By August of 1644, MacColla had applied fire and sword to all of Campbell and Covenanter land within reach. He would send ahead the “fiery cross”, the ancient symbol of join or suffer the consequences. By this means he raised around five hundred additional recruits (although these were likely more committed to NOT suffering the consequences than to embracing the Royalist cause). The original plan (of several) was to join with George Gordon, Marquis of Huntley in the Northeast but Huntley had been driven from the field by the Covenanter government; therefore plans had to be improvised. The coastal Northeast was still an area of strong Royalist (and Catholic) support so it seemed logical to move in that direction.
After some maneuvering and application of the policy of fire and sword, however, MacColla was beginning to find himself hemmed in. It did not help that he was viewed by much of the populace as a foreign invader – even in the lands of his kinship. Covenant clans were raising in opposition in both the North and East and the shire fencibles (the levied militia) throughout the region called out in support of the government. Worse, an enraged Archibald Campbell, Marquis of Argyll was consolidating an army to the west. The only breathing space was to the south in the region of Atholl.
One of the original plans considered was to join James Graham, Marquis of Montrose, late of the Covenant, but now a King’s Lieutenant for Scotland. Montrose, however, was driven back into England before he had even well-started. It is unclear if MacColla and Montrose were in contact at this point but ultimately they would finally meet. Montrose had sneaked back into Scotland (pretending to be a servant to his two traveling companions) and MacColla remained encamped in the narrow confines of Glen Tilt awaiting events.
Atholl had been raised against MacColla with both the local levy in the field and joining them MacColla’s natural allies Clan Stewart and Clan Robertson. A rather romantic account of the meeting between the two warriors appears in C.V. Wedgewood’s, Montrose, and her verbal description captured my imagination inspiring the vignettes depicted.
There seems little doubt that MacColla’s force could have easily brushed the men of Atholl aside but he paused to pray and reflect. Leaders of his Badenoch contingent tried to convince the small force blocking their way to stand down or – better – join them, but made little headway. MacColla had removed himself to continue his prayers for divine guidance understanding that to attack men with whom he had so much in common would only accelerate his isolation and destruction.
It was in that moment that Montrose arrived on the scene with much drama and excitement.
Montrose, on foot and in highland garb, stands with a bodyguard and the King’s banner (although it was probably still hidden in his baggage at this point!). It is not clear which banner he actually carried. Most think it was the Scottish royal banner but I have chosen to use the blue and red banner of the Three Kingdoms. To his right is his stalwart friend and Kinsman, Patrick Graham of Inchbrackie, well known as ‘Black Pate’ to the assembled highlanders. A Scottish royal standard appears behind Montrose to mark him as a Captain General (per my game rules). Opposite Montrose is Alasdair MacColla with his own guard and personal standard. Beside him is the gold harp and green field of the Irish Confederation indicating his rank of Major General.
While it is unlikely that they were present at this point, Inchbrackie’s highlanders are shown as part of the line of the Atholl force, positioned just ahead of Clan Robertson.
Clearly this encounter between two alien forces would make an interesting alternate history scenario which I may come back and play at some point. I am curious to find out how much damage the men of Atholl might do to the Irish.
In such a scenario, I’ll assume that Montrose did not arrive from England and ‘Black Pate’ has chosen to lead the defense force against MacColla. He would do this not out of any love for the Covenant but to repel the invaders before they reached his own land nearby. In such a scenario the Atholl defense force would have nine highland warrior pieces, two highland bow pieces and six highland levy pieces – about 1000 men.
MacColla would have four pike pieces, three musket and pike pieces, and eight musketeer pieces of the Irish Brigade (all veterans) totaling around 1500 men.
He would also have in support the Badenoch Levy with one pike piece, two musket and pike pieces (both militia quality) and two civilian levy pieces (trained) for a grand total of 2000 men. Given that the Atholl force has only a smattering of muskets and bows against veterans with a substantial amount of firepower the matter would likely be settled rather quickly. Still – as it is said – that is why we would play the game!