Tag Archives: General MacKay

27 July 1689 – The Battle of Killiecrankie

Late afternoon, a sunny day on a Perthshire hillside. The River Garry thunders through the rocky defile at the bottom of the slope. A double line of redcoat soldiers stand to arms with their backs to the river looking up at the ranks of kilted warriors massed in their clan regiments further up the hillside.

General Hugh MacKay, commanding King William’s army in Scotland, looks along the line of his anxious soldiery and considers the merits of his position. He’d had one purpose in mind this morning, as he had put his socks on in his camp at Dunkeld and that was to bring Dundee’s army to battle so that he might destroy it. For three months he had pursued them across Scotland but the Viscount’s host had persistently eluded him.

General MacKay

General MacKay

Now, not only had he successfully brought his command through the narrow and treacherous Pass of Killiecrankie with its risk of ambush but he now stood toe to toe with his antagonist, King James’ Lieutenant-General, John Graham of Claverhouse, the recently ennobled Viscount Dundee. And he could now sweep away this one remaining obstacle to the rule of the House of Orange throughout the three kingdoms.

The narrow pass through which MacKay led his troops before the battle

The narrow pass through which MacKay led his troops before the battle

Perhaps, he might have preferred it were his own force not stood downhill from the enemy. The vaunted highland charge was a battle tactic of some repute. This Graham’s kinsman, the Marquess of Montrose, had used it successfully on no fewer than six occasions during his ultimately unsuccessful campaign to restore another Stuart monarch some forty years previously. Then it was a tactic that had been mostly deployed on level ground. Save at the final encounter at Kilsyth when, famously, the charge had been executed uphill after the unfortunate commander of the Covenanting Government’s army, General Baillie, had been instructed to execute a flank march in the face of the enemy. The black-cowled Geneva ministers who had given him his orders believed that not only were they the defining authority on the issue of man’s relationship with God, but also that they were experts in the matter of warfare. The responsibility for the subsequent destruction of Baillie’s army could be laid squarely at their door.

 

General William Baillie, commander of the Covenant army destroyed by Montrose at the Battle of Kilsyth (1645)

General William Baillie, commander of the Covenant army destroyed by Montrose at the Battle of Kilsyth (1645)

Today, however, not only is MacKay looking up the hill at his enemy but to prevent the possibility of being outflanked, he has reduced the depth of his force by a full rank, lest the Jacobite cavalry expose the weakness of his overly narrow frontage. The question of whether or not his thinned-out line would be strong enough to withstand the inevitable enemy charge does not seemed to have occurred to the erstwhile redcoat commander. Who, despite his highland lineage, has spent his entire military career on the continent and is as much a stranger in this, his own country, as any of his men.

His opponent, gazing down the hill at him from his horse,is of different stock entirely. As experienced in untidy, irregular scuffling across lowland bogs as he is in the ways of formal, well-mannered, continental warfare he had seen at such encounters as the Battle of Seneffe and the Siege of Maastricht.

Claverhouse saves William of Orange at the Battle of Seneffe

Claverhouse saves William of Orange at the Battle of Seneffe

Both forces had stood, assembled in battle array, for over an hour. The leading element of the Jacobite Army having emerged from the trees at the top of the slope not long after MacKay had received the comforting news the last of his marching column had cleared the narrows of the pass. The opposing commanders had then organised their dispositions in preparation for the long-awaited battle which had loomed inevitably ever since Dundee had raised King James’ Standard on Dundee Law in April, to initiate this first Jacobite Rising.

All his efforts since then had been focused in achieving decisive victory in this definitive battle. Perhaps, indeed, this was the culmination of his destiny. For forty years he had served his King and Parliament. Much of the last ten of these in the front line maintaining law and order in the face of the best efforts of hard-line Presbyterians to subvert said rule that it might be replaced with that of the Covenant.

And, latterly, as the failures of King James VII & II to effectively rule his kingdom multiplied to the extent that the hapless monarch felt compelled to simply abandon his responsibilities, in the same self-centred and short-sighted manner as his senior subjects had themselves abandoned him, the entire hopes of the Stuart monarchy had now fallen on the shoulders of this one man.

James VII & II flees to France (December 1688), abandoning all behind him

James VII & II flees to France (December 1688), abandoning all behind him

But such a man, of character unbesmirched. A natural, charismatic leader of men, as much on the field of battle as in the Parliamentary debating chamber. One who understood fully the principles by which good men should be guided.

 

And now he sat, ahorse, ready for the defining battle of a generation and, it would transpire, beyond. Surrounded by the chiefs of the highland clans and his own loyal officers who had served with him throughout the last troubled decade. And the issues at stake were understood by every man on that sunny hillside. If MacKay and his redcoats prevailed then the fortunes of William of Orange into whose lap the crown had so fortuitously tumbled, would be secure. Less than a year after leading ashore a hostile invasion force while the incumbent monarch sat yet on his throne, he would be undisputed political and military master of the Three Kingdoms. However, if the recently deposed King James’ Lieutenant-General were to be master of the field at the end of the day then it might all be changed once more with the House of Stuart restored to the throne upon which their ancestors had sat for over three hundred years.

Now, as the sun began toi dip behind the hill upon which he had assembled his King’s army, Dundee gave the order to charge. And what a sight this must have been for General MacKay’s men, this wave of terrible human ferocity tearing down towards them.Where the armies were closest, on the Jacobite left, the Camerons and MacDonalds were in amongst MacKay’s men before they were even able to fire their weapons. The regiments on either side broke and fled and the slaughter commenced.

The highland charge which swept General MacKay's line away

The highland charge which swept General MacKay’s line away

MacKay, by no means lacking in personal courage whatever his shortcomings as a military commander, did what he could to reform his line but the irreversible nature of the rout would have been obvious within minutes.

Dundee himself, rode down with his cavalry in the wake of the charging highlanders. And as he rose and turned in his saddle to maintain the direction of the mounted thrust, a musket ball struck below the arm and outwith the protection of his breast-plate, and he fell to the ground. As the clansmen set about completing the rout of MacKay’s command, Dundee’s officers tended to their stricken leader, but to no avail. The wound was grievous and within minutes the commander of King James’ forces in Scotland and the best and last hope for the restoration of the House of Stuart lay dead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Night Attack on Perth – Dundee Cuts Down the Golden Oranges

10 May 1689 The Night Attack on Perth.

 

On 2 May a thoroughly chastised MacDonald of Keppoch and his 700 warriors headed off to the west leaving Dundee and his wee, small force in occupation at Inverness with General Hugh MacKay drawing up in Elgin.

For a week both parties stood their ground awaiting developments. Dundee’s force was still small and he’d added barely 200 mounted men to that since raising the standard the previous month. And MacKay’s move north of Dundee had confounded the possibility of drawing recruits from that area. In the meantime the good General had been rejoined by Colchester’s horse who he’d had to leave behind in Brechin some days previously as they had been unable to handle the rigours of the ride north.

Then on 8 May Dundee and his men left Inverness to MacKay. They rode south through Stratherrick to Invergarry castle, exactly as Prince Charlie would after the disaster at Culloden. They bedded down for the night at Kilcummin whence Montrose had led his army in that mad march across the hyperborean hell of the Grampian Hills in winter, to fall on and destroy Argyll’s army in February 1645.

The next day they crossed the Corryarrack Pass into the friendlier country of Speyside. And it was from here, at Presmuckerach, that he despatched his summons to the chieftains of all the principal clans of the highlands, bidding them rendezvous under the King’s Standard at Blair Atholl on 18 May.

On the morning of 10 May they were on the road again, riding past Blair Atholl Castle and down through Killiecrankie’s deep defile, with no idea of the portentous events that would be acted out in this very place in just a few short weeks.

They clattered into Dunkeld to find money and arms freshly gathered for the forces of King William’s new government and liberated these in King James’ name. With an officer of the Perthshire militia somewhat roughy handled, it seems.

dunkeldDunkeld Market Cross

And that very evening, appropriately refreshed, they rode south once more to strike wholly unexpectedly. They forded the silvery Tay in the dark and made their way cautiously towards the fair city of Perth.

They halted two miles outside and a select force of some twenty men crept up to the slumbering town about two o’clock in then morning. A handful entered by the open gate and secured the watch houses and the remainder then clattered noisily over the cobblestones.

PerthPerth, in  the 17th century

There had been a municipal banquet the night before and the King’s men could only rouse some of the gentry with sharp saber points. The enemy soldiers were placed under guard and all the weapons and horses gathered together at the market cross where, amid some ceremony, the golden oranges, the symbol of the usurping royal house, were cut from the standard of the regiment of the captured men.

And then, as swiftly as they had arrived, the King’s Lieutenant-General and his men and their prisoners were gone. The prisoners were subsequently carried off into the mountains and thence to Cairn na Burgh Castle on the Treshnish Isles, west of Mull before ending up in Duart Castle after Killiecrankie. It would seem they endured many hardships during their imprisonment and that not all of then survived the ordeal.

Cairn na Burgh Castle Treshnish ISlesCairn na Burgh Castle on the Treshnish Isles

Dundee rejoined the rest of his army and they rode to Scone where they made ready their next unpredictable move.

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