Drumclog 1 June 1679

Drumclog was the only occasion when the Covenanters gained a military victory over the government forces. Modest though the victory was, it gave them great hope. 

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The battle came about when the Covenanters were assembling near Loudon Hill in Ayrshire, for worship on the Sabbath. Nearby John Graham of Claverhouse was pursuing the murderers of Archbishop Sharp (3 May 1679) and had taken some fifteen conventiclers prisoner at Hamilton including the Rev John King, chaplain to Lord Cardross. They reached Strathaven at about six o`clock in the morning and heard of the conventicle assembling that day at Glaister Law  or Hairlawhill some eight miles away and about two miles from Darvel.  Swaggering and boasting of his intentions to seize the conventiclers  Claverhouse and troopers, with prisoners in tow `tied as beasts`, came upon the meeting on the morning of Sunday 1 June 1679 at Drumclog. 

The Covenanters held a council of war and appointed Robert Hamilton of Prestonpans as leader, apparently because he was the only gentleman or person of any social standing. Hamilton had no military qualifications  and his first order displayed a lack of tact  " I, being called to command, gave out the word that no quarter should be given". This was later to be the cause for executing a prisoner who had been given quarter and illustrates the extreme views  that some held, including  Hamilton who sought to have five other prisoners executed but others were more humane. The extremists held that failure to kill God`s enemies was weakness and a cause of  curses resting on the unhappy Kirk.   Soon, however, a watchman warned of the approach of the troopers and the minister, the Rev. Douglas, is reputed to have told the young armed men “ Ye have got the theory; now for the practice.”  Thus addressed the unarmed men, women and children went to the hillside above the chosen battle ground while the men, and some women, marched forward singing psalms. In particular they sang Psalm 76 `In Judah`s land God is well known` with its menacing finish " By Him the spirits shall be cut off." This  same Psalm had been sung by the Rev Robert Bruce  at the Edinburgh Mercat Cross when news of the defeat of the Armada was received in 1588. It would be sung again by Alexander Shields and the Covenanters at Douglas Cross at the Glorious Revolution in 1688. 

 On this occasion the Covenanters outnumbered Claverhouse and his troopers by about four to one (some claim the Covenanters totalled 1500) and they had the advantage of knowing the ground. James King Hewison in The Covenanters  gives Claverhouse as having not more than 150 soldiers. Hamilton probably had about fifty men on horses  and two hundred and fifty infantry.  Armed with mainly farm implements - scythes, cleeks, pikes, pitchforks, and the odd fowling gun, the Covenanters assembled at the bottom of a hill which had marshy ground to the sides,  which gave them a secure position from which to mount their attack. Among the Covenanter officers were some eminent names - Hackston of Rathillet, John Balfour, Henry Hall of Haughshead, Robert Fleming, John Loudon, John Brown, and  the young William Cleland.

Claverhouse ordered his troopers to open fire almost as soon as they arrived but the musketry was a mere preliminary; he wanted to get at close quarters where military training and expertise could be brought to bear. He made his first mistake by sending troopers into the bog to find some solid footing so that all might come through. But the horses struggled, some riders were unseated and musket fire also took a toll.  Before the troopers realised it Kinloch`s cavalry and the young William Cleland with his troop of infantry were through the bog and amongst them. They were followed by the psalm singing  throng as they threaded their way through the bogs and took on the troopers at close quarters. The troopers lost about 36 of their number killed and 7 taken prisoner, before they turned and fled towards Glasgow. Amongst the troopers to fall was Cornet Robert Graham, Corporal Crawford and a Captain Blyth. To the fore in the fighting was the eighteen year old William Cleland of Douglas, described as a soldier poet. He would later do great service for the Covenanters  as  a Lt Colonel, leading the Cameronian Regiment at Dunkeld in 1689.

Hewison records that Claverhouse had first offered a surrender but his demands were spurned and he had to attack. An exchange of fire took place and Claverhouse dismounted some of his men to take firing positions. The Covenanters, realising that they were out gunned, resorted to  the desperate charge by Cleland, Dingwall and drumclogmmt.jpg (51540 bytes) Weir on horses, accompanied by some women and fiercely yelling men armed with pike and pitchfork. It was too much for the troopers who could not control their horses in the bog.  Claverhouse was almost taken by William Cleland but was let go, then had his horse`s belly slashed by a pike or pitch fork. This stampeded his horse, which careered off with its bowels hanging out ,and caused him to ride away, some claim a mile, "so that his men were cowed and fled too".  Over thirty soldiers were left dead on the field and another twelve were killed in their flight when the people of Strathaven  tried to block their passage. They attacked the fleeing troopers in  a narrow road called "Hole-Closs". Nearby in Strathaven is "The Trumpeters Well"  in which tradition has it a 14 year old trumpeter with Claverhouse`s troop was trapped and ended his life.

The Covenanters killed were few - Thomas Fleming of Loudon; John Morton and John Gebbie of Newmilns; Dingwall of Strathaven and William Daniel (both of them party to  Archbishop Sharp`s assassination a month earlier); James Thomson of Stonehouse; and Thomas Weir of Lesmahagow. Among the surviving Covenanters was the valiant Sarjeant Nisbet, son of  the martyr John Nisbet of Hardhill, who was said to be personally accounted for seven of Claverhouses` troopers.

A large number of Covenanters gathered following the victory and marched on Glasgow . However, poor leadership, no cannon, and lack of direction only resulted in skirmishing and the Covenanters withdrew without taking the city. A golden opportunity was lost as it gave Claverhouse and the royalist troops in Glasgow an opportunity to re-group and to send for reinforcements. The Covenanters eventually withdrew to the town of Hamilton where their numbers grew to about 5000 in number. Almost inevitably factions  started arguing amongst themselves and they split into two groups - the Indulged, and the die hard “honest” party led by Robert Hamilton. Already the stage was being set for a decisive battle, and a rout for the Covenanters, at Bothwell Brig on 22 June. 

Claverhouse famously declared 

They pursued us so hotly, that we got no time to rally. I saved the standards, but lost on the place about eight or ten men, besides wounded; but the dragoons lost many more.”  

The Rev. John King and the other prisoners of Claverhouse were rescued ; King  is said to have facetiously called after the departing Claverhouse 

" will ye no` stay for the afternoon preachin` ?".

Mauchline Moor 12 June 1648

Rullion Green 28 November 1666

Bothwell Brig 22 June 1679

Ayrs Moss 22 July 1680

 

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