Commander: Charles Edward Stuart, Jacobite Prince of Wales
The Jacobite army at Prestonpans was primarily composed of Highlanders, most of whom would have spoken Gaelic as their first language. The army had existed for only four weeks, most of which was spent marching rather than training. Organised like a normal army of its time, the men were arranged in regiments under command of their officers. However, regiments made from Highland clan groups could differ in size, so smaller clans would generally become attached to larger ones. This sometimes makes it difficult to work out who was really where, and how independently some clans could operate.
The army had one commander-in-chief, the Prince, who was an active and involved leader. Beneath him were two deputies, ranked as lieutenant-generals, who took turns to hold seniority each day. These were James Drummond, the Duke of Perth, and Lord George Murray.
At Prestonpans, the army was organised into three large groups called divisions. One was led by the Duke of Perth. This arrived on the battlefield first and formed the right wing. It contained the three Clan Donald regiments, made up of the MacDonalds of Clanranald, Keppoch, Glencoe, the MacDonells of Glengarry, and the Grants of Glenmoriston.
The second division was led by Lord George Murray on the left: the Cameron, Appin and the Duke of Perth’s regiments, and a company of MacGregors.
The third division was commanded by Lord Nairne, although the Prince was also stationed here. It formed the reserve line, and contained the Athollmen, the Robertsons, and the MacLachlans.
Most of the men were Highland clothing, giving the army a colourful and formidable appearance. The men at the front were the best equipped, many carrying expensive broadswords and targes (round wooden shields). The Jacobites also had a large number of muskets, and some had pistols too. The regiments formed into lines, and as they advanced and fired their guns, they condensed into deep clusters or columns, gaining momentum for a rapid charge.
Commander: Lieutenant-General, Sir John Cope
The British army was the formal national army of Great Britain. They are sometimes referred to as the Government forces, although technically the army was loyal to the ruling king (George II) rather than his government. The term “Hanoverian” is also often used, although that creates confusion with the formal state army of Hanover in Germany, which was also loyal to George II. The soldiers of the British army are often nicknamed “the redcoats” because of their red uniforms. The soldiers at Prestonpans came from all over the British Isles.
The British military in Scotland was commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir John Cope, a well-regarded professional officer. After leaving a number of strategic garrisons in place, Cope was able to gather around 2,500 soldiers to oppose the Jacobite challenge. He trusted in the superior training and firepower of his soldiers, and his large number of horsemen.
Cope had two regiments of dragoons, who fought on horseback but had muskets as well as pistols and swords. Each regiment had around 300 men, and was divided into three squadrons. Two squadrons of cavalry were posted at each end of the battle-line. The third squadrons were kept back as a reserve.
The infantry formed the main battle-line. These soldiers fought in lines three men deep, with the front men kneeling down and the others firing over them. They were trained to fire their muskets in blocks called platoons, which allowed a constant fire to continue whilst other platoons were reloading. Some of Cope’s regiments were not complete at Prestonpans. For example, there were only two of the ten companies of Guise’s Regiment present at the battle, as the other companies were defending forts in the Highlands. Regiments in 1745 were still known by the names of their senior officer, the colonel, rather than by a number. In their red uniforms
Cope’s infantry were supported by a train of artillery: 6 light cannon, and six mortars. Although he lacked trained crews to fire these weapons, he had improvised teams from volunteer sailors and veteran “Invalids”.
Cope’s army, although small, made a fine appearance with its uniformity of dress and regularity of movement. Unfortunately, even many of the soldiers who had been in the army for several years had never actually faced battle before, and they were about to face something they had never witnessed before: a Highland charge.
Although British army regiments had numbers, in 1745 they were usually known by the name of their colonel instead. This created some confusion, as commanders often transferred to other regiments. In 1747 it was decided to name regiments by their number alone, and many were reassigned new ones. Many numbers changed again following further reforms in 1751. In the 19th century, many regiments received territorial designations, and there have been frequent mergers. This table should help you to track the regiments of Prestonpans.
Murray’s Regiment: 57th Foot (1747); 46th Foot (1751); 46th South Devonshire; Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry; 3rd Bat. The Rifles (current). Regimental Museum
Lascelles’ Regiment: 58th Foot; 47th Foot; 47th (Lancashire); Loyal North Lancashire; Queen’s Lancashire; Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment (current). Regimental Museum
Guise’s Regiment: 6th Foot; 6th (1st Warwickshire); Royal Warwickshire Regiment; Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (current). Regimental Museum
Lee’s Regiment: 55th Foot; 44th Foot; 44th (East Essex); Essex Regiment; 3rd Bat. Royal Anglian Regiment (current). Regimental Museum
Hamilton’s 14th Dragoons: 14th Light Dragoons; 14th King’s Hussars; King’s Royal Hussars (current). Regimental Museum
Gardiner’s 13th Dragoons: 13th Light Dragoons; 13th Hussars; 13th/18th Royal Hussars; The Light Dragoons (current). Regimental Museum
Although not part of the main battle-line, the British army’s baggage guard was made up of understrength companies from Loudoun’s Highlanders and one company of the Black Watch. Loudoun’s regiment was disbanded in 1748, but the Black Watch is of course one of Scotland’s most famous military units (Regimental Museum). Today it forms the 3rd battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland.
Unlike their redcoat opponents of course, the Jacobite army’s regiments do not have direct successor units in the modern age. The army ceased to exist in the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden, following which the surviving regiments disbanded. However, the nature of the Highland regiments means that their memory is still sustained by the clans today, many of which have active societies. Here are some links to those representing clans which fought at Prestonpans.
Duke of Perth’s Division: Clan Donald