Battle of Sheriffmuir

A battle plan and review of eyewitness accounts
Sheriffmuir battle plan
Drawing the battle lines/areas

The above plan comes from Stirling Council's An Introduction To Battlefields and Planning in Stirling.

Further reference sources:

  • Inventory of Historic Battlefields – Battlefields Trust's document
  • Battlefields Trust's Website
  • The Battle of Sheriffmuir, based on eye witness accounts - Bill Inglis – reviewed below
  • RuckSack Readers Rob Roy and the Jacobites. Apparently Rob Roy came with men to fight but watched from Kinbuck, hesitating over split loyalties/consequences.
  • Robert Burns song The Battle of Sherramuir
  • Dunblane Museum patron – Dr Tony Pollard, battlefield expert, will shortly publish information from a recent review of the battlesite
  • Sheriffmuir battle image
    Battle of Sheriffmuir, an 18th century painting by an unknown Dutch artist
  • BOOK REVIEW - Forth Naturalist and Historian, volume 28 Page 102-104 Ron Page
  • The Battle of Sheriffmuir: based on Eye Witness Accounts - Bill Inglis 2005, Stirling Council Libraries, Stirling FK7 7TN. ISBN 1 870542 50 9

    'Some say that we wan and some say that they wan
    And some say that nane won at a', man.
    But one thing I'm sure that at Sheriffmuir
    A battle was there which I saw man.
    And we ran and they ran, and they ran and we ran
    And we ran and they ran awa' man.'

    This poem, as Bill Inglis says, is nearly always quoted in any account of the battle. It neatly and mockingly sums up the conflicting opinions that have been expressed.

    Inglis' excellent little booklet begins by summarising the background of this first Jacobite rebellion. The Union of 1707 was resented in Scotland for a number of reasons, some economic, some political, and some religious. There can be no doubt that James, the Old Pretender, as the legitimate son of James VII of Scotland, had a better claim to the throne than George of Hanover. German George couldn't even speak English. But George was Protestant, James was Catholic, and that decided the matter. No wonder that deeply held religious opinions drew their adherents to the Jacobite cause, and Inglis cites many local examples.

    The Earl of Mar had been the Secretary of State for Scotland, but when he learned that George I would not maintain him in office he escaped (disguised as a workman) to Scotland to lead the rebellion there. On September 6th 1715 the Standard was raised at Braemar, and on the 28th Mar arrived at Perth, which had been daringly captured two weeks before by the eighteen year old John Hay of Cromlix.

    Mar was a politician and an administrator, not an experienced general, whereas the Duke of Argyle, leading the Government forces, had had a distinguished career as a professional soldier. Mar's forces appeared much larger, (perhaps 8000 infantry and 1000 cavalry), than Argyle's, (about 2250 infantry and 950 cavalry), but there were great differences in training, experience and temperament between them. Inglis describes these differences in detail, quoting contemporary descriptions by participants in the battle. His verdict on the prospects for the fight are '… but the Jacobites with their greater numbers and the élan of the Highlanders had possibly the winning advantage.'

    In Perth the Earl of Mar's Council of War decided to force a crossing of the Forth at Drip, rather than to take Stirling, and on November 12th the army advanced towards Dunblane. The present A9, which follows the line of one of Wade's military roads, built after the '45, was not then available. Mar's army marched along a much earlier medieval road running closer to the River Allan, recently recognised as following the line of the Roman road from Ardoch. This took them directly to Kinbuck Muir, near Naggyfauld and Glassingall. This detail is not brought out by Inglis, though it was recognised by Barty in his account of the battle in his History of Dunblane. That account, also first class, does not differ in any important respect from that given by Inglis, but it lacks the liveliness of the eye witness reports given us by Inglis. The Jacobites settled for the night at Kinbuck Muir. Meantime Argyle had occupied Dunblane, and his army was near Dykedale Farm.

    From Dykedale Farm a track led, as it still does, up to Sheriffmuir, and early on the 13th of November, the day of the battle, Argyle sent a party of horsemen up to the high ground from which Mar's army down by the river could be watched. These observers were seen by the Jacobites, and Mar decided to advance up the hill on to the Sheriffmuir. Argyle responded by sending his troops up the track from the farm. This track now ends at the MacRae Monument, but probably at that time continued on the line of the present road to near the Sheriffmuir Inn. The Government columns marching up the track had merely to face left to form their line of battle against the columns of Jacobites approaching up the hill, more or less towards the Gathering Stone.

    Among these columns there was some confusion, graphically described by Inglis. On the other hand the rear of the column of Government troops, due to form the left of their battle line, were not prepared for the furious attack upon them by the Highlanders. Within a few minutes this part of the Government troops under General Whitlam was in flight, some back to Dunblane, some down the drove road to Stirling, via Pendreich and Pathfoot. Some even reached Cornton, and by mid afternoon Whitlam arrived at Stirling Bridge to report his opinion that all was lost. Meanwhile the Government right, although numerically weaker in infantry, were able to use their superiority in cavalry. Inglis makes very effective use of the contemporary accounts to give a thrilling description of the actions leading to the rout of the Jacobite left and the pursuit back towards the River Allan. It would be difficult to get a better detailed and vivid picture of the battle.

    To appreciate this a visitor to the site, booklet in hand, should follow the advance of Argyle's troops up the track from Dykedale Farm to the MacRae Monument, bearing in mind that the modern road past Stonehill Farm did not then exist. From the Monument a path leads to the Gathering Stone towards which the Jacobites advanced from Kinbuck Muir. Much of their approach route was through the area now covered by conifers and cannot be seen from the Gathering Stone. Perhaps the best way to understand it is to view from the far side of the River Allan beyond Ashfield, looking north-east from the high ground near Crofts of Cromlix on the minor road from Dunblane to Kinbuck.

    The centre of the battle lines at first was somewhere between the Gathering Stone and the MacRae Monument, although the action soon became widely dispersed. The crossed swords indicating the site of the battle on the Ordnance Survey maps is almost two kilometres too far to the north-east. The original battle lines would have extended little more than one kilometre, and would not have reached as far as the Sheriffmuir Inn. Bill Inglis is decisive about the verdict on the fight. 'There is no doubt that the Jacobites failed in their aim and that Argyle succeeded, so it is clear that the Duke won the battle.' Whether one wants an exciting armchair account of a vital battle, or a good guide for a site visit, one cannot do better than acquire this outstanding little book.

    Barty, A. B. 'The Battle of Sheriffmuir', Chap. XXIV in The History of Dunblane.2nd edn. Stirling District Libraries. 1994.

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