Greetings from iainthepict. This blog of mine is meant to be like a 'Book of Days' or a kind of 'Scottish Year Book' if you will. The idea was to present an event for each day of the year. Somewhere in here, you can find out what happened, affecting Scotland and the Scots, on any given day of the year. Your comments and observations are very welcome.
The photograph is by Sam Perkins (check him out on Facebook at Sam Perkins Photography) and was taken near Oban.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Battle of Auldearn

The Battle of Auldearn was fought on the 9th of May, 1645.

The Battle of Auldearn was the fifth in a series. Survive the lot and you'd have done pretty well. Prior to Auldearn, the Marquis of Montrose, Lieutenant-General of the forces of Charles I in Scotland, had helped himself to four victories, which meant that he topped the league table, without question, but tragically for him, he lost the cup final at Philliphaugh. That was in the future, however and not to spoil this story, which in some ways was a bit like
a ballet, except with real blood and no big bosomed lady to sing.

In 1644, Montrose had led his enemies a merry dance around Scotland and throughout the early part of 1645, in the lead up to Auldearn, he and Lieutenant-General Baillie, the Covenanter's Commander, counter-manoeuvred up and down the foothills of the Grampians, each trying to gain an advantage before the battle. Montrose held the psychological advantage as he had just embarrassed ‘Mac Cailean Mór’, aka the Marquis of Argyle, and his Cambells, at the Battle of Inverlochy on the 2nd of February, in much the same way he'd won battles at Tippermuir, Aberdeen and Fyvie within the previous twelve months. At Auldearn, heavily outnumbered and against the odds as per usual, Montrose won another fine victory. He did have the incentive of wishing to avoid being caught between Baillie and Major-General Sir John Hurry pincer strategy, mind you.

According to The Battlefield Trust, there is some dispute over the numbers of contestants on each side at Auldearn. Certainly, Wikipedia's information is at odds with that on the Trust's website, but then that won't surprise many, although you should respect anything on Wikipedia that has valid references. The Trust refers to primary and secondary sources giving significantly different numbers for each side, but supports the data available in Stuart Reid's 'Auldearn, 1645 : the Marquis of Montrose’s Scottish campaign' (Oxford: Osprey, 2003).

Reid has Montrose with possibly 1440 foot and around 600 horse; his usual mixture of experienced Highland and Irish troops with raw recruits. The same source has the Covenanters under Major-General Hurry with around 1700 regular foot, 1300 local levies and 300 horse, so the odds were a about 13:8. Other online sources have the odds more like 2:1 in Hurry's favour, with the balance of cavalry also in the Covenanter's favour, all of which seems a bit excessive. Wikipedia states that Montrose had 1300 foot and 250 cavalry, and that Hurry had 3600 foot and 300 cavalry, which makes the odds more like 5:2; uneven odds [sic].

There's also dispute about the figures on casualties, with The Battlefield Trust suggesting there are “considerable uncertainties.” Reid suggests the order of fatalities to have been 200 on the Royalist side and 500 on the Covenanting side. The Wikipedia article says that “Montrose had destroyed half the Covenanter forces” and numbers that at 1500, which means someone can't count. Many casualties were inflicted during house-to-house fighting in the village of Auldearn and intermittent skirmishes, counter-attacks and cavalry charges seem to have taken place throughout the day.

At dawn on the morning of the 9th of May, 1645, Alasdair Mac Colla's Irish Brigade, with William Gordon of Moneymore's newly raised regiment, were in Auldearn. Montrose, with the rest of the Royalist army, comprising the Highlanders of Clan MacDonald and components of several other Clans; a mixture of Robertsons, Camerons, MacKinnons, MacLeans, Ogilvys, and the Stewarts of Appin, was camped over to the east of the village. With Montrose were also the two Lords Gordon, with their cavalry. Hurry had two regular infantry regiments, Lothian's and the Lord Chancellor's, plus the regiments of the Earl of Findlater, Sir Mungo Campbell of Lawers and the Laird of Buchanan. Hurry's Highland levies were commanded by the Earls of Seaforth and Sutherland.

Instead of making a silent approach to Auldearn, some of Hurry's men fired their muskets to clear out damp powder. They may as well have played a fanfare. Alerted by the precipitate action of Hurry's soldiers, Alasdair Mac Colla vacated the village and advanced to occupy Garlic Hill, about half a mile to the south-west, protected on one flank by a marsh. Mac Colla was faced with holding off the Covenanter advance until Montrose assembled the rest of the Royalist army.

The action began with a Covenanter attack on MacColla's position, during which his heavily outnumbered troops were steadily driven back into the village, where they took up new defensive positions among the cottages. As the Covenanters gave chase, Moneymore's regiment began an  enfilading fire into their left flank, which gave them food for thought and forced a rethink. With their momentum slowed, Mac Colla led a disciplined counter-attack, forcing Lawers' regiment to retreat to the hill. As Lawers regrouped, it was Mac Colla's time for reappraisal and he fell back, in good order once again, into the village. The Covenanters pressed forward and succeeded in forcing their way into Auldearn and that's when the fierce hand-to-hand fighting broke out as MacColla's men struggled to hold firm. “Where the hell is Montrose?” he probably thought.

Like a scene from a period movie, Montrose, about whose presence Hurry appears to have forgotten, came riding to the rescue, having divided his cavalry into two separate wings. One, under Lord Lewis Gordon, went around the north end of the village and the other, commanded by his elder brother, Lord Aboyne, around the south. The first charge from the south, against the right flank of the Covenanters, led to a troop of Covenanter horse colliding with its infantry, causing mayhem amongst the ranks and forcing the attack on Auldearn to break off. Lord Lewis' cavalry then charged against the Covenanters' left wing from the north, and by late afternoon, after some fierce fighting, the rout began with Royalist horse and foot pursuing the opposing infantry south westward towards the River Nairn at How Ford. The action continued as far south as Brightmony and Kinsteary.

Five : nil to Montrose.

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