Tales of a Grandfather, by Walter Scott

Chapter 80

UPON the 6th of December, the Highland army began its retreat northward. As they marched in the grey of the morning, the men did not at first perceive in what direction they were moving; but so soon as the daylight gave them the means of perceiving that they were in retreat, an expression of deep regret and lamentation was heard among the ranks; with such confidence had these brave men looked forward to a successful issue, even in the precarious situation in which they were placed. It was also observed, that from the time the retreat commenced, the Highlanders became more reckless in their conduct. They had behaved with exemplary discipline while there remained any possibility of conciliating the inhabitants. The English might then stare with wonder on men speaking an unknown language, wearing a wild and unwonted dress, and bearing much of the external appearance of barbarians, but their behaviour was that of an orderly and civilized people. Now, when irritated by disappointment, they did not scruple to commit plunder in the towns and villages through which they passed; and several acts of violence induced the country people not only to fear them as outlandish strangers, but to hate them as robbers . In the advance, they showed the sentiments of brave men, come, in their opinion, to liberate their fellow-citizens;-in the retreat, they were as caterans returning from a creagh. They evinced no ferocity, however, and their rapine was combined with singular simplicity. Iron being a scarce commodity in their own country, some of them were observed, as they left Derby, to load themselves with bars of it, which they proposed to carry down to Scotland with them! The behaviour of the Prince also tended to dishearten the soldiers. He seemed to conduct himself on the retreat as if he were no longer commander of the army. Instead of taking the vanguard on foot, at the head of his people, with his target at his back, as had been his custom during the advance, he now lingered behind his men, so as to retard them, and then rode forward and regained his place in the column; he showed, in short, obvious marks of being dejected and out of humour.

The few English insurgents by whom the Prince had been joined, were divided in opinion whether they should follow this retrograde movement, which coincided so ill with their more sanguine hopes, or remain behind, and desert the cause. Morgan, one of these English volunteers, came up to Vaughan, a gentleman of the same country, and observed, in a tone of surprise, that the army were going to Scotland; “ Be it so,” answered Vaughan, “ I am determined to go with them wherever their course lies.”-Morgan replied, with an oath, it was better to be hanged in England than starved in Scotland. He had the misfortune to be hanged accordingly, while Vaughan escaped, and died an officer in the Spanish service.

The people of the country, who had shown them little good-will upon their advance, appeared more actively malevolent when they beheld the Scots in retreat, and in the act or pillaging the places they passed through. At a village near Stockport, the inhabitants fired upon the patrols of the Highlanders, who, in retaliation, set fire to the place. Most of the country-people were in arms, and all stragglers were killed or made prisoners. The sick men also, of the Jacobite army, who were necessarily left behind the march, were killed or treated with violence. On the 9th of December the army approached Manchester; but in that city, which had lately appeared so friendly, they now encountered opposition. A violent mob was in possession of the town, and opposed the quartermasters of the Chevalier’s army. Two battalions and two squadrons were detached to support the quartermasters, by whom the mob was dispersed. L.2500 was demanded from the town, in consequence of this riot. On leaving the place, the mob even pursued, and fired upon the rear of the Chevalier’s army, although they uniformly retreated so soon as the rear-guard faced about. The temper of the people, however, served to show how little reliance could at any time have been placed upon their attachment.

The Duke of Cumberland, who, as I already said, was lying at Litchfield, while Prince Charles was at Derby, did not learn for two days that the Highlanders had left Derby for Ashburn on the 6th; and did not commence any pursuit until the 8th, when the Duke marched northward with all his cavalry, and a number of infantry mounted upon horses furnished by the neighbouring gentry. The troops advanced with the utmost spirit. The retreat of the Scottish army, whose advance had been regarded with a vague apprehension of terror, was naturally considered as an avowal of their inability to execute their purpose; and it was concluded by the regular soldiery, that they were pressing upon the flight of a disappointed and disheartened body of adventurers, who had failed in an attempt to execute a desperate object. The English troops also felt in spirits, as being under the command of a Prince of the blood, of undoubted experience and courage, who had arrived in Britain in time to assert the cause of his father, and to fix upon his head the crown which had been so boldly struck at. They anticipated little opposition from an enemy in full retreat, and whom, it might be supposed, a brisk attack would throw into utter disorder; their cavalry, therefore, pressed forward, in spirits, and by forced marches. On their part, the Highlanders retreated with speed, regularity, and unabated courage. Lord George Murray, to vindicate the sincerity of his attachment to the cause he had embraced, undertook the charge of the rear-guard, the post of danger and of honour. This frequently detained him a considerable time beyond the march of the main body, more especially for the purpose of bringing up the baggage and artillery of the army, which, from the bad weather and bad state of the roads, was perpetually breaking down, and detained the rear-guard considerably.

Towards the evening of the 17th of December, the Prince, with the main body of his army, had entered the town of Penrith, in the county of Cumberland. Lord George Murray had, in the mean while, been delayed so much by those various accidents, that he was forced to pass the night six miles in the rear, at the town of Shap. The Glengarry regiment of Highlanders were at that time in charge of the rear-guard; and at Shap, Lord George found Colonel Roy Stewart, with another small regiment of 200 men. In the mean time, the Chevalier had determined to halt at Penrith until he was joined by his rear-guard. Next day, being the 18th of December, Lord George Murray marched with both the corps which we have mentioned. The march began, as usual, before daybreak; but when it became broad daylight, he discovered the village of Clifton, which is within three or four miles south of Penrith, and the heights beyond it, crowned with several parties of cavalry, drawn up betwixt him and the village, The Highlanders, you must be reminded, had, in former times, an aversion to encounter the Lowland horse; but since their success at Preston, they had learned to despise the troops of whom they formerly stood in awe. They had been instructed, chiefly by the standing orders of Lord George Murray, that if they encountered the cavalry manfully, striking with their swords at the heads and limbs of the horses, they might be sure to throw them into disorder The MacDonalds, therefore, of Glengarry, on receiving the word of command to attack those horsemen who appeared disposed to interrupt their passage, stript off their plaids without hesitation, and rushed upon them sword in hand. The cavalry in question were not regulars, but volunteers of the country, who had assembled themselves for the purpose of harassing the rear of the Highland army, and giving time for the Duke of Cumberland, who was in full pursuit, to advance and overtake them. On the fierce attack of Glengarry’s men they immediately galloped off, but not before several prisoners were made; among the rest a footman of the Duke of Cumberland, who told his captors that his Royal Highness was coining up in their rear with 4000 horse.

Lord George Murray despatched this Information to the Chevalier at Penrith, requesting some support, which he limited to 1000 men. Colonel Roy Stewart, who was charged with the message, returned with orders that the rear-guard should retreat upon Penrith.1 At the same time, MacPherson of Cluny, with his clan, was sent back as far as Cliftonbridge, with the Appin regiment, under command of Stewart of Ardshiel. With the assistance of these reinforcements, Lord George Murray was still far inferior in number to the enemy, yet he determined to make good his retreat.

The Duke of Cumberland’s whole cavalry was now drawn up in the rear of the Highland army, upon the open moor of Clifton; beyond the moor, the rear-guard of the Highlanders must necessarily pursue their retreat through large plantations of fir-trees, part of Lord Lonsdale’s enclosures. Lord George Murray foresaw an attack in this critical posture, and prepared to meet and repel it. He drew up the Glengarry regiment upon the highroad, within the fields, placed the Appin Stewarts in the enclosures on their left, and again the MacPherson regiment to the left of them. On the right he stationed Roy Stewart’s men, covered by a wall.

The night was dark, with occasional glimpses of the moon. The English advanced about 1000 dismounted dragoons, with the intention of attacking the Highlanders on the flank, while the Duke of Cumberland and the rest of his cavalry kept their station on the moor, with the purpose of operating in the rear of their opponents. Lord George Murray perceived, by a glimpse of moonshine, this large body of men coming from the moor, and advancing to wards the Clifton enclosures. The MacPherson and Stewart regiments, which were under Lord George’s immediate command, were stationed behind a hedge; but Lord George, observing a second hedge in front, protected by a deep ditch, ordered his men to advance and gain possession of it. It was already lined on the opposite side by the enemy, who, as was then the custom of dragoons, acted as infantry when occasion required. Lord George asked Cluny his opinion of what was to be done: “ I will attack the enemy sword in hand,” replied the undaunted chief, “ provided you order me.” As they advanced, the MacPhersons, who were nearest to the hedge of which they wished to take possession, received a fire from the soldiers who had lined it on the opposite side. Cluny, surprised at receiving a discharge of musketry, when he conceived he was marching against a body of horse, exclaimed, “ What the devil is this! “ Lord George Murray replied, “ There is no time to be lost-we must instantly charge 1” and at the same time drawing his broadsword, exclaimed, “ Claymore!” which was the word for attacking sword in hand. The MacPhersons rushed on, headed by their chief, with uncontrollable fury; they gave their fire, and then burst, sword in hand, through the hedge, and attacked the dragoons by whom it was lined. Lord George himself headed the assault, and in dashing through the hedge lost his bonnet and wig (the last of which was then universally worn), and fought bare-headed, the foremost in the skirmish. Colonel Honeywood, who commanded the dragoons, was left severely wounded on the spot, and his sword, of considerable value, fell into the hands of the chief of the MacPhersons. The dragoons on the right were compelled, with considerable loss, to retreat to their party on the moor. At the same moment, or nearly so, another body of dismounted dragoons pressed forward upon the high-road, and were repulsed by the Glengarry regiment, and that of John Roy Stewart. The Highlanders were with difficulty recalled from the pursuit, exclaiming, that it was a shame to see so many of the king’s enemies standing fast upon the moor without attacking them. A very few of the MacPhersons, not exceeding twelve, who ventured too far, were either killed or taken. But the loss of the English was much more considerable, nor did they feel disposed to renew the attack upon the rear of the Highlanders. Lord George Murray sent a second message to the Prince, to propose that he should detach a reinforcement from the main body, with which he offered to engage and defeat the cavalry opposed to him. The Prince, doubtful of the event, or jealous of his general, declined to comply with this request.

On receiving this answer, Lord George Murray retreated to Penrith, and united the rear-guard with the main body; and it seems that the Duke of Cumberland became satisfied that a good deal of risk might be incurred by a precipitate attack on the Highland army, since he did not again repeat the experiment. The next day, Charles retreated to Carlisle, and arrived there with his army on the morning of the 19th of December. It was thought desirable that the Highland garrison in that town should be reinforced, but it was not easy to find forces willing to be left behind in a place almost certain to be sacrificed. The men of the Manchester regiment, who were disheartened at the prospect of a retreat into Scotland, were pitched upon for this duty, together with a number of French and Irish. The last had little to fear. being generally engaged in the French service, and the English were probably of the mind of Captain Morgan, that hanging in England was preferable to starving in Scotland.

The skirmish at Clifton seems to have abated the speed of the English pursuers, who no longer attempted to annoy the retreat of their active enemy. The Scottish army left Carlisle upon the 20th of December, and effected their retreat into Scotland by crossing the Esk at Langtoun; the river was swollen, but the men, wading in arm in arm, supported each other against the force of the current, and got safely through, though with some difficulty. It is said that the — Chevalier showed both dexterity and humanity on this occasion. He was crossing on horseback, beneath the place where some of his men were fording the river, one or two of whom drifted from the hold of their companions, and were carried down the stream in great danger of perishing. As one of them passed, the Chevalier caught him by the hair, called out in Gaelic, “ Cohear, cohear!” that is, “ Help, help! ” supported the man till he was taken safely from the water, and thus gave himself an additional claim to the attachment of his followers. The Highland army, marching in two divisions, arrived at Annan and Ecclefechan on the same day, and pursued their road through the west of Scotland.

While the Scottish rebels were advancing, the utmost alarm prevailed in London; there was a sharp run upon the Bank, which threatened the stability of that national establishment; the offers of support from public bodies showed the urgency of the crisis; the theatres, for example, proposed to raise armed corps of real not personated soldiers. There was the more alarm indicated in all this, because the Highlanders, who had not been at first sufficiently respected as soldiers, had acquired by their late actions credit for valour of a most romantic cast. There was something also in the audacity of the attempt, which inclined men to give Charles credit for secret resources, until his retreat showed that he was possessed of none except a firm belief in the justice of his own cause. and a confidence that it was universally regarded in the same light by the English nation. The apathy of the English had dissipated this vision, few or none, excepting Catholics, and a handful of Jacobites of Manchester, having shown themselves disposed to acknowledge his cause. The retreat, therefore, from Derby was considered throughout England as the close of the rebellion; as a physician regards a distemper to be nearly overcome, when he can drive it from the stomach and nobler parts into the extremities of the body.

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