‘The Troops Complain Mightily’: Claverhouse’s Sweep of the Hills after the Ambuscade at Auchengilloch in 1684
John 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. He immediately set off from Paisley, again, for Cumnock via Kilmarnock, Mauchline and Ochiltree.
‘May it please your Excellency: I have parted on Friday (13th) at twelve o’clock from Paisley, went through Kilmarnock and Mauchlin, but could hear nothing of these rebels. So, hearing Colonel Buchan was at the old castle of Cumnock, I took by Ochiltree, who sent an express to a tenant’s house of his, Airdmoss, and he brought back certain notice that they had been at a meadow near his house the night before [Thursday 12 June], to the number of fifty-nine, all armed.’
At Ochiltree, Claverhouse probably met William Cochran, younger of Ochiltree, the son of Sir John Cochrane of Ochiltree, as he was later summoned by the privy council. (Wodrow, History, IV, 29.)
Through his forthcoming marriage, Claverhouse was joining the Cochran family.
From Ochiltree’s tenant, Claverhouse learned that ‘on Thursday night [12 June] that they had passed the boghead, near Airdsmoss, and were then only fifty-nine in arms. They were running in great haste, barefooted many of them and taking horses in some places to help them forward.’
Sir John Cochran of Ochiltree held the thirty merks land of Carbellow on the southern side of Airds Moss by the Bellow Water. Boghead was one of the properties held by Cochran, as well as Gass(?), Welltrees, Stonebriggs, Wallaceton and Duncanziemere. (RPS, 1686/4/87.)
Claverhouse’s intelligence places a body of fifty-nine Society people, which had come from the fourteenth convention, at a meadow by Boghead in Auchinleck parish, Ayrshire. Soon after the conclusion of the fourteenth convention, the Society people had probably broken up into in several bodies and set off in different directions. James Renwick and some other Society people escaped towards the Clyde where they had a number of narrow escapes.
The party of Covenanters spotted at Boghead was probably made up of delegates from the convention who had kept together for their safety while they made their way back to Nithsdale, Carrick and Galloway.
Claverhouse may have reasoned that there were several parties of Society people in the hills. He ordered a comprehensive sweep, which brought in additional forces from both Dumfries and Galloway.
From Cumnock, Claverhouse sent orders to Captain John Strachan of His Majesty’s Regiment of Dragoons in the Glenkens district of Galloway to march to East Kilbride:
‘Upon which I sent immediately to the Glenkens to Captain Strachan, to march to Dalmellington, and to the Sorn, and to leave Mauchlin on the left hand, and Newmilns and Loudon-hill on the right, and so to this place [Kilbride], scouring all the suspected places as he came along.’
Strachan’s line of march ran north from the Glenkens via Carsphairn parish to Dalmellington and then through the hills to Cumnock, Sorn and East Kilbride, ie., broadly along the western side of the hills in which the Society people had been discovered. By the night of Saturday, 14 June, Strachan’s men were halfway through their sweep.
By Sunday 15 June, Captain Strachan had not reached Claverhouse at East Kilbride: ‘But they are, I am sure, near; for the last [i.e., Strachan’s Dragoons] was at Cumnock all night.’
Claverhouse also sent for his own troop of horse under Captain-Lieutenant Andrew Bruce of Earlshall, which was then at Dumfries.
‘I sent to Dumfries, to Earlshall, to march to Sanquhar, by the Muirkirk, the Whitrick, and Ploughlands, and so to Streven [i.e. Strathaven].’
Earlshall’s orders led him north through Nithsdale and then through the hills to Muirkirk and Strathaven. His force was deployed to the east of Strachan’s dragoons and went through the hills which the Society people had been on the edge of on the Thursday evening. By Sunday 15 June, ‘Earlshall is not yet come this length [to East Kilbride]’
A third force under Colonel Thomas Buchan, which probably contained Captain John Inglis’ dragoons and thirty foot guards, was sent east from the Old Castle at Cumnock to Cairntable and then north via the head of the Greenock Water.
‘Colonel Buchan, with twenty-two dragoons, and thirty foot mounted on horseback, marched around Cairntable, and by Lieburn [i.e., Linburn] and Greenock-head, and so down.’
It was probably Buchan’s force which brought Claverhouse the latest intelligence about where the Covenanters had gone.
At the same time, Claverhouse and the troop of horse under William, Lord Ross left Cumnock and swept the hills to the west of Douglas and Lesmahagow until they reached East Kilbride on Sunday 15 June.
‘My Lord Ross and I, with the horse, came through the hills more easterly, leaving Douglas and Lesmahago a mile or two to our right. We have left no den, no knowe, no moss, no hill, unsearched. There is a great drought, so [we] could go almost through all.’
Claverhouse had called out virtually the entire mobile strength of the army in the South West of Scotland in pursuit of the Covenanters.
However, the Covenanters had once again eluded Claverhouse’s dragnet.
The Flight of the Covenanters
On Sunday 15 June, Claverhouse reported that
‘We traced them from the boghead near Airdmoss to Hakhill, within two miles of Cumnock town, and from that to [the] Gap, towards Cairntable, but we could never hear more of them. They are separated, as most believe, and gone towards the hills of Moffat, I am sure there is not one man of them within these bounds.’
From Boghead the Covenanters went south across the Gass Water and into the hills and mosses. ‘Hakhill’, now Hawkhill, lies above the Glenmuir Burn and on the western edge of the Dornal Moss.
From there they appear to have followed the Glenmuir Water east and vanished into the hills: In the words of Claverhouse, ‘We could never hear more of them’.
According to Claverhouse, ‘the troops complain mightily of this march; and I know not what further can be done.’
He ordered Captain Strachan’s dragoons back to their quarters in the Glenkens and sent Colonel Buchan and his men back to Dalmellington. By Monday, Claverhouse had returned to Paisley.
His search was over. The fallout from it began…
Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.