Clifton Moor Skirmish

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Clifton Moor Skirmish
Part of the Jacobite rising of 1745
Map of Clifton Moor action 1745.jpg
Action at Clifton Hall, the 18th of December, James Johnstone
Date18 December 1745
Location 54°37′37″N2°43′05″W / 54.627°N 2.718°W / 54.627; -2.718 Coordinates: 54°37′37″N2°43′05″W / 54.627°N 2.718°W / 54.627; -2.718
Result Jacobite victory
Jacobite Standard (1745).svg Jacobites Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg  Great Britain
Commanders and leaders
Jacobite Standard (1745).svg George Murray Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg Duke of Cumberland
Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg Philip Honywood [1]
400-500 300
Casualties and losses
13 killed and wounded 14 killed and wounded

The Clifton Moor Skirmish took place on the evening of Wednesday 18th December during the Jacobite rising of 1745. Following the decision to retreat from Derby on 6th December, the fast-moving Jacobite army split into three smaller columns; on the morning of 18th, a small force of dragoons led by Cumberland and Sir Philip Honywood made contact with the Jacobite rearguard, at that point commanded by Lord George Murray.


Murray ordered his baggage train to continue its retreat towards Penrith while he delayed Cumberland's force. The action did not begin until late afternoon, in failing light and heavy rain; while technically a draw, it enabled Murray to retreat in good order and escape into Scotland.

Sometimes suggested as the last battle on English soil, there are numerous other claimants, such as the 1940 Battle of Graveney Marsh.

Background; the retreat from Derby

The Jacobite Army stayed on the first night of retreat at Ashbourne, Derbyshire. [2] They reached Leek the following day: on the 9th, both Jacobite divisions met on the road to Manchester.

The Jacobite army left Manchester on the 10th and reached Wigan that night. The next day they reached Preston; the Duke of Perth was sent north with a cavalry escort to bring back reinforcements from Scotland. Prince Charles and the main army arrived in Lancaster on the evening of the 13th; the Jacobite commanders considered staying there and fighting, but their lieutenant-general Lord George Murray had also received reports that a large body of General George Wade's dragoons had entered Preston shortly after the Jacobite departure. Charles changed his mind and decided to continue northwards.

The government forces under Wade and the Duke of Cumberland arrived at Macclesfield on 10th December, where Cumberland was told the Jacobites had left Manchester that day. Leaving Lancaster on 15th December, Charles' army was scarcely out of the town when an advance guard of government horse entered it. The Jacobites formed in order of battle, but upon the alarm turning out to be false, the army to continued to Kendal.

The army entered Kendal that night, where they were met by Perth and his party, who had turned back after being attacked by militia at Penrith. On Murray's advice the Jacobite army passed the night of 16th December at Shap, arriving at the village of Clifton the following day.

Arrival at Clifton

While Charles and the lead Jacobite forces had reached Penrith, the rearguard, under Murray, left Shap on the morning of 18th December, followed at a distance by local militia. Around 2-300 government cavalry formed up on Thrimby Hill in the rearguard's path; unsure of the size of the forces facing him, Murray initially held his position. [3]

Colonel Brown, a professional in the Irish Brigade who led the Jacobite column, moved several companies of the Edinburgh Regiment forward in attack. Murray, at the rear, ordered Glengarry's Regiment across country to support them. Both parties were surprised to find the only enemy in view was the light horse they had observed a few minutes before, who galloped off in disorder at the Jacobites' appearance.

The rearguard resumed its march, and on reaching the village of Clifton, Murray sent the artillery and heavy baggage forward to Penrith under a small escort. He placed several units in the enclosures around Lowther Hall in the hope of attacking the government cavalry; they succeeded in taking two prisoners, who told Murray that Cumberland himself, with 4,000 horse, was about a mile behind him. He sent Colonel Stuart to Charles at Penrith, requesting reinforcements and approval to make a stand at Clifton. Back in the village, Murray gathered his available forces. He posted the Glengarry men in enclosures west of the road, with the Appin Regiment and Macpherson of Cluny's on the east, and the Edinburgh Regiment on the road closer to Clifton.

The Skirmish

Late in the afternoon about 500 government dragoons dismounted and advanced towards the Jacobite positions. Murray was told that Charles's orders were to immediately retreat to Penrith, but could not disengage as the dragoons had already begun firing on them.

Murray gave verbal orders to the Glengarry officers to support an attack on the hedges and ditches separating the dragoons from their positions; he then returned east of the road and placed himself at the head of the Macphersons. It was now about an hour after sunset, with occasional moonlight through broken cloud; the Jacobites had the advantage of being able to see their opponents but their own movements could not be observed.

The Stewarts and Macphersons marched forward at the word of command, as did the Macdonalds and MacDonnells on the west. The men on the west kept firing as they advanced, but the Macphersons, who were on the east, soon came into contact with the English dragoons and received the whole of their fire. Murray drew his sword and cried out, "Claymore!", and Cluny Macpherson doing the same, the Macphersons rushed down to the bottom ditch of the enclosure. Clearing the diagonal hedges as they went, they fell sword in hand upon the enemy, of whom a considerable number were killed at the lower ditch. The rest retreated across the moor, but received in their flight the fire of the MacDonnell of Glengarry regiment.


Twelve Jacobite soldiers were killed in the skirmish. The only Jacobite officer wounded was the Macdonald of Glengarry chief. Lord George Murray had several narrow escapes.

Ten Government dragoons were killed and four of their officers wounded. One British dragoon is recorded as dying in Clifton several weeks later, presumably of wounds received in the battle. [4] The dragoons killed in the battle are buried in St Cuthbert's churchyard. Near the churchyard gate is a stone commemorating the skirmish.

The only prisoner taken on this occasion was a footman of the Duke of Cumberland. This man was sent back to his royal highness by Charles.

A skeleton wearing tartan, found in the 1920s near Stanhope, is believed to have been a Jacobite casualty of the skirmish, though this is uncertain.

Most recent battle on English soil

There are at least three contenders for the claim to have been the last battle on English soil, as different historians have used different definitions for what constitutes a battle. If Clifton Moor was a "skirmish" and not a battle, and if the Battle of Preston, fought during Jacobite rising of 1715, was a siege and not a battle, and the Battle of Reading (1688) is discounted as a street fight, then the last pitched battle on English soil was the battle of Sedgemoor fought in 1685, which was the decisive battle in the Monmouth Rebellion. However either of the former, or possibly the Battle of Bossenden Wood (1838), can also be considered the last battle, depending on how a battle is defined [5] [6] while the Battle of Graveney Marsh (1940) could also be counted as a skirmish. There is also a certain semanticism in the expression "last battle on English soil", for it specifically excludes the subsequent Second World War air battles over English soil, particularly the Battle of Britain (10 July to 31 October 1940) which was fought in the skies over Kent and the winter blitz of 1940–1941 which is sometimes called the Battle of London. The claim to be the most recent battle site in England, for what were relatively small armed confrontations, is useful for promoting tourism at the locations. [6] [7]

See also

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  1. Royle 2016, p. 57.
  2. Most of the account which follows is from the Paisley Tartan Army's webpage on the Clifton skirmish. This page is, in turn, almost a direct copy of the account in James Browne's A History of the Highlands and of the Highland Clans, originally published in Glasgow in 1834.
  3. Memoirs of the Rebellion in 1745, the Chevalier de Johnstone, Longman & Co, London 1822, cited in The Retreat of the Highlanders through Westmoreland in 1745, Ferguson RS Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society 1889
  4. Stuart Reid, 1745: A Military History of the Last Jacobite Rising. New York: Sarpedon, 1996.
  5. Clifton Hall, English Heritage, Retrieved 2008-11-18
  6. 1 2 Battle of Sedgemoor Interpretation Trail [ permanent dead link ], Somerset Tourism Telegram, Somerset County Council, November 2006
  7. Jacobite tree – Clifton, BBC Cumbria, Retrieved 2008-11-18