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Prince Charles Edward Stuart
Skirmish at Clifton

Early in the morning of the 18th, the rear-guard left Shap; but as some of the small carriages were continually breaking, its march was much retarded. It had not proceeded far when some parties of English light horse were observed hovering at some distance on the eminencies behind the rear-guard. Lord George Murray notified the circumstances to the prince at Penrith; but as it was supposed that these were militia, the information was treated lightly. No attempt was made to attack the rear-guard, or obstruct its progress, till about mid-day, when a body of between 200 and 300 horse, chiefly Cumberland people, formed in front of the rear-guard, behind an eminence near Clifton Hall, and seemed resolved to make a stand. Lord George Murray was about to ascend this eminence, when the party was observed marching two and two abreast on the top of the hill. They suddenly disappeared to form themselves in order of battle behind the eminence, and made a great noise with trumpets and kettledrums. At this time two of the companies of Roy Stuart's regiment, which the Duke of Perth had attached to the artillery, were at the head of the column. The guns and ammunition wagons followed, behind the two other companies of the same regiment. The Glengarry regiment, which marched with Lord George Murray at its head, was in the rear of the column. Believing, from the great number of trumpets and kettle-drums, that the English army was at hand, the rear-guard remained for a short time at the bottom of the hill, as if at a loss how to act in a conjuncture which appeared so desperate. It was the opinion of Colonel Brown, an officer of Lally's regiment, who was at the head of the column, that they should rush upon the enemy sword in hand, and either open a passage to the army at Penrith, or perish in the attempt. The men of the four companies adopting this opinion, immediately ran up the hill, without informing Lord George Murray of their resolution; and his lordship, on observing this movement, immediately ordered the Glengarry men to proceed across the inclosure, and ascend the hill from another quarter, as they could not conveniently pass the wagons which had almost blocked up the roads. The Glengarry men, throwing off their plaids, reached the summit of the hill almost as soon as the head of the column, on gaining which, both parties were agreeably surprised to find, that the only enemy in view was the light horse they had observed a few minutes before, and who, alarmed at the appearance of the Highlanders, galloped off in disorder. One of the fugitives fell from his horse, and was cut to pieces in an instant by the Highlanders.

The rear-guard resumed its march, and on reaching the village of Clifton, Lord George Murray sent the artillery and heavy baggage forward to Penrith under a small escort. Being well acquainted with all the inclosures and parks about Lowther Hall, the seat of Lord Lonsdale, about the distance of a mile from Clifton, Lord George Murray, at the head of the Glengary regiment and some horse, examined these parks and inclosures in the hope of falling in with the light horse; but, although he saw several of them, he only succeeded in making two prisoners. By these prisoners Lord George was informed that the duke himself, with a body of 4,000 horse, was about a mile behind him. As Clifton was a very good post, Lord George Murray resolved to remain there; and on his return to the village he sent Colonel Roy Stuart with the two prisoners to Penrith, to inform Charles of the near approach of the duke, and that he would remain at Clifton till further orders. In the event of the prince approving of his intention of making a stand at Preston, his lordship requested that 1,000 men might be sent him from Penrith. On returning to Clifton from Lowther parks, Lord George found the Duke of Perth there; and, besides Colonel Roy Stuart's men, who amounted to about 200, he also found the Macphersons with their chief, Cluny Macpherson, and the Stewarts of Appin, headed by Stewart of Ardshiel.

Before the return of Colonel Roy Stuart from Penrith, the enemy appeared in sight, and proceeded to form themselves into two lines upon Clifton moor, about half a mile from the village. The Duke of Perth thereupon rode back to Penrith to bring up the rest of the army to support Lord George, who he supposed would, from the strength of his position, be able to maintain himself till joined by the main body. The duke was accompanied by and English gentleman who had attended Lord George during the retreat, and, knowing the country perfectly well, had offered to lead without discovery the main body a near way by the left, by which movement they would be enabled to fall upon the enemy's flank. Had Lord George received the reinforcement he required, his design was to have sent half of his men through the inclosures on his right, so as to have flanked the duke's army on that side, whilst it was attacked on the other by the other half. He expected that if he succeeded in killing but a small number of Cumberland's horse that the rest would be thrown into disorder, and that as they would be obliged to retreat through a lane nearly a mile long, between Lord Lonsdale's inclosures, that they would choke up the road, and that many of them would be unable to escape. In absence of this reinforcement, however, the Lieutenant-general was obliged to make the best dispositions he could with the force he had with him, which amounted to about 1,000 men in all, exclusive of Lord Pitsligo's horse and hussars, who, on the appearance of the enemy, shamefully fled to Penrith.

The dispositions of Lord George were these. Within the inclosures to the right of the highway he posted the Glengarry men, and within those to their left he placed the Stewarts of Appin and the Macphersons. On the side of the highway, and close to the village of Clifton, he placed Colonel Roy Stuart's regiment. As some ditches at the foot stretched farther towards the moor on the right than on the left, and as that part was also covered by Lord Lonsdale's other inclosures, the party on the right could not easily be attacked; and they had this advantage, that they could with their fire flank the enemy when they attacked the left. To induce the enemy to believe that his numbers were much greater than they were, Lord George, after exhibiting the colours he had at different places, caused them to be rolled up, carried to other places, and again unfurled.

About an hour after the Duke of Cumberland had formed his men, about 500 of his dragoons dismounted and advanced forward to the foot of the moor, in front of a ditch at the bottom of one of three small inclosures between the moor and the places where Roy Stuart's men were posted at the village. At this time Colonel Stuart returned from Penrith, and, after informing Lord George that the prince had resolved to march immediately to Carlisle, and that he had sent forward his cannon, he stated that it was his royal highness's desire that he should immediately retreat to Penrith. From the situation in which the Lieutenant-general was now placed, it was impossible to obey this order without great danger. The dismounted horse were already firing upon the Highlanders, who were within market-shot; and, if retreat was once begun, the men might get into confusion in the dark, and become discouraged. Lord George proposed to attack the dismounted party, and stated his confidence that he would be able by attacking them briskly to dislodge them; Cluny Macpherson and Colonel Stuart concurring in Lord George's opinion, that the course he proposed was the only prudent one that could be adopted, they agreed not to mention the message from the prince.

In pursuance of this determination, Lord George Murray went to the right where the Glengarry men were posted, and ordered them, as soon as they should observe him advance on the other side, to move also forward and keep up a smart fire till they came to the lowest ditch. He observed that if they succeeded in dislodging the enemy from the hedges and ditches, they could give them a flank fire within pistol-shot; but he gave them particular injunctions not to fire across the highway, nor to follow the enemy up the moor. After speaking with every officer of the Glengarry regiment, his lordship returned to the left, and placed himself at the head of the Macphersons, with Cluny by his side. It was now about an hour after sunset, and the night was somewhat cloudy; but at short intervals the moon, which was in its second quarter, broke through and afforded considerable light. The Highlanders had this advantage, that whilst they could see the disposition of the enemy, their own movements could not be observed. In taking their ground the dismounted dragoons had not only lines the bottom inclosures which ran from east to west, directly opposite the other inclosures in which the Highlanders were posted, but some of them had advanced up along two hedges that lay south and north.

The Highlanders being ready to advance, the Stewarts and Macphersons marched forward at the word of command, as did the Macdonalds on the right. The Highlanders on the right kept firing as they advanced; but the Macphersons, who were on the left, came sooner in contact with the dragoons, and received the whole of their fire. When the balls were whizzing about them, Cluny exclaimed, "What the devil is this?" Lord George told him that they had no remedy but to attack the dragoons, sword in hand, before they had time to charge again. Then drawing his sword, he cried out, "Claymore", and Cluny doing the same, the Macphersons rushed down to the bottom ditch of the inclosure, and clearing the diagonal hedges as they went, fell sword in hand upon the enemy, of whom a considerable number were killed at the lower ditch. The rest fled across the moor, but received in their flight the fire of the Glengarry regiment. In this skirmish only twelve Highlanders were killed; but the royal forces sustained a loss of about one hundred in killed and wounded, including some officers. The only officer wounded on the side of the Highlanders was Macdonald of Lochgarry, who commanded the Glengarry men. Lord George Murray made several narrow escapes. Old Glenbucket, who, from infirmity, remained at the end of the village on horseback, had lent him his target, and it was fortunate for Lord George that he had done so. By means of this shield, which was convex, and covered with a plate of metal painted, his lordship protected himself from the bullets of the dragoons, which cleared away the paint off the target in several places. The only prisoner taken on this occasion was a footman of the Duke of Cumberland, who stated that his master would have been killed, if a pistol, with which a Highlander took aim at his head, had not missed fire. This man was sent back to his royal highness by the prince.

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