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Prince Charles Edward Stuart
Charles's council resolve to retreat

On the morning after the arrival of the Highland army at Derby, Charles held a council of war to deliberate upon a course to be pursued. The prince, who never for a moment entertained the least idea of a retreat, and who considered his own personal safety a minor consideration, urged every argument in his power for an immediate advance, with all the vehemence and ardour characteristic of an enterprising and fanatic mind. He said that he did not doubt, that, as his cause was just, it would prevail, - that he could not think of retreating after coming so far, - and that he was hopeful there would be a defection in the enemy's army, and that some of their troops would join him. Lord George Murray, however, proposed a retreat, and used a variety of arguments, which appeared to him unanswerable, in support of that measure. He represented to his royal highness and the council, that they had advanced into England depending upon French succours, or an insurrection in that kingdom, and that they had been disappointed in both, - that the prince's army, by itself, was by no means a match for the troops which the government had assembled, - that besides the Duke of Cumberlands's army, which was between 7,000 and 8,000 men strong, and which was expected that night at Stafford, Marshal Wade was coming up by hard marches by the east road with an army of 10,000 men, and that he was already at Ferrybridge, which was within two or three days march of the Highland army, - that in addition to these two armies, there was a third at least equal to either of them already formed in the neighbourhood of London, consisting of guards and horse, with troops which the government would bring from the coast, where they were quartered; so that there would be three armies of regular troops, amounting together to about 30,000 men, which would surround the Highland army, which was not above a sixth of that number. That, admitting that the prince should beat Cumberland or Wade, he might, should he lose 1,000 or 1,500 of the best of his men, be undone by such a victory, as the rest would be altogether unfit to engage a fresh army, which he must expect to encounter, - that, on the other hand, should the prince be defeated, it could not be supposed that he or any of his men could escape, as the militia, who had not hitherto appeared much against the Highland army, would, upon its defeat, possess themselves of all the roads, and the enemy's horse would surround them on all sides, - that as Lord John Drummond had lately landed in Scotland with his own regiment and some Irish troops from France, the prince would have a better chance of success by returning to Scotland, - that the forces under Lord John Drummond and the Highlanders assembled at Perth, would, when united, form an army almost as numerous as that under the prince, - that since the court of France had begun to send troops, it was to be hoped it would send considerable succours, and as the first had landed in Scotland, it was probable the rest would follow the same route, - that if the prince was cut off, all the succours France could send would avail nothing, and "the king's" affairs would be ruined for ever, - that the prince had no chance of beating n succession the armies opposed to him, unless the English troops should be seized with a panic, and run away at the sight of the Highlanders, a circumstance barely possible, but not to be depended upon, - that the whole world would blame the prince's counsellors as rash and foolish, for venturing an attempt which could not succeed, - and that the prince's person, should he escape being killed in battle, would fall into the enemy's hands. In fine, that nothing short of an absolute certainty of success could justify such a rash undertaking, but that retreat, which was still practicable, and of which Lord George offered to undertake the conduct, would give the prince a much better chance of succeeding than a battle under such circumstances, and would do him as much honour as a victory.

Charles still persevered in his resolution, and insisted on giving battle next morning to the Duke of Cumberland, and advancing to London; but the chiefs of the clans unanimously supported the views of Lord George Murray, and represented to his royal highness, that although they had no doubt the Highlanders could easily beat the army of the Duke of Cumberland, though greatly superior in point of numbers, yet such a victory could not be obtained without loss; and that an army of 4,500 men opposed to the whole force of England, could not admit of the smallest diminution, especially as they would soon have to fight another battle before entering London with the army on Finchley Common. But supposing that by some extraordinary occurrence they should arrive at the capital without losing a man, what figure would such a small body of men make amidst its immense population? They added, that the prince ought now to perceive clearly how little he had to expect from his English partisans, since, after traversing all the counties reputed as to have been most attached to his family, not a single person of distinction had declared for him. With the exception of the Duke of Perth, who, from deference to the prince, concurred in his opinion, all the persons present were for a retreat; the duke himself at last also declaring for that measure.

Finding his council resolved upon a retreat Charles proposed marching into Wales instead of returning to Carlisle; but this proposal was also opposed by all present. His royal highness at last reluctantly yielded to the opinion of his council. In conducting the retreat, Lord George Murray offered to remain always in the rear himself, and proposed that each regiment should take it by turns till the army reached Carlisle; and that it should march in such order, that if Lord George was attacked he might be supported as occasion required, and without stopping the army unless assailed by a great body of the enemy. He also stipulated that the cannon and carriages, with the ammunition, should be placed in the van, and that he should not be troubled with the charge of them.

To prevent any unpleasant feeling on the part of the army on account of the retreat, and to conceal the intelligence of their movements as long as possible from the enemy, the council agreed to keep the resolution to retreat secret; but it was divulged to Sir John Macdonald, an Irish gentleman, and an officer in the French service, who had come over with the prince. In the course of the afternoon, Lord George Murray, Keppoch, and Lochiel, while walking together, were accosted by this gentleman, who had just dines heartily, and made free with his bottle, and were rallied by him a good deal about the retreat. "What!" addressing Keppoch, "a Macdonald turn his back!" and turning to Lochiel, he continued, "For shame! A Cameron run away from the enemy" Go forward, and I'll lead you". The two chiefs and Lord George endeavoured to persuade Sir John that he was labouring under a mistake; but he insisted that he was right, as he had received certain information of the retreat.

Disappointed at the result of the deliberations of the council, Charles was exceedingly dejected. To raise his spirits, or to ingratiate themselves with him, some of the council, and particularly Sir Thomas Sheridan and Secretary Murray, though they had approved highly of the motion to retreat in the council, now very inconsistently blamed it. They were, however, aware that the retreat would, notwithstanding their opposition, be put in execution, and to excuse themselves for agreeing to it, they alleged that they did so, because they knew the army would never fight well when the officers were opposed to its wishes. The prince was easily persuaded that he had consented too readily to a retreat, but he would not retract the consent he had given unless he could bring over those to whom he had given it to his own sentiments, which he hoped he might be able to do. With this view he called another meeting of the council in the evening, and in the meantime sent for the Marquis of Tullibardine, who had been absent from the meeting in the morning, to ask his opinion. The marquis finding the prince bent upon advancing, declared himself against a retreat; but after hearing the arguments of the advocated of that measure at the meeting in the evening, the marquis retracted his opinion, and declared himself fully satisfied of its necessity. Having been informed of the conduct of those who had tampered with the prince, the rest of the officers told him at meeting, that they valued their lives as little as brave men ought to do, and if he was resolved to march forward, they would do their duty to the last; but they requested, for their own satisfaction, that those persons who had advised his royal highness to advance, would give their opinion in writing. This proposal put an end to farther discussion, and Charles, finding the members of council inflexible in their opinion, gave way to the general sentiments.

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