Tales of a Grandfather, by Walter Scott

Chapter 69

WE must now return to the Earl of Mar’s army, which must be considered as the centre and focus of the insurrection. Since his occupation of Perth, Lord Mar had undertaken little which had the appearance of military enterprise. His possession even of Fifeshire and Kinross had been in some degree contested by the supporters of Government. The Earl of Rothes, with a few dragoons and volunteers, had garrisoned his own house of Lesly, near Falkland, and was active in harassing those parties of horse which Mar sent into the country to proclaim James VIII., and levy the cess and public taxes. Upon one of these occasions, (28th September) he surprised Sir Thomas Bruce, while in the act of making the proclamation in the town of Kinross, and carried him off a prisoner. The Earl of Rothes retained possession of his garrison till Mar’s army became very strong”, when he was obliged to withdraw it. But Mar continued to experience occasional checks, even in the military promenades in which he employed the gentlemen who composed his cavalry. It is true, these generally arose from nothing worse than the loose discipline observed by troops of this condition, their carelessness in mounting guards, or in other similar duties, to which their rank and habits of life had not accustomed them.

The only important manoeuvre attempted by the Earl of Mar, was the expedition across the frith under Brigadier MacIntosh, of which the details are given in the last chapter. Its consequences were such as to force the General himself into measures of immediate activity, by which he had not hitherto seemed much disposed to distinguish himself, but which became now inevitable. It happened that, on the second day after MacIntosh’s departure from Fife, a general review of the troops in Perth was held in the vicinity of that town, and the Earl Marischal’s brother, James (afterwards the celebrated Field–Marshal Keith), galloped along the line, disseminating some of those favourable reports which were the growth of the day, and, as one succeeded as fast as another dropped, might be termed the fuel which supplied the fire of the insurrection, or rather, perhaps, the bellows which kept it in excitation. The apocryphal tidings of this day were, that Sir William Wyndham had surprised Bristol for King James III., and that Sir William Blacket had taken both Berwick and Newcastle-intelligence received by the hearers with acclamations, which, if it had been true, were no less than it deserved.

But from these visions the principal persons in the insurrection were soon recalled to sad realities. A meeting of the noblemen, chiefs of clans, and commanders of corps, was summoned, and particular care taken to exclude all intruders of inferior rank. To this species of council of war Mar announced, with a dejected countenance, that Brigadier MacIntosh, having, contrary to his orders, thrown himself into the citadel of Leith, was invested there by the Duke of Argyle. He laid before them the letter he had received from the Brigadier, which stated that a few hours would determine his fate, but that he was determined to do his duty to the last. The writer expressed his apprehension that cannons and mortars were about to be brought against him. The Earl of Mar said that he gave the detachment up for lost, but suggested it might be possible to operate a diversion in its favour, by making a feint towards Stirling. The proposal was seconded by General Hamilton, who said that such a movement might possibly do good, and could produce no harm. The movement being determined upon, Mar marched with a large body of foot to Auchterarder, and pushed two squadrons of horse as far forward as Dunblane, which had the appearance of a meditated attack upon Stirling. It is said to have been the opinion of General Hamilton, that the foot should have taken possession of a defile which continues the road from the northern end of Stirling bridge through some lo¥ v and marshy ground, and is called the Long Causeway. The rebels being in possession of this long and narrow pass, it would have been as difficult for the Duke of Argyle to have got at them as it was for them to reach him. And the necessity of guarding the bridge itself with the small force he possessed, must have added to Argyle’s difficulties, and afforded General Gordon, and the western clans who were by This time expected to be at Dunbarton, full opportunity to have advanced on Stirling by Drymen and the Loch of Monteith, keeping possession, during their whole march, of high and hilly grounds fit for the operations of Highlanders. In this manner the Duke of Argyle would have been placed between two fires, and must have run the greatest risk of being cut off from the reinforcements which he anxiously expected from Ireland, as well as from the west of Scotland.

Against this very simple and effective plan of the campaign. Mar had nothing to object but the want of provisions; in itself a disgrace to a general who had been quartered so long in the neighbourhood of the Carse of Gowrie, and at the end of autumn, when the farm-yards are full, without having secured a quantity of meal adequate to the maintenance of his army for a few days. General Hamilton combated this objection, and even demonstrated that provisions were to be had; and Mar apparently acquiesced in his reasoning. But having come with the infantry of his army as far as Ardoch, the Earl stopped short, and refused to permit the movement on the Long Causeway to be made, alleging that Marischal and Linlithgow had decided against the design. It seems probable, that, as the affair drew to a crisis. Mar, the more that military science was wanted, felt his own ignorance the more deeply, and, afraid to attempt any course by which he might have controlled circumstances, adopted every mode of postponing a decision, in the hope they might, of themselves, become favourable in the long run. In the mean time, the news of Mar’s march to Auchterarder and Dunblane had, as we have elsewhere noticed, recalled the Duke of Argyle to his camp at Stirling, leaving a few of his cavalry, with the militia and volunteers, to deal with MacIntosh and his nimble Highlanders, who escaped out of their hands, first by their defence of Seaton, and then by their march to Kelso. Argyle instantly took additional defensive measures against Mar, by barricading the bridge of Stirling, and breaking down that which crosses the Teith at the village of Doune. But his presence so near his antagonist was sufficient to induce the Earl of Mar to retreat with his whole force to his former quarters at Perth, and wait the progress of events. These were now approaching to a crisis. With MacIntosh’s detachment Mar had now no concern; they were to pursue their good or evil destiny apart. The Earl of Mar had also received a disagreeable hint, that the excursions by which he used to supply himself with funds, as well as to keep up the terror of his arms, were not without inconvenience. A detachment of about fourscore horse and three hundred Highland foot, chiefly followers of the Marquis of Huntly, was sent to Dunfermline to raise the cess. The direct road from Perth to Dunfermline is considerably shorter, but the troops had orders to take the route by Castle–Campbell, which prolonged the journey considerably, for no apparent purpose save to insult the Duke of Argyle’s garrison there, by marching in their view. When the detachment arrived at Dunfermline, Gordon of Glenbucket, who commanded the Highlanders, conducted them into the old abbey, which is strongly situated and there placed a sentinel. He took up his own quarters in the town, and placed a sentinel there also. The commander of the horse, Major Graham, took the ineffectual precaution of doing the same at the bridge, but used no farther means to avoid surprise. The gentlemen of the squadron sought each his personal accommodation, with their usual neglect of discipline, neither knowing with accuracy where they were to find their horses, nor fixing on any alarm-post where they were to rendezvous. Their officers sat down to a bottle of wine. During all this scene of confusion, the Honourable Colonel (afterwards Lord) Cathcart, was lying without the town, with a strong party of cavalry, and obtaining regular information from his spies within it.

About five in the morning of the 24th of October, he entered the town with two parties of his dragoons, one mounted and the other on foot. The surprisal was complete, and the Jacobite cavaliers suffered in proportion; several were killed and wounded, and about twenty made prisoners, whose loss was the more felt, as they were all gentlemen, and some of them considerable proprietors. The assailants lost no time in their enterprise, and retreated as speedily as they entered. The neighbourhood of the Highland infantry in the Abbey was a strong reason for despatch. This slight affair seemed considerable in a war which had been as yet so little marked by military incident. The appearance of the prisoners at Stirling, and the list of their names, gave eclat to the Duke of Argyle’s tactics, and threw disparagement on those of Mar. On the other side, stories were circulated at Perth of the loss which Cathcart had sustained in the action, with rumours of men buried in the night, and horses returned to Stirling without their riders. This account, however fabulous, was received with credit even by those who were engaged at Dunfermline; for the confusion having been general, no one knew what was the fate of his comrade. But in very deed, the whole return of casualties on Colonel Cathcart’s side amounted to a dragoon hurt in the cheek, and a horse wounded. This little affair was made the subject of songs and pasquils in the army at Perth, which increased the Marquis of Huntly’s disgust at the enterprise. By this time three regiments of infantry, and Evans’s dragoons, had joined the Duke of Argyle, who now felt himself strong enough to make detachments, without the fear of weakening his own position. A battalion of foot was sent to Kilsythe, along with a detachment of dragoons, who were to watch the motions of the troops of Forster and Kenmure, in case the whole, or any part of them, should resolve to penetrate into the west of Scotland. The Earl of Mar was also on the point of being joined by the last reinforcements which he could expect, the non-arrival of which had hitherto been the cause, or at least the apology, for his inactivity. The various causes of delay had been at length removed in the following manner. Seaforth, it must be remembered, was confronted by Lord Sutherland with his own following, and the Whig clans of Grant, Monro, Ross, and others. But about the same time the Earl of Seaforth was joined by Sir Donald MacDonald of Skye, with seven hundred of his own clan, and as many MacKinnons, Chisholms, and others, as raised the total number to about four thousand men. The Earl of Sutherland, finding this force so much stronger than what he was able to bring against it, retreated to the Bonar, a strait of the sea dividing Rossshire from Sutherland, and there passed to his own side of the ferry. Seaforth, now unopposed, advanced to Inverness, and after leaving a garrison there, marched to Perth to join the Earl of Mar, to whose insurrectionary army his troops made a formidable addition.

The clans of the West were the only reinforcements which Mar had now to expect; but these were not only considerable from their numbers, but claimed a peculiar fame in arms even over the other Highlanders, both from their zeal for the Jacobite cause, and their distinguished bravery. But Mar had clogged General Gordon, who was to bring up this part of his forces, with a commission which would detain him some time in Argyleshire. His instructions directed him especially to take and garrison the castle of Inverary, the principal seat of the Duke of Argyle. The clans, particularly those of Stewart of Appin, and Cameron of Lochiel, though opposed to the Duke in political principles, respected his talents, and had a high regard for his person as an individual, and therefore felt reluctance at entering upon a personal quarrel with him by attacking his castle. These chiefs hung back accordingly, and delayed joining. When Glengarry and Clanronald had raised their clans, they had fewer scruples. During this time, Campbell of Finab was intrusted with the difficult task of keeping the assailants in play until the Duke of Argyle should receive his expected reinforcements from Ireland. He was soon joined by the Earl of Islay, the Duke’s younger brother. By the assistance of Sir James Campbell of Auchinbreck, about a thousand men were assembled to defend Inverary, when four or five thousand appeared in arms before it. A sort of treaty was entered into, by which the insurgent clans agreed to withdraw from the country of Argyle; with which purpose, descending Strathfillan, they marched towards Castle–Drummond, which is in the vicinity of Perth, and within an easy march of Mar’s headquarters. One important member of the insurrection must also be mentioned. This was the Earl of Breadalbane, the same unrelenting statesman who was the author of the Massacre of Glencoe. He had been employed by King William in 1689 to achieve, by dint of money, the settlement and pacification of the Highlands; and now, in his old age, he imagined his interest lay in contributing to disturb them. When cited to appear at Edinburgh as a suspected person, he procured a pathetic attestation under the hand of a physician and clergyman, in which the Earl was described as an infirm man, overwhelmed with all the evils that wait on old age. None of his infirmities, however, prevented him from attending the Earl of Mar’s summons, on the very day after the certificate is dated. Breadalbane is supposed to have received considerable sums of money from the Earl of Mar, who knew the only terms on which he could hope for his favour. But for a long time the wily Earl did nothing decisive, and it was believed that he entertained a purpose of going to Stirling, and reconciling himself with the Duke of Argyle, the head of the elder branch of his house. This, however, Breadalbane did not do; but, on the contrary, appeared in the town of Perth, where the singular garb and peculiar manners of this extraordinary old chief attracted general attention. He possessed powers of satirical observation in no common degree; and seemed to laugh internally at whatever he saw which he considered as ridiculous, but without suffering his countenance to betray his sentiments, except to very close observers.1 Amidst the various difficulties of the insurgents, his only advice to them was, to procure a printing press, and lose no time in issuing gazettes.

Mar took the hint, whether given in jest or earnest. He sent to Aberdeen for a printing press, in order to lose no time in diffusing intelligence more widely by that comprehensive organ of information. It was placed under the management of Robert Freebairn, one of the printers for the late Queen Anne, whose principles had led him to join the insurgent army. He was chiefly employed in extending by his art the delusions through means of which the insurrection had been originally excited, and was in a great measure kept afloat. It is a strong example of this, that while Mar actually knew nothing of the fate of Forster and Kenmure, with the auxiliary party of Highlanders under MacIntosh; yet it was boldly published that they were masters of Newcastle, and carried all before them, and that the Jacobites around London had taken arms in such numbers, that King George had found it necessary to retire from the metropolis. It does not appear that the Earl of Breadalbane was so frank in affording the rebels his military support, which was very extensive and powerful, as in imparting his advice how to make an impression on the public mind by means of the press. His own age excused him from taking the field; and it is probable, his experience and sagacious observation discovered little in their counsels which promised a favourable result to their enterprise, though supported certainly by a very considerable force in arms. A body of his clan, about four or five hundred strong, commanded by the Earl’s kinsman, Campbell of Glendarule, joined the force under General Gordon; but about four hundred, who had apparently engaged in the enterprise against Inverary, and were embodied for that purpose, dispersed, and returned to their own homes afterwards without joining Mar.

The whole force being now collected on both sides, it seemed inevitable, that the clouds of civil war which had been so long lowering on the horizon, should now burst in storm and tempest on the devoted realm of Scotland.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29