The Battle of Dunbar, 3 September 1650.

wyliedavidleslie.jpg (28821 bytes)Led by David Leslie, nephew of Alexander Leslie, Lord Leven, the Covenanter Army had been actively engaged in suppressing odd outbreaks of royalist  risings in Stirling, Inverness and Atholl. In  March 1650   the Marquis of Montrose had landed in Orkney and had been beaten arrested and executed (21 May). These successes and the return of Charles II in June gave the Covenanters a sense of invincibility - the Lord was with them.  Such was there belief that the zealots among them demanded the removal of `malignants` from the Army. Numbers vary with source but about 3,000 officers and men - many of them  seasoned campaigners, were dismissed from the army assembled to face the English invasion under Cromwell. About 16,000 foot and 7,000 horse were mustered.

As a precursor to battle Leslie had ordered the land in front of the English army to be stripped of all that might help them, crops, grain , animals  and fodder were removed or destroyed. The ramparts of  Leith and Edinburgh were also strengthened and Cromwell`s armycromwell.jpg (39841 bytes) was forced to approach over rough country. Recognising the strength of the Scots` position, Cromwell tried get them into an early action with June and July taken up by fruitless marches to Linlithgow , Glasgow and back, The young General Lambert, meanwhile had moved across the Forth and dealt a deadly blow at Inverkeithing. Despite these challenges Leslie held back throughout July and August and Cromwell was forced to withdraw towards Dunbar where he might rest and re supply his remaining 11,000 men. By this time his supplies were very short, there was camp fever and dysentery among his troops - and withdrawal to England looked very attractive. Confined to the headland of Dunbar Cromwell wrote to General Haselrigg at Newcastle for a relief column to come to his aid

" We are upon an engagement very difficult. The enemy has blocked  up our way at the Pass of Copperspath, through which we cannot get without a miracle. He lieth so upon the Hills that we know not how to come that way without great difficulty; and our lying here daily consumeth our men who fall sick beyond imagination".

 Meanwhile, ensconced on Doon Hill, Leslie and his force were in a strong position and for all practical purposes had won the campaign. It was then the zealous  ministers of the Kirk, especially members of the General Assembly, followed up on their earlier purge of the army by demanding that Leslie  move forward off of the hill. Leaving the sanctuary of the heights was bad enough but the night of 2-3 September was very wet and windy resulting in many raw officers  leaving their troops to seek shelter in buildings nearby.  The infantry was told to extinguish their matches, and a reduced number of scouts were sent out. Worse was to follow as the quality of the scouts was far from good, some having reported the hearsay that Cromwell had shipped his guns. On Monday 2nd September, towards the evening Cromwell saw movement of the Scottish Horse and guns that came down and moved towards Berwick which would cut off a retreat south. Cromwell is reputed to have said of the unexpected good fortune 

"The Lord hath delivered them into our hands."

A master tactician, Cromwell noted that the Scots had descended into a burn which restricted their  deployment and bottled up the cavalry  on that wing. He immediately ordered his guns  (allegedly put on ship) to be moved  under cover of night so that he could attack the Scots in the burn. He then deployed his regiments laterally to make a pre dawn attack that swept through the Scottish lines. Taken by surprise the dunbarmmt.jpg (19591 bytes) Scots were defeated almost within minutes, with 4,000 killed and 10,0000 prisoners - only some 4,000,mostly cavalry, escaped. Also taken were some two hundred standards and thirty guns. There were a few spirited rallies by the Scots, in particular by soldiers under the command of Campbell of Lawers, but the professionalism and sheer determination, perhaps desperation, of Cromwell`s forces overcame them. A pursuit followed which Cromwell stopped while they sang the 117th Psalm and rested the horses, and then sent the cavalry on to do their bloody work.

Cromwell wrote the Scots were " made as by the Lord of Hosts as stubble to their swords." Within days his army had captured Edinburgh and Leith, although Edinburgh Castle held out.  Aware also of the politics that surrounded him at this time, Cromwell wrote again to Haselrigg in prophetic vein:

"Surely it is probable the Kirk has done their do. I believe their King will set upon his own score now; wherein he will find many friends." 

So it was, with the Resolutioners (the moderate party) gaining control and Charles himself taking a more active role in preparing a dash south into England where he hoped to find support. It was in fact to lead to another decisive defeat for the royalists at Worcester exactly one year later - 3rd September 1651.

 

 

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