The Covenanter army is drawn up on the ridge of Clay Hill with two light (4.5 lbs) field guns in the center placed astride the Hardgate Road where it crests the ridgeline. To the right of the guns are the muskets and pikes of the Aberdeenshire Fencibles (levy militia) and to their left the Aberdeen City Militia. Farther to the left is a regular musket and pike regiment, Balfour of Burleigh’s foot (with white saltires on black fields). The other regular regiment, Lord Forbes’s foot (with yellow saltires on green fields), is placed in reserve behind the guns:
A force of musketeers (about 50), has been placed in the Lower Mill (Capt. Robert Forbes*) to disrupt the Royalist advance. The Covenant right wing is commanded by Sir William Forbes of Craigievar and is comprised of two small units of horse – Lord Lewis Gordon’s and Forbes’s own lancers – which are positioned on the descending slope running toward the Upper Mill. A hodge-podge of weak horse units (Lord Crichton’s, Lord Fraser’s, and a rag-tag lancer unit) commanded by Andrew, Lord Fraser, anchors the Covenanter left flank. All told, the government arrays 2050 foot and 330 horse – at the low end of historical estimates. The infantry is conventionally armed with muskets and pikes ( save the Aberdeen city militia which are all musketeers). About a third of the horse are lancers with the rest being light cavalry trained as “pistols first” (Dutch style).
The Royalist army had crossed the river Dee above the Brig o’ Dee, Montrose apparently not wishing a forced crossing at the bridge (something he himself had done in the First Bishops’ War while commanding the Covenanter army!). They then moved in a westerly direction where they encountered Lord Burleigh’s (Actually, Lord Balfour of Burleigh but I contract it for labeling purposes) army drawn up on the heights above How Burn.
Moving laterally (roughly northeast) the Royalist army is now east of the Hardgate Road and preparing to attack the Covenanter positions:
The Irish Brigade (O’Cahan’s, Laghtnan’s, MacDonnell’s) under Alisdair MacColla forms the center of the Royalist line and are heavy on muskets – Laghtnan’s having the only pikes. MacColla has detached musketeers (under Capts. Mortimer and MacDonnell*) to the flanks (presumably at Montrose’s command). Being weak in cavalry, the detached musketeers (in Swedish style) are placed to add strength and protection to the wings. The only highlanders present (as a unit at least) are about 100 MacDonalds of Keppoch, all bow armed. The total strength of the Royalists is a bit above 1600 foot and around 90 horse. Montrose’s friend and confidant, Sir William Rollo, commands the right while Colonel James Hay, a professional soldier, has the left.
The battle opens with Mortimer’s musketeers attempting to dislodge the Covenanter skirmishes from the Lower Mill (far left, below) while the Royalists make a general advance across How Burn. An artillery exchange is occurring in the center to little effect (although a chance Royalist shot has just disrupted one of the Covenanter guns – marked with a yellow cube – top center, below):
One element of the command and control system can be seen in the picture above, a number of white cubes spread across the two armies. Each represents the potential of various commanders to effect several types of activation and morale rolls. Once expended they may not be reused, however. Even the casual observer will note that the Royalists have substantially more, one of the ways a battle game can be “handicapped” to improve the chance of obtaining an historic result. Compared to Montrose’s army the leadership on the Covenanter side was inexperienced (although the Aberdeen militia – in particular – was well officered). As in other battle games, the red cubes indicate the status of all unit firearms.
Some of the units have additional colored cubes that correspond to the Experience column on the Order of Battle sheets. The regiments of the Irish Brigade, for example, are all veteran units and have a blue cube to indicate that status.
Historically the Royalist advance was met by a piece-meal cavalry assault on the wings but we’ll see how this Covenanter commander responds in the next post.
* The actual officers commanding these two detachments are not known so the names are fictional.