Some thoughts on The Battle of Culloden
(16 April, 1746)
I sometimes wonder about the guys in the second and third ranks at The Battle of Culloden (Drummossie Moor) and who they were. Not the Red-Coats on the Hanoverian side but the ones across the field from them with Charlie’s’ Jacobites. The poor slobs who, on that April morning, had God blowing sleet into their faces along with round-shot from the Hanoverian artillery. The first ranks were the ‘gentlemen’ of the clans……. the leaders and sons of leaders….. and the odd Tacksman who had, in many cases, forced ‘out’ those lower than he on the food chain. The front rank guys were, for that time, fairly well armed, clothed, and provided for. They carried Basket-hilted broadswords, pistols, dirks, targes, and sometimes muskets. The second and third rank guys were usually just farmers (on a good day) who tended to live hand-to-mouth. Their clothing consisted of whatever their mothers or wives were able to weave and piece together from what was left over. The Highlanders among them spoke no English and were mostly Roman Catholic while the Lowlanders in the group tended to be Episcopalians. Their weapons, if they had any at all, consisted of hand-me-downs from God knows when or farm implements now being used to make the biggest slices upon an enemy. Some had gunpowder weapons but no gunpowder… or no shot…. or the weapons wouldn’t fire at all with both. They hadn’t been fed for three days prior to the battle and the night before they’d been forced-marched, in the dark, toward the Hanoverian camp at Nairn. The march turned back when the sun came up and aside from not being fed, these guys also hadn’t slept when the Hanoverians advanced onto Drummossie Moor.
One wonders why these men fought that day…. or any day. Maybe it was because they stood beside their relatives and neighbors and to run away would bring eternal disgrace upon them and their families and, if they survived at all, they could never return home. Maybe they fought because not to do so would have meant that their ‘wee bit’ would be taken away from them by their chiefs or Tacksmen and that those whom they loved would be outcast and without family or protection. Or, maybe, they were just too damned tired to consider anything other than the repeated orders to rise up and get into ranks. It’s a certainty that these simple farmers had no ideas pertaining to kingdoms nor dynasties. They couldn’t understand a word spoken by their Commander-In-Chief, The Prince, in his heavily Italian accented English announcements nor would they know what awaited them next. These were just men wanting to protect what very little they had. And they had pride….. pride in family and pride in self. They couldn’t be aware that their defeat that miserable April day would mean an end to The Highland Clan System (one which hadn’t been that kind to them anyway) nor were they aware that the horror of The Clearances would also be coming because they had lost. These were men who, to feed their families through the brutal Scottish winters, would ‘bleed’ their few head of cattle into a bowl and mix the blood with oatmeal. These were also men who, through their Celtic genes and the knowledge of generations of Celtic warfare knew that when their charge was not victorious, ‘it was time to go’. But they stood……… and they charged and if anybody could have pulled it off, it was them. But it wasn’t to be and they died in heaps and then one by one when the ‘tartan wave’ receded from the field and the Hanoverian cavalry butchered the retreating survivors…… and anyone else in the vicinity.
On April 16th, honor these men with your prayers of remembrance…….. they were our men and whether they knew it or not, they fought for all of us.
Gordon Douglas Duffus