Friday, 6 June 2014
Battle of Falkirk Looms Large.
While the Highlanders wasted their time with the 'siege'of Stirling Castle, the Government forces were being completely reorganised by the Duke of Cumberland. Cumberland had returned to London from Carlisle to confront the supposed threat of a French invasion, and in place of the aged Marshal Wade who had retired, Cumberland's replacement was Lieutenant-General Henry Hawley, reputedly a bastard son of George I. Hawley was known to be brutal and possibly a psychopath. Hawley's brigade-major was James Wolfe, who would later command the English armies in Canada against the French. Wolfe had this to say about Hawley. "The troops dread his severity, hate the man and hold his military knowledge in contempt." Walpole wrote that "Frequent and sudden executions are Hawley's rare passion." Hawley's army was composed of the best troops of the Duke of Cumberland and Marshal Wade, and numbered in the region of 8,000 men. As it was thought likely that Charles would again attempt to take Edinburgh, Hawley began moving his army north from Newcastle, an army which now included two infantry battalions and three regiments of cavalry (Ligonier's, Hamilton's and Cobham's Dragoons.) At the end of December, 1745, ten regular infantry battalions, most recently returned from Flanders, were dispatched to Edinburgh and arrived there by 10 January, 1746. With the regulars already in Edinburgh, the city now played host to 12 infantry battalions,and three militia units, the Edinburgh Volunteers, the Yorkshire Blues and Lord Home's 'Glasgow Regiment of Enthusiasts'. On his arrival in Edinburgh on 6 January, Hawley, true to form, had gallows erected in the Grassmarket, and on the roadside at Leith, "executions being a rare passion of Hawley." On 13 January, Major-General Huske, Hawley's second-in-command, set out westwards from Edinburgh with five regular infantry battalions, Hamilton's and Ligonier's Dragoons and some militia. Meanwhile, part of the Jacobite army under the Prince's command were stationed near Bannockburn, while the remainder of five clan regiments and part of the cavalry were under Lord George Murray near Falkirk, about ten miles east of the Prince's army. At the same time, some cavalry under Lord Elcho patrolled the roads leading to Edinburgh. Elcho had reported that government forces were growing by the hour, and that " there was a very large body of horse and foot advancing towards them." Lord George Murray crossed the River Avon at a bridge just to the west of Linlithgow, waiting here to attack the English army " when a half should pass the bridge", but "none of them passed it." The Hanoverians preferred to remain drawn up on the other side," with very abusive language passing betwixt both sides." Lord George realised that a major battle was in the offing, and seeing no advantage in engaging in some minor skirmish, he ordered his troops to return to Falkirk. The Highland army began their advance after midday on the 17 January and their first objective, it was decided, should be the Hill of Falkirk, a steep ridge on moorland to the south west of the town. They marched in two columns, the left-hand column under Lord George Murray and the right-hand commanded by the Prince. Barely had the army marched half a mile when John William O'Sullivan came riding over to Lord George to say that he and the Prince had decided to delay action until night. Lord George continued to ride, explaining all the time to O'Sullivan why now was the time. I think O'Sullivan was 'right annoyed' at this reception. Lord George wrote that "I did not halt and O'Sullivan went back to His Royal Highness." The Chevalier Johnstone takes up the story. "By using side roads and a grand detour, the Jacobite army were able to conceal from the English the knowledge of our march." They reached the top of Falkirk Hill, and much to the surprise of General Hawley whose troops were just over on the other side of the hill. The Chevalier Johnstone said that " a strong wind prevailed with a great rain full in the face, which the Highlanders, by their position, had it to their backs, while it blew full in the faces of the English, and the rain pelting in their eyes blinded them; they had besides this the inconvenience of the smoke of our firing, and the rain pouring into the priming pans, the half of their muskets would not give fire." The English endeavoured to change position to gain the advantage of the wind, but the Prince by his manouevering was able to preserve that advantage. The Battle of Falkirk was about to begin in earnest, one in which many lives were sacrificed, a battle marked by disorder and one where outright victory would be difficult to claim.