History of the Stewarts | Battles and Historic Events
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It was initially known as the Battle of Gladsmuir, but was actually fought at Prestonpans, East Lothian where it borders with borders with Tranent, Cockenzie and Port Seton. Despite the poor state of his cavalry and artillery, Cope determined to engage the Jacobite army. He had good intelligence that the Jacobite army numbered just under 2,000 men, mostly composed of fit and hardy men, but badly armed. His officers apparently believed that the Jacobites would never attack a single force including both infantry and cavalry. They assured locals during their march that there would be no battle.
On 20 September Cope´s forces met Charles´ advance guard. Cope decided to stand his ground and fight the Jacobite army. He drew up his army facing south with a marshy ditch to their front, and the park walls around Preston House protecting their right flank. He mounted his cannon behind the low embankment of the Tranent colliery waggon way, which crossed the battlefield.
Although the Jacobite army had secured the high ground to the south of Cope´s army, they were dismayed by the natural advantages of Cope´s position. A l highland charge would flounder in the marshy ground in front of the Government army´s centre and be shot to pieces by musket and cannon fire. Although there was a great deal of argument among the senior Jacobite officers, Lord George Murray was convinced that only an attack against the open left flank of Cope´s army stood any chance of success. John Anderson, a local farmer´s son who knew the area well and convinced Murray that he knew an excellent route through the marshlands. Following his advice, Murray began to move the entire Jacobite force very early in the morning of the 21st walking three abreast along the Riggonhead Defile far to the east of Cope´s position.
Cope, meanwhile had seen the movement of the Jacobite army towards the east, as it grew dark, though this move was the result of confusion in the Jacobite ranks and was abandoned He was worried about an attack against both his flanks, and realigned his army on a north-south front, in the position in which they would fight on the next day. Three companies of Loudon´s Highlanders were detailed to guard the baggage park in Cockenzie. Around 100 volunteers were dismissed and ordered to report again the next morning, missing the ensuing battle. Cope also made a last-minute attempt to get some artillerymen from Edinburgh Castle. Some half-dozen gunners left the Castle disguised as tradesmen but their guide became lost.
To prevent a surprise attack during the night, Cope kept fires burning in front of his position and posted no less than 200 dragoons and 300 infantry as pickets. At the crack of dawn however, at 6 am on 21 September 1745, Cope´s dragoons saw approximately 1,400 Jacobites charging through the early morning mist towards them. Cope´s inexperienced army wheeled to its left by platoons to face the Highlanders, who were charging in from the east following their night march. Cope managed to scramble some cannon up onto his right flank. Although most of his artillerymen (most of whom were aged or "invalids") fled, the two officers in charge of them opened fire as soon as the Highlanders were in range. Undaunted by the light, inaccurate guns, the Jacobite army continued its charge; however, the centre became bogged down in marshy terrain, and as they continued forward their different speeds of advance caused them to form into a "V". The wings on either side met the inexperienced dragoons on either side of the Government centre, and the dragoons immediately fled the field.
This left the Government centre, containing the experienced infantry, facing the centre of the "V" on their front, and the two unopposed wings on either side. The effect of this unplanned flanking manoeuvre meant that the government foot soldiers were effectively sandwiched. They suffered heavy casualties and gave way. The battle was over in less than 10 minutes with hundreds of government troops killed or wounded and 1500 taken prisoner. Cope´s baggage train at Cockenzie was captured with only a single shot fired. It contained £5000, many muskets and ammunition. The Jacobite Army suffered fewer than 100 troops killed or wounded. The wounded and prisoners were given the best care possible at Prince Charles Stuart´s insistence.
Cope tried to rally his men, but could only lead about two hundred stragglers up a side lane (Johnnie Cope´s Road) to reorganize in an adjacent field, where they refused further engagement. Cope and his aide-de-camp had no choice but to travel southwards to Lauder and Coldstream and then on to the safety of Berwick-upon-Tweed, 50 miles away, the following day,Brigadier Fowke causing scandal by arriving ahead of the troops.Out of the 2,300 men in the Government army, only 170 troops managed to escape.
Colonel James Gardiner, a senior Government commander who stayed at Bankton House close by the scene of battle, was mortally wounded in a final skirmish that included Sir Thomas Hay of Park who fought by his side and survived. Colonel Gardiner´s fatal wounds were inflicted beneath a white thorntree of which a portion is today in Edinburgh´s Naval and Military Museum. Gardiner was stripped to the waist after his possessions were looted by the Highlanders. A servant took the dying Colonel after the battle to the Manse at Tranent where he died in the arms of the Minister´s daughter during the night. The Colonel became the unchallenged hero of the day and an obelisk to his memory was raised in the mid 19th century.
However it is possible to argue that it was Gardiner´s refusal to stand against the Jacobites before this battle, his dragoons had repeatedly fled from the advancing Jacobite army and again they did so on at battle of Prestonpans which in turn caused the rest of the army to be less able to stand against the Jacobites. In many ways despite his personal bravery it was Gardiner that lost the battle.
The battle of Prestonpans was a very significant one for the Jacobite cause - it provided them with weapons, money and some extra recruits as well as being a massive psychological boost to the Rising.