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Reign of William and Mary page 12


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The soldiers of William's army consisted of a variety of nations, many of whom had won fame under great leaders. There were Dutch, which had fought under William and his great generals against those of Louis of France; Germans, Danes, Finlanders, French Huguenots, now purged of their false countrymen; English and Scotch troops, which had fought also in Holland, in Tangiers, at Killiecrankie; and Anglo-Irish, which had won such laurels at Londonderry, Enniskillen, and Newton Butler. All were animated by the presence of the king, and of his assembled generals of a wide renown, and with the confidence of putting down the popish king with his French supporters and his Irish adherents, who had robbed and expelled them and their families. The Germans and Dutch burned to meet again the French invaders of their country, the desolators of the palatinate; and the French protestants were as much on fire to avenge themselves on their catholic countrymen, who had been their oppressors. It was not merely English troops acting on ordinary grounds of hostility against Irish ones, but representatives of almost all protestant Europe collected to avenge the wrongs of protestants and of their own countries.

William was confident in his army, and declared that he was not come to Ireland to let the grass grow under his feet. Schomberg still recommended caution when it was no longer needed, and thus gave a colour to the words of those who accused him of having shown too much caution already, which they insinuated was but the result of old age. On the 24th of June, only ten days after landing, William was in full march southward. James did not wait for his coming, but abandoned Dundalk and retreated into Drogheda. His generals, indeed, represented to him that caution and delay were his best policy against so powerful a force, and even recommended that he should retreat beyond Dublin and entrench himself at Athlone, as a more central and defensible position; but James would not listen to this, and Tyrconnel strengthened him in the resolution.

William marched on through a country beautiful in its natural features, but presenting all the dreadful traces of the lawless condition of things under James - houses and outbuildings burnt down, woods destroyed, and fields destitute of man and beast; yet the natural features and fertility of the country were such amid its ruin, that William was heard to say, "It is a country worth fighting for." On the 30th of June, the sixth day of his advance, William reached an eminence early in the morning near Drogheda, and beheld the camp of James posted along the south bank of the Boyne, and his flags and those of the French flying from the walls of that town. William appeared rejoiced at the sight, and exclaimed, "I am glad to see you, gentlemen; if you escape me now, the fault will be mine." He rode forward with a number of his staff to reconnoitre the hostile forces. He found the enemy disposed in two lines, extending from the walls of Drogheda to near the bridge of Slane, two miles off. At a place called Oldbridge - probably from a bridge once having existed there - was yet a ford, which he determined on the morrow to force with his troops. Only part of James's forces were visible from the undulations of the country, and some of his staff remarked that James's army was but small. "It may be larger than it looks," observed William; "but, large or small, I will soon know more about them."

With a degree of incaution remarkable in a man of such cautious habits, on such an important occasion, where the fortunes of the whole kingdom depended on his security, he ordered his followers to lay breakfast on the turf nearly opposite to Oldbridge, and there, with his staff, Schomberg, Solmes, Ormond, Sidney, Coningsby, prince George of Hesse, and others, he coolly sat down to his repast within gunshot of the opposite shore. The circumstance soon attracted the notice of the enemy, and a body of horsemen rode close to the river's brink to reconnoitre. They were so near that William's attendants could recognise amongst them the duke of Berwick, Lauzun, the French general, Tyrconnel, and others. This, which ought to have warned William and his party to remove their banquet to a safer distance, failed to do so, till suddenly, just as they had finished and were mounting, a cannon-shot struck the horse of the prince of Hesse to the ground, and a second, falling short, made a bound, and struck William himself on the shoulder. He fell on the neck of his horse, and the enemy, observing it, raised a loud shout, believing him dead. But William quickly regained his position, bade his attendants, who were now terribly alarmed, to make themselves easy; that no harm was done, but that the bullet had come quite near enough. It was found that it had torn away his coat from the shoulder, and wounded him, but not seriously. His hurt was bandaged on the spot, and William proceeded, as if nothing had happened, to superintend the operations of the field. His troops were brought down to the banks of the river, and a brisk cannonade was commenced betwixt the armies, which continued through the day. What William saw of the conduct of those regiments which had to-day for the first time come under fire, satisfied him. "All is right," he observed; "they stand fire well."

William did not return to his tent till about nine o'clock in the evening, having seen all arrangements made for forcing the river, and engaging the enemy on their own bank in the morning; and notwithstanding his wound, at midnight he rode through the ranks with torches to see that all his orders had been fully executed. Once more Schomberg declared that he was too rash in venturing to engage under such disadvantages of position; but William was not to be dissuaded, a proof that if Schomberg and not William had had to prosecute the war, it would not have been soon over.

The morning of the 1st of July, destined to become a great epoch in Ireland, rose brilliantly, and the opposing armies were in motion by four o'clock. William overnight had given the word Westminster as the recognition sign, and ordered his men, moreover, to wear each a green sprig in his hat, to distinguish them from the enemy, who, out of compliment to France, wore a white cockade, generally of paper. William's disposition of battle was for Meinhart Schomberg, the son of the old general, supported by Portland and Douglas with the Scotch guards, to take the right and secure the bridge of Slane. He himself headed the left wing near Drogheda with a strong force of cavalry, and Schomberg the centre, which was opposite Oldbridge, where he was supported by the Blues of Solmes, and the brave Londonderries and Enniskilleners, and on his left the French Huguenots under Caillemot, and betwixt them and William the Danes. Meinhart Schomberg found the bridge of Slane already occupied by Sir Neil O'Neil, with a regiment of Irish Dragoons; but the English charged them briskly, killed O'Neil, and made themselves masters of the bridge. This was a grand advantage at the outset. It enabled the English to attack the right wing of James, and endangered their seizure of the pass of Duleek, a very narrow defile in the hills, about four miles in their rear, by which they would cut off altogether their retreat. Lauzun, who had posted the main strength of the Irish infantry at the foot of Oldbridge, and supported them by Sarsheld's horse, was compelled to dispatch the horse towards Slane Bridge, to guard against this danger, thus weakening his centre.

Nearly at the same moment that this movement took place, William put himself at the head of his cavalry, and with his sword in his left hand, for his right arm was too sore and stiff from his wound to hold it, he dashed into the river and led his wing across. At the same moment Schomberg gave the word, and the centre was in motion. Solmes' Dutch Blues led the way, and their example was instantly followed by the men of Londonderry and Enniskillen, and at their left the Huguenots. The men waded through the stream, holding aloft their muskets and ammunition. The brunt of the encounter was there, for there the enemy had expected the main attack, and had not only concentrated their forces there, horse and foot, but had defended the bank with a breastwork and batteries. The

English had to advance against the deadly fire from these defences, and from the thronging Irish, who raised the wildest hurrahs, whilst they could return no fire till they were nearly across and sufficiently raised from the water. Then they saw the breastwork and the batteries lined with one mass of foes. They, however, pushed resolutely forward, fired, charged the foe, and in an instant the whole demoralised Irish broke and fled. Never was there so complete and ignominious a rout. These men, on whom so much depended, but who, spite of all warnings to James, had been suffered to plunder and riot without restraint or discipline, now dispersed with so dastardly a rapidity that it was more like a dream than a reality, and the report of the cowardice of the Irish flew nearly as fast into the whole of Europe, and has only been wiped off by their gallantry in the wars of our own times.

The engagement was now general, from the left where William commanded, almost under the walls of Drogheda, to the bridge of Slane. The English and their allies had forced their way across the river, and were engaged in fierce contest with the Irish horse, and the French cavalry and foot. When Schomberg saw the cavalry of Tyrconnel and Hamilton bear down upon his centre, and that they had actually driven back Solmes' Blues into the river, he dashed into the river himself, to rally and encourage them. Probably stung by a generous sense of shame, for he had discouraged the attempt to attack the Irish army in that position, the old man now exhibited an opposite degree of incaution, for without defensive armour he rushed into the melee, disregarding the advice of his officers to put on his cuirass. As he rode through the river, Caillemot was borne past him to the north bank mortally wounded, but still crying to his brave Huguenots, "On! on! my lads! To glory! to glory!" Schomberg took up the cry of encouragement to the men, appalled by the loss of their general, and said, "Allons, messieurs, voila vos persecuteurs!" But scarcely had he uttered the words when he, too, received a mortal wound and fell. When he was found he was dead, with a bullet wound through his neck, and a couple of sword gashes on his head. In the Life of James he is said to have been killed by O'Toule, an exempt of the guards. About the same time fell Walker of Londonderry, who had come along with his townsmen. William had made him bishop of Londonderry, and when told of his death said very justly, "What business had he there?" In defending Londonderry Walker was at home and justified, but not in leaving his flock to follow the army.

For half an hour the battle raged with a fury such as the oldest soldiers of the Netherlands now declared they had never seen surpassed. Hamilton and Tyrconnel led on their cavalry against Schomberg's forces with a steadiness and bravery that was as much to their credit as their conduct in civil life had been disgraceful. William, on his part, had found a warm reception on the left. The Irish horse witlistood him stoutly, and drove back his guards and the Enniskillens repeatedly. On his first coming up to the Enniskillens, he was mistaken by them for one of the enemy, and was near being shot by a trooper. The mistake being rectified, the Enniskilleners followed him with enthusiasm. William threw away all thought of personal hazard, and led them into the thickest of the fight. At one moment a ball carried away the cock of his pistol, at another the heel of his boot, but he still led on. The Enniskillens fought desperately, and the horse of Ginckel charged brilliantly.

They were thus fighting their way towards the centre, and had advanced as far as Plottin Castle, about a mile and a half from Oldbridge, when the Irish horse made a last furious effort, drove back the Enniskilleners, and killed a number of them. William rallied them, and again led them to the charge, broke the Irish cavalry, and took prisoner Hamilton, who had been heading this gallant charge. When William saw the man who had proved so traitorous to him when sent to Ireland, wounded and a prisoner, he said, " Is this business over, or will your horse make more fight?" "On my honour, sir," replied Hamilton, "I believe they will." "Your honour, indeed!" muttered William; but ordering the wounded man to be properly attended to, he rode forward to join the main body and end the fight.

That was now soon over. The centre and the right wing had done dreadful execution. They had nearly annihilated whole regiments. One of them had only thirty men left without a wound. They had fought in a manner worthy of a better cause and a better leader, for James had early abandoned the field, and left his deluded followers to the mercy of the enemy. No sooner did he see the Irish fly before the enemy at Oldbridge, than, from his safe position on the hill of Donore, he gave orders for all the baggage and the artillery, except six pieces, already in full employ in the engagement, to be conveyed with all speed on the road to Dublin, so as to effect their passage through the defile of Duleek; and, escorted by Sarsfield's horse, he made all haste after them.

If James was one of the worst and most infatuated monarchs that ever reigned in time of peace, in war he was the most dastardly. In England he fled disgracefully on the approach of William, without a blow, and here again ho showed the same utter want of spirit and energy. He had taken no care to keep his soldiers disciplined and in proper tone for the coming war, and he deserted them at the first symptoms of reverse. If the English had pushed on briskly from the bridge of Slane they might still have intercepted him, and brought him prisoner to William; but, the conflict over, they relaxed their efforts, and William gave orders to spare the flying troops as much as possible. When Lauzun and Tyrconnel approached the pass of Duleek with their retreating cavalry, they found it choked with a confused mass of wagons artillery, and terrified fugitives. They therefore faced about and repelled the pursuers till the rout had got through. The cavalry of William still followed the flying throng as far as the Neale, a second pass, and till it grew dark, when they returned to the main army. James continued his panic flight, however, never stopping till he reached Dublin. The city had all day been in a state of intense excitement. First had come the news that William was wounded, then that he was dead; amid the rejoicing of the Jacobites came the horrid news of the defeat, followed about sunset by James himself, attended by about two hundred cavalry, haggard, wayworn, and covered with dust. All that night kept pouring in the defeated troops, and early in the morning James, not deeming himself safe, took leave if the mayor, aldermen, and officers of his army, upbraiding the Irish with their cowardice in having deserted him almost without a blow, and vowing that he would never trust to an Irish army again. The Irish returned the compliment, arid declared that, if the English would exchange kings, they were ready to fight again, and to conquer too. If any man had ever caused his own misfortune and defeat, it was James; but be never took the means to avoid discomfiture, and he never saw, or, at least, seemed to see, that the blame lay with himself. Without, therefore, making another effort, though he had a large army still on foot, and all the south of Ireland to employ it in, he continued his flight towards Waterford, in terror all the way lest he should be overtaken by William's cavalry, and, reaching Waterford on the third day, he got away by water, without loss of time, to Kinsale, whence he sailed for France, quitting Ireland at the spot where he had entered it.

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