Tuesday, 1 July 2014

The Battle of Culloden. Looking into the Jaws of Hell..

The decisions which led the Jacobite Army to engage with the forces of the Duke of Cumberland on Culloden Moor on 16 April 1746 were so misconceived and eventually so disastrous that an ancient people, its culture and language would be changed forever. After seeing that Cumberland and his army had put off battle until the next day ( 16th April ), the Jacobites returned to Culloden House. Charles with his officers discussed a battle plan, but a suggestion was advanced that instead of waiting to be attacked, they should march through the night and attempt to surprise Cumberland while he and his troops were recovering from the night before. For days now, the Jacobites were starving and were forced to go scavenging for food to fill their empty bellies as all they had was water and a handful of oatmeal each day. While they were still in Inverness, many Highlanders returned home for provisions which caused their late arrival in rejoining the army again. Some were so late they missed the battle entirely. The Highlanders were ordered to march through the night in single file, which stretched the line considerably, causing more delay. The Jacobite soldiers were so hungry and tired that they fell asleep on the track side against stone walls or in the heather. At seven in the evening (15th April) the army moved off on its night march with 2,000 men missing. Lord Cromartie with a good part of the Jacobite Army was presumably still in Sutherland while Cluny Macpherson and the Master of Lovat with their clansmen had not arrived, although they were expected. The arrival in camp of Macdonald of Keppoch with 200 of his clansmen raised spirits a little. This would in normal circumstances have been a fairly straightforward march of ten miles, albeit in the dark, but with hunger and tiredness their progress was slow and by two in the morning of the 16th they had barely covered six miles in six hours and had another four miles to reach Cumberland's camp. It would be daylight before they could launch their 'surprise attack', and so in the end it was unanimously decided to abandon this attack and simply to march back to Culloden. With still nothing to eat and now even more fatigued, the Jacobites were in no shape to face Cumberland's 7,500 strong, well-fed, well-drilled professional army. The Chevalier Johnstone wrote "I never could comprehend the idea of the Prince wishing to attack the English army, so superior in number to his own, with even only a part of his own force in disorder, without waiting till the whole force came up,and without getting them formed into battle array, to present a front of attack"......." the Highlanders, overpowered with fatigue, dispersed and lying in profound sleep in the cottages and enclosures of the neighbourhood, it was impossible that he could bring them forward to the combat. Besides, what could be hoped for from people in their situation ; overcome for want of sleep and nourishment, and altogether cut up by this night's march," worse than any they had experienced in England. It was madness for Charles and O'Sullivan to choose Culloden and Drummossie Moors as the site for the battle. Of course, Lord George Murray had argued for the area across the River Nairn which was 'hilly and bogie', ideal ground for the Highlanders' reknowned charge. The Prince was determined to fight on Drummossie Moor. Even at this late hour, Murray and many of his officers still considered a tactical retreat the best course of action. At the approach of Cumberland with 9,000 men, the Prnce and the principal commanders of the Jacobite army mounted their horses, 'ordered the pipes and drums to play, which alarm caused great hurry and confusion amongst people half dead with fatigue' ( Account of Lord Elcho ). The Prince ordered his 5,500 men to march out to Culloden and form up in battle order. They were looking into the Jaws of Hell.

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