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"Why was Culloden ever fought?" Topic

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alan lockhart Supporting Member of TMP03 Sep 2017 7:41 a.m. PST

Always wondered what the Jacobites thought could ever be achieved by a victory at Culloden. Even if Cumberland had been defeated, they would hardly have been able to start all the way back south again.

A victory in Scotland would hardly have toppled the Hanoverians in London. Might it have prompted French intervention?

Any thoughts?

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP03 Sep 2017 9:15 a.m. PST

I doubt anyone senior seriously considered not fighting. The lairds had, from an English Hanoverian point of view, committed rebellion and treason: their lives and estates were forfeit. I doubt the territory they held just before Culloden could have supported the army they still had. If the exiles--including Charlie himself--ran away now, they could look forward to a lifetime of begging their bread at European courts without even hope to sweeten it.

And they were much better at winning battles than at politics and diplomacy. It amazes me they turned back at Derby and abandoned the night march on Nairn--and surely Charles should have charged at the head of his cavalry and gone down like Richard III.

If you mean "what would they have done with a victory if they'd won one?" Well, winning battles does give you more options than losing them. Ultimately, the Jacobites either had to seize London and have the country accept the return of the Stuarts or reverse the Act of Union and force London to concede Stuart rule in Scotland. A victory at Cullloden wouldn't have achieved either one by itself, but it would have advanced them further toward either goal than not fighting would have.

Like to list all the battles fought which could not by themselves have achieved the political goals of the army which fought them?

Lee John Ayre03 Sep 2017 9:57 a.m. PST

I thought they fought it to defend their main depot at Inverness so didn't have much choice ?

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP03 Sep 2017 10:10 a.m. PST

It was fight or go home, certainly. I was trying to explain why giving up and going home without a fight wasn't a likely option.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP03 Sep 2017 10:12 a.m. PST

They had already put their kilts on.

Mick the Metalsmith03 Sep 2017 10:41 a.m. PST

Nah, for most, they took their kilts off for battle and fought in their shirts. The Identifying of the rows of dead by their tartan is a myth.

spontoon03 Sep 2017 12:27 p.m. PST

Mick; the taking of their kilts is a bit of a myth, too! It was sleeting that day, damn cold in April in Invernesshire. Besides that was a habit more of the previous century. But your point about identifying the dead by their tartan is definitely a myth; clan tartans hadn't been invented by the Sobieski-Stuart brothers yet. Maybe district tartans, but no clan ones.

As to why fight at Culloden? Well, Charles had to fight battles and keep winning them to maintain his troops morale, and support. The night raid at Nairn should either have been carried out to the full, or not attempted at all.

All in all, they would have been better to retreat from Inverness towards Ruthven Barracks. The further from the coast and naval supply and support, the weaker Cumberland's army would be.

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP03 Sep 2017 2:58 p.m. PST

The Jacobite player had over 300 painted Highlanders in full tartan. Being an anal painter, he took pains to assure himself that none were identical.
Likewise the Givernment player had painted 250 figures, with lace and proper miter hats for the Grenadiers.
How could they NOT have a battle?

William Ulsterman03 Sep 2017 4:27 p.m. PST

There was no need for a battle at Cullodeon. It seems to have been fought because the Jacobites were fed up with retreating – their command structure was highly fractious by this point and a unified plan was not possible.

As spontoon has suggested, there were alternative strategies open to the Jacobites and after Cullodeon the remnants of the Jacobite army did rally at Ruthven and a continued guerrilla resistance was mooted.

A Jacobite retention of Scotland would have continued to compromise the English contribution to the war in Flanders. It also would have provided the French with a ready made beach head in the British Isles that they could reinforce at will and the better 'summer' weather was coming. The Jacobites did not seem to need many French troops in order to be effective – only around 1000 were involved, quite a minimal investment from a French point of view. The aims of the French were not necessarily those of the young pretender either.

Extrabio1947 Supporting Member of TMP03 Sep 2017 4:40 p.m. PST

"There was no need for a battle at Cullodeon. It seems to have been fought because the Jacobites were fed up with retreating their command structure was highly fractious by this point and a unified plan was not possible."

Change a couple of words (Confederates for Jacobites, for example), and the same could be said of the Battle of Franklin.

wrgmr103 Sep 2017 4:54 p.m. PST

My family ended up in northern Ireland because of Cullodeon. The orignal name was Muir, changed after the rebellion to Moore.

+1 Spontoon

William Ulsterman03 Sep 2017 5:09 p.m. PST

Pickett's Charge of the West?

I'm no ACW aficionado, but I always thought that the Gallant Hood of Texas was at least in command of an army, whereas the Jacobite army of 1745-46 was led by a debating society.

Henry Martini03 Sep 2017 5:19 p.m. PST

Commiserations, wrgmr1.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP03 Sep 2017 6:02 p.m. PST

I still have my doubts about further retreat as an option. The Highland Zone was more populous then than now, but could it really have supported the Jacobite army indefinitely? And would the odds be better later? As for a guerilla war--sooner or later someone just decides to kill everyone. You want to have a very clear path to victory before you go down that road. Also, guerilla wars make poor miniatures games. All that hidden movement, and half the troops don't even have uniforms. Plus you have to build civilians.

William and Winston may have a point. Possibly Culloden was fought because it was so easy to do as a solo battle?

William Ulsterman03 Sep 2017 6:31 p.m. PST

The Highlands didn't have to support the Jacobite army indefinitely – just long enough for the French to defeat the allied army in Flanders. This would be more than enough to force Britain to negotiate a settlement, which MIGHT include a Jacobite Monarch on the throne of Scotland. This may not have been what the Jacobites wanted, but they were a very small part of the whole thing.

Before the invasion of England there was a council at which many of the Highland Lords argued that they should not march into England without French ground support. They certainly rated their chances of holding out in the Scottish highlands more highly. This wouldn't necessarily have been just a guerrilla war (this was suggested as a last resort after the defeat at Cullodeon) as I imagine that the Jacobites would have eliminated the remaining Hanoverian fortresses in the Highlands by siege whilst blocking the passes into the Highlands with large garrisons. While this was taking place there would also have been the fight against the Clans who had stayed loyal to the Crown. Add in the occasional French amphibious landing and it could be quite a stimulating series of hypothetical battles.

Robert Burke03 Sep 2017 7:12 p.m. PST

I can't remember who said it, but the best line I ever read about the battle was "It was a battle that only a Stewart would fight."

42flanker04 Sep 2017 10:37 a.m. PST

They wouldn't have taken off their kilts since none, or very few, would have been wearing such a garment.

alan lockhart Supporting Member of TMP04 Sep 2017 10:49 a.m. PST

Many thanks for all the most interesting thoughts.

Ottoathome Inactive Member04 Sep 2017 1:23 p.m. PST

Sometimes battles are caused for no good reason at all and they just happen. They are either engaged in willingly or forced upon one or both sides. Sometimes a little of both.

The Jacobites couldn't retreat forever. They were running out of Scotland.

Personal logo piper909 Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member04 Sep 2017 1:27 p.m. PST

In a broad sense, Culloden was fought because the British army was chasing down the Jacobite rebels and sooner or later there was either going to be a fight or the rebels would have dispersed back into the hills and Lowland towns. The Jacobites abandoned the south of Scotland foolishly and pretty much had their backs to the wall by spring 1746. Could they hold their army together in a further retreat into the western Highlands, beset on all sides, penned in and out of significant communications with France and the Lowlands (necessary for supplies and reinforcements)? After the withdrawal from England the Jacobites never seem to have regained much initiative, which is when rebellions typically start to founder. Had the Jacks won at Culloden, it likely would have done them as little long-term good as their victory at Falkirk a few months before. Another Hanoverian general would have led another army against them. Repeat until the rebellion wears itself out.

1745 was perhaps too late for it, but a winning strategy in, say, 1715, when tempers were still high after the Act of Union and the Hanoverians barely settled on the throne, would have entailed the Stuart claimants to have abandoned their claim to the English crown and advocated for their restoration in a sovereign Scotland (again). Had the Stuarts been willing to settle for a smaller kingdom, they might just have gotten away with it. The Georges had no inherent interest in Scotland (the first one barely cared for England as it was) and may have felt it a sacrifice worth making in order to concentrate on England and Hanover and their concerns on the Continent, if Scotland forswore alliance with France.

Had a Stuart landed in Scotland, proclaimed himself the new Robert Bruce, pledged himself to religious tolerance and parliamentary rule, and turned a rebellion into a national war of liberation, he may have found a more sympathetic land, a higher level of support, and the ability to secure the northern kingdom. The Jacobites, with a very small force, established themselves as masters of large parts of Scotland in late 1745 as it was, without any grand strategy to do so. Had they sat tight, reduced holdout Government fortresses, cleared out or cowed the Whiggish clans in the far north, declared independence and received French aid in Scottish ports while making diplomatic overtures for a settlement to London, who knows how things would have played out?

Father Grigori05 Sep 2017 2:16 p.m. PST

I like to think about what might have happened if the French had managed to launch the planned 1744 invasion; 5,000 troops led by de Saxe. That would have been a very serious threat to Hanoverians, much more than in the '45.

Personal logo piper909 Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member05 Sep 2017 3:41 p.m. PST

Indeed, a substantial French invasion was planned, and readied, but once again the weather gods protected England. The Stuart landing in Scotland would have been linked with this. De Saxe had between 12,000 and 15,000 troops poised at Dunkirk in early 1744, according to Christopher Duffy's comprehensive history ("The '45")

William Ulsterman05 Sep 2017 7:10 p.m. PST

The French cross channel invasion was a chimera – there was no way that a small force of up to 15,000 men is going to take London and expel George II. Even in the attempt the French navy ran into the Royal Navy and ran off and hid in a storm – the weather gods saved the French navy from a beating. The French always had an 'invasion' plan – they had one again in 1759 and again with Napoleon. It just never works properly when the time comes – like the Pakistani cricket team.

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP06 Sep 2017 10:11 a.m. PST

Another "Lost Cause" Myth that of the Glorious but doomed Jacobites needs to be put to rest. Next you'll be telling us that they were "Fittin' fur thur rats."

The Rebellion was over. They lost. Again.

From the British point of view it's fight a battle and the "Reconstruction" that follows is something that's a lot easier to do with cowed population. And it was time to settle a problem that had bedevilled the island since the 1680s, there was no need for an atavistic, absolutist Stuart Dynasty to return.

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP06 Sep 2017 10:32 a.m. PST

It amazes me they turned back at Derby

They had march south also expected English support that didn't materialise. They also encountered cattle disease that spread disquiet in the ranks (see below about the 25 minute mark)

If you've 45 minutes to listen to something here's a great analysis of the campaign with With Murray Pittock, Professor of English Literature at the University of Strathclyde; Stana Nenadic, Senior Lecturer in Social History at Edinburgh University; Allan Macinnes, Burnett-Fletcher Professor of History at Aberdeen University.


Personal logo piper909 Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member06 Sep 2017 1:30 p.m. PST

Given the low numbers of the British home forces, and the ease with which a small rebel force maneuvered and fought its way into control of half of Scotland in two months, I think a major French landing could have indeed seized London and scattered any opposition. It's impossible to prove one way or the other, but it's wrong to say the French invasion plan of March 1744 was some sort of feint based on the evidence. De Saxe had transports loaded. Target: Blackwall, a few miles from London. The British Army in England was scattered hither and thither and numbered under 12,000 men. Bad weather and French naval ineptness saved George's throne. (I cite Stuart Reid's excellent "1745: A Military History of the Last Jacobite Rising" for facts and figures; also Jeremy Black's "Culloden and the '45")

One might as well look to William of Orange's invasion of England in 1688 for an example; he certainly faced some long odds but demonstrated what skill, determination, and knowing your opponent's weaknesses can accomplish.

It may be futile to argue about dynastic quarrels of nearly three centuries ago, but history as usual favors the winners, and so the unattractive German kings (George I and II at any rate) must perforce look like enlightened rulers compared to the Stuart claimants, even if a careful study shows "James III" to have been a mild and reasonable man who would have made a decent monarch for his time despite vicious anti-Catholic sentiments of much of the public (which doesn't say much in favor of the Whigs by modern lights).

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