24 hours to Culloden: The final countdown to battle

On the eve of the anniversary of the Battle of Culloden, we look at the final manouevres of the 1745 Jacobite rising.
The Battle of Culloden was fought on April 16, 1747. The brutal toe-to-toe encounter was over in just an hour. PIC: Creative Commons.The Battle of Culloden was fought on April 16, 1747. The brutal toe-to-toe encounter was over in just an hour. PIC: Creative Commons.
The Battle of Culloden was fought on April 16, 1747. The brutal toe-to-toe encounter was over in just an hour. PIC: Creative Commons.

Sunrise April 15, 1746: Charles Edward Stuart wakes at Culloden House with his army rising from their tents in nearby Culloden Wood

Early morning: Charles marches his army to Drumossie Moor, now broadly known as Culloden Moor, which he selected for battle with his men drawn across the open space.

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The Jacobites who fought on after Culloden

The Duke of Cumberland and his men awake in Nairn.

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10am: Charles sends forward a horse party to Nairn to check on the British Army troops but no movement is detected. Lord George Murray arrives at Culloden and objects to the choice of battlefield given it is too mossy and too level and not suitable for the fighting tactics of the Jacobites.

Two senior officers sent to check on a potential site near Nairn.

11am: Charles orders his men to rest and are encouraged to have a sleep in the field.

1pm: Senior officers return from Nairn and discount potential battle site as unsuitable. Lord George Murray says a new site should be found near Nairn if Cumberland’s troops don’t appear that day.

Lord George argues if the British still did not appear, the Highlanders should retreat to the mountains, draw out the enemy and attack them from a vantage point. Senior commanding officers approve of the plan; Charles does not. He does not want to leave Inverness exposed given that Jacobite baggage and ammunition lie there.

He also does not want his soldiers to believe they are running from the British Army.

Afternoon: A Council of War is held. Lord George Murray suggests that a surprise attack on Cumberland’s camp near Nairn could be launched around 1am or 2am the next day, the 16th.

Charles is overjoyed – he had been thinking along the same lines.

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However, the practicalities of a night march of 10 or 12 miles come into view. Although the army was in high spirits and eager to meet the enemy, they were hungry. Most had eaten just a single biscuit in two days.

Nevertheless, Charles opts for the attack, despite the fact that some key Jacobites are yet to arrive, and selects 8pm as the time of departure. This information is tightly protected to prevent any word reaching Cumberland.

7pm: Unaware of the planned night march, around 2,000 men – or around a third of the army – set off towards Inverness to get food and accommodation for the night.

Officers are sent on horseback to retrieve them, but they refuse to return until they had eaten. This loss of men shattered the plan of a surprise attack, which then lost all its supporters in the council of war.

However, Charles enthusiasm was not dimmed. He believed that once the march set off, those soldiers now in Inveress would return to join their men.

7.30pm approx: The commanding officers took their stations, waiting on their orders to march. The watchword was issued – King James the Eighth.

Special instructions are issued to commanders. Firearms should not be used but their swords, dirks and bayonets deployed. On entering Cumberland’s camp, tent strings should be cut and poles pulled down. When it was clear the tent contained soldiers, they shoud strike through the tent canvas.

8pm: Lord George Murray leads the march with two officers and around 30 men of the Mackintosh regiment who act as guides to the remaining army who followed behind. Within half an hour, Lord George receives an express to halt until the

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rear column cataches up. The roads are said to be hampering progress. Lord George does not halt but slows down and the march struggles to keep form. Fifty expresses are given in total but the army does not stop to regroup.

1am approx: The head of the march reaches Kilravock House with Lord George Drummond and the Duke of Perth pleading for the march to stop. It finally comes to a halt at a small farmhouse called Yellow Know, around four miles from Nairn.

2am: Many soldiers, so fatigued by lack of food and the bad state of the road, lay down in the woods unable to go on.

Lord George and his key men look at their watches and decide there is little chance now of being able to surprise Cumberland’s army given the approach of daybreak.

They had covered only around one mile every hour and still had three to four miles to go. Even at speed – which seemed now hard to achieve – Cumberland would have sufficient time to get his army ready for an attack. Many men on the march had now fallen by the wayside and only around a half of the fighting force who stood on the moor the day before were now in tow.

Spies inform Cumberland of the night march but he is unaware of the surprise attack, which has remained a secret even from the Highland soldiers.

The Jacobite army starts its return to the grounds of Culloden House.

5am: Cumberland and his army start their march towards Inverness. They had celebrated the commander’s birthday the night before with bread, cheese and brandy but the men “had not exceeded the bounds of moderation”, according to accounts.

Jacobites start to arrive back at Culloden House.

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9am: A cavarly patrol arrives at Culloden House with news that Cumberland and his men are less than four miles away.

The Jacobite army is drawn up in three lines.

10 am: The Jacobites finally see Cumberland’s army approach. By the time they are just under two miles away , Cumberland gives the order to form lines and the army marches forward in full battle order.

As they came within a mile of each other, the two armies stand and looked at each other, each expecting the other would advance to battle.

1pm: The battle commences. The advance of Lord Bury, who came within 100 yards of the Jacobites, is considered by some to signal the beginning of the battle. Three guns at the Jacobite centre open fire with two successive volleys. Small arms fire is returned. The Battle of Culloden – the last act in the Jacobite rising – is underway.

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