General Cope arrived at Ft. George, Inverness, on the 29th of August, 1745, having outpaced the pursuing Jacobite ‘rebels’, whilst at Ruthven Barracks on the same day, Sergeant Molloy of the 55th held off an attack by Clan Cameron.
The ruins of Ruthven Barracks on the south side of the Spey in Badenoch are a landmark for miles around and it is not surprising that the mound on which the Barracks now stand has been the site of a number of castles, the last of which was destroyed by Bonnie Dundee's forces in 1689. The Barracks were erected by General Wade, in 1718, as part of the scheme to subdue the Highlanders.
In 1745, Sir John Cope, of “Hey Johnnie Cope, are ye ‘wak’ing yet?” fame, was sent to Scotland as Commander-in-Chief of the available Government forces. His task was to march into the Highlands, find and subdue the Clans and capture Bonnie Prince Charlie before he got a head start on his campaign to overthrow George II. However, as Prestonpans gives evidence, Johnnie Cope “wisnae a vera guid sodjer” and, old campaigner though he was, his desire was simply to escape blame and to conduct a campaign according to the laws of war. He had no idea what a campaign in the Highlands meant and the first thing he found out was found that it would be impossible to provide food for horses as well as men. So his Dragoons, under Colonel Gardiner, were left at Stirling and Cope, with his fifteen hundred Infantry, marched north. He followed the military road that had been made thirty years before by General Wade, to Fort Augustus. Cope carried seven hundred ‘stand of arms’, expecting the loyal Clans to join his standard in their hundreds. However, by the time he reached Crieff, not a single volunteer had come in, and the stand of arms was sent back to Stirling.
Ten miles short of Fort Augustus lies the precipitous hill of Corryarack, up which Wade’s road wound in seventeen sharp zigzags and which the locals called the ‘Devil's Staircase’. That climb presented ideal opportunity for an ambush as was clear from a letter written by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Whitefoord in August, 1746, and provided as evidence to Cope’s Courts Martial. Whitefoord wrote in justification of Cope’s actions, “…so by feints and forc'd marches you depriv'd the Ennemy of useing the advantages, the ground gave them in numberless places, where a few men rightly disposd might stop a great army.” Cope was convinced that the Highlanders were too well informed of his intentions by the constant desertions. That left him in a quandary. He dared not make an attempt at passing over Corryarack and to return south would have been against his orders. He decided to scurry off to Inverness, first making a feint towards Garymore. He then filed off to the right and, by means of a forced march, passed the Spey and encamped at Ruthven. On leaving Ruthven on the 28th, Cope took with him part of a Company of General Guise's Regiment, leaving only Sergeant Molloy’s command to defend the Barracks. Cope made another forced march to Dalrackne, narrowly escaped being attacked in the strong pass of Stockmuik, and arrived in Inverness on the 29th of August, 1745. That evasive action disappointed Charlie’s Clansmen, who had been anticipating some action against Cope. They had ascended Corryarack on the morning of the 27th, but from that vantage point the view was as clear as the disappointment they felt. There, Charlie learned from some deserters where Cope had headed and turned to march on Edinburgh in mild triumph. For a while at least, they weren’t going to have to cope with Johnnie.
A body of Camerons under Lochgary, Dr. Cameron and O’Sullivan, was dispatched to try and take the Barracks at Ruthven, where Sergeant Molloy remained to hold the fort for the Government, with his detachment of just twelve men from the 55th Regiment. Molloy was made of sterner stuff than his superior officer and successfully fended off the Jacobite attack, which took place on the 29th of August, 1745. The Camerons endeavoured to set fire to the door, but the soldiers fired through holes in the door, killed one man and mortally wounded two more. The attackers retired, collecting O’Sullivan on the way from his hidey-hole in the barn. On the 30th, Molloy wrote his own straightforward account of the attack and repulse in a letter to General Cope. “Noble General, they summoned me to surrender, but I told him I was too old a soldier to part with so strong a place without bloody noses. They offered me honourable terms of marching out bag and baggage, which I refused. They threatened to hang me and my party. I said I would take my chance. They set fire to the sally-port which I extinguished; and failing therein, went off asking leave to take their dead man, which I granted.”
Molloy was still part of the garrison in residence at Ruthven the following year, when Gordon of Glenbucket brought three hundred Clansmen to try and take the Barracks. On that occasion, a detour on the road to Culloden for the Jacobites, Molloy once again gallantly resisted. He sustained a defence during the three-day siege and beat off a series of determined attacks before surrendering. Later, on the personal recommendation of Prince Charles, Sergeant Molloy was given a Lieutenant’s commission in the Hanoverian Army.
After Culloden, the remnants of the defeated Clans gathered at the Barracks, where the men received orders to disperse. Before they did so, they set fire to the buildings to prevent them being used. Today, situated one mile north of Kingussie, the partially restored ruins of the Barracks are open to the public. Historic Scotland runs the site. Nearby, are the remnants of the old village of Ruthven, the old capital of Badenoch, where James Macpherson of ‘Ossian’ fame was the Schoolmaster.