The Rise—and Fall—of the Bid To Enthrone 'Bonnie Prince Charlie'

The Highlanders on the attack from "Battle of Culloden', by David Morier. Click on photo to see larger version.

Part 2 of the 3-part series, The Irish Brigade's Heroic Stand for 'Bonnie Prince Charlie'

By Ian Colquhoun

Though only a week's march from London, a government spy bringing false news of a fictitious English army was enough to convince the majority in a Jacobite council of war to retire back to Scotland where they hoped to consolidate, which they did, the arrival of the men from France and of other clans, swelling their ranks to over 8,000.

The Jacobites then defeated a second, much larger and better-trained government army at Falkirk in what was the biggest battle of the Jacobite Wars on mainland Britain. Here the Irish Brigade, with its disciplined firing, intervened to turn the tide of the battle.

Alas, despite this dazzling success, the rising became a shambles. The Jacobites retreated again, into the Highlands, followed by the English redcoats, now commanded by King George II's second-surviving son, William Augustus, The Duke of Cumberland. (The English would later name a flower for Cumberland, the "Sweet William." In Scotland, the same flower is called "Stinking Billy.")

Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792).

Only 11 months prior, six battalions of the Irish Brigade, as many as 5,000 men, had fought for France against a British-led Allied force commanded by The Duke of Cumberland at the Battle of Fontenoy in Flanders (May 11th, 1745). They had been used to push home the final French counterattack, and had driven the British and their allies from the field at point of bayonet, capturing 20 British cannon in the process. Sadly, the Jacobites at Culloden could only dream of having six battalions of the Irish redcoats available.

On the morning of April 16, 1746, 150 red-coated Irishmen stood in their positions on the extreme left of the Jacobite second line, bayonets fixed, motionless, awaiting orders -- the Stuart Standard, The Irish Harp and the Bourbon Fleur-de-lis fluttering above their heads. Facing them across Drummossie (Culloden) Moor were 9,000 well-trained, well-led and well-equipped government redcoats infantry, cavalry and, for the first time during the rising, artillery. The Hanoverian troops were in high spirits.

In contrast, the Jacobite army at Culloden couldn't have been in a worse state. It was exhausted after a failed attempt to march on Cumberland's camp at Nairn during the night. The Jacobites hadn't even managed to get within four miles of Cumberland's camp before daylight and had had no choice but to retreat to Culloden or risk being caught by the fully alert government troops while strung out on the march.

Their position worsened. There was no food, as no one had bothered sending carts to Inverness for supplies. Some of the men hadn't eaten for two days, and those who had had only got one biscuit per man. The Jacobite army had barely 200 horsemen and no trained gunners. Its leaders were at loggerheads. All in all, there were not more than 6,500 men on the Jacobite side.

The clans had expended their one weapon, the wild Highland charge, and had failed.

The battle began about 1 p.m., with a cannonade from both sides. Hundreds of clansmen were killed or maimed, while only one government soldier fell to the Jacobite guns, which were in turn quickly silenced.

When the clans finally charged, they were met with musket volleys from Cumberland's men, and with grape-shot at close range, ensuring that the survivors of that fusillade would be too few to dislodge the enemy.

The right and center of the Jacobite first-line did break through Cumberland's first line on its extreme left, but were cut down by the disciplined volleys from the second line. The Jacobite left couldn't close with the government troops because of a bog to their front and their advance halted. The MacDonald men who made up the left wing stood, firing muskets and roaring insults, unable to advance through the bog but too proud to retreat.

As a battle, it was all over as soon as it had begun. The clans had expended their one weapon, the wild Highland charge, and had failed. Cumberland unleashed his 2,000 cavalry, as the few clansmen who had survived the charge tried to fall back onto the second line. All was lost. For the Irish Brigade, however, the day's work was just beginning.

New York Public Library
A trooper of Fitz James Horse.

The Jacobite right and center, badly mauled, retreated toward Ruthven, where they hoped to reorganize. Only Glenbucket's Lowland regiment and the Irish cavalrymen of Fitz James Horse, dismounted and using carbines to defend a sunken road, stayed behind to cover the right's retreat, fighting until they ran out of ammunition.

Over on the left of the Jacobite line, the MacDonalds had also retreated when faced with overwhelming numbers of government dragoons on their flank. They ran for their lives toward Inverness, some throwing away weapons and clothing.

The Irish Brigade stood like a wall of red, watching the heroic but futile charge by the clans. The red-coated Irishmen broke ranks calmly to let the defeated clansmen through, giving their brother Gaels a cheer as they did so, then they reformed their line.

Their officers knew that the day was lost, but decided to hold the Inverness road open for as long as possible to allow their comrades to escape. The Prince and his entourage had left the field, leaving Brigadier Walter Stapleton, a fearsome man, in command of those who remained behind. What happened next was extraordinary.

Part 3: The End of the Dream

Further Reading:

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Tags: Gaelic, Ireland


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