2nd February 1645
Of all the battles that Montrose fought, the battle of Inverlochy
is perhaps the most significant.
Montrose's first battle had been Tippermuir,
where he had successfully destroyed the Covenant Army sent
to stop him. This battle had been very much in Montrose's
favour, however. The troops he had been facing were not
experienced soldiers and were only county levies. The only
officer present who had seen battle was Sir James Scott
of Rossie who had fought in the war of the Capelleti against
the Germans, where as Montrose's army had the veterans of
the Irish Brigade, and the Highland Clansmen who had been
taught how to use weapons and how to fight since the day
they started walking.
Yet not all of Montrose's enemies were
of the same calibre, and there was one group who could seriously
threaten his position. This was the Clan Campbell. At the
time, the Campbells were led by the much under-rated Marquis
of Argyll. Argyll was a very able politician who hadplayed
the Covenant right into his hands. Although he did not completely
control the Committee of Estates, his leaving it would have
been a serious blow to it. He also was in sole command of
the Clan Campbell, and had a large well motivated, well
armed force at his beck and call. Nor were his men Lowlanders
who had been idle, instead they were Highlanders, and proud
Alongside this were a couple of veteran
regiments of the Covenant. The year before they had been
of the same calibre as the men that Montrose had routed
at Tippermuir. Now they proud capable veterans of the war
in England. They had been joined with a force of Campbells
together numbering around 3,000. Montrose's force on the
other hand numbered only about half that.
Yet they too were good soldiers. Apart
from his Irish troops, he had men from Clan MacDonald, a
clan whose enmity for Clan Campbell was well known. In addition
he had men from other clans, such as the Stewarts of Appin
and the men of Glengarry, Keppoch, Glencoe, MacLean, Atholl
and Lochaber, many of whom carried the famous Lochaber axes.
All of these Clans bore grudges against the MacCailean Mhor
and his clan.
There was, however, one problem in
the command structure of the Covenant force. The Committee
of Estates had appointed a General Baille to command it.
Argyll thought that Baillie was his second in command and
Baillie thought that Argyll was his. Both men detested each
other on sight, and were constantly undermining each others
Argyll was aware that Montrose was
in Lochaber; he also knew that Montrose could not stay there
too long for want of food. So Argyll decided to follow Montrose's
route north. Accordingly, he marched his army through Lorne,
and crossed Loch Leven by the ferry at Ballachulish, and
on the first of February they camped at Inverlochy, the
strategic centre of the Highlands. Montrose , 30 miles away
at Kilcummin was unaware of what lay behind him.
The story goes that it was Ian Lom MacDonald, the Bard of
Keppoch, who warned Montrose of the force behind him. Montrose
then decided on what was to be his most audacious move yet. He
proposed that his army should turn itself around, and come
up behind that of Argyll. This idea was met with overwhelming
enthusiasm from his officers, and the plan was put immediately
The plan was not without its drawbacks,
however. A two day march over some of the most inhospitable
terrain, in the middle of winter, over paths that would
sometime be knee deep in snow - the recipe for disaster
was there. Yet Montrose was certain that the plan would
succeed. His Irish troops were battle hardened veterans,
used to fighting and marching in all conditions, and his
Highlanders had grown up in such a climate. Also they were
all fired up with the idea of fighting Argyll himself.
The march lasted 2½ days, and
the advance got to Inverlochy first, although it took a
further three hours for the rest of the army to catch up.
They camped at the base of Meall-an-t'suidhe, and peering
down through the gloom could make out the force below. The
battle did not start immediately, however. Small skirmishes
broke out which ruled out Montrose's idea of surprise attack.
There were however two surprises in store, neither of which
came from the hand of Montrose. The first was that the Covenanters
believed that they were fighting one of Montrose's Lieutenants,
and not Montrose himself - they believed him to be further
up the valley. The second was the departure of Argyll. The
reason for this remains unclear. It is possible, that believing
they only faced one of Montrose's officers, he could leave
the situation in Baillie's hands. This seems unlikely when
his enmity for Baillie is taken into account. Also, he had
just started out to fight Montrose, so it seems odd that
he should leave so soon. Whatever the reason, his leaving
disheartened his men, for whom it is bad luck for their
Chief to leave them on the eve of battle.
As dawn broke it dawned on the Covenanters
that they faced no small raiding-force, but Montrose's entire
army, led by the man himself. Montrose drew his army up
ready for the attack. Manus O'Cahan and his force were positioned
on the left, destined to be the first into battle, Ronald
Og with a contingent of Pikemen and Musketeers on the right.
The Highlanders drew up in two battle lines under the command
of their respective Chieftains. Montrose took up position
close to the Royal Standard, which was guarded by Thomas
Ogilvie's troop of horse. The centre was backed up by Colonel
James (O'Neill) MacDonald's Irish regiment of musket. They
had no artillery.
Before they had drawn up however, Ian
Lom MacDonald had left aside the army and gone to sit on
the side of the hill. As he went Alistair MacDonald, son
of Coll Kietache, (also known as the Devastator) said: "Ian
Lom wilt thou leave us?" to which Ian Lom replied:
"If I go with thee today and fall in battle, who will
sing thy praises and thy prowess tomorrow?" - and so
he went and sat on the hill to record the fight. To the
Highlanders this added a new dimension, for not only were
they facing thier most bitter enemies, the Campbells, the
Bard of Keppoch was there to record the fight, which meant
that win or lose their deeds would become immortal alongside
those of great Chiefs and Highland warriors.
Athough the Campbells had lost their Chief, they were not
about to abandon the fight, they were not cowards, and they
still outnumbered the Royalists 2 to 1, and were still under
the command of General Baillie, and they waited to fight
a battle in the ancient Highland manner. Yet there was a
further problem, the army had been split up and this, the
main body of the army, was all that there was to see off
Montrose. They were commanded by Sir Duncan Campbell of
Auchinbreck who neverless placed his men carefully. He placed
his army in four divisions along a ridge of firm ground
roughly north-south. The Lowland companies were placed on
the flank- about 500 men each, with two cannon. These were
the veterans of Marston Moor and Newcastle, and would not
run at the first shot. In the centre were the cream of the
Campbell fighting men, amongst them some of the best swordsmen
in Scotland, all commanded by the Lairds of Lochnell and
Rarra, alongside the Provost of Kilmun. In front of this
was a huge mass of Campbell Clansmen armed with an assortment
of guns, swords and axes, led by Gillespie son of Gillespie
Og, Laird of Bingingeadhs.
Scarely a stone's throw away from the
left flank of the army, was the old castle of Inverlochy.
This had once been the seat of the ancient Kings of Caledonia,
and it was here that Auchinbreck placed some 50 musketeers.
This created a problem which Auchinbreck, in his hurry,
probably overlooked. If Montrose's Highlanders made a charge
- as they were wont to do - then it would mean they would
have to meet it standing up. This would cause unease amongst
the Campbell Clansmen, who understood the excitment that
a charge could generate, and what would happen if it was
driven home. Also, by placing his men on firm ground, Auchinbreck
was confining the actions of the Campbell Clansmen in front
who had little space to fight or move effectively.
While the Campbell force was being hastily thrown into line,
Montrose's Highlanders could scarcely be restrained from
charging down the slope to the army below. The fighting
started when Gillespie's vanguard started to advance. The
Royalists started edging forward in their impatience to
charge. Then the fighting really started. O'Cahan's regiment
advanced right up to to Gillespie's division, holding their
fire until their firelocks were in the faces of the enemy,
then releasing a massive volley that allowed them to smash
their way through the ensuing bedlam, and hurl themselves
in a solid wedge at the Covenant troops behind. At the same
time, Alistair and his men through themselves at Auchinbrecks
left, and behind him the whole army came pouring down the
hillside in a ferocious charge that brought the survivors
of Gillespie's men into the Campbell centre. On the flanks,
the Covenant regulars tried their best to hold the line
and fire as they usually did, but they were no match for
the Irishmen who ran in under their volleys and gave the
Lowlanders no time to reload - they were amongst them in
an instant, swinging swords and musket butts. In England,
Leven's men had never experienced this kind of butchery
- the wild uncontained charge for which Highlanders have
been so rightly feared. Those behind watched in horror as
their comrades were destroyed by the Scots and Irish. The
Covenanters were not used to this kind of savagery and the
whole flank started to disintegrate, and as the formations
started to crumble, the Irish turned upon the Campbell centre.
On the Campbell's left about 200 Covenant infantry tried
to reach the safety of Inverlochy Castle. Sir Thomas Ogilvie,
guessing their intention, led his troop of horse in a charge
that pushed them back to the shore, where they would find
scant cover. Tragically, Ogilvie was badly wounded in this
action and was to die a few days later.
In the centre, the remaining Campbells
were packed too tight to allow the shattered remains of
their army through. Thus those who had tried to flee were
caught up in a maelstrom of death, and the Campbells behind
could only brace themselves and watch as their clansmen
were slaughtered. When the charge came, they managed to
contain it for a few moments, for they were the best swordsmen
in the Clan Campbell. Then the Gaels broke through, when
Alistair led his men in a wild charge for the Standard.
When the Standard fell, the majority of the Campbells broke
and ran. Here and there, isolated pockets of resistance
remained, but these were soon overwhelmed.
Behind them in the loch, the Dubhlinnseach
spread its dark sails and headed out to sea. Yet the battle
was not over. Some of the Lowlanders were in the castle,
where they later surrendered to Montrose. Others tried to
reach Lochaber, and a running slaughter continued for 14
miles, as the Clans avenged the wrongs done to them by the
Campbells. Eventually only exhaustion prevented them from
totally massacring their foes.
In all, it was later reckoned that some 1,500 of Montrose's
enemies were killed or wounded that day. Montrose lost only
8, including Sir Thomas Ogilvie.
The significance of this battle was
not lost on the Highlanders. They had shown that Argyll
and his men were not invincible. It also resulted in Montrose
being able to fulfill his promise to the King - to draw
Scottish troops out of England to come to fight him.
Article by Alan Frize, Loudoun's
Editorial note: A factor missed in the above article was
how revenge may have been a motivator for the Campbell clansmen.
Montrose had only recently invaded their lands in Argyll
and sacked the town of Inveraray. It should also be noted
that MacCailean Mhor escaped by boat on that occasion as