James Graham, 5th Earl of Montrose,
had signed the National Covenant in 1638, along with most
of his countrymen and indeed, had fought for it's principles
against the king, Charles I, in the short campaigns of 1639-40.
By these actions the aims of the Covenant had been achieved,
but Montrose and his friends came to realise that the Covenanting
hierarchy in Scotland, headed by the Marquis of Argyll,
chief of the powerful Clan Campbell, were aiming at much
greater power and to overthrow the king.
Montrose attempted to warn his sovereign,
but Charles would not listen and it was not until the solemn
league and the Covenant had been agreed between the Scottish
government and the English parliament, that the king finally
realised the danger.
It was almost too late, as the Scots
had assembled a sizeable army under General Alexander Leslie
(later the Earl of Leven) and sent it south to join the
parliamentary forces operating against the King in the North
of England. This so upset the balance of power in that area,
that the King's general, Prince Rupert, lost the Battle
of Marston Moor, on 2nd July, 1644.
Montrose was already at Oxford, the
King's headquarters, where he had been commission as the
Royal Lieutenant-General in Scotland and raised to the rank
of Marquis. He and two companions crossed the border in
disguise. posing as Leslie's troopers returning home on
leave and, in Perthshire, near Blair, met a force of about
1,500 exiled MacDonalds from Ireland, sent over by the Earl
of Antrim to aid his endeavour. He found the Irishmen, under
their leader, Alistair MacDonald, about to do battle with
the local levy of 500 Stewarts and Robertsons, who resented
this intrusion into their Clan territory. The appearance
of Montrose, however, united the two sides, so he had thus
found himself an army.
His aims were to raise Scotland for
the king and to cause such an uproar in so doing, that the
Government would be forced to draw off troops from Leslie's
army to cope with him, thus relieving the pressure on Charles.
A year and five battles later, he had succeeded in those
objects and was now poised for the final blow, which would
give him control of Scotland.
In August, 1645, Montrose had an army of 4,500 infantry
and 500 cavalry assembled at Dunkeld, in Perthshire. His
infantry were principally highlanders drawn from a number
of Clans, whilst the cavalry were composed of Gordons and
Ogilvies with the addition of gentlemen volunteers from
many families, including the Livingstons and Flemings. Most
were seasoned campaigners and were probably the best troops
in Britain at the time - including Cromwell's Ironside.
The government's chosen general in
Scotland was William Baillie of Letham, a sound professional
soldier and one of Leslie's major - generals sent north
to take charge. Montrose knew him already, having beaten
him in battle at Alford in Aberdeenshire.
Baillie was at Perth attending the
meeting of the Scottish Estates. He had been given an army
of some 6,000 foot and 800 horse; his foot were a mixture
of new levies from Fife of which he though very little,
plus a number of regular regiments withdrawn from Leslie
and remnants of other forces already defeated by Montrose.
The cavalry was mainly regular dragoons. In addition to
these troops, the Earl of Lanark had raised a levy of 1,000
infantry and 500 cavalry from his brother, Hamilton's estate
in Clydesdale, and was en route north to join the main body.
When Montrose learned of this, he resolved
to insert his own army between the other two. Marching from
Dunkeld with the speed that characterised all his movements,
he slipped past Baillie and travelling via Kinross, Glenfarg
and Alloa, he crossed the Forth by the Fords of Frew above
Stirling, circumnavigating the fortress town and crossed
the Carron by ford on the site of the later Carron Bridge,
marching south on the drove road on the route of the present
Tak - Ma - Doon Road. By nightfall on the 14th August, the
army was camped in a meadow near Colzium, now covered by
Townhead Reservoir, and in an area around Colzium Castle.
It was not long before Baillie learned
of Montrose's advance, but it took a little time for its
purpose to become apparent. Realising that his opponent
had gained an advantage and that Lanark was in some considerable
danger, he moved in haste and, taking the chord of Montrose's
arc, reached Stirling by the line of the modern A9 road.
On the same night as Montrose reached Colzium, Baillie was
only three miles off at Hollinbush (Hollinbush, Banknock).
He arrived late and his men had little rest.
He was well served by his scouts and
local people, thus he knew exactly where the Royalists lay.
At dawn the next morning his troops were on the move and,
marching directly across country, reached a point close
to, and just south of, the modern village of Banton. Here
the Covenanters were on the higher ground around the eastern
rim of the hollow occupied by the Royalist infantry. It
was a fine summer morning, already warm, with the promise
of great heat to come.
The Highland troops were clearly visible, leisurely cooking
their breakfast around hundreds of little bivouac fires,
obviously not in the least disturbed by the arrival of the
main army of their enemies. Having a healthy respect for
them, and appreciating that his own forces were already
hot, dusty and somewhat tired, Baillie decided to take post
where he was and wait events. If and when Lanark appeared,
he had Montrose between two fires, and if the general decided
to attack Lanark, being the weaker force, then Baille could
take him from the rear. Likewise, if Montrose attacked him,
Lanark could provide support.
Although that was Baille's sound decision,
he was not allowed to adhere to it. With him was a substantial
body of the Committee of Estates, well seasoned with black-robed
Calvinistic ministers of the Scottish Kirk. These gentlemen
considered themselves to be the Elect of God and therefore
better able to conduct a battle than their general. They
were afraid that Montrose might escape to the Highlands,
and they wanted to effect a junction with Lanark. The result
was an order to Baille to march his army around the northern
perimeter of the high ground flanking Montrose's position,
to the area of Colzium Castle. Now, a flank march is a difficult
and very dangerous manoeuvre at the best of times but, in
this case, in full view of an alert and active foe such
as Montrose's Highlanders, it was a suicidal one. Baille
protested vigorously, but was over-ruled and was told to
re-assemble his army in column and move accordingly. The
force set off, the cavalry leading, and made a circuit of
Banton Burn and then followed the line of the Drum Burn.
Montrose watched this with astonishment, then acted speedily.
Bidding his men to cast off their plaids for ease of movement,
he sent the Gordon cavalry against the nose of the column
and the body of MacLean infantry to seize the farmsteadings
of Auchinvalley, lying between his main body and the Covenanting
centre. Reinforcing both units, the first with both cavalry
and infantry, the latter with MacDonald foot, he stopped
the column's advance with the first attack and broke it
with the second.
The next order was for general
attack; the Highlanders surged up the slopes about them
in seconds and found the Covenanting army already broken
and in retreat. The retreat became a rout, a terrible slaughter,
some three-quarters of the troops perished dismally on the
field under the Highland broadswords. Baille himself fled
south with an escort of cavalry, but was caught in the notorious
Dullatur Bog, a deep and treacherous marshy area lying between
the head waters of the Kelvin and the Bonny. He managed
to win clear eventually, though leaving most of his escort
behind. He reached his cousin's house at Castle Cary, and
then went on to greater safety at Stirling Castle. More
than a hundred years later, during the cutting of the Forth
and Clyde Canal, the bodies of several troopers, one still
seated on a horse, were recovered from the Bog.
Lanark's forces were told of the disaster and scattered
for home at once. Lanark himself and the other leaders raced
across the Border and, at last, Montrose found himself undisputed
master of Scotland.
It was too late for the King, however; Naseby had been fought
and his cause was in ruins. A month after Kilsyth, the Scots
army in England came marching home and took Montrose by
surprise whilst he was with a small bodyguard at Philiphaugh
in the Borders. Montrose just managed to escape, but is
rule was over and the Covenanters were once more in control.
The site of Montrose's camp at Colzium is now covered by
the waters of Townhead Reservoir, established in the late
18th century. Round its perimeter, a glance at the map reveals
names such as Baggage Knowe, Slaughter Howe, Drum Burn,
and Bullet Knowes, to remind us of the events that took
place there. Several artefacts from this period have been
found, including a broadsword and several cannonballs, apparently
dropped by Montrose's army whilst camped at Colzium.
- Article by unknown author from Cumbernauld & Kilsyth