Wednesday, June 06, 2007

"Gode took away the enemy’s courage and away they run" - The Battle of Langport 10th July 1645

Those of you who have stuck with me so far, are probably aware that I've been given a few days off by my beloved to go and "explore" later this month - J - my plans are to disapear towards the west country to visit a couple of battle sites, maybe visit Bovington Tank Museum, and generally to relax, read a little, and drink some good beer..!

Having covered off in some depth the background to Sedgemoor, the other battle field I'm going to visit is the site of the English Civil War battle of Langport..

Initial Manoeuvrings and Background to the Battle

Following the Royalist defeat at the battle of Naseby in June 1645, the Royalist survivors rallied under the King and Prince Rupert at Leicester, and then withdrew to the Welsh border. The only remaining Royalist force still capable of challenging the New Model Army was the Western army under Lord Goring, currently laying siege to Taunton. Rather than march in pursuit of the King, Fairfax took Leicester, and then marched swiftly south to confront Goring and relieve Taunton.


Taking a southerly route to avoid Royalist garrisons at Bristol, Bath, Devizes and Bridgwater, Fairfax was reinforced en route by General Massey with elements of Parliament's Western Association army, and by early July, Fairfax arrived at Blandford in Dorset (see map).
As he advance towards Crewkerne (from Dorchester), he received news that Goring had abandoned the siege of Taunton and was marching towards Yeovil (at this point the armies couldn’t have been more than 20 miles apart) - Goring had placed his army between the New Model, and the Royalist strongholds of Bath and Bristol.

By the 5 July Fairfax had concentrated his infantry at Crewkerne and rode forward with his cavalry to reconnoitre the Royalist position before ordering an advance on Yeovil on 7 July. This he took from the Royalists without a shot being fired.

As a diversionary move, Goring sent three cavalry brigades towards Taunton; Fairfax reacted by sending 4,000 troops, to cover them. The Royalist plan had worked to now but unfortunately for Goring the new Model then caught the Royalists by surprise just west of Langport, routing them and taking 500 prisoners. The stage was now set for the battle..

Battle of Langport, Somerset, 10 July 1645

By 10 July, Goring had taken up a strong position with his main force north-east of Langport to cover the withdrawal of his artillery and baggage to Bridgwater - estimates are that he only had 7,000 men once his expensive diversionary attack failed; comprising approximately 4500 Horse, and 2500 Foot. Fairfax had about 10,000 men (troop numbers from
here which is an excellent and very detailed read by the way), so the Royalists were outnumbered, but they had by far the better defensive position..

The Royalists occupied the steep western bank overlooking a ford across Wagg Rhyne, a stream running south through its own valley into the River Yeo. The Wagg, although narrow, was deep with no bridge or way across except for a ford (known as the "pass"), where a narrow hedged lane crossed the Rhyne. In addition to these hedges, there was was marshy ground along both sides of the Rhyne and this prevented a cavalry approach except by the pass.


The sources I’ve read are slightly at odds as to where this crossing is now, but in this map (which is from the Battlefields Trust site) the crossing is believed to be where the current bridge is - other sources say it might have been closer to where the modern day railway crosses..

Fairfax approached from the east and drew up on the rising ground on the opposite side of the valley; facing the royalists across the Wagg.

Having taken up position on the rising ground, known as Ham Hill, Goring stationed his cavalry and placed his two remaining cannon at the top of the lane, placing the two light guns in a position to fire down the lane. He then deployed two raw units of Welsh foot soldiers in the hedges leading to and from the pass.

With musketeers lining the hedges Goring thought his position was unassailable - he hoped that Fairfax would be forced to make time-consuming outflanking moves. Fairfax however, decided on a direct frontal assault as he knew that any attempt to outflank Goring would give the Royalists time to escape under cover of darkness.

The battle can then basically be seen in terms of 3 phases:


  • Fairfax began the battle by bombarding the royalist positions on the hill with artillery. The two royalist artillery pieces were soon silenced.

  • He then sent picked bands of musketeers (about 1500 men under a Colonel Rainsborough) to clear the hedges of the Welsh musketeers. This parliamentarian infantry, closely followed by their cavalry, attacked the pass. The force of the attack, together with a lack of support from Royalist reserves held in the rear who were suffering from the heavy artillery fire, soon saw the royalists driven from the pass.

  • Once the way was clear, Fairfax then ordered two "Divisions” (ie. half regiments of horse) from Fairfax's and Whalley's regiments (under a Major Bethel), to attack across the ford and up the slope. These cavalry regiments were part of Cromwell’s original Ironsides and I’m guessing their morale and training was very high. Either way the attack was very successful; the Parliamentary cavalry charged up the lane four abreast, deploying into line once they reached open ground before charging, and breaking two Royalist cavalry regiments. A third Royalist regiment counter-attacked but the second division of Parliamentarian horse (under Major Desborough) then charged and routed them. Contemporary sources quoted that the attack was so fierce "Gode took away the enemy’s courage and away they run". Lt Col John Lilburne reported that, "I heard the General, Lt General and all the chief officers that saw it, say it was one of the bravest that ever their eyes beheld."

As more Parliamentarian reinforcements streamed up the lane, Goring's men then broke and fled the field. In a last desperate attempt to stem Fairfax's advance, Goring set fire to Langport, and then tried to rally two miles further on, but his army dissolved as Cromwell's troopers approached.


Casualties


I’ve not managed to find much detail – all the accounts tend to agree that large numbers of prisoners were taken, however.


Aftermath
Goring's army had been the last effective field army available to the Royalists (although it was quantity rather than quality) and its loss was a major blow to the Royalist cause.


Fairfax’s report to Parliament was that "we having scattered this Army, there is not an Army of His Majesties in being, but such as may be with an ordinary active power scattered and brought to nothing". Cromwell’s comment was that the success was "not inferior to any we have had; …. You have the Long Sutton mercy added to the Naseby mercy". Basically, Naseby, followed by Langport has ended all hopes that the King could win the war (and that was despite the 10,000 odd men still under command of Hopton and Prince Rupert).


Links:


http://www.theteacher99.btinternet.co.uk/ecivil/langport.htm
http://www.british-civil-wars.co.uk/military/1645-langport-bristol.htm (the county map above came from this site)
http://www.battlefieldstrust.com/resource-centre/civil-war/battlepageview.asp?pageid=685 (the battlefield map came from this site)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Langport

Particularly recommended:

www.english-heritage.org.uk/upload/pdf/Langport.pdf
http://www.leeds.ac.uk/history/studentlife/e-journal/Riley.pdf

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