighting. By ten o'clock in the morning, about five thousand exhausted and weary Highlanders stood on the moor. It was sleeting and gusty and they had not been fed for lack of provisions and time.

Cumberland, on the other hand had fed his men on bread and cheese and brandy and was taking his own sweet time to get to the moor, his men in good order; weapons at the ready. He had fifteen infantry regiments, eight hundred mounted dragoons and artillery of ten three pounder guns and six mortars (Cannons). 

By eleven o'clock a.m. the two armies could see each other across the field, Cumberland's troops in two lines with the flanking dragoons and their guns in front. The Jacobite army was outnumbered by about two to three thousand men and they were drawn up loosely, with the clansmen in the center and the lacking cavalry at the rear. There were about five hundred meters between the two armies of boggy moorland. The officers had been in much debate about the choice of place for their pitched battle. Highlanders had been accustomed to fighting in the hills with fantastic result (as in the Battle of Killiecrankie), and were devastating when charging down hill. Lord George Murray, one of the officers, saw Culloden as a death trap. He knew that charging on flat ground against English cannon was not an ideal way to win a battle.

The engagement started around noon. Cumberland ordered for his artillery to open fire on the Scotsmen and the cannonballs were soon plowing into the ranks of the massed Highlanders, just standing on the field awaiting an order to charge. The line of communication was in turmoil and it took forever to issue the order.

Finally, with a shout of "CLAYMORE!" the signal to charge, all the clansmen surged forward, shouting their clans' war cries and throwing off their heavy, sodden tartans so they would have more freedom of movement. They ran forward right into the line of fire. The English were now using grapeshot (a deadly canister of musket balls and metal bits that scattered widely) and it reeked havoc among the Highland troops. Nothing was to stop the Jacobites though, they ran right to the line of English soldiers, with their swords and dirks and targes. 

The English had been trained against the Highland charge, by attacking the Scotsman coming up on their right instead of the one right in front of them. It was a bit of a tricky situation, for if the man standing next to you failed to dispatch the Highlander coming right at you, then you would both die. Obviously, they were not all successful, because the Highlanders were able to break the line if only briefly.

Many of the Highlanders now were laying dead and wounded on the field. Despite their fury, they were no match for English guns and they were soon forced to retreat the field or all be slain. The last resistances were put down by the English dragoons who chased the Jacobites off the field. The Scots had lost about 1,500; far too outnumbered to fight against the Hanoverian troops again. 

There were many losses for the Highland clans. The chief of the MacDonalds of Keppoch was killed and Cameron of Lochiel, a loyal follower of the Bonnie Prince was carried off the field by his clansmen after both his ankles had been shattered by a cannonball. Lord George Murray managed to rally some of the men and withdraw in a more orderly fashion. He was the last to leave the field. It is recorded that Prince Charlie was escorted off the field in tears after he saw the destruction and deaths of the men who followed him faithfully.

The men were forced to disperse into the Highland hills where they could escape from the English dragoons sent to follow them and kill as many as they could. All the wounded left on the battlefield were soon put to the sword.

The battle itself marked the decline of the clan system. The English proclaimed that Highland dress including tartan, kilts, and even bagpipes were outlawed and anyone who had taken part in the Jacobite Uprising was hunted down and executed in London at Tyburn. The last resistance of men hid in the Highlands where the Bonnie Prince was now too in hiding. he eventually escaped and was able to get away back to France with the hopes of coming back to fight again someday. 

Culloden, as you can see, was one of the darkest milestones in Scotland's history. It is still remembered today and anyone who goes to Culloden can feel the horror that happened there. It's still a forlorn looking place. Empty and barren. Commemorations are held every year for the brave men who fought and died there for the right of Scotland's freedom against English tyranny.

Here is your song for the day: Culloden's Harvest
This is a very sad but beautiful song that I think captures the feelings perfectly. 

I'll be back next week for more Jacobite related posts. Have a good weekend!

Slainte, Hazel


  1. Beautifully told. The troopers who escorted Charles from the field were from Fitzjames Horse.
    The Highlanders escaped from the battle in two directions. Those who fled south got away in a reasonably organised manner. The next day they rendezvoused at Ruthven Barracks to attempt to keep the fight going but Charles sent a message saying they should look "to their own interests).
    Those who took the road North did not fare so well. That line of retreat was covered by "French Army regulars" infantry of the Irish Wild Geese and Royal Scots. These were regular soldiers and as such could expect quarter from the enemy. These guys covered the retreat/rout but it meant the Government troops did not want to confront them and so they turned back and started butchering the Highland wounded.
    The "French" surrendered at Inverness and treated as prisoners of war and the Government troops went on an orgy of murder, pillage etc which is shameful.
    Sad sad story.
    Aba Abú anois agus igconaí

  2. Thank you. I have always had very strong feelings for this battle as any Scot would. One of the books I wrote was set in the '45 and I had a chapter depicting the Battle of Culloden. (by the way, I didn't know the Irish Wild Geese fought there. Learning something new every day!)

  3. The vast majority of the Wild Geese soldiers en route to Scotland were captured at sea by the British Navy. However three troops (ie 70 men) of FJH were on the right flank at Culloden (2nd Line). There was another group of 16 FJH in the escort to Charles. Charles started off on the Left of the second line.
    Towards the Left of the second line were 300 "Irish Infantry" (Wild Geese anda further 350 "Royal Scots" (another "French" infantry regt). These were the men who held off the Government Dragoons while the Highlanders escaped to the north and 4 miles to Inverness.
    These French took heavy casualties. AsI said they were treated as POWs and eventually returned to France.
    One of the most moving books Ive read is a 3 volume account listing all of the prisoners from the 1745 and their fate.

  4. Thank you, I didn't know that. I did know that there have been Scots/French regiments for a long time. Actually I read somewhere that Joan of Arc had a Scots Guard as well. That interested me because the book stated that she would have been familiar with the old Scots marching tune "Hey Tutti Taitie" which is of course the same tune for "Scots Wha Hae", meaning that she had a (though very stretched) connection to William Wallace which I alway likened her to. I'm always rather amazed at how much Scotland, one of the smallest countries in the world had so many connections abroad.

  5. The alliance between Scotland & France is known as The Auld Alliance. Basically they ha a common enemy...England. Yes youre right. Jeanne D'Arc had an entire Scots Army led by John Stuart, various other Stewarts, Hamilton, Lennox and Galloway. Depending on the source, the numbers are between 4,000-6000. The Scots escort story is true. They were archers.

  6. Aye, my real area of expertise when it comes to Scotland's history is the Wars for Independence. I've written several things on William Wallace. He's one of my favorite historical figures ever.