A special edition of an outstanding academic study
Firth’s ‘Cromwell’s Army’ has long been recognised as an essential classic. It describes in detail the structure, formations, equipment and practices of the Parliamentarian Army as it fought in the English Civil War, Ireland and elsewhere, and also examines the English army prior to the Civil War and describes the creation of the New Model Army. What makes this edition of Firth special is that the author makes reference to the illustrations by Francis Grose, of clothing, equipment and drill of Cromwell’s Army, that he was familiar with but which did not appear in the original editions of this book. For the first time this Leonaur edition includes Grose’s illustrations in the text for easy reference by modern readers. The cornerstone of the Parliamentarian soldier’s cause was a matter of faith and Leonaur has therefore also included in this edition two essential facsimiles, ‘The Soldier’s Pocket Bible’ and ‘The Soldier’s Catechism,’ which were specially created for the men of the Parliamentarian Army. These elements combine with Firth’s text to make this new edition a unique, comprehensive and academic volume that will be an invaluable addition to the libraries of students of the period.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
When Cromwell invaded Scotland in 1650, though he had a considerable train of artillery, it does not seem to have included an adequate number of siege-guns. Cromwell was voted a train of artillery sufficient for a marching force of 12,000 men, but what proportion was held sufficient the papers do not state. The train consisted of 690 men, including a company of 100 firelocks.
After his victory at Dunbar Cromwell marched to Stirling, intending to take it by storm, but found it too strong. A letter says:—
“I heard some of the wisest and greatest commanders affirm that had they had great guns they might in all probability have mastered the place.”
Cromwell at all events thought so, and on the return of the messenger sent to London with the news of Dunbar, “asked him among other things for great guns, but received no satisfactory answer: he seemed displeased and intimated a great impatience for them,” (Mercurius Politicus, 26th September to 3rd October, 1650). A letter from Cromwell (Letter cxlix), says on their march to Stirling:—
“By reason of the badness of the way, we were forced to send back two pieces of our greatest artillery.”
Accordingly a number of heavy guns and mortars were sent him in the course of the next two months, which he used to besiege Edinburgh Castle and to reduce strongholds such as Dirleton, Borthwick and Tantallon Castles. Some demicannons were borrowed from the fleet, others were sent from Hull and Newcastle, others from the magazine in the Tower, (Cal. State Papers, Dom., 1650). Many guns were captured when Edinburgh Castle surrendered. “I believe all Scotland hath not so much brass ordnance in it as this place,” said Cromwell, (Carlyle, Letter clxi.).
At Edinburgh the mortars appear to have been most effective in producing the surrender, at Tantallon the heavy guns. Monck, who was lieutenant-general of the ordnance in Cromwell’s army, conducted the sieges of Tantallon, Blackness and other minor fortresses, and was left to reduce Stirling and Dundee when Cromwell followed Charles the Second into England. The battering train with which Monck captured Stirling consisted of four guns and two mortars, and the shells of the latter were so effective, that after twenty-four of them had been fired into the castle, the Highlanders who formed its garrison mutinied and forced the governor to surrender. At Dundee Monck had besides these guns and mortars a battery of ten naval-guns, with which he made two large breaches in a couple of days, and then took the town by assault.
From all these instances it seems evident that the efficiency of the artillery had increased as the organisation of the army improved. The siege-guns used were heavier and more numerous: their fire more accurate and more concentrated. After the guns had made a practicable breach immediate preparations were made for an assault. Often, indeed, as at Bristol, Bridgwater and Dartmouth, the assault took place before any breach had been made. It was characteristic of the strategy of the generals of the New Model that they preferred to attempt to storm, whenever there was the least chance of success, rather than to adopt the slower and surer method of gradual approaches. For they held that for political reasons it was necessary to bring the war to a close as rapidly as possible, and that more lives were lost in the sickness which a long siege produced in a besieging army than were expended in one brief and bloody struggle. They chose to imitate, and that consciously, the methods of Gustavus Adolphus, rather than the more cautious and conservative siege tactics of Spinola and Prince Maurice. The Swedish Intelligencer of Gustavus says:—
This was his order, mostly, in taking of a town: he would not stand entrenching and building redoubts at a mile’s distance; but clap down with his army presently, about cannon shot from it. There would he begin his approaches, get to their walls, batter, and storm presently: and if he saw the place were not by a running pull to be taken, he would not lose above five or six days before it, but rise and to another.
Fairfax faithfully followed the example of Gustavus. Sprigge in his history of the exploits of the New Model says:—
He was still for action in field or fortification esteeming nothing unfeasible for God, and for man to do in God’s strength, if they would be up and doing; and thus his success hath run through a line cross to that of old soldiery, of long sieges and slow approaches; and he hath done all so soon, because he was ever doing.
Cromwell pursued the same plan in Ireland, never hesitating to risk an assault rather than to spend time in a scientific siege or methodical blockade. In the long run, he told the Parliament, such a course was economical. He wrote in April, 1650,( Letter cxxx):
Those towns that are to be reduced, especially one or two of them, if we should proceed by the rules of other states, would cost you more money than this army hath had since we came over. I hope, through the blessing of God, they will come cheaper to you.
At Drogheda and Wexford this plan was successful; at Clonmel, which was more skilfully defended, it resulted in a bloody repulse in which Cromwell lost about a thousand men and many of his best officers.
When a storm was resolved upon, which usually took place after a debate and a vote in the council of war, detailed arrangements were made, and instructions issued to the officers employed. If the besieged place was defended by a ditch the soldiers were set to work to collect brushwood in order to make fagots. At Sherborne Castle Fairfax ordered “every soldier to cut his fresh fagot, whereby in two hours’ time they had above 6,000 fagots, with which to fill the trenches and throw stones and rubbish upon them.” Fagots were used for the same purpose at the storming of Bristol and Bridgwater. In advancing to the assault the soldiers usually carried these fagots on their backs, but Ludlow records that when he took a certain castle in Ireland he ordered every soldier “to carry a fagot before him, as well to defend himself as to fill up the enemy’s trenches, or fire his gates, as there might be occasion.”
At Bridgwater the ditch proved too broad or too deep to be filled up in this way, so a new device had to be employed. Fairfax applied to Hammond, the commander of his artillery, and Hammond, “a gentleman of a most dexterous and ripe invention for all such things,” devised eight wooden bridges, each thirty or forty feet in length, to be laid across the ditch by the storming parties, which bridges proved perfectly effective.
Besides these fagots and bridges it was necessary to construct scaling-ladders. At Bristol twenty ladders were allotted for every breach, and two men told off to carry each ladder, who were given five shillings each for that service. Minute directions for the organisation of the storming parties, and the duties to be performed by each particular detachment, are contained in Sprigge’s account of the storming of Bristol, which affords the best example of the manner in which an assault was conducted.