The Forty-Five: The Battle of Culloden

Map of the Battle of Culloden

Patricia A. Hickman

The last battle of the "Forty-Five" uprising, the Battle of Culloden, was the climactic engagement between the Jacobite army of Charles Edward Stuart and the Hanoverian government forces of King George II. Meeting on Culloden Moor, just east of Inverness, the Jacobite army was soundly defeated by a government army led by the Duke of Cumberland. Following the victory at the Battle of Culloden, Cumberland and the government executed those captured in the fighting and began an oppressive occupation of the Highlands.

The last major land battle to be fought in Great Britain, the Battle of Culloden was the climactic battle of the "Forty-Five" uprising. Beginning on August 19, 1745, the "Forty-Five" was the final of the Jacobite rebellions which began following the forced abdication of Catholic King James II in 1688. Following James' removal from the throne, he was replaced by his daughter Mary II and her husband William III. In Scotland, this change met with resistance, as James was from the Scottish Stuart line. Those who wished to see James return were known as Jacobites. In 1701, following James II's death in France, the Jacobites transferred their allegiance to his son, James Francis Edward Stuart, referring to him as James III. Among supporters of the government, he was known as the "Old Pretender."

Efforts to return the Stuarts to the throne began in 1689 when Viscount Dundee led a failed revolt against William and Mary. Subsequent attempts were made in 1708, 1715, and 1719. In the wake of these rebellions, the government worked to consolidate their control over Scotland. While military roads and forts were constructed, efforts were made to recruit Highlanders into companies (The Black Watch) to maintain order. On July 16, 1745, the Old Pretender's son, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, popularly known as "Bonnie Prince Charlie," departed France with the goal of retaking Britain for his family.

The Government Army's Line

Looking north along the Government Army's line. The position of the Duke of Cumberland's forces is marked with red flags.

Patricia A. Hickman

First setting foot on Scottish soil on the Isle of Eriskay, Prince Charles was advised by Alexander MacDonald of Boisdale to go home. To this, he famously replied, "I am come home, sir." He then landed on the mainland at Glenfinnan on August 19, and raised his father's standard, proclaiming him King James VIII of Scotland and III of England. The first to join his cause were the Camerons and the MacDonalds of Keppoch. Marching with around 1,200 men, the Prince moved east then south to Perth where he joined with Lord George Murray. With his army growing, he captured Edinburgh on September 17 and then routed a government army under Lt. General Sir John Cope four days later at Prestonpans. On November 1, the Prince began his march south to London, occupying Carlisle, Manchester, and arriving at Derby on December 4. While at Derby, Murray and the Prince argued about strategy as three government armies were moving towards them. Finally, the march to London was abandoned and the army began retreating north.

Falling back, they reached Glasgow on Christmas Day, before continuing on to Stirling. After taking the town, they were reinforced by additional Highlanders as well as Irish and Scottish soldiers from France. On January 17, the Prince defeated a government force led by Lt. General Henry Hawley at Falkirk. Moving north, the army arrived at Inverness, which became the Prince's base for seven weeks. In the meantime, the Prince's forces were being pursued by a government army led by the Duke of Cumberland, the second son of King George II. Departing Aberdeen on April 8, Cumberland began moving west towards Inverness. On the 14th, the Prince learned of Cumberland's movements and assembled his army. Marching east they formed for battle on Drumossie Moor (now Culloden Moor).

Across the Field

Looking west towards the Jacobite lines from the Government Army's position. The Jacobite position is marked with white poles and blue flags.

Patricia A. Hickman

While the Prince's army waited on the battlefield, the Duke of Cumberland's was celebrating his twenty-fifth birthday in camp at Nairn. Later on April 15, the Prince stood his men down. Unfortunately, all of the army's supplies and provisions had been left back in Inverness and there was little for the men to eat. Also, many questioned the choice of battlefield. Selected by the Prince's adjutant and quartermaster, John William O'Sullivan, the flat, open expanse of Drumossie Moor was the worst possible terrain for the Highlanders. Armed primarily with swords and axes, the Highlander's primary tactic was the charge, which worked best over hilly and broken ground. Rather than aid the Jacobites, the terrain benefited Cumberland as it provided the ideal arena for his infantry, artillery, and cavalry.

After arguing against making a stand at Drumossie, Murray advocated a night attack on Cumberland's camp while the enemy was still drunk or asleep. The Prince agreed and the army moved out around 8:00 PM. Marching in two columns, with the goal of launching a pincer attack, the Jacobites encountered multiple delays and were still two miles from Nairn when it became clear that it would be daylight before they could attack. Abandoning the plan, they retraced their steps to Drumossie, arriving around 7:00 AM. Hungry and tired, many men wandered away from their units to sleep or seek food. At Nairn, Cumberland's army broke camp at 5:00 AM and began moving towards Drumossie.

The Jacobite Line

Looking south along the Jacobite lines.

Patricia A. Hickman

Having returned from their abortive night march, the Prince arranged his forces in three lines on the west side of the moor. As the Prince had sent out several detachments in the days before the battle, his army was reduced to around 5,000 men. Consisting of primarily Highland clansmen, the front line was commanded by Murray (right), Lord John Drummond (center), and the Duke of Perth (left). Approximately 100 yards behind them stood the shorter second line. This consisted of regiments belonging to Lord Ogilvy, Lord Lewis Gordon, the Duke of Perth, and the French Scots Royal. This last unit was a regular French Army regiment under the command of Lord Lewis Drummond. At the rear was the Prince as well as his small force of cavalry, most of which was dismounted. The Jacobite artillery, consisting of thirteen assorted guns, was divided into three batteries and placed in front of the first line.

The Duke of Cumberland arrived on the field with between 7,000-8,000 men as well as ten 3-pdr guns and six coehorn mortars. Deploying in less than ten minutes, with near parade-ground precision, the Duke's army formed into two lines of infantry, with cavalry on the flanks. The artillery was allocated across the front line in batteries of two.

Both armies anchored their southern flank on a stone and turf dike that ran across the field. Shortly after deploying, Cumberland moved his Argyll Militia behind the dike, seeking a way around the Prince's right flank. On the moor, the armies stood approximately 500-600 yards apart, though the lines were closer on the southern side of the field and farther at the northern.

The Clans

Marker for the Atholl Brigade on the extreme right of Jacobite lines. Note the heather and thistle left in memory of the fallen clansmen.

Patricia A. Hickman

While many of Scotland's clans joined the "Forty-Five" many did not. In addition, many of those who fought with the Jacobites did so reluctantly due to their clan obligations. Those clansmen who did not answer their chief's call to arms could face a variety of penalties ranging from having their house burned to losing their land. Among those clans who fought with the Prince at Culloden were: Cameron, Chisholm, Drummond, Farquharson, Ferguson, Fraser, Gordon, Grant, Innes, MacDonald, MacDonell, MacGillvray, MacGregor, MacInnes, MacIntyre, Mackenzie, MacKinnon, MacKintosh, MacLachlan, MacLeod or Raasay, MacPherson, Menzies, Murray, Ogilvy, Robertson, and Stewart of Appin.

The Jacobite View of the Battlefield

Looking east towards the Government lines from the right flank of the Jacobite Army's position. The Government lines were approximately 200 yards in front of the white Visitor Center (right).

Patricia A. Hickman

At 11:00 AM, with the two armies in position, both commanders rode along their lines encouraging their men. On the Jacobite side, "Bonnie Prince Charlie," astride a gray gelding and clad in a tartan coat, rallied the clansmen, while across the field the Duke of Cumberland prepared his men for the feared Highland charge. Intending to fight a defensive battle, the Prince's artillery opened the fight. This was met by much more effective fire from the Duke's guns, supervised by the experienced artilleryman Brevet Colonel William Belford. Firing with devastating effect, Belford's guns tore giant holes in the Jacobite ranks. The Prince's artillery replied, but their fire was ineffectual. Standing at the rear of his men, the Prince was unable to see the carnage being inflicted upon his men and continued to hold them in position waiting for Cumberland to attack.

View From the Jacobite Left

Attacking Across the Moor - Looking east towards the Government Army's lines from the left flank of the Jacobite position.

Patricia A. Hickman

After absorbing artillery fire for between twenty to thirty minutes, Lord George Murray asked the Prince to order a charge. After wavering, the Prince finally agreed and the order was given. Though the decision had been made, the order to charge was delayed in reaching the troops as the messenger, young Lachlan MacLachlan, was killed by a cannonball. Finally, the charge began, possibly without orders, and it is believed that the MacKintoshes of the Chattan Confederation were the first to move forward, quickly followed by the Atholl Highlanders on the right. The last group to charge was the MacDonalds on the Jacobite left. As they had the farthest to go, they should have been the first to receive the order to advance. Anticipating a charge, Cumberland had lengthened his line to avoid being flanked and had swung troops out and forward on his left. These soldiers formed a right angle to his line and were in a position to fire into the flank of the attackers.

Well of the Dead

This stone marks the Well of the Dead and the place where Alexander MacGillivray of Clan Chattan fell.

Patricia A. Hickman

Due to the poor choice of ground and lack of coordination in the Jacobite lines, the charge was not the usual terrifying, wild rush typical of the Highlanders. Rather than moving forward in one continuous line, the Highlanders struck at isolated spots along the government front and were repulsed in turn. The first and most dangerous attack came from the Jacobite right. Storming forward, the Atholl Brigade was forced to the left by a bulge in the dike to their right. Simultaneously, the Chattan Confederation was diverted right, towards the Atholl men, by a marshy area and fire from the government line. Combining, the Chattan and Atholl troops broke through Cumberland's front and engaged Semphill's regiment in the second line. Semphill's men stood their ground and soon the Jacobites were taking fire from three sides. The fighting became so savage in this part of the field, that the clansmen had to climb over the dead and wounded at places like the "Well of the Dead" to get at the enemy. Having led the charge, Murray fought his way through to the rear of Cumberland's army. Seeing what was happening, he fought his way back with the goal of bringing up the second Jacobite line to support the assault. Unfortunately, by the time he reached them, the charge had failed and the clansmen retreated back across the field.

On the left, the MacDonalds faced longer odds. The last to step off and with the farthest to go, they soon found their right flank unsupported as their comrades had charged earlier. Moving forward, they attempted to lure the government troops into attacking them by advancing in short rushes. This approach failed and was met by determined musket fire from St. Clair's and Pulteney's regiments. Taking heavy casualties, the MacDonalds were forced to withdraw.

The defeat became total when Cumberland's Argyle Militia succeeded in knocking a hole through the dike on the south side of the field. This allowed them to fire directly into the flank of retreating Jacobites. In addition, it allowed Cumberland's cavalry to ride out and harry the withdrawing Highlanders. Ordered forward by Cumberland to rout the Jacobites, the cavalry was turned back by those in the Jacobite's second line, including the Irish and French troops, which stood its ground allowing the army to retreat from the field.

Burying the Dead

This stone marks the mass grave for those killed in the battle from Clans MacGillivray, MacLean, and MacLachlan as well as those from the Athol Highlanders.

Patricia A. Hickman

With the battle lost, the Prince was taken from the field and the remnants of the army, led by Lord George Murray, retreated towards Ruthven. Arriving there the next day, the troops were met by the sobering message from the Prince that the cause was lost and that each man should save themselves as best they could. Back at Culloden, a dark chapter in British history began to play out. Following the battle, Cumberland's troops began to indiscriminately kill the wounded Jacobites, as well as fleeing clansmen and innocent bystanders, frequently mutilating their bodies. Though many of Cumberland's officers disapproved, the killing continued. That night, Cumberland made a triumphant entrance into Inverness. The next day, he ordered his men to search the area around the battlefield for hiding rebels, stating that the Prince's public orders the previous day called for no quarter to be given. This claim was supported by a copy of Murray's orders for the battle, to which the phrase "no quarter" had been clumsily added by a forger.

In the area around the battlefield, government troops tracked down and executed fleeing and wounded Jacobites, earning Cumberland the nickname "the Butcher." At the Old Leanach Farm, over thirty Jacobite officers and men were found in a barn. After barricading them in, the government troops set the barn on fire. Another twelve were found in the care of a local woman. Promised medical aid if they surrendered, they were promptly shot in her front yard. Atrocities such as these continued in the weeks and months after the battle. While Jacobite casualties at Culloden are estimated at around 1,000 killed and wounded, many more died during later as Cumberland's men combed the region. The Jacobite dead from the battle were separated by clan and buried in large mass graves on the battlefield. Government casualties for the Battle of Culloden were listed as 364 killed and wounded.

Graves of the Clans

Aftermath of the Battle - The row of clan graves near the Memorial Cairn.

Patricia A. Hickman

At the end of May, Cumberland shifted his headquarters to Fort Augustus at the southern end of Loch Ness. From this base, he oversaw the organized reduction of the Highlands through military looting and burning. In addition, of the 3,740 Jacobite prisoners in custody, 120 were executed, 923 were transported to the colonies, 222 were banished, and 1,287 were released or exchanged. The fate of over 700 is still unknown. In an effort to prevent future uprisings, the government passed a series of laws, many of which violated the 1707 Treaty of Union, with the goal of eradicating Highland culture. Among these were the Disarming Acts which required that all weapons be turned over to the government. This included the surrender of bagpipes which were seen as a weapon of war. The acts also forbid the wearing of tartan and traditional Highland dress. Through the Act of Proscription (1746) and the Heritable Jurisdictions Act (1747) the power of clan chiefs was essentially removed as it forbid them from imposing punishments upon those within their clan. Reduced to simple landlords, the clan chiefs suffered as their lands were remote and of poor quality. As a demonstrative symbol of government power, large new military bases were constructed, such as Fort George, and new barracks and roads were built to aid in keeping a watch over the Highlands.

The "Forty-Five" was the last attempt by the Stuarts to reclaim the thrones of Scotland and England. Following the battle, a bounty of £30,000 was placed on his head, and he was forced to flee. Pursued across Scotland, the Prince narrowly escaped capture several times and, with the aid of loyal supporters, finally boarded the ship L'Heureux which transported him back to France. Prince Charles Edward Stuart lived another forty-two years, dying in Rome in 1788.

Clan MacKintosh at Culloden

One of the two stones that mark the graves of those members of Clan MacKintosh who were killed in the battle.

Patricia A. Hickman

The leaders of the Chattan Confederation, Clan MacKintosh fought in the center of the Jacobite line and suffered heavily in the fighting. As the "Forty-Five" began, the MacKintoshes were caught in the awkward position of having their chief, Captain Angus MacKintosh, serving with government forces in the Black Watch. Operating on her own, his wife, Lady Anne Farquharson-MacKintosh, raised the clan and confederation in support of the Stuart cause. Assembling a regiment of 350-400 men, "Colonel Anne's" troops marched south to join the Prince's army as it returned from its abortive march on London. As a woman she was not permitted to lead the clan in battle and command was assigned to Alexander MacGillivray of Dunmaglass, Chief of Clan MacGillivray (part of the Chattan Confederation).

In February 1746, the Prince stayed with Lady Anne at the MacKintosh's manor at Moy Hall. Alerted to the Prince's presence, Lord Loudon, the government commander in Inverness, dispatched troops in an attempt to seize him that night. Upon hearing word of this from her mother-in-law, Lady Anne warned the Prince and sent several of her household to watch for the government troops. As the soldiers approached, her servants fired on them, screamed the war cries of different clans, and crashed about in the brush. Believing they were facing the entire Jacobite army, Loudon's men beat a hasty retreat back to Inverness. The event soon became known as the "Rout of Moy."

The following month, Captain MacKintosh and several of his men were captured outside of Inverness. After paroling the Captain to his wife, the Prince commented that "he could not be in better security, or more honorably treated." Arriving at Moy Hall, Lady Anne famously greeted her husband with the words "Your servant, Captain," to which he replied, "Your servant, Colonel," cementing her nickname in history. Following the defeat at Culloden, Lady Anne was arrested and turned over to her mother-in-law for a period. "Colonel Anne" lived until 1787 and was referred to by the Prince as La Belle Rebelle (the Beautiful Rebel).

The Memorial Cairn

The Memorial Cairn

Patricia A. Hickman

Erected in 1881, by Duncan Forbes, the Memorial Cairn is the largest monument on Culloden Battlefield. Situated approximately halfway between the Jacobite and Government lines, the cairn incorporates a stone bearing the inscription "Culloden 1746 - E.P. fecit 1858." Placed by Edward Porter, the stone was meant to be part of a cairn that was never finished. For many years, Porter's stone was the only memorial on the battlefield. In addition to the Memorial Cairn, Forbes erected the stones that mark the graves of the clans as well as the Well of the Dead. More recent additions to the battlefield include the Irish Memorial (1963), which commemorates the Prince's French-Irish soldiers, and the French Memorial (1994), which pays homage to the Scots Royals. The battlefield is maintained and preserved by the National Trust for Scotland.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "The Forty-Five: The Battle of Culloden." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, August 26). The Forty-Five: The Battle of Culloden. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "The Forty-Five: The Battle of Culloden." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 4, 2023).