THE BATTLE OF PRESTONPANS - Jim Forster
Dawn, 21st September 1745
On the 19th August 1745 Prince Charles Edward (Bonnic Prince
Charlie) raised his standard in the vale of Glenfinnan and declared
his father King James VIII of Scotland and II of EngIand and IreIand.
Gathering the cIans who had come to support him he set off towards
the lowIands. With hardiv any opposition the Jacobite army captured
Perth and Edinburgh. The army made camp in King's Park near Duddingston,
2.5UO 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 ofT North with his armv. However he failed to intercept the
Jacobites. On hearing by messenger that the HighIanders had captured
Edinburgh he marched his troops to Aberdeen and embarked his force
on ships and sailed southward where he Ianded at Dunbar on the
15th of September.
On the 19th of September Cope set out with his army towards Edinburgh
by way of Haddingtoii where they made camp. Sir John Cope and
his army marched at 9am 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 a half miles in breadth. The field extended
right to the wall of Preston, this Field was entirely clear of
crop. the last sheaves having been carried in the night before.
Neither cottage or bush were in the whole extent. except one solitary
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 or 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 Princes scouts informed him
that Cope's army had halted at Preston.
The HighIanders 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
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 HighIanders
to make their famous wild charge.
Cope's heavy guns would be able to pick off the enemy with case.
He had six one and a half pounders and six mortars. The HighIand
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
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 Humbic lad and his friend. James Hepburn from Tranent. On discussing
the two armies Anderson said "If I were the HighIanders,
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 HighIanders". 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 pIan approved.
The Prince's army set off about 3am on Saturday the 21st of September.
The scheme was to go around the south side of Tranent, over Tranent
Muir northwards and down by Riggonhead 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
HighIanders were on the move. rushed back to the fields and started
organising his heavy guns. his foot soldiers and his cavalry to
Lord George Murray sent a division down the waggon way past the
Tranent Church and ordered his men to wait until the main bodv
attacked, then they were to attack the heavy artillery.
Just at break of day. the main body of the HighIand 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 HighIanders 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 sei/.cd the gunners and the grapeshot
flew harmless over the foes' heads.
With hideous yells, the HighIanders 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
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 HighIanders 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 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! Johnnie Cope, are ye waukin yet?"
The actual battle was over in a very short time, about thirteen
minutes, what followed was mere carnage.
Casualties in Cope's army were estimated at 300 dead. 1,000 taken
prisoner of whom many were seriously wounded.
The Jacobites - 30 killed. 70 wounded.