When the disastrous news of the battle of Inverlochy reached Edinburgh, the estates were thrown into a state of great alarm. They had, no doubt, begun to fear, before that event, and, of course, to respect the prowess of Montrose, but they never could have been made to believe that, within the space of a few days, a well appointed army, composed in part of veteran troops, would have been utterly defeated by a force so vastly inferior in point of numbers, and beset with difficulties and dangers to which the army of Argyle was not exposed. Nor were the fears of the estates much allayed by the appearance of Argyle, who arrived at Edinburgh to give them an account of the affair, “having his left arm tied up in a scarf, as if he had been at bones-breaking.”1 It is true that Lord Balmerinoch made a speech before the assembly of the estates, in which he affirmed, that the great loss reported to be sustained at Inverlochy, “was but the invention of the malignants, who spake as they wished,” and that “upon his honour, not more than thirty of Argyle’s men had been killed;”2 but, as the disaster was well known, this device only misled the weak and ignorant. Had Montrose at this juncture descended into the Lowlands, it is not improbable that his presence might have given a favourable turn to the state of matters in the south, where the king’s affairs were in the most precarious situation; and it is also likely, that many persons who, from timidity or want of opportunity to join him, had hitherto not declared themselves, would have rallied round his standard; but such a design does not seem to have accorded with his views of prolonging the contest in the Highlands, which were more suitable than the Lowlands to his plan of operations, and to the nature of his forces.
Accordingly, after allowing his men to refresh themselves a few days at Inverlochy, Montrose returned across the mountains of Lochaber in to Badenoch, “with displayed banner.” Marching down the south side of the Spey, he crossed that river at Balchastel, and entered Moray without opposition. He proceeded by rapid strides, towards the town of Inverness, which he intended to take possession of; but, on arriving in the neighbourhood, he found it garrisoned by the laird of Lawers’ and Buchanan’s regiments. As he did not wish to consume his time in a siege, he immediately altered his course and marched in the direction of Elgin, issuing, as he went along, a proclamation, in the king’s name, calling upon all males, from 16 to 60 years of age, to join him immediately, armed as they best could, on foot or on horse, and that under pain of fire and sword, as rebels to the king. In consequence of this threat, Montrose was joined by some of the Moray-men, including the laird of Grant, and two hundred of his followers; and, to show an example of severity, he plundered the houses and laid waste the estates of Grangehill, Brodie, Culbin, and Innes, belonging respectively to Ninian Dunbar, the laird of Brodie, — Kinnaird, and the laird of Innes. The houses of Pitchash, Foyness, and Ballindalloch, and the lands of Ballindalloch, all belonging to the laird of Ballindalloch, shared a similar fate. He also plundered the lands of Duffus, Burgie, and Lethin, and the village of Garmouth or Garmach; but he did not burn any of the houses and their contents, as he had done in the other cases. Besides plundering and destroying the properties, Montrose’s army carried off a large quantity of cattle and effects, and destroyed the boats and nets which they fell in with on the Spey.3
Whilst Montrose was thus laying waste part of Moray, a committee of the estates, consisting of the earl of Seaforth, the laird of Innes, Sir Robert Gordon, the laird of Pluscarden, and others, was sitting at Elgin, who, on hearing of his proceedings, sent notice through the town by beat of drum, on the seventeenth of February, prohibiting the holding of the fair, which was kept there annually on Fasten’s eve, and to which many merchants and others in the north resorted, lest the property brought there for sale might fall a prey to Montrose’s army. They, at the same time, sent Sir Robert Gordon, Mackenzie of Pluscarden, and Innes of Luthers, to treat with Montrose, in name of the gentry of Moray, most of whom were then assembled in Elgin; but he refused to enter into any negotiation, and gave this answer, that he would accept of the services of such as would join him and obey him as the king’s lieutenant.4 Before this answer had been communicated to the gentry at Elgin, they had all fled from the town in consequence of hearing that Montrose was advancing upon them with rapidity. The laird of Innes, along with some of his friends, retired to the castle of Spynie, possessed by his eldest son, which was well fortified and provided with every necessary for undergoing a siege. The laird of Duffus went into Sutherland. As soon as the inhabitants of the town saw the committee preparing to leave it, most of them also resolved to depart, which they did, carrying along with them their principal effects. Some went to Inverness, and others into Ross, but the greater part went to the castle of Spynie, where they sought and obtained refuge.
Apprehensive that Montrose might follow up the dreadful example he had shown, by burning the town, a proposal was made to, and accepted, by him, to pay him four thousand merks to save the town from destruction; but, on entering it, which he did on the nineteenth of February, his men, and particularly the laird of Grant’s party, were so disappointed in their hopes of plunder, in consequence of the inhabitants having carried away the best of their effects, that they broke and destroyed every article of furniture which was left.
Montrose was joined, on his arrival at Elgin, by Lord Gordon, the eldest son of the marquis of Huntly, with some of his friends and vassals. This young nobleman had been long kept in a state of durance by Argyle, his uncle, contrary to his own wishes, and now, when an opportunity had, for the first time, occurred, he showed the bent of his inclination, by declaring for the king. It is curious that two contemporaneous, writers,5 who seem to have had access to the best sources of information, were quite at a loss to account for Lord Gordon’s motives in taking this step. The one says, “At this time, the Lord Gordon, with most part of his friends, came in to Montrose, upon what grounds I know not; whether the state had disobliged him in some particulars betwixt him and his neighbours, the Crightons and the Forbesses, or had not performed to him such things as they had promised, or such much as he did expect and deserve; or whether that most of his friends, by warrant of his father, had resolved to follow his younger brother, Lord Lewis, I cannot determine.”6 The other observes, “The Lord Gordon being in the Bog, leaped quickly on horse, having Nathaniel Gordon, with some few others, in his company, and that same night came to Elgin, saluted Montrose, who made him heartily welcome, and soups joyfully together. Many marvelled at the Lord Gordon’s going in after such manner, being upon the country’s service, and colonel to a foot regiment and to a horse regiment. Some alleged that the estates oversaw him in divers points touching his honour, which he could not digest. Others said that he was likely to lose his father, for following the country cause, if he should continue, and the country happen to be borne down. Others, again, said that it was a plot betwixt Montrose and Nathaniel Gordon, when he was with him, and when he came from him, with Craigievar, as ye have before; and, albeit, for his coming away, he was esteemed traitorous and disloyal to Montrose, yet he proved the politician, and his faithful servant in this business. This was the opinion of some. Howsoever it was, in he went; but how, or upon what reason, I cannot tell. ”7
On taking possession of Elgin, Montrose gave orders to bring all the ferry-boats on the Spey to the north side of the river, and he stationed sentinels at all the fords up and down, to watch any movements which might be made by the enemies’ forces in the south.
Montrose, thereupon, held a council of war, at which it was determined to cross the Spey, and march into the shires of Banff and Aberdeen, and, by the aid of Lord Gordon, to raise the friends and retainers of the marquis of Huntly, and from thence to proceed into the Mearns, where another accession of forces was expected. Accordingly, Montrose left Elgin on the fourth of March, with the main body of his army, towards the Bog of Gicht, accompanied by the earl of Seaforth, Sir Robert Gordon, the lairds of Grant, Pluscarden, Findrassie, and several other gentlemen who “had come in to him” at Elgin. To punish the earl of Finlater, who had refused to join him, Montrose sent the Farquharsons of Braemar before him across the Spey, who plundered, without mercy, the town of Cullen, belonging to the earl.
After crossing the Spey, Montrose, either apprehensive that depredations would be committed upon the properties of his Moray friends, who accompanied him, by the two regiments which garrisoned Inverness and the covenanters of that district, or having received notice to that effect, he allowed the earl of Seaforth, the laird of Grant, and the other Moray gentlemen, to return home to defend their estates; but before allowing them to depart, he made them take a solemn oath of allegiance to the king, and promise that they should never, henceforth, take up arms against his majesty or his loyal subjects. At same time, he made them come under an engagement to join him with all their forces, as soon as they could do so. The earl of Seaforth obtained an infamous notoriety, by again joining the ranks of the covenanters. In a letter which he wrote to the committee of estates, at Aberdeen, he stated that he had yielded to Montrose through fear only, and he avowed that he would abide by “the good cause to his death.”8
As anticipated by Montrose, detachments from the garrison of Inverness had been sent into the country to take vengeance upon those gentlemen who had joined him; and accordingly they plundered the house of Elchies, belonging to the laird of Grant, carrying off his lady’s wearing apparel, trinkets, and jewels, of which, says Spalding, “she had store.” They laid waste the lands of Cukstoun, the goodman of which had followed Lord Gordon when he joined Montrose; and they entered Elgin, where they took the laird of Pluscarden and his brother, Loslyn, prisoners, and carried them to Inverness; but they were released at the intreaty of their brother, the earl of Seaforth, who, notwithstanding, was suspected of having connived at their arrest.
On Montrose’s arrival at Strathbogie, or Gordon castle, Lord Graham, his eldest son, a youth of sixteen, and of the most promising expectations, became unwell, and died after a few days’ illness. The loss of a son, who had followed him in his campaigns, and shared with him the dangers of the field, was a subject of deep regret to Montrose. While Montrose was occupied at the death-bed of his son, Lord Gordon was busily employed among the Gordons, out of whom he speedily raised a force about five hundred foot, and one hundred and sixty horse.
With this accession to his forces, Montrose left Strathbogie and marched towards Banff, on his route to the south. In passing by the house of Cullen, in Boyne, the seat of the earl of Finlater, who had fled to Edinburgh, and left the charge of the house to the countess, a party of Montrose’s men entered the house, which they plundered of all its valuable contents. They then proceeded to set the house on fire, but the countess having entreated Montrose to order his men to desist, and promised that if her husband did not come to Montrose and give him satisfaction within fifteen days, she would pay him twenty thousand merks, of which sum she instantly paid down five thousand; Montrose complied with her request, and also spared the lands, although the earl was “a great covenanter.” Montrose’s men next laid waste the lands in the Boyne, burnt the houses, and plundered the minister of the place of all his goods and effects, including his books. The laird of Boyne shut himself up in his stronghold, the Crag, where he was out of danger; but he had the misfortune to see his lands laid waste and destroyed. Montrose then went to Banff, which he gave up to indiscriminate plunder. His troops did not leave a vestige of moveable property in the town, and they even stript, to the skin, every man they met with in the streets. They also burned two or three houses of little value, but not a drop of blood was spilt, a circumstance which speaks highly in favour of the humanity of Montrose.
From Banff, Montrose proceeded to Turriff, where a deputation from the town council of Aberdeen waited upon him, consisting of Thomas Gray, George Morison, George Cullen, and John Alexander, advocate, “four discreet, well-set burgesses,” says Spalding. These commissioners humbly represented to Montrose, the many miseries which the town of Aberdeen had suffered from its frequent occupation by hostile armies since the first outbreaking of the unfortunate troubles which molested the kingdom, – miseries well known to himself, and which were such as no other burgh had been doomed to suffer: they further represented, that such was the terror of the inhabitants at the idea of another visit from his Irish troops that all the men and women, on hearing of his approach, had made preparations for abandoning the town, and that they would certainly leave it if they did not get an assurance from the marquis of safety and protection. The deputation therefore begged Montrose to give them this assurance, and that, upon receiving it, they would return to Aberdeen and prevail upon the inhabitants to remain in town. Montrose heard the commissioners patiently, expressed his regret at the calamities which had befallen their town, and bade them not be afraid, as he would take care that none of his foot, or Irish, soldiers, should come within eight miles of Aberdeen; and that if he himself should enter the town, he would support himself at his own expense. Returning many thanks for the favourable answer they had received, the commissioners returned to Aberdeen, where they arrived on the tenth of March, and related the successful issue of their journey, to the great joy of all the inhabitants.9
Whilst Montrose lay at Turriff, Sir Nathaniel Gordon, with some troopers, went to Aberdeen, which he entered on Sunday the ninth of March, on which day there had been “no sermon in either of the Aberdeens,” as the ministers had fled the town. The keys of the churches, gates, and jail, were delivered to him by the magistrates. The following morning, Sir Nathaniel was joined by a hundred Irish dragoons. After releasing some prisoners, he went to Torry, and took, after a slight resistance, eighteen hundred muskets, pikes, and other arms, which had been left in charge of a troop of horse. Besides receiving orders to watch the town, Sir Nathaniel was instructed to send out scouts as far as Cowie to watch the enemy, who were daily expected from the south. When reconnoitering, a skirmish took place at the bridge of Dee, in which Captain Keith’s troop was routed. Finding the country quite clear, and no appearance of the Covenanting forces, Gordon returned back to the army, which had advanced to Frendraught. No attempt was made upon the house of Frendraught, which was kept by the young viscount in absence of his father, who was then at Muchallis with his godson, Lord Fraser; but Montrose destroyed sixty ploughs of land belonging to Frendraught within the parishes of Forgue, Inverkeithnie, and Drumblade, and the house of the minister of Forgue, with all the other houses and buildings, and their contents. Nothing, in fact, was spared. The whole cattle, horses, sheep, and other domestic animals, were carried off, and the whole of Frendraught’s lands were left a dreary and uninhabitable waste.
From Pennyburn, Montrose dispatched, on the tenth of March, a letter to the authorities of Aberdeen, commanding them to intimate, by tuck of drum, an order, that all men, of whatever description, between the age of sixteen and sixty, should meet him equipped in their best arms, and such of them as had horses, mounted on the best of them, on the fifteenth of March, at his camp at Inverury, under the pain of fire and sword. In consequence of this mandate, he was joined by a considerable number of horse and foot. On the twelfth of March. Montrose arrived at Kintore, and took up his own quarters in the house of John Cheyne, the minister of the place, whence he issued an order commanding each parish within the presbytery of Aberdeen, (with the exception of the town of Aberdeen,) to send to him two commissioners who were required to bring along with them a complete roll of the whole heritors, feuars and liferenters of each parish. His object, in requiring such a list, was to ascertain the number of men capable of serving, and also the names of those who should refuse to join him. Commissioners were accordingly sent from the parishes, and the consequence was, that Montrose was joined daily by many men, who would not otherwise have assisted him, but who were now alarmed for the safety of their properties. While at Kintore, an occurrence took place which vexed Montrose exceedingly.
To reconnoitre and watch the motions of the enemy, Montrose had, on the twelfth of March, sent Sir Nathaniel Gordon along with Donald Farquharson, Captain Mortimer, and other well mounted cavaliers, to the number of about eighty, to Aberdeen. This party perceiving no enemy in the neighbourhood of Aberdeen, utterly neglected to place any sentinels at the gates of the town, and spent their time at their lodgings in entertainments and amusements. This careless conduct did not pass unobserved by some of the covenanters in the town, who, it is said, sent notice thereof to Major-General Hurry, the second in command under General Baillie, who was then lying at the North Water Bridge with Lord Balcarras’ and other foot regiments. On receiving this intelligence, Hurry put himself at the head of one hundred and sixty horse and foot, taken from the regular regiments, and some troopers and musketeers, and rode off to Aberdeen in great haste, where he arrived on the fifteenth of March at eight o’clock in the evening. Having posted sentinels at the gates to prevent any of Montrose’s party from escaping, he entered the town at an hour when they were all dispersed through the town, carelessly enjoying themselves in their lodgings, quite unapprehensive of such a visit. The noise in the streets, occasioned by the tramping of the horses, was the first indication they had of the presence of the enemy, but it was then too late for them to defend themselves. Donald Farquharson was killed in the street opposite the guard-house, “a brave gentleman,” says Spalding, “and one of the noblest captains amongst all the Highlanders of Scotland, and the king’s man for life and death.” The enemy stript him of a rich dress he had put on the same day, and left his body lying naked in the street. A few other gentlemen were also killed, and some taken prisoners, but the greater part escaped. The prisoners were sent to Edinburgh, and put in irons within the tolbooth there. Hurry left the town next day, and, on his return to Baillie’s camp, he entered the town of Montrose, and carried off Lord Graham, Montrose’s second son, a boy of fourteen years of age, then at school, who, along with his teacher, was sent to Edinburgh, and committed to the castle.
The gentlemen who had escaped from Aberdeen, “returned,” says Spalding, “back to Montrose, part on horse and part on foot, ashamed of this accident.” Montrose was greatly offended at them for their carelessness, but the same writer adds, that “the gentlemen were sorry, and could not mend it.” The magistrates of Aberdeen, alarmed lest Montrose should inflict summary vengeance upon the town, as being implicated in the attack upon the cavaliers, sent two commissioners to Kintore to assure him that they were in no way concerned in that affair. Although he heard them with great patience, he gave them no satisfaction as to his intentions, and they returned to Aberdeen without being able to obtain any promise from him to spare the town. The magistrates, however, acted wisely in sending the deputation to Montrose, for had they taken no notice of the affair, he might have inferred either that the inhabitants were privy to it, or were by no means displeased at the result. Montrose might have availed himself of this opportunity, to have inflicted a heavy chastisement upon the town, but he was contented to make the merchants furnish him with cloth, and gold and silver-lace, to the amount of £10,000 Scots for the use of his army, which he took the magistrates bound to pay, by a tax upon the inhabitants. “Thus,” says Spalding, “cross upon cross upon Aberdeen.”
When Sir Nathaniel Gordon and the remainder of his party returned to Kintore, Montrose dispatched, on the same day, viz., sixteenth March, a body of one thousand horse and foot, the latter consisting of Irish, to Aberdeen, under the command of Macdonald his major-general, where they arrived at four o’clock in the afternoon. Many of the inhabitants, alarmed at the approach of this party, and still having the fear of the Irish before their eyes, were preparing to leave the town; but Macdonald relieved their apprehensions by assuring them that the Irish, who amounted to seven hundred, should not enter the town, and he accordingly stationed them at the Bridge of Dee and the Two Mile Cross, he and his troopers alone entering the town. And to secure the town from annoyance, he stationed strong parties at the gates to prevent any straggling parties of the Irish from entering. With the exception of the houses of one or two “remarkable covenanters,” which were plundered, Macdonald showed the utmost respect for private property, a circumstance which obtained for him the esteem of the inhabitants, who had seldom experienced such kind treatment before.
Having discharged the last duties to the brave Farquharson and his companions, on Sunday the seventeenth of March, Macdonald left Aberdeen the following day to join Montrose at Durris; but he had not proceeded far when complaints were brought to him that some of his Irish troops, who had lagged behind, had entered the town, and were plundering it. “They were,” says Spalding, “abusing and fearing the town’s people, taking their cloaks, plaids, and purses from them on the high streets.” Macdonald, therefore, returned immediately to the town, and drove, says the same writer, “all these rascals with sore skins out of the town before him.”10
Before leaving Kintore, the earl of Airly was attacked by a fever, in consequence of which, Montrose sent him to Lethintie, the residence of the earl’s son-in-law, under a guard of three hundred men; but he was afterwards removed to Strathbogie for greater security. On arriving at Durris, in Kincardineshire, where he was joined by Macdonald, Montrose burnt the house to the ground, and all the offices and grain, and swept away the whole cattle, horses, and sheep. He also wasted such of the lands of Fintry as belonged to Forbes of Craigievar, to punish him for the breach of his parole, and he set fire to the house, and burnt the grain belonging to Abercrombie, the minister of Fintry, who was “a main covenanter.” These proceedings took place on the seventeenth of March. On the nineteenth, Montrose entered Stonehaven, and took up his residence in the house of James Clerk, the provost of the town. Here learning that the covenanters in the north were troubling Lord Gordon’s lands, he dispatched five hundred of Gordon’s foot to defend Strathbogie and his other possessions; but he still retained Lord Gordon himself with his troopers.
On the day after his arrival at Stonehaven, Montrose wrote a letter to the Earl Marshall, who, along with sixteen ministers, and some other persons of distinction, had shut himself up in his castle of Dunottar. The bearer of the letter was not, however, suffered to enter within the gate, and was allowed to depart without an answer. It is said that the Marshall’s lady and the ministers, particularly the celebrated Andrew Cant, were his advisers on this occasion. This disdainful silence, on the part of the Earl Marshall, highly incensed Montrose; but probably suspecting that he was tutored by the persons who surrounded him, he desired Lord Gordon to write a letter to George Keith, the earl’s brother, who, in consequence, had an interview with Montrose at Stonehaven. Montrose then told him that all that he wanted from his brother was, that he should serve the king, his master, against his rebellious subjects, a service to which he was bound in duty and honour from the high situation he held; and that if he failed to comply, he would do so at his own peril. But the earl declined to comply with Montrose’s request, as he said “he would not be against the country.”11
In consequence of the refusal of the Earl Marshall to declare for the king, Montrose resolved to inflict summary vengeance upon him, by burning and laying waste his lands and those of his retainers in the neighbourhood. Acting upon this determination, he, on the twenty-first of March, set fire to the houses adjoining the castle of Dunottar, and burnt the grain which was stacked in the barn-yards. Even the house of the minister did not escape. He next set fire to the town of Stonehaven, sparing only the house of the provost, in which he resided; plundered a ship which lay in the harbour, and then set her on fire, along with all the fishing boats. The lands and houses of Cowie shared the same hard fate. Whilst the work of destruction was going on, it is said that the inhabitants appeared before the castle of Dunottar, and, setting up cries of pity, implored the earl to save them from ruin, but they received no answer to their supplications, and the earl witnessed from his stronghold the total destruction of the properties of his tenants and dependents without making any effort to stop it. After he had effected the destruction of the barony of Dunottar, Montrose set fire to the lands of Fetteresso, one fourth part of which was burnt up, together with the whole corn in the yards. A beautiful deer park was also burnt and its alarmed inmates were all taken and killed, as well as all the cattle in the barony. Montrose next proceeded to Drumlaithie and Urie, belonging to John Forbes of Leslie, a leading covenanter, where he committed similar depredations.
Montrose advanced to Fettercairn, the following day, where he quartered his foot soldiers, but he sent out quarter-masters through the country and about the town of Montrose to provide quarters for some troopers; but, as these troopers were proceeding on their journey, they were alarmed by the sudden appearance of some of Major-General Hurry’s troops, who had concealed themselves within the plantation of Halkerton. This party suddenly issuing from the wood, set up a loud shout, on hearing which the troopers immediately turned to the right about and went back to the camp. This party turned out to be a body of six hundred horse, under the command of Hurry himself, who had left the headquarters of General Baillie, at Brechin, for the purpose of reconnoitering Montrose’s movements. In order to deceive Hurry, who kept advancing with his six hundred horse, Montrose placed his horse, which amounted only to two hundred, and which he took care to line with some expert musqueteers, in a prominent situation, and concealed his foot in an adjoining valley. This ruse had the desired effect, for Hurry imagining that there were no other forces at hand, immediately attacked the small body of horse opposed to him; but he was soon undeceived by the sudden appearance of the foot, and forced to retreat with precipitation. Though his men were greatly alarmed, Hurry, who was a brave officer, having placed himself in the rear, managed his retreat across the North Esk with very little loss.
After this affair, Montrose allowed his men to refresh themselves for a few days, and, on the twenty-fifth of March, he put his army in motion in the direction of Brechin. On hearing of his approach, the inhabitants of the town concealed their effects in the castle and in the steeples of the churches, and fled. Montrose’s troops, although they found out the secreted goods, were so enraged at the conduct of the in habitants that they plundered the town, and burnt about sixty houses.
From Brechin, Montrose proceeded through Angus, with the intention either of fighting Baillie, or of marching onwards to the south. His whole force, at this time, did not exceed three thousand men, and, on reaching Kirriemuir, his cavalry was greatly diminished by his having been obliged to send away about one hundred and sixty horsemen to Strathbogie, under Lord Gordon and his brother, Lewis, to defend their father’s possessions against the covenanters. Montrose proceeded, with his army, along the foot of the Grampians, in the direction of Dunkeld, where he intended to cross the Tay in the sight of General Baillie, who commanded an army greatly superior in numbers; but, although Montrose frequently offered him battle, Baillie, contrary, it is said, to the advice of Hurry, as often declined it. On arriving at the water of Isla, the two armies, separated by that stream, remained motionless for several days, as if undetermined how to act. At length Montrose sent a trumpeter to Baillie offering him battle; and, as the water could not be safely passed by his army, if opposed, Montrose proposed to allow Baillie to pass it unmolested, on condition that he would give him his word of honour that he would fight without delay; but Bailie returned this answer, that he would attend to his own business himself, and that he would fight when he himself thought proper. The conduct of Baillie throughout, seems altogether extraordinary, but it is alleged that he could do nothing himself, being subject to the directions of a council of war, composed of the earls of Crawford and Cassillis, the Lords Balmerinoch, Kirkcudbright, and others.12
As Montrose could not attempt to cross the water of Isla without cavalry, in opposition to a force so greatly superior, he led his army off in the direction of the Grampians, and marched upon Dunkeld, which he took possession of. Baillie being fully aware of his intention to cross the Tay, immediately withdrew to Perth for the purpose of opposing Montrose’s passage; but, if Montrose really entertained such an intention after he had sent away the Gordon troopers, he abandoned it after reaching Dunkeld, and resolved to retrace his steps northwards. Being anxious, however, to signalize himself by some important achievement before he returned to the north, and to give confidence to the royalists, he determined to surprise Dundee, a town which had rendered itself particularly obnoxious to him for the resistance made by the inhabitants after the battle of Tippermuir. Having sent off the weaker part of his troops, and those who were lightly armed, with bis heavy baggage, along the bottom of the hills, with instructions to meet him at Brechin, Montrose himself, at the head of about one hundred and fifty horse, and six hundred expert musketeers,13 left Dunkeld on third April, about midnight, and marched with such extraordinary expedition that he arrived at Dundee Law at 10 o’clock in the morning, where he encamped. Montrose then sent a trumpeter into the town with a summons, requiring a surrender, and promising that, in the event of compliance, he would protect the lives and properties of the inhabitants, but threatening, in case of refusal, to set fire to the town and to put the inhabitants to the sword. Instead of returning an answer to this demand, the town’s people put the messenger into prison. This insult was keenly felt by Montrose, who immediately gave orders to his troops to storm the town in three different places at once, and to fulfil the threat which he had held out in case of resistance. The inhabitants, in the mean time, made such preparations for defence as the shortness of the time allowed, but, although they fought bravely, they could not resist the impetuosity of Montrose’s troops, who, impelled by a spirit of revenge, and a thirst for plunder, which Dundee, then one of the largest and most opulent towns in Scotland, offered them considerable temptations of gratifying, forced the inhabitants from the stations they occupied, and turned the cannon, which they had planted in the streets, against themselves. The contest, however, continued in different quarters of the town for several hours, during which the town was set on fire in different places. The whole of that quarter of the town called the Bonnet Hill fell a prey to the flames, and the entire town would have certainly shared the same fate had not Montrose’s men chiefly occupied themselves in plundering the houses and filling themselves with the contents of the wine cellars. The sack of the town continued till the evening, and the inhabitants were subjected to every excess which an infuriated and victorious soldiery, maddened by intoxication, could inflict.
This melancholy state of things was, however, fortunately put an end to by intelligence having been brought to Montrose, who had viewed the storming of the town from the neighbouring height of Dundee Law, that General Baillie was marching in great haste down the Carse of Gowrie, towards Dundee, with three thousand foot and eight hundred horse. On receiving this news from his scouts, Montrose gave immediate orders to his troops to evacuate Dundee, but so intent were they upon their booty, that it was with the utmost difficulty they could be prevailed upon to leave the town, and, before the last of them could be induced to retire, some of the enemy’s troops were within gun shot of them. The sudden appearance of Baillie’s army was quite unlooked for, as Montrose had been made to believe, from the reports of his scouts, that it had crossed the Tay, and was proceeding to the Forth, when, in fact, only a very small part, which had been mistaken by the scouts for the entire army of Baillie, had passed.
In this critical conjuncture, Montrose held a council of war, to consult how to act under the perilous circumstances in which he was now placed. The council was divided between two opinions. Some of them advised Montrose to consult his own personal safety, by riding off to the north with his horse, leaving the foot to their fate, as they considered it utterly impossible for him to carry them off in their present state, fatigued, and worn out as they were by a march of twenty-four miles during the preceding night, and rendered almost incapable of resisting the enemy, from the debauch they had indulged in during the day. Besides, they would require to march twenty or even thirty miles, before they could reckon themselves secure from the attacks of their pursuers, a journey which was deemed impossible of performance, without being previously allowed some hours repose. The members of the council, who took this view of matters, urged upon Montrose the absolute necessity of following it, judging it much better to allow these men to shift for themselves, than to risk his own person and the safety of those who could secure an escape, in a hopeless attempt to carry off men who were almost disabled from walking. That in this way, and in no other, could he expect to retrieve matters, as he could, by his presence among his friends in the north, raise new forces; but that, if he himself was cut off, the king’s affairs would be utterly ruined. The other part of the council gave quite an opposite opinion, by declaring that, as the cause for which they had fought so gloriously was now irretrievably lost, they should remain in their position, and await the issue of an attack, judging it more honourable to die fighting in defence of their king, than to seek safety in an ignominious flight, which would be rendered still more disgraceful by abandoning their unfortunate fellow-warriors to the mercy of a revengeful foe.
Montrose, however, stated his disapprobation of both these plans. He considered the first as unbecoming the generosity of men who had fought so often side by side; and the second he thought extremely rash and imprudent. He, therefore, resolved to steer a middle course, and, refusing to abandon his brave companions in arms in the hour of danger, gave orders for an immediate retreat, in the direction of Arbroath. This route was, however, a mere manœuvre to deceive the enemy, as Montrose intended, after nightfall, to march towards the Grampians. In order to make his retreat more secure, Montrose dispatched first four hundred of his foot, and gave them orders to march as quickly as possible, without breaking their ranks. These were followed by two hundred of his most expert musketeers, and Montrose himself closed the rear with his horse, in open rank, so as to admit the musketeers to interline them, in case of an attack. It was about six o’clock in the evening, when Montrose began his retreat, at which hour the last of Baillie’s foot had reached Dundee.
Scarcely had Montrose begun to move, when intelligence was re received by Baillie, from some prisoners he had taken, of Montrose’s intentions, which was now confirmed by ocular proof. A proposal, it is said, was then made by Hurry, to follow Montrose with the whole army, and attack him, but Baillie rejected it, and the better, as he thought, to secure Montrose, and prevent his escape, he divided his army into two parts, one of which he sent off in the direction of the Grampians, to prevent Montrose from entering the Highlands, and to interpose between him and his intended place of retreat; and the other followed directly in the rear of Montrose. He thus expected to be able to cut off Montrose entirely, and to encourage his men to the pursuit, he offered a reward of twenty thousand crowns to any one who should bring him Montrose’s head. Baillie’s cavalry soon came up with Montrose’s rear, but they were so well received by the musketeers, who brought down some of them, that they became very cautious in their approaches. The darkness of the night soon put an end to the pursuit, and Montrose continued his march unmolested during the night, to Arbroath, in the neighbourhood of which he arrived about midnight. His troops had now marched upwards of forty miles, seventeen of which they had per formed in a few hours, in the face of a large army, and had passed two nights and a day without sleep; but as their safety might be endangered by allowing them to repose till daylight, Montrose entreated them to proceed on their march. Though almost exhausted with incessant fatigue, and overpowered with drowsiness, they readily obeyed the orders of their general, and, after a short halt, proceeded on their route in a northwesterly direction. They arrived at the South Esk early in the morning, which they crossed, at sunrise, near Carriston Castle.
Montrose now sent notice to the party which he had dispatched from Dunkeld to Brechin, with his baggage, to join him, but they had, on hearing of his retreat, already taken refuge among the neighbouring hills. Baillie, who had passed the night at Forfar, now considered that he had Montrose completely in his power; for little did he imagine that Montrose had passed close by him during the night, and eluded his grasp; but, to his utter amazement, not a trace of Montrose was to be seen next morning. Chagrined at this unexpected disappointment, Baillie, without waiting for his foot, galloped off at full speed to overtake Montrose, and, with such celerity did he travel, that he was close upon Montrose before the latter received notice of his approach. The whole of Montrose’s men, with the exception of a few sentinels, were now stretched upon the ground, in a state of profound repose, and, so firmly did sleep hold their exhausted frames in its grasp, that it was with the utmost difficulty that they could be aroused from their slumbers, or made sensible of their danger. The sentinels, it is said, had even to prick some of them with their swords, before they could be awakened,14 and, when they at length succeeded in rousing the sleepers, they effected a retreat, after some skirmishing, to the foot of the Grampians, about three miles distant from their camp, and retired, thereafter, through Glenesk into the interior without further molestation.
This memorable retreat is certainly one of the most extraordinary events which occurred during the whole of Montrose’s campaigns. Had his men been quite fresh when they left Dundee Law, their escape, under such an expert commander as Montrose, would have been in no way singular; but to see a handful of men who had not enjoyed a moment’s repose for two days, who had performed a tedious march of twenty miles during the night, and taken one of the most consider able towns in the kingdom, after a short struggle, and had, thereafter, given themselves up to intoxication, retire in good order before a large and well appointed army at their very heels, and perform another march of about sixty miles, without resting, is truly wonderful. It is not therefore surprising, that some of the most experienced officers in Britain, and in France and Germany, considered this retreat of Montrose as the most splendid of all his achievements.15
Being now secure from all danger in the fastnesses of the Grampians, Montrose allowed his men to refresh themselves for some days. Whilst enjoying this necessary relaxation from the fatigues of the field, intelligence was brought to Montrose that a division of the covenanting army, under Hurry, was in full march on Aberdeen, with an intention of proceeding into Moray. Judging that an attack upon the possessions of the Gordons would be one of Hurry’s objects, Montrose dispatched Lord Gordon with his horse to the north, for the purpose of assisting his friends in case of attack.
It was not in the nature of Montrose to remain inactive for any length of time, and an occurrence, of which he had received notice, had lately taken place, which determined him to return a second time to Dunkeld. This was the escape of Viscount Aboyne, and some other noblemen and gentlemen, from Carlisle, and who, he was informed, were on their way north to join him. Apprehensive that they might be interrupted by Baillie’s troops, he resolved to make a diversion in their favour, and, by drawing off the attention of Baillie, enable them the more effectually to elude observation. Leaving, therefore, Macdonald, with about two hundred men, to beat up the enemy in the neighbourhood of Cupar Angus, Montrose proceeded, with the remainder of his forces, consisting only of five hundred foot and fifty horse, to Dunkeld, whence he marched to Crieff, which is about seventeen miles west from Perth. It was not until he had arrived at the latter town, that Baillie, who, after his pursuit of Montrose, had returned to Perth with his army, heard of this movement. As Baillie was sufficiently aware of the weakness of Montrose’s force, and as he was sure that, with such a great disparity, Montrose would not risk a general engagement, he endeavoured to surprise him, in the hope, either of cutting him off entirely, or crippling him so effectually, as to prevent him from again taking the field. He therefore left Perth during the night of the seventh of April, with his whole army, consisting of two thousand foot and five hundred horse, with the intention of falling upon Montrose by break of day, before he should be aware of his presence; but Montrose’s experience had taught him the necessity of being always upon his guard, when so near an enemy’s camp, and, accordingly, he had drawn up his army, in anticipation of Baillie’s advance, in such order as would enable him either to give battle or retreat.
As soon as he heard of Baillie’s approach, Montrose advanced with his horse to reconnoitre the enemy, and having ascertained their strength and numbers, which were too formidable to be encountered with his little band, brave as they were, he gave immediate orders to his foot to retreat with speed up Stratherne, and to retire into the adjoining passes. To prevent them from being harassed in their retreat by the enemy’s cavalry, Montrose covered their rear with his small body of horse, with which he sustained a very severe attack, which he warmly repulsed, and having killed several of the assailants, the rest were forced to retire in disorder. After a march of about eight miles, Montrose’s troops arrived at the pass of Stratherne, of which they took immediate possession, and Baillie thinking it useless to follow them into their retreat, discontinued the pursuit, and retired back with his army towards Perth. Montrose passed the night on the banks of Loch Erne, and marched next morning through Balquidder, where he was joined, at the ford of Cardross, by the Viscount Aboyne, the Master of Napier, Hay of Dalgetty, and Stirling of Keir, who, along with the earl of Nithsdale, Lord Herries and others, had escaped from Carlisle, as before stated.
No sooner had Baillie returned from the pursuit of Montrose than intelligence was brought to him that Macdonald, with the two hundred men which Montrose had left with him, had burnt the town of Cupar Angus, – that he had wasted the lands of Lord Balmerinoch, – killed Patrick Lindsay, the minister of Cupar, – and, finally, after routing some troopers of Lord Balcarras, killing some of them, and carrying off their horses and arms, had fled to the hills. This occurrence, while it with drew the attention of Baillie from Montrose’s future movements, enabled the latter to proceed to the north without opposition.
Montrose had advanced as far as Loch Katrine, when a messenger brought him intelligence that General Hurry was in the Enzie with a considerable force, that he had been joined by some of the Moray-men, and, after plundering and laying waste the country, was preparing to attack Lord Gordon, who had not a sufficient force to oppose him. On receiving this information, Montrose resolved to proceed immediately to the north to save the Gordons from the destruction which appeared to hang over them, hoping that with such accessions of force as he might obtain in his march, united with that under Lord Gordon, he would succeed in defeating Hurry before Baillie should be aware of his movements.
He, therefore, returned through Balquidder, and marched with rapid strides along the side of Loch Tay, and through Athole and Angus, and crossing the Grampian hills, proceeded down the Strath of Glenmuck. In his march, Montrose was joined by the Athole-men and the other Highlanders who had obtained, or rather taken, leave of absence after the battle of Inverlochy, and also by Macdonald and his party. On arriving in the neighbourhood of Auchindoun, he was met by Lord Gordon at the head of a thousand foot and two hundred horse. He crossed the Dee on the first of May at the mill of Cruthie, and sent Lord Aboyne, the same day, down Dee-side with eighty horse to Aberdeen in quest of powder, of which his army stood in great want. His lordship had the good fortune to find no less than twenty barrels of powder in the ships which lay in the harbour, which he immediately carried off with him to the army, which he joined the same night at Skene, where Montrose had pitched his camp.16
Thus reinforced and well provided with ammunition, Montrose continued his march towards the Spey, and before Hurry was even aware that he had crossed the Grampians, he found Montrose within six miles of his camp. The sudden appearance of Montrose with such a superior force – for Hurry had only at this time about a thousand foot and two hundred horse – greatly alarmed him, and raising his camp, he crossed the Spey in great haste, with the intention of marching to Inverness, where he would be joined by the troops of the garrison, and receive large reinforcements from the neighbouring countries. Montrose immediately pursued him, and followed close upon his heels successively through Elgin and Forres, and for fourteen miles beyond the latter, when, favoured by the darkness of the night, Hurry effected his escape, with little loss, and arrived at Inverness.
The panic into which Hurry had been thrown soon gave way to a very different feeling, as he found the earls of Seaforth and Sutherland with their retainers, and the Clan-Fraser, and others from Moray and Caithness, all assembled at Inverness, as he had directed. This accession of force increased his army to three thousand five hundred foot, and four hundred horse. He, therefore, resolved to act on the offensive by giving battle to Montrose immediately.
Montrose had taken up a position at the village of Auldearn, between three and four miles from Nairn, on the morning after the pursuit. In the course of the day, Hurry advanced with all his forces, including the garrison of Inverness, towards Nairn, and, on approaching Auldearn, formed his army in order of battle. Montrose’s force, which had been greatly weakened by the return of the Athole-men and other Highlanders, to defend their country from the depredations of Baillie’s army, now consisted of only fifteen hundred foot, and two hundred and fifty horse. It was not, therefore, without great reluctance, that he resolved to risk a battle with an enemy more than double in point of numbers, and composed in great part of veteran troops; but, pressed as he was by Hurry, and in danger of being attacked in his rear by Baillie, who was advancing by forced marches to the north, he had no alternative but to hazard a general engagement. He, therefore, instantly looked about him for an advantageous position.
The village of Auldearn stands upon a height, behind which, or on the east, is a valley, which is overlooked by a ridge of little eminences, running in a northerly direction, and which almost conceals the valley from view. In this hollow Montrose arranged his forces in order of battle. Having formed them into two divisions, he posted the right wing on the north of the village, at a place where there was a considerable number of dikes and ditches. This body, which consisted of four hundred men, chiefly Irish, was placed under the command of Macdonald. On taking their stations, Montrose gave them strict injunctions not to leave their position on any account, as they were effectually protected by the walls around them, not only from the attacks of cavalry but of foot, and could, without much danger to themselves, keep up a galling and destructive fire upon their assailants. In order to attract the best troops of the enemy to this difficult spot where they could not act, and to make them believe that Montrose commanded this wing, he gave the royal standard to Macdonald, intending, when they should get entangled among the bushes and dikes, with which the ground to the right was covered, to attack them himself with his left wing. And to enable him to do so the more effectually, he placed the whole of his horse and the remainder of the foot on the left wing to the south of the village. The former he committed to the charge of Lord Gordon, reserving the command of the latter to himself. After placing a few chosen foot with some cannon in front of the village, under cover of some dikes, Montrose firmly awaited the attack of the enemy.
The arrangements of Hurry were these. He divided his foot and his horse into two divisions each. On the right wing of the main body of the foot, which was commanded by Campbell of Lawers, Hurry placed the regular cavalry which he had brought from the south, and on the left the horse of Moray and the north under the charge of Captain Drummond. The other division of foot was placed behind as a reserve and commanded by Hurry himself.
When Hurry observed the singular position which Montrose had taken up, he was utterly at a loss to guess his designs, and though it appeared to him, skilful as he was in the art of war, a most extraordinary and novel sight, yet, from the well known character of Montrose, he was satisfied that Montrose’s arrangements were the result of a deep laid scheme. But what especially excited the surprise of Hurry, was the appearance of the large yellow banner or royal standard in the midst of a small body of foot stationed among hedges and dikes and stones, almost isolated from the horse and the main body of the foot. To attack this party at the head of which he naturally supposed Montrose was, was his first object. This was precisely what Montrose had wished by committing the royal standard to the charge of Macdonald, and the snare proved successful. With the design of over whelming at once the right wing, Hurry dispatched towards it the best of his horse and all his veteran troops, who made a furious attack upon Macdonald’s party, who defended themselves bravely behind the dikes and bushes. The contest continued for some time on the right with varied success, and Hurry, who had plenty of men to spare, relieved those who were engaged by fresh troops. Montrose, who kept a steady eye upon the motions of the enemy, and watched a favourable opportunity for making a grand attack upon them with the left wing, was just preparing to carry his design into execution, when a confidential person suddenly rode up to him and whispered in his ear that the right wing had been put to flight.
This intelligence was not, however, quite correct. It seems that Macdonald who, says Wishart, “was a brave enough man, but rather a better soldier than a general, extremely violent, and daring even to rashness,” had been so provoked with the taunts and insults of the enemy, that in spite of the express orders he had received from Montrose on no account to leave his position, he had unwisely advanced beyond it to attack the enemy, and though he had been several times repulsed he returned to the charge. But he was at last borne down by the great numerical superiority of the enemy’s horse and foot, consisting of veteran troops, and forced to retire in great disorder into an adjoining inclosure. Nothing, however, could exceed the admirable manner in which he managed this retreat and the courage he displayed while leading off his men. Defending his body with a large target, he resisted, single handed, the assaults of the enemy, and was the last man to leave the field. So closely indeed was he pressed by Hurry’s spearmen, that some of them actually came so near him as to fix their spears in his target, which he cut off by threes or fours at a time with his broadsword.17
It was during this retreat that Montrose received the intelligence of the flight of the right wing; but he preserved his usual presence of mind, and to encourage his men who might get alarmed at hearing such news, he thus addressed Lord Gordon, loud enough to be heard by his troops, “what are we doing, my lord? Our friend Macdonald has routed the enemy on the right and is carrying all before him. Shall we look on, and let him carry off the whole honour of the day?” A crisis had arrived, and not a moment was to be lost. Scarcely, therefore, were the words out of Montrose’s mouth, when he ordered his men to charge the enemy. When his men were advancing to the charge, Captain or Major Drummond, who commanded Hurry’s horse, made an awkward movement by wheeling about his men, and his horse coming in contact with the foot, broke their ranks and occasioned considerable confusion. Lord Gordon seeing this, immediately, rushed in upon Drummond’s horse with his party and put them to flight. Montrose followed hard with the foot, and attacked the main body of Hurry’s army, which he routed after a powerful resistance. The veterans in Hurry’s army who had served in Ireland, fought manfully, and chose rather to be cut down standing in their ranks than retreat; but the new levies from Moray, Ross, Sutherland, and Caithness, fled in great consternation. They were pursued for several miles, and might have been all killed or captured if Lord Aboyne had not, by an unnecessary display of ensigns and standards, which he had taken from the enemy, attracted the notice of the pursuers, who halted for sometime under the impression that a fresh party of the enemy was coming up to attack them. In this way, Hurry and some of his troops who were the last to leave the field of battle, as well as the other fugitives, escaped from the impending danger, and arrived at Inverness the following morning. As the loss of this battle was mainly owing to Captain Drummond, he was tried by a court-martial at Inverness and condemned to be shot, a sentence which was carried into immediate execution. He was accused of having betrayed the army, and it is said that he admitted that after the battle had commenced he had spoken with the enemy.18
The number of killed on both sides has been variously stated. That on the side of the covenanters has been reckoned by one writer at one thousand,19 by another20 at two thousand, and by a third at three thousand men.21 Montrose on the other hand, is said by the first of these authors to have lost about two hundred men, while the second says, that he had only “some twenty-four gentlemen hurt, and some few Irish killed,” and Wishart informs us that Montrose only missed one private man on the left, and that the right wing commanded by Macdonald, “lost only fourteen private men.” This trifling loss, on the part of Montrose, will appear almost incredible, and makes us incline to think that it must have been greatly underrated, for it is impossible to conceive that the right wing could have maintained the arduous struggle it did without a large sacrifice of life. The clans who had joined Hurry suffered considerably, particularly the Frazers, who, besides unmarried men, are said to have left dead on the field no less than eighty-seven married men. Among the principal covenanting officers who were slain, were Colonel Campbell of Lawers, and Sirs John and Gideon Murray, and Colonel James Campbell, with several other officers of inferior note. The laird of Lawer’s brother, Archibald Campbell, and a few other officers were taken prisoners. Captain Macdonald and William Macpherson of Invereschie, were the only persons of any note killed on Montrose’s side. Montrose took several prisoners, whom, with the wounded, he treated with great kindness. Such of the former as expressed their sorrow for having joined the ranks of the covenanters be released – others who were disposed to join him he received into his army, but such as remained obstinate he imprisoned. Besides taking sixteen standards from the enemy, Montrose got possession of the whole of their baggage, provisions, and ammunition, and a considerable quantity of money and valuable effects. The battle of Auldearn was fought on the fourth of May according to some writers, and on the ninth according to others, in the year sixteen hundred and forty-five.
The immense disproportion between the numbers of the slain, on the side of the covenanters, and that of the prisoners, taken by Montrose, evidently shows that very little quarter had been given, the cause of which is said to have been the murder of James Gordon, younger of Rhiny, who was killed by a party from the garrison of Spynie, and by some of the inhabitants of Elgin at Struders, near Forres, where he had been left in consequence of a severe wound he had received in a skirmish during Hurry’s first retreat to Inverness.22 But Montrose carried his revenge still farther, for, after burning the lands and houses of Campbell of Calder, and plundering all his effects, as well as those of the earl of Moray, who was then in England, he proceeded to Elgin, where, op the twelfth of May, he burnt the houses of Walter Smith, John Mill, John Douglas of Morristoun, and Alexander Douglas, some of whom, with some of their sons, were concerned in James Gordon’s murder. The houses of Robert Gibson, George Donaldson, and George Sutherland, and other inhabitants of Elgin, from their proximity to those put on fire, were seized upon by the flames, and consumed. The houses of Hay, the provost, and Gawin Douglas were also selected for destruction, but their safety was secured by the payment of a sum of money. The property, called the Friars of Elgin, was plundered, but, “being church building,” says Spalding, was preserved from fire. The house belonging to the laird of Pluscarden, in Elgin, was also plundered. From Elgin, Montrose sent out a party to the town of Garmouth, belonging to the laird of Innes, which they burnt, and another party burnt the Bishop’s Mill and Milltoun, life-rented by the wife of Major Sutherland, who had been also concerned in James Gordon’s death.23
While these proceedings were going on, Montrose sent his whole baggage, booty, and warlike stores, across the Spey, which he himself crossed upon the fourteenth of May, after which he proceeded to the Bog of Gicht, where he did not remain long, but went to Birkenbog, the seat of “a great covenanter,” where he took up his head quarters. He quartered his men in the neighbourhood, and, during a short stay at Birkenbog, he sent out different parties of his troops to scour the country, who burnt the town of Cullen, and such of the lands belonging to Lord Frendraught as had formerly escaped their ravages. A party of men, under the command of Leith of Harthill, also burnt the town and lands of Thombeg, belonging to the laird of Monymusk, and occupied by William Forbes, his tenant, because Forbes had robbed Leith’s servant of his baggage horse, and some money.24
When General Baillie first heard of the defeat of his colleague, Hurry, at Auldearn, he was lying at Cromar with his army. He had, in the beginning of May, after Montrose’s departure to the north, entered Athole, which he had wasted with fire and sword, and had made an attempt upon the strong castle of Blair, into which many of the prisoners taken at the battle of Inverlochy were confined; but, not succeeding in his enterprize, he had, after collecting an immense booty, marched through Athole, and, passing by Kirriemuir and Fettercairn, had encamped on the Birse on the tenth of May. His force at this time amounted to about two thousand foot and one hundred and twenty troopers. On the following day, he had marched to Cromar, where he encamped between the Kirks of Coull and Tarlan till he should be joined by Lord Balcarras’ horse regiment. While lying at Cromar, he laid waste the estates of the royalists in the neighbourhood, and burnt the house of Terpersie, belonging to a gentleman of the name of Gordon.25 In a short time, he was joined not only by Balcarras’ regiment but by two foot regiments. The ministers endeavoured to induce the country people also to join Baillie, by “thundering out of pulpits;” but “they lay still,” says Spalding, “and would not follow him.”
As soon as Baillie heard of the defeat of Hurry, he raised his camp at Cromar, upon the [nineteenth] of May, and hurried north. He arrived at the wood of Cochlarachie, within two miles of Strathbogie, before Montrose was aware of his approach. Here he was joined by Hurry, who, with some horse from Inverness, had passed themselves off as belonging to Lord Gordon’s party, and had thus been permitted to go through Montrose’s lines without opposition.
It was on the nineteenth of May, when lying at Birkenbog, that Montrose received the intelligence of Baillie’s arrival in the neighbourhood of Strathbogie. Although Montrose’s men had not yet wholly recovered from the fatigues of their late extraordinary march and subsequent labours; and although their numbers had been reduced since the battle of Auldearn by the departure of some of the Highlanders with the booty they had acquired, they felt no disinclination to engage the enemy, but, or the contrary, were desirous of coming to immediate action. But Montrose himself thought differently; for although he had the utmost confidence in the often tried courage of his troops, he judged more expedient to avoid an engagement at present, and to retire, in the meantime, into his fastnesses to recruit his exhausted strength, than risk another battle with a fresh force, greatly superior to his own. In order to deceive the enemy as to his intentions, he advanced, the same day, upon [Strathbogie], and, within view of their camp, began to make entrenchments, and raise fortifications, as if preparing to defend himself. But as soon as the darkness of the night prevented Baillie from discovering his motions, Montrose marched rapidly up the south side of the Spey with his foot, leaving his horse behind him, to whom he gave instructions to follow him as soon as daylight began to appear, which instructions were punctually obeyed.
Baillie bad passed the night in the confident expectation of a battle next day; but he was surprised to learn the following morning that not a vestige of Montrose’s army was to be seen. Montrose had taken the route to Balveny, which having been ascertained by Baillie, he immediately prepared to follow him. He, accordingly, crossed the Spey, and, after a rapid march, almost overtook the retiring foe in Glenlivet; but Montrose, having outdistanced his pursuers by several miles before night came on, he got the start of them so completely, that they were quite at a loss next morning to ascertain the route he had taken, and could only guess at it by observing the traces of his footsteps on the grass and the heather over which he had passed. Following, therefore, the course thus pointed out, Baillie came again in sight of Montrose; but he found that he had taken up a position, which, whilst it almost defied approach from its rocky and woody situation, commanded the entrance into Badenoch, from which country Montrose could, without molestation, draw supplies of both men and provisions. To attack Montrose in his stronghold was out of the question; but, in the hope of withdrawing him from it, Baillie encamped his army hard by. Montrose lay quite secure in his well-chosen position, from which he sent out parties who, skirmishing by day, and beating up the quarters of the enemy during the night, so harassed and frightened them, that they were obliged to retreat to Inverness, after a stay of a few days, a measure which was rendered still more necessary from the want of provisions and of provender for the horses. Leaving Inverness, Baillie crossed the Spey, and proceeded to Aberdeenshire, and arrived on the third of June at Newton, in the Garioch, “where he encamped, destroying the country, and cutting the green growing crops to the very clod.”26 So bold had the Gordons and other royalists lately become, in consequence of Montrose’s success, that, in passing through Strathbogie on this occasion, Baillie was considerably annoyed by small parties who hung upon and harassed his rear; but he did not retaliate as he might have done.
Having got quit of the presence of Baillie’s army, Montrose resolved to make a descent into Angus, and attack the earl of Crawford, who lay at the castle of Newtyle with an army of reserve to support Baillie, and to prevent Montrose from crossing the Forth, and carrying the war into the south. This nobleman, who stood next to Argyle, as head of the covenanters, had often complained to the estates against Argyle, whose rival he was, for his inactivity and pusillanimity; and having insinuated that he would have acted a very different part had the command of such an army, as Argyle had, been intrusted to him, he had the address to obtain the command of the army now under him, which had been newly raised; but the earl was without military experience, and quite unfit to cope for a moment with Montrose.
Proceeding through Badenoch, Montrose crossed the Grampians, and arrived by rapid marches on the banks of the river Airly, within seven miles of Crawford’s camp, before the latter was aware of his approach. He would have assuredly annihilated Crawford’s army, which he was preparing to attack, but an unexpected occurrence put an end to his design. This was the desertion of the Gordons and their friends, who almost all returned to their country. Intelligence, it would appear, had been received by them that Baillie was laying waste their lands, to protect which, they appear to have adopted the resolution of returning home to defend their possessions; but Lord Gordon was very indignant at their conduct, and it is said that he would have punished with death such of his own retainers as left the army, had not Montrose prevented him.27
The desertion of this part of his forces forced Montrose to abandon the idea of attacking Crawford; but the disappointment, instead of limiting his operations, only served to incite him to follow out more extended views. He now formed the resolution to attack Baillie himself, but before he could venture on such a bold step, he saw that there was an absolute necessity of making some additions to his force. With this view he sent Sir Nathaniel Gordon, an influential cavalier, into the north before him, to raise the Gordons and the other royalists; and, on his march north through Glenshee and the Braes of Mar, Montrose dispatched Macdonald into the remoter highlands with a party to bring him, as speedily as possible, all the forces he could. Judging that the influence and authority of Lord Gordon might greatly assist Sir Nathaniel, he sent him after him, and Montrose himself encamped in the country of Cromar, waiting for the expected reinforcements.
In the meantime, Baillie lay in camp on Dee-side in the lower Mar, where he was joined by Crawford, but he showed no disposition to attack Montrose, who, from the inferiority, in point of number, of his forces, retired to the old castle of Kargarf. Crawford did not, however, remain long with Baillie; but, exchanging a thousand of his raw recruits for a similar number of Baillie’s veterans, he returned with these, and the remainder of his army, through the Mearns into Angus, as it he intended some mighty exploit; he, thereafter, entered Athole, and in imitation of Argyle, plundered and burnt the country.
Raising his camp, Baillie marched towards Strathbogie to lay siege to the marquis of Huntly’s castle, the Bog of Gicht, now Gordon castle; but although Montrose had not yet received any reinforcements, he resolved to follow Baillie and prevent him from proceeding in his intended attack upon the castle. But Montrose had marched scarcely three miles when he was observed by Baillie’s scouts. Being desirous to know his strength and the position he occupied, Montrose sent out some men acquainted with the country to examine the enemy’s force at a distance. These speedily returned with information that Baillie’s foot were drawn up on a rising ground above Keith, about two miles off, and that their horse were in possession of a very narrow pass, about half way between the two armies. Montrose thereupon sent off a body of horse, along with some light musketeers to support them. Some slight skirmishing took place, after which, Baillie’s horse retired through the pass, but as it was well guarded by musketeers, Montrose’s horse did not venture to follow them. He, therefore, ordered forward his foot to drive them from their position, but, night coming on, they were prevented from proceeding. Next morning Montrose, not considering it advisable to attack Baillie in the strong position he occupied, sent a trumpeter to him offering to engage him on open ground, but Baillie answered the hostile message by saying, that he would not receive orders for fighting from his enemy.28
In this situation of matters, Montrose had recourse to strategy to draw Baillie from his stronghold. By retiring across the river Don near the castle of Druminnor, belonging to Lord Forbes, the covenanting general was led to believe that Montrose intended to march to the south, and he was, therefore, advised by a committee of the estates which always accompanied him, and in whose hands he appears to have been a mere passive instrument, to pursue Montrose. Leaving therefore the ground from which Montrose could not dislodge him by force, he followed Montrose, and was thus led into the very snare which had been laid for him by his expert adversary. As soon as Montrose’s scouts brought intelligence that Baillie was advancing, he set off by break of day to the village of Alford on the river Don, where he intended to await the enemy. When Baillie was informed of this movement, he imagined that Montrose was in full retreat before him, a supposition which encouraged him so to hasten his march, that he came up with Montrose at noon at the distance of a few miles from Alford. Montrose, thereupon, drew up his army in order of battle on an advantageous rising ground and waited for the enemy; but instead of attacking him, Baillie made a detour to the left with the intention of getting into Montrose’s rear and cutting off his retreat. Montrose then continued his march to Alford, where he passed the night.
On the following morning being the second day of July, sixteen hundred and forty-five, the two armies were only the distance of about four miles from each other. Montrose drew up his troops on a little hill behind the village of Alford. In his rear was a marsh full of ditches and pits, which would protect him from the inroads of Baillie’s cavalry should they attempt to assail his rear, and in his front stood a steep hill, which prevented the enemy from observing his motions. He gave the command of the right wing to Lord Gordon and Sir Nathaniel; the left he committed to Viscount Aboyne and Sir William Rollock; and the main body was put under the charge of Angus Macvichalaster, chief of the Macdonell’s of Glengarry, Drummond younger of Balloch, and Quarter-master George Graham, a skilful officer. To Napier his nephew, Montrose intrusted a body of reserve, which was concealed behind the hill.
After thus choosing his ground and making his dispositions, Montrose himself, at the head of a troop of horse, rode off to watch the movements of the enemy, and while examining the fords of the Don, intelligence was brought to him that the whole of the enemy’s forces were in rapid motion up the river to possess themselves of a ford about a mile above Alford, at which they meant to cross with the view of cutting off his retreat, as they still supposed that he was flying before them. Leaving therefore some of the horse to notice the motions of the enemy, Montrose returned to his army to give the necessary orders for battle.
Scarcely, however, had Montrose completed his arrangements, when the troop of horse he had left near the ford returned in full gallop with intelligence that the enemy had crossed the Don, and was moving in the direction of Alford. This was a fatal step on the part of Baillie, who, it is said, was forced into battle by the rashness of Lord Balcarras, who unnecessarily placed himself and his regiment in a position of such danger that they could not be rescued without exposing the whole of the covenanting army.29
When Baillie arrived in the valley adjoining the hill on which Montrose had taken up his position, both armies remained motionless for some time, viewing each other, as if unwilling to begin the combat. Owing to the commanding position which Montrose occupied, the covenanters could not expect to gain any thing by attacking him even with superior forces; but now, for the first time, the number of the respective armies was about equal, and Montrose had this advantage over his adversary, that while Baillie’s army consisted in part of the raw and undisciplined levies which the earl of Crawford had exchanged for some of his veteran troops, the greater part of Montrose’s men had been long accustomed to service. These circumstances determined Baillie not to attempt the ascent of the hill, but to remain in the valley, where, in the event of a descent by Montrose, his superiority in cavalry would give him the advantage.
This state of inaction was, however, soon put an end to by Lord Gordon, who observing a party of Baillie’s troops driving away before them a large quantity of cattle which they had collected in Strathbogie and the Enzie, and being desirous of recovering the property of his countrymen, selected a body of horse, with which he attempted a rescue. The assailed party was protected by some dikes and inclosures, from behind which they fired a volley upon the Gordons, of whom the horse led by Lord Gordon was composed, which did considerable execution amongst them. Such a cool and determined reception, attended with a result so disastrous and unexpected, might have been attended by dangerous consequences, had not Montrose, on observing the party of Lord Gordon giving indications as if undetermined how to act, resolved immediately to commence a general attack upon the enemy with his whole army. But as Baillie’s foot had entrenched themselves amongst the dikes and fences which covered the ground at the bottom of the hill, and could not be attacked in that position with success, Montrose immediately ordered the horse, who were engaged with the enemy, to retreat to their former position, in the expectation that Baillie’s troops would leave their ground and follow them. And in this hope he was not disappointed, for the covenanters thinking that this movement of the horse was merely the prelude to a retreat, advanced from their secure position and followed the supposed fugitives with their whole horse and foot in regular order.
Both armies now came to close quarters, and fought face to face and man to man with great obstinacy for some time, without either party receding from the ground they occupied. At length Sir Nathaniel Gordon, growing impatient at such a protracted resistance, resolved to cut his way through the enemy’s left wing, consisting of Lord Balcarras’ regiment of horse; and calling to the light musketeers who lined his horse, he ordered them to throw aside their muskets, which were now unnecessary, and to attack the enemy’s horse with their drawn swords. This order was immediately obeyed, and in a short time they cut a passage through the ranks of the enemy, whom they hewed down with great slaughter. When the horse which composed Baillie’s right wing, and which had been kept in check by Lord Aboyne, perceived that their left had given way, they also retreated.30 An attempt was made by the covenanting general to rally his left wing by bringing up the right, after it had retired, to its support, but they were so alarmed at the spectacle or melée which they had just witnessed on the left, where their comrades had been cut down by the broad swords of Montrose’s musketeers, that they could not be induced to take the place of their retiring friends.
Thus abandoned by the horse, Baillie’s foot were attacked on all sides by Montrose’s forces. They fought with uncommon bravery, and although they were cut down in great numbers, the survivors exhibited a perseverance and determination to resist to the last extremity. An accident now occurred, which, whilst it threw a melancholy gloom over the fortunes of the day, and the spirits of Montrose’s men, served to hasten the work of carnage and death. This was the fall of Lord Gordon, who having incautiously rushed in amongst the thickest of the enemy, was unfortunately shot dead when in the act of pulling Baillie, the covenanting general, from his horse, having, it is said, in a moment of exultation, promised to his men, to drag Baillie out of the ranks and present him before them. The Gordons, on perceiving their young chief fall, set no bounds to their fury, and falling upon the enemy with renewed vigour, hewed them down without mercy; yet these brave men still showed no disposition to flee, and it was not until the appearance of the reserve under the Master of Napier, which had hitherto been kept out of the view of the enemy at the back of the hill, that their courage began to fail them. But when this body began to descend the hill, accompanied by what appeared to them a fresh reinforcement of cavalry, but which consisted merely of the camp or livery boys, who had mounted the sumpter-horses to make a display for the purpose of alarming the enemy, the entire remaining body of the covenanting foot fled with precipitation. A hot pursuit took place, and so great was the slaughter that very few of them escaped. The covenanting-general and his principal officers were saved by the fleetness of their horses, and the marquis of Argyle, who had accompanied Baillie as a member of the committee, and who was closely pursued by Glengarry and some of his Highlanders, made a narrow escape by repeatedly changing horses.
Thus ended one of the best contested battles which Montrose had yet fought, yet strange as the fact may appear, his loss was, as usual, extremely trifling. Besides Lord Gordon, were killed, Mowat of Balwholly, Ogilvy of Milton, and one Dickson, an Irish captain, and a few privates. A considerable number, however, of Montrose’s men were wounded, particularly the Gordons, who, for a long time, sustained the attacks of Balcarras’ horse, amongst whom were Sir Nathaniel, and Gordon, younger of Gicht.31 The loss on the side of the covenanters was immense; by far the greater part of their foot, and a considerable number of their cavalry having been slain. Some prisoners were taken from them, but their number was small, owing to their obstinacy in refusing quarter. These were sent to Strathbogie under an escort.
The victory, brilliant as it was, was, however, clouded by the death of Lord Gordon, “a very hopeful young gentleman, able of mind and body, about the age of twenty-eight years.”32 Wishart gives an affecting description of the feelings of Montrose’s army when this amiable young nobleman was killed. “There was,” he says, “a general lamentation for the loss of the Lord Gordon, whose death seemed to eclipse all the glory of the victory. As the report spread among the soldiers, every one appeared to be struck dumb with the melancholy news, and a universal silence prevailed for some time through the army. However, their grief soon burst through all restraint, venting itself in the voice of lamentation and sorrow. When the first transports were over, the soldiers exclaimed against heaven and earth for bereaving the king, the kingdom, and themselves, of such an excellent young nobleman; and, unmindful of the victory or of the plunder, they thronged about the body of their dead captain, some weeping over his wounds and kissing his lifeless limbs; while others praised his comely appearance even in death, and extolled his noble mind, which was enriched with every valuable qualification that could adorn his high birth or ample fortune: they even cursed the victory bought at so dear a rate. Nothing could have supported the army under this immense sorrow but the presence of Montrose, whose safety gave them joy, and not a little revived their drooping spirits. In the meantime he could not command his grief, but mourned bitterly over the melancholy fate of his only and dearest friend, grievously complaining, that one who was the honour of his nation, the ornament of the Scots nobility, and the boldest assertor of the royal authority in the north, had fallen in the flower of his youth.”33
1 Guthry, p. 141.
3 Spalding, vol. ii. p. 298.
4 Gordon’s Continuation, p. 522.
5 Gordon of Sallagh, and Spalding.
6 Gordon, p. 523.
7 Spalding, vol. ii. p. 298.
8 Ibid. ii. 301.
9 Spalding, ii. 302.
10 Vol. ii. p. 306.
11 Ib. p. 307.
12 Spalding, vol. ii. p. 309.
13 This is Wishart’s account, but Spalding says there were 200 horse and 800 foot.
14 Montrose Redivivus, p. 65.
15 Wishart, p. 127.
16 Spalding, vol. ii. p. 316.
17 Wishart, p. 136.
18 Gordon’s Continuation, p. 525.
19 Gordon of Sallagh.
22 Gordon’s Continuation, p. 525.
23 Spalding, vol. ii. p. 320.
24 Ibid., vol. ii. p. 321.
25 Spalding, ii. p. 318.
26 Spalding, ii. 314.
27 Wishart, p. 142.
28 Wishart, p. 145.
29 Wishart, p. 147.
30 Wishart, p. 149.
31 Gordon’s Continuation, p. 526.
33 Memoirs, p. 132.