The Battle of Alford, 1645
Although he had defeated one Covenanter army at Auldearn, the Marquis of Montrose had to overcome Lieutenant-General Baillie's main force before he could move out of the Highlands and into central Scotland. Alasdair MacColla returned to western Scotland to raise reinforcements while Montrose and Baillie once again spent several weeks manoeuvring across Moray and Aberdeenshire trying to gain a tactical advantage.
The two armies finally met early in July 1645 at Alford, twenty miles west of Aberdeen. While Baillie approached from the north, Montrose took up a strong position on Gallows Hill overlooking a ford across the swift-flowing River Don. He placed most of his troops on the reverse slope of the hill out of sight with a small force on the crest in order to encourage Baillie to advance. As Montrose expected, Baillie thought that the Royalist troops were retreating and sent his cavalry across the ford to outflank them. As soon as most of the Covenanter horse had crossed onto the marshy ground on the south side of the river, Montrose ordered his whole army to advance to the crest of the hill. Unable to retreat safely, Baillie was forced to deploy close to the Don in an area of marshy ground, using hedgerows and wet ditches to strengthen his position. Both sides drew up in standard formation, with two cavalry wings and infantry in the centre.
The Covenanter army comprised six regular infantry regiments (Cassillis's, Elcho's, Lanark's, Moray's, Glencairn's, Callendar's) and a seventh regiment of Aberdeenshire levies, a total of around 2,400 men. The 600 Covenanter horse were commanded by Lord Balcarres on the left flank and Sir James Halkett on the right. Montrose had about the same number of foot but only 300 horse. Lord Gordon's cavalry were placed on the Royalist right wing and Lord Aboyne's on the left, with Irish companies in support. In the centre were the Strathbogie regiment, Colonel Farquarson of Inverary's regiment, the MacDonald Highlanders and Manus O'Cahan's Irish companies. A small reserve under the command of Lord Napier was placed in the rear.
Baillie was reluctant to advance against the strong Royalist position on Gallows Hill. The battle began when Lord Gordon charged down the hill against Lord Balcarres' cavalry, who were veterans of Marston Moor. In the first significant cavalry fight of the civil wars in Scotland, Balcarres held his ground against the Royalists and almost succeeded in driving them back until Lieutenant-Colonel Laghtnan led the supporting Irishmen in a decisive intervention. Throwing down their pikes and muskets, they got in among the Covenanter formation and used swords and dirks to hamstring their horses. Panic quickly set in, and Balcarres' surviving troopers broke and fled.
On the opposite wing, the cavalry of Lord Aboyne and Sir James Halkett were engaged in an ineffectual exchange of carbine and pistol fire. Lord Gordon led his cavalry right around the rear of the Covenanter army to fall upon Halkett's troopers from behind. The Covenanter horse were quickly routed, but Lord Gordon was killed during the confused fighting. According to tradition, he was shot in the back by a stray bullet fired by one of his own men.
The routing of the Covenanter horse on both flanks soon led to the collapse of the infantry in the centre. Having stood firm in a firefight with the Royalist foot, the Covenanters were overwhelmed and broken when attacked from the flank and rear by the Royalist horse. The fleeing Covenanters were cut down as they tried to escape back across the ford.
Lieutenant-General Baillie offered his resignation after the defeat at Alford and Parliament decided to recall Major-General Monro from Ulster to command all forces in Scotland. However, Baillie was obliged to continue his command until Monro's arrival. Meanwhile, a deputation from the Committee of Estates, including the Marquis of Argyll, Lord Balfour of Burleigh and several leading clergymen, accompanied Baillie on campaign to offer him advice on strategy and tactics.
S.R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War vol. ii (London 1889)
Peter Gaunt, The Cromwellian Gazetteer (Stroud 1987)
Stuart Reid, Auldearn 1645: the Marquis of Montrose's Scottish campaign (Osprey 2003)
William Seymour, Battles in Britain 1066-1746 (Ware 1997)
David Stevenson, Revolution & Counter-Revolution in Scotland 1644-51 (Newton Abbott 1977)
Trevor Royle: Civil War: the wars of the Three Kingdoms 1638-60 (London 2004)
Alford UK Battlefields Resource Centre