Saturday, May 25, 2013

The conclusion to the Battle of Glendale

Battlefield at 1:30pm

The roadway that ran north from Glenorchy farm was as were most roads in this region lined with thick high hedges on both sides of the road, the Royalist battalion (23rd) commander Major Claude Baring decided that defending the second hedge line (The hedge line on the right side of the road) was preferable to standing on the road and defending the first hedge line. His reason being that by defending the second hedge line the first line would break the impetus of the Confederate charge, and from what he could observe the Confederates who originally faced him in two line formations were changing into two assault columns. He doubted his Militia Battalion would stop two regular battalions by fire alone and if it came to hand to hand fighting he wanted to give his inexperienced men every advantage he could. This decision was to have vital consequences to this flank.
Further back behind him was the 24th Battalion, he had arranged with Colonel George Redding the commander of the 24th that when he needed assistance he would send a rider, so he asked that the 24th be in position to help at a moments notice.

The 4th Confederation Brigade commander Major General Geoffrey Oman had originally thought to advance the fresh 17th battalion up to the hedge line near Glenorchy farm and enter into a firefight with the militia Battalions defending the hedges. He was confident that his regular units would out match the enemy militia in a prolonged firefight, he however later changed his mind or had it changed for him by Lord Warwick who wanted the Royalist left crushed, not merely pushed back to the next defence position. So the decision was made he would attack in two Battalion assault columns each one company wide. Events were later to prove that general Oman's concept was the more correct one to adopt.

The Second Battalion in the assault would be the 18th Battalion, a unit that had been weakened in the assault on Glendale farm not an hour earlier. Though the 18th was recovered in its morale it was to start this next assault with only 492 men out of the original 700 it started the battle with.

The Confederate 17th & 18th Battalions started their movement at 1:30pm, once they came to the first line of hedges the columns began to become disorganised as the leading companies were raked by musketry fire from the hedge line across the road from them even as they were busy hacking cutting their way through the first hedge line.. The Confederation battalions struggled through the first row of hedge and rushed then second hedge line across the road which was defended by the 22nd Royalist Battalion. Here the two confederation Battalions were under a greater disadvantage as they fought both the entanglements of a thick hedge and royalists troops on the other side of it in their struggle to breakthrough.

After 10 minutes of vicious fighting the Royalist Battalion commander was becoming extremely concerned, his Battalion was holding and remarkably its morale was holding quite well, but his battalion was suffering very heavy losses, a further 10 minutes of hand to hand fighting his Battalion had lost 312 men. He knew his men could not hope to hold much longer, it was he decided time to bring up the reinforcements and it can not be over stated that they arrived in the nick of time.
The 24th took up positions as some men of the 22nd started to trickle to the rear, the trickle started to become a rush as the 22nd Battalion literally turned and ran for the rear, not in a rout but definitely a disorganised mob, they halted 400 yards to the rear and stopped to reform, they were a mere 189 men strong.
However the intervention of fresh troops was timely as the fresh troops started inflicting severe losses on the tired Parliamentarian battalions as they struggled to gain a foothold over the hedges and by 3:30pm both Confederate Battalions had withdrawn to recover, they moved 600 yds back to the rear before they stopped to reform, the 17th Battalion had 491 men, the 18th Battalion 287 men, both units were severely shaken and wood require time to recover.
The 24th now however having repulsed the two Confederate Battalions at the same time found that its neighbouring Battalion on its right (the 23rd ) was also breaking and running to the rear, they went back 600 yds before stopping.
For now the struggle on the left was over as both sides licked their wounds.

To understand what had made the 22nd break and run we need to understand what happened to the battalion to its right, the 23rd. The section of line that ran from the 22nd swung back towards Thornycroft village, this segment of line was defended by the Royalist 23rd Battalion and facing them was the 96th Foote Battalion.
The 96th Battalion Commander Major Gerald Shaw decided he would approach the Royalists in line and despite the hedge lines he would engage them in a firefight, his intention was to use the 1st hedge line as cover just as the Royalist were using the 2nd line, it meant a firefight just a few yards from each other, but he was determined his battalion would break the Royalist scum.

The firefight was indeed severe and after 30 minutes the 23rd Royalist Militia battalion commander know his men would not hold, they were simply not firing as fast and as accurately their more experienced enemy regulars, by 2:45pm the men started to move to the rear, a move that quickly became a complete break as they ran as a disorganised mob back 600 yds before stopping. So it was likely that this first break which likely encouraged the already suffering 23rd to also break and run.

The Royalist 24th Battalion Commander was now horrified to discover that not only had the battalion he had been supporting run away, the neighbouring battalion had also scarpered to the rear. Looking to the west he could see the two Parliamentary battalions that he had just fought were still continuing to running away to the west, he knew he was safe from them for the moment, so he ordered his battalion to swing to the right to face the new enemy, the Parliamentary 96th which was in the process of struggling through the hedge line. Their Battalion commander Major Shaw was somewhat surprised to see a Militia battalion to his front maneuver like a regular Battalion and in one movement swung round to face his own battalion.
Major Shaw knew his battalion needed to reorganise, but it was clear they were not going to get that time, and almost at the same time both Battalion commanders ordered the charge.

The melee was short possibly only 5-10 minutes but despite the Royalists inflicting heavier casualties their morale was already suffering from their early struggles they simply seemed to give up at the moment they were about to win, they too fled to the rear. The Royalist 24th now had 524 men remaining so once it had a chance to reform its commander was determined they would get back into the battle.
The sole winning Parliamentarian Battalion on the far left that was in any shape was the 96th Foote, but it had suffered horrendous losses (351 men missing) and was a hairs breath away from breaking itself, it would need time to recover.

The Parliamentary 121st battalion finally began its advance at 3:00pm. Advancing towards the open woods on the outskirts of Thornycroft village. It advanced in line formation after having watched the success of it northern neighbouring battalion. The 121st was opposed by the 25th Militia battalion which originally had 300 men in the open woods, however the battalion commander finally decided to bring those 300 men back into the line. A firefight began between the 121st and the 25th Militia, the fire from the 25th Militia was hugely devastating to the 121st which was surprising as the 25th was only Militia. The 121st battalion commander realised he was losing the firefight so ordered his men to charge. The battle between these two Battalions lasted from 3:30pm to approximately 4:30pm, both Battalions were exhausted by 4:30pm, the 121st pulled back after suffering very heavy losses, however both Battalions were equally close to breaking. The 121st only pulled out of musket range and began to reform, it only had 257 men left in its ranks, the 25th Militia feared better physically having 411 men in the ranks but was incapable of taking advantage of the situation, it was exhausted and almost broken.

The Royalist Commander of the 4th Militia brigade Maj Gen Blair Stevenson was worried about his left flank, it was clear to him that his left flank was now in tatters with Battalions either too broken to move or totally exhausted and therefore unable to respond to orders. The only compensation for the moment was that the Parliamentary forces on that flank were equally in disarray, it was clear the side that recovered first would be the side that won the day.
Meanwhile the enemy forces opposite the village of Thornycroft which consisted like his own units were all militia and it was becoming clear that the parliamentary commander whom prisoners had now revealed was Lord Warwick himself, was unwilling to test them in a fight for the town. At least he hoped that was the situation.
For General Stevenson and many of his men of the 4th Militia brigade Thornycroft and the towns and villages of the area were their homes. In fact Lord Burn's Manor just to the south of Thornycroft was the home of Maj Gen Stevenson's father in law Lord Cedric Burns. He knew many of his men wanted to defend the village and their homes to the last breath and he had tried to convince them that while Thornycroft was important to them; in the overall scheme of the war it was yet just another village that would be won or lost as the vagaries of war swung back and forth. It was not his intention to destroy his Brigade in Thornycroft it was more important to keep his Brigade intact, but he was worried that if or when he ordered a withdrawal would his men obey; there was no doubt some would stay to defend their homes to the death and if that occurred it would ultimately break the Brigade apart.

Now as he looked out from the village to the north he saw movement, raising his telescope he surveyed the horizon and indeed he saw the enemy units moving forward, It seemed that Lord Warwick had changed his mind. The struggle for the village it appeared was about to begin; quickly looking at his pocket watch general Stevenson noted it was 3:30pm.

It had not been part of the Parliamentary plan to use the 6th Militia brigade to assault the village of Thornycroft, the plan was that the regular 4th brigade would break the Royalist left and then sweep the remnants away as they isolated the town and the units defending it. However the 4th Brigade had indeed broken the Royalist left but had also itself been broken.
Lord Warwick was left with a decision, he could wait and allow his 4th Brigade to recover and then recommence the assault on the Royalist left or he could use the Militia to maintain pressure on the Royalists and hope the 4th Brigade recovered quickly enough to help finish the day.

If he waited he allowed the enemy units to regain their composure as well as his, if he attacked now he risked ending up with 2 shattered Brigades and losing the battle.
From Prisoners he learnt the enemy had 4 Militia battalions in this part of the Battle field, 1 in the village, 2 defending the exposed right and 1 in reserve near Burns wood.
His Lordship ultimately decided he had to maintain the pressure on the Royalists so for now he would start an attack on the village, if it appeared to go well he would press on, if there was a danger of losing he would pull back. He gave the order for the 21st Militia Jager battalion to move forward and cover the approach of the 9th and 10th Militia brigades, all through Battalions would centre their attack on the northern extremities of the village.

The 21st Jager advanced first, spread out in open order they engaged the Royalists in a firefight for some 10 minutes, then the 9th Battalion passed through the Jagers lines and charged the village.

The jagers withdrew and reformed while the 9th fought for a foothold in the village. The struggle between the parliamentary 9th Militia battalion and the Royalist 20th lasted an hour before the 9th withdrew, still in reasonable condition but quite disorganised. The Confederation Brigade commander decided he would bring the 10th up but needed the 9th out of the way.
The men of the Royalist battalion were encouraged by the way their General laid into the fight, he was seen hacking, swearing and cursing along with his men and there was little doubt that his example had made the difference between holding and being forced back.
Now the grimy, blood spattered general stood watching and waiting as one enemy battalion walked slowly back, he knew his men would be tested yet again; he also knew his men were weary, but they would fight despite that.

Lord Warwick was concerned the day was darkening, storm clouds had been gathering all day, fortunately so far the rain had held off, but it was clear that either a storm or the time of day was likely to decide this battle and whichever it was he wanted to be in that village, so as a last gamble he ordered in the 10th Militia Battalion.
The renewed struggle continued for another hour, the Royalist had miraculously held, but out of the 700 men in the battalion that started the day only 252 remained standing, waiting to fight yet again.
The 10th battalion did not suffer heavy losses, it was their morale that collapsed and Lord Warwick could see they were close to breaking so he ordered them back.

It was now 6:15pm, the rain clouds continued to hold off, though the day darkened. Warwick was becoming frustrated, all afternoon his army had battered themselves against the Royalists, they had done well, but they had not done enough to defeat the Royalists; yet.
His Lordship now received word that his units out to the left had recovered somewhat so were once more prepared to attack. It would be his last chance he decided because now the first spattering of rain was beginning to arrive.
At 6:45 the battle resumed once more.

Battlefield at 6:45pm

Lord Warwick realised time was against him, he had 2 hours of daylight left, and perhaps not even that if the threatening storm hit before dark, however the alternative was not an option because he expected the Royalists would have reinforcements arriving overnight and he had nothing coming to help him.

He decided therefore the attack would occur in two areas, Lord Burns manor-Burn's Timber mill would be the first and the second would be the village itself. He had reports that the Royalists had sent reinforcements into the village, but there was little he could do about that.

The Royalists had used the break in the fighting to replace the 20th Battalion which had defended the village so stoutly but was now too weak with the 27th Battalion which had been in position behind the village and was therefore untouched.
In the area of Lord Burns Manor the strongest surviving battalion the 24th (464) took up a position covering from the Manor north to Bligh River. Behind that battalion were several very weakened but recovered Battalions, the 20th (252) defended the strong walls of the Manor itself, and in reserve just south of Burns wood was the 23rd battalion (375).
The 22nd Battalion only 189 men remaining took up positions in the large Thornycroft Franciscan monastery, the Monks that lived there were already using the Monastery as a hospital so the scenes within those walls was quite chaotic.. The 25th Battalion (411) defended the area to the west of the Monastery. The other Battalions were at full strength.

The Confederate 17th (491) and 96th (351) lead the attack to the west, they advanced in line against the 24th (464).

The Confederate advanced into a withering fire from the Royalist 24th and a prolonged firefight ensured, by 7:15pm the 24th (224) was being pulled back into the timber mill itself. The 23rd (375) battalion which had been in reserve behind the manor took up a position behind and between Lord Burns Manor and the timber mill. The defenders of the Manor were greatly heartened to see the elderly Lord Cedric Burns standing on the upper floor windows of his great house with musket in hand yelling obscenities at the rebellious traitorous scum about to try and storm his home.
The Parliamentarian 121st (197) battalion was pulled back into reserve, it now being combat ineffective, the 18th Battalion (287) was not much better but at least its morale still held.
The attack now became a confused tangle the Confederate 18th battalion charged straight at the timber mill, it was later remarked that the Battalion commander had learnt nothing from the days fighting and even its own earlier experiences, charging in column against a defended position would be costly, and it was.
There was no fire from the 224 men of the Royalist 24th, there had not been time to organise the units for that, they had no sooner taken up positions in and around the large timber mill when the Parliamentary 18th battalion stormed in behind them, it was a fight with bayonet, musket and whatever one could lay their hands on.
After a 15 minute struggle the 18th (254) were successful in ejecting the defending 24th (155) out of the timber mill. The remnants of the 24th fled into the thick Burns wood and now were totally combat ineffective.

The Royalist 23rd (375) which was in position behind the timber mill now themselves charged into the timber mill, the Parliamentary 18th hardly having time to prepare a dense let aline fire at the approaching Battalion, defended themselves as best they remarkably the Confederate 18th battalion despite being numerically weaker were more determined to defend the hard gained timber mill and by 8:00pm that evening the 18th (101) had pushed back the 23rd. The fight had simply come down to the difference between the experience of regular troops against militia. The 23rd fled the timber mill and didnt stop running until they reach Scotts farm.
Thought the 18th held the Farm, with 101 men and being exhausted they were going no further in this battle.

As struggle for the timber mill was taking place another was being fought out around Burns Manor less than a mile to the south. The fight here was between the Parliamentarian 17th battalion (431) and the defending 20th battalion (252), however here the 17th were attacking a strong position, high stone walls and strong buildings and perhaps more telling was that the 17th were still tired from their struggle against the 24th just half an hour earlier.
However if the Parliament forces were to have a chance of victory, the Manor had to be taken.

The 17th advanced on the Manor in fine discipline, they moved through strong fire from the Royalists, the Battalion Commander deciding that to stop and return fire against men hidden by stone walls and buildings was a losing proposition he urged his men on.
The parliamentary Brigade commander even joined the charge against the manor, his men greatly improving their morale seeing their leader amongst them.

The fight for the walls only lasted 10 minutes but in that time the Royalists lost heavy in men, but the Parliamentary Battalion's morale plummeted as they were continuously pushed off the walls or back through the gates, eventually the 17th's (337) morale broke and they fled all the way back to Glenorchy farm.
The 20th only 150 men strong still held the manor and had maintained a remarkably high morale, his Lordship Cedric Burns was at the end of the battle still standing in the upper windows calling upon the fires of hell to burn the traitorous parliamentary scum. It was said in later times as people regale events of the battle that his lordships fiery example aided the men's morale, but most suspected it was the barrel of rum his lordship had dished out to the garrison just prior to the fight for his manor.

While the battle for the Timber mill and Manor were taking place, on the northern outskirts of Thornycroft Village another fight was also taking place.
Just like the Battalions further south the Parliamentary 21 Jager (599), 9th (510) & 10th (601)Militia battalions resumed their advance on the outskirts of the village at 6:45pm.

The attack began with the 21st Militia Jagers advancing in open order as they engaged the 27th (700) Royalist battalion which were in positions in and around the houses of Thornycroft.

The Jagers engaged in a unequal firefight for about 10 minutes and then as the 9th battalion moved through the jagers line the 21st jagers (497) withdrew in good order to reform. The 27th (648) royalist battalion, their morale still high waited for the next stage of the battle, it was not long in coming as soon as the 9th were clear of the 21st jagers they charged the Royalist positions.
The melee between the parliamentary 9th battalion and the 27th was a prolonged struggle that went on until 8:15, by now the only light left was from the fires of burning houses. At 8:15 the 9th Battalion broke and fled tot he rear the parliamentary 10th (601) Battalion advanced from the darkness into a village that was had become burning inferno. The 27th (459) seeing this new Battalion advancing on them could stand no more and they fled the village taking the 25th and 27th battalions with them.

The Battle of Thornycroft was over, it was a parliamentary victory but the losses will show it was a Pyrrhic victory, the Parliamentary Army was to exhausted and to weak to pursue into the night, the Royalists moved south on the road to London, but once they realised they were not being pursued they halted near the village of Camberwill. That evening one of the severest storms people could remember broke over Thornycroft, though the deluge was severe, it was in the eyes of many of god send as it help extinguish most of the fires in the town.

The Parliamentary (Confederation) force started the battle with 6300 men, they finished the day with  3659 men, allowing for wounded that return and men missing in 3 weeks time the army will be back to a full strength of 4502, thus leaving a battle loss of 1798 men.
The Royalist force started the battle with 5,600 men, they finished the day with 3046 men, allowing for the returns of wounded etc in 3 weeks time the Royalist army will be back to full strength of 3853 thus leaving a battle loss of 1747 men.

In strategic terms this battle was a non event, it was not meant to happen and as with so many battles  it occurred because a road junction offered security against flank attacks, and options for advances in future times for both armies.
In fighting this battle the difference in regular forces against Militia became apparent and I would say with some confidence that if the Parliamentary regular Brigade had been a militia one, they would have lost the battle.

Now eyes will turn to see who can take best advantage of recent events.

1 comment:

  1. what a brave fight those Royalists put up. but certainly the Parliamentarians are not looking so great after their victory.

    especially when even after the battle the royalists will have the greater numbers one their comrades return to them. even though they started out outnumbered.

    brave soldiers indeed. well written battle once more. and yes let us see who is the first to take advantage of this event.