1746: This week, on 16 April, a weary army under Prince Charles Stuart (‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’) was defeated by an army led by his cousin, the Duke of Cumberland, in the last battle fought on British mainland soil.
In an attempt to surprise Cumberland, Charles and his able general Lord George Murray made a night March toward Inverness, only to find the English ready for them at dawn. Barraged by heavy artillery fire, the tired Highlanders nonetheless attacked, but were quickly repulsed by the well-equipped Hanoverians. With nearly double the number of forces and superior firepower, the English defeated the Jacobites in less than an hour.
At the battle’s end some 750 Jacobites lay dead, in contrast to the loss of about 360 Hanoverians. Charles fled, while ‘Butcher’ Cumberland oversaw the slaughter of the wounded and imprisoned, ushering in an era of severe repressive measures against Highland society. The battle of Culloden marked the end of the Stuart cause.
- Campaign 106:Culloden Moor 1746 combines a thorough understanding of 18th century tactics, an intimate knowledge of the battlefield itself and a scandalously underused archive of contemporary material from both sides to provide a detailed, accurate and dramatic account of this controversial battle, which marked the final demise of Jacobitism.
- Warrior 21:Highland Clansman 1689–1746 examines in detail the society that produced these fierce fighters and the tactics they used in battle including the feared ‘Highland Charge’. Also in this series, Warrior 19: British Redcoat 1740–93 provides a comprehensive examination of the lives, conditions and experiences of the late 18th-century infantryman.
Extracts from Campaign 106: Culloden Moor 1746
The Jacobite Army
The rebel army liked to call itself the ‘Highland’ Army and it is not difficult to understand why. At the most obvious level instructions such as those issued by Lord Lewis Gordon that all his men ‘are to be well cloathed, with short cloathes, plaid, new shoes and three pair of hose and accoutered with shoulder ball gun, pistolls and sword’ ensured that the army had a readily identifiable uniform. Although some difficulties were encountered in finding sufficient tartan jackets, plaids and hose for all of the Lowland recruits, this was a much more practical expedient than trying to have more conventional uniforms made up. Rather more importantly however it also enabled the Jacobites to capitalise on their best military asset: the fearsome reputation of the Highland clansman.
By laying stress on the claim that they were a Highland Army they not only boosted their own morale by asserting that they were all members of a military elite, rather than just a very ordinary collection of half-trained insurgents – they also hoped with some success to convince their opponents of the same thing.
In reality the army which assembled at Edinburgh after Prestonpans comprised both a Highland Division and a Lowland Division. The first was made up of the clan regiments from the Western Highlands which had fought at Prestonpans, while the latter, perhaps a little surprisingly, included units such as the Atholl Brigade which had some claim to being Highlanders but were considered steadier and a lot less ‘wild’ than the MacDonalds and Camerons in the first.
Otherwise the organisation of the army left something to be desired. Essentially commissions to raise regiments and companies were issued rather optimistically. A number of clan chiefs such as Cameron of Locheil were capable of levying large regiments, while others such as the Laird of MacLachlan could muster only a handful of followers. Similarly some lowland gentlemen such as Lord Ogilvie and the Duke of Perth were able to raise respectable sized units, while others were much less successful. Thus, in Aberdeenshire, James Crichton of Auchengoul obtained a colonel’s commission but never seems to have recruited more than about 30 men, and probably a good deal fewer. In the early days these small regiments with far too many officers led to all manner of organisational problems, and Sullivan grumbled that: ‘All was confused… such a chiefe of a tribe had sixty men, another thirty, another twenty, more or lesse; they would not mix nor seperat, & wou’d have double officers, yt is two Captns & two Lts, to each Compagny, strong or weak… but by little & little, were brought into a certain regulation.’ This was done by disbanding or amalgamating the smaller units, or simply absorbing them into larger ones. Crichton’s men for example were probably incorporated in the regiment of footguards raised for Lord Kilmarnock in Aberdeenshire by his formidable mother-in-law, Lady Erroll.
It should also be pointed out that a fair degree of compulsion was used in raising those men. There were some genuine volunteers of course but the greater number of the men in the ranks joined up because their landlord or clan chief told them to, and sometimes the summons had to be accompanied by threats and even violence. Others were effectively mercenaries hired to fill the quotas demanded from Lowland districts by officers such as Lord Lewis Gordon and obviously in both cases their lack of commitment to the Jacobite cause contributed to the army’s high rate of desertion.
At Prestonpans the Jacobite army’s equipment had also left much to be desired. An admittedly hostile eyewitness, Patrick Crichton of Woodhouselee described how they were armed with a wide selection of firearms, many of them fowling pieces and ‘some tyed with puck threed [string] to the stock, some withowt locks and some matchlocks’. Others only had swords or Lochaber Axes, and there were also the obligatory pitchforks and scythes. Effectively in fact it was only the officers and the ‘gentlemen’ in the front rank who were armed with the combination of broadsword, targe and pistol popularly associated with clansmen.
Afterwards however the Jacobites not only increased their numbers, but also improved their equipment. Initially both John Gordon of Glenbuchat’s Regiment and the first battalion of Lord Ogilvy’s were wholly armed with Land Pattern firelocks and bayonets taken from Cope’s army, while other units received French ones. Some 1,500 to 1,600 stand of arms were landed at Montrose by blockade runners in October alone (probably of the Model 1717) and other shipments followed, including some Spanish weapons landed at Peterhead. The result was that by the time Culloden was fought the whole army was properly equipped with .69 cal. French or Spanish military firelocks.
Indeed it is very noticeable that while the named highland gentlemen caricatured by a contemporary artist in Edinburgh do indeed brandish broadsword and targe, by far the greater number of the ordinary Jacobite soldiers even at that early stage were armed not with broadswords but with firelock and bayonet. This visual evidence is also confirmed by the fact that in the aftermath of Culloden Cumberland reported that his clearance squads had recovered 2,320 firelocks from the battlefield but only 192 broadswords!
Nevertheless the broadsword remained the most potent symbol of the Highland soldier for it lay at the heart of a rough and ready but frighteningly effective tactical system. In short, instead of trying to win the firefight before closing with the enemy, they attempted – with considerable success at Prestonpans – to rely instead on speed and sheer intimidation by attacking immediately. Nevertheless they remained alive to the inherent weaknesses of this approach and in a perceptive memorandum compiled after the Falkirk fiasco in January 1746: ‘…the best of the Highland officers, whilst they remained at Falkirk after the battle, were absolutely convinced that, except they could attack the enemy at a very considerable advantage, either by surprise or by some strong situation of ground, or a narrow pass, they could not expect any great success, especially if their numbers were no ways equal, and that a body of regular troops was absolutely necessary to support them, when they should at any time go in, sword in hand; for they were sensible, that without more leisure and time to discipline their own men, it would not be possible to make them keep their ranks, or rally soon enough upon any sudden emergency, so that any small number of the enemy, either keeping in a body when they were in confusion, or rallying, would deprive them of a victory, even after they had done their best.’
In theory the Lowland Division, being both more regularly equipped and more amenable to training and discipline, should have carried out this supporting role, but rather too many of them simply ran away at Falkirk. At Culloden some of them would perforce have to reinforce the clansmen in the front line while the others would be almost wholly taken up with fending off an unexpected threat which developed in the rear. In the end the only support available to the front line would be two small battalions of French regulars and a newly raised Lowland one (Lord Kilmarnock’s) which had only been issued with firelocks a few days before the battle.
There is no doubt that in conventional terms the Jacobite artillery and cavalry were the least effective arms. While it is quite untrue that the artillery’s performance at Culloden was hampered by a multiplicity of calibres – all but one of those actually emplaced on the moor were 3-pdrs, and the exception was brought up after the engagement began by a French engineer officer named Du Saussey – it is certainly true that dragging it around proved to be more trouble than it was worth since the army’s tactical doctrine relied on speed rather than firepower.
On the other hand the cavalry was actually quite useful. Although an English volunteer named John Daniel acknowledged his dismay at Falkirk when ‘We were about four hundred light Horse ordered to face the enemy’s dragoons…’ the prospect of their doing so was quite exceptional. Ordinarily they were employed not as battle cavalry but as light horse in the reconnaissance role, at which some, particularly Bagot’s Hussars, grew very proficient.
In the later stages of the campaign the Jacobites were joined by various contingents of French regulars, commanded by Lord John Drummond, a younger brother of the Duke of Perth. In addition to technical specialists such as artillerymen and engineers, there were eventually two infantry battalions and a squadron of cavalry, all drawn from the famous Irish Brigade. One of the infantry battalions was a composite formation initially made up from picquets drawn from three different Irish regiments: Dillon, Lally and Rooth, although it was later joined by a picquet from the Regiment Berwick as well. (A second picquet of Berwick was captured after landing in the far north of Scotland.) The other battalion represented the greater part of Drummond’s own newly raised regiment, the Royal Ecossois. It was also intended to ship over the whole of the cavalry regiment Fitzjames Cavallerie or Fitzjames’s Horse, but most of it was captured en route and only the equivalent of a single squadron was actually landed at Aberdeen.
A very high proportion of the mercenaries serving in the ranks of all these units were deserters and ‘turned’ prisoners of war and in fact the majority of the troopers in Fitzjames’s Horse were English, not Irish, and actually included a fair number of merchant seamen. Nearly half of the Irish Picquets who actually fought at Culloden had been press-ganged from the ranks of the prisoners of Guise’s 6th Foot taken at Fort Augustus shortly before. There were also a few deserters serving in the Royal Ecossois, and Drummond also tried to enlist men for a second battalion after arriving in Scotland.
French tactical doctrines fitted in well with Jacobite ones, especially as some French officers helped train the Lowland units. Essentially they boiled down to manoeuvring in column, fighting in a four-rank-deep line and relying upon shock action with the bayonet rather than firepower. If it did come down to a firefight the usual practice was to commence with firing by ranks and then continue with a feu a billebaude, which essentially meant every soldier loading and firing in his own time.
The British Army
The popular view of the British Army at Culloden is still coloured by contemporary propaganda and the stilted imagery of the 1742 Cloathing Book, but some remarkable eyewitness sketches by an artist from Penicuik reveal soldiers who apart from their swords would probably not have looked out of place in the Falklands 250 years later, an initial impression which is amply confirmed by study of surviving records, diaries and letters.
The infantry was the most important element, organised in battalions which in the field rarely exceeded 400 bayonets and often averaged little more than 300 apiece. Their clothing and equipment is often contrasted unfavourably with that of their rebel opponents and claimed to be tight and cumbersome, but in fact it was both practical and comfortable; comprising a red double-breasted greatcoat, canvas gaiters to protect the legs from mud (and heather) and a broad-brimmed slouch hat, a firelock and bayonet, a sword (if it had not been ‘lost’) and the usual impedimenta of knapsack, haversack and canteen required by all soldiers, rebel or regular.
Ordinarily the basic tactical philosophy boiled down to moving into fairly close proximity to the enemy, halting and then blazing away until fire superiority was achieved and the opposing unit retired or even ran away. The conventional view, with a fairly solid history of success in Marlborough’s war to back it up, was that winning the firefight depended on being able to maintain a steady rolling fire and the chosen method of delivering that was Platooning as codified by Humphrey Bland in his immensely influential Treatise of Military Discipline and enshrined in the 1728 Regulations. This required a battalion to be divided into a series of ad hoc platoons each of between 20–30 men who would then fire in a pre-arranged sequence rippling up and down the line. Despite its limitations Platooning was effective enough in conventional operations, especially against the French whose fire discipline was notoriously bad, but service against the Highlanders revealed a fatal flaw. The deliberately paced rate of fire, while well adapted to maintaining a sustained firefight, simply could not kill enough clansmen quickly enough to stop a determined, fast-moving Highland charge.
Consequently a change of tactics was clearly called for and at Culloden heavy massed battalion volleys would be employed with excellent results. There was of course an obvious danger that having fired off everything at once the battalion might then be caught helplessly reloading if the Highlanders ignored their casualties and pressed home the attack. This danger however was obviated by the remarkable expedient, pioneered by some units at Falkirk, of directing the front rank not to reload after that first volley, but instead to charge their bayonets as soon as they had fired, thus protecting the second and third ranks as they reloaded and poured in a succession of volleys at point blank range.
Unfortunately the cavalry displayed no such tactical virtuosity. The Dragoons who made up the bulk of the cavalry regiments employed against the Jacobites had originally been mounted infantry and fought (perhaps for the last time) in this role at Clifton in December 1745, but ordinarily they were employed almost exclusively as heavy battle cavalry. Consequently although the British Army enjoyed an overwhelming numerical superiority in the mounted arm its commanders consistently failed to exploit that superiority in the all-important scouting and intelligence gathering role – an omission which is all the more remarkable in that most of them had a cavalry background. Only Kingston’s provincial regiment was employed as light horse and they, for all their later reputation, were usually outclassed as scouts by their rebel counterparts.
There was no doubting on the other hand the superiority of the Royal Artillery at Culloden, although in all fairness it should be noted that its effectiveness has been overstated. The guns were a mixture of light 3-pdrs and Coehorn mortars and the stories, which are still circulated, that the Jacobites were subjected to accurate artillery fire for upwards of half an hour before commencing their attack are grossly exaggerated.
In addition to these regular forces the army was able to call upon the assistance of a substantial body of Loyalist volunteers and some other, less enthusiastic levies. The famous Argyll Militia was undoubtedly the most prominent of all the Loyalist formations, but active opposition to the ‘Jacks’ in the Highlands was by no means confined to Clan Campbell. During most of the rebellion Inverness was held for the Crown by a Loyalist army substantially made up of Independent Companies recruited in the northern and western Highlands – and including a fair number of Skye Macdonalds. In combat they generally proved to be as brittle as might be expected of ill-trained and poorly motivated levies, but when stiffened with regulars and properly led, as the Argylls were at Culloden, they could be quite effective.
The same, obviously, was true of the various provincial regiments raised in England, some of whom participated in the recapture of Carlisle, and the Lowlands. The most important of these was the Earl of Home’s Brigade comprised of Scottish provincial regiments which successfully defended the Forth crossings late in 1745 and afterwards fought at Falkirk. Even the various rag-tag local volunteer militias such as the Derby Blues or the Aberdeen Militia were of some use in that they could be employed on rudimentary constabulary duties which would otherwise have had to be performed by regulars, and just as importantly by their very existence they deterred spontaneous tumults and even uprisings.
Of rather more dubious utility however were the wretched Vestry Men drafted into the ranks of regular regiments. Unlike their rebel counterparts most of King George’s soldiers were volunteers, but at the height of the emergency in 1745 two acts were rushed through Parliament encouraging magistrates to press-gang ‘all able-bodied men who do not follow or exercise any lawful calling or employment’. For each reluctant recruit thus delivered over to the army £3.00 sterling was paid into their parish Vestry account for the upkeep of any dependants left behind. Popular prejudice notwithstanding the army was actually fairly particular about where it found its recruits and viewed these shabby conscripts with a distinctly jaundiced eye. All of them were discharged as soon as their services could decently be dispensed with and in the meantime they were allotted all the dirty jobs such as battlefield clearance and burial details, and prisoner handling – with unhappy results.