The Battle of Cromdale, 1690 Part I

The second year of the campaign began with dissension in the Jacobite camp; a not uncommon state of affairs for any force without a clear leader and command hierarchy, especially one that has suffered military defeat and has not received the promised support in terms of men and money.

To exacerbate matters, there were some minor losses at the year’s onset. Lieutenant Colonel Mackrigour, ‘one of the greatest Robber and Plunderers’ was taken by Kilmarnock’s Horse. Cannon wrote to Mackay to tell him that this man must be treated well or he would cause 10 of his own prisoners to die. Meanwhile, Laird Macknel of Colloughie submitted with 30 men. There were two reported minor attempts to take government-held towns in January. One hundred Jacobites attacked Aberdeen, but in the fighting they lost 20 men dead and 15 taken, the government losing eight men killed. A planned Jacobite attack on Inverness at the end of January by Colin Mackenzie with 200-300 men was discovered and so was repulsed, with some of the attackers being killed or captured.

Hopes for – and promised – support from Ireland and France were largely disappointed. On 8 February three ships arrived from the former, bringing a number of officers: Colonels Buchan, Maxwell, Wauchop and others. The Earl of Seaforth, a Catholic Highland nobleman, came in the spring, but ‘brought nothing with him butt Letters and Commissions to the Chiefs: Cameron had written to James in a letter of 14 February to ask for supplies, and the reply, dated from Dublin on 31 March, was as ever optimistic. James, after explaining that the delay was due to the difficulty in transporting horses, stated that the French fleet was there and so ‘Now, we shall take all necessary measures, and loose as little time as we can in executing them: As always, though, no immediate help, was forthcoming, and so James urged his followers in Scotland to keep the faith, as he knew from experience that they had in the past, stressed how they had risked much for him and that he was convinced that Providence would be with them. Yet there were some crumbs from their master’s table. On 18 January, James sent £900 to Buchan, of which £300 was earmarked for Cannon, £100 to Purcell and the remainder for the Irish troops in Scotland.

The chiefs held a council of war after receiving such letters. Present were Seaforth, Generals Buchan and Cannon, Colonel Brown and others, as to how to conduct the year’s campaign. Apparently ‘they were generally so enraged at finding themselves disappointed of the relief they expected of men, arms and other provisions of war, that many proposed to offer their submissions to King William, upon terms which they were then very sure to obtain: They recalled their losses which had reduced some to poverty, they cited the imminent garrisons planned for subduing the Highlands and expected nothing but ruin by Scotland being ‘the seat of a bloody war’ and that it was therefore best to come to terms in order to save what they could from the wreckage.

Others went further and accused James of leaving them to their mutual enemy and that it was madness to continue supporting him. They thought that it must be easy to ‘waft over some thousands of the Irish: James was blamed for neglecting his own affairs and for ignoring his ministers. Therefore, ‘it was now high time for them to look to themselves, and to observe the first principles of nature, which was self-preservation: Many present subscribed to such sentiments. The laird of Glenmoriston told Livingstone he wished to come to terms.

These sentiments were not universally held. Sir Donald MacDonaId, Sir John MacLean and the Captain of Clanranald all declared their continued adherence to James. Cameron then delivered a major speech. He said that what he had already heard from many was shocking. That they had ‘renounced their duty and allegiance, as well as the respect they owed to the majesty of their Sovereign’ was disgraceful. He wondered whether they had been deceived by their enemies. He claimed that he would support their legitimate sovereign as long as he was able to as he was their lawfully anointed. He reminded them of James’ pledges of support and future rewards. He spoke at length and ‘After this discourse, which was delivered with great warmth and zeale, none present had the assurance to speake any more of peace: Buchan was appointed as commander-in-chief until that year’s general rendezvous. He encouraged waverers with promises of French aid in the way of supplies to look forward to.

Glengarry received a letter of encouragement from James, written on 1 April: ‘Wee need not therefore exhort you to the continuance of your Endeavours for us, since wee have it from all hands that none is more earnest and zealous . . . how intent we are upon helping you out of your present difficulties:

Yet all was not well with their enemies, either. Mackay was also despondent and had lobbied to be sent to Holland at the year’s beginning, but William wanted him to remain in Scotland ’till the things were further settled: Meanwhile in January 1690, Mackay had further orders to reduce the number of units in the Scottish establishment from 10 to seven regiments of infantry, losing Mar’s, Bargany’s and Blantyre’s, and to disband 12 troops of horse and dragoons. Mackay thought that the reduction in cavalry was folly for there was ‘the necessity of a considerable body of horse and dragoons, without which it was impossible to secure the authority of the government in the north: Instructions came from the court dated 4 January to disband others, too. If there were insufficient funds to maintain regiments, then the number ofcompanies in each should be reduced. The troopers in Annandale’s and Ross’ cavalry were to be distributed among the remaining cavalry troops to make their numbers up to the establishment strength; any remaining were to be discharged. Mackay also noted the instructions from the court to put Leven, ‘tho’ but a colonel and a youth without service’ on an equal footing with him and deemed that this was ‘a token of His Majesty’s mistrust of him’, but avoided showing his displeasure.

The extent of the suggested troop reduction was ameliorated. Mackay, Leven and Major General Munro wrote to the King that the retention of the cavalry was essential for the security of Scotland. The infantry loss was also softened for the men of the disbanded regiments formed a new regiment, Cunningham’s, and the remainder made up a company in each of the other seven regiments.

Mackay wanted Captain John Hill of Leven’s regiment to be appointed as adjutant general. Mackay had no one in this role and he stated that it was necessary in order to distribute orders, muster troops and have the cavalry made useful for service. Such work would greatly assist Mackay in bringing the war to a swift resolution.

Arms, ammunition and uniforms were also insufficient at the beginning of the year. The Privy Council requested 3,000 muskets with ammunition on 10 January. On 1 April they asked for new uniforms for Mackay’s, Ramsay’s and Lauder’s regiments. Beveridge’s regiment was poorly armed because the men had muskets of different calibre; perhaps a mix of matchlocks and flintlocks. Yet in other ways, the condition of the troops at the year’s onset was good. They were being paid out of English resources and were mostly up to strength ‘and in good order’. Mackay also ordered six three-pounders for use in the field, but there is no evidence they ever fired a shot in anger.

Mackay’s policy was to have towns, cities and other places garrisoned to deny them to the Jacobites and to restrict supplies available to the Jacobites. The Castle of Erchless, to the south-west of Inverness, belonging to Chisholm of Strathglass, was garrisoned by Lieutenant Colonel Lumstone with seven companies of Strathmore’s regiment, for example. Expeditions were sent to attack and capture Jacobites. On 1 March Captain John Hay of Livingstone’s Horse, at Banff took suspected Jacobites at Lord Oliphanfs house at Bachlen. At the end of the month, Livingstone sent horse and dragoons to Strathglass, killing and capturing Jacobites there, and taking some cattle to Inverness.

The first prong of Mackay’s strategy was to have a garrisoned fort in the West Highlands, an issue which he had raised in the previous year. He later wrote ‘the only formidable rebels then in the kingdom might be subdued by placing a garrison in Innerlochy: This meant ships, boats, spades, shovels and pickaxes and frigates to convoy them there. Yet delays occurred, due to the overriding precedence claimed by William’s expedition to Ireland and the Scottish government lacking money. It was not until March that such necessaries could be supplied. Mackay met members of the Privy Council and gave them an account of what he had requested to the court.

Feeling that the Privy Council would be unreceptive to his plan, he suggested to them that troops be transported along the coast to prevent any of the Islanders from reinforcing the Jacobites on the mainland. Paying for war was difficult: the Lords of the Treasury supplying £600, but this was inadequate given ‘so great was the disorder and poverty of the government: Glasgow was zealous for the cause and made up the shortfall in funding.

Fort William was thus established. It had three six-pounders, six three pounders with 130 balls, and a dozen culverins, with 20 balls each. There were also 800 grenades. However, instead of 1 ,200 men in the garrison as planned, there were only 900 allocated, which was further reduced by desertions. The palisade was weak. On 21 July, Hill wrote of the Jacobites, ‘they stir not yet but come not in.

Secondly, part of Mackay’s strategy to defeat the Jacobites was to send the newly promoted Major Jacob Ferguson of Lauder’s regiment, with 600 men to be shipped at Greenock and for Captain Edward Pottinger of HMS Dartmouth with other ships, to work together against the Jacobites of the Western Islands. They were to ‘resolve and do every thing unanimously and with one accord: Pottinger was to have the final word on seaborne matters, Ferguson to have the lead as to landing troops and in land-based operations.

The aim was stated by Mackay in his instructions to Ferguson:

The main desseyn of this detachment being to make a diversion, allarme the rebel coasts, cut their communication with the Islanders now in rebellion against their Majesties authoritie, and to take away or burn all their boats and berlins whether on the Isles or along the coasts of the rebelles upon firme land: the Major is to undertake nothing as to landing but upon visible and apparent advantages and humane assurance of success.

Mackay added that although this was to be done ‘with all the rigour of military executions, such as shall continue obstinate in their rebellion, with this proviso, that women and children be not touched or wronged in their persons.

There were difficulties and delays. Ferguson had to wait five weeks for the provisions for his expedition. Meanwhile, Mackay broadcast his plans for Ferguson, though stating that he had far more men than was the case in reality, in order that numbers accruing to Cannon and Buchan would be reduced. According to Mackay, the Jacobites, instead of supplying 4,000- 5,000 men, only 700-800 were sent out with Buchan. Thus ‘the gross of the rebels, particularly such as dwelt near the sea with the inhabitants of the isles stayed at home to guard their country against the frigates, with Ferguson’s detachment, at the every noise whereof they were very much terrified.

Ferguson’s raiding, assisted with help from the Campbells, resulted in property belonging to Jacobites in Mull being destroyed. Castle Duart, stronghold of the MacLeans, was left alone. However, inhabitants of Kintyre and Mull yielded by early June.

If Ferguson thought that with 300-400 men he might master the Isle of Mull, he was to contact the laird of Ardkinglas, sheriff depute of Argyllshire, who was then to assist him with ‘the most resolute and best armed men of the shire’ (later that year 600 Argyllshire militia aided his troops). Generally, boats held by the Jacobites were the main target for without them they would be unable to assist their allies on the mainland with men or provisions. Men swearing allegiance to their Majesties and delivering their weapons were to be protected but their chiefs had to surrender themselves to Ferguson in person. The major also had to keep his men under control or else punish them. MacLeod, though he had not declared his open allegiance to their Majesties, was to be assured of protection once Ferguson was on the coast.

From May to October there were three ships cruising off the north-west of Scotland. These were HMS Dartmouth, a 32 gun frigate with a crew of 135 men under Pottinger. Then there was the smaller Larke, a sixth-rate frigate of 1 8 guns and 85 men under Captain Andrew Douglass. Finally there was the Fanfan, of two guns and 30 men under Richard Finch. There were at least 500-600 Jacobites on Mull near the castle Duart to oppose them.

Initially the two larger ships focussed their attention on Islay. On 19 May they landed troops there, on different sides of the islands. Pottinger’s and Captain James Hackett’s detachments had orders to ‘burne and destroy those rebels, and [the latter] did accordingly land 30 men: The Lark sent another 19 soldiers ashore. Four prisoners were taken. On the next day they were at Mull. Captain Robert Mackay took 200 sailors and soldiers ashore to march to Castle Boy, ‘they having sett severall towns afire’ by nightfall. On the following day, further towns were burnt and boats were destroyed. In the remainder of the month and in June, the ships landed men to destroy further boats and houses and to make prisoners, destroying ‘such as fall in their way:

Pottinger wrote ‘glowing’ reports on Ferguson’s effectiveness. On 19 June, whilst cruising off Mull, he wrote:

Major Ferguson, his men, ships and boats, done the best service wee were capable of, by burning & destroying the severall islands & houses, boats, cattle &c. of such as are in actuall Rebellion. To be particular would be too tedious to yo. Hon., tho’ on some islands the souldiers have scarce a beast, nor a hutt to shelter in.

Pottinger noted, following Mackay’s orders, that he had given instructions that the men had been ‘strictly charged not to molest’ women and children. Yet his initial incursions had been resisted. The MacLeans, Glengarrys and Camerons ‘continue as obstinate as Jews’ but ‘which in good time I hope shall be reduc’t: Ferguson lost a dozen men in his expeditions, mostly by straggling. One man had been caught by the Jacobites and hanged ‘most barbarously.

The Fanfan, on 20 June, landed a Captain Piercy Kirk of the Queen Consort’s Foot and 50 soldiers on an unnamed island, after firing from the ship at Jacobites on the shore. The raiding party killed three Jacobites and the rest fled to the mountains. No losses were incurred by the soldiers. On the following day the ship fired at people on the shore of the Isle of Mull.

Sir Donald MacDonald’s son sought terms with Ferguson by early July, but his father objected to such a surrender. This led to his house ‘the prettiest house in the Highlands of Scotland’ being reduced to ‘flames and ashes: The Dartmouth, a half mile away, fired ‘betwixt 3 and 400 shott’ at it before men landed to finish the job, ‘what my guns could not batter down: Pottinger, writing on 31 July, considered that his expedition had been a success, for it had ‘kept ye clans of these islands from joining: who could have brought in a body above 3,000 men to have joined Buchan and Cannon. The apprehension they concerned of our landing, kept each of them to preserve their own self interest’.

Yet for Pottinger, this success would come, ultimately, at a very high price. The expedition was not without loss, apart from those men already referred to. On 18 September Fanfan’s captain learnt that the Dartmouth had been lost at sea in Collander Bay. Only five men and one boy had been saved. Pottinger was dead. Colonel Hill wrote, ’tis a very great loss.

Thirdly, Mackay ordered Livingstone, who had been at Aberdeen and Inverness since August 1689, to march north with his dragoon regiment for he knew the country, the people and the latter’s intention better than any other. Mackay gave him varying instructions dependent on the intelligence he received from Livingstone.

On 6 February, Mackay wrote an upbeat letter to Melville, assuring him that ‘no man serves his interest with lesse regard to his owne than I doe: He added, ‘I question not but with Gods assistance, to be able to give a good account of the Highland rebellion before the end of Appril: His difficulties, though were a lack of experienced officers as subordinates who could hold independent commands and advance notice of supplies sent northwards.

Fighting was occurring on a low level. At the end of March, two troops of horse and two of dragoons, along with a few infantry, were besieging Castle Glendaleth. There was firing on both sides, but the besiegers could not enter. Captain Charles Dundas of the Royal Regiment of Foot was killed, ‘being over forward with two or three mor ofye dragoons, and a few wounded of ye Foot: They then retreated on hearing that 500 Highlanders were on their way.

Meanwhile in the north of Scotland on 22 April, Livingstone, having recovered from the illness that had afflicted him in February, heard that there were Jacobites at Mackintosh’s house at Aberarder, Strathearn, which was 15 miles from Inverness. With 1 ,000 infantry, four troops of horse and some dragoons, with artillery, moved to attack them. The Jacobites retreated when they were within six miles of them. Ramsay’s and Angus’ regiments were to march to join Livingstone, but on hearing there was a Jacobite threat to Montrose, returned there.

Mackay’s plans were known about by the Jacobites and apparently, ‘the very noise of it occasioned such alarm among the rebels: Buchan, as the senior major general to Cannon, took over command of the Jacobite army. According to Balcarres, the plan was for him ‘to go down to the borders of the low country, to amuse the enemy and fatigue their troops by allaruming them in severall of their quarters.

He asked the clans to supply him with 100 men each (on 18 March Cluny of MacPherson was asked for 200 men) and had 1,200-1,500 men with him; the low numbers due to the attacks on the West as already noted. He hoped to collect more supporters before marching to the Lowlands. At the end of March they marched from Keppoch to Kilwinny at the end of Loch Ness. By the middle of April, they were in Strathspey and remained on the north bank for 10 days; Balcarres writing that instead of taking action as discussed, he ‘continued there without doing anything: He was advised to quarter his men in the woods of Glenlochy ‘where they could not be attacked but under great disadvantage, yet he would not hearken to this advice: Instead he put his men in the villages near Cromdale, ‘though all the clans positively protested against that march’. Two hundred men led by Grant and Brody were sent to guard the fords over the Spey, and apparently they ‘were so well posted that they might have stopt the enemy from crossing that great river: They would have known that their enemies were at Inverness and so the danger was from the north.