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Reign of George I page 7

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The wild, uneven ground of Sheriffmuir lay between them, and it was on this spot that Argyll on quitting Stirling had hoped to meet them. He therefore drew up his men on this moorland in battle array, and did not wait long for the coming of the Highland army. They were as eager for the fight as the soldiers of Argyll. As the earl called around him his officers, and asked whether they should fight or retreat - for even then he could talk of a retreat - they interrupted him by impatient cries of "Fight! fight!" The soldiers threw up their caps and bonnets, raised loud hurrahs, and showed every demonstration of longing for the combat.

It was on a Sunday morning, the 13th of November, that the battle of Sheriffmuir was fought. Princes and. commanders seem to have a penchant for fighting on a Sunday. What numbers of the most sanguinary battles have taken place on a Sunday! and those rulers and governors who are of all men the most severe against the desecration of the Sunday by the people, terming often innocent amusement such desecration, think it no desecration at all to engage on that day in the mutual slaughter of thousands of men made in the image of God.

Argyll commanded the right wing of his army, general Whitham the left, and general Wightman the centre. He calculated much on this open ground for the operations of his cavalry. On the other hand, Mar took the right wing of his army, and was thus opposed, not to Argyll, but to Whitham. The Highlanders, though called on to form in a moment, as it were, did so with a rapidity which astonished the enemy. "I never saw," said Wightman. in an official despatch," regular troops -more exactly drawn up in line of battle, and that in a moment, and their officers behaved with all the gallantry imaginable." They opened fire on Argyll so instantly and well, that it took the duke's forces by surprise. Argyll was compelled to be on the alert. He observed that Mar had drawn out his forces so as to outflank him; but, casting his eye on a morass on his right, he discovered that the frost had made it passable, and he ordered major Cathcart to lead a squadron of horse across it, whilst with the rest of his cavalry he galloped round, and thus attacked the left wing of Mar both in front and flank. The Highlanders, thus taken by surprise, were thrown into confusion, but still fought with their wonted bravery. They were driven, however, by the momentum of the English horse backwards; and betwixt the spot whence the attack commenced and the river Allan, three miles distant, they rallied ten times, and fairly contested the field. Argyll, however, bore down upon them with all the force of his right wing, offering quarter to all who would surrender, and even parrying blows from his own dragoons which went to exterminate those already wounded. After an obstinate fight of three hours, he drove the Highlanders over the Allan, a great number of them being drowned in it, and then returned to learn the fate of the rest of his army. He found that he had been taking the office of a general of division instead of that of the commander-in-chief, whose duty is to watch the movements of the whole field, and send aid to quarters which are giving way. Like prince Rupert, in his ardour for victory over his enemies in front of him, he had totally forgotten the centre and left wing, and discovered now that the left wing was totally defeated.

Mar himself had led the onset against that wing. The first fire of the English did great execution on his troops, and amongst the mortally wounded was the chief of Clanranald, a gallant veteran, who had fought in many a foreign battle under the duke of Berwick, and at home was celebrated for the feudal magnificence and hospitable state in which he lived. His fall cast a great damp on the Highlanders; but Glengarry, who had carried the royal standard at the battle of Killiekrankie, throwing his bonnet into the air, shouted "Revenge! revenge! To-day for revenge, tomorrow for mourning!'' At this stirring appeal the blood of the clansmen was in effervescence. They dashed forward on the English ranks with terrific noise, thrust aside the bayonets with their targets, and threw the whole wing into confusion. They gave no moment for reflection or recovery; they fought like furies; the whole wing broke and fled, Whitham himself never drawing bit till he found himself in the streets of Stirling. In their panic, the left wing drew after them a part of the centre under general Wightman; and the Scots contend that the whole centre would have been routed had it not been for the wayward obstinacy of the master of Sinclair. Wightman, by this circumstance, was enabled to keep together three regiments of foot, and drew them off towards the right, to re-unite, if possible, with Argyll's wing. When these three regiments reached him, and informed him of the defeat of the left wing and flight of part of the centre, he observed to the officers, in the words of an old Scotch song -

If it was na weel bobbit, weel bobbit, weel bobbit,
If it was na weel bobbit, we'll bobbit again!

and he accordingly drew together his tired men, and led them back to the field in search of Mar. That general had, like his antagonist, been pursuing the flying enemy, equally forgetful of the rest of his army, and had reached Corntown, a village near Stirling, when he learned that the other wing was dispersed. It was said of both these generals that they had acted perfectly according to the Christian injunction not to let their left hand know what their right was doing. Mar, on reaching a rising ground, saw the weary remnant of Argyll's army slowly toiling along a road at the bottom of the hill. Then was the time for an active and able general. A single charge of horse down the hill must, by the confession of the English themselves, have swept them away. Argyll saw this at a glance, and, expecting nothing less, took shelter behind some mud walls and inclosures, and placed two pieces of cannon in front. For some time he awaited the attack, when, to his astonishment, he heard the bagpipes sounding a retreat, and, to his great delight, perceived the Scots receding from the moor. Wightman, in his dispatch, could not conceal his agreeable astonishment. u If they had had either conduct or courage, they might have entirely destroyed my body of foot." "If they had thrown down stones," says Sir Walter Scott, "they might have disordered Argyll's troops."

But Mar, who proposed to retreat at the very commencement of the battle, was not the man to retrieve all by one last energetic effort. He was contented to draw off, and yet boast of victory. His preachers celebrated this singular victory, in which his left wing was routed, and his remaining force had retired from the field, by sermons and thanksgivings; and the English, on their part, returned the compliment by a sermon, in which the minister took for his text Revelation xvii. 11, as particularly applicable to the pretender, called James VIII. of Scotland - "And the beast that was and is not, even lie is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition."

Argyll showed a more solid claim to the victory by remaining on the field, by the capture of four pieces of cannon, thirteen stand of colours, and three standards, including the royal one, called "the restoration," and by the greater execution done on his opponents. The Scots had seven hundred men killed, and two hundred taken prisoners. Amongst the slain was the young earl of Strathmore, who was taken and butchered by a dragoon; amongst the prisoners was the lord Strathallan. A good many officers taken during the battle were rescued before its close, as the earl of Panmure and Mr. Robertson, of Strowan. The duke lost two hundred killed; he had as many wounded, and a good many taken, amongst whom were the earl of Forfar and colonel Lawrence.

Besides the inefficiency of Mar, it is true that there was a good deal of disaffection in his army. The master of Sinclair, who has left his account of this event, avows that lord Huntly, himself, and others were desirous, before the battle, of coming to terms with Argyll. It is also well known that, soon after, Sinclair and lord Rollo secretly offered to go over with the whole Fife squadron. Huntly, though he did not lay down his arms before the battle, did worse, for he speedily quitted his post in it; and lord Seaforth's men actually ran off. The afterwards famous Rob Roy, when desired to advance, coolly replied, "If they cannot do without me, they shall not do with me," and so walked away, as did numbers of other Highlanders, amongst them the Camerons of Lochiel and the Stuarts of Appin.

After the battle Argyll satisfied himself with retiring to Stirling, and Mar resumed his position at Perth.

Such was the extraordinary battle of Sheriffmuir. It was in this battle that Gordon of Glenbucket, indignant at Mar drawing off his troops, made the exclamation which became so famous - "Oh, for an hour of Dundee! " Even after this there was ample opportunity for Mar to renew the contest. He had still forces superior to Argyll; and to keep up their spirit, and even to keep them together, the only way was to show confidence. General Hamilton urged him strenuously to this course. "If we have not yet gained a victory," he said, "we ought to fight Argyll once a week till we make it one." But nothing could infuse a soul into Mar. His delay and indecision had undermined the reliance of his troops. The Highlanders and Lowlanders, having nothing else to do, had quarrelled, as they always did in such cases; and the Highlanders, from these causes, and some of them because they had obtained a good booty, began to steal away into their hills. Then came the news that lord Sutherland was advancing from the north with the Monroes, the Mackays, and the other clans, and that Forbes of Culloden and the infamous Simon Frazer had taken Inverness from the insurgents. Frazer, whom we have seen so active in raising the rebellion, had now suddenly turned round in order to obtain the headship of his clan, which now resided in a juvenile heiress. On receiving this news, Huntly and Seaforth, who were only waiting for an excuse, led off their contingents, on the plea that it was necessary to protect their districts from Sutherland.

Whilst these causes were every day thinning Mar's army, the duke of Argyll received information that the six thousand Dutch troops were on their march to join him. Probably Mar had heard this too, for he now showed an earnest desire to come to terms. He set at liberty colonel Lawrence, and sent him as a bearer of his overtures to Argyll. He also employed the good offices of the countess of Murray, the duke's aunt. Argyll received the proposals with great friendliness. He lamented that he was not authorised to treat with any but individuals, but informed Mar that he would immediately apply for enlarged powers. But in this he was unsuccessful. The government had heard some whispers of Argyll's doubtful views, and declined to enlarge his powers. They were now in the ascendant. Ormonde's threatened insurrection in the west had vanished from the sky like a thunder-cloud. Forster and Derwentwater were crushed, and the Dutch forces had arrived. They were in no disposition for leniency, but for making a severe example of the rebels. Argyll was ordered, on the arrival of the Dutch reinforcement, to dislodge Mar from Perth, and make an end of the insurrection. This was deferred only through a heavy fall of snow.

At this juncture arrived the pretender. His delay till this moment had been created by no fault of his own. Lord Stair, the English ambassador in Paris, kept such an acute look-out, that he was immediately aware of every movement in favour of or by the pretender. The regent, who would have been glad to be well rid of the pretender, and the anxiety and expense which ho occasioned to France, was, on the other hand, afraid of letting the English government perceive any of his acts in furtherance of the pretender's scheme. Stair had procured the stoppage and unloading of the Scottish ships at Havre, but, being soon informed that a messenger had arrived from England to the pretender, having come disguised as the servant of a gentleman, and brought the most encouraging letters of the pretender's affairs in England and Scotland, of the promising movements in Northumberland and in the Highlands, so that, in consequence, the pretender's plate, equipage, and other property taken from the unloaded ships, with the powder and ammunition, were returned to him and secured for his use - he immediately waited on the regent, and thanked him for "seizing the arms and ammunition at Havre, and for refusing to see Ormonde or Bolingbroke." He also assured him that the information that the regent had given him that the pretender would not attempt to get over to England was, he found, quite correct, for Stair had heard that Ormonde and Bolingbroke were arranging matters for an invasion, but that the pretender was not to go himself till the tories had declared for him. Stair saw by the coolness of the regent's looks that he had grown more confident of the pretender's affairs, and he next waited on him to inform him that he had received orders from king George to conclude a treaty securing the succession of the two fines of France and England, and that it was to guarantee the maintenance of the regency under his royal highness that he was prepared to complete these treaties at once, but that, if any delays were interposed by France, the king would proceed to put down the rebellion in Scotland, and leave the treaty unexecuted, and that it was for the regent to consider which was best for the interests of France. So long as the news continued good from England, Stair could make but little impression. The regent avoided seeing him, though he called four times. There was also a determined endeavour on the part of the pretender's creatures and the women about his court to get rid of Bolingbroke, who was too acute and proud either to overlook or tolerate their squabbles and wretched intrigues, and they engaged Ormonde in this endeavour.

But speedily came the news of the rout of Preston and the check at Sheriffmuir, and the French court was thunderstruck by it. They had begun to call the pretender king of England openly, but now all that was abandoned, and the regent professed to be in earnest to prevent any attempt on the part of the pretender to go over into England; it was, however, only pretence. Meantime the pretender's partisans in Scotland were urging his going over with ever-increasing earnestness. Mar represented his position as now far better than before the battle of Sheriffmuir, and that his army amounted to sixteen thousand men. Bolingbroke, on the other, hand, was averse to the pretender going to Scotland on the faith of such representations, and the pretender himself did all in his power to persuade the duke of Berwick to go over and take the management of the war. He sent him a commission for this purpose, but Berwick was too clear-sighted. All that he would do was to allow his son to embark in it, but he himself records the failure of that endeavour. The duke's son, accompanied by the chevalier Erskine and old Bulkeley, took over with him one hundred thousand crowns in gold ingots, sent by the king of Spain; but after having been tossed about a good while on the sea, the vessel in which they went was wrecked on the coast of Scotland; the ingots were lost, and they escaped only with their lives. Urged, therefore, by Mar and the Highlanders, and not able to induce Berwick to undertake the command, the pretender at length set sail from Dunkirk in a small vessel, attended by only six French gentlemen, and landed at Peterhead on the 22nd of December.

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