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The Battle of Culloden, 16th April 1746

The Jacobite Army was more
conventional than generally supposed

August 2005
For centuries, many historians have believed that the Government Force at
Culloden outfought the undisciplined Jacobite forces of Bonnie Prince Charlie. But new excavations at the site of the battle have revealed that the Jacobites came far closer to victory than most contemporary accounts suggest. Dr Tony Pollard, of the Two Men in a Trench programme, and a team from Glasgow University archaeological research division, have discovered that the Highlanders came close to breaking the government line and rewriting history. The almost suicidal attack of the Young Pretender's 7,000-strong army  forced Cumberland and his troops loyal to George II to turn his heavy mortars, previously held in reserve, on to their serried ranks to prevent a rout of his troops, according to the new evidence. See Centre for Battlefield Archaeology: projects.

The Battle of Culloden, on the 16th April 1746 was not a Scots defeat at the hands of the English as often portrayed, nor was this Highland v Lowland or Catholic v Protestant.  The defeated Jacobite Army had French Regular Troops in its ranks.  The Government Army included famous Scottish Regiments: The Royal Scots (St Clair's*) (2nd Battalion); The Scots Fusiliers, the Kings Own Scottish Borderers (Semphill's) and the Argyll Militia.


Battle Plan Click to enlarge

From jacobites.org.uk Battle Maps

The Battle and its aftermath saw the dismantling of the culture of the Highland Gael, the Clan system, tartans and the Great Highland Bagpipe.  But one of the witnesses at the Battle, James Wolfe, would use the descendants of these Highlanders in the British Army, and the British Army became the custodian of the Great Highland Bagpipe, kilts and tartans, and some of the
Highland traditions.

*James St Clair, their Colonel, an honorary title which he held from 1737-1762, was not in command there as erroneously recorded on a number of websites. In the custom of the time the Regiment was known by its Colonel's name. St Clair was by the time of Culloden a Lieutenant General, having been appointed Quartermaster General to the British Army in Flanders in 1745 and Commander-in-Chief of an expedition which destroyed the forts at Quiberon in 1746. He was an Ensign with the 1st Royals in 1694 but transferred to 3rd Footguards as a Captain in 1714.

Here are two eye witness accounts of the Battle:

A Colonel Christopher Teesdale, 3rd Buffs, to John Home

London, 15 January 1792 I quitted the army in the year 1762 and have (from the length of time) almost forgot that I was ever a military man. Now you unconscionable fellow, you desire me to remember occurrences 46 years ago. However, I will do my best with regard to the battle of Culloden, which I believe is what you want to know. The day before the action the Royal army encamped within about ten miles of the rebels - it was, I remember, the Duke of Cumberland's birthday. The rebels imagining the troops might be induced to make merry on the occasion came to a resolution to attack the Royal army in the dark, and certainly a very wise scheme (and no doubt some of them might have read the description of the attack made by Leonidas on the Persian camp in the night,) for certainly an army composed of even the best militia do not judge well to oppose themselves to a well provided army, as the consequence plainly demonstrated. In the dark things are but on an equal footing; artillery cannot be used, nor small arms without the risk of killing as many of your friends as foes; but you know as well as I do why they did not attack in the dark. I should think it must have been owing to either the treachery of Lord John Murray or perhaps his fear of not being well supported. When daylight began to appear we had information of the enemy's intention, and they had just begun their retreat. The Duke of Cumberland then formed the army, and marched towards the rebels, who only had time to form on a rising ground on Drummosse or Culloden Moor. The Royal army marched in three columns and formed battle (in view of the enemy) in two lines and a corps d'reserve, with the dragoons on the flanks, and these moved forward with ten field pieces (short Saxon six-pounders) in the front, and when we came within reach of cannon shot our field pieces were got into a bog, so that the horses were obliged to be taken off, and the soldiers to sling their arms in order to drag the guns across the bog, which required
some time. If the enemy thought our artillery could not be drawn across the bogs their ground was certainly well chosen, and had they immediately come down with rapidity the battle would have been fought without cannon, but they amused themselves with pointing a few guns so ill served as actually to make our soldiers laugh, for I well remember their first shot went some distance beyond our corps d'reserve. As soon as our cannon was clear of the
bog, Colonel Bedford (a most excellent artillery officer) began to cannonade with such success that they were unable to stand it, and came down in a rapid and determined manner. When Bedford perceived them at proper distance he then poured in grape shot that mowed them down in such a manner that their columns only extended to oppose the 4th and 20th Regiments, in which
regiments they made some havoc. Lieut.-Colonel Martin (a Sussex man) on the left of the front line, seeing no part of the rebels opposite the 8th Regiment he commanded, wheeled the regiment, and took them in flank, which made terrible havoc, and when they retreated Kingston's Light Horse did great execution. Their loss was computed at near three thousand. I saw the field of battle next day, and think that there could not be many less,including those killed in the pursuit.
Now with regard to the question, you ask me, I well remember that, when our army formed in line of battle, the left of the enemy's front line seemed to extend much beyond right of our front line, and the Duke of Cumberland ordered two regiments from the corps d'reserve (their numbers or names I have forgot) to move up, one on the right of the Royal Scotch and one on the right of the Buffs, or 3rd Regiment. I do not suppose 80 men were lost by the Royal Army. Poor Lord Robert Kerr, uncle of the present Marquis of
Lothian, the handsomest and one of the worthiest men in the world, was slain. He was a captain in the 4th Regiment, and the Duke of Cumberland had his major's commission in his pocket, and said "we will let Kerr know nothing of the matter till the battle's over." And now I have acquainted you with all the particulars which occur to me at present. Had the rebels marched into the Highlands and not fought the battle, one-half of the Royal army must have been destroyed before they could have been subdued.
P.S. - A letter to me comes free directed Office of Ordnance. Pray tell me how this corresponds with any other information you are possessed of. The British Cavalry consisted of two heavy regiments and the Duke of Kingston's Light Horse. The enemy had some French cavalry and pickets of the Irish Brigade. The pretender did not come down with his troops, which was shabby.

The "Royal Scotch" referred to are St Clair's Regiment, The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment) and the Regiment brought up from the reserves were Pulteney's.
The same family would later give its name to
Pulteneytown in Wick and the famous Caithness Malt, Old Pulteney.

Click for a picture
"Broadsword against Brown Bess"by Chris Collingwood

Major James Wolfe to William Sotheron

Inverness, 17 April 1746
The Duke engaged with the rebel army, and in about an hour drove them from the field of battle, where they left near 1500 dead; the rest, except prisoners, escaped by the neighbourhood of the hills.
The rebels posted themselves on a high boggy moor, where they imagined our cannon and cavalry would be useless; but both did essential service. The cannon in particular made them very uneasy, and after firing a quarter of an hour, obliged them to change their situation and move forward some 100 yards to attack our front line of Foot, which they did with more fury than prudence, throwing down their firearms, and advancing with their drawn swords. They were however repulsed, and ran off with the greatest precipitation, and the Dragoons falling in amongst them completed the victory with much slaughter. We have taken about 20 pieces of cannon in the field and 700 prisoners, amongst which are all the Irish piquets, and broadswords, plaids innumberable.
Orders were publicly given in the rebel army, the day before the action, that no quarter should be given to our troops. We had an opportunity of avenging ourselves, and I assure you as few prisoners were taken of the Highlanders as possible.... May they ever be punished in the same manner who
attempt the like!


Major Wolfe was ADC to General Cumberland

"The defeat of the Jacobite forces at Culloden on 16th April 1746 not only signalled the end of civil war and rebellion, but ushered in a period of indiscriminate repression within Scottish Gaeldom by the forces loyal to the Whig government. The immediate aftermath of the '45 was marked by genocidal clearance verging on ethnic cleansing; by banditry as a form of social protest; and by cultural alienation as chiefs and leading gentry abandoned their traditional obligations as protectors and patrons in pursuit of their
commercial aspirations as proprietors."

A stringent new Disarming Act was passed on 12th August 1746 and was rigorously enforced. It banned the possession of weapons and the peculiar tartan dress of the Highlander. Legislation was further enacted (totally in contravention of the Treaty of Union) to abolish the Heritable Jurisdictions, and the estates of attainted rebels were forfeited. In 1752 roughly a quarter of them were annexed 'inalienably' to the crown, under the management of commisioners.

Plans were made for the costly programme of building and repairing strongholds such as the massive new Fort George at Ardersier (still used to this day), begun in 1748 and not completed until 1769 at a cost of £100,000.
As one historian has put it, these measures "amounted to no less than a wide-ranging attack on the Highlander's culture". "

Joe Taylor on the 2001 Exhibition on Culloden at the National Army Museum, Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea

Jacobite Banners

Most of the the captured Colours and banners were burnt by the Public Hangman in Edinburgh but a list survives which can be found here and some illustrations here and here.  One which has provoked Sinclair Interest is  "a piece of blue silk with a St.Andrew Saltire and with a motto Commit the Work to God", close to the Sinclair Motto "Commit thy work to God". Stuart Reid in Highland Clansman 1689-1746 writes it is possible this banner was carried by one of the companies of the Earl of Cromartie's Regiment at Embo near Golspie.


There is a Muster Roll of Prince Charles Edward Stuart's Army 1745-46, which records the names of many of those out for the Prince, but no similar reference for those who fought on the Government side.  Canadian Clan Genealogist, Wanda Sinclair has found one individual record:

St. James Protestant Cemetery, Trois Rivieres, Quebec, Canada

"Here lieth interred the Body of James Sinclar who was born in Scotland in the year 1732(?) and who died in this Town on the 29 March .... . He served under the Duke of Cumberland and was present at the battle of Culloden in 1746. He afterwards served at the Siour (?) of Lewisburgh in 1758 and under the illustrious Wolfe at the taking of Quebec in 1759. He also distinguished himself as an officer in the British Militia during the blockade of Quebec in the years 1775-76 and he died a magistrate of this District and was much respected."


Full text of "[Culloden papers] More Culloden papers"

The Battle of Culloden 1746

Lady Anne Mackintosh | Mapping Memorials to Women in Scotland

Clan Chattan (Lady Mackintosh's Regiment at Culloden)