The Jacobite Camp during the Siege of Derry

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER IV...continued

THE JACOBITE CAMP.—Friday, 5th July.

The three original and best-known records of the siege, written by men who lived within the city, make us well acquainted with what transpired within the walls during that memorable time; but they tell us very little of what occurred within the camp, seeing that their means of knowing it was so slight and untrustworthy. The correspondence of the French ambassador, however, lets us know that the besiegers were badly armed, badly trained, and poorly fed. He states that one of the cavalry regiments which Rosen brought down in June consisted of five companies badly mounted, the men without pistols or muskets or boots, and most of the horses without saddles or bridles. The others were little better.[43] The condition of the infantry and artillery was, if anything, worse. The following letter, written by General Rosen himself two days after the poor people departed, is also exceedingly valuable for supplying us with much of what is lacking in the three city historians. It shows the interpretation which the enemy put upon the conduct of Kirke; it lets us see why the Jacobites were in the beginning of July more desirous than ever that the city should be in their possession, and also why it was that they were not able to take it. After reading this important communication, we are no longer at a loss to see how it was, that in almost every encounter three at least of the assailants were killed for every one of the garrison.


5th July, 1689.


"I am grieved to see so little attention given to the execution of your Majesty's orders, at a time when matters are become troublesome and embarrassed. Kirke is always at his post, waiting the arrival of three regiments of cavalry and two of infantry, which are to join him, under the command of Charles Count Schomberg. There is no doubt but this expectation has kept him from making any attempt to throw provisions into Derry, as he might easily have done, by hazarding some vessels for that end; yet your troops which have been lately sent have arrived almost in the same condition with the former, having been obliged to take such arms with them as were given them, the greater part of which are damaged and broken, and accordingly useless, as you have not in all your army a single gunsmith to mend them.[44]

"The troops which are here with Hamilton are in a still worse condition, and the regiments entirely lost and ruined; the strongest battalion having but two hundred men, and more than two-thirds of them without swords, belts, or bandeliers. The cavalry and dragoons are not the better that they are the more numerous, as the strongest company has not more than twelve or fourteen troopers able to serve. The river which divides your army, and prevents a communication, diminishes it considerably. The detachment under the Duke of Berwick's command, being more than thirty miles from this place, weakens it entirely, as he cannot leave the post which he has been obliged to take, without allowing the Enniskilleners to possess it, and to shut us up behind. All this, Sire, together with the embarrassment of the artillery, and the carriages which are here, with very little means of conveying them in a country where one is necessarily obliged to go by the one road, which is very bad, should now induce your Majesty to adopt a measure which is of the utmost consequence to the good of your service. It is for this reason I humbly beseech you to consider this maturely, and to send me instantly your orders about what we should do, as I had already the honour to ask by my two last letters, to which I have yet received no answer.

"I cannot comprehend how the regiment of Walter Butler could be sent away from Dublin without swords and without powder and ball. I am still more surprised that Bagnal's regiment has been employed to escort the treasure, without giving them a single shot, although, as the officers told me, they frequently asked, without being able to obtain any; yet, Sire, they both of them marched two days quite close to the garrison of Enniskillen, in danger of falling a prey to them. The garrison of Belturbet is in the same situation, having had, as Sutherland told me, but little powder, and not a single ball. My heart bleeds, Sire, when I reflect on the continuance of this negligence, since it appears to me that no one is in any pain about the ruin of your affairs. I hope that the return of this express will bring me your Majesty's ultimate orders, and I wish they may arrive in time enough for me to put them properly in execution, having no other object but to show you my zeal and attachment for your service; because I am, with a very profound respect, submission, and loyalty, Sire, your Majesty's, etc., etc.,


There can be no doubt that, during the siege, the besiegers suffered much from sickness, produced by exposure, fatigue, and unhealthy food,[46] while this letter shows that they were more at the mercy of the garrison than is generally supposed, for lack of the material of war.[47]

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[43] Avaux to Louis, 26/16th June.

[44] This account is confirmed by Avaux. "I have seen," says he, "a letter of the colonel of one of the regiments sent to Derry, who writes that in all his regiment they have but seven musquets; the rest have sticks of three feet long, which they carry on the shoulders, and some have pikes that are not shod with iron."—Avaux to Louvois, from Dublin, May 12/2, 1689.

[45] Macpherson Papers, vol. i., p. 208.

[46] "The bloody flux, small-pox, fevers, and agues being among them, they die extremely fast in the Irish camp; the generality of their sustenance being nothing else but oatmeal and water, with some raw, lean beef."—A True Account, p. 12.

[47] Some of their bombs had to be buried at Strabane simply for lack of draught-horses to convey them to the camp.—Avaux to Louvois, 19/9th Aug., 1689.

Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689

Thomas Witherow's thoroughly researched and well-annotated work is a classic account of the Siege of Derry, from the shutting of the gates against the Jacobite forces by the thirteen apprentice boys to the relief of the city by Major-General Kirke's fleet in July 1689. The defence of Enniskillen and the counteroffensive actions of the Enniskilleners is also ably documented.

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Fighters of Derry

William R. Young’s Fighters of Derry has for decades been one of the most overlooked works on the Siege of Derry and as a local genealogical resource. First published in 1932, the book was the product of ten years’ research into identifying participants at the siege which the author undertook when suffering from ill-health in the latter part of his life.

The book is essentially divided into two parts: the first contains 1660 biographical entries relating to the defenders of Derry, tracing, where possible, the family lineage; and the second part includes 352 entries on the Jacobite side. Apart from individual accounts of eminent protagonists in the siege, such as David Cairnes, Rev. George Walker, the Duke of Schomberg, Patrick Sarsfield, etc., there is also background given to many of the most influential families involved in the conflict.

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The Actions of the Enniskillen-men

While the epic siege of Derry is usually accorded its proper place in history, the contemporaneous exploits of the Enniskillen men are often overlooked. This is manifestly unjust because the Enniskilleners demonstrated bravery and heroism in battle at least equal to that of the defenders of Londonderry. Some, of course, rate the actions of the Enniskillen men more highly. As far as Revd Andrew Hamilton, the Rector of Kilskeery and author of A True Relation of the Actions of the Inniskilling Men (1690), was concerned ‘The Derry men saved a city but the Enniskilleners saved a kingdom.’

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