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The Battle of Achdalieu

Circa 1654

Cameron of Lochiel's Own Website

In 1654 the Earl of Glencairn was succeeded by General Middleton, under whose command Ewen Cameron, XVII Captain and Chief of Clan Cameron once again joined with a "full regiment of good men."  The Camerons were now divided between serving in the Highland army and protecting their native Lochaber, which was frequented more often than not by Cromwellian troops.  The Cromwellian army was taken over by General Monk in April of 1654, who wasted no time in trying to divide the Highland army; he set his sites on Ewen.  Bribes, insinuating offers and proposals were conveyed to the young Chief of Clan Cameron, even a offer to pay all of the hereditary Cameron land debts.  These offers were all ineffectual.

Monk would come up with an ambitious solution for dealing with the Camerons, in this he was assisted by none other than the Chief of Clan Campbell, the Earl of Argyll himself.  Cromwellian forces, coming from the open sea, made their way up Loch Linnhe; five ships landed safely at Inverlochy.  Two thousand Cromwellian troops, commanded by Monk's most skillful and resolute officers came equipped with one year's supplies, workmen, servants and ample materials to construct a garrison.  Ewen had heard of their entry into Lochaber and rushed back home with his men, determined to make their enemies regret their bold plans.  Arriving in the "neighborhood" of Inverlochy the following morning, Ewen was most probably shocked by what he would find.  Within one day's time the Cromwellians, using the plentiful woods of the area as a resource, had already firmly entrenched themselves in Lochaber.  Much to the shock of the entire Clan Cameron there was a new neighbor to contend with, one whom featured red coats and an impenetrable fort.

A practical decision was made at this point to dismiss the vast majority of the Cameron men, so they might secure their possessions, most notably their cattle, and also replenish their provisions.  Ewen kept just thirty-two of his bravest men with him, retiring to the woods of Achdalieu, where they would await the return of their forces and wait for a chance to strike against the enemy.  The commander of the fort, a Colonel Brayne, would soon order nearly three hundred of his men out of the fort, to cut "some fine old oak trees."  Two ships of soldiers sailed from the fort, one anchoring on Ewen's side of the loch, the other ship on the opposite shore.  The young Chief of Clan Cameron counted one hundred and thirty-eight of the enemy on his lochside, in addition to officers and workmen.  Returning to his men Ewen asked their advice on what they might do "now that such a party of the enemy had offered their throats to be cut."  A debate ensued, during which Ewen is said to have delivered a stunning oration which convinced all those present to follow their chief's decision, no matter what it might be.  Ewen Cameron of Lochiel decided to make the English pay with their lives each and every time they set foot outside their fort.  The Camerons would "take a bite" out of the Cromwellian soldiers during each such outing, beginning that very day at Achdalieu.

Ewen's scouts brought word that the Cromwellian soldiers who had landed nearby were slowly made their way to the village of Achdalieu, pillaging houses and capturing poultry along the wat.  Though given orders to march slowly through the woods to engage the enemy, the Camerons ran on ahead, eager to expel their unwanted guests.  The Cromwellians heard their charge, or may possibly have been warned in advance.  Though only 32 in number the Camerons must have sounded like an entire regiment, utilizing the cover of the woods to confound the enemy just as Ewen had hoped.  Led by their courageous chief these "sons of the hound," armed with muskets, broadswords, dirks, targes and bow and arrow, rushed upon the soldiers.  Their intent was to welcome them to "Cameron Country."  For every Cameron there were four of the enemy, armed with heavy muskets and bayonet; they dropped and fired upon the ensuing Cameron charge.

Immediately the Cromwellian soldiers fell into an extreme sense of panic, for they had fired much too soon.  Long before they had a chance to re-load the Highlanders were upon them.  Thirty of the enemy were dead instantly, with the "point blank" discharge of the Cameron firearms.  The subsequent cutting wounds inflicted upon the redcoats were said to be beyond belief.  Needless to say broadswords will inflict great damage upon an enemy, but they also were reported to have hewed through a good number of bayonets and into musket barrels.  After what has been described as a "stiff fight" the remaining 60 or so living Cromwellians were put to flight.  Lochiel craftily sent two or three of his men ahead of the retreating enemy and had them call out from behind a bush, as to make the enemy imagine that they were heading into another body of Camerons.  While this strategy slowed the return to their boats, it also enraged the redcoats, who were still superior in numbers to the Camerons.

One specific story in the midst of the battle warrants attention.  One of the Camerons, who had shot an arrow at the enemy from too great a distance.  As a result the arrow did not pierce deep enough to kill the man.  Observing this Lochiel cried out that "it came from a weak arm."  The Cameron took his chief's words to heart, even though they were not meant as an insult.  Rushing among the thick of the enemy he recovered the very same arrow and with his hands plunged it into the redcoat all the way up to the feathers.  Impressed by the man's bravery Lochiel quickly dispatched a party of Camerons to save their valiant kinsman.

In the midst of the battle Ewen was separated from his men, after following a few of the enemy into the woods where he killed two or three of them with his "own hand."  As fate would have it the English officer who had commanded the party had also fled in this direction and had concealed himself behind a nearby bush.  Observing that the Chief of Clan Cameron was alone he emerged from his hiding place, intent on avenging the deaths of his men.  Facing off to one another with swords these two gentlemen fought for both survival and honor.  Their swordsmanship being of a somewhat equal match, they fought on as the redcoats continued to be hounded by the Cameron men.  It is said that the English officer was a large, powerful foe, but that Ewen exceeded him in agility.  In due time the Englishman's sword was tript out of his hand, leaving Ewen poised for the kill.  This was to be denied, for the redcoat pounced upon Ewen and wrestled him to the ground.  They struggled and fought one another, eventually tumbling down into the nearby channel of a brook or stream, which happened to be dry.  The Englishman found himself atop of Ewen and proceeded to use his great size to drive the Cameron Chief deeply into the sharp stones.  After some time, during which the two men fought with their last remaining strength, the English officer regained the use of a free hand, with which he drew the dagger from upon his belt.  While keeping his full weight upon Ewen, to hold him to the ground, the Englishman attempted to stab his foe, but was unable to in such close quarters.

In the end he finally managed to disengage himself, raising high above Ewen for the death blow.  In those moments of battle, when one is faced with impending death, desperation and fury combine with one another into a formidable defense.  Ewen at long last saw his opportunity, which he must have realized would be his last chance of survival.  He reached up and grabbed his opponent by the collar, jumping at the extended throat which presented itself at that moment.  The English officer, at full extension with his dagger above Ewen, was defenseless; his throat was bitten and torn from his body.  As Ewen reflected in his later years "it was the sweetest bite" that he had ever experienced.  It is said that in the fight for life and death that mankind reverts to its earliest traits, in this instance the dignified and cultured Chief of Clan Cameron had fought for and won his life with the primitive fury of his ancient forefathers.

An exhausted and bloody Ewen then returned to his men, who were attempting to stop the fleeing redcoats.  Regardless of the adrenaline which must have been rushing through him at that moment, Ewen managed to stop the Cameron men and offered quarter to the remaining 35 Cromwellians.  As they were preparing to give up their arms one of the enemy attempted to shoot Ewen, who fortunately dove into the sea, narrowly avoiding the musket ball.  Needless to say, with this action the Camerons set upon the Cromwellians once more, showing no mercy.  A Cromwellian officer managed to gain one of the boats which the work parties had arrived in and, resting his gun on the gunwale, aimed at Ewen.  This time the Chief of Clan Cameron did not have the opportunity to dive into the sea to escape the ball.  Ewen's foster brother, a MacMartin of Letterfinlay, observed in the last instant the intended target of the enemy officer.  In the grand tradition of his family this noble man threw himself into the path of the musket ball, receiving the shot "in his very mouth and breast."

Ewen is said to have revenged this death with his own hand, extracting the officer from the boat and helping him to join his other fallen comrades.  The shoreline near Achdalieu was covered with the entire Cromwellian work party, except two men which had made their escape.  One of these men was said to have repeated a rather unique prayer for quite some time afterwards: "That God in his mercy would be pleased to keep him out of the hands of Lochiel and his bloody crew!"

Before retreating with their wounded the Cameron men paused to take account of their work.  Ewen was amused at their examination of several Englishmen, noting that "they had been some way or other, prepossessed with a fancy that the English has some excrescence shooting out from their rumps, in form of tails."  Indeed, the redcoats were thought of as devils incarnate by the Highlanders.  Ewen lifted the body of his beloved foster brother on his back and carried it from the shore, having him interred in his own family burial ground, which was three miles distant.  The Camerons lost only four other men in addition to Lochiel's devoted foster brother.