A Field in Scotland: The Ambuscade at Auchengilloch on 12 June, 1684

To Claverhouse it seemed that the Black Loch Covenanters had dispersed. He placed Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Buchan in command and ordered him to search one last area, ‘the skirts of the hills and moors’ on the Lanarkshire side of the shire boundary, on his way back to Dalmellington. Claverhouse then rode back to Paisley where his delayed wedding awaited him…

Auchengilloch Glen WimbushThe Auchengilloch Glen © Chris Wimbush and licensed for reuse.

The Black Loch Covenanters had already escaped from Winram’s men and eluded Claverhouse’s search. Buchan probably did not expect that he would find any trace of them.

However, Buchan was to get far more than he bargained for. The ‘part’ of the mosses towards Lesmahagow parish that Claverhouse had left Buchan to scour ‘in his back-going’ turned out to be the location of the Societies’ fourteenth convention, which was held near Auchengilloch on Thursday, 12 June. Instead of encountering an estimated 100 Society people, he would run into around 200.

Map of Auchengilloch (change to OS view)          Aerial View of Auchengilloch

Head of the Greenock WaterHead of the Greenock Water © Leslie Barrie and licensed for reuse.

The March to Auchengilloch
Colonel Buchan and his twenty-two foot guards where probably accompanied by Captain John Inglis’ dragoons. Buchan split his small force in two to widen the sweep by marching his foot guards a mile or two on his right, while he and the dragoons proceeded on the left.

‘Going in by the Greenock-head’, Buchan ‘met a man that lives down on Clydesdale, that was buying up wool, who told him that on Lidburn, which is in the heart of the hills on the Clydesdale side, he had seen a great number of rebels in arms, and told how he had considered the commanders of them. One of them, he said, was a lusty black man with one eye, and the other was a good-like man, and wore a grey hat. The first had on a velvet cap.’

‘Greenock-head’ is the Head of the Greenock Water in Muirkirk parish, Ayrshire.

Map of the Head of the Greenock Water (change to OS view)

Due to the uncertainty over where Claverhouse meant by ‘Lidburn’, it is not clear where the Covenanters’ convention was located. It appears that Buchan may have marched to Plewlands and then entered into the heart of the hills via the head of the Greenock Water before continuing east along the Dippal Burn.

Dippal BurnDippal Burn © Leslie Barrie and licensed for reuse.

The Ambuscade
According to Claverhouse:

‘And he having ordered the foot to march on his right hand a mile or two, they fell on an ambuscade of two hundred rebels, seven of which, being off their body, fired on four of ours, and wounded one of them.’

According to another of his letters, ‘Four of our soldiers going before to discover, were fired on by seven that started up out of a glen, and one of ours was wounded.’

The exact location of the skirmish is difficult to pinpoint. Buchan’s informant placed the Covenanters ‘on Lidburn, which is in the heart of the hills on the Clydesdale side’ of the shire boundary. The placename does not appear on either old or modern OS maps of that area. In a later discussion of the line of march of some troops, Claverhouse refers to ‘Lieburn’ as a location before Greenock Head, which probably refers to the modern placename of Linburn.

Map of Linburn (change to OS view)

In his description of the ambuscade, James Renwick mentions that after they spotted Buchan’s men the fourteenth convention decided to ‘remove from that place some way off into a little glen’. The ‘glen’ that both Claverhouse and Renwick mention would appear to be the Auchengilloch Glen.

There is a sense in Renwick description of the ‘little glen’ in his letter to Robert Hamilton, that the latter would have known where the ‘little glen was’. Hamilton was familiar with the area and Auchengilloch was a well known site among the Society people.

If the site of the fourteenth convention was near the Auchengilloch Glen in Lanarkshire, as it seems to have been. then perhaps ‘Lidburn’ referred to a burn or location which was ‘some way off’ from Auchengilloch, but close enough to the glen for the convention to retreat to. It is possible that the Lidburn place name has either changed in time, or been changed. Where ever it was, it appears to have been on the Lanarkshire side of the march boundary.

The situation which Buchan’s men had stumbled into had the potential to escalate into a serious skirmish on a par with that at Airds Moss in 1680. On this occasion the Covenanters appear to have had a larger force than Buchan, but they probably had less firepower.

Among those attending the convention were James Renwick and William Boyd, and probably Thomas Linning and Colin Alison.

Renwick recorded the skirmish in his letter to Robert Hamilton of 9 July:

‘Not withstanding [our escape from Cambusnethan parish], this wakened up the adversaries more, so that they kept up a pursuit and search, which proved very obstructive to our Convention, which was upon the Thursday thereafter [12 June]. For, upon that very day, they came with horse and foot to search the moors where we were, and came here upon us ere we could get any thing concluded: which thing moved us (we suspecting that they, some way or other, had gotten notice of us being together) to remove from that place some way off into a little glen, where we resolved to make ourselves obscure. But after we had rested and refreshed ourselves a little, we espied four of their foot marching towards us: whereupon it was thought fit to send out so many to meet them, who when they came together fired upon one another. But the Lord’s gracious providence so ordered it, that there was not the least scathe upon our side, there being one of the enemy so wounded that he died since.’ (Carslaw (ed,), Letters, 95.)

The wounded foot guard died later. On 14 July, Claverhouse was ordered to ‘inform himself of the heritors of the lands where some rebels had laid an ambuscade for the king’s soldiers, and one of them was killed’. (Wodrow, History, IV, 29.)

Buchan’s advance party of foot had been surprised by the ambuscade. They now fired back:

‘They fired at the rebels, who, seeing our party on foot making up, and the horse in sight, took alarm, and gained the hills, which was all moss. The foot seeing them so numerous, and the ground such as they would not come to their relief, thought not fit to engage wholely, but advertised Colonel Buchan’. However, ‘before he could come up, our party had lost sight of them.’

Renwick’s eyewitness testimony reveals how he and the Society people escaped:

‘Howbeit the shots alarmed the rest of our enemies who were upon the hill, and, when we drew out to the open fields, we saw their foot not very far from us, and got present advertisement that the enemy was still upon the pursuit, and near unto us. We, in all haste, set forward through the moss, having no outwards strength to fly unto, but by crossing the way of the adversary: whereupon we expected an encounter with them. Yet, committing ourselves into the Lord’s hand, we went on, until we came to a certain moss,’ (Carslaw (ed,), Letters, 95.)

Buchan’s men lost contact with the Covenanters. Although he ‘made all imaginable diligence’, he ‘could never come in sight of them after the first view. However, they having taken up towards Cumloch, he made haste thither to stop their pass at Galloway.’

Buchan was correct in assuming that the Covenanters had headed south-west through Muirkirk parish towards Cumnock.

Map of Cumnock

After they had eluded his pursuit, the Covenanters continued with the fourteenth convention at ‘a certain moss’ somewhere in the direction of Cumnock on the evening of Thursday, 12 June:

‘we came to a certain moss, where we staid until night, and got much business done. But in all this, the wonderful power of God was seen, in both inspiriting His people for that exigency, and preserving us from falling into the hands of the adversaries. Yes, though He shewed us wonders therein, yet he delighted to shew us more.’ (Carslaw (ed,), Letters, 95.)

Like Renwick’s description of the ‘little glen’, it would appear that Hamilton would have understood were ‘a certain moss’ was. For several reasons, it is probably Airds Moss which lies between Muirkirk parish and Auchinleck parish. Airds Moss lay on the Covenanter’s line of flight towards Cumnock and was close to where a large party of them were spotted that night. It was also hallowed ground for the Covenanters, as it was there that Richard Cameron was killed in a skirmish in July, 1680. Airds Moss may have felt like a place worthy of taking a stand if it was required.

Aerial View of Airds Moss

After the fourteenth convention’s business was concluded, a party of about sixty Society people headed on towards Cumnock. The rest of the convention, perhaps up to 140 Society people, dispersed in other directions. Renwick and a few followers heads back to the Clyde.

Colonel Buchan made his way to Cumnock and sent an express report about the ambuscade to Claverhouse.

Once again, Claverhouse rode into action…

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

~ by drmarkjardine on July 13, 2013.

9 Responses to “A Field in Scotland: The Ambuscade at Auchengilloch on 12 June, 1684”

  1. […] the ambuscade near Auchengilloch and the conclusion of the fourteenth convention on 12 June, perhaps at Airds Moss, James Renwick and a small party of Society people rode the east […]

  2. […] Graham of Claverhouse received Lieutenant-Colonel Buchan’s report about the ambuscade at Auchengilloch and that he was ‘yet in pursuit’ of the Covenanters from it on the morning of Friday 13 June. […]

  3. […] of government forces, as the previous convention at Auchengilloch seven weeks earlier had led to an ambuscade with government forces, alarmed the privy council and led to a substantial increase in the number of military units in the […]

  4. […] of Society people had appeared in the fields after the Black Loch preaching, the conventions near Auchengilloch and Glengaber, and to storm Kirkcudbright tolbooth in 1684, but their appearance had not led […]

  5. […] was a lucky escape for Nisbet. Buchan was an experienced soldier. He had been involved in the Abuscade at Auchengilloch in the summer of 1684 and had killed John Smith in the hills between Muirkirk and Lesmahagow […]

  6. […] to the rounding up of those who refused to hear their local minister, Buchan took part in “the ambuscade at Auchengilloch” in June, 1684. That action took place to the east of Galston and indicates that his men were already operating in […]

  7. […] to search the one remaining area of the moss they had not covered. Buchan was in for a surprise. At a remote glen a firefight broke out. Once again, Claverhouse was brought back into the field to organise a sweep of the hills to find […]

  8. […] That scenario had been played out on many occasions and it fits into the pattern of military operations at that time. The authories often received intelligence that the Covenanters had gathered in the hills, usually either when it was taking place, or soon after. Several companies of mounted troops were then sent to scour the hills to capture them, but they frequently arrived after the convention or field preaching had ended. It was common for the Covenanters leave the event in a large body for safety that then split up into smaller parties as they made their way home through the hills. The government forces sweeping through the hills would attempt to locate and pursue those parties. Those who helped the Covenanters or had failed to report their presence to the military were to be taken prisoner. The officers in the field coordinated their searches by sending despatches back to their commanders who kept the privy council in Edinburgh up to date through reports. In turn, the privy council would feed their orders back to officers in the field through the same network. An excellent example of that pattern of military operation was the response to Renwick’s Black Loch preaching in 1684, which led to an ‘ambuscade’ at Auchengilloch with 200 rebels. […]

  9. […] Auchengilloch was almost certainly the site of an “ambuscade” on government forces on 12 June, 1684. […]

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