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Prince Charles Edward Stuart
Battle of Preston

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Battle of Preston. Click for larger image

Lord George Murray now ordered the left wing to advance, and sent an aid-de-camp to the Duke of Perth to request him to put the right in motion. The Highlanders moved with such rapidity that their ranks broke; to recover which, they halted once or twice before closing with the enemy. When Cope, at daybreak, observed the first line of the Highland army formed in order of battle, at the distance of two hundred paces from his position, he mistook it for bushes; but before it had advanced half way, the rays of the rising sun bursting through the retiring mist showed the armies to each other. The army of Cope at this time made a formidable appearance; and some of Charles's officers were heard afterwards to declare, that when they first saw it, and compared the gallant appearance of horse and foot, with their well-polished arms glittering in the sunbeams, with their own line broken into irregular clusters, they expected that the Highland army would be instantly defeated, and swept from the field.

The Highlanders continued to advance in profound silence. As the right wing marched straight forward without attending to the oblique movement of the Camerons to the left, a gap took place in the centre of the line. An attempt was made to fill it up with the second line, which was about fifty paces behind the first, but before this could be accomplished, the left wing, being the first to move, had advanced beyond the right of the line, and was now engaged with the enemy. By inclining to the left, the Camerons gained half the ground originally between them and the main ditch; but this movement brought them up directly opposite to Cope's cannon. On approaching the cannon the Highlanders fired a few shots at the artillery guard, which alarmed an old gunner, who had charge of the cannon, and his assistants to such a degree that they fled, carrying the powder flasks along with them. To check the advance of the Highlanders, Colonel Whiteford fired off five of the field pieces with his own hand; but though their left seemed to recoil, they instantly resumed the rapid pace they had set out with. The artillery guard next fired a volley with as little effect. Observing the squadron of dragoons under Lieutenant-Colonel Whitney advancing to charge them, the Camerons set up a loud shout, rushed past the cannon, and after discharging a few shots at the dragoons, which killed several men, and wounded the lieutenant-colonel, flew upon them sword in hand. When assailed, the squadron was reeling to and from from the fire; and the Highlanders following an order they had received, to strike at the noses of the horses without minding the riders, completed the disorder. In a moment the dragoons wheeled about, rode over the artillery guard, and fled followed by the guard. The Highlanders continuing to push forward without stopping to take prisoners, Colonel Gardiner was ordered to advance with his squadron, and charge the enemy. He accordingly went forward, encouraging his men to stand firm; but this squadron, before it had advanced many paces, experienced such a reception, that it followed the example which the other had just set.

After the flight of the dragoons, the Highlanders advanced upon the infantry, who opened a fire from right to left, which went down the line as far as Murray's regiment. They received this volley with a loud huzza, and throwing away their muskets, drew their swords and rushed upon the foot before the latter had time to reload their pieces. Confounded by the flight of the dragoons, and the furious onset of the Highlanders, the astonished infantry threw down their arms and took to their heels. Hamilton's dragoons, who were stationed on Cope's left, displayed even greater pusillanimity than their companions; for no sooner did they observe the squadrons on the right give way, than they turned their backs and fled without firing a single shot, or drawing a sword. Murray's regiment being thus left alone on the field, fired upon the Macdonalds who were advancing, and also fled. Thus, within a very few minutes after the action had commenced, the whole army of Cope was put to flight. With the exception of their fire, not the slightest resistance was made by horse or foot, and not a single bayonet was stained with blood. Such were the impetuosity and rapidity with which the first line of the Highlanders broke through Cope's ranks, that they left numbers of his men in their rear who attempted to rally behind them; but on seeing the second line coming up they endeavoured to make their escape. Though the second line was not more than fifty paces behind the first, and was always running as fast as it could to overtake the first line, and near enough never to lose sight of it, yet such was the rapidity with which the battle was gained, that, according to the Chevalier Johnstone, who stood by the side of the prince in the second line, he could see no other enemy on the field of battle than those who were lying on the ground killed or wounded.

Unfortunately for the royal infantry, the walls of the inclosures about the village of Preston, which formed their great security on their right, now that these were in their rear, operated as a barrier to their flight. Having disencumbered themselves of their arms to facilitate their escape, they had deprived themselves of their only means of defence, and driven as they were upon the walls of the inclosure, they would have all perished under the swords of the Highlanders, had not Charles and his officers strenuously exerted themselves to preserve the lives of their discomfited foes. The impetuosity of the royal army, allowed little leisure for the exercise of humanity, and before the carnage ceased several hundreds had fallen under the claymores of the Highlanders, and the ruthless scythes of the Macgregors. Armed with these deadly weapons, which were sharpened and fixed to poles from seven to eight feet long, to supply the place of other arms, this party mowed down the affrightened enemy, cut off the legs of horses, and severed, it is said, the bodies of their riders in twain. Captain James Drummond, alias Macgregor, son of the celebrated Rob Roy, who commanded this company, fell at the commencement of the action. When advancing to the charge he received five wounds. Two bullets went through his body, and laid him prostrate on the ground. That his men might not be discouraged by his fall, this intrepid officer resting his head upon his hand, called out to them, "My lads, I am not dead! - by God, I shall see if any of you does not do his duty!". This singular address had the desired effect, and the Macgregors instantly fell on the flank of the English infantry, which, being left uncovered and exposed by the flight of the cavalry, immediately gave way.

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