Thursday, April 14, 2016

How Can Man Die Better: Death on Culloden Moor

Dear Readers,

Saturday marks the 270th Anniversary of the Battle of Culloden, one of the most significant battles in British History. In a way, it is significant for American History as well. It followed at the end of the Jacobite Rebellion which began in 1745. The Rebellion itself was an attempt to restore the Catholic Stuart line to the throne of England. In particular, Bonnie Prince Charlie was the man of the hour. I do not pretend to know all of the nuances of the Jacobite Cause or the details of British succession. This said, I do believe in the cause my Jacobite ancestors fought for. Why? Because some of them paid with their lives and others with their fortunes and I rather doubt they would have done that were they not convinced of the justness of their cause. 

My grandmother was a Cameron and thus I am related to many of the Camerons who stood on the moor that day under their leader, the Gentle Lochiel. And when I say this, I am not saying it simply because the last name is the same. I've done the research and know specifics. In fact, Clan Cameron is partially responsible for the rebellion. When Prince Charlie landed in Scotland, he had but a small force of men. He was not sure how he would be able to raise troops. Then he heard the sound of bagpipes and 800 Cameron men came matching over the hill to join him. Other clans flocked to his cause as well. After initial successes, infighting and incompetence plagued the cause and thus on that April morning in 1746, the Jacobite Army stood on the moor cold, hungry, and tired. 

The battle was more of a slaughter. The bravery of the Clans was no match for the rifles and artillery of the Duke of Cumberland's force. The Camerons stood under a withering fire before they were ordered to charge. One English officer said the charge of the Cameron men was the bravest thing he'd ever witnessed. The Lochiel got close enough to discharge his pistol before grapeshot shattered both ankles. He was carried from the field and managed to escape to France where he lived out the rest of his days. Dr. Archibald Cameron, the Jacobite medical officer, had a reputation for kind treatment of the wounded of both sides. He too escaped the field with his life only to be captured and executed by the English for treason a few years later. Yet he was only a doctor who made a point to provide equal treatment to the wounded of both armies. That, Dear Friends, is English justice. Clan Cameron suffered heavy losses that day and many of her dead lie under the above stone marker in a mass grave.

Following the battle, British troops ran rampant through the Highlands pursuing escaping Jacobites and raping and looting their way across the countryside. Women were outraged, to use a period term, by groups of soldiers. Children were ripped from their mother's arms and killed. Men were shot or bayoneted on sight. On the field itself on the day after the battle, British soldiers were ordered to move through the masses of wounded Jacobites and dispatch them with bullets, bayonets, or rifle butts. Over time, the British would "clear" the Highlands and thousands were forcibly deported to the colonies, including the veteran of Culloden who would begin my family line here. One of my Irish relatives, Fitzgerald of the Hussar Cavalry, was captured after the battle and died in prison before he could be executed or transported. What the British did to the Highlands was no less than ethnic cleansing. 

What is interesting from an American standpoint, is the impact this would have on the colonies. I find it amusing that so many people who claim to be "part Irish" on Saint Patrick's Day are actually Scots-Irish. However, many people who identify as Scots-Irish are actually Scottish who were transported following the Highland Clearances. The American Revolution began 30 years later and the children of these expelled Jacobites would fill the ranks of the Continental Army as a means to fight back against the hated English and their Army. In a way, the ethnic cleansing which took place after the Battle of Culloden backfired on John Bull. The Scottish (and Scots-Irish) brought with them their combativeness, their fierce loyalty, their mournful ballads (that gave rise to country music), and a wanderlust which pushed the boundaries of our growing nation further westward. In short, they were an important immigrant group in our early history.

More than just men died that day on Culloden Moor. It marked the end of the Clan system. The British made war not just on the Clans, but on their language, their culture, and their way of life. In large part, the British succeeded. Of course, they did the same in Ireland where they were not quite as successful. Families saw loved ones slaughtered in front of them. Families were ripped apart by forcible transportation to the colonies. Starvation and fear became constant companions. It is all so tragically sad. And yet today the British government is remarkably unapologetic for their acts of imperialism and oppression around the world. But I guess that doesn't matter anymore. 

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who is a Jacobite at heart for the simple reason that if it was a worthy cause for family members to die for, then it must a good one. 


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