On the 17th January 1746, just under three months before Culloden, the Jacobites won their last battle.
After their success at Prestonpans in September 1745, the general feeling among the Jacobites was one of increased optimism. Charles Edward Stuart, along with the Jacobite army, marched to England in November, reaching Derby in December. He had been hoping to find English and French recruits waiting to join the Jacobites so that they could march on London and overthrow the Hanoverians; upon arriving in England, however, they were all soon disappointed. Back in Montrose, 800 French soldiers had joined, but of the 12,000 that Louis XV had promised to aid an invasion, no more had arrived. There were also fewer English additions than had been expected. Charles wanted to continue onto London regardless, but he was convinced not to, and on the 6th December the Jacobite army began their march back to Scotland.
When the Jacobites returned to Scotland, they were strengthened by the addition of some more recruits, which brought their number to almost 8000 (mostly infantry, with around 300 cavalry). The Jacobites besieged Stirling Castle, which was under the control of Government Major General Blakeney. In an attempt to help Blakeney, Lieutenant General Henry Hawley (known by men as Hangman Hawley due to his harsh treatment of deserters) led a Government army of around 7,000 (mainly infantry, with approximately 700 dragoons) towards Stirling, but found that he was blocked by Lord George Murray at Falkirk Muir.
The Jacobite troops were deployed on the 15th and 16th January, as George Murray had been expecting an attack, but the Government army remained in their camp. On the 17th, Henry Hawley, feeling that a battle was not imminent, went to have lunch with Lady Kilmarnock. It was then that George Murray decided to attack, marching the Jacobite army into two lines. As this was happening, Henry Hawley was alerted, and he and his army made the steep climb to meet the Jacobites.
The conditions of the ground at Falkirk Muir, unlike at Culloden, were good for the Highland Charge. Hawley underestimated the power of the Charge, believing that his soldiers would be triumphant due to the speed at which they had shown they could fire volleys of musket shot; on the day, however, as a result of the horrible weather, most of the powder was damp, and as a result the volleys shot were rather weak. A tactic used by the Jacobites to fight the dragoons was to thrust their dirks into the horses’ stomachs, before attacking the dragoons as their horses lost balance.
The battle itself lasted for about twenty minutes, but as a result of the heavy winds, rain and fading light (the battle had begun at 4pm), there was initially a bit of confusion as to who had won. The Government survivors had retreated towards Linlithgow, and it was not until the next day, when George Murray saw more than 300 dead Government men lying on the ground, that he was sure that the Jacobites, who had lost around 50, had won. It is estimated that a further 300 Government soldiers were captured.
The Jacobites abandoned the siege of Stirling Castle, and instead decided to go north to their Highland strongholds with the plan of renewing the campaign in the spring. The Duke of Cumberland arrived in Edinburgh on the 30th January. Henry Hawley met with him and the two, along with the rest of the Government army, travelled to Aberdeen. The Duke of Cumberland made sure than the troops were practised in a new tactic that would make them able to withstand a Highland Charge (in a pair the troops were told to always stab at the right regardless of what was coming towards them, reducing the power of the targe). In pursuit of Charles Edward Stuart and the Jacobites, they reached Culloden in April, where the two armies fought for a final time.
We hope you enjoyed this insight into one of the most famous battles of the ’45. As always please like, share, tweet and comment.
All the best, The Culloden Team