Everything contributed to make Culloden fatal to the fortunes of the Pretender. The discouragement of some of the clans, the disaffection of others, the wholesale desertions which had thinned the ranks of the rebel army.
Today’s installment concludes Battle of Culloden,
our selection from History of the Four Georges by Justin McCarthy published in 1901. The selection is presented in five easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Battle of Culloden.
Place: Culloden, Scotland
In Scotland, for long years after he was dead and dust, the mention of his name was like a curse; and even in England, where the debt due to his courage counted for much, no one has been found to palliate his conduct or to whitewash his infamy. As “Butcher” Cumberland he was known while he lived; as Butcher Cumberland he will be remembered so long as men remember the “Forty-five” and the horrors after Culloden fight. Some of those horrors no doubt were due to the wild fury of revenge that always follows a wild fear. The invasion of the young Stuart had struck terror; the revenge for that terror was bloodily taken.
Everything contributed to make Culloden fatal to the fortunes of the Pretender. The discouragement of some of the clans, the disaffection of others, the wholesale desertions which had thinned the ranks of the rebel army, the Prince’s sullen distrust of his advisers, the position of the battle-field, the bitter wintry weather, which drove a blinding hail and snow into the eyes of the Highlanders — all these were so many elements of danger that would have seriously handicapped a better conditioned army than that which Charles Stuart was able to oppose to Cumberland. But the Prince’s army was not well conditioned: it was demoralized by retreat, hungry, ragged, dizzy with lack of sleep. Even the terrors of the desperate Highland attack were no longer so terrible to the English troops. Cumberland had taught his men, in order to counteract the defence which the target offered to the bodies of the Highlanders, to thrust with their bayonets in a slanting direction — not against the man immediately opposite to its point, but at the unguarded right side of the man attacking their comrade on the right.
After enduring for some time the terrible cannonade of the English, the battle began when the Macintoshes charged with all their old desperate valor upon the English. But the English were better prepared than before, and met the onslaught with such a volley as shattered the Highland attack and literally matted the ground with Highland bodies. Then the royal troops advanced, and drove the rebels in helpless rout before them. The fortunes of the fight might have gone very differently if all the Highlanders had been as true to their cause as those who formed this attacking right wing. “English gold and Scotch traitors,” says an old ballad of another fight, “won,” “but no Englishman.” To no English gold can the defeat of Culloden be attributed, but unhappily Scotch treason played its part in the disaster.
The Macdonalds had been placed at the left wing of battle instead of at the right, which they considered to be their proper place. Furious at what they believed to be an insult, they took no part whatever in the fight after they had discharged a single volley, but stood and looked on in sullen apathy while the left wing and centre of the Prince’s army were being whirled into space by the Royalist advance. The Duke of Perth appealed desperately and in vain to their hearts, reminded them of their old-time valor, and offered, if they would only follow his cry of “Claymore,” to change his name and be henceforward called Macdonald. In vain Keppoch rushed forward almost alone, and met his death, moaning that the children of his tribe had deserted him. There are few things in history more tragic than the picture of that inert mass of moody Highlanders, frozen into traitors through an insane pride and savage jealousy, witnessing the ruin of their cause and the slaughter of their comrades unmoved, and listening impassively to the entreaties of the gallant Perth and the death groans of the heroic Keppoch. In a few minutes the battle was over, the rout was complete; the rebel army was in full retreat, with a third of its number lying on the field of battle; the Duke of Cumberland was master of the field, of all the Highland baggage and artillery, of fourteen stands, and more than two thousand muskets. Culloden was fought and won.
It is not necessary to believe the stories that have been told of Charles Stuart, attributing to him personal cowardice on the fatal day of Culloden. The evidence in favor of such stories is of the slightest; there is nothing in the Prince’s earlier conduct to justify the accusation, and there is sufficient evidence in favor of the much more likely version, that Charles was with difficulty prevented from casting away his life in one desperate charge when the fortune of the day was decided. It is part of a prince’s business to be brave, and if Charles Stuart had been lacking in that essential quality of sovereignty he could scarcely have concealed the want until the day of Culloden, or have inspired the clans with the personal enthusiasm which they so readily evinced for him. Through all those stormy and terrible days, over which poetry and romance have so often and so fondly lingered, the fugitive found that he had still in the season of his misfortunes friends as devoted as he had known in the hours of his triumph. His adventures in woman’s dress, his escape from the English ship, the touching devotion of Flora Macdonald, the loyalty of Lochiel, the fidelity of Cluny Macpherson — all these things have been immortalized in a thousand tales and ballads, and will be remembered in the North Country as long as tales and ballads continue to charm. At last, at Lochnanuagh, the Prince embarked upon a French ship that had been sent for him, and early in October, 1746, he landed in Brittany.
This ends our series of passages on Culloden by Justin McCarthy from his book History of the Four Georges published in 1901. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.