This edited article about the Battles of Prestonpans and Culloden originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 1049 published on 17 April 1982.
Prince Charles Edward Stuart, or Bonnie Prince Charlie, landed in Scotland in July, 1745, but, unfortunately for the Jacobite cause, he came without an army. The Prince was also largely unwanted, even by those Highlanders who had traditionally supported the Stuart dynasty. Only Bonnie Prince Charlie’s own personality managed to light the flame of rebellion and even then he drew no more than nine thousand warriors to his banner. The Highland clans’ estimated fighting strength was well over 30,000.
Such risings need constant success to survive and Prince Charles Edward was, in fact, lucky in his first foes. The Hanoverian General, John Cope, was not as bad as some have said, but he did lead an army of raw recruits. For a start Cope failed to stop the Jacobites as they marched out of the Highlands to seize Edinburgh. So he shipped his rag-tag army from Aberdeen to Dunbar, where he could block the road south. There he found what he thought was the ideal battleground, just east of Prestonpans. The Hanoverians would have the sea to the north, high walls around private estates to the west and a broad marsh to the south. So an enemy could only attack from the east, and that way lay England.
Then, on 20th September, General Cope saw that the Jacobites had marched out of Edinburgh and were now streaming past him along Fawside Hill to the south. In this way they were exposing their left flank, which went against every rule in the military book. General Cope feared a trap, and swung his own forces around to face them.
The Jacobite leaders were already squabbling, a habit that was one day to destroy them, but this time their arguments only led to ill-feeling rather than to defeat. Cope’s position was still defended by that marsh, although to be on the safe side he swung his regiments round once again so that they were facing east. In the Jacobite army was a native of this area, named Robert Anderson, and he knew every track in the marshes. So the following night, hidden by heavy mist, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s troops wound their way across the swamp and formed up on firm ground east of General Cope’s men.
As soon as they learned what was happening, the naval gun crews who were in charge of Cope’s artillery abandoned their guns and fled. Then, as dawn rose on 21st September, 1745, the Jacobites charged with a great yell. The mist was still thick but a few English officers did manage to fire the abandoned cannon. Unfortunately they could not reload them. For a moment the Highlanders of the Cameron and Stuart clans wavered, but then they charged again. A single burst of gunfire sent Cope’s cavalry galloping for safety. So now the outnumbered English infantry had to face the enemy’s stabbing dirks, slashing broadswords and crushing Lochaber axes on their own. Panic soon spread and whole ranks turned to flee. General Cope himself hurried to Berwick with the news of his own defeat. The victory at Prestonpans encouraged many men to join the Jacobites.
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