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Prince Charles Edward Stuart
Lead up to the Battle of Preston


The disembarkation of the royal army, and the advance of Cope towards Edinburgh, were known to Charles in the course of Thursday the 19th. Judging it of importance that no time should be lost in meeting Cope and bringing him to action, Charles had left Holyrood house on the evening of that day, and had proceeded to Duddingston, near which place his army encamped. Having assembled a council of war, he proposed to march next morning and give battle to Sir John Cope. The members of the council having signified their acquiescence, the prince then asked the Highland chiefs how they thought their men would conduct themselves on meeting a commander who had at last mustered courage to meet them. As Macdonald of Keppoch had served in the French army, and was considered, on that account, to be a fit judge of what the Highlanders could do against regular troops, he was desired by the other chiefs to give his opinion. Keppoch observed that as the country had been long at peace, few or none of the private men had ever seen a battle, and that it was not therefore very easy to form an opinion as to how they would behave; but that he would venture to assure his royal highness that the gentlemen of the army would be in the midst of the enemy, and that as the clans loved both the cause and their chiefs, they would certainly share the danger with their leaders. Charles thereupon declared that he would lead on the Highlanders himself, and charge at their head; but the chiefs checked his impetuosity by pointing out the ruin that would befall them if he perished in the field, though his army should be successful. They declared that, should he persist in his resolution, they would return home and make the best terms they could for themselves. This remonstrance had the desired effect upon the young Chevalier, who agreed to take a post of less danger.

According to the calculation of Home, which had been alluded to, the Highland army, at the date of the capture of Edinburgh, did not exceed 2,000 men; but it was increased by about 400 more, by a party of 150 Maclauchlans who joined it on the 18th, and by an accession of 250 Athole-men on the following day. This force was further augmented by the Grants of Glenmoriston, who joined the army at Duddingston on the morning of Friday the 20th. In pursuance of the resolution of the council, the prince put himself at the head of his army on that morning, and presented his sword, exclaimed, "My friends, I have flung away the scabbard!". This was answered by a loud huzza, on which the army marched forward in one column of three files or ranks towards Musselburgh. Passing the Esk by the bridge of Musselburgh, the army proceeded along the post road towards Pinkie. On arriving opposite the south side of Pinkie gardens, Lord George Murray, who led the van, received information that Sir John Cope was at or near Preston, and that his intention probably was to gain the high ground of Fawside near Carberry. As there was no time to deliberate or wait for orders, and as Lord George, who was very well acquainted with these grounds, considered the occupation of them by the Highlanders as of great importance; he struck off to the right at Edgebuckling Brae, and passing through the fields by the west side of Wallyford, gained the eminence in less that half an hour, where he waited for the rear.

From Fawside hill the prince descried the army of Cope drawn up in the manner before described, but its position being different from that anticipated, Charles drew off his army towards the left, and descended the hill in the direction of Tranent, entered again upon the post road at some distance to the west of the village, along which he continued his march. On approaching Tranent the Highlanders were received by the king's troops with a vehement shout of defiance, which the Highlanders answered in a similar strain. About two o'clock in the afternoon the Highland army halted on an eminence called Birsley Brae, about half a mile to the west of Tranent, and formed in order of battle about a mile from the royal forces.

In the expectation that the Highlanders were advancing by the usual route through Musselburgh, Cope had taken up the position we have described with his front to the west; but as soon as he observed the Highlanders on the heights upon his left he changed his front to the south. This change of position, while it secured Cope better from attack, was not so well calculated for safety as the first position was in the event of a defeat. On his right was the east wall of a park, belonging to Erskine of Grange, which extended a considerable way from north to south, and still farther to the right was the village of Preston. The village of Seaton was on his left, and the village of Cockenzie and the sea in his rear. Almost immediately in front was a deep ditch filled with water, and a strong and thick hedge. Farther removed from the front, and between the two armies was a morass, the ends of which had been drained, and were intersected by numerous cuts. And on the more firm ground at the ends were several small inclosures, with hedges, dry stone walls, and willow trees.

As the Highlanders were in excellent spirits, and eager to close immediately with the enemy, Charles felt very desirous to comply with their wishes; but he soon ascertained, by examining some people of the neighbourhood, that the passage across the morass, from the nature of the ground, would be extremely dangerous if not altogether impracticable. Not wishing, however, in a matter of such importance to trust altogether to the opinion of the country people, Lord George Murray ordered Colonel Ker of Gradon, an officer of some military experience, to examine the ground, and to report. Mounted upon a little white pony he descended alone into the plain below, and with the greatest coolness and deliberation surveyed the morass on all sides. As he went along the morass several shots were fired at him, by some of Cope's men, from the sides of the ditches; but he paid so little regard to these annoyances that, on coming to a dry stone wall which stood in his way, he dismounted, and making a gap in it led his horse through. After finishing this perilous duty he returned to the army, and reported to the lieutenant-general that he considered it impracticable to pass the morass and attack the enemy in front, without risking the whole army, and that it was impossible for the men to pass the ditches in a line.

While his lieutenant-general was, in consequence of this information, planning a different mode of attack, the prince himself was moving with a great part of his army towards Solphinstone on Cope's right. Halting opposite Preston tower he seemed to threaten that flank of the English general, who, thereupon, returned to his original position with his front to Preston, and his right towards the sea. As Lord George Murray considered that the only practicable mode of attacking Cope was by advancing from the east, he led off part of the army about sunset through the village of Tranent, and sent notice to the prince to follow him with the remainder as quickly as possible. When passing through the village Lord George was joined by fifty of the Camerons, who had been posted by O'Sullivan in the churchyard at the foot of Tranent. This party being within half cannon shot of Cope's artillery, had been exposed during the afternoon to a fire from their cannon, and one or two of the Camerons had been wounded. To frighten the Highlanders, who, they imagined, had never seen cannon before, Cope's men huzzaed at every discharge; but the Camerons remained in their position, till, on the representation of Lochiel, who went and viewed the ground, and found his men unnecessarily exposed, they were ordered to retire in the direction of Tranent. O'Sullivan, who was in the rear when this order was given, came up on the junction of the party, and asking Lord George the meaning of the movement he was making, was told by him, that as it was not possible to attack the enemy with any chance of success on the west side of the village, he had resolved to assail them from the east, and that he would satisfy the prince that his plan was quite practicable, - that for this purpose he had ordered the army to march to the east side of the village, where there were good dry fields covered with stubble, on which the men could bivouack during the night, - and that with regard to the withdrawal of the party which O'Sullivan had posted in the churchyard, they could be of no service there, and were unnecessarily exposed. On being informed of the movement made by Lord George Murray, Charles proceeded to follow him, but it was dark before the rear had passed the village. To watch Cope's motions on the west, Charles left behind the Athole brigade, consisting of 500 men under Lord Nairne, which he posted near Preston above Colonel Gardiner's parks.

After the Highland army had halted on the fields to the east of Tranent, a council of war was held, at which Lord George Murray proposed to attack the enemy at break of day. He assured the members of the council that the plan was not only practicable, but that it would in all probability be attended with success, - that he knew the ground himself, and that he had just seen one or two gentlemen who were also well acquainted with every part of it. He added, that there was indeed a small defile at the east end of the ditches, but if once passed there would be no farther hindrance, and though, from being obliged to march in a column, they would necessarily consume a considerable time on their march, yet when the whole line had passed the defile they would have nothing to do but face to the left, form in a moment, and commence the attack. Charles was highly pleased with the proposal of the lieutenant-general; which having received the unanimous approbation of the council, a few piquets were, by order of Lord George, placed around the bivouack, and the Highlanders, after having supped, wrapped themselves up in their plaids, and lay down upon the ground to repose for the night. Charles, taking a sheaf of pease for a pillow, stretched himself upon the stubble, surrounded by his principal officers, all of whom followed his example. Before the army went to rest, notice was sent to Lord Nairne to leave his post with the Athole brigade at two o'clock in the morning as quietly as possible. To conceal their position from the English general, no fires or lights were allowed, and orders were issued and scrupulously obeyed, that strict silence should be kept, and that no man should stir from his place till directed.

When Cope observed Charles returning towards Tranent, he resumed his former position with his front to the west and his right to the sea. he now began to perceive that his situation was not so favourable as he had imagined, and that while the insurgents could move about at discretion, select their ground, and choose their time and mode of attack, he was cramped in his own movements, and could act only on the defensive. The spectators, who felt an interest in the fate of the army, and who had calculated upon certain success to Cope;s arms during the day, now, that night was at hand, began to forebode the most gloomy results. Instead of a bold and decided movement on the part of Cope to meet the enemy, they observed that he had spent the day in doing absolutely nothing, - that he was in fact hemmed in by the Highlanders, and forced at pleasure to change his position at every movement they were pleased to make. They dreaded that an army which was obliged to act thus upon the defensive, and which would, therefore, be obliged to pass the ensuing night under arms, could not successfully resist an attack next morning from men, who, sheltered from the cold by their plaids, could enjoy the sweets of repose and rise fresh and vigorous for battle.

To secure his army from surprise during the night, Cope placed advanced piquets of horse and foot along the side of the morass, extending nearly as far east as the village of Seaton. He, at the same time, sent his baggage and military chest down to Cockenzie under a guard of 40 men of the line and all the Highlanders of the army, consisting of four companies, viz, two of newly raised men belonging to Loudon's regiments, and two additional companies of Lord John Murray's regiment, which had been diminished by desertion to fifteen men each. Although the weather had been very fine, and the days were still warm, yet the nights were now getting cold and occasionally frosty. As the night in question, that of Friday the 20th of September, was very cold, Cope ordered fires to be kindled along the front of his line, to keep his men warm. During the night he amused himself by firing off, at random, some cohorts, probably to alarms the Highlanders or disturb their slumbers, but these hardy mountaineers, if perchance they awoke for a time, disregarded these empty bravadoes, and fell back again into the arms of sleep.

In point of numbers the army of Cope was rather inferior to that of Charles; but many of the Highlanders were badly armed, and some of them were without arms. The royal forces amounted altogether to about 2,300 men; but the number in the field was diminished to 2,100 by the separation of the baggage-guard which was sent to Cockenzie. The order of battle formed by Cope along the north side of the morass was as follows:- He drew up his foot in one line, in the centre of which were eight companies of Lacelles's regiment, and two of Guise's. On the right were five companies of Lee's regiment, and on the left the regiment of Murray, with a number of recruits for different regiments at home and abroad. Two squadrons of Gardiner's dragoons formed the right wing, and a similar number of Hamilton's composed the left. The remaining squadron of each regiment was placed in the rear of its companions as a reserve. On the left of the army, near the wagon-road from Tranent to Cockenzie, were placed the artillery, consisting of six or seven pieces of cannon, and four cohorts, under the orders of Lieutenant-colonel Whiteford, and guarded by a company of Lee's regiment, commanded by Captain Cochrane. Besides the regular troops there were some volunteers, consisting principally of small parties of the neighbouring tenantry, headed by their respective landlords. Some Seceders, actuated by religious zeal, had also placed themselves under the royal standard.

Pursuant to the orders he had received, Lord Nairne left the position he had occupied during the night at the appointed hour, and rejoined the main body about three o'clock in the morning. Instead of continuing the order of march of the preceding night, it has been determined by the council of war to reverse it. The charge of this movement was entrusted to Colonel Ker, who had signalized himself by the calm intrepidity with which he had surveyed the marsh on the preceding day. To carry this plan into effect, Ker went to the head of the column, and passing along the line, desired the men to observe profound silence, and not to stir a step till he should return to them. On reaching the rear he ordered it to march from the left, and to pass close in front of the column, and returning along the line, he continued to repeat the order till the whole army was in motion. This evolution was accomplished without the least confusion, and before four o'clock in the morning the whole army was in full march.

The Duke of Perth, who was to command the right wing, was at the head of the inverted column. He was attended by Hepburn of Keith, and Mr Robert Anderson, son of Anderson of Whitbrough, who, from his intimate knowledge of the morass, was sent forward to lead the way. A little in advance of the van was a select party of 60 men doubly armed, under the command of Macdonald of Glenalladale, major of the regiment of Clanranald, whose appointed duty it was to seize the enemy's baggage. The army proceeded in an easterly direction till near the farm of Ringanhead, when, turning to the left, they marched in a northerly direction through a small valley which intersects the farm. During the march the utmost silence was observed by the men, not even a whisper being heard; and lest the trampling of horses might discover their advance, the few that were in the army were left behind. The ford or path across the morass was so narrow that the column, which marched three men abreast, had scarcely sufficient standing room, and the ground along it was so soft, than many of the men were almost at every step up to the knees in mud. The path in question, which was about two hundred paces to the west of the stone-bridge afterwards built across Seaton mill-dam, led to a small wooden bridge which had been thrown over the large ditch that ran through the morass from east to west. This bridge, and the continuation of the path on the north of it, were a little to the east of Cope's left. From ignorance of the existence of this bridge, from oversight, or from a supposition that the mash was not passable in that quarter, Cope had placed no guards in that direction, and the consequence was, that the Highland army, whose march across could have been effectually stopped by a handful of men, passed the bridge and cleared the marsh without interruption.

The army was divided into two columns or lines, with an interval between them. After the first line had got out of the marsh. Lord George Murray sent the Chevalier Johnstone, one of his aide-de-camp, to hasten the march of the second, which was conducted by the prince in person, and to see that it passed without noise and confusion. At the remote end of the marsh there was a deep ditch, three of four feet broad, over which the men had to leap. In jumping across this ditch, Charles fell upon his knees on the other side, and was immediately raised by the Chevalier Johnstone, who says, that Charles looked as if he considered the accident a bad omen.

Hitherto the darkness had concealed the march of the Highlanders; but the morning was now about to dawn, and at the time the order to halt was given, some of Cope's piquets, stationed on his left, for the first time heard the tramp of the Highlanders. The Highlanders then heard distinctly these advanced guards repeatedly call out, "Who is there?". No answer having been returned, the piquets immediately have the alarm, and the cry of "cannons, cannons; get ready the cannons, cannoneers", resounded on Cope's left wing.

Charles proceeded instantly to give directions for attacking Cope before he should have time to change his position by opposing his front to that of the Highland army. It was not in compliance with any rule in military science, that the order of march of the Highland army had been reversed; but in accordance with an established puctilio among the clans, which, for upwards of seven centuries, had assigned the right wing, regarded as the post of honour, to the Macdonalds. As arranged at the council of war on the preceding evening, the army was drawn up in two lines. The first consisted of the regiments of Clanraland, Keppoch, Glengary, and Glencoe, under their respective chiefs. These regiments formed the right wing, which was commanded by the Duke of Perth. The Duke of Perth's men and the Macgregors composed the centre; while the left wing, commanded by Lord George Murray, was formed of the Camerons under Lochiel, their chief, and the Stewarts of Appin commanded by Stewart of Ardshiel. The second line, which was to serve as a reserve, consisted of the Athole-men, the Robertsons of Strowan, and the Maclauchlans. This body was placed under the command of Lord Nairne.

As soon as Cope received intelligence of the advance of the Highlanders, he gave orders to change his front to the east. Some confusion took place in carrying these orders into execution, from the advanced guards belonging to the foot not being able to find out the regiments to which they belonged, and who, in consequence, stationed themselves on the right of Lee's five companies, and thereby prevented the two squadrons of Gardiner's dragoons, which had been posted on the right of the line, from forming properly. For want of room the squadron under Colonel Gardiner drew up behind that commanded by Lieutenant-colonel Whitney. In all other respects the disposition of each regiment was the same; but the artillery, which before the change had been on the left, and close to that wing, was now on the right somewhat farther from the line, and in front of Whitney's squadron.

There was now no longer any impediment to prevent the armies from coming into collision; and if Cope had had the choice he could not have selected ground more favourable for the operations of cavalry than that which lay between the two armies. It was a level field of considerable extent without bush of tree, and had just been cleared of its crop of grain. But unfortunately for the English general, the celerity with which the Highlanders commenced the attack prevented him from availing himself of this local advantage.

After both lines of the Highland army had formed, Charles addressed his army in these words:- "Follow me, gentlemen; and by the assistance of God I will, this day, make you a free and happy people". He then went up to the right wing and spent a little time in earnest conversation with the Duke of Perth and Clanranald, and, having given his last instructions to them, returned to the station which, in compliance with the wish of his council, he had taken between the lines, where, surrounded by his guard, he waited the signal to advance. If, as alleged by Chevalier Johnstone, Charles exhibited symptoms of alarm when he fell on crossing the ditch, he now certainly showed that fear had no longer a place in his mind. The coolness and self-possession which he displayed when giving his orders would have done honour to the most experienced general; but these qualities are to be still more valued in a young man playing the important and dangerous game that Charles had undertaken. The officer to whose tuition Charles had been indebted for the little knowledge he had acquired of Gaelic, mentions an occurrence indicative of the prince's firmness on this occasion. In returning from the right wing to his guard after giving his orders to the Duke of Perth and Clanranald, he saw the officer alluded to passing near him, and with a smile, said to him in Gaelic, - "Gres-ort, gres-ort!" that is, "Make haste, make haste!".

By the time the arrangements for commencing the attack were completed, the morning had fully dawned, and the beams of the rising sun were beginning to illuminate the horizon; but the mist which still hovered over the corn fields prevented the two armies from seeing each other. Every thing being now in readiness for advancing, the Highlanders took off their bonnets, and placing themselves in an attitude of devotion, with upraised eyes uttered a short prayer. As the Highlanders had advanced considerably beyond the main ditch, Lord George Murray was apprehensive that Cope might turn the left flank, and to guard against such a contingency, he desired Lochiel, who was on the extreme left, to order his men in advancing to incline to the left.


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