Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Battle Is Finally Joined at Prestonpans

It was the opinion of many Jacobites that General Cope had various opportunities of engaging in battle, but until now his army would only approach the Prince's army at a safe distance, and for reasons best known to Cope, it would withdraw and make off in some other direction. It was said that, using these tactics, Cope could monitor the strength of Charles' army, and its progress southwards. A more informed view would be that Cope had no intention of doing battle with an army of Highlanders in the hills and glens, where they were unbeatable. The two armies were now a few furlongs apart in the Lothians, where the topology of the site must surely be more to the liking of Cope's soldiers. Neil and Donald caught sight of the Chevalier Johnstone resting under a large oak tree beside his horse. He was a colourful character who , born in Edinburgh, had spent many years in France. His military training in France required him to study the great generals of old. He could easily recount long passages (often in Latin)of strategy, tactics or the philosophy of war credited to generals, such as Maherbal( the brother of The Carthaginian Hannibal), Suntse, a Chinese general, Polybius, the Roman historian, Montesquieu, Descartes etc. On approaching the Chevalier, they were addressed as "Mes Amis" and offered a share in his lunch of beef, bread and red wine. They presented their credentials as reporters which amused the Chevalier. Neil and Donald did mention the delay there had been in joining battle, and asked the Chevalier Johnstone for his opinion. The Chevalier de Johnstone immediately spoke : " Quintus Fabius Maximus Cunctator (280-203 BC) was the Roman Dictator and General during the Second Punic War against Hannibal and his vast Carthaginian army of 50,000. The word 'cunctator' is the Latin for 'delayer', and this agnomen (cunctator) was scathingly used by the senate back in Rome for Fabius seemingly never engaging directly in battle with Hannibal. But Quintus Fabius knew what he was about. His tactic was to avoid battle with Hannibal directly, but to target his supply lines. Together with a comprehensive scorched earth policy denying grain to Hannibal's soldiers, this was a war of attrition that exhausted the Carthaginian army. To this day, Fabius Cunctator is credited as the 'father' of guerrilla warfare. He kept Hannibal busy and away from Rome. In contrast, in 217 BC, a later Roman General, Gaius Flaminius, was lured into open battle by Hannibal at Lake Trasimene where the Carthaginian army annihilated the Roman legions. In describing the forthcoming battle, we will quote from the "Memoirs of the Chevalier de Johnstone" and those "Memoirs" of Lord Elcho who were both there on that day. On 20 September, the army of General Cope consisting of 4000 regular troops had made their way from Haddington and Cope eventually drew up his army on Birsley Brae between Tranent and Prestonpans on the Forth estuary. The position adopted by Cope was skillfully chosen, "fortified by nature" and in the opinion of the Jacobites, inaccssible on all sides. On their right, Cope's army had two enclosures surrounded by high stone walls. In front of him, Cope had another enclosure surrounded by a deep ditch twelve feet broad and full of marshy water. On his left he had a morass ( marsh/bog ) which terminated in a very deep pond and behind him the sea. This was a truly impregnable position which Cope had adopted for his army, and one which the Jacobite leaders realised that, as things stood, there was no means of attacking Cope without being hewn to pieces. Around nightfall a man called Henderson, the owner of the morass and a Jacobite sympathiser, came to see the Prince to tell him that there was a way through the morass which he used daily while shooting game. The Prince sent a party to find this passage and was relieved to know that it could be traversed by his troops but only in single file. Since Cope assumed that no one could cross this morass, he neglected to place guards there. During the night and in strict silence the Highlanders passed across the morass without alerting the enemy. Now on firm ground they reformed their ranks with the column extending along the sea shore. At first light Cope thought that the Jacobite first line which was in battle order and about 200 yards in front of him was a line of bushes. These 'bushes' were in fact the front line of 1200 men of the Jacobite army, behind which was the second line of those that were badly armed. Mr. Macgregor, a Captain in the Duke of Perth's regiment improvised by having well-sharpened scythes attached to the ends of eight foot poles, the ends of the scythes pointed like lances. They were in fact the 'most murderous of weapons'. Lord George Murray, at the head of the first line, did not leave the English any time to recover from their surprise. He advanced quickly allowing Cope little time to get his army in battle order. The Highlanders, shouting their clan war cries, attacked the enemy with broadswords in hand. The Highlanders had a fear of horses in battle, but had been taught to 'deal their sword strokes on the noses of the horses without attacking the horsemen.' These poor horses were in great pain, and bolted in all direction putting the whole squadron in total disarray. The English cavalry were now in disorder, which panicked Cope's infantry. The Macgregor company with their 'pikes' made the most dreadful carnage of horses and horsemen. "The Highlanders made a slaughter of the English, principally at the entry of the road between the two enclosures which was blocked by fleeing English soldiers, and also along the enclosures themselves, where they were killed without difficulty as they clambered over the walls, making for the road. The strength of the English camp ironically proved to be the source of their destruction. The field of battle was a spectacle of horrors, strewn with arms, legs, mutilated corpses, all the result of sword strokes". The enemy had 1300 men killed and 1500 prisoners taken. Various pieces of cannon, £2500 in the military chest and many colours and standards were taken after the battle. Lord Elcho in his "Memoirs" says that 500 were killed, 900 wounded and 1400 taken prisoner. Modern assessment would suggest that thes numbers ( de Johnstone and Elcho) are exaggerated. General John Cope, wearing a plain coat and a Jacobite white cockade (rosette) on a borrowed hat, made his escape on horse, heading for England. The battle called Gladsmuir or more generally Prestonpans was fought on the 21 September, 1745 and was over in less than quarter of an hour. This defeat of a professional army by unruly Highlanders was of great concern to the Government in London. The Jacobite Army would have to be taken very seriously from hereon in.

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