It is April 15, 1746, as you assume the role of Prince Charles Edward Stuart. You are also known as the “Young Pre- tender” since you seek to reinstate your family, the House of Stuart, to the British throne by deposing the current British ruler, King George II of the House of Hanover. In 1688, your Stuart grandfather, King James II of England and Ireland (who simultaneously was King James VII of Scotland), was deposed and forced into exile. Since then, Stuart supporters – called “Jacobites” after Jacob, the Latin word for James – have unsuccessfully tried to foment popular uprisings to reinstate the Stuart monarchy. The latest attempt, which you now lead, began last year and is known as the Jacobite Rising of ’45.
Born in Rome in 1720, you were raised in exile to be the Stuart heir to the British throne once your family’s monarchy has been restored. In July 1745, you landed on the Scottish Highlands’ coast near Inverness, confident that this latest rising will succeed. Britain has been at war with France and its allies on the European Continent and at far-flung locations such as India and North America since 1740; thus, the home country, England, has been left with weakened defenses. France promised to support your effort with an invasion, and you believed that sympathetic English Jacobites would flock to your cause.
After persuading Scottish Highland clan leaders to join the rising, at last you moved your army of over 5,000 men south to invade England. Your force advanced 335 miles against little resistance through Carlisle, Manchester and on to Derby, threatening London, Britain’s capital, only 115 miles farther south. Yet with victory seemingly within your grasp, you received reports of an English army gathering to oppose you. Moreover, the English Jacobites have provided little support and the promised French invasion has failed to materialize.
Although you wanted your army to press on to London, you did not overrule your Scottish commanders when they voted in a council of war to withdraw to Scotland. On December 6, your men withdrew northward from Derby under the tactical command of your senior Jacobite general, Lord George Murray. Upon reaching Scotland you gathered more troops, but when an English army arrived at Edinburgh in early 1746, your force retired farther north to Fort Augustus and then in mid-April moved to Inverness.
Meanwhile, a younger son of King George II, Prince William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland, arrived in Edinburgh on January 30 to command the English army. He led it north until the weather forced him into winter quarters at Aberdeen, but after several weeks his men again took up the march and are now encamped at Nairn.
Nairn is only 10 miles northeast of where your army is positioned on Culloden Moor, a mile-wide section of open, gently rolling ground with patches of boggy swamps five miles east of Inverness. You are determined to bring the two opposing forces to a decisive battle tomorrow, April 16, 1746.
The Jacobite army under the Stuart banner has grown to a strength of 5,700 foot soldiers and 200 cavalrymen. Your soldiers are primarily Highland clansmen, raised as clan regiments by wealthy Scottish landowners supporting the Jacobite cause. Your army also contains Lowland Scots and some Irish and Scots units that are part of the regular French army.
Your men are armed with pistols, muskets and a diverse collection of bladed weapons. Some of the Highland clansmen have only axes, pitchforks or scythes they brought along from their small tenant farms. The wealthier Highlanders carry steel-framed pistols, double-edged broadswords or foot-long daggers called dirks. About a third of your soldiers are armed with .69-caliber French or Spanish muskets. For added protection, nearly all your men carry small (20- inch diameter) bullhide-covered wooden shields called targes. Your army’s artillery support consists of 11 3-pounder cannon and one 4-pounder, although the crews are inexperienced and poorly trained.
Indeed, except for your few French army units, your force lacks proper training since neither your officers nor your troops are professional soldiers. This makes it difficult for the officers to control and precisely maneuver large formations during battle and to lead them to execute the intricate maneuvers of the era’s linear tactics. Instead, the Jacobite army’s most effective battle tactic is the fearsome “Highland charge,” a sudden attack by a solid mass of fierce clansmen running at full speed to close with and overwhelm the enemy in a single, irresistible rush. To facilitate employing this tactic during battle, the best fighters, the Highlanders, form in the front line, followed by a smaller line of Lowland Scots and backed by the French units in reserve.
The enemy army outnumbers your force, but not excessively. Cumberland has 6,170 foot soldiers and 774 cavalrymen supported by 10 3-pounder cannon and six 4-inch Coehorn mortars. His main fighting strength is composed of 16 battalions of red-coated infantrymen. While his foot-soldier force is primarily made up of English regular army units, it also includes four Scots battalions and one Irish battalion. Although Cumberland’s men are professional soldiers, many in the English ranks are recent recruits who joined after your failed invasion of England.
Unlike your soldiers, all of Cumberland’s infantrymen are well armed with standard issue muskets. Nicknamed “Brown Bess,” the .75-caliber flintlock musket is tipped with a 16-inch triangular-bladed socket bayonet. Well-drilled infantrymen can fire three to four rounds per minute with these weapons, typically volley fire under their officers’ commands. The effective range of the smoothbore Brown Bess is about 75-100 yards, similar to that of your soldiers’ French and Spanish muskets.
Cumberland’s English cavalrymen carry carbines, pistols and swords, but his three cavalry regiments are newly formed and thus inexperienced. The Royal Artillerymen manning the army’s cannon and mortars, however, are professionals and much better trained than your cannon crews.
Moreover, Cumberland did not waste the time his army spent in winter quarters. He had his officers conduct extensive training and they aggressively drilled their men in infantry tactics and maneuvers. He placed particular emphasis on bayonet practice to ensure that even the new recruits could effectively wield their bayonets in brutal close-quarter combat.
As your army remains encamped on Culloden Moor awaiting orders for tomorrow’s battle, you gather your commanders for a council of war to decide how to defeat Cumberland’s army. You expect the meeting will be a stormy one since your senior officers are a contentious lot. The Scottish officers, fiercely independent and jealous of their prerogatives as hereditary chieftains of their various clans, are often at odds with each other and take offense at the slightest perceived insult.
Nevertheless, by appealing to the men’s loyalty to the Stuart cause, you work out a general command arrangement. You will be in overall command; Murray will take charge of the army’s right wing; the Duke of Perth will lead the left wing; and your adjutant and quartermaster-general, Colonel John O’Sullivan, will control the army’s second line and the reserve force.
After considerable discussion, you and the council develop three possible courses of action for the upcoming battle.
COURSE OF ACTION ONE: ATTACK AT NAIRN Under the first plan, your army’s main effort will be a surprise strike against Cumberland’s camp at Nairn. Tonight, your men will depart shortly after dark and conduct a stealthy night march to reach a position near the enemy force. At first light, the fierce Highland clansmen will lead your army in a surprise attack to overpower and defeat Cumberland’s unsuspecting soldiers in close-quarter combat before they can form ranks and employ their superior musket and cannon firepower.
COURSE OF ACTION TWO: DEFEND AT CULLODEN With this option, your men will conduct a pre-emptive night raid on Cumberland’s sleeping force at Nairn to provoke it into attacking your Jacobite army on terrain of your choosing. After inflicting as many casualties as possible during the raid, your men will rapidly withdraw back to Culloden Moor and form battle lines to defend against the enemy attack. This will compel Cumberland’s infantry battalions to advance in the face of musket and cannon fire over open ground – terrain that also makes them vulnerable to a Highland charge counterattack.
COURSE OF ACTION THREE: DEFEND AT DALCROSS With this course of action, your army will move under cover of darkness and take up defensive positions within the more rugged terrain at Dalcross. When the enemy attacks tomorrow, the ground there will be much less favorable to maneuver by Cumberland’s regular infantry battalions, will inhibit his use of cavalry formations, and will greatly limit the effectiveness of the Royal Artillery cannon. Disrupted by the broken terrain, the enemy formations will also be susceptible to a Highland charge counterattack.
Although your Scottish officers continue to bicker about whose clan should be given the place of honor in the army’s battle line, they defer to you to make the final decision on which course of action the army will follow.
What next, Prince Charles Edward Stuart?
COURSE OF ACTION ONE: ATTACK AT NAIRN
As Murray reminds you, your army fights best when bursting from behind cover or out of the darkness and rushing downhill against a startled, unsuspecting enemy. You therefore decide that after a night march from Culloden Moor the army’s main effort will be to launch a surprise attack at dawn against Cumberland’s sleeping camp near Nairn.
O’Sullivan, who favors defending at Culloden and worries about the difficulties posed by a risky night march over rough terrain, offers some sound advice: feed the men before moving out to prevent them from drifting off into the countryside to scavenge for food; leave the cannon behind since dragging them over broken ground will only slow the night march; and pick local clansmen familiar with the Inverness area to guide the way. While Murray thinks these precautions are unnecessary, you overrule him and approve O’Sullivan’s recommendations.
With the soldiers fed and local guides leading the way, the army advances shortly after dusk. You have placed cavalry forward on both flanks to keep any enemy patrols at a distance and have issued strict orders that all soldiers must preserve absolute silence.
Despite using guides who know the best routes, the trek over difficult terrain tires the men and the horses. Nevertheless, in eight hours the army covers over 10 miles and arrives in the vicinity of Nairn before dawn. The officers report very few stragglers, and although your force is weary from the night march, it is essentially intact and eager to fight.
Before sunrise your army is formed for the attack, with Murray’s right wing prepared to cross the shallow Nairn River and advance northwest against the left flank of Cumberland’s infantry camp while the Duke of Perth’s left wing strikes the front of the enemy camp. Your small reserve force forms up behind Perth’s men.
Upon your hand signal, the attack commences. The Highlanders in both wings move forward at a trot, and when within 100 yards of the camp, those with muskets unleash a volley. The shots rip through the tents of English soldiers, striking some of them and sowing confusion among the awakening men.
Before the enemy officers have time to form their infantrymen into ranks, the Highlanders in the wings of your army break into a full-speed run to close the gap and fall upon the rival soldiers. Screaming their clan battle cries, the Highlanders move with astonishing speed, closing faster than any conventional infantry formation could. Cumberland’s soldiers have no chance to organize and deliver volley fire before the howling Highlander charge sweeps over them like a human wave and cuts them down in hand-to-hand combat.
Within minutes, your army has won the battle, and the few enemy soldiers not slain or taken prisoner flee for their lives. Only with great difficulty are your officers able to restrain their men from running after the escaping survivors of Cumberland’s now shattered army. Eventually, the clan chieftains get their soldiers under control – a task made easier when the clansmen turn their attention to looting the captured English camp.
The Duke of Cumberland, who had spent the night in a comfortable house in Nairn, soon learns of the disaster and immediately summons his cavalrymen, who had been encamped three miles from the infantrymen and therefore avoided the fate of their foot-soldier comrades. Escorted by his cavalry force, Cumberland hastily flees back along the road to Aberdeen, where he hopes to find a British ship to evacuate him to London – where he is sure to face the wrath of his father, King George II.
Your rebellion has won the major victory it desperately needed to rally more support to continue your quest to restore the Stuart monarchy.
COURSE OF ACTION TWO: DEFEND AT CULLODEN
You decide that fighting at Culloden Moor on ground of your choosing will place Cumberland’s army at a tactical disadvantage. Therefore, to provoke an English attack, you permit Murray to lead the army in a night raid on Cumberland’s camp at Nairn while you remain at Culloden Moor with the reserve force and the army’s cannon.
Although you had expected Murray to begin the night march as soon as darkness fell, he does not set out until well after 8 p.m. Poor visibility and difficult terrain make the march a nightmare for the Highlanders, with many losing their way and having to backtrack to rejoin the main force. Moreover, since Murray has ignored O’Sullivan’s advice to feed the men beforehand, a large number of them wander off to search for food, further delaying the advance.
Amid all the delays and confusion, Murray and his force are still more than two miles from the English camp an hour before dawn. He calls a hasty council of war, which makes the decision to forego the raid and march back to Culloden Moor.
As your exhausted force – minus hundreds of stragglers – finally assembles on Culloden Moor, you receive a report that Cumberland’s army is on the march toward you. Thus, despite the botched raid, you will still fight the battle on ground of your choosing.
You order battle lines formed, with a strong first line composed of the Highland clansmen (most of the remaining 4,000 men in your army), a shorter second line of Lowland Scots, and the French regulars at the rear. Murray commands the right wing while Perth leads the left. Because of boggy ground in front of the left wing, Perth’s men are nearly twice as far away from the enemy than are Murray’s men.
At midday, Cumberland’s army comes into view, with his infantrymen leading the way and marching in tight formations and in good order. As the enemy nears your force, Cumberland forms his infantry battalions into three battle lines about 200 yards apart, with the front line interspersed with cannon. His cavalry regiments are massed on his far left flank, except for two squadrons on his right flank.
Once Cumberland’s front rank has marched to about 500 yards from your line, your inexperienced cannon crews fire a ragged volley that has little effect. In response, the English cannon open up a heavy barrage that hammers your force with deadly results. For over 20 minutes, Cumberland’s artillery bombards your men, who have no recourse but to stand and suffer the pummeling.
You continue to wait for the enemy to attack your line, but Cumberland is content to let his cannon do their deadly work. Finally, your Highlanders can stand the bombardment no longer; the front line of clansmen advances to close with the enemy. Those with muskets fire a volley and then discard the weapons and charge forward into a hail of enemy musket and cannon fire.
The Highlanders in the right wing reach the English line first, but their fierce charge is met with an unexpected tactic. Cumberland’s infantrymen thrust their bayonets to the right instead of straight ahead, preventing your clansmen from using their targes to deflect the bayonet thrusts and exposing them to being stabbed from their vulnerable right side. The result is heavy casualties in the clansmen’s ranks and the bloody failure of their Highland charge.
Hampered by boggy ground, your left wing’s charge is shredded by English musket and cannon fire before it can close with the enemy. Your entire army soon succumbs to a disorderly rout. Cumberland’s cavalry pursues and cuts off your fleeing survivors, while his infantrymen cross the battlefield using their bayonets to finish off any clansmen they find alive.
As your cavalry bodyguard escorts you from the battlefield, you realize that the Rising of ’45 has failed and that you are now a fugitive.
COURSE OF ACTION THREE: DEFEND AT DALCROSS
You fear that fighting the battle on flat, open ground will give Cumberland’s well-drilled infantrymen a great advantage and expose your force to superior English artillery and cavalry. You therefore decide to defend on the more rugged terrain at Dalcross.
O’Sullivan suggests feeding the army before leaving for Dalcross to prevent the Highlanders from wandering off to scavenge for food, and he recommends picking local clansmen as guides. Over Murray’s objections, you concur with O’Sullivan.
Shortly after dusk, the army begins its night march to Dalcross. Murray commands the right wing and the Duke of Perth leads the left wing. O’Sullivan controls the Lowland Scots and French army unit reserves. Led by guides who know the best routes, the army makes the 6-mile march quietly and skillfully, and straggling is kept to a minimum.
As the clansmen arrive at Dalcross and begin to move from their marching columns to a rough battle line for a nighttime bivouac on the battlefield, an English patrol discovers your army and scurries back to Cumberland’s camp at Nairn to sound the alarm. Yet the distance to the English camp is such that the enemy army cannot be in position to attack before daybreak. Thus, your men are able to rest during the remaining hours of darkness and will be fresh for tomorrow’s battle.
The position at Dalcross greatly favors your defenders. Your army’s right flank is anchored on the Nairn River, while the left flank extends well into difficult terrain unsuitable for cavalry and large infantry formations. To the front of your battle line, which is on higher ground, the rugged terrain slopes downhill and is cut by numerous steep-sided ravines. This will greatly restrict Cumberland’s ability to maneuver his infantrymen and cavalry regiments and will significantly obscure his cannon’s fields of fire.
An hour after dawn, Cumberland’s red-coated infantry battalions come into view; however, as they approach your battle line, the well-ordered ranks begin to dissolve. The rough terrain makes it impossible for the English soldiers to form unbroken lines despite the frantic efforts of their officers. Royal Artillery cannoneers, unable to emplace all of their weapons in locations offering good fields of fire, can only manhandle a half-dozen of the unwieldy cannon into firing positions.
Nevertheless, the English infantrymen continue to press forward in a ragged battle line with many gaps until they are within 100 yards of your Highlanders. Responding to commands shouted by the English officers, the enemy infantrymen fire a musket volley followed by scattered cannon fire. Both are ineffective, and the rounds pass over your Highlanders’ heads or strike the steeply sloping ground to your front.
Despite the obviously ineffective fire, the English infantrymen charge uphill at your waiting Highlanders. Many of the enemy soldiers stumble and fall in the rough terrain, and those who reach your battle line find it hard to thrust their bayonets at your clansmen defending from higher ground. In close-quarter fighting, the Highlanders hack, stab and shoot down the English attackers by the score. Within minutes, Cumberland’s attack has failed and the English survivors stream back down the slope.
Upon seeing the English retreat, your Highlanders spontaneously rise up and charge downhill at the fleeing enemy. Shouting their clan battle cries, they hit the retiring English infantrymen like a human wave, cutting down enemy soldiers right and left. After the charge sweeps forward about 300 yards, your officers and clan chieftains manage with great difficulty to regain control of the enraged Highlanders before their momentum carries them into open terrain where they will be exposed to Cumberland’s uncommitted massed cavalry regiments. Your officers shepherd the victorious Highlanders back to their original position.
Cumberland’s army – minus about 1,000 casualties lying on the battlefield at Dalcross – retires in fairly good order back to Nairn, while the English cavalry covers the withdrawal. Although you have gained the victory needed to rally more support to your Stuart cause, you have not destroyed the enemy army but only beaten it. You realize that you have not seen the last of Cumberland’s army and that the success of the Rising of ’45 remains in doubt.
HISTORICAL COURSE OF ACTION AND ANALYSIS
Prince Charles chose COURSE OF ACTION TWO: DEFEND AT CULLODEN and the battle unfolded as described in the COA Two narrative. Cumberland’s disciplined infantry, along with his superior English artillery and cavalry, completely routed the Jacobite army to win an overwhelming victory and effectively defeat the Rising of ’45, thus ending the last attempt to restore the House of Stuart to the British throne.
The Jacobite army was shattered, suffering 2,000 killed and thousands more taken prisoner, many of whom were later executed for treason or exiled to Britain’s global colonies. By comparison, Cumberland’s casualties were relatively light at 50 killed and 260 wounded.
In the years following the Battle of Culloden, the English took repressive measures against the Highlanders. These included stripping rebel Scottish lords of their land and hereditary rights, initiating the Highland “clearances” that evicted whole communities of tenant farmer clansmen, and banning all Scots from wearing clan tartans.
Prince Charles first fled to the Hebrides, where he was closely pursued by the English, who had put a price on his head. However, he was never betrayed while hiding with Highlanders and Stuart supporters, and in mid-September 1746 a French ship picked him up and whisked him to safety in France. He never returned to Scotland and died in Rome January 31, 1788.
Colonel (Ret.) Richard N. Armstrong, author of “Soviet Operational Deception: The Red Cloak,” is an adjunct history professor at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.
Originally published in the September 2014 issue of Armchair General.