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Battle of Aberdeen

Privacy Level: Open (White)
Date: 13 Sep 1644 [unknown]
Location: [unknown]
Surnames/tags: Scotland Miltary_and_War
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Related page: Space:Scotland in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms

A part of Scotland in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms

Battle of Aberdeen

The Battle of Aberdeen was an engagement in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms which took place between Royalist and Covenanter forces outside the city of Aberdeen on 13 September 1644.

After defeating Lord Elcho's forces at the Battle of Tippermuir, outside Perth, Montrose's forces had captured a large cache of weapons and munitions when they ransacked Perth. Most of the Highland clansmen departed with their plunder after Tippermuir, and Lord Kilpont's men disbanded after Kilpont himself was murdered by his own second-in-command, Stewart of Ardvorlich. However, Montrose was joined by two troops of horse under Nathaniel Gordon and Sir Thomas Ogilvy.

Anxious to keep up the momentum of his campaign, Montrose left Perth on 4 September 1644 and marched north-east along the Firth of Tay. The well-defended burgh of Dundee was summoned to surrender but refused, so Montrose continued towards Aberdeen.

Montrose led these men on a rapid advance on Aberdeen, the main Covenanter sea port in Scotland, picking up a force of around 500 highlanders on the way. After a diversion to avoid being forced to take a fortified bridge over the River Dee, they reached Aberdeen on 12 September.

Montrose appeared before Aberdeen on 12 September with three Irish regiments (Laghtnan's, McDonnell's, O'Cahan's) totalling 1,500 men, 100 MacDonald Highlanders and two troops of horse. On 13 September, the burgh was summoned to surrender. During the negotiations, a soldier from the Covenanter garrison is said to have shot and killed a drummer boy accompanying the heralds, infuriating Montrose and his troops who swore vengeance on the Covenanters of Aberdeen.

Having refused the summons to surrender, a Covenanter force under the command of Lord Balfour of Burleigh marched out and deployed along the crest of a flat-topped ridge about half-a-mile south of the burgh. The ridge topped the northern slope of the How Burn valley and overlooked a complex of buildings and ponds known as Justice Mills at its western end. Burleigh's infantry comprised around 2,000 men: two regular Covenanter regiments (his own and Lord Forbes'), the Aberdeen militia and some local levies. He also had around 300 cavalry, including three troops of regulars, which were deployed on the flanks.

The Battle took place at "Two Mile Cross", near the present site of the retail park at Brig' o' Dee. Montrose drew up an extended line of men, to prevent being out-flanked and placed a small group of horsemen at each end "otherwise, if they would disobey, that then he desired them to remove old aged men, women, and children out of the way, and to stand to their own peril". The battle began with a cannonade from the Covenanters field guns.

Lord Gordon on the Covenanters left wing attacked with his cavalry. Montrose moved his horse to assist on the right flank, and this small group of 44 horsemen repulsed and routed the Covenanter attack. Montrose quickly ordered these horsemen back into the line as they were now needed on the left where the battle was developing. Sweeping across to the other side of the field, they attacked the flanks of the Covenanters forces and forced them to flee.

Montrose then ordered an infantry attack up the centre, routing the Covenanters who started fleeing back towards the town. Lord Burleigh's 2500 defenders were soon overwhelmed - 160 men were killed.

Montrose remained in Aberdeen for three days. He either failed to control his troops, predominantly Irish and Highlanders, or he deliberately allowed the wholesale slaughter, pillage and rape of the civilian population. This act, and a similar event at Perth after the Battle of Tippermuir, caused widespread hatred for him and his cause in areas which were once Royalist and many families turned to the Covenanters. He fled Aberdeen to avoid a confrontation with the approaching Parliamentarian force under the Marquess of Argyll.

On 28 October, Argyll finally caught up with Montrose at Fyvie Castle in Aberdeenshire. Skirmishing continued for several days in the vicinity of the castle but Montrose maintained a strong defensive position and Argyll was unable to bring the smaller Royalist force to battle. When Argyll withdrew to find fodder for his cavalry horses, Montrose took the opportunity to escape across the hills to Blair Atholl. As many of Montrose's followers were deserting him, Argyll marched back to Edinburgh, convinced that the Royalist uprising would fade completely with the onset of winter.

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