13 to 17 June 1685
After the Battle of Ardkinglas, Argyll elected to march east. This was due to the Royal Navy starting to blockage Argyll’s stronghold on Eilean Dearg. However, being unable to attack the warships, Argyll decided to breakout east towards Glasgow but Government forces blocked their path at the village of Killearn.
Why did the Earl of Argyll March East?
The evening of 12 June, saw Argyll and his Whig Army celebrating their victory at Ardkinglas. However, things had not gone to plan at Eilean Dearg Castle. The three Royal Navy frigates dominated the entrance to Loch Ruel and were visible from the Castle. The Whig gunners had fired the odd pot shot, but the balls just bounced off the warship’s solid hulls. With the castle full of arms and ammunition it was clear that they would soon try to capture the stronghold. That night Argyll left the celebrations taking the horse and as many volunteers as possible south. The Earl arrived in time to see the Navy ships within cannon shot of the castle, but still the other side of the shallows at the Loch mouth. Looking to seize the moment, Argyll ordered his fleet to be ready for war, and sent his men into the flotilla of small boats. His plan was to send his larger ships forward to draw the enemy fire, while the smaller boats full of soldiers could board and overwhelm the warships. However, his Dutch sailors refused to move stating they hadn’t been paid to fight. Without his fleet, Argyll was forced to abandon his attack.
The Fall of Eilean Dearg Castle
Leaving a foot company at the Castle of Eilean Dearg, Argyll ordered his army to march east that night. The following morning his men start crossing Loch Long, to reach Garelochhead that night. Behind him on the Cowal, Atholl had advanced to Glendaruel with his vanguard and on 15 June, the Royal Navy warship entered the Loch and made ready to bombard Eilean Dearg Castle. After the fire shot, under a white flag, a small boat rowed out to the flagship. Onboard were the hostages taken on Orkney, five weeks earlier. They told the Captain that the Whigs had fled but had lit a fuse into the magazine. Not wasting a moment, a landing party was sent across to the Castle just in time to extinguish the fuse, saving the fleet from disaster.
The March East across the Hills
From Garelochhead, Argyll’s took his men across the hills to the River Leven and that night they crossed onto the eastern bank to camp near Bonhill. In the morning, cold and hungry the Whigs continued the march east hoping to bypass Glasgow and reach Stirling. However, a patrol from the Government forces had spotted the Whig movement and sent a warning to Dumbarton at Glasgow. The Scots General saw the danger and took his Cavalry north, ordering his Infantry and Artillery to follow. Argyll had spotted the Government forces moving to intercept his move east and deployed his men to face the oncoming foe near Killearn. On the night of 17 June, the Whig Army had shrunk to under 1,000 soldiers, to be faced by a force of over 1,500 Government troops, including light Artillery. Although the ground was good for defence, the Whig leaders agreed to a night march to the ferry over the River Clyde at Old Kilpatrick.
The Night March to Old Kilpatrick
The Whig lit campfires and posted vedettes, while across the valley the Government forces stood at their arms anticipating a night attack. Argyll ordered men to form up leaving Rumbold and what remained of the cavalry as the rear-guard. While the vanguard was led by Cochrane, with the volunteer companies. As they crossed the hills, gaps appeared in the ranks as the vanguard pressed forward, these were exaggerated by some taking the opportunity to slip away. At the rear Cochrane’s cavalry became lost as they missed the path taken by the others. By the time Cochrane reached the outskirts of the Old Kilpatrick, the column behind him was ragged and disintegrating.
However, ahead was the ferry and after rushing the Militia guarding the crossing, Cochrane took two boats across the river to seize the south bank. Under heavy fire, the Whigs captured the ferry bridge and created a bridgehead. Unfortunately, on the north bank the Whig Army had lost all cohesion with soldier pillaging houses for food, and others totally lost in the hills, including Rumbold and all the cavalry. With disaster close at hand, Argyll gave the order that every man was to fend for himself. Then with a small party of friends and his son, Argyll crossed the Clyde and headed towards Renfrew, aiming for Glasgow.
This account is based on a more detail description of the Earl of Argyll’s campaign in Scotland available from Helion & Company in my Book Fighting For Liberty.