Page last updated at 01:38 GMT, Friday, 20 March 2009

Jacobites' march to be recreated

By Steven McKenzie
Highlands and Islands reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Some of the Jacobites were thought to have reached a cottage at Knockanbuie, which is a farm today

For the first time since 15 April, 1746, a team will attempt to recreate a Jacobite night march from Culloden to the outskirts of Nairn.

Battlefield archaeologist Dr Tony Pollard will lead the group of re-enactors on the trek.

A few thousand men drawn from Bonnie Prince Charlie's forces tried, but failed, to surprise attack a government camp under the cover of darkness.

The Jacobites turned back for Culloden just miles short of their objective.

Dr Pollard, director of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at the University of Glasgow and an expert on Culloden, said in theory the original night march was a good idea.

It's one of the great 'what ifs' of history - what if the Jacobites had pressed on?
Dr Tony Pollard

Given the superiority of the Hanoverian army, the Jacobite high command came up with a plan to surprise the Duke of Cumberland's troops as they slept off their celebration of his 25th birthday while in camp on the western edge of Nairn.

The Jacobites' planned assault was carried out in darkness and driving rain, with men from the local Mackintosh clan serving as guides across about 12 miles of moor and rough roads.

However, in the early hours of 16 April - the day of the Battle of Culloden - the Jacobites aborted the attack and turned back.

Attack aborted

It was believed that some of Charlie's men were only a mile from the camp.

Others were thought to have started making their way back from Kilravock - pronounced Kilrawk - and returned to Culloden via Croy, while others may have reached Knockanbuie, or the Kildrummie area.

Dr Pollard said: "On paper the night march was a good idea and a similar tactic had worked very well at the battle of Prestonpans and to a lesser extent at Falkirk, both of which were Jacobite victories.

A 263-year-old map holds clues to the routes taken by the Jacobites

"But it wasn't to be, the weather conditions were atrocious and elements of the column got lost, and it was eventually decided to give up and return to Culloden Moor, where the next day the Jacobites were to suffer defeat in the last battle fought on British soil."

On the re-enactment, he said: "It's one of the great 'what ifs' of history - what if the Jacobites had pressed on, would the element of surprise have allowed them to defeat Cumberland's army before they knew what had hit them? Some historians think so.

"We don't know how close they got but given that we have various eyewitness accounts and an idea of the timings it may be possible to get a better idea of that."

The march will be attempted in "real time", leaving Culloden around the same time as the Jacobites did 263 years ago.

As a guide, Dr Pollard looked to the hand-drawn Finlayson map, which is thought to date to 1746 and is held at the National Library of Scotland.

It shows routes followed by the night marchers, and also those taken by Cumberland's army on 16 April when the Battle of Culloden was fought.

Different landscape

The landscape has changed dramatically from how it looked in the 1700s, when it was open moorland with few habitations.

Today it is dotted with small communities and farms.

An electricity line, railway, the A96 Inverness to Aberdeen road and five B-class roads criss-cross the area. There are also large blocks of forest and woodland.

Where Royal Navy ships sat in the Moray Firth on 15 April, 1746, there are now dolphin cruises and vessels carrying freight to Inverness.

Nicole Deufel, learning manager at the National Trust for Scotland's Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre, said a question mark hangs over whether the original march would have been a success.

She said: "It's hard to say. There probably would have been another battle after this.

"A successful night march would not have prevented another battle in the future, but there may not have been a Battle of Culloden."

The walk will also be in aid of Erskine, a charity which provides care for for ex-servicemen and women, and is supported by the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology.

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