Due to the poor choice of ground and lack of coordination in the Jacobite lines, the charge was not the usual terrifying, wild rush typical of the Highlanders. Rather than moving forward in one continuous line, the Highlanders struck at isolated spots along the government front and were repulsed in turn. The first and most dangerous attack came from the Jacobite right. Storming forward, the Atholl Brigade was forced to the left by a bulge in the dyke to their right. Simultaneously, the Chattan Confederation was diverted right, towards the Atholl men, by a marshy area and fire from the government line. Combining, the Chattan and Atholl troops broke through Cumberland's front and engaged Semphill's regiment in the second line. Semphill's men stood their ground and soon the Jacobites were taking fire from three sides. The fighting became so savage in this part of the field, that the clansmen had to climb over the dead and wounded at places like the "Well of the Dead" to get at the enemy. Having led the charge, Murray fought his way through to the rear of Cumberland's army. Seeing what was happening, he fought his way back with the goal of bringing up the second Jacobite line to support the assault. Unfortunately, by the time he reached them, the charge had failed and the clansmen were retreated back across the field.
On the left, the MacDonalds faced longer odds. The last to step off and with the farthest to go, they soon found their right flank unsupported as their comrades had charged earlier. Moving forward, they attempted to lure the government troops into attacking them by advancing in short rushes. This approach failed and was met by determined musket fire from St. Clair's and Pulteney's regiments. Taking heavy casualties, the MacDonalds were forced to withdraw.
The defeat became total when Cumberland's Argyle Militia succeeded in knocking a hole through the dyke on the south side of the field. This allowed them to fire directly into the flank of retreating Jacobites. In addition, it allowed Cumberland's cavalry to ride out and harry the withdrawing Highlanders. Ordered forward by Cumberland to rout the Jacobites, the cavalry was turned back by those in the Jacobite's second line, including the Irish and French troops, which stood its ground allowing the army to retreat from the field.