By April 1746, a Jacobite army led by Bonnie Prince Charlie had marched from Glenfinnan down to Derby and all the way back north to Inverness. They were yet to lose a battle, but supplies were running low and hundreds of their soldiers were scattered around the country. In their disorganised state, retreat would have been the sensible option in the face of a large government army, but the Prince couldn’t afford to abandon the city.
Morale in the government camp was high, the soldiers were well-fed, rested and on the 15th of April, they even held a celebration for their commander the Duke of Cumberland’s birthday. That gave the Jacobite commanders an idea. The plan was to surprise the merry, drunken troops in the darkness, defeating them before they had a chance to react.
Unfortunately for the Jacobites, they were so concerned about being spotted by the Royal Navy waiting in the Moray Firth, that they left far too late. Stumbling across difficult terrain in total darkness, the ambushers were slow to arrive at the government lines. In the end, they turned back without making any contact and hundreds of exhausted, starving Jacobites would miss the upcoming battle as they searched for food or caught up on sleep.
By the middle of that day, roughly 9000 government soldiers lined up at Culloden opposite 5000 Jacobites. It wasn’t an ideal battlefield for Prince Charles’ side, far too open and flat, where simple strength in numbers could easily come out on top. The first action of the battle was a short artillery exchange, but the boggy moorland soaked up much of the damage, without either side making a serious impact.
Soon, the Jacobites surged forward with their fearsome Highland Charge. They raced towards their opponents, firing a single volley before charging into the confusion with sword and dirk swinging. It had won them every battle so far, but the government lines were expecting it this time. Their artillery switched to canister shot and hundreds of balls spread out from the cannon’s barrels, shredding anything in front of it.
Clan chiefs charging at the front of their men were some of the first to fall, destroying both morale and leadership. Even under the barrage, the Jacobite right wing still managed to cause carnage, however, the left was slowed by the poor ground and came to a standstill. Unable to move forwards, they fled backwards, leaving those who had already engaged isolated and quickly defeated.
The Battle of Culloden had been lost, but Charles was still determined to rally his soldiers and charge to death or glory. Wiser heads prevailed and his generals dragged the Prince away from the battlefield as Irish and French regiments covered the retreat. Around 1500-2000 Jacobites were killed or wounded on that day as opposed to roughly 300 government soldiers.
While some were determined to keep the fight alive, the now infamous battle marked the end of the Jacobite risings. It’s said that Culloden is such a place of sadness that no birds sing around its moors and that every year on the anniversary of the battle, those who died are doomed to rise and fight once again.