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The Battle of Prestonpans

Dawn, 21st September 1745

On the 19th of August 1745 Prince Charles Edward (Bonnie Prince Charlie) raised his standard in the vale of Glenfinnan and declared his father King James VIII of Scotland and II of England and Ireland.

Gathering the clans who had come to support him he set off towards the lowlands.

With hardly any opposition the Jacobite army captured Perth and Edinburgh. The army made camp in King's Park near Duddingston, 2,500 men in all.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant General Sir John Cope who was in command of the Government troops in Scotland for King George II (almost 3,000 men in all) after receiving word of the Jacobite rising set off North with his army. However he failed to intercept the Jacobites. On hearing by messenger that the Highlanders had captured Edinburgh he marched his troops to Aberdeen and embarked his force on ships and sailed southward where he landed at Dunbar on the 15th of September.

On the 19th of September Cope set out with his army towards Edinburgh by way of Haddington were they made camp. Sir John Cope and his army marched at 9 am on the 20th of September, turning right by the village of Trabroun and past Elvingston till they reached Longniddry then marching past St Germains and Seton Palace. They halted for one hour needing food and rest.

After resting Cope led his army into the open field two miles in length and one and half miles in breadth. The field extended right to the wall of Preston, this field was entirely clear of crops, the last sheaves having been carried in the night before. Neither cottage or bush were in the whole extent, except one solitary Thorn tree.

The army marched straight to the west end of this field until they came near the walls of the enclosure of Preston. This part of the field was divided into three rigs on shots, as they were called, "under-shot", "middle-shot" and upper-shot".

On 19th September, Prince Charles slept at Duddingston with his troops. Early the next morning the army set off to meet the foe. They halted at Carberry Hill, the Prince's scouts informed him that Cope's army had halted at Preston.

The Highlanders' directed their course by Fa'side then Birsley until they came within sight of the enemy. The Prince's troops raised a shout of defiance which was heartily responded to by Cope's troops.

Being late in the afternoon the Jacobite army settled down for the night in a field of peas, a little to the north-west of Tranent.

General Cope on seeing this took up his position with his army facing south. Cope was happy with his position between his army and the Jacobites. The ground was very rough with ditches and boggy ground. This would make it impossible for the Highlanders' to make their famous wild charge.

Cope's heavy guns would be able to pick off the enemy with ease. He had 6 one and a half pounders and 6 mortars.

The Highland army had no heavy guns.

Late in the afternoon, Lord George Murray, Commander of the Jacobites sent a scouting party down to the Tranent church yard to observe the enemy. However they were spotted and the cannon that was only 300 yards away opened fire and sent them scurrying back to camp.

A good number of local people from Tranent had come to observe all the activity, among them were two young men who were to be important in the impending battle. They were Robert Anderson, a Humble lad and his friend James Hepburn from Tranent. On discussing the two armies Anderson said "If I were the Higheriands', I would-attack from the east because that is where I go shooting for game, the ground is a lot firmer and dryer on that side". Hepburn, who had a good feeling for the Jacobites said-"You should tell that to the Commander of the Highlanders". Off they went. Lord George Murray listened to them, went and had a talk with the Prince who called a Council with his officers and had a plan approved.

The Prince's army set off about 3 am on Saturday the 21st of September. The scheme was to go around the south side of Tranent, over Tranent Muir northwards and down by Riggenhead to Seton, then to come in by Meadowmill westwards to take Cope's forces from behind.

Cope, who had been sleeping at Cockenzie, received word that the Highlanders' were on the move rushed back to the field and started organising his heavy guns, his foot soldiers and his cavalry to face east.

Lord George Murray sent a division down the waggon way past the Tranent Church and ordered his men to wait until the main body attacked, then they were to attack the heavy artillery.

Just at break of day, the main body of the Highland army loomed out of the morning mist. Cope's sentries seeing them, fired off their pistols and ran back to give warning. Seeing they were discovered the Highlanders' rushed forward firing their hand guns and muskets, giving wild yells threw away their guns,-drew their broad swords and advanced at a fast pace.

The heavy guns of Cope's army belched forth what might have been a murderous fire, but terror seized the gunners and the grapeshot flew harmless over the foes heads.

With hideous yells the Highlanders' fell upon the foot troops slashing and cutting. Cope's cavalry under Colonel Whitney tried to make a charge but all was confusion so they wheeled about and rode off towards Dolphinston half a mile off.

Colonel Gardiner, yelled for his dragoons to charge but only eleven followed him, the rest wheeled and followed Whitney to Dolphinston. Colonel Gardiner continued fighting although being wounded several times, at last being brought down with a mighty blow to the head. Later he was carried to the Manse in Tranent where he died the next forenoon.

On examination of his body he was found to have eight wounds, two from gunshot on the right side and six severe cuts on the neck and head. He was buried at Tranent old church.

General Cope with a white cockade in his hat, similar to that worn by the Highlanders' passed through their midst without recognition made his way up past Bankton House up to Lauder and down to Berwick with news of his defeat.

Though acquitted of cowardice at his trial, he will go down in history for two main reasons. Firstly, being the first General to bring news of his own defeat and secondly by the words of a song set to verse by Adam Skirving, a farmer in Garleton near Haddington:

"Hey! Jonnie Cope are ye waukin yet, to the tune Fye to the hills in the Morning."

The actual battle was over in a very short time about thirteen minutes, what followed was mere carnage.

Casualties in Cope's army was estimated at 300 dead, 1,000 taken prisoner of whom many were seriously wounded.

The Jacobites, 30 killed, 70 wounded.

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