Archaeological site finally speaks, yielding 300-year-old ammunition from Scottish battle Rob Roy fought in

Fans of the Starz television series Outlander are probably familiar with the Battle of Culloden in 1745, but there is a forgotten battle in Glenshiel that occurred in 1719 that also featured the Scottish Jacobites facing off against the British, and the site of that battle is finally yielding secrets.

26 years before the Battle of Culloden, Jacobite forces aided by the Spanish prepared for battle at a narrow pass in Glenshiel hoping to defeat British troops.

Commanded by Major General Joseph Wightman, the British forces numbered just under 1,000 while Earl of Tullibardine William Murray had 1,000 men under his command of Jacobite forces from various clans. One of Murray’s subordinate commanders was legendary Scottish hero Rob Roy.

The site of the Battle of Glenshiel is unassuming. If you didn’t know about the battle it would just be another picturesque view of the Scottish countryside featuring a small river running through the pass between two small mountains. It is featured in several paintings depicting the battle and looks virtually the same as it did 300 years ago when both armies collided on June 10, 1719.

According to the Battlefields of Britain website, the battle played out thusly:

The battle was effectively a frontal assault by Wightman’s forces on the Jacobite positions. Murray’s objective was to bar the Government path and badly maul them as they tried to dislodge him. He built a barricade over the road and positioned his forces on the imposing high ground to the north and south. His Spanish contingent was attached to the forces to the north. Wightman commenced his bombardment around 5pm. He sent forward his Dragoons in an attack on the Jacobite centre which provided cover for his mortar teams to move into range. They then started a bombardment on the Jacobite right (in the south). After the successful bombardment, four infantry platoons…stormed the Jacobite positions in the south.

The Jacobite right fell back and, despite attempts to rally them and the provision of reinforcements drawn from the centre, fell into a general retreat. Wightman now turned his mortars on the Spanish forces holding the northern high ground and the Jacobite barricade in the centre. He followed this by a (dismounted) Dragoon attack on the centre. This was augmented by Clayton’s and Munro’s Regiments, fresh from their victory in the south, who crossed the river in support. The main Government army was now brought into action with an assault against the northern Jacobite positions. A fierce fight commenced with Clan Seaforth who urgently called for reinforcements. Rob Roy sent men to assist but it was too late – the Seaforth’s men were in retreat. The Jacobite line disintegrated as the Highlanders fled to avoid capture and execution for treason. Murray’s Spanish contingent executed a fighting retreat to cover their withdrawal.

It must have been one hell of a fight, but the site has never produced evidence of the battle such as artifacts like weapons, ammunition or other items one might expect from a battlefield in the aftermath of fighting.

That is, until now.

A team of archaeologists can now shed more light on the battle after finding musket balls and mortar fragments that had been fired toward the Spanish position above British forces.

National Trust of Scotland head of archaeology Derek Alexander identified the find as “the first positive piece of evidence that we have found from the battle.”

“We were excavating just below the Spanish position, where there is quite a large outcrop of bedrock with a vertical face,” he explained to The Scotsman.“We picked up a strong signal with the metal detector and, working with Historic Environment Scotland we were allowed to excavate four or five objects. The first that we looked at was the musket ball. It had been fired from below, up at the Spanish position. It hit the bedrock, flattened and fell to the ground and lay there. It was fired three hundred years ago, hit the wall and fell to the ground. Now it has been found.”

Analysis could even reveal what kind of weapon fired the musket round, which will spark further interest in a battle that most people don’t know about.

Alexander also pointed out that the Battle of Glenshiel resulted in roads and forts being built all around the Highlands to keep the Jacobites under control and prevented further violence for decades until a new uprising occurred in 1745 that would doom the Jacobites once and for all.

“The rising fizzled out, but it led to the arrival [of] General Wade and his building of the road systems and garrisons in locations across the Highlands,” he said. “It fixed the Government’s minds on the clans and the Jacobites. It’s failure also meant that there was little appetite for another uprising until Bonnie Prince Charlie and the ’45. It effectively put paid to Jacobite ambitions for 30 years, which is a long time.”

We know that the Battle of Glenshiel happened, but it’s nice to find hard evidence on the battlefield itself to confirm it. Displayed in a museum, the artifacts can bring the battle to life. That means we don’t have to just read about the battle in books. We can see proof of it with our own eyes and it’s likely Alexander and his team will find more as excavations continue.

See a beautiful video at the site of the Battle of Glenshiel below with a tour from a local.

Featured Image: Wikimedia

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