LOUP HILL. 16th MAY 1689
THE FIRST 'BATTLE' OF DUNDEE'S JACOBITE WAR
Dr Paul A. Hopkins
Despite a general panic when Dundee raided Perth, the expedition went ahead, and Young mustered his companies at Largs. Each had theoretically sixty privates and nine officers and NCOs, but sickness desertion and fraudulent musters reduced the total to about 500: there were temporary exchanges in Bargany's so that the best men could take part. They badly felt the lack of experienced soldiers to be NCOs, and most of the officers were also raw: the one captain who is identified for certain, James Dick, who had raised a company among his western presbyterian 'fellow sufferers', (with his son for lieutenant) was denounced (by his colonel, who was detaining his back pay) because he 'did never serve nor was fitt for service nor knew nothing of militarie lawes and discipline', and Young too found him a trouble-maker. Virtually all were in civilian clothes (probably most often topped by the traditional scots blue bonnet) apart from the refugees, most had until shortly before been at the plough or the workbench; it would be months before most of the gigantic new army had uniforms. The magazines from which they had drawn their arms were unsatisfactory. Their opponents, like most highlanders (prompted by hunters' needs) would have had up-to-date flintlock muskets: most, if not all, of theirs were old-fashioned matchlocks fired by permanently burning matches: giving battle in the rain would be risky and night operations impossible. They were without bayonets - the sort with wooden plugs pushed down the gun-muzzles whose disadvantages would appear at Killiecrankie, but still some protection: some had swords as a substitute. A declining proportion of soldiers - three-tenths in Bargany's, it would seem - carried sixteen-foot pikes, theoretically to protect musketeers. Some companies were apparently separate, others mixed, so pikemen presumably took part. The musketeers, apart from a lucky few, were without bandoliers or 'patrontashes' (tinplate cartridge-boxes) for their powder-charges, and must have carried them in their pockets, with fearful consequences if a spark or match ignited them. Captains had to pay for their own company's drum.
One necessity not yet lacking, as it was to be for more important campaigns later, was money: money for the companies marching to the rendezvous, and for the twelve large boats to carry the force to Kintyre. Orders sent to Auchinbreck and others emphasising that they were 'marching' there may possibly have been intended, in those days of colander-like security, to reach and mislead the Jacobites. Nevertheless, with the scots frigates out of touch off Ulster, there might be fear of enemy interception at sea, relieved when Captain George Rooke brought a squadron of English warships into Greenock on 11 May. Young's force made a safe passage and landed unopposed at Tarbert on the 15th, achieving strategic surprise - 1647 in reverse.
The next day, Young set out to reconquer Kintyre. An advance down the east coast was blocked by a Jacobite garrison at Skipness, which they had no means of capturing. Largie commanded the castle, and Sir Alexander's account implies that he was there - perhaps to avert disputes over command, now he was a colonel; but Young's states that he (and Sir Donald, admittedly) fought at Loup Hill. Young decided to march across the peninsula (by a road which, Roy indicates. followed a similar line to the modern one) to Clachan of Kilcalmonel: from there he could threaten Loup's and Largie's estates, bringing on the inevitable confrontation. His force marched on 16 May, through a wintry landscape. The worst winter in decades was still dragging on, with heavy snow falls in south-eastern scotland. Rooke's journal indicates nothing so exceptional in the west around the 16th,' but there was probably old snow at least on the higher hills on both sides of West Loch Tarbert; and it is possible that the force marched and fought with some underfoot. These conditions would tie their marches more firmly to existing roads and tracks.
By now, the Jacobites, guarding the Kintyre passes, had at last awoken to the true danger. When Young's force was half-way to its goal - by the coast, probably near Eilean Ceann na Creige before the road turns inland past Whitehouse - they saw 'nine small barks full of men' on the 10th, heading towards the southern shore well ahead of them. 'This put us a "while at a stance' wrote Young: if the example of the Cameronians before fighting began at Dunkeld that August is any guide. a period in which there was an outburst of protests, arguments, suspicions and panic by the as yet undisciplined troops. But it was brought under control, and the march resumed. Ronald Campbell must have been particularly useful: his father lived nearby at Kilchamaig, and he would have known the area intimately. About three miles further on, the party approached towards Loup Hill, 'wher we must of necessitie marche alonget the bottom of the hill' The old road, Roy's map indicates, lay rather further south than the modern one, less close to the steep slopes. With one exception: below the hill's east end lay the little Lochan Dughaill (drained only in 1891), and to skirt it the road ran directly towards the hill's south-east face, at almost the only point where there are large areas of bare and near-vertical rock - Young exaggeratedly called these 'a great precipice' On the eastern hill-top above them Gallchoille and Loup had posted their highlanders.
At the crisis, the accounts diverge. Both sides naturally magnified enemy numbers: Young claimed, from prisoners' information, that 300 highlanders were facing him; Gallchoille (via Sir Alexander) that Young's force was 'more than four times his number' - making that about 120. Yet he was to rally that number after the Jacobites had scattered; that and the nine boats suggest there were nearer 200 at least. Gallchoille's account, or rather denial, of the action also seems suspicious. 'after facing [each] others for two or three hours, and some party's firing, Clachalie finding the rebels still increasing.....he very handsomely drew off his men'. Some of Young's raw troops may have straggled or hung back, causing a delay; but had this lasted 'two or three hours' he probably could not have brought such men to attack at all. And the implication that the two sides never really came to grips fails to explain the Jacobite lairds' panic actions afterwards. The truth seems to be with Young's account: 'at our aproach to the bottom of the Hill, They begunn to fire very hard Upon us from the Hill, we imediately put our selfes in order with fireing etc', line of batle, 'in this order march up the precipices', turning round to haul each other up the steeper places as soldiers were to do at Glenshiel against a far more murderous highland fire. For the shooting by Gallchoille's force was ineffectual, perhaps because powder-smoke from the muskets on both sides was hiding the attackers. Ironically, the very steepness of the hillside perhaps protected them from one devastating tactic a smaller force could use, a miniature Highland Charge, broadsword in hand - a month later, a Maclean force, chased up a hill at Knockbrecht, would turn and launch one on their pursuers, changing defeat to victory. Instead, 'All our Capt. officers & souldiers behaved wel......at our Comeing to the top of the Hill we Imedlatly putt them to the flight & kild two of their men. 'we Continued in order & persued them over Another great Hill' evidently from the eastern hill-top of Loup Hill across the lower central saddle' and up over the other, western summit - '& then they dispersed some crossing the Laugh in boats', back into Knapdale, home to many. 'the others takeing [to] the mountains', some probably finding temporary refuge on the heights of Dunskeig, where troops in any formation could not follow, others escaping directly inland. It was a rout. If Young is correct about Largie's presence at the battle, he fled all the way back eastwards across the peninsula to find refuge in Skipness Castle. Meanwhile, having taken some prisoners, but evidently breaking off the pursuit rather than risk scattering by the inexperienced troops, Young's force re-formed and marched to its original destination, Clachan, to quarter for the night as planned. Gallchoille claimed that seven of them had been killed for the loss of one of his own men. Young, who had possession of the field and a force still together, wrote that he had suffered no casualties and knew for certain of only two enemy dead.
Yet at that price Kintyre changed hands. This was indicated that evening when the first of the local supporters who had been waiting for outside help arrived in Young's camp - Campbell of Skipness, with sixty men and news that there were no Irish forces in the peninsula after all. It was confirmed when, later that night the first two proposals reached him for surrender on terms - one of them from Loup. Young replied that unless they submitted that night he would burn their lands next day, then finished his victory dispatch. Ronald Campbell carried it to Edinburgh. The government gave Young thanks and authorisation to receive submitting rebels into his protection. They showed their thankfulness by trying to make up for some of the deficiencies in trained men and equipment in his force which he had pointed out: steps included the compulsory purchase of bayonets privately owned by the judges.
Gallchoille managed to rally about two companies of Jacobites (perhaps 120 men) after the defeat and retreated with them to Gigha. However, morale among other leaders crumbled. Loup changed his mind again and, without telling anybody, embarked with his cousin Tarbert for Ireland, where he persuaded James to make him and other chiefs colonels, to wreck Sir Alexander Maclean's schemes, even though most of his own followers "are still cut off in Kintyre. Largie, rather than face a siege in Skipness without hope of relief, fled with his garrison to Arran.
The Scots frigates, at last appearing, destroyed the Jacobites' boats at Gigha and Young's forces, snowballing, gathered on the shore opposite for the kill. Sir Alexander, in Mull, heard of the danger, and set out on 21 May with a force of Macleans and his Irish in boats to the rescue. Over the next few days, despite storms, Young's troops, the Scots frigates and Rooke's English warships, he succeeded in bringing off Gallchoille's detachment -and even Largie's - virtually without loss by sea - a thrilling story which will soon be told. It earned him lasting prestige in Dundee's army and Maclean tradition. Yet the strategic victory in Kintyre was Young's. The peninsula could not now be used as an easy route for slipping reinforcements from Ireland to Dundee. They must make the longer, dangerous sea journey; and, in the crucial months before James lost Ulster, he succeeded in organising only one such convoy (which, incidentally, carried McAlister of Loup (but not Tarbert) back into the fray). Without the threat from the south, the Campbells were able to overawe the other mid-Argyll clans and mobilise the shire against the Jacobites. And the new Presbyterian levies had the first battle-honour of the war. The Privy Council voted Young £100 sterling for his good service in Kintyre. He remained in command of the detachment there for another two, anticlimactic, months, during which he had to arrest at least one of his captains. Then, in July, Major-General Mackay planned a double advance on Lochaber, his main aray through Atholl, a subsidiary one through Argyllshire. Young was made third in command of this, after Argyll and Glencairn -an unusual honour, which one earl, subordinated to this commoner, evidently disapproved of, Thereafter, Young vanishes. When the force made a hasty retreat at the news of Killiecrankie. there was a bad outbreak of sickness: possibly he may have been one of the victims, generally unnoticed in the emergency. All three of the regiments which furnished his companies were disbanded within two years.
Sir Alexander Maclean, meanwhile, despite opposition, had formed a moderate-sized regiment, of Kintyremen, Irish and Macleans not recruited by Sir John: since most of its men could not, like other clans, disperse to their homes, Dundee used it for special missions. Largie's tiny 'regiment', though theoretically independent, served with him, and they (and, presumably, Loup) fought as one body at Killiecrankie. The heavy casualties there included MacDonald of Largie, killed, and his Tutor, mortally wounded. Normally, this 'would have made his clansmen disperse; but his younger brother John MacDonald immediately took command. However, at Dunkeld on 21 August Sir Alexander had his leg smashed leading his regiment as spearhead of the highland attack. His crippling began the disintegration of his regiment; the defeat. the decline of the highland cause - the latter visibly enough to bring the McAlisters of Tarbert and Balinakill from Ireland in September to submit to the government.
By mid-winter, the Kintyre gentry were apparently back at home. Official orders to sequestrate rents apparently forced even Gallchoille. who had been leading Jacobite plundering raids from Mull, to return and offer an insincere half-submission. Once government forces were no longer so close, their Jacobitism again became overt, and the local authorities were apparently too weak or too neighbourly to check it. Others, however, could. On 17 May 1690, a punitive expedition, English warships and Scottish troops, appeared suddenly off Gigha and Cara and, that day and the next, destroyed not only all the houses, 'small little cots', but, on Cara at least, all the crops and cattle - ruin and starvation for the supposed 'Rebells' , and a blow for the owners, Gallhoille and John MacDonald of Largie. On 19 May, a ship landed a party to do the same to Ardpatrick House: they were given a message (which saved it) that McAlister of Loup had hurried off to Edinburgh to submit. Largie and McAlister of Kenloch also fled with the same purpose: they all took the oath of allegiance in June, with Argyll as cautioner. Family traditions about Loup fighting at the Boyne for James are clearly mythical. Gallchoille alone held out, being forfeited as a rebel in July 1690, until he finally submitted on William's indemnity in December 1691. It would seem that by the mid-1690s he had cancelled Taynish's grant of his estates to him in favour of the obvious heir, the latter's son; this ended his family's hour of influence and importance.
Nobody filled his place in later crises. The small clans of Kintyre continued to feel and resent their treatment by the Argyll family and the Campbells. This was not mere paranoia: Auchinbreck's son, the crypto-Jacobite Sir James Campbell protested passionately in 1713 over a singling-out of the Kintyre MacNeills (whom he called both the Argyll family's loyal servants and mysteriously, "my nearest relations", for rigorous prosecution for allegedly smuggling in Irish victuals; their Independent position as feuars was their real crime. 'No, it is even a crime to breathe...' wrote the furious MacDonald of Largie of 1738,
I mean for any of Sorles [somerled's] race... they will never be at ease till they extirpat us root and branch,... I pray God you and yours may be rid of their yoke as soon as I would wish - and God knows that should be tomorrow.
Yet while, in each of the Jacobite rebellions, one of the mid-Argyll clans took the risk, rose, and was ruined - the MacDougalls in 1715, the MacLachlans in 1745 - the Kintyre clans remained inactive. That one main reason for this was the lack of a corresponding movement in Ireland to send support seems indirectly suggested by a sham plot concocted in 1753 by Rob Roy's disgraceful son James Mor Macgregor to gain pardon and money from the English government: Lost Tribes of Irish Macgregors. and others, should land at Campbeltown; and Largie would raise 2,500 Kintyre, Arran and Cowal highlanders for the pretender! In this distorting mirror appears the last caricatured glimpse of the scheme which Sir Alexander Maclean once brought so close to success. through which Kintyre might have become the strategic key to a Jacobite restoration.
A version of this paper was read at a conference about the battle held at Tarert in Jun. 1989, organised by the Society of West Highland and Island Historical Research, My deepest thanks are due throughout for the correction, criticism and local informtion supplied by Mr Ian MacDonald, and also for comments from others attending.
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