31 October 2014

The Battlefield: Culloden 16 February 1746

By Donald Lawie and Ian Lipke

The last pitched battle to be fought on British soil was a sorry affair. The Jacobite army of Prince Charles Edward Stuart had fought a successful campaign but now they were tired, unfed and unpaid. On the other hand the Hanoverian army commanded by Prince William, Duke of Cumberland and second son of German King George of Great Britain, was rested, well-supplied and their morale was high.
            The Jacobites had scattered in search of food – not in plentiful supply in northwest Scotland after a hard winter but William’s men were abundantly supplied by the British Navy. Charles had a sharp argument with Lord George Murray, the Jacobites’ general, and was determined to make a stand against the Hanoverians on a ground of his choosing. Murray pointed out that the chosen site – Drummossie Moor at Culloden – was unsuitable for the traditional Highland Charge, but Charles would not be swayed. The chosen ground sloped slightly upwards so that the Highlanders had to run uphill; melting snow had turned much of it into a bog. The ground was covered by heather with a few trees. Such a field was suitable for a cavalry charge but Charles’s cavalry were pitifully few.
            Culloden is about ten kilometres north-west of Inverness, the Capital of the Highlands, situated at the northern end of Loch Ness. The area was still in winter in February and the Jacobite/Highlanders had no suitable accommodation.
 They could only muster about 5,000 men against William’s 9,400 – a third of them veteran dragoons. William’s artillery were experienced regulars, Charles’s a scratch team of inexperienced volunteers.
            The standard Highland battle tactic was the Charge : each kilted man was armed with a musket (which he fired and dropped as the charge began), a pistol, a dirk (long dagger) in the left hand which supported a hide-covered oak shield (a targe) and in the raised right hand the razor-sharp, metre long broadsword made from German steel. The men ran, screaming, in packed ranks at the opposing lines; the descending broadsword could sever the shoulder or arm of the unfortunate opposing soldier.
            The two armies faced off in the classical manner – lines of infantry, with guns interspersed in the front line and cavalry as a backup. The Jacobite artillery opened the battle with some wild shooting but soon ran out of ammunition. Their opposition replied coolly with repeated discharges of deadly round shot into the closed ranks of Jacobites. The one-sided duel persisted for twenty minutes until the clansmen, led by the Atholls and Camerons, surged forward in the charge. This normally unstoppable tactic was blunted by the length of their run, boggy ground, the opposition artillery changing to grapeshot, and finally a new bayonet drill devised to counter the Highland raised sword and protecting targe. Cumberland had trained his infantry, armed with musket and triangle- shaped bayonet, to not face the Highlander charging at him but to turn half right and present his bayonet to the unprotected right armpit of the one beside him. This entailed absolute confidence in the soldier to his left, who had to bayonet the Highlander to his front. The newly-devised drill worked well, to the discomfiture of the Highlanders.
            Casualties were light in the Hanoverian army but over 1,000 Jacobites fell on the field. Many more were killed in the days and months to follow as William relentlessly pursued a policy of extermination, determined to eliminate all followers of the Jacobite cause.
            Two hundred and fifty plus years later, feelings in Highland Scotland still run hot at the mention of the Butcher of Cumberland and there is a lingering, romantic dream that one day history may be reversed.  I visited Culloden Moor in 1997, walked the clearly delineated lines, and played a Lament on my bagpipes while standing on the spot from where Charles misdirected the battle.  The site has changed little; a modern highway runs along one side, there is an interpretive centre with a video (which I did not watch) and the usual gimcrack souvenirs. A small forest covers part of the battlefield, there are markers showing where the different clans fought and fell, and flags fly to mark the front line of each army. It is easy to reconstruct the battle in one’s mind.
Culloden put an end to the aspirations of the House of Stuart to regain the British throne, which they had lost through overweening pride and stubbornness – just as Charles lost the last battle for similar reasons. Charles lived out his life in Rome, devising ineffectual schemes and steadily drank himself to death.

Donald Lawie is a freelance military historian who writes on his favourite theme, warfare.  His work has been published in such publications as the Australian War Memorial’s “Wartime” and the Australian Military History Society’s “Sabretache”.

He says, "There is a family tradition that our ancestors fought for Charles and the name “Charles” was my father’s; it is my and my son’s second name. I trust that this small tribute to the House of Stuart will endure for generations to come."

Ian Lipke became a teacher of primary children in 1958, transferring to secondary schools in 1964. He has taught in schools in remote and metropolitan areas of Queensland, Australia. He left school teaching in 1977 to lecture at the University of Queensland and at Queensland University of Technology. Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, he was a deputy principal at several high schools, before retiring to manage his own tutoring business. In 2006, he returned to postgraduate studies through research at the University of Queensland. His whole life has been devoted to academic studies, which he very much enjoys. He is the author of NARGUN.                          

2 comments:

Regan said...

Thanks for doing this post. My feelings about Culloden, which I visited in September when I was in the Western Highlands, are always a mixture of anger and melancholy. I wonder what Scotland would be like if a generation of Scots hadn't been slaughtered by the English. I comfort myself by remembering that the Scots blood in me is from those who came to America for freedom from English tyranny and a better life. And they found both. Courage came to America. But you are correct that there are many Scots who would have Scotland free today.

justjane said...

Why did Bonnie Prince Charlie choose THAT ground as 'the ground of his choosing'?.. i just keep asking myself that, over and over. Even if he did have scant few cavalry of his own, how could he not know that going uphill on mushy ground in a highland charge against a full cavalry and artillery of the enemy coming downhill, that he would be at an undeniable disadvantage?? I just don't get it. Was he that "full of himself"?
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