The Battle of Killiecrankie – 27th July 1689   Leave a comment

BACKGROUND HISTORY

The coronation of the Roman Catholic James II of England (James VII of Scotland) following the death of his older and Protestant brother, Charles II, raised old tensions and concerns throughout the realm. The English Civil Wars, some forty years earlier and for some, still in living memory, had in part been fueled by religious differences as well as politics. The country didn’t want to return to that period of history, nor to the Elizabethan Age, where one could quite easily be executed for their religious beliefs.

In 1685 the Duke of Monmouth attempted to overthrow the King with a rebellion, but support never really amounted to much and it became just a local uprising in the South West of England which was snuffed out at the Battle of Sedgemoor in Somerset. The Bloody Assizes (trials and executions of anyone and everyone with even a tenuous link to the uprising) that followed were designed to send a message to all who dared to consider challenging James.

Tensions rose further though in 1688 when James’ wife Mary gave birth to a son, James Francis Edward Stuart, suddenly giving the nation the prospect of another Catholic heir to the throne. Behind closed doors, Protestant politicians and men of power were secretly discussing a solution, and they came up with inviting the Dutch noble, William of Orange, to take the British crown. William was Protestant, he was the son of Charles II’s eldest daughter and was also married to James II’s Protestant daughter, Mary, so it could be argued he was “in the Royal family” already.  Taking no chances, he gathered an army of 70,000 men and landed on the south coast and marched towards London. Resistance was minimal, in fact almost non-existent, prompting this change of monarchy to be known as “The Glorious Revolution”, by the fact there wasn’t mass bloodshed. James, his wife and young son, fled to France to live in exile, but with hopes to return and reclaim the crown.

The Stuarts were a Scottish family, and The Highlands of Scotland was still very much a Catholic region, with its culture and heritage being linked more to Ireland than to southern Scotland. So it was of no surprise that support to restore James to the throne should start here.  The previous year, before the revolution, James had promoted one of his most loyal Catholic subjects, John Graham of Claverhouse known as “Bloody Clavers”, to the title of Lord Graham, 1st Viscount Dundee. In return Dundee had sworn to fight for James until his dying days. A message from James to Dundee as he fled for France gave Dundee the authority to literally fight if necessary, in the name of King James. After political talks in the Scottish parliament went against Dundee and it was agreed to accept King William as the monarch of Scotland as well, Dundee openly began a rebellion for James.

After declaring Dundee “outlaw”, along with other Highland Clan chiefs who supported him, William instructed one of the few British officers in his army that he fully trusted, Major General Hugh Mackay of Scourie, already a veteran of the War of Grand Alliance which raged in Europe. MacKay felt confident, he could muster between 3-4,000 well armed soldiers, compared to the estimated 2,000 Highland rebels, who he considered as untrained, levies.

Williamite Government soldiers by LURKIO FIGURINES (15mm)

 

KILLIECRANKIE

Dundee knew he had a hard task ahead of him, and that he needed a quick victory in battle to gain more support from other parts of Scotland and strengthen his forces. He identified Blair Castle as being a target and route through to the Lowlands of Scotland, the castle was owned by the Earl of Atholl, who upon hearing of the approaching Highlanders decided to leave the castle and gave over it defence to his son, Lord John Murray, who was a supporter of King William, however Dundee had already instructed Patrick Stuart of Ballechin (a relative of the Murrays) to seize the castle in the name of James, forcing Lord Murray to lay siege to his own castle !

Upon hearing of Dundee’s advance, MacKay gathered his forces to meet him and the two armies approached each other from opposite directions. Dundee from the west and taking his army through the long grass and bracken to form up on the hillside overlooking the River Garry, while MacKay, needing a road for his baggage train and artillery, approached from the east through the valley of the Killiecrankie Pass and through which the rive ran alongside them.  Despite being on the lower ground MacKay was still confident in his numerical superiority and trained firepower as the two armies formed up to face each other.

Suggested set up for the Battle of Killiecrankie

 

 

ORDERS OF BATTLE – using 1:20 figure/man ratio and suggested bases for “base rules”

Jacobite Army

John Graham of Claverhouse,  1st Viscount Dundee – Commander-in-Chief – Veteran, tactician, inspirational leader, fearless

Clan Maclean (200 men) 10 figures/4 bases – open order infantry, warband, experienced, impetuous, mixed weapons, 1/4 musket, 1/4 broadsword, 1/4 Lochaber axe,  1/4 spear/dagger

Irish Regiment (300 men) 15 figures/6 bases – close order infantry, experienced, trained, 1/3 pike 2/3 musket

Clan Ranald  (400 men) 20 figures/8 bases – open order infantry, warband, experienced, impetuous, mixed weapons, 1/4 musket, 1/4 broadsword, 1/4 Lochaber axe,  1/4 spear/dagger

Clan Glengarry  (300 men) 15 figures/6 bases – open order infantry, warband, experienced, impetuous, mixed weapons, 1/4 musket, 1/4 broadsword, 1/4 Lochaber axe,  1/4 spear/dagger

Dundee’s Cavalry Guard (50 men) 2 figures/1 base – close order cavalry, veteran, experienced, elite, sword, pistols

Dunfermline’s Cavalry (40 men) 2 figures/1 base – close order cavalry, veteran experienced, well trained, sword, pistols

Clan Cameron  (240 men) 12 figures/5 bases – open order infantry, warband, experienced, impetuous, mixed weapons, 1/4 musket, 1/4 broadsword, 1/4 Lochaber axe,  1/4 spear/dagger

Clan Macdonald  (500 men) 25 figures/10 bases – open order infantry, warband, experienced, impetuous, mixed weapons, 1/4 musket, 1/4 broadsword, 1/4 Lochaber axe,  1/4 spear/dagger

Optional – if used, to be located at the Commander’s choice of location

Lochiel’s Snipers (50 men) 2 figure (1 base) – skirmish order infantry, veteran, experienced, sniper, musket

 

Williamite Government Army

Major-General Hugh MacKay of Scourie – Commander-in-Chief – Veteran, tactician, respected leader, over confident

Lauder’s Fusiliers (200 men) 10 figures/4 bases – close order infantry, veteran, experienced, well trained, musket

Kenmure’s Scottish Regiment (600 men) 30 figures/12 bases – close order infantry, experienced, trained, 1/3 pike, 2/3 musket

Ramsey’s Anglo-Dutch Regiment (600 men) 30 figures/12 bases – close order infantry, inexperienced, trained, 1/3 pike 2/3 musket

Balfour’s Anglo-Dutch Regiment (600 men) 30 figures/12 bases – close order infantry, inexperienced, trained, 1/3 pike 2/3 musket

Annandale’s Horse (60 men) 3 figures/1 base – close order cavalry, veteran, experienced, elite, sword, pistols

Belhaven’s Horse (80 men) 4 figures/2 bases – close order cavalry, veteran, experienced, elite, sword, pistols

Leven’s Scottish Regiment (600 men) 30 figures/12 bases – close order infantry, experienced, trained, 1/3 pike, 2/3 musket

MacKay’s Anglo-Dutch Regiment 30 figures/12 bases – close order infantry, veteran, experienced, well trained, 1/3 pike, 2/3 musket

Hasting’s English Regiment 30 figures/12 bases – close order infantry, experienced, trained, 1/3 pike, 2/3 musket

Artillery (3 small cannon) 2 models/2 bases – 3lb regimental gun, inexperienced, trained crew

 

THE BATTLE AS IT HAPPENED

Although confident in his numerical advantage, MacKay was an experienced enough soldier to know that attempting a frontal assault uphill toward the Jacobite lines would be futile against such a strong defensive position. His men were largely inexperienced, with the more battle hardened regiments having been shipped to Holland to fight the French. He therefore ordered his men into firing lines, and for much of the battle had them firing their muskets and small cannon uphill towards the Jacobite lines, causing next to no casualties.

The Jacobites waited patiently, holding their position, although they did send forward a small unit of snipers to occupy a derelict building on the lower slopes to harass the enemy, but these were driven off by a detachment of men from MacKay’s Regiment. MacKay himself was disappointed that this very minor firefight hadn’t prompted a larger response from the Jacobites, as the day was passing and he was determined to do battle before nightfall and avoid the possibility of the Jacobites moving on under cover of darkness.

As the sun began to set behind the hills, Dundee ordered his men to ready themselves to attack. Seeing movement on the slopes in front, MacKay likewise ordered his men to form into Platoon firing lines, three men deep rather the conventional six, which would allow all his man to give fire. His plan was to create a wall of musket shot so intense it would halt the Jacobite army and then he could counter charge to finish them off.

As once the sun disappeared behind the skyline, Dundee ordered his army to advance, and in true Jacobite fashion the predominately barefooted warriors, soon built up speed to a full racing charge down the slopes, discarding everything about them other than their weapons. The largely inexperienced Williamite army fired their first round at 100 paces, and frantically began reloading, as the screaming Scots continued down the hill. A second round of shot felled a small number of the Jacobites, but still they charged forward. Determined that his plan would work, MacKay ordered a third reload as the Highlanders began to close, this final close range volley caused the most damage but did not stop them , the result was that none of the Government army had time to fix their “plug” bayonets, and were literally cut down by the fanatical sword and axe wielding Highlanders.

Despite his greater numbers, within minutes the Williamite lines broke and MacKay’s army fled the field, losing over 2,000 dead behind them. The Jacobite victory may have been swift once the attack began, but it was also costly for them too, losing around 680 men, but most importantly costing the life of Dundee, “Bloody Claverhouse” himself, who was struck down by shot during the final moments of the charge which he led personally.  This would have a major impact on the Jacobite cause, which petered out after their defeat at Dunkeld a few weeks later. MacKay would be sent back to fight overseas, where he was killed in 1692 at the Battle of Steenkirk in Holland.

The Battle of Killiecrankie

WARGAMING THE BATTLE

Although at first glance this may seem a one sided encounter, with the use of different tactics or maybe dare I say, lucky dice rolls, the outcome could be far more of a contest with either side gaining victory.

To simply the battlefield the river didn’t really play any part other than slow up the routing Government troops at the very end, and neither did the woods to the right. So for a simple set up the only really important feature being the high ground that the Jacobites occupied and charged down.

For rules, the main commercial ones for this period are Under Lily Banners by The League of Augsburg team,  Lace Wars by Partizan Press, Black Powder by Warlord Games, and DBR by Wargames Research Group, although a quick search on the interweb, will also lead you to several lesser known sets and free PDF downloads too, which are often fun to play.

Figures are a  little more difficult for an accurate depiction. Most “Jacobite Wars” ranges focus on The ’45 Uprising, some 60 years later, when British uniforms were more akin to the Seven Years War. If that doesn’t bother you then for 28mm fans the Front Rank Figurines range is very good, and for fans of smaller scales try the Pendraken 10mm range.

However, for accurate representation on the table, Dixon Miniatures make a superb 28mm range for the British in their League of Augsburg range and for fans of smaller scales then there is nothing more suitable than the 15mm Lurkio Figurines range who produce both British and Jacobites for this earlier period of the uprisings and can be found on our website at https://thelittlecorporal.co.uk/17th-century-55-c.asp

 

 

Posted 22/12/2021 by The Little Corporal in 17th Century, Category 1

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