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«Inventory of Scottish Battlefields Further Information PRESTONPANS 22 September 1745 Local Authority: East Lothian NGR centred: NT 403 744 THE BATTLE ...»

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Inventory of Scottish Battlefields Further Information


22 September 1745

Local Authority: East Lothian

NGR centred: NT 403 744


The Armies

At this stage in the campaign the Jacobite army was still largely composed from

Highlanders, though later on it was to take on a more mixed character with

Lowlanders and regular French troops.

The Government army in Scotland consisted of a large number of raw recruits that lacked the experience and training to implement their contemporary European infantry tactics effectively.

The Scots Magazine, as quoted by Reid (1996), states that the Government army numbered 2,191 rank and file, exclusive of officers, sergeants and drums. Though Reid further suggests that this number may be slightly too high, with the actual figure closer to 2,034 rank and file, based on figures provided by Whiteford (who commanded the artillery during the battle) from Dunbar. The Government regiments consisted, from left to right, Hamilton’s 14th dragoons, Murray’s 57th Foot, then an amalgamated battalion made up from eight companies of Lascelle’s 58th Foot and two companies of Guise’s 6th; then five companies of Lee’s 55th Foot. An advance guard had been made up from 136 men from these units and they were to join the right of the line at the last minute. One squadron of Gardiner’s 13th Dragoons were placed to the right of the artillery on the far right, while a further squadron under Gardiner himself was placed behind the artillery to make way for the returning advance guard which fell in to the right of the infantry. The artillery, which was manned by sailors, was accompanied by a guard of 100 men and another fifty (Highlanders) were assigned to guard the baggage toward Cockenzie.

The Jacobite army at Prestonpans was deployed in three battalions. On the right, under the Duke of Perth, were the MacDonald regiments of Clanranald, Glengarry and Keppoch, totalling some 850 men. The second division under Lord George Murray was supposed to form alongside them but due to a miscalculation in Perth’s movement north they ended up some distance apart, with Murray’s left formed on the marsh. Murray was in overall command of the Duke of Perth’s regiment, the Stewarts of Appin, and the Camerons under Lochiel, giving a total of around 900 men. The third battalion was commanded by Charles and positioned behind the two wings in the gap left between the right and left. This consisted of around 500 or 600 men. In the reserve, there was a small cavalry unit of 36 men, who remained close to Tranent through the action. The Jacobite army therefore consisted of around 2,350 infantry and 36 cavalry.

Action Late in the afternoon of 20 September, a small Jacobite force consisting of fifty men from Lochiel’s regiment was stationed as an advance guard in the burial ground of Tranent parish church, at the north end of the village. These were, however, withdrawn when Government artillery opened fire and caused losses. After some heated debate during which the Jacobite high command, under Lord George Murray, Inventory of Scottish Battlefields Further Information demonstrating a tendency to disagreement which was to become a serious problem as the campaign continued, eventually persuaded Charles to sanction a flanking march which would bring the army through the marsh and put them in a position to attack from the east. Vital here was the knowledge provided by a local man called Robert Anderson, who knew the marsh well as he often went hunting there. Early on the morning of 21 September, the army set out and via a defile at Riggonhead safely manoeuvred around the marsh not far to the south of Seton. Despite making good progress, the Jacobite army did not manage to take the enemy entirely by surprise and they were spotted by sentinels before the attack could be launched. Cope quickly stood his army to, wheeling his army to the left to bring them about facing east, an apparently well exercised manoeuvre that would have put the new right on the same position of the old left. The army lined up to the east of the wagon way used to carry coal from the pits on the hill to the port at Cockenzie.

Cope posted his artillery, which consisted of six one and half pound cannon and six mortars, on the right. A single shot from each of the cannon and the mortars was all that could be mustered in the face of the Jacobite charge as it came at them out of the mist. Firing their muskets at close range, the Jacobites drew their swords and closed to hand strokes. Even before the artillery pieces were fired the artillery crews turned and bolted – the guns were fired by the officers after the crews fled. These men ran headlong into Gardiner’s dragoons behind them, who had been deployed to the left of the artillery and behind it. Whitney, who was in command of Gardiner’s squadron to the left of the guns, tried to lead his men forward but they stalled and he was wounded. A general rout of the cavalry on the right followed and according to some accounts Gardiner himself was cut down after abandoning his horse and fighting on foot at the head of a small band of infantry (Duffy 2004, 10).

The cavalry on the left fared no better and their commanding officer was shot very early on. Lt-Colonel Wright’s men turned and fled, taking their reserves with them.

The infantry line, under Colonel Lascelles, lasted a few minutes longer and managed to deliver at least one volley, but the Jacobite left wing under Murray began to roll them up from the right flank left exposed by the retreat of Gardiner’s horse. The line collapsed and the redcoats fled en masse to the west, where their flight was interrupted by the walled enclosures of Preston and Bankton Houses. Many men were cut down as they tried to scramble over the high walls, while others simply turned and surrendered. Luckier fugitives made it to the road to the west of Bankton House and along it they fled up hill to the south, the road for ever since being known as Johnnie Cope’s Road.

Within around 10 or 15 minutes from the first shot being fired, the entire Government army had been routed. The Jacobites had proved themselves in battle, though their victory was against generally inexperienced troops. No other battle of the rising was going to be won so easily.

Losses Reported losses on the Government side range from 150 to 300, though given the ferocity of the fighting, especially in the rout, the upper figure seems the most likely.

The London Post published on 4 October 1745 listed 300 killed and 500 taken prisoner by the Jacobites. The article also posts the names of 19 officers killed, one of these possibly captured.

Jacobite losses appear to have been much lower, possibly in the region of around 100 killed and wounded, though accurate figures do not seem to exist.

Inventory of Scottish Battlefields Further Information Outcomes of the battle This was the first battle of the 1745 uprising and was a resounding victory for the Jacobite army. It was a dramatic demonstration of the effectiveness of a Highland charge in the face of well equipped troops using the current best military practice.

The Government defeat was later blamed on the inexperience of the greater part of the Government army, and there can be no doubting that later engagements, involving battle-hardened troops, were not to prove so easy for the Jacobites.

The victory gave considerable momentum to the Jacobite cause and carried them forward with more confidence to their next military challenge, though important lessons were not learnt, particularly regarding the limitations within the high command. The nature of the attack, an infantry charge with swords, and its devastating effect gave the Jacobites a fearsome reputation among their foes and enhanced their own self-belief, perhaps overly so. Victory also made French involvement appear more likely but, as it turned out, this involved no more than the supply of weapons and the arrival of a number of Scots and Irish troops serving in the regular French army. The scale of the Jacobite success and its possible implication for the future of the British Isles was not, however, lost on the Government, which wasted little time in withdrawing large numbers of troops from Flanders and returning them home to put down the rising.


Context The 1745 rising was the last of the Jacobite conflicts, the first being in the wake of the Glorious Revolution, which had forced the Stuarts into exile in 1688. At the time, the Stuarts, James the Old Pretender (son of the exiled James VII and II) and his son Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender, were living in Italy, though it was the French who had on occasion the most to gain from supporting internal British conflict while its armies were also committed to war on the continent. In 1744, during the War of Austrian Succession, the French had planned to launch an invasion fleet accompanied by the Stuarts, who had been brought back from Italy, but this was abandoned when the fleet and the invasion barges were severely damaged by storms, with some considerable loss of life.

In response to this disappointment, Charles Edward Stuart appears to have taken matters into his own hands and, with the support of independent financers, put to together a small expeditionary force consisting of two ships, a cadre of close advisors and supporters and some troops from the French army (Scots and Irish in French service). The expedition did not get off to a good start when the two ships were confronted by HMS Lion, which in a stiff fight disabled the Elizabeth, the ship carrying the French troops, and forced her to return to the French coast. The other ship, le Duc Teillay, carrying Charles and his advisors, who were to become known as the ‘Seven Men of Moidart’, managed to slip away and landed on the island of Eriskay on 2 August 1745. At first Charles was given a rather cold reception by local clan chiefs, but after his move to the mainland at Moidart and the raising of the Standard at Glenfinnan on 19 August he began to attract followers such as the MacDonalds and the Camerons. With around 1,200 men Charles made his way to Perth where he accumulated more recruits.

In response, the Government sent an army of around 3,000 troops under the command of General Sir John Cope to intercept the Jacobites. The Jacobites wisely refused to give battle at this early stage and eventually Cope was to retire on Inverness, while the Jacobites made rapid headway to their major target in Scotland, the city of Edinburgh. While Cope was stranded in Inverness, the Jacobites took Inventory of Scottish Battlefields Further Information Edinburgh without a fight, an advance party slipping in through a gate when it was opened to let out a carriage. Marching his army to Aberdeen, where they embarked on a fleet sent at his request, Cope embarked his troops and set sail for Dunbar, to the east of Edinburgh, where he landed on 17 September. His army arrived in Prestonpans, on its way to Edinburgh on 20 September, but rather than sit and wait for them, the bulk of the Jacobite army had marched from their camp at Duddingston to give battle.

Thus it was that on the afternoon of 20 September, the Jacobites were positioned on Falside Hill to find the Government army ready to receive them on the well-appointed ground below. Cope had initially arrayed his men to face the west but on learning that the Jacobites were to the south he changed his disposition accordingly; it was in any case probably a stronger position as he now had a marsh and a ditch between himself and the enemy.

Participants Command of the Jacobite right wing fell to the James Drummond, the Duke of Perth, while the left was under Lord George Murray, who had been actively involved in the 1715 and 1719 risings and seen military service on the continent.

Colonel James Gardiner was a veteran of the European wars and had served under Marlborough at the Battle of Ramilles in 1706, where he was shot in the mouth.


Physical remains The most important result of the recent archaeological work has been to relocate the site of the initial encounter, where the Jacobite charge hit the Government line;

further to the east than most modern history books had placed it. Instead of being positioned to the west of or indeed directly on the old coal wagonway it is now clear that the Government line was in fact positioned several hundred metres to the east of this position, in an area still to this day occupied by relatively open farmland.

Tranent churchyard is still extant and retains some of its 18th century character, despite the church being demolished and rebuilt in the early 19th century. The area to the north of the churchyard remains as farmland and has the potential to accommodate battle archaeology, particularly in relation to the bombardment of the churchyard and the Jacobites within by Government artillery on the day before the battle.

The location of the thorn tree under which Colonel Gardiner is said to have been wounded, thereafter dying in either the manse of Tranent church or on a mattress in his own garden according to two different accounts, is marked on the First Edition Ordnance Survey map (NT 3399 6742). The location is to the immediate east of Thorntree Colliery, adjacent to a north to south running track. Although the tree was dead by the early 20th century, this location may just survive on the eastern boundary of the area which today still has the remnants of the wagonway running through it, coal having been extracted from the north and housing now filling the space to the east.


Location Prestonpans is fortunate to have a number of highly detailed maps that show the location of the battle, and these are supported by some equally informative Inventory of Scottish Battlefields Further Information eyewitness accounts. Despite what at first sight may appear to be extensive modern development in the area, some of the contemporary features, such as Bankton House, then known as Olive Stab, and the churchyard at Tranent are still to be seen, while the line of the wagonway can still be traced.

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