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The Battle of Falkirk

January 17, 1746

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The Jacobite forces split into two groups during their retreat into Scotland after their ill-fated expedition into England.  Quite naturally, Prince Charles Edward Stuart commanded the first group and Lord George Murray the second.  The Camerons, along with the Prince, arrived in Glasgow on December 26th, having spent their Christmas in transit.  The Highlanders found this Lowland city openly hostile toward them, much more than usual.  Here the army re-supplied itself with much needed clothing and Prince Charles bartered for funds from prominent sympathetic citizens.  Until this point the Jacobites had been amazingly considerate of the towns which they passed through, but Glasgow was so antagonistic with its "stern Whig hostility" toward them that there was much talk about burning the city.  "It is said that only the remonstrations of `The Gentle Lochiel' prevented some of the Highlanders from sacking and burning the city."  Many soldiers found an alternate form of taking out their frustration; five hundred deserted.

On January 6th of 1746 the Prince's army arrived in the Stirling area, avoiding Edinburgh since it was now held by Hanoverian Lieutenant-General Henry Hawley.  The Jacobite army was now reinforced by the arrival of Lady MacKintosh and her four hundred clansmen, among others, which brought total forces to about 9,200.  During this time the Prince committed many man hours toward the siege of Hanoverian-held Stirling Castle.  Among other Camerons who were injured or killed at Stirling was Hugh Cameron of Loch Arkaig, an officer in Lochiel's Regiment.  He was shot through the thigh at the siege and brought to Montrose for treatment. I n time Hugh would be taken by Hanoverian troops, tried at Carlisle and hung to death during the autumn of 1746.  The impenetrable fortress at Stirling appeared to be impossible to take, especially since Hawley was approaching with 8,500 enemy troops.  About 1,200 men were left to maintain the siege of Stirling while 8,000 men advanced toward battle.

The Prince took command of the army at this point, having little trust for most of his advisors, who he believed had deserted him if not in actuality then in their hearts.  On January 15th and 16th he was drawing up the Jacobite army in battle order on Plean Muir, just south of Bannockburn.  After two fruitless days of waiting the Prince acknowledged Lord Murray's proposal to march the army to Falkirk Muir, where they were able to take possession of a commanding position by midnight of the 16th.  There, the Camerons took a position at the left flank of the first line along side the Stewarts of Appin.

The Hanoverian forces approached the field of battle from the north-west of Falkirk and drew up their lines, which included a large contingent of cavalry.  It was raining hard on that January 17th, with a strong wind from the north-west at the back of the Jacobites but into the faces of the Hanoverians, who had to advance up-hill.  The dragoons began the attack, hoping to break the Highlanders, who were thought to have a fear of horses.  The right flank of the Jacobite front line felt the brunt of the attack first, firing their pistols at point blank range, which practically broke the charge.  The remaining horsemen closed on the Jacobites and many of the MacDonalds went down beneath the horses, as if they were trampled.  "The Highlanders extended on the earth pitched their poinards into the horses bellies, others seizing the calvary men by their dresses and pulling them down, slew them with strokes of their poinards; many used pistols, but there were few that had elbow room to be able to wield their swords."

The charge had come sooner than expected, so the left flank was not yet fully formed at the time of the attack.  Five minutes after the first shots were fired on the right flank, and after the left flank had sufficiently formed, the Camerons and Stewarts of Appin were charged by two or three battalions of Hanoverian foot soldiers and also cavalry.  The vast majority of their ammunition was expended upon the charging cavalry units, so these 800 Camerons "went in with great bravery, sword in hand."  In the midst of battle Donald Cameron of Lochiel, XIX Captain and Chief of Clan Cameron, was slightly wounded in the foot by a musket ball.  His brother, Dr. Archibald Cameron was nearby and persuaded him to leave the field of battle to dress the wound.  In the process he too was wounded by a ball, which would remain in his body until his dying day.  Meanwhile, the second line of Highlanders on the left flank crowded in with the first, leaving their left side exposed.  The resulting flanking movement by the Hanoverians forced the entire left flank to fall back to their original line of battle, where they continued their attack until the enemy finally broke.  Fortunately for the Highlanders the Hanoverian artillery, being mired along the advance, did not come up in time to be of any use.

Within twenty minutes Lt. General Hawley and his forces fled the field of battle.  "The cry of `Stop pursuit!' flew suddenly from rank to rank and the Stuart soldiers, who were just warming to their task, were brought up in confusion.  Night was falling and the men, having broken ranks, were a jumble of clans and tongues without their own officers to guide them.  Some, seeing what they took to be watch fires lit in the Hanoverian camp, though that the battle had been lost.  Others sought shelter from the strong wind and lashing rain."

Shortly after the battle, Lochiel was well enough to lead a detachment of Camerons into the town of Falkirk, finding nothing but "a few straggling parties in the streets."  Joined by Lord Murray and hundreds of other clansmen they were able to confiscate large quantities of military stores that had been left behind.

When that "terrible wet night" (as it was called by a Captain in the Hanoverian army) was over there were 420 Hanoverians killed in action and a multitude of wounded and prisoners.  The number of Jacobite deaths was reported at about 50, with between 60 and 80 wounded.  Though Hanoverian forces were disgraced once again by the presumed "inferior" Scottish Highland forces, the battle of Falkirk was anything but a clear victory.  Stirling Castle would remain in enemy hands, Jacobite desertions continued, Prince Charles was in poor health and despite the triumphant poetry and music written to commemorate the victory there would soon be only one sensible option, to retreat again.  On the evening of January 29th Lord Murray, Lochiel and five other clan chiefs sent a document to the Prince advising such a retreat into the Highlands at this "critical junction."  William, the Duke of Cumberland with his substantial Hanoverian army was headed north and the Jacobites were seriously outnumbered and outgunned.  In due time the Prince reluctantly agreed.