In response to the invasion, the Government undertook a coherent and united military response. The Duke of Cumberland was recalled from the Netherlands and placed in charge of the army that had been built up in the Midlands. The British army now had what the Jacobites lacked: clear agreement over objectives, a united command and a responsive command structure. Faced with such odds, along with the fact that continued French dithering had allowed the British navy to control the Channel, the Jacobite cause was lost long before Culloden. Realizing that it had no widespread domestic support and lacked the necessary substantial foreign aid, on December 5, 1745 the Jacobite Council decided to retreat.
Despite Charles Edward's bold plans to advance on London and thereby undermine the regime, Lord Murray argued for a return to Scotland. The Prince admitted the lack of support from English Jacobites. The very speed of the advance into England had caught the French by surprise they were still preparing the invasion that never came about. Misleading reports about the strength of the English forces convinced the majority of the Council to return to Scotland when perhaps further advances may have created panic in the Government, and when additional successes would have certainly won over the doubters in England and made possible the invasion from France. It was this decision at Derby, much more than the defeat at Culloden that doomed the Jacobite cause and signaled the end of the '45. Without French help, the forces of Charles Edward had to fight on alone.
An English force that caught up with the rebels was soundly defeated at Clifton, the last battle to be fought on English soil. Once again, a concentrated Highland charge managed to dislodged British dragoons. Scottish success, however, only strengthened the resolve of the pursuing troops under Cumberland, who was determined to use his superior firepower and strength of numbers to his advantage the next time. The battle also led to a feeling among the Highlanders that they were invincible in a charge involving hand-to-hand fighting.
They were almost correct. They should have realized that their success at Clifton had only come about because they had so little distance to cover to bring their claymores into action against an enemy unfamiliar with the terrain in the half-light and unable to bring their superior firepower into effect. On the bumpy, uneven pasture lands of Culloden with a considerable distance to cover under fire before they could reach the ranks of the English troops, the bravery of the charging Highlanders would not be enough.
The small Scottish garrison left to defend Carlisle to assist Charles Edward's return to England was quickly subdued under the guns of Cumberland. The Duke opposed any quarter to the defenders. His cruel and savage discipline was in direct contrast to the policy of Prince Charles who frequently intervened mercifully on behalf of civilians. Cumberland's acts revealed the fear and hatred of the Hanoverian regime and his own uncompromising attitude toward those who he considered enemies of Britain.
For the Duke, cruelty was policy. Following the capture of Carlisle, the Highlanders won a victory at Falkirk, but their lack of discipline and professional soldiership prevented them from completely following up and annihilating the troops of the seasoned veteran General Hawley. In the battle, the British troops had been driven from the field and the cavalry, severely hampered by the terrain, had been completely unable to handle the Scottish ranks. Because of the defeat, Hawley was replaced by Cumberland.
Jacobite rejoicing at the victory of Falkirk was premature. As so many times in the past, the opportunity was lost. Once again, in the history of the Celtic peoples of Britain, another brave attempt to hang on to their lands, their culture and their heritage was ultimately defeated. Failure to take Stirling Castle did nothing to foster Jacobite morale, further weakened by Charles Edward's absence from his troops and his indecision over attacking Edinburgh. Desertion from the ranks had now also become a serious problem. The men of the clans had business to attend to at home.
It became harder to keep the Scottish army together. Not only that, but the Highlanders did not compensate for changes in tactics effected in the British army that attached the bayonet to the muzzle, allowing their rifles to be simultaneously fired (thus taking away the advantages of the Highlanders had enjoyed at Prestonpans and Falkirk). English soldiers were also trained to meet frontal charges by having their bayonets aimed at the opponent to the left, whose raised broadsword would leave his right side open. It was a tactic hardly used at Culloden.
Much has been written about the killing field of Culloden that took place in April 1745. Any advantages the Highlanders enjoyed in earlier battles had been won by a fast attack upon a line unable to use its firepower. Culloden was different. It was firepower alone that decided that outcome, well-disciplined firepower against a clearly visible target. The enormous casualties suffered by the Highlanders in their futile charges against the entrenched infantry and the slaughter of their wounded was followed by a brutal aftermath.
The Scottish clans were regarded as nothing more than barbarians. Their property was plundered by Cumberland's men with the Duke's approval. Punitive expeditions were undertaken to kill as many Jacobites as possible "if not all," and destroy their property. Systematic killings, rapes and devastation became the norm. Sad to say, many of those who delighted most in the rape of the Highlands were themselves Scots; the Royal Scots Fusiliers had been in the front line of Cumberland's troops on Culloden Moor.
Bliadna Thearlaich, Charlie's Year to the Gaelic-speaking Highlanders, was finished. The Prince, declining to die at the head of his gallant soldiers, escaped to France after being spirited away into hiding on Skye with the aid of Flora MacDonald. Despite a huge reward (30,000 pounds) offered for his capture, he was never betrayed. The Jacobites were left without any hope of reorganizing, though they still hoped for support from the Bourbons in Spain and France. This was not forthcoming. Because of the movement away from the struggles in Europe to those for control of North America, Prince Charles Edward, left without a purpose, wandered around Europe, drinking heavily.
The no-longer Bonnie Prince died in January 1788, long after his sacred Jacobitism had been exhausted. The butcher who went by the name Duke of Cumberland was greatly honored for his victory, but also reviled for his treatment of what after all were British subjects. He was later disgraced for his failure to defeat the French armies in the final years of the War of the Austrian Succession and died in 1765.
Chapter 9: After Culloden