The Siege of Fort Augustus

By Jonathan Oates

275 years ago on this day, 5 March 1746, Major Hugh Wentworth, deputy governor of Fort Augustus (built 1729-1742, at the south-western end of Loch Ness), surrendered his fort to the Jacobite besiegers. Guided by artilleryman Major James Grant, the Jacobites made the best use of their few small calibre guns; or maybe they were plain lucky: ‘For while the walls were being bombarded by the artillery, a shot fell into the powder magazine. The powder ignited, and large pieces of masonry being blown up, a breach was made in the fort on this side’.

The fort’s Master Gunner later stated that the Jacobite guns blew up the powder barrels and cartridges on the turret of Wade’s Bastion. There had also been a shell on the court room and damage to the roof on the north side. No one had been injured, though, and the well was undamaged.

Fort Augustus (Map by George Anderson © Helion and Company)

Was Wentworth right in surrendering? His Master Gunner thought not. He argued ‘That the major and the other officers of the Garrison were mistaken in their assertion when they say there was no place of safety for the men to retire to or to boil their pots, for it appears that besides the vaults their common barracks were proof against any shells the rebels had to throw into the fort’. He concluded that it was ‘ignorance and panick that seized them all’.

How long they could have continued such resistance is a moot point. Cumberland did not think it was a strong point and the Board of Enquiry into the fort’s surrender later found, after studying the plans of the fort and having read statements from witnesses, ‘that the fort was defenceless. But do think that they ought to have delayed capitulating until the batteries had been playing upon them’.

Coehorn Mortar, as used in many of the sieges during 1745 and 1746 (Collection at Kedleston Hall, Photo by Brian Stone)

The result of that surrender was that part of the Jacobite army, including Grant and his guns, would go on to besiege Fort William, which was rather more strongly defended and guided by a more resolute defender. Not only did Fort William hold out, in a siege that lasted from 20 March to 3 April 1746, but the Jacobites were then decisively defeated at Culloden on 16 April. The capture of Fort Augustus, as things turned out, was the last major Jacobite military success.

Dr Jonathan Oates tells the story of this and the surprisingly large number of other sieges that took place in Scotland and England during 1745 and 1746, in his book The Sieges of the ’45: Siege Warfare during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745-1746, which is available from the Helion and Company website: https://www.helion.co.uk/military-history-books/the-sieges-of-the-45-siege-warfare-during-the-jacobite-rebellion-of-1745-1746.php

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