Friday, 8 April 2011

Cumberland leaves Aberdeen - On this day in Scottish Military History - 1746

As the anniversary of the Battle of Culloden approaches it is probably worth a quick comparison of what the two armies did for the month before The Duke of Cumberland left Aberdeen on 8th April 1746.

Cumberland had arrived in Aberdeen exactly one month before on 8th March and in the small amount of time available he rebuilt his army. He had marched up through England on the heels of the Jacobites during winter, and in the Eighteenth Century winter was the time you rested your armies for the campaigning season from April to October. The Jacobites had thrown away the rule book and campaigned throughout the winter and up until now it had worked. By the time Cumberland's men reached Aberdeen they were tired cold and hungry.

Cumberland took a month to build them up again. They were sheltered and replenished at Aberdeen. The Royal Navy had command of the North Sea so Cumberland was well supplied with food, arms, uniforms and equipment.

He also took the time to drill all his men on how to stop a highland charge. With no Jacobites nearby Cumberland could safely take his time to train all his regiments in the new tactics. This would see his infantry train to bayonet the charging highlanders on their right and not the one in front.

It was a bold tactic that could only be taught to well drilled, well trained and disciplined troops. Cumberland had the time at Aberdeen to whip his redcoats into a force that could take on and beat the Highland Army. No other Hanoverian army had managed that in this campaign but with four weeks training and rest Cumberland was sure when he marched out of Aberdeen 265 years ago today that he could beat the Rebels.

The Jacobites had been based in Inverness since the end of February 1746. Over the next few weeks they were not idle. They chased the Earl of Loudon to Skye; they advanced as far north as Orkney, they harried the Hanoverians down the Great Glen; they retook the North of Perthshire and they raided into Banffshire.

Their aims were supposed to be to find supplies and new recruits. The reality was they lost more men than they gained. They lost most of their artillery; they hunted aimlessly round Sutherland looking for French gold which was long gone on a Royal Navy ship; they plundered rival clans' lands and then headed off into the hills.

While the Hanoverians trained the Jacobites roamed. In the six weeks between making their base in Inverness and defending it against Cumberland, thousands of Highlanders left the main body of the Highland Army going north, south, east and west; many never to return to it in time to fight at Culloden.

In early April 1746 the Jacobites were still confident. They had not been beaten yet in an open battle and were unaware of Cumberland's new tactics. Their plan was to see off another Hanoverian attack in the same old way, and hope that a French fleet with gold, arms and men would arrive in the North in the summer to keep the fight going.

As Cumberland's men marched along the Moray coast the loyal stragglers from the Jacobite raids converged again on Inverness, but unlike Cumberland's men the Jacobites were underfed, unpaid and worn out from a long campaign over winter.

They returned to beat another Hanoverian army but the reality was that the Jacobite cause was effectively already over. They had decided their own fate back in February after the Battle of Falkirk. If they had made their base at Aberdeen they would have denied it to Cumberland, and would have a better chance of French blockade runners reaching them.

By basing themselves at Inverness they allowed the Royal Navy to cut them off from the Moray Firth and from gold, arms and supplies which could have sustained a guerilla war in the Highlands throughout the summer of 1746.

Two hundred and sixty five years ago today that error was not so obvious to Prince Charles Edward Stuart and his Highland Army. Hopes still ran high of another Falkirk.

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