Battle of Prestonpans

Battle of Prestonpans

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Prestonpans

caption=Jacobite forces at the Battle of Prestonpans
partof=Jacobite rising
date=21 September 1745
place=Prestonpans (near Edinburgh), Scotland
result=Jacobite Victory
combatant1= flagicon|UK|1606 Hanoverians
combatant2= Jacobites
commander1= flagicon|UK|1606 John Cope
commander2= Charles Edward Stuart
casualties1=300 killed, 500 wounded, 1510 captured [ [ The Battle of Prestonpans 1745 ] ]
casualties2=30 killed, 70 wounded|
The Battle of Prestonpans was the first significant conflict in the second Jacobite Rising. The battle took place on 21 September 1745. The Jacobite army loyal to James Francis Edward Stuart and led by his son Charles Edward Stuart defeated the army loyal to the Hanoverian George II led by Sir John Cope. It was initially known as the Battle of Gladsmuir - but was fought at Prestonpans, East Lothian, Scotland on that town's borders with Tranent, Cockenzie and Port Seton. The victory was a huge morale boost for the Jacobites, and a heavily mythologized version of the story entered art and legend.

The road to Prestonpans

In the summer of 1745, Charles Edward Stuart, commonly known as 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' or 'the Young Pretender', mounted a campaign to take Scotland and England with an eye towards reclaiming what he considered to be his father's two kingdoms (Great Britain, formally united in 1707, and Ireland). Against long odds, and aided by the early support of Donald Cameron of Lochiel, XIX chief of Clan Cameron,Cameron] his party of ten raised an army which eventually numbered over 2000 Scots as they marched to Glenfinnan and then to Edinburgh.

The Hanoverian response

Sir John Cope, the general commanding government forces in Scotland, was commanded to raise forces to stop the rising. He raised the recruits but the vast majority had no experience whatsoever, and he was hampered by a variety of other issues including the sickness of his principal cavalry officer. Despite this, his officers apparently believed that the rebels would never attack a single force including both infantry and cavalry. They assured locals during their march that there would be no battle.Brander]

Charles's army took Edinburgh with little or no fighting on the 16th of September; Cope, travelling by ship from Aberdeen, arrived at Dunbar too late to challenge them.

The Battle

On 20 September Cope's forces encountered Charles' advance guard. Cope decided to stand his ground and engage the Jacobite army. He drew up his army facing south with a marshy ditch to their front, and the park walls around Preston House protecting their right flank. His cannon he mounted behind the low embankment of the Tranent colliery waggonway, which crossed the battlefield. [cite book|last=Smiles|first=Samuel|authorlink=Samuel Smiles|title=The Life of George Stephenson, Railway Engineer|publisher=Ticknor and Fields|location=Boston MA|date=1859|edition=Fourth|pages=p 67] The Highlanders' Lt. Anderson was a local farmer's son who knew the area well and convinced Charles's Lieutenant General, Lord George Murray of an excellent route through the marshlands. Commencing at 4 a.m. he moved the entire Jacobite force walking three abreast along the Riggonhead Defile far to the east of Cope's army.Thomasson] Cope kept fires burning and posted pickets during the night as the Highlanders were making their move.

At the crack of dawn on 21 September 1745, Cope's dragoons beheld the spectacle of 1,400 Highlanders charging through the early mist making "wild Highland war cries and with the bloodcurdling skirl of the pipes....".

Cope's inexperienced army wheeled around to face the Highlanders, who were charging in from behind them following their night march. Cope managed to scramble some cannon up onto his right flank, who opened fire as soon as he was in range. Undaunted by the light, inaccurate guns, the Highlander army charged, however the centre became bogged down in marshy terrain. This meant the wings of the Highlander army were charging faster than those in the centre. The Highland forces clashed with the wings of the army, and almost instantly, the dragoons fled from the field. The highlanders charged in on the flanks of the army in a V formation, as the centre now charged up and into contact with the front line of royal infantry. The effect of this unplanned flanking manoeuvre meant that the royal foot soldiers were effectively sandwiched. They suffered heavy casualties and gave way. Cope rallied his men, but could only lead about two hundred stragglers up a side lane ("Johnnie Cope's Road") to reorganize in an adjacent field, where they refused further engagement. Cope and his aide-de-camp had no choice but to travel southwards to Lauder and Coldstream and then on to the safety of Berwick-upon-Tweed the following day. [Magnusson, Magnus. Scotland - The Story of a Nation. Grove Press, New York, NY. 2000. Retrieved Dec. 31, 2007.] . Out of the 2,300 men, only 170 troops managed to escape. Colonel Gardiner, a senior Hanoverian commander who stayed at Bankton House close by the scene of battle, was mortally wounded in a final heroic skirmish that included Sir Thomas Hay of Park who fought by his side and survived. Colonel Gardiner's fatal wounds were inflicted beneath a white thorntree of which a portion is today in Edinburgh's Naval and Military Museum. He was taken to The Manse at Tranent where he died in the arms of the Minister's daughter during the night. The Colonel became the unchallenged hero of the day and an obelisk to his memory was raised in the mid 19th century.

The battle was over in less than 10 minutes with hundreds of government troops killed or wounded and 1500 taken prisoner. The Hanoverian baggage train at Cockenzie was captured with only a single shot fired and it contained £5000, many muskets and ammunition. The Highlanders suffered less than 100 troops killed or wounded. The wounded and prisoners were given the best care possible at Prince Charles' insistence. A cairn to their memory was erected in 1953 close by the battle site and a coal bing, using the remains of the area's coal shale shaped as a pyramid, now provides a vantage point for today's visitors.

Cope exonerated at court-martial

Despite the conduct of his inexperienced troops and the humiliating fact that Cope had to report his overwhelming defeat personally to the garrison commander at Berwick-upon-Tweed, convert|50|mi|km|0 away, the frequent accusations that Cope himself fled the battlefield appear to be incorrect. Cope and his officers were exonerated at court-martial. Martin B. Margulies, writing in "History Scotland" magazine, notes:

The Report of the Board's proceedings was published in 1749. Anyone who scrutinizes it closely can only conclude that the Board was correct. What emerges from the pages is not, perhaps, the portrait of a military genius but one of an able, energetic and conscientious officer, who weighed his options carefully and who anticipated - with almost obsessive attention to detail - every eventuality except the one which he could not have provided for in any case: that his men would panic and flee.Marguiles]

The second Jacobite rising continues

The battle greatly boosted the morale of all Stuart supporters, and more recruits were soon gained in Scotland. At this point, the campaign was going the Stuarts' way. The Prince's army advanced as far as Derby by December 1745 unimpeded, using the most skilled generalship. However in Derby the Council of Chiefs resolved at Exeter House to proceed no further since they had been deliberately misled to believe a major Hanoverian army stood between them and London. They conducted a skilled retreat with a further victory at Falkirk before finally meeting total defeat at the Battle of Culloden, near Inverness.

The battle in art and legend

Subsequent public perception of the battle in general and General Cope in particular has been influenced by Adam Skirving's popular songs. Skirving was a local farmer who did not see the battle itself, but visited the battlefield later that afternoon where he was, by his own account, mugged by the victors. Skirving wrote two songs, "Hey, Johnnie Cope, Are Ye Waking Yet?", and "Tranent Muir"; the former is quite well-known, and is a short, catchy, and mostly historically inaccurate insult to Cope. While Cope's troops fled the battle, he himself did not; nor is it true that he slept the night before. Poet Robert Burns later wrote his own words to the song, but these are not as well-known as Skirving's.

"Tranent Muir", on the other hand, is a long and graphically violent description of the battle, and some of the events depicted are historically accurate. Myrie and Gardiner, mentioned in verses seven and eight, did in fact die in the battle. Lieutenant Smith, described in verse nine as fleeing the battle in dread, challenged Skirving to a duel after the song was published.

Both Sir Walter Scott in "Waverley" and Stevenson in "Kidnapped" subsequently also gave prominent place to this most famous of battles in Scottish history.

An Heritage Trust, described below, was established in 2006 and is most particularly concerned to capture, present and develop all these artistic dimensions. New poetry, theatre, paintings and songs have been commissioned.

Battle Heritage Trust

The town of Prestonpans is a long established centre of industrial activity not only in coal mining but brickworks, pottery, glass making, salt panning, soap and chemicals. It had not until 2006 sought to offer any significant year-round opportunity for visitors to gain a comprehensive understanding of the battle and its lasting importance, although a major re-enactment of the battle took place on the 250th anniversary in 1995. However, in 2006 the "Battle of Prestonpans 1745 Heritage Trust" was established on the initiative of the local people to ensure much better presentation and interpretation. It has quickly attracted private funding to achieve some of its initial goals but has ambitious plans for the future. Plans include a major Visitor Centre at Meadowmill, Prestonpans, 'Living History' battle re-enactments, and a new 'Flowering of the Arts'. A "Battle Bus" is helping to promote the project. In September 2008, a symposium was held in order to explore the past, present and future of the East Lothian battlefields of Prestonpans, Dunbar and Pinkie Cleugh.




External links

* [ Article from The Herald, 29 April 2008, on Historic Scotland's campaign to protect Scotland's battlefields]
* [ TimesOnline article, 29 April 2008, "Historic battlefields in Scotland threatened by lack of legal protection"]
* [ Battle maps] at the National Library of Scotland
* [ Ascanius; or, the Young Adventurer]
* [ Battle of Prestonpans (1745) Heritage Trust]

ee also

*List of places in East Lothian

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