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Historical Tales, Vol. 4 (of 15) by Charles Morris

Around Stirling gathered the army of the Bruce


Robert the Bruce did his utmost to prepare for the storm of war which threatened to break upon his realm. In all haste he summoned his barons and nobles from far and near. From the Highlands and the Lowlands they came, from island and mainland flocked the kilted and tartaned Scotch, but, when all were gathered, they numbered not a third the host of their foes, and were much more poorly armed. But at their head was the most expert military chief of that day, since the death of Edward I. the greatest warrior that Europe knew. Once again was it to be proved that the general is the soul of his army, and that skill and courage are a full offset for lack of numbers.

Towards Stirling marched the great English array, confident in their numbers, proud of their gallant show. Northward they streamed, filling all the roads, the king, at their head, deeming doubtless that he was on a holiday excursion, and that behind him came a wind of war that would blow the Scotch forces into the sea. Around Stirling gathered the army of the Bruce, marching in haste from hill and dale, coming in to the stirring peal of the pipes and the old martial airs of the land, until the plain around the beleaguered town seemed a living sea of men, and the sunlight burned on endless points of steel.

But Bruce had no thought of awaiting the onset here. He well knew that he must supply by skill what he lacked in numbers. The English army was far superior

to his, not only in men, but in its great host of cavalry, which alone equalled his entire force, and in its multitude of archers, the best bowmen in the world. What he lacked in men and arms he must make up in brains. With this in view, he led his army from before the town into a neighboring plain, called the Park, where nature had provided means of defence of which he might avail himself.

The ground which his army here occupied was hard and dry. That in front of it, through which Edward's host must pass, was wet and boggy, cut up with frequent watercourses, and ill-fitted for cavalry. Should the heavy-armed horsemen succeed in crossing this marshy and broken ground and reach the firm soil in the Scottish front, they would find themselves in a worse strait still. For Bruce had his men dig a great number of holes as deep as a man's knee. These were covered with light brush, and the turf spread evenly over them, so that the honeycombed soil looked to the eye like an unbroken field. Elsewhere on the plain he scattered calthrops--steel spikes--to lame the English horses. Smooth and promising looked the field, but the English cavalry were likely to find it a plain of pitfalls and steel points.

While thus defending his front, Bruce had given as skilful heed to the defence of his flanks. On the left his line reached to the walls of Stirling. On the right it touched the banks of Bannockburn, a brook that ran between borders so rocky as to prevent attack from that quarter. Here, on the 23d of June, 1314, was posted the Scottish army, awaiting the coming of the foe, the camp-followers, cart-drivers, and other useless material of the army being sent back behind a hill,--afterwards known as the gillies' or servants' hill,--that they might be out of the way. They were to play a part in the coming fray of which Bruce did not dream.

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