The Council of War in the Irish Camp

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER IV...continued


Meanwhile affairs did not prosper in the Irish camp. Their hardships were great, and their hopes were not bright. On the 20th of July, General Hamilton wrote to King James, "That when the trench was opened, they had fourteen battalions, consisting at most in six thousand men; that the besieged were then, by what they could learn, five thousand strong; that as the town's forces were diminished by sickness and mortality, so His Majesty's forces were grown weaker by the same reasons. Besides by men killed, wounded, and desertions, that His Majesty's forces now about Derry did not by a great deal amount to the number of five thousand men; that the most part of the fleet was between Ramullan and the Isle of Inch; that their design was to raise as many men as they could, and to join with the Enniskillen people; that the Marshal kept his bed and was much out of humour, and was resolved to meddle with nothing; that if special care was not taken, they would shortly want provisions for their men, everything being extremely bare about Derry."

On the day that this was written, a Council of War was held in the camp, and the opinion of all the general officers was that the town could not be taken except by famine. Each officer gave his opinion in writing, and the collective opinion was in this form sent to the King. Their opinions may be read with interest at the present moment. They are as follow:—

"The Chevalier de Carny is of opinion that the place cannot be taken by force, with so small a number of troops and cannon as are before it; because they are entirely diminished by sickness, and because he believes the besieged are at least two thousand. (Signed) CHARLES CARNY."

"My opinion is, since our army is reduced by sickness and fatigues and desertion, not to the number of three thousand men able for service, judge that number is not in a condition to force the town in a certain time; but believe that these of the town are far inferior to our number. (Signed by) JOHN WAUCHOP."

"By what I have observed since the trenches were opened, I am of opinion it will be impossible for us, in the condition we are in, to force the town that way; and that the necessities of the besieged will sooner reduce them, than we can by beginning another attack. (Signed by) DOM. SHELDON."

"My opinion is that we cannot force the town speedily, by reason of the want of cannon; and that the infantry is fallen very weak, by sickness and desertion; but to keep the blockade as long as His Majesty's service will permit. (Signed) THO. BUCHAN."

"My opinion on the present situation of affairs is, that considering the forces which are, before Derry, and those which are in the place, it is impossible to take it by force at all, much less to take it in a limited time. It might be reduced by famine if we had time and a sufficient number of troops to hinder the ships from throwing in provisions; and at the same time to hinder by a body of troops on the river Finn the junction of the troops which Kirke hath landed in the Isle of Inch, with those who have joined the rebels of Enniskillen, to whom it will be necessary to oppose a body of troops at Trillick; and all these projects will be ineffectual if care is not taken that provisions shall not fail. (Signed) GIRARDIN."

"It is my opinion that it is impossible to take the town of Derry by storm with the little number of foot that is here, or without a considerable number of battering guns, much less to guess when it shall be taken; and I do certainly believe that, unless they want provisions, they will never surrender.—BERWICK."

To these General Richard Hamilton added his own opinion, which was substantially the same as Girardin's. The despatch containing these opinions reached the King at Dublin on the 22nd, and he lost no time in replying in the following terms:—

"Whereas we understand by your letters of the 20th instant, that it is the opinion of all the general officers that it is impossible to take the town of Derry but by famine, we have thought fit not to wait Major Nugent's return, but to send you our orders concerning the same. Seeing that Derry cannot be taken by force with such a small number of men as it is besieged by, our will and pleasure is, that, as soon as you receive this, you prepare for raising the siege, and then actually raise it, unless you be of opinion that, in continuing the blockade, the town will be forced to surrender for want of provision, which in all appearance must happen very shortly." [59]

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[59] Macpherson Papers, vol. i., p. 216.

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.