Presuming that Charles still meant to make a stand, Lord
George Murray and the other chiefs who remained with the army retired to Ruthven, where, including Cluny's men
whom they met on their retreat, they assembled a force of between 2,000 and 3,000 men.
From the want of provisions it was impossible to keep such a body together for any length
of time; and a message from Charles, two or three days after the battle, desiring them to
disperse, hastened an event which seemed to be inevitable. In thus resigning the contest
which by his inconsiderable rashness he had provoked, Charles showed that he was not
possessed of that magnanimity which many of his followers ascribed to him. Notwithstanding
their recent reverses, there existed no unwillingness on the part of the brave men who had
risked their all for him to continue the war. They might not have, it is true, succeeded
in vindicating the claim of an ungrateful prince in the field; but, under his leadership,
they might have made a gallant stand, and forced the government to grant them favourable
terms. In extenuation of the prince's conduct, on the present occasion, it is but fair to
add, that he was under the influence of a set of contemptible advisers, who prejudiced him
against his best friends, and instilled into his mind a conviction that he had been
betrayed at Culloden. How far the conduct of Lord George Murray, after that event, may
have determined Charles to take the course he did, cannot now be ascertained; but if
Charles, in the midst of his perplexity immediately after the battle, hesitated as to the
course he should pursue, his reception of the following document, under the hand of Lord
George Murray, was certainly not calculated to induce him to continue the contest.
"May it please your Royal Highness. "As no person in these kingdoms ventured
more frankly in the cause than myself, and as I had more at stake than almost all others
put together, so, to be sure, I cannot but be very deeply affected with our late loss and
present situation; but I declare, that were your royal highness's person in safety, the
loss of the cause, and the misfortune and unhappy situation of my countrymen, is the only
thing that grieves me, for I thank God I have resolution to bear my own family's ruin
without a grudge. Sir, you will, I hope, upon this occasion, pardon me, if I mention a few
truths, which all the gentlemen of our army seem convinced of.
"It was highly wrong to have set up the royal standard without having positive
assurances from his Most Christian Majesty, that he would assist you with all his force;
and as your royal family lost the crown of these realms upon the account of France, the
world did and had reason to expect that France would seize the first favourable
opportunity to restore your august family.
"I must also acquaint your royal highness, that we were all fully convinced that Mr
O'Sullivan, whom your royal highness trusted with the most essential things with regard to
your operations, was exceedingly unfit for it, and committed gross blunders on every
occasion of moment. He whose business it was, did not so much as visit the ground where we
were to be drawn up in line of battle, and it was a fatal error to allow the enemy these
walls upon their left, which made it impossible for us to break them, and they, with their
front fire, and flanking us when we went upon the attack, destroyed us without any
possibility of our breaking them, and our Athole men have lost a full half of their
officers and men. I wish Mr O'Sullivan had never got any other charge in the army than the
care of the baggage, which, I am told, he had been brought up to and understood. I never
saw him in time of action, neither at Gladsmuir, Falkirk, nor in the last, and his orders
were vastly confused.
"The want of provisions was another misfortune which had the most fatal consequence.
Mr Hay, whom your royal highness trusted with the principal direction or ordering
provisions of late, and without whose orders a boll of meat or farthing of money was not
to be delivered, has served your royal highness egregiously ill. When I spoke to him, he
told me the thing is ordered, it will be got, &c; but he neglected his duty to such a
degree, that our ruin might probably have been prevented had he done his duty. In short,
the three last days which were so critical, our army was starved. This was the reason our
night march was rendered abortive, when we possibly might have surprised and defeated the
enemy at Nairn; but for want of provisions a third of the army scattered to Inverness,
&c, and the other who marched had not the spirits to make it so quick as was
necessary, being really faint for want of provisions.
"The next day, which was the fatal day, if we had got plenty of provisions we might
have crossed the water at Nairn, and drawn up so advantageously, that we would have
obliged the enemy to come to us, for they were resolved to fight at all hazards at
prodigious disadvantage, and probably we would in that case have done by them as they
unhappily have done by us. In short, Mr O'Sullivan and Mr Hay had rendered themselves
odious to all our army, and had disgusted them to such a degree, that they had bred a
mutiny in all ranks, that had not the battle come on, they were to have represented their
grievances to your royal highness for a remedy. For my own part, I never had any
particular discussion with either of them; but I ever thought them incapable and unfit to
serve in the stations they were placed in.
"Your royal highness knows I always told I had no design to continue in the army. I
would of late, when I came last from Athole, have resigned my commission; but all my
friends told me it might be of prejudice to the cause at such a critical time. I hope your
royal highness will now accept of my demission. What commands you have for me in any other
situation, please honour me with them. - I am, with great zeal, Sir, your royal highness's
most dutiful and humble servant,
"Ruthven, 17th April, 1746.
"I have taken the liberty to keep 500 pieces, which shan't be disposed upon except
you give leave".
It would appear from the preceding document that Lord George Murray, who, of all men, was
the best judge of the propriety of trying another campaign, did not in the least
contemplate that Charles would abandon the enterprise. His own opinion was, that the war
should be continued; and when he heard that Charles had resolved to depart for France, he
sent Secretary Hay to Glenboisdale with a message to Charles, to dissuade him against such
a step; but Charles informed Hay that his resolution was fixed. Lord George maintained
that the Highlanders "could have made a summer's campaign without the risk of any
misfortune: they could have marched through the hills to places in Banffshire,
Aberdeenshire, the Mearns, Perthshire, Lochaber, and Argyleshire, by ways that regular
troops could not have followed; and if they (the regular troops) had ventured among the
mountains, it must have been attended with great danger and difficulty: their convoys
might have been cut off, and opportunities would have offered to attack them with almost a
certainty of success. And though the Highlanders had neither money nor magazines, they
would not have starved in that season of the year so long as there were sheep and cattle:
they could also have separated themselves in two or three different bodies, got meal for
some days' provisions, - met again at a place appointed, and might have fallen upon the
enemy when they least expected: they could have marched in three days what would have
taken regular troops five: nay, had those taken the high roads as often as they would have
been obliged upon account of their carriages, it would have taken them ten or twelve days.
In short, they might have been so harassed and fatigued that they must have been in the
greatest distress and difficulties, and at length probably been destroyed, at least much
might have been expected by gaining of time: perhaps the Highlanders might have been
enabled to have made an offensive instead of a defensive war".
After receiving Charles's orders to disperse, the officers at Ruthven, to use an
expression of one of themselves, "took melancholy leave of each other", and went
off in different directions to secure their personal safety, and the common men straight
to their respective homes.