Battle of Kilsyth
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The Battle of Kilsyth was an engagement of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms which took place on 15 August 1645 at Kilsyth. Despite a numerical disadvantage, the battle was another victory for the Royalist general Montrose over the Covenanters, and marked the end of William Baillie's pursuit of the Royalist forces.
Baillie and his army were at Perth attending the meeting of the Scottish Estates. He had been given command of 6,000 foot and 800 horse; a mixture of new levies from Fife, a number of regular regiments withdrawn from England, and remnants of other forces already defeated by Montrose. The cavalry was mainly regular dragoons. In addition to these troops, the Earl of Lanark had raised a levy of 1,000 infantry and 500 cavalry from the estate of his brother, the Duke of Hamilton, in Clydesdale, and was en route north to join the main body.
When news of this troop movement reached Montrose, he decided to confront these forces individually, before they could join up. Marching from Dunkeld he skirted Baillie's force at Perth and travelled via Kinross, Glenfarg and Alloa, crossing the Forth near Stirling, and circumnavigating Stirling Castle. By nightfall on 14 August, the army was camped in a meadow near Colzium, by Kilsyth, in the area around Colzium Castle. This area is still known as Cavalry Park in memory of the event.
Baillie learned of Montrose's advance almost immediately, but it took a little time for its purpose to become apparent. Realising that his opponent had gained an advantage and that Lanark's forces were in danger, he moved his men southward, reaching Stirling by the line of the modern A9 road. On the same night as Montrose reached Colzium, Baillie was only three miles off at Hollinbush. He arrived late and his men had little rest.
Overnight, his scouts located the Royalist encampment, and at dawn the next morning his troops were on the move and, marching directly across country, reaching the village of Banton. This gave the Covenanters the higher ground around the eastern rim of the hollow occupied by the Royalist infantry.
The Royalist troops were clearly visible, undisturbed by the arrival of the main army of their enemies. Having a healthy respect for his opposition, and appreciating that his own forces had already marched several miles in full kit, Baillie decided to take positions where he was and wait for Lanark's force to appear. If Lanark arrived on the field, Baillie would have Montrose trapped between his force and the reinforcements; and if Montrose decided to attack Lanark as he arrived, Baillie could advance against the Royalist army from the rear. A direct attack by Montrose against the Covenanter line would face daunting high ground held by a numerically superior opponent.
Although Baillie's decision was sound, he was not allowed to adhere to it. His orders were subject to the approval of the "Committee of Estates", consisting of the Earls of Argyll, Crawford and Tullibardine, and the Lords Elcho, and Balfour of Burleigh, together with a number of Calvinist clergymen. Worried by the possibility of Montrose escaping to fight another day, they ordered a flank march around the Royalist position. Baillie protested against the redeployment, but was overruled.
Clashes soon broke out as the Covenanter army made their flank march, with the left wing of Baillie's force (now the rear of the flanking column) attacking the MacLean infantry occupying cottages on Montrose's left flank, and the cavalry on the Covenant right flank (or van) attacking the Royalist cavalry. Other Covenant and Royalist units joined the fray, acting without orders. Montrose seized the unexpected opportunity, and sent his cavalry and Highlanders against the now disrupted Covenant column. The mass of the Royalist infantry subsequently joined in the attack. Baillie's army soon broke and ran.
Approximately three-quarters of the Covenanter troops perished. Baillie himself fled south with an escort of cavalry, but was caught in the notorious Dullatur Bog, a marshy area lying between the head waters of the Kelvin and the Bonny. He managed to escape, although he left most of his escort behind, and reached safety at Stirling Castle. During construction of the Forth and Clyde Canal, the bodies of several troopers, one still seated on a horse, were recovered from the bog.
Lanark's forces were told of the defeat, and dispersed. Lanark himself and the Committee of Estates escaped across the border to England. Briefly, Montrose found himself undisputed master of Scotland, and proceeded to Glasgow, where he summoned a parliament in the name of the King. Unknown to Montrose, the victory was too late; the Battle of Naseby had already been lost and the Royalist cause was in ruins. Montrose made an attempt to move south in support of the king, but was himself decisively defeated at Philiphaugh.
Ordnance Survey maps mark the battlefield as being in the vicinity of Banton Loch which was created in the 19th century. The battlefield has been inventoried and protected by Historic Scotland under the Scottish Historical Environment Policy of 2009.
- John L. Roberts, Clan, King and Covenant, p.82
- Roberts, Clan, King and Covenant, pp.81-82
- "Inventory battlefields". Historic Scotland. Retrieved 2012-04-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- Summary of the battle on Scotwars website
- Battlefield Trust entry on Battle of Kilsyth
- British Civil Wars entry on Montrose's campaigns, including a summary of the battle
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