Siege of Fort William
|Siege of Fort William|
|Part of the Jacobite Rising of 1745|
The site of the old fort at Fort William
Campbell of Argyll Militia
Clan MacDonald of Keppoch
Clan Stewart of Appin
France: French artillerymen
|Commanders and leaders|
|Lieutenant Colonel Stapleton
Murray of Broughton
Mirabelle de Gordon
Cameron of Lochiel
MacDonald of Keppoch
Prior to the siege the Jacobites had forced the surrender of Fort Augustus after a siege of just two days, from where they proceeded to Fort William with cannons they had taken from Fort Augustus. After the Jacobite's successful siege of Fort Augustus attention of both sides shifted towards Fort William which was the last remaining strong point in the Great Glen. The Duke of Cumberland apparently looked upon it as the only fort in the Scottish Highlands "of any consequence" and said that he would be taking "all possible measures for the security of it". The elderly governor of the fort was Alexander Campbell who was described as a "careful and good man", but there were doubts about his competence and on 15 March 1746 he was superseded by Captain Caroline Frederick Scott of Guise's 6th Regiment.
The government garrison of Fort William when reinforced was together made up of two companies of Guise's 6th Regiment, two other companies of regulars and a company of the Campbell of Argyll Militia, totaling about 400 men in all. Fort William was more solidly built than Fort Augustus and its triangular shape was calculated to take advantage of the cover afforded by the head of Loch Linnhe. Fort William's armament consisted of six 12-pounder cannon, eight 6-pounders, seven smaller pieces, two 13-inch mortars and eight coehorns. There was also plenty of ammunition but the fort did not have a permanent supply of water.
On 25 February 1746, the government garrison of the fort began demolishing the service town of Maryburgh so as to clear a field of fire. However, nothing could be done to stop the besiegers using the outlying heights. The garrison was supported by the sloop of war Baltimore and she had been joined by the bomb vessel the Serpant on 15 February.
On the Jacobite's side the operation was entrusted to the same team who had taken Fort Augustus: Lieutenant Colonel Stapleton, the French regulars and the clansman under Cameron of Lochiel and MacDonald of Keppoch.
The Jacobites arrived with siege cannon on 20 March and both Cameron of Lochiel and MacDonald of Keppoch wrote to their Jacobite leader, Charles Edward Stuart to tell him that they had declared war on the Clan Campbell. In their letters they both claimed many war crimes had been committed against them by the Campbells, including the burning of 400 homes in a single day.
The Jacobites focused their seaward blockade down Loch Linnhe at the Corran Narrows and they actually succeeded in capturing one of Baltimore's boats. However, Alexander Campbell was determined to "destroy that nest of rebels" and early in the morning of 4 March he embarked seventy-one of his men in six boats at Fort William, and over the next five hours they made their way down the loch and surprised the Jacobite senturies in the Narrows. It was reported that the Jacobites had two men killed and many wounded during this action.
Having been detained at Castle Stalker due to bad weather conditions, Captain Scott and the bomb vessel Serpant arrived safely at Fort William on 15 March, and Scott laid down that the garrison must keep up a frequent harassing fire on the Jacobite positions, at night, with light cannon.
The Jacobites opened fire on the fort on 20 March and the scheme of attack was carried out by Mirabelle de Gordon who put the whole weight on artillery, employing both cannon and 6-inch artillery. On the 22 March, the Jacobites sent a drummer to Captain Scott with a letter requiring him to surrender, but his answer was that he would defend the place to the last extremity. It soon became clear that the two Jacobite firing positions on Sugar Loaf Hill and Cow Hill were too far from the target and on the 23 March a further battery was opened on Cow Hill, but closer to the target. The 6-inch guns apparently caused Captain Scott some concern but his gunners were hammering back effectively. It was impossible for the Jacobites to get near to the ramparts of the fort without being seen because the nights were clear and moon-lit. The only chance they had of getting to grips with the enemy was when parties left the fort for water.
The Jacobites became frustrated and there were feuds between the Camerons and the MacDonalds of Keppoch, as well as between the Highlanders and the French as a whole. There were also apparently feuds between John Murray of Broughton who was the Prince's Secretary and almost everyone else. MacDonald of Keppoch had apparently threatened to beat Murray with a stick.
On 27 March the Jacobites unmasked a battery of four 6-pounder pieces on the ground above the Governor's garden, and so the emphasis of attack shifted from the mortars to the cannon. On the 28 March the Jacobites opened up an artillery attack east of the fort with red-hot shot with the aim of making the cramped interior of the fort untenable. Further missiles included cold roundshot, grapeshot, old nails and red-hot lengths of notched iron that were intended to lodge in the timbers, and were a Jacobite speciality.
This time Captain Scott was unable to hit back effectively with his artillery, so instead he dispatched Captain George Foster with 150 men to assault the Jacobite battery on the evening of the 31 March. The relief between the Camerons and MacDonalds of Keppoch was apparently muddled, leaving the battery unprotected at the crucial moment. As a result the government sortie was able to spike two of the Jacobite's 6-inch mortars and a 6-pounder cannon. They were also able to capture and bring back two more 6-inch mortars and three French 4-pounder cannons. The party then turned against the other Jacobite battery that was above the Governor's garden but on this occasion they did not have the advantage of surprise and Scott had to send two successive reinforcements to get them out of trouble. They returned safely to the fort and the casualties on this occasion were given as eleven or twelve on each side.
The siege had dragged on for much longer than expected, and Prince Charles Edward Stuart called on Cameron of Lochiel and MacDonald of Keppoch to bring their men back to Inverness. Thus on the 3 April 1746, Captain Scott found that his enemy had disappeared, leaving behind all their equipment apart from that which was easily transportable.
In the aftermath of the Siege of Fort William the Baltimore and the Terror which had done much to support the defence of the fort, as well as supporting the garrison, were involved in intercepting French sailings and also preventing or deterring the movement of Jacobite clansmen in the western capes and isles to the army of Prince Charles.
- Duffy, Christopher. (2007). The '45, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Untold Story of the Jacobite Rising. pp. 452 - 458. ISBN 978-0-7538-2262-3.
- The Siege of Fort William - March 20, - April 3, 1746 clan-cameron.org. Retrieved 24 December, 2013.
- Prince Charles Edward Stuart - Siege of Fort William by the Insurgents electricscotland.com. Retrieved 24 December, 2013.