BLB Head to Head #2: Jacobite Highlander v Williamite infantryman

Williamite infantry march into the Highlands

Of course not all Highlanders were Jacobite but, in our period of interest the terms fit together well to describe the feudal warriors who supported the Stuart cause. Men from the Highlands adhering to an individual method of fighting as opposed to a collective one. Highland forces were often small. At Killiecrankie it is doubltful whether Dundee had more than 1,000 clansmen under command.

Clansmen loyal to King James II watch from a concealed position as the enemy march into Killiecrankie Pass.

Up to a quarter of his army was likely to have been formed by Irishmen formely of Lord Bophin's Regiment and now commanded by Colonel Cannon. Clan contingents would have been similar to feudal groups anywhere in the world in that, the majority of each would have been poorly equipped tenants or servants following their well-equipped lords. These lords, their sons, brothers and retinues would spend much of their time perfecting and maintinaing their martial reputations. Hunting, practising shooting or fighting or in other words, living the dream or idealistic impression of a Highland warrior way of life.

Warfare Miniatures Jacobite clansmen

At close quarters and in the right circumstances, it would take but a few of these 'angry heroes' to terrify an equally humble peasant in a red coat who might barely know one end of  his musket from the other. It is interesting to note that Hugh Mackay, General of the Williamite Army  in Scotland was himself a Highland chieftain from the very northmost part of the country - Sutherland. Many of the men and officers of his regiment will have come from his homelands.

Ramsay's Scots - Dutch veterans stand ready to deal with the native army.

These Highlanders happened to be wearing Dutch uniforms and carrying muskets and plug bayonets at Killiecrankie on the day that the Macdonalds, Camerons and Macleans tore down the slopes of Craigelliach and swept away King William's authority. Over the years I have tried to see a little beyond the myth. It could be said that after a century of butchery, the London Government and foreign Royal family did its best to revise history with the Highlanders being cast as warrior heroes. This was very much carried on and magnified during Georgian and Victorian times - Ticonderoga, Waterloo, Balaklava, Tel- el Kebir.  Guilt complex?

Action from our Battle for Britain campaign.. A Clan regiment attacks Hasting's Regiment
Move far enough past the threat and it is easy to romanticize it. I just finished reading PG Rogers The Dutch on the Medway. It finishes with a very amusing chapter on 1967 and Dutch Week on the Medway. It's all hands across the North Sea, commercial opportunities and freedom of the towns etc for Dutch dignatories. Raising the Dutch flag at Queenborough Town Hall and allowing the Dutch Marines to march through Chatham Dockyard. Think back three hundred years and ask yourself how people in Kent might have felt then.. but I digress.

Alba gu brath!   Do Dhia agus Righ Seumas!

The stunning victory at Killiecrankie was not repeated a few weeks later when a larger Highland Army minus its totem commander was unable to dislodge a smaller, less experienced but extremely motivated regiment defending the little town of Dunkeld a few miles south of the pass. The first action of my county regiment The Cameronians saw these newly recruited but highly determined Lowlanders repulse the Highland clans in dogged, day-long hand to hand urban fighting.

From another campaign battle: Dundee's Highlanders are stopped by Highlanders under Lord Forbes

The Cameronians, Covenanters to a man, were of the same stock as the Ulster plantation families inhabiting small towns like Enniskillen. There method of fighting was not the Highland way but possessed some of the same characteristics of grit and determination. Fighting as conventional Williamite infantry, they were able to hold position in the face of individually brave but uncoordinated attacks proving that, organization, motivation and leadership usually trump the courage of single combat.

Hugh Mackay's Williamite Highlanders in red coats - fighting for King William
I have gamed with Highlanders in one form or another in many periods. Tudor, English Civil War, Jacobite Wars, Napoleonic and the Crimea.  Rules are corraled by public misconception and pressure to make them demi-god like. That ignores poor performances. Given the right circumstances a growling mass of men running at their opponents with cold steel flashing is likely to test the nerve of the bravest soldier but engineering those moments on the table top without resorting to Marvel Comic moments is challenging. Reminds me of a gaming friend who insisted under no circumstances should the Old Guard ever be routed in a wargame. I actually found his certainty alarming.

A shot I took from the Jacobite positions on the battlefield at Killiecrankie
The War of Three Kings has dealt with Highland clan capabilities in a more detailed way that the previous two iterations of Beneath the Lily Banners. Raw troops are more robust than before so, even inexperienced clan units will hang around on the tabletop even if they are a bit ineffectual. Shooting capability is limited. Firepower is sacrificed for speed and the ability to manouevre quickly. On contact, the clan battalion has its best chance of success and, if it is winning, it maintains that combat advantage just long enough to break most opponents in cumulative combat victories. I only take one defeat to break a Raw enemy unit, two for Drilled, three sequential wins for Veteran opponent. If stopped or shot up before contact and particularly if disordered before close combat starts, it has little chance of success. Culloden attests to the challenge.

I have has some spectacular successes with Jacobite armies. I also have tasted defeat and heavy losses.

It's a great force to build, not too big and nice to look at. Tartan should not be feared as a painting challenge, have a look above. Most tartans of the 17th century were nothing like the commercially contrived psychedelia and faux-historical science created to sell kilts these days!