Perplexed, no doubt, but not dismayed, by these difficulties, the earl proceeded to Tarbet, which he had fixed as the place of rendezvous, and there issued a second declaration (that which has been mentioned as having been laid before the House of Commons), with as little effect as the first. He was joined by Sir Duncan Campbell, who alone, of all his kinsmen, seems to have afforded him any material assistance, and who brought with him nearly a thousand men; but even with this important reinforcement, his whole army does not appear to have exceeded two thousand. It was here that he was over-ruled by a council of war, when he proposed marching to Inverary; and after much debate, so far was he from being so self- willed as he is represented, that he consented to go over with his army to that part of Argyleshire called Cowal, and that Sir John Cochrane should make an attempt upon the Lowlands; and he sent with him Major Fullarton, one of the offices in whom he most trusted, and who appears to have best deserved his confidence. This expedition could not land in Ayrshire, where it had at first been intended, owing to the appearance of two king's frigates, which had been sent into those seas; and when it did land near Greenock, no other advantage was derived from it than the procuring from the town a very small supply of provisions.
When Cochrane, with his detachment, returned to Cowal, all hopes of success in the Lowlands seemed, for the present at least, to be at an end, and Argyle's original plan was now necessarily adopted, though under circumstances greatly disadvantageous. Among these, the most important was the approach of the frigates, which obliged the earl to place his ships under the protection of the castle of Ellengreg, which he fortified and garrisoned as well as his contracted means would permit. Yet even in this situation, deprived of the co-operation of his little fleet, as well as of that part of his force which he left to defend it, being well seconded by the spirit and activity of Rumbold, who had seized the castle of Ardkinglass, near the head of Loch Fin, he was not without hopes of success in his main enterprise against Inverary, when he was called back to Ellengreg, by intelligence of fresh discontents having broken out there, upon the nearer approach of the frigates. Some of the most dissatisfied had even threatened to leave both castle and ships to their fate; nor did the appearance of the earl himself by any means bring with it that degree of authority which was requisite in such a juncture. His first motion was to disregard the superior force of the men of war, and to engage them with his small fleet; but he soon discovered that he was far indeed from being furnished with the materials necessary to put in execution so bold, or, as it may possibly be thought, so romantic a resolution. His associates remonstrated, and a mutiny in his ships was predicted as a certain consequence of the attempt. Leaving, therefore, once more, Ellengreg with a garrison under the command of the laird of Lochness, and strict orders to destroy both ships and fortification, rather than suffer them to fall into the hands of the enemy, he marched towards Gareloch. But whether from the inadequacy of the provisions with which he was to supply it, or from cowardice, misconduct, or treachery, it does not appear, the castle was soon evacuated without any proper measures being taken to execute the earl's orders, and the military stores in it to a considerable amount, as well as the ships which had no other defence, were abandoned to the king's forces.
This was a severe blow; and all hopes of acting according to the earl's plan of establishing himself strongly in Argyleshire were now extinguished. He therefore consented to pass the Leven, a little above Dumbarton, and to march eastwards. In this march he was overtaken, at a place called Killerne, by Lord Dumbarton, at the head of a large body of the king's troops; but he posted himself with so much skill and judgment, that Dumbarton thought it prudent to wait, at least, till the ensuing morning, before he made his attack. Here, again Argyle was for risking an engagement, and in his nearly desperate situation, it was probably his best chance, but his advice (for his repeated misfortunes had scarcely left him the shadow of command) was rejected. On the other hand, a proposal was made to him, the most absurd, as it should seem, that was ever suggested in similar circumstances, to pass the enemy in the night, and thus exposing his rear, to subject himself to the danger of being surrounded, for the sake of advancing he knew not whither, or for what purpose. To this he could not consent; and it was at last agreed to deceive the enemies by lighting fires, and to decamp in the night towards Glasgow. The first part of this plan was executed with success, and the army went off unperceived by the enemy; but in their night march they were misled by the ignorance or the treachery of their guides and fell into difficulties which would have caused some disorder among the most regular and best-disciplined troops. In this case such disorder was fatal, and produced, as among men circumstanced as Argyle's were, it necessarily must, an almost general dispersion. Wandering among bogs and morasses, disheartened by fatigue, terrified by rumours of an approaching enemy, the darkness of the night aggravating at once every real distress, and adding terror to every vain alarm; in this situation, when even the bravest and the best (for according to one account Rumbold himself was missing for a time) were not able to find their leaders, nor the corps to which they respectively belonged; it is no wonder that many took this opportunity to abandon a cause now become desperate, and to effect individually that escape which, as a body, they had no longer any hopes to accomplish.