Remembering the Battle of Culloden – 16 April 1746

[Many thanks to my good friend and clansman, Randy White, for keeping the memory of this day in our hearts and minds.]

The Battle of Culloden (Blàr Chùil Lodair) was the final confrontation of the 1745 Jacobite Rising in Scotland.

At about noon on 16 April 1746, a British government army of over 7,500 men under the Duke of Cumberland faced a force of about 5,500 clansmen, with some French and Irish soldiers, under Prince Charles Edward Stuart.

The Highlanders were exhausted after a failed night march intended to surprise the enemy in their camp. Short of provisions, many men had barely eaten in three days and others had left to forage for food, with rations down to a biscuit a day.

After the two armies took up battle positions, British cannon tore holes in the Highlanders’ ranks with round shot and grapeshot.

The Highlanders finally launched their charge. But those on the left faced a long, boggy run to the British lines, under volleys of musket fire. The Jacobites who broke through on the right flank were halted by Cumberland’s second line of defence. Bloody hand-to-hand fighting, with the Highlanders outflanked, ended in retreat and total disarray.

Prince Charles ordered his remaining troops to disperse, and spent five months on the run before fleeing to France. The aftermath of the battle and subsequent crackdown on Jacobitism was brutal, earning Cumberland the nicknmae “Butcher.” Cumberland tacitly approved the brutal killing of Jacobite wounded and fugitives from the battle; nearly 1,000 prisoners were transported. The goal of the British was to weaken the Gaelic culture and destroy the clan system.

In the ensuing months and years, the Highlanders were pursued, murdered or arrested (when caught), and their homes were burned. Anti-clothing laws were enacted against traditional highland dress by an Act of Parliament in 1746. The result was that the wearing of tartan was banned from everyone in Scotland (men, women, and children), except as a uniform for officers and soldiers in the British Army.

Today, a visitor centre is located near the site of the battle. The newly remodeled centre was reopened in December 2007. Through recent archaeological and historical research, the National Trust for Scotland discovered that the previous centre was located on the third Government line of the battlefield. With the Trust’s resolve to return the battlefield environment to as close as it was it on 16 April 1746, the centre was moved.

And, I’m happy to report that the highland clans did NOT die off and there is a national movement for Scotland to split off from the UK and finally become a nation again – what the Jacobites were fighting for so long ago.

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