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Prince Charles Edward Stuart
The Duke of Cumberland crosses the Spey

Having spent upwards of five weeks at Aberdeen, the Duke of Cumberland began to prepare for his march to the north. As it was his intention to proceed by the coast road, he had ordered a number of victualling ships to rendezvous at Aberdeen; and early in April, these vessels, escorted by several ships of war provided with artillery, ammunition, and other warlike stores, had arrived at their destination, for the purpose of following the army along the coast and affording the necessary supplies. About this time the weather had become favourable, and though still cold, the snow had disappeared, and a dry wind which had prevailed for some days had rendered the river Spey, the passage of which was considered the most formidable obstacle to his march.

Accordingly, on the 8th of April the duke left Aberdeen with the last division of his army, consisting of six battalions of foot and a regiment of dragoons. The whole regular force under his command amounted to about 7,200 men, comprehending fifteen regiments of foot, two of dragoons, and Kingston's horse. Besides these, there were the Argyleshire men and other militia, whose united numbers may be stated at 2,000. At the time of the duke's departure, six battalions, with Kingston's horse and Cobham's dragoons, under Major-general Bland, were stationed at Strathbogie, and three battalions at Old Meldrum, under Brigadier Mordaunt. The duke quartered the first night at Old Meldrum and the next at Banff, where two spies were seized and hanged. One of them was caught while in the act of notching upon a stick the number of the duke's forces. On the 11th the duke marched to Culloden, and at Portsoy he was joined by the remainder of his army, which had been stationed at Old Meldrum and Strathbogie. The army being too numerous to obtain quarters in the town, the foot encamped for the night on some ploughed fields in the neighbourhood, and the horse were quartered in Cullen and the adjacent villages. The Earl of Findlater, who, with his countess, had accompanied the army on its march from Aberdeen, on arriving at his seat at Cullen, made a present of two hundred guineas to the troops.

Next day, being Saturday, the 12th of April, the duke put his army again in motion, and, after a short march,halted on the moor of Arrondel, about five or six miles from the river Spey. He then formed his army into three divisions, each about half a mile distant from the other, and in this order they advanced towards the spey. The left division, which was the largest, crossed the river by a ford near Gormach, the centre by another close by Gordon castle, and the division on the right by a ford near the church of Belly. In their passage, the men were up to their waists in the water, but, with the exception of the loss of one dragoon and four women, who were carried away by the stream, no accident occurred.

The Duke of Perth, who happened at this time to be with the Highland forces appointed to defend the passage of the Spey, not thinking it advisable to dispute the position against such an overwhelming force as that to which he was opposed, retired towards Elgin on the approach of the Duke of Cumberland. The conduct of the Duke of Perth, and of his brother, Lord John Drummond, has been censured for not disputing the passage of the Spey, but without reason. The whole of the Highland forces along the Spey did not exceed 2,500 men, being little more than a fourth of those under the Duke of Cumberland. Notwithstanding this great disparity, the Highlanders, aided by the swollen state of the river, might have effectually opposed the passage of the royal army had it been attempted during the month of March, but a recent drought had greatly reduced the quantity of water in the river, and had rendered it fordable in several places to such an extent, that at two of them a whole battalion might have marched abreast. As some of the fords run in a zig-zag direction, some damage might have been done to the royal army in crossing; but as the Duke of Cumberland had a good train of artillery, he could have easily covered his passage at these places.

The departure of the Duke of Cumberland from Aberdeen was not known at Inverness till the 12th, on the morning of which day intelligence was brought to Charles that he was in full march to the north with his full army. Shortly after his arrival at Inverness, Charles had formed the design, while the Duke of Cumberland lay at Aberdeen, of giving him the slip, by marching to Perth by the Highland road, so as to induce the duke to return south, and thus leave the northern coast clear for the landing of supplies from France. With this view, he had directed the seige of Fort William to be pushed, and, calculating upon a speedy reduction of that fortress, had sent orders to the Macdonalds, the Camerons, and the Stewarts, who were engaged in the siege, immediately on the capture of the fort to march into Argyleshire, and, after chastising the whigs in that district, and giving an opportunity to their friends there to join them, to proceed to Perth. Charles, however, for the present, laid aside the intention of marching south, and knowing that the Duke of Cumberland would advance from Aberdeen early in April, he gave orders for concentrating his forces at Inverness, and, as soon as he was informed of the duke's march, he renewed these orders, by sending expresses every where to bring up his men. Those who had been at the siege of Fort William were already on their march, but Lord Cromarty was at a considerable distance with a large body of men, and could scarcely be expected to arrive in time if the duke was resolved on an immediate action.

Besides the men who were absent on the expeditions in Lochaber and Sutherland, there were many others who had returned to their homes, either discontented with the situation in which they found themselves after they came to Inverness, or to see their families or friends. Up to the period of their arrival there, they had received their pay punctually, but at Inverness the face of affairs was completely changed in this respect, and instead of money the troops were reduced to a weekly allowance of oatmeal. The men murmured at first at the stoppage of their pay, but their clamours were quieted by their officers, who gave them assurances that a supply of money would soon be received from France. This expectation would have been realised, but for the misfortune which befell the Prince Charles, and in consequence of that event, the soldiers began to murmur afresh, and some of them seeing no pressing occasion for their attendance, and choosing rather to enjoy a frugal repast with their friends at home than serve without pay, left the army. These absentees, however, had no intention of abandoning the service, and were resolved to rejoin their colours as soon as they saw a probability of coming to action. Accordingly, many of those who had returned to their homes set out on their own accord to rejoin the army, on hearing of the Duke of Cumberland's advance, though few of them arrived in time for the battle.

Reduced in numbers as the prince's army was from the causes alluded to, they still burned with impatience to meet the enemy; and when intelligence of the Duke of Cumberland's march from Aberdeen reached Inverness, it was hailed with joy by the portion there assembled. From the fatigues and labours they had experienced during the campaign, and the numerous inconveniences to which they had been subjected from the want of pay, there was nothing the Highlanders dreaded more then another march to the south; but the near prospect they now had of meeting the English army upon their own soil, and of putting an end to the war by one bold and decisive blow, absorbed for a while all recollection of their past sufferings. By drawing the Duke if Cumberland north to Inverness, it was generally supposed that the prince could meet him on more equal terms than at Aberdeen, as he would have a better and more numerous army at Inverness, than he could have carried south. This unquestionably would have been the case had Charles avoided a battle till he had assembled all his troops, but his confidence on the present occasion got the better of this prudence.

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