Tuesday, July 27, 2010

On The Braes of Killiecrankie

Killiecrankie is known as one of the best Scottish victories in the history of the country. And it certainly was. It was not a draw; it left no question as to who won; it was a down right victory for the Jacobites.

The Pass of Killiecrankie itself was an amazing place for a battle. Look at some pictures of it. The place itself is beautiful, but also a perfect place for a traditional Highland Charge. John Graham’s Highland forces took advantage of that, and used it to the full.

Bonnie Dundee, John Graham, who used to be Lord of Claverhouse but was now Viscount of Dundee, was now an outlaw with a price of twenty thousand pounds on his head. He knew that something had to be done with the Covenanter rising, and gathered all the men he could for a last battle to end it once and for all. He was able to gather about 2,500 Highlanders, eager to support the Jacobite cause in the name of King James II who had been forced to flee to Ireland. There were also Irish supporters under Colonel Alexander Cannon who were eager to support “Royal Jamie” but came over to Scotland as untrained warriors and no money to speak of. As the men were gathering to Dundee’s banner, he set up his headquarters in Blair Castle.

General Mackay, the Covenanter leader, was sent to deal with Dundee’s new army. In late July, he moved to Dunkeld with six regiments of foot, four troops of hourse, four troops of dragoons and a baggage train of 1,200 horses. It was about four thousand troops in all. Mackay had planned on seizing Blair Castle. When he reached the Pass of Killiecrankie around noon on the 27th of July, his scouts told him it was clear and headed toward the north end where he regrouped his forces above Urrard House.

Dundee, when he heard about Mackay’s approach, gathered his Highlanders, Irishmen and the few horses he had to Craig Eillaich above the north end of the Pass. Mackay was able to see them on the skyline and knew they meant trouble, so he formed up his troops to face uphill on a shelf of land with his infantry on the wings and what artillery he had in the center and cavalry behind. Dundee’s Highlanders were in three divisions with his cavalry in the center, ready to take on Mackay’s artillery.

It was just about eight o’clock p.m. as the sun was setting that Dundee ordered the charge. The Highlanders fired their muskets once then charged down the hill with their broadswords drawn and glittering in the last of the day’s sunlight in their ferocious Highland charge. Mackay’s troops fired their first volley at them, but were unable to fix their bayonets in time before the Highlanders fell upon them, overwhelming them with the sheer power of their charge.

The battle only lasted a few minutes. After the Highland charge, Mackay’s troops broke ranks and ran for their lives. There’s a story that one of the young men, Donald MacBean made a huge leap over two rocks to make his escape. There is still a place at Killiecrankie now called “Soldier’s Leap” in memory of the event, weather or not that was the exact place it happened. MacKay’s troops suffered great losses that day.

But no one suffered as much as the Jacobites. Their brave leader, John Graham, Bonnie Dundee, died on the field that evening. Accounts say that as he was charging into battle on his horse, shouting encouragement to his men, his arm raised, a stray musket ball struck him in the side underneath his breastplate and he fell from his horse. It was said that, as he lay dying, he asked a solider “How goes the day?” to which the soldier replied, “Well for King James, but I am sorry for your lordship.” Dundee then said, “If it goes well for him, it matters less for me.” The Highlanders were at a loss to find their brave leader who they called Ian Dhu nan Cath, Black John of the Battles, had been killed on the field. They carried him off on their shoulders and a piper played the lament known as Lochaber no More.

Dundee went down in history as a great man. Some may not share that opinion, but for what it’s worth, I personally think he was a great hero.

Here is a song about the Battle of Killiecrankie sung by the Corries.

Slainte, Hazel

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