Montrose at Kilsyth 15 August 1645.

Kilsyth was the last of the string of successes enjoyed by the Marquis of Montrose in his campaign of 1644-5.  It was also an important  event politically as the Scottish army under Alexander Leslie (Earl of Leven) was at that time allied with the New Model Army in England, having been successful at the fall of Carlisle in June. In July Leven had moved even further afield to Hereford leaving Montrose to ravage Scotland more or less at will.  Montrose meanwhile had assembled his forces at Kilsyth, near Stirling, and on 15 August fought the army of the Covenant under Lieutenant General Baillie to gain another decisive victory. Montrose was now close to being in control of Scotland with but a few pockets of serious resistance left - at least while Leslie was out of Scotland. It was a win win situation for his royal master as if Leslie returned to Scotland he weakened the English Parliamentarians forces against King Charles.

After the battle at Alford on 2 July 1645, Montrose and his victorious troops had taken a few days rest then swept through the Campbell lands, across the Ochill Hills and crossed the Forth at the Ford of Frew above Stirling. He was soon in Kilsyth and encamped at Colzium House on 14 August, where the Royal standard fluttered above Riskend Farm.  The chosen battlefield  suited the nimble Highlanders in his 3,500  infantry, and his 600 or so horse. The battlefield was a plateau extending about a mile eastwards from Colzium Burn  and it was moss to the Banton Burn. To the west was a hill known as the Baggage Knowe which was a good position for any rearguard action. The northern boundary was the Drum Burn which flowed along the foot of the moorland slope which protected Montrose`s left flank. The southern front was on a steep slope leading down into a meadow while rough ground, tussock grass and bog protected the right wing from any cavalry charge.

Lt General Baillie, meanwhile had settled on an impregnable encampment at Holland Bush, about three miles away. But he was not allowed to make use of his position as the Covenanter Council of War insisted that he move against Montrose. Very reluctantly Baillie had to approach Colzium across the cornfields of Auchencloch and expose his eight regiments to the enemy. Having completed the dangerous manoeuvre the musketeers and horse soon engaged Montrose forces in amongst the farms and inclosures of  Auchinrivoch and Auchinvally. Here they were faced by  the Macleans and the Macdonalds in fierce fighting. Despite orders not to get involved in close quarter fighting within the confines of the inclosures, Baillie`s troops mixed with the van of Montrose`s forces. This provided the opportunity for Montrose to order in the rest of his Highlanders. Clad only in their shirts, knotted between their legs, the shoeless redshanks nimbly joined battle. Armed with dirk and targe on their left hand and broadsword in the right hand, the Highlanders cut a swathe through Baillie`s forces and created an instant rout.  Elsewhere the battle was not going so well for Montrose - troops of Airlie and Aboyne were being hard pressed until Nathaniel Gordon with the main cavalry reinforced them and made a wild charge through Baillie`s  cavalry , through the foot regiment of Crawford  and engaged the second line reserves. This almost suicidal charge sounded the death knell for Baillie who was unable to get reserves of his rustic militia up from Fife. When they saw the half naked Highlanders in full flow  the raw recruits  turned tail and fled.

The battle ended in a slaughter with most of the Covenanters` foot soldiers killed on the spot. There then followed a chase for some fourteen miles in which most of the remainder of the army was either drowned escaping through the bogs or hacked down. The Scots Worthies tells us that Captain Paton was caught in a bog, but struggling free went to the aid of Colonels Hacket and Strachan - all three riding off pursued by the enemy. The story continues that they had not gone far when they met fifteen of the enemy of whom they killed thirteen and two escaped. A little further on they were assailed by thirteen more and killed ten. They were then attacked by eleven Highlanders - they killed nine and put the rest to flight. Four thousand Covenanters were killed and two thousand were captured that day which was rounded off by the Covenanters War Council riding off as fast they could go. Lt General Baillie and his chief officers followed suit, leaving their men to be butchered. Montrose lost a mere handful of men.

In the absence of thousands of Scots troops engaged in the siege of Hereford, Montrose`s victory at Kilsyth effectively destroyed the Scottish home army, and placed the country at his mercy. Indeed, it was only the outbreak of a serious bout of plague in the city that prevented Edinburgh being taken. In England David Leslie was despatched with the cavalry to go to Scotland`s aid (recalled by the Estates with 4000 foot and 1000 dragoons). Leven hurriedly abandoned the siege of Hereford, making for the North of England to be ready to help if needed.

 Leven had been very concerned at being so far from Scotland while Montrose was being so successful behind his lines. Coupled with this was a growing disillusionment with the alliance. The army was ill paid, having had one months pay in seven months, and was badly supplied, while the aim of religious uniformity was fading. Moreover, commitment to the alliance was keeping him from the defence of Scotland. The accumulation of these pressures was too much for Leven and he expressed a desire to surrender his commission. The English Parliamentarians on the other hand viewed Leven`s turn round and heading North with suspicion, having in mind the possibility of the Scots coming to terms with King Charles I.

  A change of fortune for the Scots came with David Leslie`s defeat of Montrose at Philiphaugh on 13 September 1645. This eased the pressures on Leven who agreed to lay siege to Newark, appearing there in November 1645. The siege was still in progress when King Charles surrendered to the Scots on 5 May 1646. The next day Newark surrendered and Leven and his Army of the Covenant withdrew with its royal prize to the North.

18/07/2011

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