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Holland Bush, in the parish of Denny, and Scotland is at his feet.
The day on which the battle of Kilsyth was fought was the 15th August, 1645. The autumn had been dry and fine. On the eventful morning of the battle there was no change. The sun rose in unclouded splendour. When he reached meridian, the hills and hamlet, the knolls and streams, the fields and cottages were swooning in the heat. The crops were rapidly ripening. The frugal husbandman was calculating that in a few days more they would be ready for the sickle. Owing to the dryness of the season the straw was short, but, notwithstanding, the fields gave promise that the time of famine had now come to an end.
Montrose planted his standard a little to the east above Colzium House. The actual spot was known to the curious at the beginning of this century, but cannot now be identified with accuracy. His munitions and transports were gathered on the Baggage Knowe in the same immediate locality. His numbers were four thousand infantry and five hundred cavalry. The latter were not of much account as a genuine arm of the service. Montrose's strength lay in his foot. At Holland Bush Baillie had under command over six thousand men and a thousand horse. Baillie was strong where Montrose was weak, and weak where he was strong: Baillie's power lay in his splendidly mounted mail-clad cavalry. His foot were raw levies, untried in battle for the most part. The arms of Montrose's Highlanders were the baskethilted claymore, a target with a pike in its orb borne on the left arm, a pair of steel pistols, a dirk and a skean. dhu in the right garter. A considerable number of trusted veterans were armed with the long-barrelled musket. The army of the Covenant contained three regiments from Fife, one regiment of Argyllshire Highlanders, and besides Argyll and Baillie had for subordinate commanders Tullibardine, Balcarris, Burleigh ,and Elcho --every one of whom Montrose had beaten. The battle will be best understood by dividing it into the four prominent sections into which, upon a close scrutiny, it readily devolves.
1. The Decoy.
Ever since the Covenanting army had crossed the Carron, Montrose's scouts had been watching its every movement. Montrose clearly saw the strength of the enemy's cavalry, a strength which struck his army with consternation. He took an ingenious method of breaking this strength. He chose as the place whereon he would try conclusions with his antagonist as hillocky and hammocky a piece of ground as could anywhere be found. The loch which now fills one of the hollows was not yet in existence. The “Slaughter Howe,” where a fierce struggle took place, lies between the “Baggage Knowe" and Upper Banton. It is the hollow through which flows the Drum Burn. Looking down on the field from the heights above Colzium it seems the most unlikely place in the world for a battle to be fought, and the difficulty of using horsemen with effect is at once apparent. To this place Montrose stuck tenaciouslylike the war-leech he was—and into some cottages—the Hougomont of the battle—he threw some picked marksmen. Having made his cage, the difficulty was to get the big bird into it. He sent forward to Auchencloach a company of his army to deploy before the enemy, and gave out he was retreating. Baillie, the scholar of Gustavus Adolphus, was too wary a bird to be caught. He determined to stick to the flat fields about Holland Bush. But his fussy Committee crowded about him, overruled his verdict, and determined him to march forward on the retreating foe and capture him before he eluded their grasp. They were confident in their superior strength, and were eager to wipe out past defeats. Baillie was both irritated and exasperated. The decoy succeeded. They marched forward, and Montrose felt sure the big bird had fallen prey to the fowler when he saw the blue-bonneted regiments, their pikes glancing in the rays of the sun, their matches lighted, their drums beating, and their colours flying, pouring forward to the very place he wanted them to occupy.
II. The Charge of the Covenanting Dragoons on the
Cottages. The moment Baillie got into his new position he at once planted a few pieces of artillery to command the little glen or “Slaughter Howe.” Again he was interfered with by his ignorant and meddlesome Committee. They were of opinion they should occupy a position more to the right. The general considered the new ground objectionable, and angrily warned them against making any move in that direction. He was supported by Lord Balcarris and Alexander Lyndsay, the General of the Horse. The Committee were inexorable, and so the line was stretched out, the right wing touching the hill and the left Dullatur Bog, then a much more extensive swamp than now, for the Forth and Clyde Canal was not then made nor the Kelvin cut. It seemed to Montrose as if he was to be surrounded, but he hailed with pleasure the new and most disorderly development, as he saw that it meant fatal weakness in his enemy's centre. Gathering his clansmen close together under his own command, with one portion facing the east and the other inclined to the south, he determined to concentrate his strength on the enemy's weakest part and strike him there a staggering blow. Baillie kept his 3000 Fife men in reserve, but he bit his lip with rage, believing that through the new movement the battle was lost before it was begun.
The hearts of the clansmen quailed when they saw the splendidly accoutred horsemen of the Covenant wheeling into position, their steel breast-plates, helmets, and greaves glancing in the rays of the sun. Montrose was equal to the occasion. He exhorted them that their officers could not get these men, whom they had beaten at Auldearn and Tibbermuir, to come before them without encasing them in mail. Let them show their contempt for them by fighting them in their shirts. Then he threw off his cuirass and richly laced buff doublet and rode along the line, sword in hand, waving his plumed beaver. His enthusiasm ran along the lines like wildfire, and his warriors, nothing loath, in the burning heat, unbuckled their baldricks, and, standing in their shirts, gave their dashing commander a lusty cheer. Still, though his clansmen were growing irrepressible, he would not budge an inch from his chosen ground. Seeing they could not, however, be long restrained, he sent forth a trumpeter to blow as near to Baillie's ranks as he was able, an insulting and taunting challenge. The blast was answered by a roar of rage and hatred. Stung by the gibe, but without their general's orders, a regiment of cavalry charged down on the thatch-roofed cottages --Hougomont-where the Highland marksmen were concealed. The windows, sheds, walls, the impromptu trenches and defences, spat fire. Every.bullet found its billet. Saddles were emptied in scores as the cavalry surged up to the enclosures. The place could not be taken by horse, and there was nothing for them but to wheel back again to the body of the army. It was a mad charge, and a bad beginning for the army of the Covenant.
III. The Onset of the M'Leans and M‘Donalds.
A similar piece of folly was perpetrated on the side of Montrose, and was like to have cost him dear. As the cavalry fell back, Baillie pushed forward three regiments of infantry, flanked by two troops of horse and one of lancers. Seeing the movement, the M'Leans of the Isles and the M‘Donalds of Clan Ranald, who had been disputing as to precedence, and as to which should have the honour of first closing with the enemy, rushed forward from the ranks without Montrose's command. They passed through the enclosures, and with heads bent down behind their targets, their claymores drawn and their warpipes shrilling wildly, they swept through the haugh, having their ranks torn by Baillie's cannon. Sir Lachlan of Duairt and John of Moidart, two noted clansmen, fell. Having found their foemen, in their wild rage, they attacked the horse and foot of the Covenanters indiscriminately. In a very brief space every man of them would have been overpowered and cut to pieces. Mon. trose, however, determined he would do what he could to rescue them from the fatal results of their own rashness. He commanded that aged veteran, the Earl of Airlie, to march out with all speed and arrest the horsemen, who were preparing a flank movement to surround and engulf the hapless clansmen. Airlie got his menthe Ogilvies—in the very nick of time into action. He arrested the onset of the horse, who were threatening the rear of the M‘Leans and M‘Donalds. He next charged