The Irish Brigade's Heroic Stand for 'Bonnie Prince Charlie'

Map of the Battle of Culloden by "Celtus" on Wikipedia. Click on photo to see larger version.
  • Part 2 of 3: The Rise and Fall of the Bid To Restore the Prince

The End of the Dream

Part 3 of the 3-part series,  The Irish Brigade's Heroic Stand for 'Bonnie Prince Charlie'

By Ian Colquhoun

With nearly 1,000 government horsemen bearing down on them, the 150 Irishmen gave the cry "Cuimhnighidh ar Luimneach agus ar Feall na Sassanach!" and marched five paces forward, in defiance. Stapleton stood with sword and pistol, and began directing volleys that, against all odds, kept back the government cavalry and forced the troopers to resort to firearms from a distance. After a fierce firefight in which the Irishmen inflicted scores of casualties on their opponents, the government horse charged again, forcing the Irish to defend themselves with bayonets and swords. Again, their attack was repulsed.

The Irish were then joined by the French Royal Scots, who formed up on them at a right angle so as to delay encirclement. The Irishmen started to walk backwards along the Inverness road, firing as they went until their ammunition was gone. Stapleton, mortally wounded, had a big decision to make. His men were in French service so, unlike the other Jacobite soldiers, they should expect honorable treatment as prisoners of war. On the other hand, the English parliament had only a year earlier made joining "foreign" armies illegal. His men wished to fight on, but Stapleton saw that they had done all they could. The rest of the army and the Prince were already off the field.

'As they are French, or in French service, they are assured honorable treatment.'

Thousands of Scots had escaped. Half their number were dead or dying and, in any case, a large number of the English horse had bypassed the tenacious Irishmen in favor of pursuing much easier targets who were running toward Inverness. Cumberland's infantry was advancing to take possession of the ground previously occupied by the Jacobites. It was now all about preventing useless slaughter, so Stapleton sent a drummer boy named Kelly toward the enemy, beating a slow and melancholy request for parley.

Things could have gone either way. As soon as the request for parley was received, the Irishmen and the two tiny battalions of French Royal Scots were quickly surrounded by a square of cavalry. Stapleton sent a captain named O'Neill to negotiate terms. All around them, the redcoat infantry were murdering Jacobite wounded where they lay.

To the relief of O'Neill, and of the dying Stapleton, Cumberland assured them that "as they are French, or in French service, they are assured honorable treatment." This was an out-of-character display of generosity by the Duke, who personally ordered the murder of the other Jacobite prisoners and wounded. He would later order a "pacification" campaign in the Highlands that can only be described as genocidal.

"The End of the 'Forty Five' Rebellion," by William Brasse Hole, 1882. Click on photo to see larger version.

Cumberland allowed the Irishmen to escape with their lives, with the exception of three English deserters who were found among their ranks and hanged. Technically, the Irish Brigade suffered 100% casualties at the battle in that their entire force was killed, wounded or captured. The French Royal Scots had mixed fortunes. Its 1st battalion was given POW status, but most of its 2nd battalion had been raised in Scotland, and was thus treated to the same ghastly fate as the other Jacobite prisoners — death or transportation.

After the battle, the 200 or so surviving troops, Irish and Scots mostly under the French standard, were taken to England, where they spent eight months on a ghastly prison barge on the Thames before they were exchanged in early 1747. They were treated honorably, despite the fact that under English law they could have been hanged for joining a foreign army.

Some historians suspect that they were spared after impassioned pleas from James Wolfe, an English officer who admired their courage and who also offered to resign rather than sully his honor by shooting a wounded Highlander.

The stand of The Irish Brigade at Culloden is the stuff of legend

Others think Cumberland was being realistic — if word got out that he had murdered surrendering French troops, reprisals against captured British troops in Flanders would surely have occurred. Wolfe, by the way, would later make the case for Highland regiments in the British army, not only to provide a constructive avenue for their martial inclinations, but also saying that if a Scot should fall, "there would be no mischief in it." He would serve in North America during the Seven Years War, for a while commanding the Royal Highland Fusiliers. He later fell in battle at the moment of victory, on the Plains of Abraham before Quebec in 1759, singularly responsible for the British seizure of Canada from the French.

The little known, heroic last stand by the Irish Brigade at Culloden Moor saved thousands of Scottish lives, yet is barely mentioned in most history books, possibly because the Victorian historical revisionists liked to lay blame for the defeat at the door of O'Sullivan and Sheridan, the Prince's Irish advisors, who were in fact, nearly faultless for the defeat. In truth, without a larger force of the Irish Brigade, or of other French regulars, the rising was probably doomed from the start, whatever its initial successes were.

The stand of The Irish Brigade at Culloden is the stuff of legend, along with heroics of the Texans at the Alamo, Leonidas' Spartans at Themopolyae, Horatio at the Bridge, and Newcastle's 'white-coats' at Marston Moor. The Irish fought like lions, for their comrades, for their regiments and for Ireland, and yes, even for the Stuarts. WGT

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Tags: Gaelic, Ireland

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