The Battle of Inverlochy took place on the 2nd of February, 1645.
The Battle of Inverlochy was Montrose’s third battle and a significant battle in several ways. At Tippermuir and Aberdeen, the previous year, James Graham, 5th Earl and 1st Marquess of Montrose, had successfully destroyed the Covenant Armies sent to stop him, mainly because those troops were green, inexperienced soldiers. The Graham’s army included the veterans of Alasdair Mac Colla’s Irish Brigade, and the Highlanders of Clan MacDonald and other Clans, such as Robertson, Cameron, MacKinnon, MacLean, Ogilvy, the Stewarts of Appin. At Inverlochy, Montrose had more or less the same army, albeit significantly reduced in numbers, but his foe was to have been none other than the ‘Mac Cailean Mór’ and his Campbells; Highlanders also, and proud of it.
Montrose’s Clansmen, especially the MacDonalds, bore a grudge against the Campbells and that added to the significance of the battle; in not just the outcome, but also the aftermath. The Campbell Marquess of Argyll was a political animal and one who had played a canny hand in the affairs of the Covenanters, most all of which was to his own benefit. He was no friend of Montrose despite them both being signatories of the National Covenant and indeed, he had been responsible for Montrose having spent a bit of a vacation in Edinburgh Castle in the recent past. But Montrose had declared for the King, Charles I, whilst Argyll had lined up on the side of the King’s enemies. Looking on dispassionately at the time, without the benefit of hindsight and history, perhaps that position looked far less of a gamble.
Bringing Archibald Campbell’s army at Inverlochy up to its total of around three thousand men, were lowland militia regiments; veterans of Marston Moor and Newcastle. This was after all, the Wars of the Three Kingdoms; involving fighting in Ireland as well as in Scotland and England. Significantly, however, on the day of the battle at Inverlochy, Argyll, brave man that he was, didn’t hang around for the festivities. Instead, he retired to the safety of a galley on Loch Linnhe and left his army under the command of General Sir Duncan Campbell, 2nd Baronet and 6th Lord of Auchinbreck. Perhaps more significant, it was the second time that Argyll had preferred to get his feet wet rather than fight in person as, whilst Montrose sacked the Campbell stronghold of Inverary, Argyll had also taken to his galley. So much for the mighty Campbell, more ‘beag’ than ‘mór’.
After Inverary, Montrose headed north with the bulk of his hungry army; a remainder comprising something like fifteen hundred men. Back ashore, Argyll followed him north. Montrose crossed Rannoch Moor into Glencoe, then the high passes into Glen Nevis, before moving around the northern slopes of the Ben, circumventing Inverlochy Castle and continuing up the Great Glen to Kilcummin, where he intended to re-supply. Argyll marched his army through Lorne and crossed Loch Leven by the Ballachulish ferry, before arriving at Inverlochy on the 1st of February. Ahead of Montrose, at Inverness, there awaited another Covenanter army under the Earl of Seaforth, of which he was well aware. Significantly, Montrose also became aware of the presence of Argyll, thirty miles south and behind.
What happened next was very significant and very audacious; something of which Carl Philipp Gottlieb von Clausewitz himsel’ would’ve been very proud. In what has been described as one of the greatest outflanking manoeuvres in British military history, Montrose proposed that his army would about face and march south and about to come up behind that of his fellow Marquess. Easier said than done, of course, which is why it was so very heroic. Not only daring, but difficult as the Royalist army had to negotiate some of the toughest and most inhospitable terrain Scotland had to offer in order to mount its surprise attack. Montrose’s men faced a two-day march in the middle of winter, over paths that were, in places, knee deep in snow. But Montrose was sure of the quality of his hardy Highlanders and of the battle hardened Irish under his able Lieutenant ‘Alasdair Mac Colla Chiotaich Mac Domhnaill’ (Alasdair the son of Colla the Left-handed MacDonald), sometimes mistakenly referred to as ‘Colkitto’, a name of his father’s. Besides, the prospect of a fight with the Campbells gave them an added incentive. In fact, the forced march took over two and a half days, by the end of which time, Montrose and his furtive army had arrived at Inverlochy by the base of ‘Meall-an-t’suidhe’.
Perhaps what sent Argyll aboard the ‘Dubhlinnseach’ was the fleg he got when he looked out from under his plaid just before dawn on the 2nd of February and saw Montrose’s army through the mist. Unlikely, as no doubt he was already aboard the galley. If you were being kind, you might even suggest that he was blissfully unaware that an enemy, which he still believed was still thirty miles to the north, was so close. Argyll spread his dark sails and headed out to sea when the battle didn’t go his way, but his not being there on dry land at the outset surely didn’t do much for the morale of his Clansmen, which was another moment of significance. Also significantly, the MacDonald Bard, Iain Lom MacDonald, made an appearance in the story. Before the Royalist army had drawn up in its battle lines, he’d been seen slipping off to climb a tree. He was challenged by Mac Colla, when the ‘Devastator’ is reputed to have said, “Iain Lom wilt thou leave us?” to which Iain Manntach’s reply was, “If I g-g-go with thee today and fall in b-b-attle, who will sing thy p-p-praises and thy p-p-rowess tomorrow?” The stammering Bard of Keppoch was there, not to fight, but to record the deeds of his Clansmen; immortalise their bravery and praise their butchery of the enemy, which is just what they did.
Apart from Auchinbreck, there were several significant Campbells amongst the Covenanter army. Also there, were the Lairds of Lochnell and Rarra, alongside the Provost of Kilmun and Gillespie, son of Gillespie Og, Laird of Bingingeadhs. None of them made it back to their beds that night. With Montrose were Mac Colla and his Irishmen, including Manus O’Cahan and Colonel James (O’Neill) MacDonald, and notably, Ronald Og MacDonald, Alexander Robertson, the 12th Chief, and Sir Thomas Ogilvie. Despite being outnumbered two to one, Montrose’s men were victorious. There were some isolated pockets of resistance amongst the Covenanter army, Campbell’s and Lowlanders alike, but those were soon overwhelmed and the remnants turned to flee. When they broke and scarpered, their retreat past the castle was blocked by Ogilvie’s cavalry, but poor Sir Thomas was badly wounded by a stray bullet in that action and died a few days later. The Campbells were pursued by the MacDonalds, out for revenge, and only tiredness and exhaustion prevented them from totally massacring their foes in a running slaughter that allegedly continued for fourteen miles. The small garrison in Inverlochy castle surrendered without a fight. In all, over fifteen hundred Covenanter troops were wounded or perished that day, while Montrose is reputed to have lost only eight men, the most notable being Ogilvie.
The final significant act concerned one particular prisoner. Auchinbreck, who had been a commander in the Covenanter army in Ireland, had also been responsible for outrages against Mac Colla’s Irish cousins in Antrim. In addition, he had plotted to assassinate Alasdair when that man had tried to reconcile with the Scottish army, following the defeat at Glen Maquin. With such an enemy at his mercy, Mac Colla is said to have generously offered Auchinbreck two choices; to be made longer or shorter – hanged or decapitated. Auchinbreck’s retort was along the lines of “da dhiu gun aon roghain,” which roughly translated means ‘two alternatives with no real choice’. Whereupon Mac Colla, without more ado, swung his two handed sword and lopped off the top of Auchinbreck’s head, from just above the ears, like the top of a soft-boiled egg. And that signifies the end of the story of the Battle of Inverlochy.