ScotWars - Scottish Military History and Re-enactment
Battle of Inverlochy, 1645
Battle of Inverlochy

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 of it.

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 authority.

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 into effect.

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 Musket.
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 well. Comment?

Return to Top

©2007-2011 ScotWars All Rights Reserved. [Disclaimer]
Site designed & compiled by....
Rab Taylor
Webmaster of PUBCAT  RomanScotland