Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The History of Ulster
Schomberg commences his Campaign

A Veteran Commander—Frederic, Duke of Schomberg—He lays Siege to Carrickfergus—It capitulates—He repairs to Dundalk, which is evacuated by the Duke of Berwick—A Miserable March—"Hollow Heaven and the Hurricane, and the Hurry of the Heavy Rain"—Sodden Roads and Leaden Skies—Arrival of the Inniskillings in Camp—The Duke of Berwick fires Newry and Carling-ford—Schomberg encamps at Dundalk—An Unhealthy Situation—Failure of the Commissariat—Shales's Peculations—Bad Results for the Army—Fevers and "Fluxes" attack the Soldiers—James and his Followers arrive at Ardee—Their vain Attempts to draw Schomberg to Battle—A Jacobite Conspiracy discovered in Dundalk.

The Commander-in-Chief of the forces in Ireland was not a young man. His years were eighty. The strange hallucination which in our day has led us to accept half Schomberg's total of years as a period bordering on old age, and to regard a hale human being of three score as a sufferer from senile decay, had not as yet taken hold of the public mind. Instead of being requested on account of his age to retire from the army, he was welcomed by William when, after he was well over seventy, he resigned the baton of a Marshal of France. So universally recognized was his military genius, and so high was he held in public esteem, that the honours "crowded thick" upon him, excited no jealousy within the army, of which he was appointed the head, while they gave widespread satisfaction to those without. He was known to be honest in speech and deed, and a great sufferer for conscience' sake, having resigned a princely income for the enjoyment of liberty of thought and the exercise of the Protestant religion. In the popular imagination his strength was "as the strength of ten" because his heart was pure. Physically he was well fitted, despite his years, to be head of the army. Careful conservation of all his faculties in youth now enabled him at eighty to "wear his manhood hale and green", and "every cornet of cavalry envied the grace and dignity with which the veteran appeared in Hyde Park on his charger at the head of his regiment". His seat at table was as easy as his seat in the saddle; his conversation being full of charm, heightened by the fact that his courtesies were conveyed in admirable English or exquisite French. With mental and bodily powers unimpaired by years he now prepared to take the field, presenting as he did so a marvellous combination of the activity and ardour of youth and the wisdom and experience of age.

On learning of Schomberg's approach the Jacobite forces retired, the majority repairing to Carrickfergus, others to Lisburn. The reduction of the former was imperative before any hope of success in the south could be entertained; and therefore, while sending detachments to take possession of Antrim and other places abandoned by the Jacobites, Schom-berg proceeded to lay siege to it. The Castle of Carrickfergus is so advantageously situated that it might have held out for months, and thus have hindered the General's progress and disarranged his plans; but no sooner had he put in an appearance before it than the governor, Colonel Charles MacCarthy More, commenced negotiations for its surrender. He began by requesting permission to send to James for leave to capitulate. This was refused, and the siege began in form, while six ships bombarded the town from the sea. He then offered to surrender on terms. This also was refused, as it had been resolved to take the garrison prisoners; but, the siege proving a tedious business, and active operation being required elsewhere, Schomberg

agreed (on 27th August), after a few days and the loss of about 150 men on each side, to permit the garrison to march out with arms and baggage, on condition that they marched under escort to the nearest Jacobite garrison. But these terms were considered by the people of the town and neighbourhood as far too indulgent. They had suffered much in many ways at the hands of the Jacobite troops, and, now assembling in great crowds, they declared that the terms of surrender had not been made with them, and proceeded to prove their words by mobbing the men who had heaped insults upon them. The garrison, perturbed and perplexed by this hostility on the part of the people, for which they were quite unprepared, were easily disarmed, hustled, and stripped, and naturally looked to Schomberg for protection. The General, having pledged his word for their safety, and anticipating a massacre of the men whom his troops were ready to escort, spurred his horse into the crowd and broke it up, partly by addressing the mob and partly by pointing his pistol at them. The result was that the Jacobites were glad to hasten away, leaving all their belongings in the hands of the townsfolk.

Immediately after the capture of Carrickfergus, supplies and reinforcements arrived from England; and on the 31st of August Schomberg reviewed his army at Belfast, prior to his departure for Dundalk, where he had decided to await the remainder of his forces and supplies.

The country between Carrickfergus and Dundalk is mountainous, and was at that time boggy. This region had often proved a place of refuge to Shane O'Neill when pursued by the English, and Schomberg at once saw that in passing through it he should be secure from cavalry or artillery, in both of which he was weak and the Jacobites strong. He therefore took with him only the lightest of his field-pieces, sending the rest of his artillery by sea to Carlingford, where he expected the arrival of transports from England. He also sent orders for the Inniskilling horse to join him en route.

The six days' march from Belfast to Dundalk severely tried the spirit of the soldiers. Heavy autumnal rains and unusually stormy weather had combined to make a melancholy picture. All day the sodden roads gave place at intervals to treacherous bog, or swampy morass, which made the movements of the men a tedious plodding rather than a steady march. At night, having with difficulty discovered ground suitable on which to pitch the tents, the soldiers proceeded to erect them, battling the while with a wild wind, which, as soon as the pins were driven in, caught the canvas and whirled the tents aloft like rooks against the stormy skies. Even when shelter was secured, the ground was very damp, and, despite such precautions as could be taken, proved a prodigal source of agues, chills, and fevers. The mountainsides, where they were not waterfalls, were slippery with rain, the paths giving foothold to neither man nor horse. Gun-carriages broke in ruts or on rocks, and the men who had dragged the mounted guns had now to carry them. There were no pack-horses, and therefore a minimum supply of provisions was carried, and this was soaked by the steady downpour. To intensify the gloom of sodden roads and leaden skies, there was no sign of life visible, human or animal. The cabins were derelict, cattle dead for days lay rotting on the roadside, and a heavy harvest recklessly wasted lay prone upon the ground in the devastated corn-lands. The most cheerful could scarcely contrive to maintain their optimism amid such surroundings. How universal was the spirit of despondency among the men may be gauged from the fact that even the Dutch, whose country, as a wit of that period remarked, "draws fifty feet of water", were despondent.

But worse was yet to come. Even the most dismal surroundings can be rendered bearable by the joy of human companionship. Schomberg's army had come to an unknown land, to aid an unknown ally whose appearance was eagerly awaited. The fame of the Inniskillings had been noised abroad. English, French, Danes, and Dutch discussed their doughty deeds and pictured to themselves a body of men, sprucely clad, with cuirasses and accoutrements all complete. The far-famed Inniskillings arrived and created much the same impression on Schomberg's forces as Mouldy and Bullcalf and their comrades did upon the irate Falstaff, who swore he would not march with such a ragged regiment! But brave hearts beat beneath those tattered habiliments; those rugged exteriors concealed "the soul's immensity". Composed almost exclusively of gentlemen and yeomen who fought not for pay but for their country, their kin, and their God, the Inniskillings recked little what their exterior semblance might be. All they asked for they got. To be the vanguard in the fight for freedom of thought, to lead "the forlorn hope " and be the first to confront the foe; but the strict discipline of a regular army suited but ill with the wild daring which had characterized the desultory warfare in which hitherto they had been engaged. This discouraged them, and made them less useful as auxiliaries than otherwise they might have been; for had they been permitted to fight under the conditions to which they had been accustomed, they would, undoubtedly, have prevented some of the destructive ravages which attended the methods of warfare adopted by the followers of James. It should not be forgotten that these men were animated by the religious spirit, and therefore they may from a modern point of view be regarded by some as fanatics. It is difficult for us—

Light half-believers of our casual creeds,

to comprehend the intensity of their zeal. It can only be fully realized by those who have studied religious emotion in its many manifestations, whether Christian or Moslem, whether it results in a massacre of St. Bartholomew in Europe or a Mutiny in India. The Duke of Berwick, who was in command of the Jacobite forces in Ulster, caused Newry to be fired, and also set fire to Carlingford. Schomberg, indignant at these barbarities, which threatened to hamper the movements of his army, sent a trumpet to Berwick, warning him that if these atrocities were continued, he would retaliate by giving no quarter to the Jacobites or their allies who might fall into his hands. This remonstrance appears to have produced the desired effect, for on the 7th of September, as Schomberg approached, Berwick abandoned Dundalk without injuring the town, and fell back upon Drogheda. Here, on the 10th, the royal standard of James was unfurled on the tower, and beneath it were soon collected 20,000 fighting-men, "the infantry generally bad, the cavalry generally good, but both infantry and cavalry full of zeal for their country and their religion ". As usual, there was a crowd of camp-followers armed with scythes, half-pikes, and long knives called "skeanes".

By this time Schomberg had reached Dundalk and established his camp about a mile to the north of the town, with the mountains of Newry on the east, the town and river on the south, and low hills and bog-land on the north. The situation was most unhealthy, and the army soon began to suffer severely from dysentery. It was dangerous to advance farther through the open country, where he was liable to be overwhelmed by superior numbers. Many of his men had died on the road, stricken down by hardships and disease, and his camp was crowded with the sick.

King James and his Court at Dublin were thrown into consternation by news of Schomberg's progress. They appear to have been misinformed as to his condition and numbers, and, in the belief that resistance would be useless, Rosen proposed to abandon Drogheda and Dublin and hold the passage of the Shannon till the reinforcements which Melfort had been sent to France to secure had arrived. This idea Tyrconnell opposed as pusillanimous and impolitic, and lashed the King up to such a pitch of enthusiasm that James declared he would not disgrace himself by leaving his capital without a struggle. Tyrconnell rushed to Drogheda, where he encouraged the army by announcing that some ten thousand were on the way to reinforce them. About that number were, in fact, drawn from the south and sent to Drogheda, where the complete force now presented a formidable barrier to Schomberg's further progress. When Rosen heard that Schomberg lay idle, he exclaimed that he was certain that the commander lacked something, and ordered his forces to advance immediately towards Dundalk. But Schomberg was so strongly entrenched that it proved impossible to force him to fight.

Rosen was right when he concluded that Schomberg's inactivity was the result of his lacking something. He lacked much. In fact there was little which he was not in want of. In the first place, he found that "not one in four of the English soldiers could manage his piece at all". He therefore set himself assiduously to drill those new levies which formed the greater part of his army, ordering the musketeers to be constantly exercised in firing. In the second, the commissariat had been not only disgracefully neglected, but had obviously been placed in the hands of dishonest persons. For this the Commissary-General was to blame. Henry Shales had held the same post under James which he now held under William, a fact he owed to his expert knowledge. His speciality appears, however, to have been peculation, and he proved his ability in the art of stealing by the condition of Schomberg's army, whose supplies could scarcely have been worse. In every department barefaced robbery was visible. The meat was bad, the stimulants undrinkable. Tents and clothing were rotten, and muskets broke in two like dry twigs. Shoes were charged to and paid for by the Treasury, but the army went barefoot. Even horses purchased with the public money were hired out for private gain, and the troops in Ulster left without. To these ills may be added those which arose from sickness. The men, deprived of ordinary comforts, supplied with bad food, scantily clothed, and lodged in a damp situation, suffered much from the heavy autumnal rains which made the camp a swamp. They had surgeons provided against the accidents and mishaps of warfare, but with no means wherewith to fight the fluxes and fevers which made Dundalk one vast hospital. Some troops arriving from Londonderry only made matters worse by introducing into the camp the contagion of an infected city.

Such was the condition of Schomberg's army when the Jacobites, to the number of 40,000 men, appeared on the adjacent hills, and encamped in a position which combined comparative salubrity with perfect safety. James, who retained in his own hands the chief command of his army, arrived to direct the operations of this formidable force, and his officers vainly endeavoured to provoke Schomberg's forces to fight, sometimes attacking the outposts in the hope of drawing out the main body to their defence, and at other times approaching the lines and taunting the soldiers as cowards. The anxiety of the Jacobites to engage was shown on the 21st of September, when their whole army, with James at their head, and the royal standard displayed, marched direct to the camp at Dundalk and challenged their opponents to battle.

Schomberg awaited their approach with imperturbable coolness: he gave orders that no guns should be fired until the Jacobites came within musket-shot, and his only reply to the officers, who impatiently applied for orders to engage, was: "Let them alone; we shall see what they will do." When they continued their advance as though they intended to storm the camp, he sent orders to his cavalry to return from foraging on an appointed signal, and he gave the command that the foot regiments should stand to their arms. The ardour of his troops was excited in an instant, and even the sick arose and assumed their arms with alacrity; but James suddenly withdrew and repaired to Ardee. He appears to have reckoned upon treachery rather than on force, for on the day following a conspiracy was discovered in Dundalk to betray it to the Jacobites. It appears that if Schomberg had been weak enough to yield to the importunity of those who wished him to give battle, several French companies would in the heat of the action have fired at their comrades and gone over to James's cause. Six of the conspirators were executed without delay, and about 200 were disarmed and sent in irons to England. The Jacobites complained of the King's irresolution, Rosen expressing the opinion that if James had ten kingdoms he would lose them all.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus