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Prince Charles Edward Stuart
The reasons behind the English defeat


The English imputed their defeat chiefly to the violence of the storm, which was full in their faces during the action; but this, though certainly a formidable difficulty, was not the only one they had to encounter.

To a combination of unfortunate circumstances, and not to any particular incident, is to be ascribed the result which ensued; but mainly to Hawley's ignorance of the resistance which the Highlanders could oppose to cavalry. He had been major of Evans's dragoons at the battle of Sheriffmuir, where that regiment and the Scots Greys, led by the Duke of Argyle, after getting over a morass, which the intense frost of the preceding night had rendered passable, attacked the flank of the insurgent army, which conceived itself secure from that quarter, and rode down, and drove off the field several regiments of Highlanders. Imagining from this precedent, that the Highlanders could not withstand the charge of cavalry, he observed one day in a company of officers in Flanders, who where talking of the battle of Preston, that "he knew the Highlanders; they were good militia; but he was certain that they could not stand against a charge of dragoons, who attacked them well." Under this impression he began the battle with his dragoons, before his infantry had been fully formed into line; but he soon saw the consequences of his indiscretion.

Though the field of battle is about twenty-six miles distant from Edinburgh, the intelligence of Hawley's defeat was known there before nine o'clock at night, by the arrival of some spectators who had witnessed the action, and by some of the dragoons who, impelled by fear, did not halt till they reached the capital. The English general passed the evening of the battle at Linlithgow, and marched next morning with the mass of his army to Edinburgh, where he arrived about four o'clock in the afternoon. A prey to disappointment and vexation, the appearance of Hawley on the morning after the battle is said by an observer to have been most wretched, and even worse than that of Cope a few hours after his "scuffle", when the same person saw him at Fala on his retreat to Berwick.

Before the return of Hawley's army, the greatest consternation prevailed among the friends of the government at Edinburgh from the reports of the fugitives, who brought accounts of the total rout and dispersion of the army, exaggerated by the relation of circumstances which had no existence, save in their own terrified imaginations; but the arrival of the greater part of the army served to dissipate their fears in some measure.

Since the commencement of the rebellion, however to its final close, never were the apprehensions of the supporters of the existing government more alarmingly excited than on the present occasion, when they saw the veteran troops, who had fought the battles of Dettingen and Fontenoy, return from Falkirk discomfited by a body of undisciplined mountaineers whom they had been taught to despise. The Jacobites, on the other hand, exulted at the victory, and gave expression to their feelings by openly deriding the vanquished.

The prince spent the 18th, the day after the battle, at Falkirk; but, as the rain fell in torrents during the greater part of that day, few of the officers quitted their lodgings. Notwithstanding the unfavourable state of the weather, the slain were interred by order of the prince, and a considerable body of Highlanders marched to Linlithgow, of which they took possession. Charles now took the advice of his friends as to the use he should make of his victory. Some were for following up the blow which had been struck, and driving Hawley out of Scotland. Others were for marching directly to London before the enemy had time to recover from their consternation. They argued that it was not to be supposed that Hawley would again face the prince and his victorious army till he should receive reinforcements; that even then the troops which had been beaten would communicate terror to the rest; and that the prince's army, flushed with victory, could never fight with greater advantages on their side.

There were others, however, who thought differently and maintained that the capture of Stirling castle was the chief object at present; that it had never been before heard of that an army employed in a siege, having beaten those that came to raise it, had made any other use of their victory than to take the fortress in the first place; that any other conduct would argue a great deal of levity; and that it was of the utmost importance to obtain possession of the castle, as it opened an easy and safe communication between the prince (wherever he might happen to be,) and his friends in the north. This last view was supported by M. Mirabelle de Gordon, a French engineer of Scotch extraction, who gave the prince the strongest assurances that the castle would be forced to surrender in a few days, and added, moreover, that if the prince went immediately upon another expedition he would be obliged to sacrifice all his heavy artillery which he could not carry with him into England.

The opinion of an individual, decorated with an order, and who was consequently considered a person of experience and talents, had great weight with the prince, who, accordingly, resolved to reduce the castle of Stirling before commencing any other operations, but Charles discovered, when too late, that Mirabelle's knowledge as an engineer was extremely limited, and that he had neither judgment to plan nor knowledge to direct the operations of a siege. This person, whose figure was as eccentric as his mind, was called, in derision, Mr Admirable by the Highlanders.

During the prince's short stay at Falkirk, a misunderstanding took place between a party of the Camerons and Lord Kilmarnock, which had nearly proved fatal to that nobleman. As this incident affords a remarkable illustration of clanship, the particulars cannot fail to be interesting.

Lord Kilmarnock, having passed the evening of the battle in his house at Callander, came next morning to Falkirk with a party of his men, having in their custody some Edinburgh volunteers, who, having fallen behind Hawley's army in its march to Linlithgow, had been taken and carried to Callander House. Leaving the prisoners and their guard standing in the street, opposite to the house where the prince lodged, his lordship went up stairs and presented to him a list of the prisoners, among whom was Mr Home, the author of the Tragedy of Douglas and the History of the Rebellion. Charles opened the window to survey the prisoners, and while engaged in conversation with Lord Kilmarnock about them, as is supposed, with the paper in his hand, a soldier in the uniform of the Scots Royals, carrying a musket and wearing a black cockade, appeared in the street, and approached in the direction of the prince.

The volunteers who observed this man coming up the street were extremely surprised, and, thinking that his intention in coming forward was to shoot the prince, expected every moment to see him raise his piece and fire. Observing the volunteers, who were within a few yards of the prince, all looking in one direction, Charles also looked the same way, and seeing the soldier approach appeared amazed, and, calling Lord Kilmarnock, pointed towards the soldier. His lordship instantly descended into the street, and finding the soldier immediately opposite to the window where Charles stood, the earl went up to him, and striking the hat off the soldier's head, tramped the black cockade under his feet. At that instant a Highlander rushed from the opposite side of the street, and, laying hands on Lord Kilmarnock, pushed him violently back. Kilmarnock immediately pulled out a pistol, and presented it at the Highlander's head; the Highlander in his turn drew his dirk, and held it close to the earl's breast.

They stood in this position about half a minute, when a crowd of Highlanders rushed in and drove Lord Kilmarnock away. the man with the dirk in his hand then took up the hat, put it on the soldier's head and the Highlanders marched off with him in triumph.

This extraordinary scene surprised the prisoners, and they solicited an explanation from a Highland officer who stood near them. The officer told them that the soldier in the royal uniform was a Cameron: "Yesterday,' continued he, "when your army was defeated he joined his clan; the Camerons received him with joy, and told him that he should wear his arms, his clothes, and every thing else, till he was provided with other clothes and other arms. The Highlander who first interposed and drew his dirk on Lord Kilmarnock is the soldier's brother; the crowd who rushed in are the Camerons, many of them his near relations; and, in my opinion," continued the officer, "no colonel nor general in the prince's army can take that cockade out of his hat, except Lochiel himself."

An accident occurred about the same time, which had a most prejudicial effect in thinning the ranks of the Highland army.

The Highlanders, pleased with the fire-arms they had picked up upon the field of battle, were frequently handling and discharging them. Afraid of accidents, the officers had issued orders prohibiting this abuse, but to no purpose. One of Keppoch's men had secured a musket which had been twice loaded. Not aware of this circumstance, he fired off the piece, after extracting one of the balls, in the direction of some officers who were standing together on the street of Falkirk. The other ball unfortunately entered the body of ’neas Macdonell, second son of Glengary, who commanded the Glengary regiment. He survived only a short time, and, satisfied of the innocence of the man that shot him, begged with his last breath that he might not suffer.

To soothe the Glengary men under their loss, the prince evinced by external acts that he participated in their feelings, and, to show his respect for the memory of this brave and estimable youth, attended his funeral as chief mourner; but nothing the prince was able to do could prevent some of the men, who felt more acutely than others the loss of the representative of their chief, from returning to their homes.

On Sunday the 19th, the prince returned to Bannockburn, leaving Lord George Murray with the clans at Falkirk. At Bannockburn he issued, by means of a printing-press which he had carried with him from Glasgow, an account of the battle of Falkirk, a modest document when compared with that of Hawley who gravely asserted that had it not been for the rain his army would have continued in his camp, "being masters of the field of battle!"

After the battle of Falkirk, the Duke of Perth again summoned the castle of Stirling to surrender, but the governor returned the same answer he had sent to the first message. The prince therefore resumed the siege on his return to his former head quarters, and fixed his troops in their previous cantonments. An able mathematician, named Grant, who had been employed many years with the celebrated Cassini, in the observatory at Paris, and who had conducted the siege of Carlisle, had at the commencement of the siege communicated to the prince a plan of attack, by opening trenches and establishing batteries in the church-yard. He had assured the prince that this was the only place where they could find a parallel almost on a level with the batteries of the castle; and that if a breach were effected in the half-moon, which defended the entry to the castle, from a battery in the church-yard, the rubbish of the work would fill the ditch, and render an assault practicable through the breach.

In consequence, however, of a remonstrance from the inhabitants, who stated that the fire from the castle in the direction of the church-yard would reduce the greater part of the town to ashes, the prince abandoned this plan, and consulted M. Mirabelle, with the view of ascertaining whether there was any other practicable mode of making an attack on the castle with effect. To borrow an expression of the Chevalier Johnstone, in reference to the conduct of Mirabelle on this occasion, that it is always the distinctive mark of ignorance to find nothing difficult, not even the things that are impossible, this eccentric person, without the least hesitation, immediately undertook to open the trenches on the Gowling or Gowan Hill, a small eminence to the north of the castle, about forty feet below its level.

As there were not above fifteen inches depth of earth above the rock, it became necessary to supply the want of earth with bags of wool and earth, an operation which occupied several days. On breaking ground a fire was opened on the trenches from the castle, which was renewed from time to time during the progress of the works, and was answered from the trenches; but the fire from the castle was not sufficiently strong to hinder the operations, which, from the commanding position of the castle guns, could have been easily prevented. The design of General Blakeney in thus allowing the besiegers to raise their works, was, it is understood, to create a belief among them, that the castle would not be tenable against their batteries, and by this impression to induce the Highland army to remain before the fortress till Hawley should be again in sufficiently strong condition to advance from Edinburgh.

Having, on the evening of the 28th, completed the battery on the Gowan hill, which consisted of three pieces of cannon, the rebels quickly raised another on a small rocky eminence called the Ladies' hill, on the south-east of the town. They were both unmasked on the morning of the 29th, and immediately opened with a brisk fire, which shattered two of the embrasures of the castle. As the guns of the batteries were pointed upwards, the balls generally went over the castle, and the few that struck the walls produced little effect; but the case was totally different with the besieged, who, from their elevated situation, from which they could see even the shoe- buckles of the French artillerymen behind the batteries, poured down a destructive fire upon the besiegers from two batteries mounting together thirteen pieces, which dismounted the besiegers' guns, broke their carriages, and forced them to retire with considerable loss.

Thus defeated in their attack, the rebels abandoned the siege after wasting three weeks in a fruitless attempt to obtain possession of a post, which could have been of no essential service to them, and before which they lost some of their best men, chiefly among the French piquets, whom least of all they could spare.


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