Extracted from “Tales of a Grandfather” by Sir Walter Scott, written around 1827 (some eighty-one years after the events described in this extract). The book, almost 1200 pages long and describing events in Scottish history from earliest times to 1746, purports to have been originally written for his grandson, whom he nicknamed ‘Hugh Littlejohn, (real name John Hugh Lockhart). The boy died in 1831 aged ten.
….The Duke of Cumberland’s army now appeared about two miles off, advancing straight in front of the Prince’s line of battle. His Royal Highness’s force consisted of fifteen battalions of foot ….8100 [men] and 900 horse. The day of the battle they were drawn up in two lines, seven battalions in the first, and eight in the second line, supported by the two squadrons of horse on the right, and four squadrons of dragoons on the left. The Campbells were on the left with the dragoons. There were two pieces of cannon betwixt every battalion in the first line, three on the right, and three on the left of the second. The army was commanded in chief by the Duke of Cumberland, and under him by Lieutenent-Generals Earl of Albermarle, Hawley, and Bland, Major-General Husk, Brigadiers Lord Sempill, Cholmondely, and Mordaunt.
Had the whole Highland army been collected, there would have been very little, if any, difference in numbers between the contending parties, each of which amounted to about 9000 men ; but we have already shown that the Prince was deprived of about 2000 of his troops which had never come up, and the stragglers who left his standard between the time of the review and the battle amounted to at least 2000 more ; so that, upon the great and decisive battle of Culloden, only 5000 of the insurgent army were opposed to 9000 of the King’s troops. The men who were absent, also, were chiefly Highlanders, who formed the peculiar strength of the Chevalier’s army.
There was no appearance of discouragement on either side ; the troops on both sides huzza’d repeatedly as they came within sight of each other, and it seemed as if the Highlanders had lost all sense of fatigue at sight of the enemy. The MacDonalds alone had a sullen and discontented look, arising from their having taken offence at the post which had been assigned them.
As the lines approached each other, the artillery opened their fire, by which the Duke of Cumberland’s army suffered very little, and that of the Highlanders a great deal ; for the English guns, being well served, made lines through the ranks of the enemy, while the French artillery scarcely killed a man. To remain steady and inactive under this galling fire, would have been a trial to the best disciplined troops, and it is no wonder that the Highlanders showed great impatience under an annoyance peculiarly irksome to their character. Some threw themselves down to escape the artillery, some called out to advance, and a very few broke their ranks and fled. The cannonade lasted for about an hour.
At length the clans became so impatient that Lord George Murray was about to give the order to advance, when the Highlanders, from the centre and right wing, rushed without orders furiously down, after their usual manner of attacking sword in hand. Being received with a heavy fire, both of cannonade and grape-shot, they became so much confused that they got huddled together in their onset, without any interval or distinction of clans or regiments. Notwithstanding this disorder, the fury of their charge broke through Monro’s and Burrell’s regiments, which formed the left of the Duke of Cumberland’s line.
But that General had anticipated the possibility of such an event, and had strengthened his second line so as to form a steady support in case any part of his first should give way. The Highlanders, partly victorious, continued to advance with fury, and although much disordered by their own success, and partly disarmed by having thown away their guns on the very first charge, they rushed on Sempill’s regiment in the second line with unabated fury. That steady corps was drawn up three deep, the first rank kneeling, and the third standing upright. They reserved their fire until the fugitives of Burrell’s and Monro’s broken regiments had escaped round the flanks, and through the intervals of the second line.
By this time the Highlanders were within a yard of the bayonet point, when Sempill’s battalion poured in their fire with so much accuracy that it brought down a great many of the assailants and forced the rest to turn back. A few pressed on, but, unable to break through Sempill’s regiment, were bayoneted by the first rank. The attack of the Highlanders was the less efficient, that on this occasion most of them had laid aside their targets, expecting a march rather than a battle. While the right of the Highland line sustained their national character, though not with their usual success, the MacDonalds on the left seemed uncertain whether they would attack or not. It was in vain the Duke of Perth called out to them, “Claymore “! telling the murmurers of this haughty tribe, “That if they behaved with their usual valour they would convert the left into the right, and that he would in future call himself MacDonald.”
It was equally in vain that the gallant Keppoch charged with a few of his near relations, while his clan, a thing before unheard of, remained stationary. The chief was near the front of the enemy, and was exclaiming with feelings which cannot be appreciated, “My God, have the children of my tribe forsaken me !” At this instant he received several shots, which closed his earthly account, leaving him only time to advise his favourite nephew to shift for himself. The three regiments of MacDonalds were by this time aware of the route of their right wing, and retreated in good order upon the second line. A body of cavalry, from the right of the King’s army, was commanded to attack them on their retreat, but was checked by a fire from the French piquets, who advanced to support the MacDonalds.
But at the same moment another decisive advantage was gained by the Duke’s army over the Highland right wing. A body of horse, making 600 cavalry, with three companies of Argyleshire Highlanders, had been detached to take possession of the park walls, repeatedly mentioned as covering the right wing of the Highlanders. The three companies of infantry had pulled down the east wall of the enclosure, and put to the sword about a hundred of the insurgents, to whom the defence had been assigned ; they then demolished the western wall, which permitted the dragoons, by whom they were accompanied, to ride through the enclosure, and get out upon the open moor, to the westward, and form, so as to threaten the rear and flank of the Prince’s second line.
Gordon of Abachie, with his Lowland Aberdeenshire regiment, was ordered to fire upon these cavalry, which he did with some effect. The Campbells then lined the north wall of the enclosure so often mentioned, and commenced a fire upon the right flank of the Highlanders’ second line. That line, increased by the MacDonalds, who retired upon it, still showed a great number of men keeping their ground, many of whom had not fired a shot. Lord Elcho rode up to the Prince, and eagerly exhorted him to put himself at the head of those troops who yet remained, make a last exertion to recover the day, and at least die like one worthy of having contended for a crown. Receiving a doubtful or hesitating answer, Lord Elcho turned from him with a bitter execration, and declared he would never see his face again. On the other hand, more than one of the Prince’s officers declared, and attested Heaven and their own eyes as witnesses, that the unfortunate Adventurer was forced from the field by Sir Thomas Sheridan, and others of the Irish officers who were about his person ….
…. although the Chevalier, if determined on seeking it, might certainly have found death on the field where he lost all hopes of empire, there does not appear a possibility that his most desperate exertions could have altered the fortune of the day. The second line, united with a part of the first, stood, it is true, for some short time after the disaster of the left wing, but they were surrounded with enemies. In their front was the Duke of Cumberland, dressing and renewing the ranks of his first line, which had been engaged, bringing up to their support his second, which was yet entire, and on the point of leading both to a new attack in front.
On the flank of the second line of the Chevalier’s army were the Campbells, lining the northern wall of the enclosure. In the rear of the whole Highland army was a body of horse, which could be greatly increased in number by the same access through the park wall which had been opened by the Campbells. The Highlanders of the Prince’s army, in fact, were sullen, dejected and dispirited, dissatisfied with their officers and generals, and not in perfect good humour with themselves. It was no wonder that, after remaining in this situation, they should at last leave the field to the enemy, and go off in quest of safety wherever it was to be found. A part of the second line left the field with tolerable regularity, with their pipes playing and banners displayed. General Stapleton also, and the French auxiliaries, when they saw the day lost, retreated in a soldier-like manner to Inverness, where they surrendered to the Duke of Cumberland on honourable terms.
Many of the Highland army fled in the direction of Inverness, but the greater part towards Badenoch and the Highlands. Some of these never stopped till they had reached their own distant homes ; and the alarm was so great, that one very gallant gentleman told your Grandfather that he himself had partaken in the night march, and that, though he had tasted nothing for twenty-four hours, he ran near twenty miles ere he took leisure to sit down and eat a biscuit which had been served out to him at the moment the battle was to begin, and which he had put into his sporran, or purse, to eat when it should be ended.
The Duke of Cumberland proceeded with caution. He did not permit his first line to advance on the repulsed Highlanders till he had restored their ranks to perfect order, nor to pursue till the dispersion of the Highland army seemed complete. When that was certain, Kingston’s horse, and the dragoons from each wing of the Duke’s army, were detached in pursuit, and did great execution. Kingston’s horse followed the chase along the Inverness road. They did not charge such of the enemy, whether French or Highlanders, as kept in a body, but dogged and watched them closely on their retreat, moving more or less speedily as they moved, and halting once or twice when they halted. On the stragglers the made great havoc, till within a mile of Inverness.