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Prince Charles Edward Stuart
Investment of Blair Castle


Before Lord George Murray set out on his expedition into Athole, Macpherson of Cluny had secured the passes between that country and Badenoch, to prevent all communication between these districts. About the middle of March Lord George Murray left Inverness with 400 men of the Athole brigade; and, on entering Badenoch, he was joined by Cluny with 300 Macphersons. On the 16th of March the whole detachment set out from Dalwhinnie in the dusk of evening, and did not halt till they reached Dalnaspidal, about the middle of Drummochter, where the body was divided into a number of small parties, in each of which the Athole men and the Macphersons were proportionally mixed.

Hitherto, with the exception of Macpherson of Cluny and Lord George, no person in the expedition knew either its destination or object. The time was now come for Lord George to explain his design, which he said was to surprise and attack before day-light, and as nearly as possible at the same time, all the posts in Athole occupied by the royal forces. As an encouragement, he offered a reward of a guinea to every man who should surprise a sentinel at his post. There were about thirty posts in all, including the different houses at which the royal troops were quartered; but the principal posts, more especially selected for attack, were Bun-Rannoch, the house of Keynnachin, the house of Blairfettie, the house of Lude, the house of Faskally, and the inn at Blair, where, as Lord George Murray was informed, several officers of the twenty-first regiment were quartered. After the different parties had discharged their duty by attacking the posts assigned them, they were ordered to meet at the bridge of Bruar, about two miles north from Blair, as the general rendezvous for the detachment.

Having received their instructions, the different parties set out immediately; and so well was the scheme of attack laid, that betwixt three and five o'clock in the morning, all the posts, though many miles distant from one another, were carried. At Bun-Rannoch, where there was a late-wake held that night, the sentinel was surprised, and the whole of the party, (Argyleshire men), while engaged in that festivity, were taken prisoners, without a shot being fired on either side. The sentinel at Keynnachin being more upon his guard, discharged his piece and alarmed his friends, who defended themselves for a short time by firing from windows, till the party broke into the house, and killing one man, made prisoners of the rest. At Blairfettie, where there were fifty Argyleshire men stationed, the sentinel was surprised, and the party, with the proprietor of the mansion at their head, entered the house before the soldiers within knew that they were attacked. They endeavoured to defend themselves, but were obliged to surrender. Lady Blairfettie was in bed at the time, and knew nothing of the affair, till informed by a servant that her husband was below, and wished to see her immediately. On coming down stairs she found the garrison disarmed, the prisoners in the dinning-room, and about a dozen of her husband's tenants and servants standing over them with drawn swords. Blairfettie, thinking that his wife had been harshly treated, desired her to point out any of the prisoners who had used her ill; but she answered that she had no other complaint to make that this, that the prisoners had eaten all he provisions, and that she and her children were starving. The parties at Faskally, at Lude, and the bridge of Tilt, were also taken; but that in the inn of Blair, after some resistance, escaped to the castle. Three hundred prisoners were taken by Lord George's parties, without the loss of a single man. While beating up the different posts, a party, by order of Lord George, secured the pass of Killiecrankie.

Having been apprised, by the arrival of the party from the inn of Blair, of the presence of the enemy, Sir Andrew Agnew, who held the castle of Blair, instantly got his men under arms, and left the castle to ascertain who they were that had attacked his posts. Information of this circumstance was brought about daybreak by an inhabitant of the village to Lord George Murray, who was then at the bridge of Bruar with a party of twenty-five men only and a few elderly gentlemen, waiting for the different parties he had despatched the previous night. This intelligence was of the utmost importance to Lord George and his party, all of whom would otherwise have probably fallen into the hands of the garrison. Lord George immediately consulted the gentlemen around him as to the course they should pursue. Some advised an immediate retreat in the direction of Dalwhinnie, but others were for crossing the nearest hills, and retiring by roads along which it would be difficult for the garrison to follow them. His lordship, however, was opposed to both opinions, as by quitting his post he was afraid that his different parties, as they came to the appointed place of rendezvous, would be surprised, and made prisoners. While pondering how to extricate himself from the dilemma in which he was placed, he espied a long unfinished turf-wall which ran across a field near the bridge. An idea at once occurred to him, that by disposing the few men that were with him behind this wall at a considerable distance from one another, and by displaying the colours of both regiments in front, he might deceive Sir Andrew Agnew's detachment, by inducing them to believe that they were to be opposed by a large body of men. Having disposed his small party in the way described, Lord George directed the pipers, (for luckily he had with him all the pipers of his detachment), to keep their eyes fixed upon the road to Blair, and the moment they saw any military appear in that direction, to strike up at once with all their bagpipes. Just as the sun was rising above the horizon, Sir Andrew Agnew's men appeared, and their ears were instantly saluted by the noise of the bagpipes, when the pipes commenced playing one of their most noisy pibrochs. The party behind the wall then drew their swords, and, as they had been previously ordered by Lord George, kept brandishing them above their heads. This ruse succeeded completely, and Sir Andrew, alarmed by the noise and the spectacle before him, at which he took only a short glance, ordered his men to the right about, and retired into the castle.

Blair Castle

Being now relieved from all apprehension of attack, Lord George remained at his post till joined by about 300 of his men, when he marched to Blair, and invested the castle. Having no battering-cannon, and only two small field-pieces, which could make no impression on walls that were seven feet thick, he resolved to blockade the castle, which he expected would be forced to surrender in two or three weeks for want of provisions. To cut off the communications between the castle and the neighbouring country, Lord George placed a guard of 300 men at the village of Blair, where he himself was stationed, and another near the Mains, at some stables which had been recently erected. Being joined by 400 or 500 men belonging to the district, who had been formerly in the Highland army, Lord George detached a party to Dunkeld, where they remained till the approach of the Hessians from Perth. This party then retreated to Pitlochrie, two miles below the pass of Killiecrankie, where they remained several days, during which time repeated skirmishes took place between them and the hussars, and some of St George's dragoons. During the time the Athole men kept possession of Pitlochrie, Lord George Murray went there generally twice every day to ascertain the state of matters. The Hessians showed no disposition to leave Dunkeld, where they had taken up their quarters, till the 31st of March, on which day a large body of them came up as far as the Haugh of Dalskean, about two miles from Pitlochrie. The dragoons and hussars continuing to advance, the Athole men retired to the foot of the pass of Killiecrankie, where they halted to dispute the passage; but after remaining six hours waiting for the Hessians, they were informed that a great part of them had returned to Dunkeld.

At this time the garrison of Blair castle was reduced to great distress from the want of provisions, and if the blockade had been continued a few days longer they must have surrendered; but, fortunately for the besieged, Lord George Murray was ordered to return immediately to Inverness, in consequence of the expected advance of the Duke of Cumberland. Accordingly, on the 31st of March, Lord George sent off his two pieces of cannon, that he might not be impeded in his march, and about ten o'clock at night he drew off the party from the pass to Blair, taking his departure for Inverness, at two o'clock next morning. Finding the pass clear, Lord Crawford went through it the same morning, but the Hessians, alarmed at the dreadful aspect which it presented, positively refused to enter the pass. As, from the expresses which Lord George Murray received, he was led to infer that the Duke of Cumberland was about to leave Aberdeen, his lordship made a most rapid march, having performed the journey in seventy hours, four only of which he devoted to sleep. Cluny's men were left at Ruthven, to guard Badenoch from the incursions of the royal troops in Athole.


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