Battle of Dunbar by Graham Turner
Battlefield of the Battle of the Hieton, Hamilton
After Dunbar, the New Model Army occupied various parts of Scotland, campaigning chiefly in the central belt, then in the Highlands. One area where the Covenanters were in strength was in south-west Scotland, so it was agreed that a Cromwellian presence was needed there. An English force commanded by Major General John Lambert, veteran of Dunbar, was garrisoned in Lanarkshire at Hamilton, in the Heiton (high town) area of the town. Colonel Gilbert Ker, another Dunbar veteran, led a force of Covenanters in a surprise attack on Lambert’s position on 1 December 1650. After some initial success, Ker’s men were repulsed with heavy loss. The battle of Hamilton is also known as the battle of Heiton; it is commemorated by a metal plaque fixed to Cadzow Bridge, installed by the Hamilton Civic Society. Following the subjugation of Edinburgh, the Cromwellian army crossed the Forth in July 1651, ferried by specially constructed flat-bottomed boats at the Firth of Forth’s narrowest point between South and North Queensferry. As North Queensferry stands on a narrow peninsula, it was rightly argued that it would provide a defensive bridgehead against any attempts by Leslie to contest an English landing in Fife. In July the local defences at the forts of Inchgarvie, Burntisland and Ferryhill sustained a systematic and prolonged bombardment. Under cover of darkness on the night of 16 – 17 July 1651, Colonel Robert Overton landed 2,000 assault troops in Inverkeithing Bay; Overton immediately began digging trenches while Major General Lambert organized the landing of a further 2,500 troops on 20 July. On learning of Lambert’s crossing, David Leslie ordered Sir John Browne of Fordell to lead 4,000 infantry to Inverkeithing, supported by 1,000 cavalry commanded by James Holborn of Menstrie to pin down Lambert at his bridgehead. The Highland elements of Fordell’s army were led by Sir Hector Maclean of Duart.
The English occupied trenches on the Ferry Hills which rise about 240 feet above sea level; dominating these are Castland Hill and Meikle Hill which cover the coastal road to Rosyth and the road to Inverkeithing. Were the Scots to occupy these two eminences they would deny the English any movement forward but for some inexplicable reason Fordell chose to come off the hills to lower ground fronting the English trench system, from where shots were fired. Believing he was about to be attacked, Fordell ordered his men back to the higher ground. Lambert grasped this opportunity to send Colonel John Okey forward with his regiment of dragoons to attack the Scots’ rear. Fordell drew up his main battle lines on the Whins, three eminences or outcrops of moorland rolling outwards from Castland and Meikle Hills towards Inverkeithing Bay. For his part, Lambert deployed his men with the bulk of his strength concentrated on the right wing as the ground on his left was rocky, difficult terrain unsuitable for his cavalry. Okey commanded the right wing; the infantry were placed in the centre and left and Colonel Robert Overton commanded the reserve infantry to the rear of Lambert’s position.
It was at this point that Lambert learnt that Cromwell had fallen back on Linlithgow and that Fordell might receive reinforcements from Leslie at Stirling. Lambert knew that this was his time to make a concerted attack on the Scots, so he ordered forward his infantry. Due to a bottleneck in the narrow peninsula the English formations had to bunch together dangerously, their left offering an easy target for the Scottish horse. The cavalry, with their long Spanish lances, swept through the English foot with ease. Lambert immediately despatched Overton’s infantry reserve screened by a troop of horse to counter Fordell’s attack. The combined force of musketeers and pikemen soon drove off the Scottish lancers and the fighting on the English left was quickly over. Lambert was now able to concentrate the bulk of his army on Fordell’s position around the Whins. The crack, disciplined troops of the New Model Army soon put to flight the raw Scottish infantry; Fordell was left with only 200 horse and two infantry battalions to resist Lambert. Fordell was driven back to the level ground between Hillfield and Pitreavie. It was here, in the most heroic episode at Inverkeithing, that the Clan Maclean of Mull Regiment commanded by Sir Hector, 2nd Baronet Maclean of Duart, fought a fierce engagement to protect their chief. (Sir Hector’s ancestor, Red Hector of the Battles, had fallen in the battle of Red Harlaw in 1411.) The clansmen shouted their Clan slogan ‘Fear eil’ airson Eachainn’ (Another for Hector) until Maclean and 750 of his 800 clansmen lay dead on the field. Fordell’s casualties were between 800 and 2,000 dead, with 1,400 taken prisoner; Lambert’s losses were less than 200.
Although a battle on a much smaller scale than Dunbar the year before, the battle of Inverkeithing (also known as the battle of Ferry Hills) is considered of great importance and more decisive in Cromwell’s Scottish campaign of 1650 – 51 as it gave him control of Fife and the north-east. Also, Cromwell deliberately loosened his hold on the south-east, convinced that Charles II and David Leslie would take the opportunity to invade England; Cromwell rightly believed that once out in open unfamiliar territory in England, the Covenanter army would become easy prey. His brilliant deduction succeeded; on 3 September 1651, a year to the day of Dunbar, Oliver Cromwell decisively defeated Charles and Leslie at Worcester. As for Inverkeithing, a small cairn erected in 2001 by the Clan Maclean Heritage Trust commemorates the battle of 1651.
When Cromwell left Scotland in the summer of 1651, he ordered his able commander General George Monck to subdue the rest of Scotland, which Monck did with only 6,000 troops, although these scant resources were stretched to the limit. Even so, in the six months between August 1651 and February 1652, Monck took the key towns of Dundee, Montrose, Aberdeen and Inverness. After the final disastrous defeat of Charles II at Worcester, by the end of 1651 Monck’s forces in Scotland were doubled to 12,000.19 By February 1652, Monck had not only subjugated Scotland but pacified her. Monck’s achievement was indeed impressive and bears testament not only to his military skill but also, more importantly, his adroitness as a diplomat, an attribute he would put to good use in 1660.
In 1652 Monck was recalled to England to supervise the strengthening of the sea defences of Great Yarmouth during the Anglo-Dutch war; he would remain there until 1654 when he returned to Scotland. By that year there was open rebellion in northern Scotland by the Highland Clan chiefs chafing under the Cromwellian Commonwealth rule; there was even some unrest in Lowland Scotland. In 1653 the Clan chiefs had made it known to Charles II that they would rise for him, which prompted Charles to appoint Lieutenant Colonel John Middleton as his commander in chief. The Earl of Glencairn was made Middleton’s deputy while the latter travelled on the Continent raising arms and money for the coming rebellion.
Middleton, a Covenanter who had fought in the English Civil War on the parliamentary side, had also been an Engager with Charles I in 1646; now he had taken up the cause of Charles II, probably out of bitterness at the treatment meted out to the Engagers by the fanatical Archibald Johnston of Wariston, the witchfinder general and persecutor of the Engagers in 1650. When Middleton returned to Scotland in February 1654, he was joined by several Clan chiefs, notably the Earl of Atholl, Lord Kenmure and the Earl of Argyll’s heir, Lord Lorne. In April, Monck arrived to take command of the 15,000 strong Cromwellian forces, distributed throughout Scotland on garrison duties. Monck knew his objective of bringing order would have to be achieved quickly to discourage other Clan chiefs joining Middleton, Glencairn and Atholl. He organized his forces into five columns; his friend and colleague Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Morgan was given four of the columns, Monck himself commanding the fifth and largest. Monck began his campaign by torching hamlets and villages suspected of harbouring Royalist sympathizers, burning crops and driving off cattle. For the next three months, Middleton continued to elude both Monck and Morgan until the latter caught up with him in July.
Dalnaspidal Forest Looking south west to the Sow of Atholl (left) and Sgairneach Mhor (right)
Morgan had moved his columns eastwards from Braemar to Ruthven, marching south down the Spey Valley towards Dalwhinnie. At one point Monck and Middleton nearly joined battle but the former’s men were exhausted from their marching and counter-marching in pursuit of an elusive enemy. Middleton commanded a force of between 1,200 and 3,000; his intention was to march north to Caithness where he expected ships to bring reinforcements, arms and ammunition. Middleton’s route was by way of the western shore of Loch Garry and Dalnaspidal. However, on 19 July, Morgan surprised him at Dalnaspidal; he charged Middleton’s 800 horse which had somehow become separated from the infantry. Many of the Royalist troopers were killed and several more – about 300 – were taken prisoner. Middleton was wounded but managed to escape to Caithness, where he was unable to recruit more than a few hundred men. Dispirited, he took ship for the Continent, re-joining Charles II at Cologne in September 1654. Dalnaspidal was hardly a battle; Morgan’s losses were just four wounded. It was the last action in the Scottish civil war and brought the Royalist rising of 1651 – 54 to its close. By early 1655, most of the rebel leaders, including Glencairn, Middleton’s deputy, had submitted to Monck who treated them fairly. Scotland was once more at peace. For the time being.