Clifton Moor Skirmish
|Clifton Moor Skirmish|
|Part of the Jacobite Rising of 1745|
This map shows the positions of the Jacobite and Government forces before and during the skirmish at Clifton in December 1745 from the memoirs of the Chevalier de Johnstone. Note that the map is oriented so that north is to the bottom rather than the top.
|Commanders and leaders|
|Duke of Cumberland||Charles Edward Stuart
Lord George Murray
|Casualties and losses|
|10 killed, 5 or more wounded.||12 killed and unknown wounded.|
The Clifton Moor Skirmish took place between forces of the United Kingdom Hanoverian government and Jacobite rebels on Wednesday 18 December 1745 (29 December Gregorian). Since the commander of the government forces, the Duke of Cumberland, was aware of the Jacobite presence in Derby, the Jacobite leader Prince Charles Edward Stuart decided to retreat north back towards Scotland. Charles began his retreat from Derby on 6 December 1745. This is sometimes claimed as the last battle on English soil, but there are numerous other claimants such as the Battle of Graveney Marsh, fought in 1940.
In this article, dates are given in the Julian calendar in use in England at the time, unless otherwise stated.
Retreat from England
The Jacobite army stayed on the first night of retreat at the town of Ashbourne, Derbyshire. They reached the town of Leek the following day. However, Leek being too small to accommodate the entire army, Elcho's and Pitsligo's horse and Ogilvy's and Roy Stuart's regiments of foot, went to the town of Macclesfield where they stayed the night. The remainder of the army which had stayed at Leek came to Macclesfield the next day and those who had stayed the night at Macclesfield went on to Stockport. On the 9th both of the Jacobite divisions met on the road to Manchester and entered the city as one body. The Jacobite army left Manchester on the 10th and reached Wigan that night. The next day they reached Preston where they stayed until the 12th. James Drummond, the Duke of Perth, was dispatched with 100 horse to travel north and bring back reinforcements from Perth. The Prince and his Jacobite army arrived in Lancaster on the evening of the 13th. Charles had decided to stay and fight at Lancaster. A survey of the surrounding ground at Lancaster was carried out by the Jacobite commanders Lord George Murray and Cameron of Lochiel. They found the ground suitable for their army to fight on; however, Murray had also received reports that a large body of General George Wade's dragoons had entered Preston not long after they had left. Charles changed his mind and decided to continue with their march back north.
The government forces under Wade and the Duke of Cumberland had not arrived in Macclesfield until the 10th of December, the day the Jacobites had arrived in Wigan. At Macclesfield the duke received intelligence that the Jacobites had left Manchester that day. Leaving Lancaster on the 15th, Charles' army was scarcely out of the town when some of the government horse entered it. The Jacobites formed in order of battle; but the alarm turning out to be false, the army continued its march to Kendal The British horse followed for two or three miles, and appeared frequently in small parties, but attempted nothing. The Jacobite army entered Kendal that night, where they were met by the Duke of Perth and his party. On his way north, the duke had been attacked in this town by a mob, which he soon dispersed by firing on them; but in the neighbourhood of Penrith he met with a more serious obstruction, having been attacked by a considerable body of militia, both horse and foot, and being vastly outnumbered, was obliged to retreat to Kendal.
On the advice of Murray the Jacobite army then marched to the village of Shap where they passed the night from the 16th-17th. On the 17th, on orders from Charles, the Jacobite army marched to the village of Clifton.
Arrival at Clifton
On the morning of the 18th the Jacobite rearguard left Shap. It had not proceeded far when some parties of English light horse were seen in the distance on the eminences behind the rear-guard. Lord George Murray notified the circumstances to Charles at Penrith, but it was believed that these were militia and the information was treated lightly. A body of between 200 and 300 horse of the Duke of Cumberland's forces formed on Thrimby Hill  in front of the rear-guard to make a stand. The government party was observed marching two and two abreast on the top of the hill. They disappeared to form themselves in order of battle behind the eminence, and made a great noise with trumpets and kettledrums. At this time two of the companies of Roy Stuart's regiment, which the Duke of Perth had attached to the artillery, were at the head of the column. The guns and ammunition wagons followed, behind the two other companies of the same regiment. The Clan MacDonnell of Glengarry regiment, which marched with Lord George Murray at its head, was in the rear of the column. Believing, from the great number of trumpets and kettle-drums, that the British army was at hand, the Jacobites remained stationary for a short time.
It was the opinion of Colonel Brown, an officer of Lally's regiment, who was at the head of the column, that they should attack their enemy sword in hand, and either open a passage to the army at Penrith, or perish in the attempt. Adopting this opinion, men of the four companies immediately ran up the hill, without informing Lord George Murray. Murray, observing this movement, immediately ordered the MacDonnell of Glengarry men to proceed across the enclosure and ascend the hill from another quarter, as they could not conveniently pass the wagons which had almost blocked up the roads. The Glengarry men reached the summit of the hill almost as soon as the head of the other column. Both parties were surprised to find the only enemy in view was the light horse they had observed a few minutes before, and who, alarmed at the appearance of the Jacobites, galloped off in disorder. One of them fell from his horse, and was cut to pieces in an instant by the Jacobites.
The rear-guard resumed its march, and on reaching the village of Clifton, Lord George Murray sent the artillery and heavy baggage forward to Penrith under a small escort. Being well acquainted with all the enclosures and parks about Lowther Hall, the seat of Lord Lonsdale, about the distance of a mile from Clifton, Lord George Murray, at the head of the Glengarry regiment and some horse, examined these parks and enclosures in the hope of attacking the English light horse. Although he saw several of them, he only succeeded in taking two prisoners. These prisoners informed Murray that the Duke of Cumberland himself, with a body of 4,000 horse, was about a mile behind him. As Clifton was a very good post, Murray resolved to remain there. On his return to the village, he sent Colonel Roy Stuart with the two prisoners to Penrith, to inform Prince Charles of the approach of the duke, and that he would remain at Clifton until further orders. In the event of the prince approving of his intention of making a stand at Clifton, his lordship requested that 1,000 men might be sent him from Penrith. On returning to Clifton from Lowther parks, Murray found the Duke of Perth there as well as Colonel Roy Stuart's men, amounting to about 200. He also found the Clan Macpherson with their chief, Cluny Macpherson, and the Stewarts of Appin, headed by Stewart of Ardshiel.
Within the enclosures to the west of the highway he posted the Glengarry men, and within those to the east he placed the Stewarts of Appin and the Macphersons. On the side of the highway and close to the village of Clifton, he placed Colonel John Roy Stuart's regiment. As some ditches at the foot stretched further towards the moor on the west than on the east, and as that part was also covered by Lord Lonsdale's other enclosures, the party on the west could not easily be attacked. This advantage meant that they could enfilade the enemy with fire when they attacked the east.
About an hour after the Duke of Cumberland had formed his men, about 500 of his dragoons dismounted and advanced to the foot of the moor, in front of a ditch at the bottom of one of three small enclosures between the moor and the places where Roy Stuart's men were posted at the village. At this time, Colonel Stuart returned from Penrith, and, after informing Lord George that the prince had resolved to march immediately to Carlisle, and that he had sent forward his cannon, he stated that it was his royal highness's desire that the rearguard should immediately retreat to Penrith. From the situation in which Murray was now placed, it was impossible to obey this order without great danger. The dismounted dragoons were already firing upon the Jacobites. Lord George proposed to attack the dismounted enemy.
Lord George Murray went to the west, where the Macdonnell of Glengarry men were posted, and ordered them, as soon as they should observe him advance on the other side, to move also forward and keep up a smart fire until they came to the lowest ditch. He observed that if they succeeded in dislodging the enemy from the hedges and ditches, they could give them a flank fire within pistol-shot, but he gave them particular orders not to fire across the highway or to follow the enemy up the moor. After speaking with every officer of the Glengarry regiment, Murray returned to the east and placed himself at the head of the Macphersons. It was now about an hour after sunset, and the night was somewhat cloudy; but at short intervals the moon, which was in its second quarter, broke through and afforded considerable light. The Jacobites had to their advantage, that whilst they could see the disposition of the enemy, their own movements could not be observed.
The Stewarts and Macphersons marched forward at the word of command, as did the Macdonalds and MacDonnells on the west. The men on the west kept firing as they advanced, but the Macphersons, who were on the east, soon came into contact with the English dragoons and received the whole of their fire. Murray drew his sword and cried out, "Claymore!", and Cluny Macpherson doing the same, the Macphersons rushed down to the bottom ditch of the enclosure. Clearing the diagonal hedges as they went, they fell sword in hand upon the enemy, of whom a considerable number were killed at the lower ditch. The rest retreated across the moor, but received in their flight the fire of the MacDonnell of Glengarry regiment.
Twelve Jacobite soldiers were killed in the skirmish. The only Jacobite officer wounded was the Macdonald of Glengarry chief. Lord George Murray had several narrow escapes.
Ten Government dragoons were killed and four of their officers wounded. One British dragoon is recorded as dying in Clifton several weeks later, presumably of wounds received in the battle. The dragoons killed in the battle are buried in St Cuthbert's churchyard. Near the churchyard gate is a stone commemorating the skirmish. 
The only prisoner taken on this occasion was a footman of the Duke of Cumberland. This man was sent back to his royal highness by Charles.
Most recent battle on English soil
There are at least three contenders for the claim to have been the last battle on English soil, as different historians have used different definitions for what constitutes a battle. If Clifton Moor was a "skirmish" and not a battle, and if the Battle of Preston, fought during Jacobite Rising of 1715, was a siege and not a battle, and the Battle of Reading (1688) is discounted as a street fight, then the last pitched battle on English soil was the battle of Sedgemoor fought in 1685, which was the decisive battle in Monmouth Rebellion. However either of the former, or possibly the Battle of Bossenden Wood (1838), can also be considered the last battle, depending on how a battle is defined while the Battle of Graveney Marsh (1940) could also be counted as a skirmish. There is also, of course, a certain semanticism in the expression "last battle on English soil", for it specifically excludes the subsequent Second World War air battles over English soil, particularly the Battle of Britain (10 July to 31 October 1940) which was fought in the skies over Kent and the winter blitz of 1940-1941 which is sometimes called the Battle of London. The claim to be the most recent battle site in England, for what were relatively small armed confrontations, is useful for promoting tourism at the locations.
Notes and references
- Most of the account which follows is from the Paisley Tartan Army's webpage on the Clifton skirmish. This page is, in turn, almost a direct copy of the account in James Browne's A History of the Highlands and of the Highland Clans, originally published in Glasgow in 1834.
- Memoirs of the Rebellion in 1745, the Chevalier de Johnstone, Longman & Co, London 1822, cited in The Retreat of the Highlanders through Westmoreland in 1745, Ferguson RS Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society 1889
- Stuart Reid, 1745: A Military History of the Last Jacobite Rising. New York: Sarpedon, 1996.
- Clifton Hall, English Heritage, Retrieved 2008-11-18
- Battle of Sedgemoor Interpretation Trail, Somerset Tourism Telegram, Somerset County Council, November 2006
- Jacobite tree - Clifton, BBC Cumbria, Retrieved 2008-11-18