As battles go Tippermuir hardly ranks as little more than a skirmish although with at least 6000 men involved, if however briefly, it is hard to classify it as such. I recall a Bill Mauldin cartoon from his collection and narrative called “Up Front” that shows an American doggie reading a paper out loud to his mate as they share a foxhole in Italy. The headline on the paper was about the Normandy invasion and the G.I. is reacting to what he is hearing, “The hell this isn’t the most important hole in the world”, he says, “I’M IN IT!!” Military historians (even specialist in the English Civil War) frequently relegate Montrose’s 1644-45 war in Scotland to two or three paragraphs and perhaps a nod toward his abilities (or good fortune). This is due mainly, I think, to his campaign having little strategic impact on the greater war or on the central flow of history. Still for the participants it was “the war”. Like Mauldin’s G.I., being in a secondary (even tertiary by that time) theater of operation hardly altered the experience of war or, I think, what can be learned from it.
This is likely what happened:
I. THE ROYALIST ADVANCE
When the Royalists moved within range of the frame guns they began to receive fire. I was intrigued that apparently they only fired once. The Royalist advance was so rapid that they apparently didn’t have time to reload! I remain dubious about this since I would think the reload rate would be faster than the time it would take to cover the 450 to 500 yards, but apparently not. In any event the gun fire was ineffective in stalling the advance. In the picture I show the gun shot hitting short assuming that the Covenanter gunners’ fire a tad early. Montrose himself is leading the right wing to an up-slope position perhaps having in mind to place his highlanders in the cover of the ruined buildings or woods (although they would not characteristically wish to fight from a defense position). Montrose has probably already gained sufficient elevation to command a view of the entire battlefield.
II. THE COVENANTERS DEPLOY SKIRMISHERS
I am not altogether sure that ALL of the Covenanter first line moved down-slope as they deployed their skirmishers to disrupt the rapid Royalist advance. It is also not clear that the force used for skirmishing was even comprised of musketeers (although that would become the uniform practice in later times). Murry may have been concerned about his guns not firing with any speed and decided to move his line forward to better cover them and his skirmishers. Sources indicate that Lord Drummond commanded the forward element and I am showing the right flank horse going forward with him. If the forces were fairly evenly matched, as I accept that they were, Murry wanted to do as much damage to the Royalists as possible BEFORE they can bring his inexperienced troops under fire.
III. THE ROYALISTS ENGAGE THE COVENANTER SKIRMISH LINE
MacColla, who is commanding the Royalist center, sends forward his own skirmishers and accelerates the advance of the Irish Brigade. The two units with pikes (Baddenoch and Perthsire) are not advancing as quickly but effectively protecting the flank and rear of the Irish Brigade from the possibility of attack from the Covenanter horse. While they may have simply gone forward in line with the Irish (and that would seem to be what the contemporary accounts suggest) my sense is that they may not have been as capable or as motivated to engage as the Irish. The Irish skirmishers quickly give the opposing skirmishers more than they want and they quickly begin to withdraw. The photo shows Lord Drummond (well ahead of the horse) also receiving fire which may have convinced him that this was not where he wanted to be nor the particular cause that he wanted to be fighting for! What ever the reason he and the right flank horse seemed to have disappeared from any description of the fighting after this point.
IV. THE COVENANT LEFT FLANK HORSE ATTACKS MONTROSE
Scott of Rossie (perhaps the most active of the Covenant commanders) sees the threat of Montrose moving along the high ground toward his left flank and aggressively leads out the left wing cavalry to end it. As the main portion of the battle begins to develop in the center Rossie meets and engages the Atholl levies and Inchbrakie’s highlanders. I have taken some license here since the Baddenoch levy is said to have been with Montrose, BUT if they were pike-armed protecting the center flank would be a better role. It is well known that Covenant horse (at least in Ireland and the home defense force) was still using the older style tactic of slowly riding forward and firing off all of their pistols before engaging the enemy. This tactic was rapidly being overthrown in favor of depending more on speed and shock (the traditional cavalry role prior to the gunpowder revolution). In either case horse had to be trained to the tactic. Given that the highlanders probably did not have the fire power of a comparable musketeer unit this older tactic may have been the best choice anyway.
V. THE FIREFIGHT IN THE CENTER
After quickly disposing of the enemy skirmish line, MacColla continues to press the attack against the Covenanter infantry. A firefight rapidly develops between the Irish Brigade and Tullibardine’s and Elcho’s foot. The more disciplined and experienced Irish are delivering more rapid and concentrated fire and although the Covenant regiments are standing and returning fire it does not match the lethality of the enemy. On the right flank Wemyss (Lord Elcho), a commander with no combat experience, is watching his flank begin to disintegrate as Drummond’s horse streams past him. The Covenanter guns are now shown behind the forward line of their infantry which may not be correct. It is difficult to figure the exact sequence of events in the center (or anywhere for that matter) but I am still guessing that Murry would have moved forward to prevent their unopposed capture.
VI. THE MELEE’ ON THE ROYALIST RIGHT FLANK
Scott of Rossie still has the opportunity to reverse the tide of battle by defeating Montrose on the Royalist right. Were he to succeed little would have prevented him from circling into the enemy’s rear. By at least one account Montrose’s highlanders were reduced to throwing swarms of rocks at Rossie’s horse and then attacking them with every weapon they had. So determined was this counter attack that the Covenant horse finally gave way. The picture shows the height of the Melee’ (although I wish I had remembered to turn on HD when I took the pic). It will be interesting to wargame this melee’ in particular to see how well the game system can approximate this result.
VII. THE IRISH BRIGADE BEGINS TO OVERRUN THE COVENANTER CENTER
As the Covenanter infantry begins to waiver from the Irish musket fire, MacColla continues to press them by engaging in close combat. It is not clear if the Irish had stopped to deliver fire or if they simply keep advancing as each rank fired in turn. Much is made of the Celtic tactic of firing all their weapons – dropping them – and then falling on their opponents with great ferocity. This certainly may have been the case but more likely they would have used their musket butts as their principle melee’ weapon. Regardless of how it happened the Irish quickly came into contact with the Covenanter front line. With their cavalry now flooding by them on both flanks and their front ranks hotly engaged and giving ground much of the covenant infantry begins to flee the field.
VIII. COLLAPSE OF THE COVENANTER CENTER
Opinions of the soldiers of the Irish Brigade vary widely and this is particularly evident in wargame rules where they may be rated anywhere from elite troops to little better than levies. At the time some thought that they were a complete unit withdrawn from the Spanish army in the Low Countries, others that they were mercenaries and free-booters with no allegiance to anyone but their captains. Complicating this is that the lowland Scots, apparently, had trouble distinguishing the “Irishes” from highland Scots. While they undoubtedly had varied individual reasons for why they chose to be there, the unit got there because it was an instrument of both King Charles and the Irish Confederation government. Probably many were veteran soldiers with experience in the European wars, the Confederation wars, or both. In my own system I rate them as veterans and comparable to any other veteran regiment of the Three Kingdoms. They were not supermen, nor even elite troops but against the regiments of the Scottish home forces (mainly levy) they were generally better trained and certainly more motivated. While having little experience, the Covenanter infantry was probably better equipped and certainly made an attempt to resist. That they held at all is remarkable. The picture shows the bulk of the Covenanter army quitting the field as the Irish continue to press forward. The Covenanter guns have been taken and turned on the rapidly departing enemy but, according to Ruthven, Montrose did not allow them to fire.
IX. THE COVENANTER ROUT BEGINS
The last attempt (failed) at an organized resistance occurred on the Covenanter left as Scott of Rossie attempted to rally his horse as Montrose approaches with his highlanders. The ensuing pursuit was horrendous and is said to have produced a large number of casualties. At the very least it did not let up until the Royalist army entered Aberdeen. Montrose got the victory he so badly needed, his army was abundantly resupplied, and MacColla had seen what his brigade was capable of doing. Strategically, however, not a lot had changed. The Edinburgh government still has the where-with-all and the organization to continue raising armies and Montrose still did not have the power to take control of Scotland for the king. In fact Montrose simply can never afford to lose a battle and the Covenanters can.