On this day in 1746 the Battle of Culloden was fought between the Jacobite army of Charles Edward Stewart, also known as the Young Pretender or Bonnie Prince Charlie, and a Government force under the command of William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland. The battle resulted in total defeat for the Jacobites and the effective end of any efforts to place a Stuart on the British Throne.
Conflict had broken out in the summer of 1745 with the Jacobites achieving a number of unexpected successes. Having defeated a large government army at the Battle of Prestonpans in September, they effectively controlled the whole of Scotland and even penetrated England as far south as Derby before returning north. The withdrawal would lead them to their last stand on Culloden Moor, near Inverness in the Scottish Highlands.
On the night before the battle the government army, which was camped around 12 miles from the Jacobites to the west, celebrated Cumberland's twenty-fifth birthday by issuing two gallons of brandy to each regiment. In an attempt to take the initiative, and repeat the victory at Prestonpans, the Jacobites forced a night march with the aim of catching the Hanovarian’s by surprise. The trek however prorated arduous and having already left late, took much longer than expected. In the dark, the right and left wings of the army became separated and by the time the leading troops had reached Culraick, still 2 miles from their objective, there was only one hour left before dawn. It was concluded that there was not enough time to mount a surprise attack and that the offensive should be aborted; the army returned in disarray.
Not long after the exhausted Jacobite forces had made it back to Culloden, reports came through of the advancing government troops. At about 11am the two armies were within sight of one another with about 2 miles (3.2 km) of open moorland between them. As the government forces steadily advanced across the moor, the driving rain and sleet blew from the north-east into the faces of the Jacobites.
The ensuing battle was brief. Unleashing their superior artillery, the government army opened by shelling the Jacobite lines. Charles, who had taken personal command of the army, left his men to endure the barrage for around 30 minutes, waiting for his opponents to move. Several clan leaders, worried about the resulting casualties, its effect on moral and angry at the lack of action, pressured Charles to issue the order to charge. Members of Clan Chattan were the first of the Jacobites to receive this order, but an area of boggy ground in front of them forced them to veer right so that they obstructed the following regiments and the attack was pushed towards the wall of the Culwhiniac enclosure. The Jacobites advanced on the left flank of the government troops, but were subjected to volleys of musket fire and the artillery which had switched from roundshot to grapeshot.
Despite taking heavy casualties the Jacobite charge met the government line, with two regiments, Barrell's 4th Foot and Dejean's 37th Foot, taking the brunt of the attack. The government’s second line was bought forward to plug any gaps and formed a five battalion strong horseshoe-shaped formation which trapped the Jacobite right wing on three sides.
The Jacobite left wing, which consisted of Macdonald regiments, had around 200m more to cover over much boggier ground and so engaged the government troops slightly later. As they took casualties the began to give way and sensing the advantage, Cumberland ordered his dragoons to ride them down. They too were impeded by the boggy ground and ended up engaging the French supplied Irish Picquets, who had been brought forward in an attempt to stabilise the deteriorating Jacobite left flank.
The Jacobite left collapsed and turned into a total rout. The Royal Écossais and Kilmarnock's Footguards, who had attempted an orderly retreat along the Culwhiniac enclosure were ambushed and forced into the centre of the field, where they were run down by Kerr's 11th Dragoons, though they put up a fierce fight and were able to retire. The rout would have become a massacre if it were not for the rear-guard action of the Irish Picquets who covered the Highlanders' retreat. This stand by the Royal Écossais may have given Charles Edward Stewart the time to make his escape.
From this point on the fleeing Jacobite forces were split into two groups: the Lowland regiments retired in order southwards, making their way to Ruthven Barracks; the Highland regiments however were cut off by the government cavalry, and forced to retreat down the road to Inverness. The result was that they were a perfect target for the government dragoons.
It is estimated that of the approximate 7,000 mend deployed at the outset of the battle, Jacobite casualties were around 1,500–2,000 killed or wounded. By contrast, the government only lost between 240-400 of their 8,000, while another 1,000 were wounded.
The 1,500 or so men who assembled at Ruthven Barracks in Badenoch received orders from Charles Edward Stewart to the effect that all was lost and to "shift for himself as best he could". Similar orders must have been received by the Highland units at Fort Augustus. By April 18th the Jacobite army had disbanded. Officers and men of the units in the French service made for Inverness, where they surrendered as prisoners of war on 19 April. The rest of the army broke up, with men heading for home or attempting to escape abroad.
The morning following the Battle of Culloden, Cumberland issued a written order reminding his men that "the public orders of the rebels yesterday was to give us no quarter". Contemporary accounts report then that for the next two days Culloden Moor was searched and all those found wounded there were put to death. Charles Edward returned to France and so ended any realistic attempt to place him, or any other Stuart, on the British throne.
Culloden Battlefield is now owned by National Trust Scotland who have an excellent visitor centre at the site. You can find out more here:
The scenes in this blog were part of our model The Jacobite Risings: The Fight for Britain's Throne which explored the history of the Risings and in particular that of the 'Forty-five'. This model was on display at Stirling Castle over the winter of 2017 and 2018 where it proved hugely popular and received considerable media attention. While the full model no longer exists, parts of it do and are often on display, so follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to find out where and when.
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