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Prince Charles Edward Stuart
Destitution of the Highland army

Concluding from the inactivity if the Duke of Cumberland that he had no intention of marching that day, Charles held a council of war in the afternoon, to deliberate upon the course it might be considered most advisable to pursue in consequence of the duke's stay at Nairn. According to Charles's own statement, he had formed the bold and desperate design of surprising the English army in their camp during the night; but, desirous of knowing the views of his officers before divulging his plan, he allowed all the members of the council to speak before him. After hearing the sentiments of the chiefs, and the other commanders who were present, Lord George Murray proposed to attack the Duke of Cumberland during the night, provided it was the general opinion that the attack could be made before one or two o'clock in the morning. Charles, overjoyed at the suggestion of his lieutenant-general, immediately embraced him, said that he approved if it, that in fact he had contemplated the measure himself, but that he did not intend to have disclosed it till all the members of the council had delivered their sentiments.

Had the army been in a condition to sustain the fatigue of a night-march of ten or twelve miles, the plan of a night attack was unquestionably the best that could have been devised under existing circumstances. If surprised in the dark, even supposing the duke to have been on his guard, a night attack appeared to afford the only chance of getting the better of his superiority in numbers and discipline, and of rendering his cavalry and cannon, in which his chief strength lay, utterly useless. But the Highland army, from some unaccountable oversight on the part of the persons who had the charge of the commissariat department, was in a state bordering upon starvation, and consequently not able to perform such a fatiguing march. Although there was a quantity of meal in Inverness and the neighbourhood sufficient for a fortnight's consumption, no care had been taken to supply the men with an allowance on leaving Inverness, and the consequence was, that during this and the preceding day very few of them had tasted a particle of food. To appease their hunger a single biscuit was distributed to each man, but this pittance only increased the desire for more; and hunger getting the better of patience, some of the men began to leave the ranks in quest of provisions. In spite, however, of the deprivation under which they laboured, the army was never in higher spirits, or more desirous to meet the enemy; and it was not until all hopes of an immediate engagement were abandoned that the men thought of looking out for the means of subsistence.

The expediency of a night attack was admitted by all the members of the council, but there were a few who thought that it should not be ventured upon until the arrival of the rest of the army, which might be expected in two or three days at farthest. Keppoch with his Highlanders had just come up and joined the army; but the Mackenzies under Lord Cromarty, a body of the Frasers whom the Master of Lovat had collected to complete his second battalion, the Macphersons under Cluny, their chief, the Macgregors under Glengyle, a party headed by Mackinnon, and a body of Glengarry's men under Barisdale, were still at a distance, though supposed to be all on their march to Inverness. The minority objected that, should they fail in the attempt, and be repulsed, it would be difficult to rally the Highlanders,-that even supposing no spy should give the Duke of Cumberland notice of their approach, he might, if alarmed by any of his patrols, have time to put his army in order in his camp, place his cannon, charged with cartouch-shot, as he pleased, and get all his horse in readiness to pursue the Highlanders if beat off. Besides these objections, they urged the difficulty of making a retreat if many of their men were wounded, from the aversion of the Highlanders to leave their wounded behind them. They, moreover, observed that they had no intelligence of the situation of the duke's camp; and that even could a safe retreat be made, the fatigue of marching forwards and backwards twenty miles would be too much for men to endure, who would probably have to fight next day.

All these arguments were however thrown away upon Charles, who, supported by the Duke of Perth, Lord George Murray, Lord John Drummond, Lochiel, and others, showed the utmost impatience for an immediate attack. Those who supported this view were not insensible to the danger which might ensue should the attack miscarry; but, strange to say, they were urged to it from the very cause to which the failure was chiefly owing, the want of provisions. Apprehensive that if the army was kept on the moor all night, many of the men would go away to a considerable distance in search of food, and that it would be very difficult to assemble them speedily in the event of a sudden alarm, they considered an immediate attack, particularly as Charles had resolved to fight without waiting for reinforcements, as a less desperate course than remaining where they were.

To prevent the Duke of Cumberland from obtaining any knowledge of the advance of the Highlanders from the spies who might be within view of his army, Charles fixed upon eight o'clock for his departure, by which time his motions would be concealed from observation by the obscurity of the evening. Mean while the commanding officers repaired to their respective regiments to put their men in readiness; but between six and seven o'clock an incident occurred which almost put an end to the enterprise. This was the departure of a large number of men, who, ignorant of the intended march, went off towards Inverness and adjacent places to procure provisions and quarters for the night. Officers from the different regiments were immediately despatched on horseback to bring them back, but no persuasion could induce the men to return, who gave as their reason for refusing that they were starving. They told the officers that they might shoot them if they pleased, but that they would not go back till they got some provisions. By this defection Charles lost about 2,000 men, being about a third of his army.

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