After defeating Cope’s cavalry at Soutra and stalling Wade’s advance, the Jacobites marched out of Edinburgh with confidence. Poor weather delayed the attack and mired the road from Haddington, which meant that Murray’s and Perth’s divisions arrived ahead of the other divisions. Wade had encamped on the coast between Dunbar and Belhaven, establishing an entrenched battery on the high ground at Knock-en-hair, and a strong point at Lochend estate. Approaches to Lochend were defended by chevaux-de-frise. The Jacobites approached from the south-west, directing their march towards Lochend.
The Prince directed Perth’s division against Lochend and Murray’s against Knock-en-hair. The latter was preceded by artillery fire targeting the partially entrenched Fleming’s Regiment, but the appearance of Cope’s cavalry near Belhaven deterred a full charge. The British guns on the heights targeted the Jacobite batteries, with little effect. Perth’s assault on Lochend was ripped by devastating volleys, and the angle of the walls stalled any charge from the Appins, who were badly shot up by Pulteney’s. Fleming’s volleys quickly routed the Camerons. In the wake of this disaster, the Athollmen charged the Northumberland militia and routed them to gain control of the left. Jacobite casualties mounted, as the delayed arrival of the other divisions prevented the Jacobites exploiting their numerical advantage.
When Gordon’s division finally arrived, the Prince sent cavalry round his flank through Belhaven to engage Gardiner’s, and rotated some of his front line units and personally rallied some of those who had suffered worst. Wade extended his own left, pouring fire into the Jacobite gun battery there and knocking it out. But the arrival of Stapleton’s division and later Kilmarnock’s cavalry brigade allowed the Jacobites to extend in turn.
After heavy losses, the Jacobite centre successfully stormed the enclosures at Lochend, but Wade had forces on the north side which swept the interior clear. Nevertheless, this freed up the Stewarts of Appin to charge on the left, breaking through the lines. Fleming’s were driven off by musket and artillery fire, collapsing the British right and triggering a withdrawal of their reserve towards Dunbar churchyard. Ligonier’s Dragoons fought an heroic delaying action against Strathallan’s, Sir John Cope being amongst the fallen. Once they were broken, the Jacobite cavalry were able to sweep up Knock-en-hair and take the British guns. The Jacobite left and centre then advanced steadily around the north side of Lochend towards Dunbar.
Wade’s remaining force formed a hollow square centred on Dunbar Parish church, but as the Jacobite cavalry threatened to close off the road to England the redcoats extended their line out to their left. Heavy volleys kept the Jacobite horsemen at bay, inflicting heavy losses by stalling their charges. Kilmarnock’s Footguards, rallied by the Prince himself, stormed the flank of Blakeney’s regiment and the Royal Eccossois pushed forwards with steady volleys. Badly outnumbered now, Batteroy’s held defiantly at the churchyard long enough for three battalions to escape via Broxmouth. They surrendered with honour as darkness fell.
The Jacobite victory was costly, especially amongst the Highland units who suffered badly from the British fire in the early stages of the battle. The Jacobite cavalry had again performed bravely, but they had suffered severe losses whilst trying to cut off the retreat of Wade’s regular infantry. The Prince himself had been crucial, rallying faltering units and correcting failed order rolls.
Sir John Cope, fallen amongst the remnants of Gardiner’s/Ligonier’s Dragoons, redeemed his reputation by his long hard fight at Belhaven, which allowed Wade to withdraw his centre successfully.
Wade’s surviving battalions, strengthened by a composite battalion of survivors gathering along the march, made their way towards the border under cover of darkness. The Jacobites, badly mauled, did not pursue. Fresh recruits, already on their way, were absorbed into weakened clan regiments. Two other weakened units were despatched to Stirling and Edinburgh to replace the garrisons there, freeing up intact units for the campaign.