The Battle of Culloden

  By Omar al Hashim, 2 November 2006; Revised

The battle of Culloden was the last land battle fought in . On one side was the English Army commanded by the Lord of Cumberland, on the other Highland Scots commanded by Charles Stuart or Bonnie Prince Charlie. This was the final battle in a ‘Jacobite’ uprising intended to restore the house of Stuart to the throne of which was at the time in the hands of the Hanoverian dynasty in the person of George II. On the 16th of April 1746 the two very different armies faced each other just outside the Highland town of Inverness, on the field of Culloden.

The battle tactics of the Highlanders revolved around the highland charge, a method of warfare that hadn’t changed for 1000 years. The Highlanders would charge at their enemy, closing as fast as possible to enable themselves to use their broadswords, dirks and shields to best effect. Musketry in the Highlanders army was limited, although they did possess a few cannons. Although this method of warfare may seem outdated for the 18th century, it had proved itself with stunning victories in past encounters. The English had specifically prepared their army for this encounter, it was a highly trained and modern fighting force. Musketeers were trained to fire up to at a rate of times a minute, and the English artillery was manned by professionals.

The deployment of the two armies favoured the English, on the left of the field (from the Scottish perspective) a bog lay between the Scotts and the English, although the right hand side of the field was open ground.

The battle began when Bonnie Prince Charlie ordered his artillery to open fire on the English positions, the English returned the favour. The Scottish artillery was both under gunned and less experienced than the English, meaning the English were able to dominate the opening minutes of the battle. Cannon ball after cannon ball tore threw the Highland lines but for some reason no order was given to the Highlanders to charge. After a while it proved too much for the Scotts and they charged without orders. The bog caused the Highlanders to be concentrated towards the right flank of the field. As the Scotts closed, English musketry began to fire and their artillery changed from cannonball to grapeshot, causing numerous casualties in the advancing Scotts. When the charge finally reached the English line it gave the Scotts the advantage. With the use of their broadswords and superior close combat skills they broke a hole through the first English line, unlike in previous battles however the English did not break. Many Highlanders pushed through the breach in the first line and began to charge the second English line. The second line formed itself into a horse shoe shape around the breach and fired volley after volley into the advancing Highlanders. Eventually the Highlanders broke, and began to flee the field.

The Battle of Culloden was a decisive English victory. Never again would the House of Stuart challenge the English throne. The English to ensure there was never again a chance of a Highland uprising placed heavy punitive measures on the Highlanders including the outlawing of Scotts Gaelic, the Kilt and the disintegration of the Clan system.