In 1745 many of the highland clans rallied to cause of Prince Charles Edward Stuart (The Young Pretender) and his bid to reclaim his family's lost throne from King George II and the House of Hanover. Despite the fact that he was a Catholic, Highlanders were firm believers in familial secesion, and 22 clans joined his cause, 10 remained loyal to the English crown. Charles left France for Scotland, assembled an army, and thus began the second Jacobite Rebellion. An interesting sidenote on Charle's alliance with the Highlanders is that prior to coming to Scotland, he had never seen a Highlander nor heard their language. He specifically commented on their interesting clothing. Joining the Scots were many nobles including Lord George Murray and the Duke of Perth, who joined the Young Pretender’s ranks as lieutenant-generals. Charles' army was initially very successful and captured Perth, Edinburgh, Lancaster and Manchester on their way to London but upon reaching Derby Charles was advised to guard his rear flank and his army turned around and headed back north.
Once back in Scotland Charles was victorious against the government forces at Falkirk on January 17, 1746, and was involved in siege at Stirling Castle. Meanwhile, Prince of William, the Duke of Cumberland was building and training an army in Aberdeen. In early February Cumberland advanced his larger Hanoverian force.
Charles was advised by his commanders to avoid direct conflict with Cumberland’s army, and to pursue the guerrilla tactics which were so effective in Highland warfare. Besides Cumberland, Charles was facing other challenges, Jacobite funds were running short and desertion in the ranks was becoming more frequent. Whole sections of the army were in the North pursuing Loudon’s government forces, and a dispute between the Clanranald and Glengarry sections of the Clan MacDonald had caused many to return home. The remaining MacDonalds were upset that they had been allotted the left flank of the army rather than the right. This was the context in which the two armies met at Culloden Moor on April 16, 1746.
At Culloden, the Highland Army was not well placed. Their position was selected by Secretary O’Sullivan, Prince Charles’ adjutant general. O’Sullivan chose a stretch of open moorland enclosed between the walled Culloden enclosures to the North and the walls of Culloden Park to the South. Lord George Murray and other senior officers pointed out the unsuitability of such open land in view of Cumberland’s powerful artillery. The Prince refused to change O’Sullivan’s choice.
On 15th April 1746 the Royal Army camped at Nairn, where it celebrated the Duke’s birthday. On that night the Highland Army attempted a night attack on Cumberland’s camp. The approach march was a failure, with men falling far behind and losing themselves in the boggy country. With dawn breaking the Highland Army was not near enough to launch its attack and was forced to return to Culloden, exhausted, discouraged and hungry. This failure exacerbated the split between Prince Charles and some of his most important commanders. Many of the highlanders went off to search for food or to sleep.
The Royal Army rose early on 16th April 1746 and began its approach march to Culloden, moving onto the moor in four columns. The troops were well fed and rested, confident and determined. They numbered around 9,000.
The first line of the Highland Army formed with the Atholl regiments on the right flank, then the Camerons of Locheil, Stewarts of Appin, Frasers, Mackintoshes, Macleans and Maclachlans, Farquarharsons, Stuarts and the Macdonalds. The second line comprised the various mounted regiments, much depleted by the wear on the horses of the long campaign, the regular regiments of Scots and Irish foot from the French army and a few further clan regiments. Placed in the centre and on each flank was the motley assemblage of cannon possessed by the army, largely manned by scratch teams of inexperienced gunners. Once assembled the Highland Army numbered some 5,000.
The Jacobites were outnumbed almost 2 to 1 and the ground was too marshy to accommodate the Highlanders’ favorite tactic - the headlong charge into the enemy’s ranks. Culloden did, however, lend itself to Cumberland’s strength in heavy artillery which decimated the clans as they awaited the command to charge. Many clansmen fell simply because the command to charge came too late, as Charles waited for the government troops to advance first.
Once given, the order was instantly obeyed, the Highlanders were keen to escape from the galling gunfire and get to grips with the enemy. The highlanders’ charge was a fearsome spectacle; crowds of clansmen running at top speed with broadswords, target shields and dirks, yelling their clan war cries. As predicted, the position selected by O’Sullivan proved to be disatrous. To maintain momentum the Clan Chattan veered to its right, avoiding the bog and following the the road that passed diagonally on firm ground across the moor. They crowded across in front of the clan regiments to their right, obstructing the path of the attack and pushing their neighbors towards the Park wall.
All the regiments in the Royal first line fired on the attacking Highlanders. The wind was behind them pushing the choking clouds of powder smoke, a feature of every 18th Century battle, down on the Highlanders. The surviving Highlanders smashed into the Royal line. Hand to hand fighting of considerable ferocity took place. Despite inflicting heavy casualties, the Highlanders were severely outnumbered and those still alive made their way back to rebel lines. Prince Charles rode away and the clan regiments left the field, their retreat covered by Irish Pickets and the other regular regiments of foot. The battle was over. With the help of Flora MacDonald Prince Charles was able to escape Scotland.
Following the defeat at Culloden, Stuart's supporters who remained suffered terribly from ‘Butcher Cumberland’ and his medieval reprisals. The British Army embarked upon the so-called 'pacification' of Jacobite areas of the highlands. All those the troops believed to be 'rebels' were killed, as were non-combatants; 'rebellious' settlements were burned and livestock was confiscated on a large scale. Over a hundred Jacobites were hanged. Women were imprisoned and droves of people were sent by ship to London for trial and as the journey took up to 8 months many of them died on the way. Without doubt the period after the battle of Culloden was one of the most dreadful in Highland history.
An account by Francis Stewart of Inverness:
"It is a fact undeniable, and known almost to everybody, that upon Friday, the eighteenth of April, which was the second day after the battle, a party was regularly detached to put to death all the wounded men that were found in and about the field of battle. That such men were accordingly put to death is also undeniable, for it is declared by creditable people who were eyewitnesses to that most miserable and bloody scene."
"I myself was told by William Rose, who was then grieve to my Lord President, that twelve wounded men were carried out of his house and shot in a hollow, which is within very short distance of the place of action. William Rose's wife told this fact to creditable people, from whom I had it more circumstantially.
"She said that the party came to her house, and told the wounded men to get up, that they might bring them to surgeons to get their wounds dressed. Upon which, she said, the poor men, whom she thought in so miserable a way that it was impossible they could stir, made a shift to get up; and she said they went along with the party with an air of cheerfulness and joy, being full of the thought that their wounds were to be dressed."
"But, she said, when the party had brought them the length of the hollow above mentioned, which is a very short distance from the house, she being then within the house, heard the firing of several guns, and coming out immediately to know the cause, saw all those brought out of her house, under the pretense of being carried to surgeons, were dead men."
To further punish Scotland, Parliament issued imperious Acts to destroy the clans, their identities and economic structures. New laws imposed abolished heritable jurisdictions, claimed estates for the crown, banned the wearing of tartans and Highland dress for all except government troops, and restricted the possession of weapons. The demise of the Highland Clans had begun.