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Battle of Dunbar
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Oliver Cromwell at the Battle of Dunbar, September 3rd 1650. Parliamentarians won this battle against the Scottish army and Oliver Cromwell gained control of southern Scotland. Military art print published by Cranston fine Arts.
Dunbar British Excerpt from British Battles On Land And Sea By Evelyn Wood
The entire Scottish nation loudly condemned the execution of Charles I as uncalled for and barbarous. They had taken up arms, they asserted, not to overturn the throne but to maintain the Presbyterian religion, so dear to their forefathers. Charles II dislike that form of religion, and sent the Marquis of Montrose from Holland to attempt a rising independent of the Covenanters, who defeated and put him to death in a cruel and ignominious manner. Charles had no course left but submission now. He signed the covenant, landed at the mouth of the Spey on June 23rd, 1650, and was joyously welcomed by the Scots, who crowned him at scone as “King of Scotland, England, France, and Ireland,” and raised an army to defend his power of authority.
The Policy of the English Parliament Oliver did not lose a day in taking the field against his new enemy. As it was probable that the Royalists, if he entered England with this new Scottish army, would join the king,, the Puritan Parliament determined to carry the war into Scotland. This resolution was founded on policy, as England had no cause to complain of the Scots, who in crowning the son of their late King in no way injured England. After this resolution, Cromwell was appointed to act as leader of the army destined for the invasion of Scotland. It amounted at first to 20,000 men, and he crossed the borders on July 22nd with his men “in high crowned hats, collared bands, and great loose coats.” The first night Cromwell encamped at Mordington in the Merse, only three and a half miles from England, where he established his head quarters in the mansion house. The Scottish Ministry and Parliament had not been slow in taking measures for their own defence. Thirty thousand men were raised for the defence of the country; and numerous forts were built, and many ancient castles were strengthened and garrisoned. The venerable Earl of Leven was nominally the commander of these forces; but the actual moving spirit in the field was his younger namesake, Sir David Leslie, of Pitcarlie.
On the March The regiment of Argyll, which had been raised in 1641, now commanded by Lord Lorne, was made the Royal Foot guards; and there was also one of the Horse Guards, composed of the sons of the leading Covenanters. To retard the march of Cromwell, all that fertile and beautiful tract of country, which lies between Berwick and the capital, was laid waste by the patriotism of the people, who drove off their cattle, and so the English in there progress found the district deserted for early fifty miles. At Ayton and other places none but the aged and decrepit remained; while the women are ungallantly described by Cromwell’s Puritans as “sorry creatures, clothed in white flannel, bemoaning the fate of their husbands, whom the lairds of the towers had forced to ‘gang to the muster.’” The English at Dunbar received a supply of provisions brought from their ships from Newcastle. “When near Musselburgh the van of the Parliamentary army marching too fast, as the enemy came swarming out like bees, horse and foot, and fell upon our rear of horse, who were sore put to it, at Longiddry, cut and hewed Major-General Lambert, took him prisoner, and were carrying him off to Edinburgh; but the valiant Lieutenant Emson, one of Hacker’s officers pursued with five or six of our soldiers, hewed him out, and brought him back to his own regiment.” Lambert’s horse was shot from under him, he was run through the body by a lance and a through the arm by a sword. Cromwell, at the head of his whole army, made an attack on the Scottish position. Exasperated by the result of a sortie made by Major-General Montgomerie who at the head of 2,000 select Scottish dragoons, in the night nearly routed his whole force, by breaking into the camp, when they killed and wondered six field officers and 500 men, his army came on with ardour, while 12 English ships opened their broadsides on Leith. As the English advanced, the rising sun of July morning shone full on the long line of helmets that glittered above the Scottish trenches, and the regimental standards that, waving at intervals, marked the different corps.
Cromwell Before Edinburgh Immediately on their clearing the lake and rocks at Restalrig, and advancing over the dead level ground, the field batteries on the Calton and the cannon from Leith opened a simultaneous fire upon them, while a rolling fusillade ran along the whole Scottish line from flank to flank, poured closely and securely, throwing them into confusion, and compelling them to retire in disorder, with the loss of two pieces of cannon and many killed and wounded. A strong column of English infantry, with a brigade of horse and two pieces of cannon, encircling Arthur’s Seat, made an attempt to turn Leslie’s flank, by forcing an entrance to the City at a southern suburb known as the Pleasance. On perceiving this movement, Colonel Campbell brought his regiment of Highland musketeers at the double up the ravine by the base of the Craigs, and lining the walls and hedges about the ruins of St. Leonard’s Chapel, opened from thence a fire so deadly that the English infantry fled. On this second repulse before the city, Cromwell sounded a retreat, and retired to Musselburgh, where he made stables of the churches and firewood of the pews. In a skirmish on August 26th, a Scots Dragoon fired at Cromwell with his carbine and missed him, on which the Protector called to him, tauntingly, “if you had been one of my soldiers, I had cashiered you” The situation of Cromwell was now become most critical. Foiled in his attempts on Edinburgh, he had no provisions save such as he could obtain from his fleet with difficulty. The autumn became inclement, sickness broke out among his troops, and it was clearly impossible that they could remain in their present situation. On the evening of Saturday, August 31st, they fired their huts and marched towards Dunbar. Leslie, under whom old Field-Marshal Lord Leven was serving as a volunteer, immediately quitted his trenches and, for the purpose of harassing the retreating enemy, hung upon their skirts closely with his horse-Dragoons and Lancers. Marching along the skirts of the Lammermuir, he took up a strong position on the Doon Hill, which overhangs the town of Dunbar, thus occupying the English line of retreat. Regiment after regiment, the Scottish army seemed to gather and increase on the adjacent hills, “thick like a cloud, menacing such a shower to the English as would wash them out of their country, if not out of the world; and they boasted that they then had them in a worse pound than the king had the Earl of Essex in Cornwall.” Cromwell’s army was now reduced to 12,000 men, who were drawn up along the base of the peninsula on which the town of Dunbar stands, in a line extending from Belhaven Bay on the west to Broxmouth on the east, about a mile and a half from “sea to sea.”
The Field of Dunbar Directly in their front, on the summit and slope of the Doon Hill, 500 feet above the sea, with the dark barren heaths of the Lammermuir behind, lay the Scots, now 23,000 strong, and in the highest spirits, for it was impossible to attack them save at great risk. On the east the English were hemmed in by an appalling ravine or savage pass where, according to Cromwell’s own description, “ten men to hinder is better than forty to make way”; and that place Leslie had occupied by two battalions, the brigade of General Bickerton and a battery of cannon; thus when Cromwell sent nine regiments of infantry to force it, they failed. On September 1st the rain was pouring in torrents when the Scots took up their position. The artillery train consisted of 960 men. The fortune of the war seemed decidedly against the English. Their leader, however, in the words of one who knew him well, “was a strong man.” After the repulse of his nine regiments in their attempt to force the passage of the Peaths at Colbrand’s Path, on Monday, September 2nd, he wrote thus to Sir Arthur Hesilrige, the Governor of Newcastle: “We are now upon engagement, very difficult. The enemy hath blocked up our way to the pass of Copperspath, through which we cannot get without almost a miracle. But the only wise god knows what is best.” The clergy were under the impression that Cromwell had embarked half his men and half his guns, whereas he had only shipped off his sick and wounded, and fearing that “the Blasphemers” should escape, the Committee of the Kirk urges a descent into the plain, to attack the English during their supposed retreat.
These wild plans they urged in utter defiance of General Leslie, “whose authority was as dust in the balance when compared with that of the fanatical preachers. They exhorted the soldiers at morning and evening exercise to march down in the might of the most high; and, reminding them how Gideon had wrought salvation for Israel, and assuring them to a like result, were not sparing in their abuse of the over caution of Leslie, whom they accused of Luke warmness in the cause of the Covenant.” Spurring their shaggy ponies from regiment to regiment, the clergy urged an attack with furious harangues, exactly as they had done at Kilsythe, and declaring “that god would no longer be their god if he delivered them not from the Sectaries.” By these means the Scots became inflamed to the highest pitch of fury. Shouts rang along he lines, colours were waved and weapons brandished. No calm reasoning on the part of the General was listened to; they insisted on attacking Cromwell where he lay. The morning of Monday saw his army ranged in order of battle along the left bank of a mountain burn and rugged glen. Compelled by the committee to leave his position, Leslie sent his cavalry before sunrise to occupy the far side of the brook, and about four in the afternoon his artillery came down, followed by his whole army, moving to the front and to the right in successive brigades. The ground between the Doon hill and the sea was at that time a low and uneven tract, only partly cultivated, in many places marshy and covered with the rough grass called bent. On this space there was but one solitary thatched farmhouse. Shots were first exchanged at a small Shepard’s shealing, which stood nearly opposite the centre of the Doon hill, at a place where the brook was passable for carts. Therein Colonels Pride and Lambert had placed an outlying picket of twenty-one men, whom Leslie’s horse drove out with the loss of three. About a mile to the east of this spot, and a little to the west of Broxmouth Park, was the only other pass across the Broxburn, where now the road to England lies; and from its southern bank the ground gradually slopes up into high tableland, out of which the Doon hill rises; and on this ground the brunt of the battle ensued.
Cromwell’s Plan of Action In the afternoon of this eventful Monday, Cromwell was walking with General Lambart in the grounds of Broxmouth House, when, to his astonishment and joy, he perceived these unexpected movements among the Scots, and their abandonment of a special splendid position. A small mound westwards of the house, whereon he stood at that time, is still called Cromwell’s mount. He closed his telescope, and exclaimed, with a burst of genuine fervour, “They are coming” They are coming down! The lord hath delivered them into our hands!” He remarked that it would give them great advantage if the English became the assailants, by crossing the brook and attacking the Scottish right wing in front and flank with such overwhelming force as to drive down upon it the centre, which hence hampered in the narrow sloping ground between the hill and the brook, could neither manoeuvre nor deploy. This defeat of the right wing, he assured himself, would result the defeat of the whole. Lambert and general Monk, who came up at that moment, cordially approved of the plan, and it was resolved to put it in execution next morning early. The night proved wet and tempestuous, and the Scots, as they lay on the bare earth, suffered severely from the storm; but they lay in their ranks, officers and troopers beside their chargers, the gunners by their cannon. At four o’clock the English cavalry were in their saddles and moving through the wind, the rain, and the darkness towards the pass over the brook. There were six regiments of horse under Lambart, with three and a half of foots as supports. Owing to some delay on the part of Lambert, the attack did not take place till six o’clock or half an hour after the sun had risen from the German Sea, instead of at daybreak, as Cromwell had intended. There was much more mist that the light as yet only served to give the English troops a few imperfect glimpses of the dark and long extended lines of the Scots, as they starched away in undefined masses through the grey vapour. Perceiving the English moving on their flanks by regiments attired alternately in scarlet and buff doublets, the Scots were nothing loath to meet them. The attack was begun by a heavy regiment of Scottish Lancers; and aided by a fire from their artillery, these made a furious charge down the sloping ground and swept the first brigade of English cavalry away.
A Gallant Resistance Though taken thus at disadvantage, the Scottish right wing made a gallant resistance, as Cromwell saw. Their horse, “with the lancer in front,” charged, he wrote, desperately, and drove the English back across the hollow of the brook, but the charge was renewed by the latter with great enthusiasm, as the regiments of Fleetwood, Whalley, and George Twisleton came up, and then ensued a close and bloody contest at the point of the sword, neither party giving ground for nearly an hour. Cromwell-or Agag, as the Scottish preachers termed him-directed his whole strength to assailing the right wing, to the end that it might be hurled upon the already hampered centre, and ere long it began to fall back as he had foreseen. From a cloud at that moment there was a burst of sunshine on the sea in the English rear. Then, wrote Hodgson, “I heard Noll say, ‘Now let god arise, and his enemies be scattered!’” Monk fought bravely on foot, pike in hand, against Sir John towers regiment, which made a steady resistance, until one of his sergeants slew Captain Campbell, a favourite officer, on which it gave way.
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Cromwell’s Most Complete Victory Whalley had two horses shot under him, and received a severe sword wound, by which a hand was nearly hewn off, yet he did not quit the field. Slinging their lancers by leathern thongs, the Scottish Lancers, now at close quarters, betook them to their swords and pistols, and fought with incredible resolution; while two of the regiments of infantry stood their ground against the English horse till they were cut to pieces in their ranks. One entire brigade of Highlanders, who had no share in the vile fanaticism that inspired their comrades, is said to have perished on the spot, as not a man would turn his heel to save his life; while the regiment of Kirkness lost no less than 30 officers, including its Colonel, who was slain, as he lay, wounded and helpless, in a thicket near Broxmouth House, where his gravestone, bearing his name, is still to be seen. Cromwell states that a charge of “the stoutest regiment” the enemy had was repelled at push of pike by his own, under Lieutenant-Colonel Goffe and Major White. “The horse in the meantime did, with a great deal of courage and spirit, beat back all opposition, charging through the bodies of the enemy’s horse and foot, who were, after the first repulse given, made by the Lord of Hosts as stubble to their swords.” Formed in five corps or divisions, the Scottish battalions of the main body presented a steady front, bordered by fire and glittering steel; but the ruins of their right wing were hurled upon their centre in such confusion that their own horse then began to tread them under foot.
Then, on seeing the right wing routed and the centre in confusion, the left gave way at once, as did the reserve, for ere the head of his column reached the scene of operations the whole Scottish line had given way, after a disastrous and bloody conflict of two hours, and, as Cromwell had foreseen, all was over! A total and irremediable rout ensured; but the moment it began the English trumpets sounded a halt, till the army sang the 117th Psalm and the cavalry cooked be gathered for the pursuit of eight miles, with a result so bloody that the battle of Dunbar was long remembered by the people of Scotland with acrimony as the “Tuesday’s chase,” the battle having taken place on that day. Of all the victories won by Cromwell, Dunbar was the most complete; more than 3,000 killed and wounded covered the field. Of the wounded no exact lists were ever made up, but 1,000 of them were sent next day in country carts, a mock present to the Countess of Winton. There were taken upwards of 10,000 prisoners, of who were 18 field officers, 47 captains, 7 captain-lieutenants, 204 subalterns, and 15 sergeants. There were also taken 200 stand of colour 15,000 stand to arms, 32 pieces of cannon, and all the tents, ammunition, and baggage.
The Scottish Retreat One body of the Scots retreated to Belhaven; another only to the town of Dunbar; a third was pursued by Colonel Hacker as far as Haddington, and, in the words of Clarendon, “no quarter was given, till the pursuers were weary of killing.” Peculiar severity was exercised upon the clergy, many of whom were cut down in the act of bawling out assurances of victory. The sectarian Dragoons in the face, with the view of disfiguring them, designedly slashed others. Many of the prisoners who were wounded Cromwell dismissed on the field, the remainder he marched towards England. Had Leslie been permitted to act on his original plans, the possibility of fighting under such disadvantageous circumstances as those, which occurred, would never have been afforded; and Cromwell spoke the truth when he denied that any share of the merit attaching to the achievement belonged to him. General Leslie, enraged by the defeat of his army through the interference of the mad zealots and insolent clergy, resigned his baton; but being prevailed upon to resume the command, he made Stirling his head quarters, and there he remodelled the army, which, apart from forces under Middleton, was now reduced to 16,000 infantry and 7,000 horse with 14 pieces of cannon. Attired in a black periwig, plumed bearer, and suit of buff, “which,” says an old writer, “sets of the blue ribbon and George suspended from his person,” the young king Charles II rode daily through their ranks.
If we may credit some accounts, the loss of the English was so trifling that Major Rokesby and a cornet were the only commissioned officer who fell, with 40 private soldiers; an assertion which, from the number of slain among the defeated, carries falsehood in its front, for Whitelock says there were 4,000 Scots killed on the field and pursuit, and Cromwell has it about 400 English. Cromwell spent the day after the battle at Dunbar writing letters to the House of Commons and to his wife regarding his victory, tidings of which were brought to London in three days by Sir John Hipsley. At that time, General Ludlow tells us, “it was my fortune, with others of the Parliament, to be with the Lord Fairfax at Hampton Court, who seemed to much to rejoice at it.” The colours taken were ordered to be hung in Westminster Hall, and medals of gold and silver were struck in honour of the victory, and distributed to the officers and men. Most miserable was the fate of the Scottish prisoners of all ranks. By their guards, under Sir Arthur Heslirige, they were stripped of most of their clothing and otherwise ill-used. They were more than 5,000 in number, yet no food was procurable, the whole country having been laid waste by General Leslie’s orders. Weak and faint, many were raving with the agonies of hunger. At Morpeth, daring alike the swords and carbines of Hesilrige’s cavalry, they burst from the highway into a field of cabbages, which they devoured raw. Even the leaves of the trees and twigs were of the hedgerows were taken by these unfortunates; and such was the effect of such sustenance, after all they had undergone, that they perished in hundreds by the wayside. Hesilrige, in his letter to the English Parliament, mentions that they had then been eight days without any food. Only 3,000 lived to reach Newcastle cold, naked, weary, footsore, sick, and sinking-and was thrust into the great church of St. Nicholas. When the trumpets sounded for the next day’s march, 143 were found past ever marching more. Many more died by the way on the march to Durham. Two hundred who survived all their miseries were sent to Virginia.
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