The Battle Of Dunbar was fought on the 3rd (13th) of September 1650 between the English army under Oliver Cromwell and the Scots under David Leslie, afterwards Lord Newark. It took place about 3 miles south-east of the centre of the town, where between the hills and the sea coast there is a plain about 1 mile wide, through the middle of which the main road from Dunbar to Berwick runs. The plain and the road are crossed at right angles by the course of the Brocksburn, or Spott Burn, which at first separated the hostile armies. Rising from the right bank of the Brock is Doon Hill (650 ft.), which overlooks the lower course of the stream and indeed the whole field. (For the events preceding the battle, see Great Rebellion.)
Cromwell, after a war of manoeuvre near Edinburgh, had been compelled by want of supplies to withdraw to Dunbar; Leslie pursued and took up a position on Doon Hill, commanding the English line of retreat on Berwick. The situation was more than difficult for Cromwell. Some officers were for withdrawing by sea, but the general chose to hold his ground, though his army was enfeebled by sickness and would have to fight on unfavourable terrain against odds of two to one. Leslie, however, who, was himself in difficulties on his post among the bare hills, and was perhaps subjected to pressure from civil authorities, descended from the heights on the 2nd of September and began to edge towards his right, in order first to confront, and afterwards to surround, his opponent. The cavalry of his left wing stood fast, west of Doon Hill, as a pivot of manoeuvre, the northern face of Doon (where the ground rises from the burn at an average slope of fifteen degrees and is even steeper near the summit) he left unoccupied. The centre of infantry stood on the forward slope of the long spur which runs east from Doon, and beyond them, practically on the plain, was the bulk of the Scottish cavalry.
In the evening Cromwell drew up his army, under 11,000 effective men, along the ravine, and issued orders to attack the Scots at dawn of the 3rd (13th). The left of the Scots was ineffective, as was a part of their centre of foot on the upper part of the hillside, and the English commander proposed to deal with the remainder. Before dawn the English advanced troops crossed the ravine, attacked Doon, and pinned Leslie's left; under cover of this the whole army began its manoeuvre. The artillery was posted on the Dunbar side of the burn, directly opposite and north of Doon, the infantry and cavalry crossed where they could, and formed up gradually in a line south of and roughly parallel to the Berwick road, the extreme left of horse and foot, acting as a reserve, crossed at Brocksmouth House on the outer flank.
The Scots were surprised in their bivouacs, but quickly formed up, and at first repulsed both the horse and the foot. But ere long Cromwell himself arrived with his reserve, and the whole English line advanced again. The fresh impulse enabled it to break the Scottish cavalry and repulse the foot, and Leslie's line of battle was gradually rolled up from right to left. In the words of an English officer, "The sun appearing upon the sea, I heard Nol say, 'Now let God arise, and let His enemies be scattered', and following us as we slowly marched I heard him say, 'I profess they run'. Driven into the broken ground, and penned between Doon Hill and the ravine, the Scots were indeed helpless. "They routed one another after we had done their work on their right wing", says the same officer. Ten thousand men, including almost the whole of the Scottish foot, surrendered, and their killed numbered three thousand. Few of the English were killed. "I do not believe," wrote Cromwell, "that we have lost twenty men".
The account of the battle of Dunbar here followed is that of C. H. Firth, for which see his Cromwell, pp. 281 ff. and references there given. For other accounts see Carlyle, Cromwell's Letters and Speeches, letter cxl.; Hoenig, Cromwell; Baldock, Cromwell as a Soldier; and Gardiner, History of the Commonwealth and Protectorate, vol. i.
Extracted from the entry for DUNBAR in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.