We all know the ’45 Rising saw it’s last battle at Culloden, but the first engagement was back in August 1745 in the Highbridge Skirmish.
Prince Charles Edward Stuart had landed in Scotland and the prospect of a Jacobite Rising was suddenly a reality. In response to Prince Charles attempting to gather support and draw people towards him at Glenfinnan the commander-in-chief of the Government forces in Scotland, Sir John Cope, sent orders to dispatch two companies of men to head to Fort William where they would reinforce the garrison that stood there.
The men sent out were from the Royal Scots regiment and were commanded by Captain Scott of Clan Scott. In total roughly 85 men began to make the journey south to Fort William marching along the roads built by General Wade after the 1715 Rising. Prince Charles was not idle though. He heard of the Governments plan and informed his Jacobite supporters so they would be prepared for the men.
The Government troops marched seemingly easily along the road, encountering no resistance, until they reached the River Spean on 16th August 1745 and headed across the High Bridge. Here they found Jacobite supporters waiting. Major Donald MacDonell of Tirnadris was ready to meet the Government troops with a dozen of fellow members of Clan MacDonald of Keppoch. As Captain Scott approached it is believed that the dozen Jacobites moved swiftly about by the now demolished High Bridge Inn. They held their plaids wide and created the illusion that there was a formidable number of Jacobites waiting.
Captain Scott approached cautiously sending forward just two of his men to try and negotiate with the Jacobites. Unfortunately for him the men were swiftly taken prisoner and Captain Scott made the decision to retreat and regroup. They fled to Loch Lochy but were caught out when some 50 Glengarry Highlanders met them with volleys of gunshot whilst the MacDonalds continued their pursuit from behind. Captain Scott was hit in the shoulder and eventually found himself and his men surrounded. He had no choice but to surrender.
The Jacobites took the remaining Government men prisoner in the Achnacarry Inn as Donald Cameron of Lochiel arrived to take charge. Captain Scott was taken to Lochiels house where reports suggest he was treated more like a guest than an enemy. The men were later marched to Glenfinnan to meet Prince Charles himself and he made the decision to pardon the prisoners of their actions. Some say the Jacobites did not lose a single man in the skirmish whilst the Government lost at least two men with several more injured. It is believed that the Government recruits were new soldiers from Ireland who perhaps were not used to the Highland terrain and were unprepared to face the local Jacobites.
The skirmish however, marked the first land-based action between Government and Jacobite forces and began to set the ’45 Rising into motion. The High Bridge itself, which cost £1,087 when it was built in 1736, was superseded by a newer bridge in 1819 and now only the pillars remain of the original bridge. In 1994 the 1745 Association erected a cairn near the south side of the bridge at Highbridge to commemorate the first action of the ’45 which can still be seen today.
We hope you enjoyed this little insight into the first action of the ’45 and as always please like, tweet, share, comment and keep discovering.
All the best, K & D