1689 - Battle of Killiecrankie


To men such as John Graham, Viscount Dundee (formerly plain Graham of Claverhouse - the 'Bluidy Clavers' of the Covenanters), James's deposition was an outrage. Dundee took to the hills, managing to raise some of the clans, but otherwise finding little support. A government army under General Hugh Mackay, who was a Highlander himself, marched against him, but at Killiecrankie in 1689 it all went wrong, for both sides. Mackay was defeated, but Dundee was killed. Here is part of Mackay's own account of the battle.

The ennemys being upon their ground much about the same time with us, seemed to extend their order beyond our right wing; which the General observing made his line move to the right by the flank, least their design might be to flank, get betwixt him and pass, which would be a very advantagious post for them, whereby they could cut all communication betwixt us and Perth, from whence we expected six troops of horse and dragoons more, as well as a further supply of provisions, and where they could, by the favour of the Athole men, subsist, and have convenience to joyn as many horse and foot as Dundee's credit in the counties of Angus and Perth could procure in a considerable number, without that we could hinder them but by making a motion which readily might furnish them occasion to attack us with a seen advantage: which motion brought the ennemy, whatever his design might have been, to a stand, and so we lookt upon one another for a least two hours.

The General not willing to attack, for the reasons already alledged, and the Highlanders apparently out of irresolution, which he apprehended to be of design to expect the night, wherein they might happily hope to frighten our men by a sudden motion doun the hill with a loud shout, after their manner, very likely to put new men unaccustomed with an ennemy in a fright and disorder, tho' they could be kept more allert and ready then he could hope for during the whole night; neither durst he venture to pass the river in their presence and so near them, both by reason of the hazard, the souldiers, ordinarily taking such a motion for a subject of apprehension, and the imputation which he had to expect, if he were beat in retiring. He resolved then to stand it out, tho' with great impatience, to see the ennemy come to a resolution, either of attacking or retiring, whereof they had more choice than he; and to provoke them, he ordered the firing of three little leather field-pieces, which he caused carry on horse-back with their carriages, which proved of little use, because the carriages being made too high to be more conveniently carried, broke with the third firing.

The ennemy having a full view of our forces, by reason of the height they possest above us, discerned presently the General, which drew their shot into all places where he stood or walked, whereby severals of our men were wounded before the engagement; and to have the so much nearer aim, they possest themselves of some houses upon the ascent of the height whereon they stood, which the General not willing to suffer, least the ennemy should be emboldned thereby, ordered his brother, commanding his own regiment, before whose front the houses were, to detach a captain with some fire-locks to dislodge them; judging withall that that skirmish might draw on a general engagement, which he earnestly longed for before the night approached. The captain chased the ennemy's detachment of their body with the loss of some of their number; but shortly thereafter, and about half an hour before sunset, they began to move down the hill.

The General had already commanded the officers, commanding battalions, to begin their firing at the distance of 100 paces by platoons, to discourage the approaching Highlanders meeting with continual fire: That part of their forces which stood opposite to Hastings, who had the right of all, before the Generals, Levins and Kenmore's regiments, came down briskly together with their horse, and notwithstanding of a brisk fire, particularly from the General's own battalion, whereby many of the chief gentlemen of the name of Macdonald, who attacked it, were killed, pushed their point, after they had fired their light pieces at some distance, which made little or no execution, with sword in hand, tho' in great confusion, which is their usuall way: Which when the General observed, he called to the Lord Belhaven to march up with the first troop of horse, ordering him to flank to the left hand the ennemy, the fire being then past on all hands, and coming to handy strokes if our men had stood, appointing the second troop to do the same to the right; but scarcely had Belhaven got them without the front of the line, where they had orders to wheel for the flank, tho' their very appearance made the ennemy turn away from the place where they saw the horse coming up, but contrary to orders, they began to pass, not knowing whereat, and presently turned about, as did also Kenmore's and the half of Levin's battalion.

The General observing the horse come to a stand, and firing in confusion, and the foot beginning to fall away from him, thinking happily that the horse would be picked to follow his example, and in all cases to disengage himself out of the croud of Highlanders which came doun just upon the place where he was calling to the officers of the horse to follow him, spurr'd his horse through the ennemy, (where no body nevertheless followed him, but one of his servants, whose horse was shot in passing), where he judged, but the way they made for him, tho' alone, that if he had had but fiftie resolute horse, such as Colchester's, he had certainly, by all human appearance recovered all, notwithstanding the foot was just plying over all, tho' sooner upon the left, which was not attacked at all, than to the right, because the right of the ennemy had not budged from their ground when their left was engaged. Balfour's regiment did not fire a shot, and but the half of Ramsays made some little fire. Lieutenant Colonel Lawder was posted advantageously upon the left of all, on a little hill wreathed with trees, with his party of 200 of the choice of our army, but did as little as the rest of that hand, whether by his or his men's fault is not well known, for the General would never make search into the failings of that business, because they were a little too generally committed; resolution and presence of mind in battle being certainly a singular mercy of God, he denyeth and giveth it when and to whom he will, for there are seasons and occasions, that he most firm and stout-hearted do quake and shake for fear: As Solomon saith, 'The wicked flee when none pursueth, but the righteous is bold as a Lyon'; and tho' all sincere christians be not resolute, it is because it is not their vocation, for I dare be bold to affirm that no truly sincere christian, trusting in God for strenth and support, going about his lawfull calling, shall be forsaken of him, whether military, civil, or ecclesiastick; not that sure victory shall always attend good men, or that they shall always escape with their lives, for experience doth teach the contrary, but that God, upon whom they cast their burdens and care, shall so care for them, that they shall be preserved from shame and confusion, and that they have his promises by whom are the issues against death and innumerable means inconceivable to us, to redress the disorders of our affairs, to support their hope and mind in the greatest of difficulties: As the General confest, that immediately upon this defeat, and as he was marching of the field, he could not cast his thoughts upon any present means to redress his breach, but recommended earnestly unto God to direct his judgement and mind to fall upon such methods as the success should manifest him to be the chief Author thereof, wherein he hath also been heard, as the pursuit of this relation shall demonstrate. But to return to our purpose. Having passed through the croud of the attacking Highlanders, he turned about to see how matters stood, and found that all his left had given way, and got down the hill which was behind our line, ranged a little above the brow thereof, so that in the twinkling of an eye in a manner, our men, as well as the ennemy, were out of sight, being got doun pall mall to the river where our baggage stood.

At which sad spectacle it may be easily judged how he was surprized, to see at first view himself alone upon the field, but looking further to the right he espyed a small hep [heap] of red coats, whither galloping, he found it to be a part of the Earle of Levin's regiment, with himself, his Lieutenant Colonel, Major, and most of his officers upon their head, whom the General praised for their stedfastness; but seeing the men in confusion, there being some few of other regiments got among them, prayed the Earle with his officers to see to get them speedily in condition to receive the ennemy, whom he minutely expected, while he galloped further to a part of Hastings, which the Colonel was marching up to their first ground, which he affirmed to have lost in pursuit of the ennemy, who, thinking to fall in his flank, he wheeled with his picks to the right upon them, whereby they leaving him, repaired to the rest of their forces, which they saw among the baggage at the river-side, the plundering whereof gave time to many of our runnaways to get off, and having joined Hastings with the rest of Levins, he dispatched a nephew of his, captain of his regiment, seeing him on horseback, (tho he had eight wounds with broad swords upon his body) after his runnaways to exhort all officers, whom he could meet with, to keep up their men, and labour to bring them back to joyn him, in which case he assured them of advantage.

Mean time seeing the officers could bring their men into no order, and looking every minute for the ennemy's appearing, he visited a garden which was behind, of a design to put them in there in expectation of succour, but presently changed his purpose, considering, if succour failed, as readily would fall out, there was not hope of escaping out of the ennemy's hands by defending an inclosure so far from new relief.

While he was in those irresolutions, in expectation of his nephews return, he brought at last news that all was gone clear away out of all reach, and that such as he had spoke to, noticed him not; mean time he espyed numbers of men as it were forming themselves along the edge of the wood which was on Balfour's left, and where Lawder had been posted with 200 men, and because he had not as yet been particularly informed of the behaviour of that wing, and it being already after sun-set, he was doubtful whether those men might not be some of his own men, who had retired to the wood upon the Highlanders descent; so, exhorting the officers to labour to get their men in a condition to make at least one discharge if they were attacked, galloped up to the wood to view those men nearer, which having discovered to be ennemy's, he stepped back softly to his men, and bid them have special care to march off very softly, whereby happily the ennemy judging they were resolved to receive them briskly, would have respect for them and let them retire quietly, the obscurity hindring them of a full view of our number, but that if they should offer to run, they should be sure to have the Highlanders among them; so, leading them softly down the hill he past the river, where he halted a little to get over all his men, and to observe whether the ennemy would approach the river after him. A little before his retreat the Lord Belhaven with the Earle of Annandales Lieutenant and Cornet and some four or five horsemen came up to us, which served for scouts to discover during the retreat.

The ennemy lost on the field six for our one, the fire to our right having been continued and brisk, whereby not only Dundee, with several gentlemen of quality of the countys of Angus and Perth, but also many of the best gentlemen among the Highlanders, particularly of the Macdonalds of the Isles and Glengarie were killed, coming down the hill upon Hastings, the General, and Levin's regiments, which made the best fire and all the execution.

Memoirs of the War Carried on in Scotland and Ireland by Major General Mackay, Bannatyne Club, 1833.

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