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- Bonnie Prince Charlie - 50/56 -
The supply of money in the treasury was reduced to the lowest ebb, and Charles was obliged to pay his troops in meal, and even this was frequently deficient, and the men suffered severely from hunger. Many deserted, and others scattered over the country in search of subsistence.
In the meantime the Duke of Cumberland's army was receiving powerful reinforcements. In February Prince Frederick of Hesse Cassel, with five thousand of his troops, who had been hired by the British government, landed at Leith. These troops were placed in garrison in all the towns in the south of Scotland, thus enabling the Duke of Cumberland to draw together the whole of the English forces for his advance into the Highlands.
On the 8th of April he set out from Aberdeen with eight thousand foot and nine hundred horse. He marched along the coast accompanied by the fleet, which landed supplies as needed. At the Spey, Lord John Drummond had prepared to defend the fords, and some works had been thrown up to protect them; but the English cannon were brought up in such numbers that Lord John, considering the position untenable, retired to Inverness, while the English army forded the Spey, and on the 14th entered Nairn, where some skirmishing took place between their advance guard and the Highland rear.
Prince Charles and his principal officers rested that night at Culloden House and the troops lay upon the adjacent moor. On the morning of the 15th they drew up in order of battle. The English, however, rested for the day at Nairn, and there celebrated the Duke of Cumberland's birthday with much feasting, abundant supplies being landed from the fleet.
The Highlanders, on the other hand, fasted, only one biscuit per man being issued during the day. Consequently many straggled away to Inverness and other places in search of food. Lord Cromarty, with the regiments under his command, were absent, so that barely five thousand men were mustered in the ranks. At a council of war Lord George Murray suggested that a night surprise should be made on the duke's camp at Nairn, and as this was the prince's own plan it was unanimously agreed to.
Before, however, the straggling troops could be collected it was eight o'clock at night. Nairn was twelve miles distant, and the men, weakened by privation and hunger, marched so slowly across the marshy ground that it was two o'clock in the morning before the head of the columns arrived within four miles of the British camp, while the rear was still far away, and many had dropped out of the ranks from fatigue.
It was now too late to hope that a surprise could be effected before daylight, and the army retraced its steps to Culloden Moor. Worn out and exhausted as they were, and wholly without supplies of provisions, Lord George Murray and the other military officers felt that the troops could not hope to contend successfully against a vastly superior army, fresh, well fed, and supported by a strong force of artillery, on the open ground, and he proposed that the army should retire beyond the river Bairn, and take up a position there on broken ground inaccessible to cavalry.
The prince, however, supported by Sir Thomas Sheridan and his other evil advisers, overruled the opinion of the military leaders, and decided to fight on level ground. The Highlanders were now drawn up in order of battle in two lines. On the right were the Athole brigade, the Camerons, the Stuarts, and some other clans under Lord George Murray; on the left the Macdonald regiments under Lord John Drummond. This arrangement, unfortunately, caused great discontent among the Macdonalds, just as their being given the post of honour at Falkirk had given umbrage to the other clans.
At eleven o'clock the English army was seen approaching. It was formed in three lines, with cavalry on each wing, and two pieces of cannon between every two regiments of the first line. The battle began with an artillery duel, but in this the advantage was all on the side of the English, the number of their pieces and the skill of their gunners being greatly superior.
Prince Charles rode along the front line to animate his men, and as he did so several of his escort were killed by the English cannonade. A storm of snow and hail had set in, blowing full in the face of the Highlanders. At length Lord George Murray, finding that he was suffering heavily from the enemy's artillery fire, while his own guns inflicted but little damage upon them, sent to Prince Charles for permission to charge.
On receiving it he placed himself at the head of his men, and with the whole of the right wing and centre charged the enemy. They were received with a tremendous musketry fire, while the English artillery swept the ranks with grape; but so furious was their onslaught that they broke through Munro and Burrel's regiments in the first line and captured two pieces of cannon. But behind were the second line drawn up three deep, with the front rank kneeling, and these, reserving their fire until the Highlanders were close at hand, opened a rolling fire so sustained and heavy that the Highlanders were thrown into complete disorder.
Before they could recover themselves they were charged by horse and foot on both flanks, and driven together till they became a confused mass. In vain did their chiefs attempt to rally them. Exhausted and weakened in body, swept by the continuous fire of the English, they could do no more, and at last broke and fled. In the meantime the Macdonalds on the left remained inactive. In vain Lord John Drummond and the Duke of Perth called upon them to charge, in vain their chief, Keppoch, rushed forward with a few of his clansmen and died in front of them. Nothing would induce them to fight, and when the right and centre were defeated they fell back in good order, and, joining the remnants of the second line, retired from the field unbroken.
Charles, from the heights on which he stood with a squadron of horse, could scarce believe the evidence of his eyes when he saw the hitherto victorious Highlanders broken and defeated, and would have ridden down himself to share their fate had not O'Sullivan and Sheridan seized his horse by the bridle and forced him from the field. Being pressed by the English, the retreating force broke into two divisions. The smaller retreated to Inverness, where they next day laid down their arms to the Duke of Cumberland; the other, still preserving some sort of order, marched by way of Ruthven to Badenoch.
Fourteen colours, two thousand three hundred muskets, and all their cannon fell into the hands of the English. The loss of the victors in killed and wounded amounted to three hundred and ten men, that of the Highlanders to a thousand. No quarter was given to the stragglers and fugitives who fell into the hands of the English. Their wounded were left on the ground till the following day without care or food, and the greater portion of them were then put to death in cold blood, with a cruelty such as never before or since disgraced an English army.
Some were beaten to death by the soldiers with the stocks of their muskets, some were dragged out from the thicket or caverns to which they had crawled and shot, while one farm building, in which some twenty wounded men had taken refuge, was deliberately set on fire and burned with them to the ground. In any case such conduct as this would have inflicted eternal discredit upon those who perpetrated it; but it was all the more unjustifiable and abominable after the extreme clemency and kindness with which Prince Charles had, throughout the campaign, treated all prisoners who fell into his hands.
Ronald had ridden close beside Lord George Murray as he led the Highlanders to the charge; but he had, as they approached the first English line, received a ball in the shoulder, while almost at the same instant Malcolm's horse was shot under him. Ronald reeled in the saddle, and would have fallen had not Malcolm extricated himself from his fallen horse and run up to him.
"Where are you hit, lad?" he asked in extreme anxiety.
"In the shoulder, Malcolm. Help me off my horse, and do you take it and go on with the troops."
"I shall do nothing of the kind," Malcolm said. "One man will make no difference to them, and I am going to look after you."
So saying he sprang up behind Ronald, and placing one arm round him to support him, took the reins in the other and rode to the rear. He halted on rising ground, and for a short time watched the conflict.
"The battle is lost," he said at last. "Lord George's troops are in utter confusion. The Macdonalds show no signs of moving, though I can see their officers are urging them to charge. Now, Ronald, the first thing is to get you out of this, and beyond the reach of pursuit."
So saying he turned the horse and rode away from the field of battle.
"Does your shoulder hurt much?" he asked after they had gone a short distance.
"It does hurt abominably," Ronald said faintly, for he was feeling almost sick from the agony he was suffering from the motion of the horse.
"I am a fool," Malcolm said, "not to have seen to it before we started. I can't do much now; but at least I can fasten it so as to hurt you as little as possible."
He took off his scarf, and, telling Ronald to place his arm in the position which was most comfortable to him, he bound it tightly against his body.
"That is better, is it not?" he asked as he again set the horse in motion.
"Much better, Malcolm. I feel that I can go on now, whereas before I could not have gone much further if all Cumberland's cavalry had been close behind. How far are you thinking of going? I don't think my horse can carry double much further. Poor beast, he has had as short rations as his master, and was on the move all last night."
"No. But we shall not have to make a very long journey. The English marched twelve miles before they attacked us, and I do not think they are likely to closely pursue far tonight; besides, I have no intention of riding now that there is no fear of immediate pursuit. I think that in another two miles we shall be safe from any fear of the English cavalry overtaking us, for we shall then reach a forest. Once in that we shall be safe from pursuit, and shall soon be in the heart of the hills."
On reaching the forest Malcolm dismounted, and leading the horse turned off from the road. Following a little trodden path they were soon in the heart of the forest, and after keeping on for two hours, and crossing several hills, he stopped by the side of a stream.
"We are perfectly safe here," he said, "and can sleep as securely as if we were in a palace."
The saddle was taken off and the horse turned loose to graze. Malcolm then removed Ronald's coat and shirt, bathed the wound for some time with water, cut some pieces of wood to act as splints, and tearing some strips off his sash bound these tightly.
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