During the Second Jacobite Rising, the Battle of Falkirk Muir (Scottish Gaelic: Blàr na h-Eaglaise Brice) was the last noteworthy Jacobite success. The battlefield has been inventoried and protected by Historic Scotland under the Historic Environment (Amendment) Act 2011.
After turning back from Derby, for want of either any significant support from English Jacobites or a French invasion, the Jacobite Army returned to Scotland and besieged Major General Blakeney in Stirling Castle. Lieutenant General Henry Hawley led his troops from Edinburgh to relieve Blakeney. The Jacobite army was 8,000 strong, the largest assembled throughout the Rising. They were pitched against a regular Hanoverian army. The battle itself was a hectic and scrambling affair, fought in a storm of wind and torrential rain, so confusing that neither side was initially aware of the outcome.
The Jacobite army left Glasgow on 3 January in two columns. One column of six Highland battalions, led by Lord George Murray marched towards Falkirk, via Cumbernauld, to make it appear as if they were heading towards Edinburgh. Instead he turned north before reaching Falkirk and moved just outside of Stirling in Bannockburn. Murray stationed Lord Elcho at Linlithgow with a detachment of cavalry to patrol the road to Edinburgh.
The Pretender moved another column to Bannockburn via Kilsyth. There he set his headquarters and resided at Bannockburn House as the guest of Sir Hugh Paterson, a Jacobite supporter. Lord John Drummond set forth from Perth with four thousand men and heavy artillery. Now boasting a force of 8,000 men the Jacobites sent a drummer to Stirling on 5 January demanding the surrender of the town. A garrison of 500 militiamen responded by shooting at the drummer who then ran for his life. Three days later the town council agreed to surrender. Yet, Stirling Castle itself was held by a small garrison of trained militiamen and troops under the command of Major General William Blakeney, who politely declined to surrender. Thereupon the Pretender ordered the castle to be besieged. He entrusted this task to a French artillery 'expert' of Scottish descent, Monsieur Mirabel de Gordon. Gordon chose a poor location in digging trenches for the Jacobite cannons, lower and completely in range of the castle's own guns. Following the victory at Falkirk the cannon would be destroyed after firing a single shot. Because of the man's demonstrated incapacity, the Scots afterward referred to Mirabel as "Mr. Admirable."
At the same time, dissension arose as the Highland chiefs resented the Pretender's decision to not hold councils, relying only on the advice of his Irish "Men of Moidart." Also causing concern was Charles's continued drinking.
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, whereupon 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.
Hawley was encamped at Falkirk, and showed no signs of moving. Thus, on the morning of 17 January, the Jacobites planned an offensive. The army moved cautiously towards Falkirk, avoiding the main road and heading for the Hill of Falkirk which overlooked Hawley's encampment below. With General Hawley established at nearby Callendar House, the government army was taken by surprise.
At 1:00 pm an officer informed Hawley of the Jacobite approach. Hawley refused to believe the message and did not verify the information for himself. Instead, he remained at Callendar House, 2000 yards behind his camp, and only sent instructions for his troops to put on their equipment as a precaution. By 2:00 pm 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 Hanoverian army rapidly filed 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. In the subsequent action one out of four muskets missed fire.
From left to right, the Hanoverian front line consisted of Ligonier's (13th), Cobham's (10th) and Hamilton's (14th) Dragoon Regiments. Continuing the first line were Edward Wolfe's (8th), Cholmondeley's (34th), Pulteney's (13th), The Royal (1st), Price's (14th) and Ligonier's (59th) British Regiments of Foot. In the second line stood Blakeney's (27th), Munro's (37th), Fleming's (36th), Barrel's (4th) and Battereau's (62nd) British foot regiments. Last to arrive, Howard's (3rd Old Buffs) regiment took position in a third line. A few hundred yards behind the dragoons, the Glasgow militia were drawn up. The Argyll militia took position on the far right of Hawley's line. Two cannon became stuck in a bog. When the battle began, the English gun crews were still trying to free them.
The Jacobite army marched up and deployed in three lines, facing east. In the front line, from right to left were the MacDonalds, Camerons, Frasers, MacPhersons, Mackintoshes, Mackenzies, Farquharsons, and Stewarts of Appin. Posted in the second line were the regiments of Lord Lewis Gordon, Lord Ogilvy and the Atholl Brigade. In the third line were small units of horsemen, plus a unit of French regulars (Irish Picquets from the Irish Brigade). 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 center. Three foot regiments on the Hanoverian 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 British 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 British horsemen closed with the Highlanders, but most fled. Cobham's dragoons rode north between the infantry battle lines. The other two regiments bolted to the rear. 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. Another Highlander tactic when confronted with cavalry was to aim their swords at the horse's head rather than the rider. A horse wounded this way will tend to circle and render the rider an easy target.
The complete rout of the cavalry compromised the entire Hanoverian position. Murray tried to restrain the MacDonalds, but they spontaneously rushed after the fleeing horsemen. The Highland right and center fired one volley, flung down their muskets and dashed toward the Hanoverian infantry, claymores in hand. Attacked in front and flank, with rain now beating in their faces, 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 Hanoverian left and center. Soon they were joined by Cobham's rallied dragoons, who tried to attack the Jacobite rear. This attack was foiled by the Irish Picquets (French regulars) 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 Hanoverian survivors retreated east towards Linlithgow, with Grenadiers pulling Hawley's remaining cannon as the artillery horses had been lost. Murray had won a huge victory but did not realize it yet. It was not until the next morning that some 300 Hanoverian soldiers were seen lying dead in the rain.
The Jacobites emerged victorious, but failed to take advantage of the encounter. Hawley claimed to have suffered only 280 casualties, but his losses were much greater. Around 350 Royal troops were killed, wounded or missing, and some 300 captured. On the Hanoverian side, Sir Robert Munro and three lieutenant-colonels were killed. Ligonier fell ill and died soon after the battle.
The Jacobite losses were around 50 dead and 80 wounded. The Jacobites seized some Hanoverian tents, ammunition, wagons, and three of their cannons, but they remained in or around Falkirk for most of the month and lost any initiative they may have gained from the victory. Instead of pursuing Hawley, the Young Pretender chose to stay in Bannockburn House, where he developed a feverish cold and was taken care of by Clementina Walkinshaw. This gave Hawley the opportunity to reorganize and strengthen his army in Edinburgh.
Following the Battle of Falkirk, the Royal troops were billeted at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, where they did a huge amount of damage to the famous Jacob de Wett paintings in the Great Gallery. The paintings were restored in 2003 by Brian McGlauchlen.
It is said that Sir John Cope made ₤10,000 in a wager that his successor would be beaten by the Highlanders as he had been.
- "Inventory battlefields". Historic Scotland. http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/index/heritage/battlefields/battlefieldsunderconsideration.htm. Retrieved 2012-04-12.
- Tomasson, p 102
- Tomasson, p 117
- Tomasson, p 113
- Tomasson, p 114
- Tomasson, p 119
- Chevalier de Johnson, Aide de Camp to George Murray. Memoir of the Rebellion, 1820
- Magnusson, Magnus. Scotland — The History of a Nation. Grove Press, New York, NY. 2000. Retrieved Dec. 31, 2007.
- Smurthwaite, David, Ordnance Survey Complete Guide to the Battlefields of Britain, Webb & Bower Ltd., 1984
- Tomasson, Katherine & Buist, Francis, Battles of the '45. London: Pan Books, 1974.
- Battle map at the Library of Scotland
- Battle of Falkirk
- Unknown printer: Battle of Falkirk, Bannockburn 1746
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