Monday, 19 May 2014

A Victory in Retreat.

Once the retreat was underway, there was a sea change in the attitude of the people in the towns through which the Jacobite army had recently passed. Horace Walpole had said that "No one is afraid of a rebellion that runs away." The people in these towns were now less friendly, and army stragglers were accosted and thrown into jail. The Highlanders reacted to this hostility by stealing horses, which would be comic if it were not so serious. There were Highlanders wearing no breeches, without saddle or bridle astride these horses and only a straw rope around the horse's neck. Later some entered houses for plunder. Charles wanted to disguise the fact that he was retreating, and urged Lord George Murray to have the army stay longer in these northern towns, contrary to Murray's desire to keep ahead of the pursuing English armies. 11 December the Jacobite army reached Lancaster. The Prince wanted to halt here and take on the Hanoverian forces. Lord George Murray and Mr. O'Sullivan with a guard of cavalry were sent by the Prince to reconnoitre a suitable place for battle, and having found an excellent location, they returned with this news, only to find that the Prince had changed his mind, and wished to march the next day. The Duke of Cumberland and General Wade were now closing on the Jacobite army, trying to prevent their escape into Scotland. But the Highlanders always marched at a very quick pace, and their army reached Manchester on 11 December. At this time Cumberland received notice from London that a large number of French vessels were assembled at Dunkirk with the intention of invading the South and East coasts of England. The King begged his son to return to London with his troops, along with General Wade's to face an invasion force of 6,000 French soldiers (it was said.) This gave Charles a day's advantage over his pursuers, and his army arrived in Kendal on the 15 December. The populus of Kendal had heard that the Jacobite army had suffered a serious defeat. This emboldened the Kendal men and they seriously harassed the Jacobite army to the extent that the army left Kendal and arrived at Shap, This whole area was mobilised to attack the Jacobite army, who were forced to take evasive action, travelling across the the moors pursued by an angry peasantry and county militia. On 17 December, Charles and his army crossed Shap Fell and arrived in Penrith. The enemy were now hard on their heels. As they set out on the morning of 18 December, they could see small parties of English cavalry intermittently appearing on the high ground to their rear. When confronted by Glengarry's men, they made off at a gallop. That same afternoon, a very large force of English cavalry came into sight to the south of Clifton village and drew up in two lines, 'upon an open moor, not above cannon-shot from us.' The Highlanders were occupying a number of hedges and walled fields and enclosures in and around Clifton. Those present there were the Macdonalds of Glengarry, John Roy Stewart's men, the Stewarts of Appin and Cluny's Macphersons. To confuse the enemy, Lord George had the Jacobite colours appear at different places to make the enemy think that their army was greater than it was. The Prince's most recent orders to Lord George was to continue his withdrawal without delay. After consulting with John Roy Stewart and Cluny, they took the decision to ignore Charles' orders and to say nothing of this to another soul. That night a few hours after sunset, with the moon seen from time to time between the clouds, Lord George could make out the disposition of the English troops, without their's been seen. A party of Bland's Dragoons, with their bright yellow belts, could be seen creeping along a low stone wall towards one of the enclosures. Lord George decided that he would attack on the left of Cluny's men who would take up the right. The Macphersons started to scramble through the hedge cutting through the thorn hedges with their dirks. "They went down upon their knees to the ground to cut with their dirks the thorn hedges - a necessary precaution for them who never wore breeches but only a small kilt or petticoat which falls down to the knees." (Chevalier Johnstone). As Macpherson's men negotiated their way through the hedges, the enemy openened fire with a full volley. At the shout of 'Claymore' from Lord George, Cluny charged at the head of his clan and the sudden impact of their charge completely knocked the dragoons off balance. Many of them were killed or wounded, and it was with difficulty that Cluny managed to halt his men from following the poor dragoons over across the moors, who were already under heavy fire from Lochgarry's Macdonalds. 40 of Bland's Dragoons were killed or wounded while five Highlanders were killed and a few taken prisoner. The skirmish had lasted about half an hour, but it had secured the Prince's rear, and Lord Georgr Murray felt content to continue the retreat without further trouble from the Hanoverian armies. The renowned politician, Horace Walpole, might have to eat his words that this was 'no rebellion running away.'

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