Sunday sees the anniversary of one of the great events in Falkirk’s history.
Yesterday, January 17, 1746, the Highland army of Bonnie Prince Charlie drove Government redcoats from the battlefield in South Bantaskine in the second last battle fought on British soil.
Following the Jacobites’ abortive invasion of England which ended in retreat from Derby, the army returned to Scotland in December 1745 and settled on Plean muir while they attempted to recover Stirling Castle which was by then back in Government hands.
By mid January a new redcoat army under the command of General ‘Hangman’ Hawley had camped in Falkirk in the area stretching from the west end down to Dollar Park.
Lord George Murray, the Jacobite general, devised a plan to surprise the redcoats by seizing the high ground to the south of the town before falling on the enemy. With the help of Archibald Primrose of Dunipace, around 9000 men circled round to the west crossing the rivers Carron and Bonny before climbing up towards the ‘hill of Falkirk’ along the drove road from Tamfourhill.
At a late stage the redcoats realised what was happening and, in terrible wet and windy weather, the dragoons and infantry set off up Maggie Wood’s Loan. Some locals were recruited to haul the Government cannon up the hill but when they stuck in the mud the gallant ‘‘bairns’’ ran away leaving the ordnance where it lay.
Three regiments of horse reached the hill first and found themselves facing the Jacobite right wing where the Macdonald regiments were just arriving near the summit.
As was the custom the Highlanders fired whatever they had by way of pistols before charging forward. The volley caused mayhem with many horses brought down and others spinning round and riding down the infantry who were trying to set themselves.
The left wing fell back pursued by the Macdonalds but elsewhere they fared better, slowly advancing across the deep ravine and pushing Clan Cameron backwards. Some Highlanders reached Dunipace House reporting that they had been defeated only to discover later that the redcoats had themselves fallen back towards Falkirk.
Reaching their camp they set fire to some tents though over 1000 were abandoned along with 1000 pounds of gunpowder, hundreds of muskets and even General Hawley’s coach.
Lord George gathered his scattered forces and led them down to the town despite fears that the enemy might be waiting.
However, the foul weather meant that they could not remain on the muir and famously he told his men “Tonight we will lie in Falkirk or Paradise”. He need not have feared because they found no resistance and only a handful of Government stragglers. The bulk of the defeated army were well on their way to Linlithgow.
Many captured redcoats were imprisoned in the tolbooth, the parish church and the cellars of Callendar House and houses in the High Street were commandeered as billets for the leading Jacobites. The Prince himself was housed in the former home of Livingston of Westquarter which stood where Waterstone’s is today.
Around 500 redcoats and 50 to 100 Highlanders were killed though it is difficult to be sure with many claims and counter-claims.
During the night their bodies were stripped of clothes and anything else they possessed by a surprisingly large number of scavengers both locals and others who had arrived in the town in anticipation of rich pickings.
Although the Prince soon departed for Bannockburn House where his lady friend Clementina Walkinshaw was waiting, his gallant army remained in Falkirk area for another 11 days before heading north towards their last hurrah at Culloden.