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Sketches of The Character, Manners, and Present State of the Highlanders of Scotland


GG, Page 245.  The best Soldiers destroyed by inattention to their Feelings and Dispositions

That Highlanders may be rendered useless, and their best military qualities destroyed, by want of attention to their peculiar habits, was exemplified in the reign of Charles I., when two potent rivals, the Marquis of Montrose and the Marquis of Argyll, taking opposite-sides in the Rebellion, each commanded an army of Highlanders. Montrose, whose numbers were on every occasion very inferior, never lost a battle. Argyll, with Highlanders equally brave, was constantly worsted. Haughty and overbearing, although a republican in principle and a puritan in religion, he kept aloof from his people, (who honoured him as their Chief, but could not love him as a man), and disregarded those courtesies by which a Highlander can be so easily managed. Montrose, on the contrary, knew every soldier in his army, and, while he flattered them by his attention to their songs, genealogies, and traditions, and by sharing in all their fatigues and privations, he roused them to exertions almost incredible. So extraordinary were the marches which he performed, that, on many occasions, the appearance of his army was the first notice the enemy had of his approach; and of his retreats, the first intelligence was, that he was beyond their reach. Before the battle of Inverlochy in February 1645, when the Marquis of Argyll had 3000 men, and Montrose only 1600, the latter marched thirty miles by an unfrequented route across the mountains of Lochaber, during a heavy fall of snow, and came at night in front of the enemy, when they believed him in another part of the country. The moon shone so clear, that it was almost as light as day; they lay upon their arms the whole night, and, with the assistance of the light, they so harassed each other with slight alarms and skirmishes, that neither gave the other time to repose. They all earnestly wished for day, only Argyll, more intent on his own safety, conveyed himself away about the middle of the night, and having very opportunely got a boat, escaped the hazard of a battle, choosing rather to be a spectator of the prowess of his men, than share in the danger himself. Nevertheless, the chiefs of the Campbells, who were indeed a set of very brave men, and worthy of a better chief, and a better cause, begun the battle with great courage. But their first ranks discharging their muskets only once, Montrose's men fell in upon them furiously sword in hand, with a great shout, and advanced with such great impetuosity, that they routed the whole army, and put them to flight, and pursued them for about nine miles, making dreadful slaughter all the way. There were fifteen hundred of the enemy slain, among whom were several gentlemen of distinction of the name of Campbell, who led on the clan, and fell on the field of battle too gallantly for their dastardly chief. Montrose, though an enemy, pitied their fate, and used his authority to save and give quarter to as many as he could. In this battle Montrose had several wounded, but he had none killed but three privates, and Sir Thomas Ogilvie, son of the Earl of Airley, while Argyll lost the Lairds of Auchenbreck, Glensaddell, and Lochnell, with his son and brother, and Barbreck, Inneraw, Lamont, Silvercraigs, and many others taken prisoners." [Bishop Wishart's Memoirs.]

Spalding, in his "History of the Troubles," states, that "there came direct from the Committee of Edinburgh certain men to see Argyll's forwardness in following Montrose, but they saw his flight in manner foresaid. It is to be considered that few of this army had escaped if Montrose had not marched the day before the fight twenty-three miles, (Scotch miles), on little food, and crossed sundry waters, wet and weary, and standing in wet and cold the hail night before the fight." Similar to this were six successive battles fought by Montrose, the loss on his side being equally small, and that on the side of the Covenanters proportionably great. [These battles were those of Aldearn, Alford, Tippermuir, Killsytb, &c.] In those instances we find a body of men very inferior in numbers, of whom the Highlanders constituted the main strength, carry all before it, when commanded by a man of great military genius, to which he united, in a very eminent degree, the useful talent for properly understanding the character of those he commanded, and accommodating himself to their peculiar habits.

At the battle of Aldearn, a few weeks after that of Inverlochy, Campbell, Laird of Lawers, although upwards of seventy years of age, fought on the side of the Covenanters with a two-handed broadsword, till himself, and four out of six sons who were with him in the field, fell on the ground on which they stood. Such was the enemy which the genius and talents of Montrose overcame.

On that occasion the left wing of Montrose's army was commanded by his able auxiliary Macdonell, or Maccoull, (as he is called in Gaelic), still celebrated in Highland tradition and song for his chivalry and courage. An elevation of the ground separated the wings. Montrose received a report that Macdonell's wing had given way, and was retreating. He instantly ran along the ranks, and called out to his men that Macdonell was driving the enemy before him, and unless they did the same, the other wing would carry away all the glory of the day. His men instantly rushed forward, and charged the enemy off the field, while he hastened with his reserve to the relief of his friend, and recovered the fortune of the day.

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