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The Battle of Dunbar

The Battle of Dunbar
In July 1650, we heard that Oliver Cromwell and his English troops had crossed the border into Scotland. Our Generals, with David Leslie commanding in the field, prepared us to send them packing back to England. Cromwell brought around three and a half thousand cavalry and seven and a half thousand foot soldiers with him. Veteran troops they were, but we thought they would be no match for us – we were a bigger army on both counts. If I’m truthful, we weren’t at our best. There were many young men among us. It had been a rainy summer. We were all tired and sick, damp and hungry – I dare say the English were the same.
By August the English Army had fallen back east along the coast towards the harbour at Dunbar to re-supply and offload their sick.
We trapped them there where our troops took up position to the south of the town, on the slopes of Doon Hill. Along the sea and beaches we blocked Cromwell’s route back to England and prepared for battle. Yesterday, some of our troops moved off from the high ground on Doon Hill to the lower slopes along the Brox Burn. We couldn’t really work out why – maybe we were too eager for the fight or the Generals were still worried about Cromwell getting away south. But that manoeuvre was a mistake - it left gaps in our lines and leaving the high ground made us vulnerable to attack. More than that, it gave Cromwell time to think.
That same afternoon a small detachment of English soldiers crossed Brox Burn and hid in a local ‘poor house’. We soon drove them off and were confident that this heralded victory when the battle came.
But we were outsmarted. Instead of waiting until daybreak, the next day, at first light, Cromwell’s army crossed the burn and launched a surprise attack. We just weren’t ready. English troops broke through our lines ploughing into our infantry and splitting them from the cavalry. We fought as hard as we could, but when Cromwell’s cavalry reached the top of the lower slopes of Doon Hill; we were lost.
I’ll never forget the fighting. I’m told it was over quickly but it felt like forever.
I saw mates of mine killed, and terrible injuries to my own kin. Bones shattered and limbs torn off. Men bleeding from deep wounds and cuts from swords, pikes and knives. Splintered bone flew like the finest shrapnel into soldiers around the target. We had no idea what was in store for us when we were rounded up by the English. We heard a good few of ours got away and were chased by Cromwell’s soldiers, including our General, David Leslie. Our camp at Doon Hill was plundered and the weapons we had left behind were taken by the English. Thousands of our comrades died, far more than the English. Our dead were stripped of their weapons and personal possessions.
After the battle, the English released our most sick and wounded men to go home – there must have been thousands of them. The townsfolk of Dunbar used carts to fetch them back from the battlefield. Those of us left standing, almost 4,000 of us, were taken prisoner. They didn’t bother to take the names of regular soldiers like me, but they listed the names of all our officers. We tried to ignore the English soldiers who gloated in their victory. They said it showed God’s support for their cause rather than the Scottish Kirk and that they would soon control all of Scotland.
We were more worried about what was going to happen to us next. They are telling us we are going to march south over the border – so when we’ll next see Scotland I don’t know. Who knows what will become of us in the end, but at the moment all I want is a hot meal and a night’s sleep.

This video tells the story of the battle of Dunbar from an imagined point of view of one of the soldiers who was taken prisoner.

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Archaeology and the Battle of Dunbar 1650: From the Scottish Battlefield to the New World

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