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Prince Charles Edward Stuart
The insurgent Chiefs resolve to retreat


It was not without considerable reluctance that Charles had been induced to consent to a retreat. So late as the 28th of January, on which day he received information at Bannockburn that the Duke of Cumberland was expected at Edinburgh in a day or two, he had sent Secretary Murray to Falkirk to acquaint Lord George Murray, that it was his intention to advance and attack the Duke of Cumberland, when he should reach Falkirk, and to request his lordship to remain there till the duke came to Linlithgow. Lord George did not express any disapprobation of Charles's design, but immediately drew up a plan of the battle in contemplation, which he carried to Bannockburn, and showed to Charles. The prince, who was in high spirits, expressed himself much pleased with the plan, which differed in some respects from that he he had sketched previous to the late battle; but, to his utter astonishment, he received a packet from Lord George Murray by an aid-de-camp, containing a representation by his lordship and all the chief, who were with him at Falkirk, advising a retreat to the north.

In his paper, after stating that they considered it their duty, "in this critical juncture", to lay their opinions in the most respectful manner before his royal highness, they proceeded to say, that they were certain that a vast number of his troops had gone home since the battle of Falkirk, and that, notwithstanding all the endeavours of the commanders of the different corps, they found that they had it not in their power to prevent it, - that as they were afraid Stirling castle could not be taken so soon as was expected, they could , from the inequality of their numbers to that or the enemy, anticipate nothing but utter destruction to the few troops that might remain behind, should the enemy advance before the castle fell into Prince Charles's hands. For these reasons, they have it as their opinion, that the only way to extricate his royal highness, and those who remained with him, out of the imminent danger which threatened them, was to retire immediately to the Highlands, where the army could be usefully employed the remained of the winter in taking the forts in the north, - that they were morally certain they could keep as many men together as would answer that end, and would hinder the enemy from Following them to the mountains at that season of the year, - and that, in spring, they had no doubt that an army of 10,000 effective Highlanders could be brought together, who would follow his royal highness wherever he might think proper. Such a plan, they maintained, would certainly disconcert his enemies, and could not but be approved of by his royal highness's friends both at home and abroad, and that if a landing should happen in the meantime, the Highlanders would immediately rise either to join the invaders, or to make a powerful diversion elsewhere. On considering the hard marches which the army had undergone, the season of the year, and the inclemency of the weather, his royal highness, they said, as well as his allied abroad and his adherents at home, could not fail to approve of the proposal, - that the greatest objection to the retreat was the difficulty of saving the artillery, particularly the heavy cannon; but that it would be better that some of these were thrown into the Forth, than that his royal highness and the flower of his army should be exposed to the they inevitably would, should the proposed retreat not be agreed to, and put in execution without loss of time; and that they thought that it would be the greatest imprudence to risk the whole on so unequal a chance, when there were such hopes of succour from abroad, besides the resources his royal highness would have from his adherents at home. In conclusion, they informed the prince that they had just been apprised, that numbers of their people had gone off, and that many were sick, and not in a condition to fight. They added, that nobody was privy to the address but the subscribers; and they assured him that it was with great concern and reluctance they found themselves obliged to declare their sentiments in so dangerous a situation, - a declaration which nothing could have prevailed upon them to make but the unfortunate diminution of the army by desertion.

According to a statement made by John Hay, who occasionally acted as secretary to the prince, Charles was so transported with rage, after reading this paper, that he struck his head against the wall of the room till he staggered, and exclaimed most violently against Lord George Murray. To dissuade the subscribers from their resolution, Charles sent Sir Thomas Sheridan to Falkirk, who, not succeeding in his mission, returned to Bannockburn, accompanied by Keppoch and several other chiefs. These argued the matter with Charles himself, and ultimately prevailed upon him to consent to a retreat. This retreat was condemned by some of the prince's flatterers; but the simple fact, stated by Patullo the muster-master of the prince's army, that, before the retreat, the army had been diminished by desertion to 5,000 men, fully justifies the advice given by Lord George Murray and the chiefs at Falkirk. Even Sir Thomas Sheridan, the especial favourite of the prince, admitted the necessity of the retreat, for reasons apart from the reduction of the army.

In order to make the retreat with as little loss as possible, horses and carriages were ordered in from all quarters, under the pretext of carrying the field artillery and ammunition towards Edinburgh, whither it was given out that the army was to march immediately. The army, however, began to suspect the design, and every person, not in the secret, looked dejected. During the 30th, a great deal of bustle took place in the country in collecting horses and carriages, but with little effect, as the country people, who also began to conjecture that a retreat was intended, were not disposed to attend to the order. At length the design of these preparations became apparent when, in consequence of a previous arrangement, Lord George Murray left Falkirk with the clans on the evening of the 31st for Bannockburn, leaving behind him Elcho's, Pitsligo's, and Kilmarnock's horse, who were directed to patrol betwixt Falkirk and Linlithgow till ten o'clock that night. Lord George continued at the prince's quarters till after twelve o'clock at night, when it was agreed that the army should rendezvous at nine o'clock next morning near St. Ninians; and a message was directed to be sent to the Duke of Perth and Lord John Drummond, both of whom were at Stirling, to be ready to march between nine and ten o'clock, but not to evacuate the town without further orders. However, after Lord George had left the prince's quarters for his own, these orders were countermanded without his knowledge, and orders were sent to Stirling to evacuate it by break of day.

The appointed rendezvous at St Ninians never took place, for the private men, imagining when they first heard of the retreat that the danger was much greater and nearer than it really was, had begun at day-break to take the road to the Frews. Before the hour appointed for assembling, many of them had arrived at that ford, so that when Charles left his quarters for St. Ninians, scarcely a vestige of his army was to be seen. Officers were sent after some parties, who were still visible, for the purpose of stopping them, but without effect. The troops in Stirling, in terms of the orders they had received, after spiking the cannon, also marched to the Frews, so that the prince and Lord George Murray found themselves almost deserted. Charles finding it impossible to recall his troops, marched off with some of the chiefs and the few troops that remained with him.

On the morning of the retreat the church of St. Ninians, in which the insurgents had fifty barrels of gunpowder, blew up with a terrible explosion, which was heard by the Duke of Cumberland's army at Linlithgow. Whether it happened from accident or design, is a point which cannot be ascertained. If from design, it must have been the act of some unknown individual, as there was no warning given to any person to keep out of the way. That it could not have been perpetrated by any person in the prince's interest, seems very evident from the fact, that Charles himself was near enough to have suffered injury, and that some of the Highlanders, as well as several of the inhabitants of the village, were killed. Yet, such was the spirit of misrepresentation which prevailed at the time, that, without the least assignable motive, the odium of the act was thrown upon Charles.

When this explosion took place, Lord George Murray was still at his head quarters. He thought the castle-guns had fired a volley; and on repairing to the town about an hour after the explosion, he was utterly amazed to find that the besiegers had disappeared. He, therefore, sent an aid-de-camp to call off some horse he had posted near Falkirk, and proceeded immediately, with the few troops that remained with him, to the Frews.


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