The Battle of Dunkeld of 1689 in Crockett’s Lochinvar #History #Literature #Scotland


The novel Lochinvar (1897) by S. R. Crockett contains a description of the Battle of Dunkeld fought between the Cameronian Regiment, made up of the Society people, and the Jacobites, many of them Highlanders.

The excerpt, below, mentions role of Henry Erskine, Lord Cardoss, and the death of Lieutenant-Colonel William Cleland in the battle.

‘The Cameronians, known throughout Scotland as the “Seven Thousand,” had garrisoned Edinburgh during the fierce, troublous months of the Convention. When there was no other force in the country, they had stood between the kingdom and anarchy. And now, when at last the government of William was becoming better established, twelve hundred men of the Blue Banner formed themselves into a regiment — all stem, determined, much-enduring veterans, who had brought from their Westland homes a hatred of the Highlanders sharpened by memories of the Great Raid, when for months the most barbarous and savage clans had been quartered on the West and South, till the poor folk of Galloway and Ayr were fairly eaten up, and most of their hard-won gear vanished clean away into the trackless deserts of the North.

Now, in the anxious days that succeeded Killiekrankie, eight hundred of this Cameronian regiment had been ordered to Dunkeld, which was rightly supposed to be the post of danger. The other four hundred of the regiment had been sent to garrison Badenoch and to keep the West quiet; so that the young Covenanting commander, Cleland — a youth not yet in his twenty-eighth year — had but two-thirds of his regiment with him.

But such men as they were! — none like them had been seen under arms since the Ironsides of Cromwell went back to their farm-steadings and forges.

It was no desirable stronghold which they were set to keep. Indeed, after a small experience of Dunkeld the other regiments which had Been sent under Lord Cardross to assist in driving back the enemy gladly departed for Perth. The town, they said, was completely indefensible. It was commanded on all sides by heights, even as Killiekrankie had been. The streets could readily be forced at a dozen points, and then every man would die miserably, like rats in a hole.

“Even so,” said Cleland, calmly, to my Lord Cardross, “but I was bidden to hold this town and no other, and here I and those with me will bide until we die.”

And, as is not the case with many a valiant commander’s boast, he made his words good.

It was a very considerable army which gathered about the devoted Cameronians — not less than five thousand victorious clansmen — under a leader of experience, if not of well-proven parts.

Wat was still with Lochiell, and Scarlett, in deep disgust at Keppoch’s miscellaneous plunderings, drew his sword also with the same chief.

By early morning the town was completely surrounded and the attack began. But the brave band of Wild Whigs of the West stuck dourly to their outposts, and for an hour or more their little handf uls defied behind the walls of town-yards and ruinous petty enclosures all the assaults of the clansmen. At last these inconsiderable outer defences were driven in, the whole regiment was shut up in the cathedral and in an adjoining house of many unglazed windows, which was standing roofed but unfinished close at hand.

Here the grim men of the South, doggedly saying their prayers behind their clinched teeth, met and turned every assault, taking aim at their assailants with the utmost composure and certainty.

Clan after clan charged down upon those crumbling walls. Rush after rush of plaided men melted before that deadly storm of bullets. Thrice Wat, in the thick of Lochiel’s men, dashed at the defences. Thrice was he carried back by the wave of tartan which recoiled from the reeking muskets of the men of the Covenant.

Glengarry fell wounded. The McDonalds broke. Then, in the nick of time, the McLeans dashed into the thick of the fight and had almost won the wall when young Cleland, rushing across the court to meet them in person, was struck by two bullets — one through his head, the other in his side. In spite of his agony, he set his hand to his brow and staggered towards the interior of the church, crying, “Have at them, lads! all is well with me!” This he said in order to conceal his wound from his men. But he fell dead or ever he reached the door.

The lead for the muskets began to give out. But in a moment there were men on the roof of the new building stripping off the metal, while others beneath were melting it and thrusting the bullets, yet warm from the “cams,” into their hotter barrels, or cutting the sheets of lead into rough slugs to fire at the enemy.

So, relentlessly, hour by hour the struggle went on. Ever, as the attacks failed, fresh clans tried their fierce courage in emulous assault, firing once, throwing away their guns, and then charging home with the claymore.

But these Cameronians were no levies roughly disciplined and driven in chains to the battlefield. Men of the moors and the moss-hags were they — good at the prayer, better at the musket, best of all with the steady eye which directed the unshaken hand, and the quiet heart within dourly certain of victory and of the righteousness of its cause.

Clan by clan, the very men who had swept Mackay’s troops into the Garry [at Killiecrankie] fell back shattered and dismayed from the broken defences of the Hill Folk. In vain the war-pipes brayed; in vain a thousand throats cried “Claymore!” In vain Lochiel’s men drove for the fourth time desperately at the wall. From within came no noise, save the clatter of the musket-shots running the circuit of the defences, or the dull thud as a man fell over in the ranks or collapsed like a shut telescope in his place — not a groan from the wounded, as men stricken to death drew themselves desperately np to get a last shot at the enemies of Christ’s Cause and Covenant, that they might face God contentedly with their duty done and all their powder spent.

Left almost alone in the fierce ebb of the fourth assault, Wat had gained the top of the wall when a sudden blow on the head stunned him. He fell inward among the wounded and dying men of the defenders and there lay motionless, while outside the last charge of the baffled clansmen broke on the stubborn hodden gray of the Cameronian regiment, vainly as the water of the ninth wave breaks on the cliffs that look out to the Atlantic.

The chiefs still tried to rally their men. Cannon offered to lead them again to the assault in person. But it might not be. “We can fight men,” they said, as they fell back, sullenly, “but these are devils incarnate.”


When Wat Gordon opened his eyes, he looked into a face he knew right well.

“Faith, Will, is it time to get up already ?” he said, thinking his cousin and he were off together on some ploy of ancient days — for a morning’s fishing on the hills above Knockman, mayhap.

For his cousin Will it was indeed who stood before him, clad in the worn and smoke-begrimed uniform of the Regiment of the Covenant.

“Wat, Wat, how came you here, lad?” cried Will Gordon…’

For more stories and poems on the Covenanters of the 1680s, see here.

~ by drmarkjardine on November 27, 2016.

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