Battle of Dunkeld

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Battle of Dunkeld

Dunkeld, Perthshire The 21st of August 1689 AD

The Jacobites arrived at Dunkeld in triumphant mood after tasting victory at Killiecrankie . There is no better fillip for a rebellion than routing an enemy of greater number. For although the Jacobites lost 800 men and their leader, they were emboldened by their prolificacy with the broadsword; 2000 dead Covenanters and counting.
Dunkeld was a different story. The town was held by Orange Covenanters under William Cleland; a seasoned Covenanter. The Covenanters were loyal to William of Orange ; seeing themselves as defenders of Presbyterianism. The Battle of Dunkeld cemented Presbyterianism in the country’s religious foundations. And it would see a dramatic reversal of fortunes for the Jacobites in combat; 5000 would be repelled by 1,200 Covenanters, whose compact formation would be impenetrable to a marauding Jacobite force that was lacking the military nous that only coherent leadership could provide.
Colonel Alexander Cannon was no Viscount Dundee, and on reflection, the Jacobites may have tempered their excitement at their Killiecrankie victory if they had weighed it against the loss of their inspirational leader. The Covenanters success was founded on their stout defence of the town. Cleland was well aware that the city could fall if he let his forces be exposed. Though the town was without a wall to defend it; Cleland tucked his men behind what cover they could find, retreating to the safety of the town’s cathedral walls.
Dunkeld’s opening exchanges were exclusively by musket. The Covenanters were fighting as part of the Cameronian regiment; a fighting unit in its infancy. They would make their bones at Dunkeld, unleashing a relentless volley of musket fire, taking munitions where they could find them. Though the Cameronians lost Cleland, George Munro assumed command, driving his troops onto the Jacobite positions. Homes that sheltered the Jacobites were torched. As the hours passed, Dunkeld became a war of attrition; this would be no carnal frenzy as Killiecrankie had been.
Indeed, the defeated Jacobites only lost a few hundred men – perhaps under a more convincing leader they would have fought on. But after making little progress against an army fighting with the staunch belief that they were tending to God’s will, the Jacobites made their retreat. It would seem that the Highland clans had little appetite for battle when so evenly matched. A confederate army needs a rigid leader to drive them on. For the Covenanters, this was as decisive as a slaughter. Jacobitism had looked a real cogent threat – certainly at Killiecrankie – but it evaporated at Dunkeld.
That the victorious Cameronians were entirely comprised of Scots was a glaring reminder of how divided Scotland had become. Religious and political reforms had brought fellow Scots to one another’s throats as the country was changing, heading ever closer to union with England. 1707 was not far away.

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