Battle at the Windmill Hill

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER IV....continued


Hitherto all the skirmishes had been on the north side of the city in the direction of Pennyburn; and no bomb or cannon shot had reached the walls except what came from the Waterside; but the south side in its turn was now to be attacked. A windmill stood on the highest point of the ridge to the south of the city, from which circumstance it was called the Windmill Hill.

"Near Bishop's Gate the fatal windmills lie,
Where cattle feed and criminals do die."[10]

At an early hour on Monday morning, a party of besiegers, commanded by Brigadier-General Ramsay, —a gallant English officer who held high rank in James's army,—came to this hill, drove in a few outguards who were stationed there, and taking advantage of some old fences that crossed the ridge, they had by daybreak thrown up an earthen rampart, which reached from the bog over the crest of the hill down to the water's edge. Some of them even came near the ravelin and shot at the men on the ramparts. Their design was to secure a nearer position on which to erect a battery, and from which they could bring their cannon to bear with more effect upon the city walls. So soon as the daylight made it clear what their object was, it was resolved to attack them, and, if possible, to drive them out of a position so dangerous to the garrison. Baker was about making arrangements for detaching ten men out of each company to form an attacking party; but the men, impatient at the amount of time spent in making the necessary arrangements, and knowing that every moment lost would render the position of the enemy the stronger, ran out of the gate of their own accord.[11] Quickly as it was possible to do, they issued out of Ferry Gate at four in the morning. They attacked the soldiers engaged at the earthwork with the greatest fury, beat them out of the trench, killed a considerable number, and put the remainder to flight. The soldiers on both sides approached so closely that in some instances they struck each other with the butt end of their muskets. The turning-point of the engagement was, that the attacking party turned the flank of the besiegers near the river, and this movement compelled them to make a rapid retreat. Brigadier Ramsay, in an attempt to rally his men and bring them up again to renew the encounter, was slain. By twelve o'clock the whole affair was over, and victory had declared for the garrison.

This was the most successful conflict in which the city had been yet engaged. Four or five flags were captured, and it was estimated that two hundred of the enemy were killed,[12] and five hundred wounded. Several officers were made prisoners, the most important of whom were Lord Netterville, Sir Gerard Aylmer, and Lieutenant-Colonel Talbot—the brother of the Lord-Deputy Tyrconnel. Strangely enough, the attacking party had only three killed and twenty wounded. Next day Governor Baker sent a message to the enemy, that they might come and bury their dead; and, accordingly, Brigadier Ramsay was interred at the Long Tower, with all the honours due to his rank. This incident taught the garrison a lesson, and convinced them that it was necessary to occupy the Windmill Hill, the possession of which was the key of their position. Baker forthwith had an earthen rampart drawn across the summit of the ridge, secured it with redoubts, and had men stationed there to keep guard throughout the siege.

The Jacobites on the other side of the river often fired over at these guards, but from this cross-fire they protected themselves by redoubts.[13]

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[10] Londerias, ii. 2.

[11] Walker says he himself headed this party. Ash does not mention this, and Mackenzie denies it.—Invisible Champion, p. 8. The Londerias, iii. 10, names eight or nine officers who distinguished themselves in this engagement, but doEs not mention Walker.

[12] Avaux says, of course upon information received from the camp, "more than sixty or eighty."—Avaux to Louis, 20/10th May, 1689.

[13] Mack., Walker, Ash.

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.