History of the Stewarts | Battles and Historic Events
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The Battle of Falkirk Muir
The last significant victory of the Jacobite uprising 17th January 1746
The Jacobite army left Glasgow on 3 January in two columns. One column of six Highland battalions and Lord Elcho´s cavalry, led by Lord George Murray marched towards Falkirk, via Cumbernauld. Lochiel´s regiment was sent to Alloa to escort the artillery to Stirling and subsequently to form the Prince´s guard at Bannockburn.
The Prince marched towards Stirling, there he set up his headquarters at Bannockburn House as the guest of Sir Hugh Paterson, a Jacobite supporter. Lord John Drummond came from Perth with four thousand men and heavy artillery. Whilst he was there he was visited by Sir John Douglas MP who stated that there was £10,000 waiting for him in London from London Jacobites.
Now boasting a force of 8,000 men the Jacobites sent a drummer to Stirling on 5 January demanding the surrender of the town. The garrison responded by shooting at the drummer who then ran for his life. Three days later the town council agreed to surrender. Stirling Castle itself was held by a small garrison of trained militiamen and troops under the command of Major General William Blakeney, who declined to surrender. The Prince ordered the castle to be besieged.
As this went on, General Hawley brought an army of 13,000 from Newcastle upon Tyne to Edinburgh, sending an advance unit to Linlithgow on 13 January. Lord Elcho fell back to Falkirk where he met Lord George Murray. Hawley advanced with his main army of 6,000 on 15 January, intending to relieve Stirling Castle, Murray and Elcho withdrew to Bannockburn.
The Jacobites planned for battle on 15 January at Plean Muir, just southeast of Bannockburn. They were expecting an attack from Hawley´s forces, but it never came so the army marched to Falkirk, leaving 1200 under the Duke of Perth to carry on with the siege.
Hawley was camped at Falkirk, and showed no signs of moving so on the morning of 17 January, the Jacobites army moved cautiously towards Falkirk, avoiding the main road and heading for the Hill of Falkirk which overlooked Hawley´s camp below. With General Hawley in nearby Callendar House, the government army was taken by surprise.
At 1pm an officer informed Hawley of the Jacobite approach. Hawley refused to believe the message so he remained at Callendar House, behind his camp, and sent instructions for his troops to put on their equipment as a precaution. By 2pm the Jacobite attack was imminent and a second messenger from Major General John Huske was sent to Callendar House. Finally aware of the seriousness of the situation, Hawley arrived at his camp hatless and at the gallop.
Led by the dragoons, the government army moved south on Maggie Wood´s Lane past the Bantaskin House and up the slope of the Falkirk ridge. As the leading elements reached the summit, they could see the Pretender´s army bearing down on them from the northwest. Marching across the front of the Highlanders, the dragoon regiments reached a bog on the far side of the rise and faced to their right. The infantry began to form to the right of the dragoons, facing west. About this time a storm struck the area with very heavy rain, hindering deployment and wetting the black powder cartridges.
The Jacobite army marched up and deployed in three lines, facing east. The Prince failed to appoint a left wing commander, though Lord George Murray took charge of the right wing. Murray dismounted and led the three MacDonald regiments on the extreme right.
Because Hawley´s army formed up so hurriedly, its dispositions were unusual. The dragoons on the left wing were directly opposed to the Highland right flank foot soldiers. The left of the British infantry faced the Highland army´s centre. Three foot regiments on the government right completely overlapped the Jacobite left, but there was a ravine separating the two sides. The ravine prevented the British units from flanking the Stewarts of Appin, but it also protected Hawley´s right.
At 4:00 pm, Colonel Francis Ligonier received orders to charge the Jacobite right with the government dragoons. Hawley apparently believed in the superiority of cavalry over the Highlanders. The Jacobites waited until the dragoons trotted into pistol range then let loose with a crushing volley. "Eighty dragoons fell dead upon the spot A handful of the government horsemen closed with the Highlanders, but most fled Cobham´s dragoons rode north between the infantry battle lines. One company of the Glasgow militia was ridden over and scattered by Hamilton´s fleeing dragoons. Those horsemen who continued to fight fell victim to an unusual tactic. The Highlanders dropped their muskets and crouched on the ground, using their dirks to kill the horses and stabbing the riders as they fell.
The complete rout of the cavalry compromised the entire government position. Murray tried to restrain the MacDonalds, but they spontaneously rushed after the fleeing horsemen. The Highland right and centre fired one volley, flung down their muskets and dashed toward the government infantry. Attacked in front and flank,Hawley´s left-wing infantry fired an ineffective volley and ran for the rear, carrying away the second line as well.
Shielded by the ravine in their front, only the government right flank regiments held firm. Price´s and Ligonier´s regiments were joined by Barrel´s from the second line. General Huske marched them a short distance uphill where they fired into the flank of the Highlanders who were in pursuit of the panicked government left and centre. Soon they were joined by Cobham´s rallied dragoons, who tried to attack the Jacobite rear. This attack was foiled by the Irish Picquets who had been held in reserve.
Most of Hawley´s army was routed while most of the Jacobite army was scattered in pursuit or pillaging the dead. The Atholl Brigade remained intact and Murray took charge of it and some MacDonalds. Huske soon withdrew with his three foot regiments, leaving the field to the Jacobites.
It was now dark and the storm was growing fiercer; confusion ensued and Murray lost sight of the enemy. The government survivors retreated east towards Linlithgow, with Grenadiers pulling Hawley´s remaining cannon as the artillery horses had approximately three hundred government soldiers were seen lying dead.