Thursday, 3 July 2014

Battle of Culloden. Visions of Hell.

'It was a hard, misty, rainy day with the wind blowing in the face of the Prince's army'. The Jacobite guns sounded, bringing the troops into two lines. In the rear was Charles' cavalry of less than 200 horse, and in the front he had twelve cannon, consisting of three batteries of four on the right, left and centre of the front line. There were still bitter arguments between senior commanders over their position in the line, particularly among the Macdonalds who lost their traditional position on the right of the line. There were important defensive areas within the Jacobite army which were unguarded due to depleted numbers ( regiments still on their way from Inverness, and men who had failed to appear, still searching for food and rest ). At noon, Cumberland's army came into view, taking the Jacobites by surprise as they were still getting their line in battle order. The Jacobite army was further back than they had been on the day before, when they faced an open field. Their present position now lay between the walls of the two enclosures on their right and left. Lord George Murray thought that the walls of the enclosures would give protection to his troops, but as there was a lack of men to occupy the enclosures, this might allow the enemy to break through the walls and outflank the Jacobites. This is exactly what happened. The government troops were a picture of confidence and self discipline as they marched towards the enemy in columns, taking up battle positions, ending up in two lines. Cumberland advanced with drums beating and colours flying. The Jacobite guns opened up first, but they had little effect on the enemy line. Now the British cannon opened up leaving large holes in the Jacobite line. Charles sent an order to Murray to advance, but Murray delayed. The government artillery now switched from round shot (cannon balls) to grapeshot, which devastated large numbers of Jacobites. The Jacobite men could no longer take this bombardment and charged the Hanoverian lines. This charge was ineffective as those on the left side got bogged down in marshy ground. Additionally, on the left wing, the Duke of Perth and Lord John Drummond were having trouble persuading the Macdonald regiments (Clanranald, Keppoch and Glengarry) of moving forward at the commencement of the battle. In total, these three regiments amounted to around 1,000 men but many of these had already left the battlefield, bitterly resenting being placed on the left by the Prince. Even after moving forward, cajoled by the Duke and his brother, none of them actually raised a sword in anger. They just walked away. Because of the slope of the land here, forcing others to veer right, only a small section of the Government troops came under attack. The charge was ineffectual and caused chaos in the regiments coming directly behind. Despite this, a large number of Highlanders reached the government lines, but, as warned earlier, they came under gunfire from government troops who had penetrated the enclosure walls to the right and left of them. The right flank of the Jacobites broke through the British line on its left with sword and targe, but this attack was soon halted by Cumberland's second line. The fighting became bitter hand-to-hand combat. The Jacobites sustained heavy casualties, and those who had broken through were trapped by British troops who had practiced much and now used the bayonet to deadly effect. Lord George Murray tried to rally his troops but it came to nothing. Cumberland's army was victorious - it was all over in less than an hour. About 1300 Jacobites had been killed, 1250 were wounded and 380 taken prisoner, whereas the government forces lost 50 killed and had less than 300 wounded. Accounts of the action tell of heads being 'cleft from crown to collar-bone', of limbs being completely severed, and of bodies rammed through and skewered by bayonets. At this juncture 'the whole of the Prince's army wheeled round and fled'. Those fleeing from the battle field on the road to Inverness were pursued by the English cavalry who, carrying their sabres aloft, slaughtered the Highlanders as they ran. "The road from Culloden to Inverness was all along strewed with the dead. The Duke of Cumberland had the cruelty to leave the wounded among the dead upon the field of battle, despoiled of their clothes, from Tuesday, the day of our miserable battle, till Friday, when he sent detachments to kill all those whom they should find alive, and there were many of them." (Memoirs of the Chevalier Johnstone) You will remember how Cumberland had an Act passed in Parliament which indemnified him from the heinous acts he ordered that day, contrary to the laws of Great Britain. "Cumberland's cruelties showed a soul cowardly and ferocious". (Johnstone). An officer in Cumberland's dragoons had this to say ."The heavily armed mounted soldiers closed in on them from both wings, and then followed a general carnage. The moor was covered with blood; and our men, what with killing the enemy, dabbling their feet in the blood, and splashing it about on one another, looked like so many butchers." Their Commander-in-Chief would forever be known as 'Butcher Cumberland'.

1 comment:

  1. War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.