Almost two weeks after defeating the government forces at Tippermuir and taking Perth City, Montrose is again faced with a Covenanter force blocking his way into another lowland city – this time Aberdeen. His forces are now greatly diminished with most of his highlanders and other levies having returned home with plunder leaving his primary force the small, but clearly capable, Irish Brigade. With Argyll continuing to advance toward him and without sufficient men to attempt an approach to Edinburgh, He has turned north and east into the lands of the Marquis of Huntley (a staunch Royalist) in the hopes of strengthening his army. The City of Dundee “Forted-up” at his coming and refused his summons and, without proper equipment (or time), he could not lay siege. The City of Aberdeen (two cities actually – old and new) is now the obvious point to establish a base of operations in the last, reasonably friendly part of the lowlands.
Aberdeen has no substantial walls nor modern fortifications so the Covenanter commander, Robert Balfour, Lord Burleigh, has led his force (larger than the royalists) out to meet the approaching Montrose. Not an experienced military commander (and reluctant to even assume command in the bargain), Burleigh has managed a competent deployment of his forces along a ridgeline (Clay Hill) that presents a steep approach over much of its length:
Samuel Gardiner’s nineteenth century map (above) gives a sense of the terrain and a rough idea of the deployment of both forces (although Stuart Reid and others have criticized Gardiner’s interpretation).
In 3W’s excellent collection of wargame battles from the English Civil War, game designer Robert Markham gives more scope to the terrain and deployment:
In setting up the above I un-stacked a few of the pieces so they may not perfectly match Markham’s game set-up. It has been years (many) since I actually played this set of games but if memory serves, I lost playing as Montrose! It was useful to again set-up this game before creating the table-top version. I wish now I had done the same for Tippermuir (and I may even update one of the Tippermuir posts to include an equivalent map when I get a chance).
The above photo is a view from above looking roughly northeast along the valley of the How Burn. Justice Mills, (a collection of buildings gathered in two small, built-up areas), is in the foreground and designated as Upper Mill and Lower Mill. These were apparently two water-driven mills fed by the same stream (Mill Burn) that could have served the same or different purposes. I have not found in any resource to-date how the mills were used (probably corn grinding?) but prefer to envision them as some sort of proto-industrial complex, perhaps given over to the the woolen trade (cleaning, carding, dying, etc). The woods at either end of the table are there simply to restrict flank movements (something I do frequently unless some other feature is known to have existed). The orange lines show the beginning of significant up-slopes (requiring a mandatory stop) and the dashed lines on Clay Hill enclose the part of the slope that is very steep and has a TWO step reduction in movement (rather than the normal one step reduction). How Burn is fordable along its length but does require a mandatory stop and a reduction in movement across it.
I omitted the double trace of How Burn shown on some maps since it had no effect on the battle. The Mill Road probably continued down to the Lower Mill and on to the west. A portion of it was sunken and provided a more protected route between the mills. I have omitted this feature also (and added a small pond) to make the two built-up areas more discrete and defensible.
In the next post I’ll do a short over-view of the dispositions of both armies and then get down to cases. The Orders of Battle are now posted here.