Heretical Gaming is my blog about my gaming life, featuring small skirmishes and big battles from many historical periods (and some in the mythic past or the far future too). The focus is on battle reports using a wide variety of rules, with the occasional rules review, book review and odd musing about the gaming and history. Most of the battles use 6mm-sized figures and vehicles, but occasionally 15mm and 28mm figures appear too.

Monday 19 July 2021

The Battle of Killiecrankie - A Savage Way of Fighting Battle Report

The Battle of Killiecrankie was the major battle of the 1689 Jacobite Uprising in Scotland, with a Jacobite Highlander force under James Graham, Viscount Dundee ambushing a Scottish government column under McKay.  From a tactical point of view, it is thought to be the first use of the plug bayonet by the government infantry, thus eliminating the need for pikemen.

Andy Callan's rules and article on the Jacobite rebellions in Wargames Illustrated 003 features a skeleton description of the battle, which I supplemented with information from Wikipedia and from the Battlefields of Britain website.  I revisited these rules in September 2019 when I re-fought Culloden.

The government forces outnumbered their Jacobite opponents and I settled on the following orders of battle for each side:

The Jacobite Army:

5 units of 500 Highland infantry (or 7 units of 350-360 Highland Infantry)
1 unit of 200 Cavalry
The Government Army:
4 units of 500 Experienced Infantry (or 3 units of 666)
4 units of 500 Raw Infantry (or 3 units of 666)
2 units of 200 Raw Cavalry
1 unit of 3 Light Guns

The numbers in brackets represent a more accurate division of the units to represent the forces on the day but because I use fixed unit bases, it makes more sense for me to use standard sized units.  That said, if I ever re-fight this again using these rules, I might keep the Government Army the same but use the smaller unit sizes for the Jacobites.

Although the Government Army did contain experienced troops, there is an argument for making all the Government troops 'Raw'.  I try not to be too influenced by what happened on the day however (since that creates a self-reinforcing effect) and I went with 'Experienced' for the regiments from the Scots' Brigade.

The Government's artillery was useless after a few rounds (broken/rotten carriages).  I simulated this by giving the gun battery a maximum of nine shots.

Although I was using stepped hills for this quick set-up game, the terrain is to be understood as a clear slope down towards the government lines, so the Jacobites count as 'uphill' until contact is made.

The Set-Up:

The Government Army is by the road (bottom) where it had been surprised and forced into a hasty deployment off the road.  This accounts for the unusual dispositions with the cavalry in the centre.  The infantry on the left is mostly Experienced, the infantry on the right is all Raw.  Mackay has made Urrard House (centre) his headquarters, whilst Killiecrankie can be seen bottom-right.  Just off the bottom edge of the table is the River Garry, which is impassable to anything resembling formed bodies of troops.

The Jacobite Army on the high ground, mirroring the deployment of the Government forces, with the cavalry in the centre, foot to each side.  The Government cavalry is in the foreground.

The Government Left.  The four right hand units are the experienced troops, only the left-hand regiment is 'Raw'.

And the Government Centre and Right, with the cavalry, artillery and the remaining Foot (all Raw).

Another view

The Battle:

The battle begins in predictable fashion - the Jacobites advance!  Note that the Goverment artillery has disappeared from the Government line, having fired it shots and become un-serviceable.

The left-hand troop of Government Cavalry becomes shaky...

Another view, from behind Government Left, as the Highlanders prepare to charge...

The left-hand Highland regiment (centre) is stopped by musketry as it crosses the path of the Government foot on the right

It is then broken by weight of fire (centre-right); the Government cavalry is all now looking distinctly shaky (left)...

The Government Left remains steady, delivering effective volleys as the Highlander Right charges home.

The disciplined fire of the Scots' foot breaks the spirit of the Highlanders

Although in the centre, the Government cavalry impotently turns and runs; the Highlanders pursue

The remaining cavalry of both sides is stuck in an ineffectual melee in front of Urrard House.  However, the Government Right, obeying signals from their General in the house, begins to wheel around (right)

The Jacobite Army has collapsed - the Government cavalry is in full-flight too (bottom-centre) but the Government infantry has held on and won the day.

 Game Notes: In form the game wasn't too dissimilar to reality, except that in this refight the Government Foot held on and wasn't swept away.  The classification of half the Government infantry as 'Experienced' rather than 'Raw' certainly increased the odds of this happening and if one wanted to refight the battle with the explicit aim of reproducing the historical outcome, then re-classifying all the Government infantry as 'Raw' would be the way to do it.

The rules themselves...all the individual mechanisms are basically fine.  Working casualties out as percentages isn't amazingly immersive as a game experience but it isn't exactly difficult.  The morale/reaction rules are quite well-calibrated I thought, as was the musketry and melee (generally).  Where the whole thing really struggles is in game structure.  I don't think I could tell you whether the game is meant to be by alternative or simultaneous movement.  The 'charge' routine is good as an individual mechanism, with its tests for whether the Government Foot will open fire too early or not, and whether the Highlanders will stop to fire some quick disruptive shot; but it is very  unclear how this interacts with other units not being charge being fired for instance.  And in some cases the wording of the mechanism is unclear, for quite important stuff: how many times the Government Foot can fire when being attacked for instance (it could be anything between 1 and 3 times, with variations in effect between 1% and 15% per volley, so it really makes a difference).

 I have mentioned before in the Comments on a similar subject that Andy Callan writes that he wrote these rules because:

1 - He prefers very period specific rules.

2 - He thinks that most C18 rules at the time (mid-80s) were designed for battles like Leuthen (C.85000 combatants, lasting hours) rather than Prestonpans (c.4000 combatants, lasting 20 minutes).

3 - He wanted to re-fight a solitaire map campaign with strengths expressed in individual soldiers, so he was committed to recording individual casualties.

Within those parameters, there is a set of useful ideas in there, but it needs some structural work I think to make it into a better functioning game.  But it is very worth having a look through/play through and seeing if it could be used or adapted by a player of this period.

And, because "why not?", here is The Braes O'Killiecrankie

Figures by Baccus 6mm, I think the house is by Leven, the buildings in Killiecrankie by Timecast.


  1. Interesting. I shall be subjecting my players to Killiecrankie some time over the summer, and will use Richard Brooks as my main source.

    1. Great, I will really look forward to that. I have some more Killiecrankiness coming up, using a couple of different rulesets.

    2. Expect a first deployment for my not quite correct pikemen.

    3. Your "not quite correct pikemen" will be much more correct than my "totally non-existent pikemen, in accordance with the magazine source material"...

    4. If there are no pikemen at Killiecrankie, I may have wasted some money.

    5. It seems likely that there were some pikemen at Killiecrankie (possibly on both sides) so you are probably safe enough, I just didn't use any because Andy Callan doesn't mention them and his rules don't make any allowance for them. It might have made some difference in the WRG game, but then the comparison would have been different and I would have had to worry about not all the Highlanders having muskets too.

    6. I'm thinking there were, as it is a James II army essentially, and the plug/socket bayonet is not universal (see Chandler & Nosworthy). BTW Have you looked at the "Soldiers of Killiecrankie" website. They're campaigning to stop a dual carriage way being built through it and there's a petition. And a load of videos I haven't watched yet.

    7. I noticed it this morning - I will have a look when I have some spare time. There seems to be some bits and pieces on the League of Augsburg site too.

  2. Very enjoyable battle report! As Graham mentions, we will likely be treated to this battle in the future,

    1. I am very much looking forward to seeing the piccies and reading the write-up

    2. I'm feeling the pressure now.

  3. Very nice and another good Jacobite battle:)

    1. Thanks Steve. I should really tidy up my collection and play the rest of them!