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The Battle of Culloden

The Army Marches Back


The army marched back in two columns, by a different but more direct route than that by which it had advanced. In returning they had a view of the fires in the Duke of Cumberland's camp. The greater part of the army arrived at Culloden, whither it had been agreed upon to proceed, about five o'clock in the morning, and the remainder did not remain long behind. The quick return of the army suggests an idea that had it marched in double columns towards Nairn by the shortest route, it might have reached its destination at least an hour sooner than the time contemplated by Lord George Murray, but there was great danger, that, by adopting such a course, the Duke of Cumberland would have obtained notice of the advance of the Highlanders.

On arriving at Culloden, the prince gave orders to bring provisions to the field; but the calls of hunger could not brook delay, and many of the common men as well as officers slipped off to Inverness and the neighbourhood inquest of refreshment. Others, from absolute exhaustion, lay down on the ground, and sought a momentary respite in the arms of sleep. Charles himself, with his principal officers, went to Culloden house, where, sullen, dejected, and silent, they for a time stared at one another with amazement, instead of deliberating upon the course they ought to pursue at this critical juncture. A search was made for food, but with the exception of a little bread and a small quantity of whisky, which was procured for the prince with great difficulty, no refreshment of any kind could be obtained.

After a short repose the men were aroused from their slumbers by their officers, who informed them that the Duke of Cumberland's army was approaching. There were others whom hunger had kept awake, and who having seized and killed some cattle and sheep which they found at Culloden, were preparing a repast, but few of them had time to make any thing ready before the alarm was given. The intelligence of Cumberland's advance was first brought to Culloden house about eight o'clock by one Cameron, a lieutenant in Lochiel's regiment, who, having fallen asleep at the place where the halt was made, had been left behind. As Fitz-James's horse and others had gone to Inverness to refresh, and as those who remained were, from the hard duty they had performed for several days and nights, unfit for patrolling, Charles had no means of ascertaining whether the troops that were approaching were merely an advanced party, or the whole of the English army. That nothing might be left to conjecture at such an important crisis, some officers were instantly despatched to Inverness, to bring back the men whom hunger had driven thither, and the Highlanders at Culloden were got ready as quickly as possible, and marched through the parks of Culloden in battalions, as they happened to be lying, to Drummossie moor, on a part of which, about half a mile to the west of the place where they had been drawn up the day before, the army halted.

Lord George Murray now renewed his proposal to pass the water of Nairn, and take up a position on the ground which had been surveyed the previous morning, as being much better fitted for Highlanders than the level on which they stood. An additional reason for passing the Nairn was, that Macpherson of Cluny, who was expected every moment with his clan, was to come on the south side. Charles, however, again rejected this judicious advice, for the reasons he had formerly given. By retiring beyond Inverness, or among the fastnesses to the south of the water of Nairn, an action might have been easily avoided for several days; and, as the projected night attack had miscarried, it would certainly have been a wise course to have shunned an engagement till the men had recovered their strength and spirits; but Charles, over-sanguine in all his calculations, and swayed by his creatures and sycophants, was deaf to the suggestions of wisdom. It seems strange that a retreat to Inverness was not proposed. By retiring into the town, and occupying the grounds in the neighbourhood, a delay of twenty-four hours might have been obtained, as it is not likely that the Duke of Cumberland would have attempted to force the town, or a strong camp, the same day he marched from Nairn. By postponing the engagement till next day, a very different result might have happened, as the Highlanders, who were in a starving condition, would have had time to procure provisions and recruit from their fatigue; and numbers, who were not able to come up in time to Culloden, would have rejoined the ranks at Inverness.


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