Second Battle at the Windmill Hill

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER IV....continued


Beyond the constant cannonade that was kept up around the walls, nothing of importance occurred up till the 4th of June. On that day, about ten o'clock in the morning, the Jacobites made a fierce attack with horse and foot on the line of rampart which the garrison had drawn across the Windmill Hill,—

"From Columb's wells near to the flowing tide."

The horse were divided into three parties: the first of these was under command of Captain Butler, second son of Lord Mountgarret, and the other two were disposed in such a way as to support the first. The foot were divided into two divisions: one of which was ordered to attack the earthworks between the Windmill and the river; the other, consisting of grenadiers, to attack the lines between the Windmill and the Bog. The first party of horse, each rider carrying a bundle of faggots, with the design of filling up the trench, and encouraged by the wild yells and huzzas of their friends in the camp, came on most furiously. Instead of facing the rampart directly, they rode round that end of it which abutted on the Strand, under a thick fire from the men who occupied the trench. Twenty-five of them succeeded in making their way within the lines. As the shot was found to make little impression on the cavalry, owing to the fact, afterwards ascertained, that the men in the front rank wore armour under their clothes, the word was given to aim at the horses, the result of which was that horse and rider were soon brought to the ground. Then the men in the trench, headed by Captains James and John Gladstanes, issuing from their cover, attacked them on the Strand with muskets, pikes, and scythes. Most of them were slain, some were driven into the river, and Captain Butler himself was taken prisoner. Of the whole party, only three men made their escape. The other horsemen, warned by what befell their companions, did not venture to come on. The main loss to the besieged in this encounter arose from the cannon planted on the other side of the river, which flanked the party in the trenches when they were engaged with the horse.

Meanwhile the foot, also carrying faggots to fill up the trench, attacked the line farther up from the river, and near the crest of the hill. They seem to have imagined that the defenders of the rampart, being untrained men, would fire all at the same time, and that then they would have time to dash forward and mount the rampart before it would be possible for the defenders to recharge. But in this they were mistaken. The garrison soldiers by this time had acquired a little experience. They formed in three ranks: the first rank, after it fired, retired and made way for the second; the second, after firing, made way for the third; and so soon as the third had discharged its muskets, the first was ready to advance and to fire again. Each redoubt was provided with three or four reliefs of this kind. By this expedient a constant shower of bullets rained upon the advancing foe. Confused and weakened by this galling fire, the few who were bold enough to press forward to the fence were either felled with the heavy end of the muskets, or pulled over it by the hair of their heads. The others wheeled about, and retired slowly. As they retired, each of them took up one of his dead companions on his back, and bore him off the field: an act which proved to be as politic as it was humane, for it protected their backs from the shot of their foes.

While these engagements were progressing between the Windmill and the river, the grenadiers were attempting to storm the earthworks nearer to the Bog. Here the men in the trenches seem to have been taken off their guard, and were beaten out so completely, that, it is said, for a time none was left except a little boy who stood on the rampart, and threw stones as the besiegers advanced. But at last Colonel Monro, nephew of the Major-General Monro who commanded the Scottish forces in Carrickfergus which were sent over to put down the rebellion in 1641, assisted by Captain Michael Cunningham, at the head of a strong body from the city, dashed forward against the assailants, threw them into confusion, and pursued them over the meadows with great slaughter.

Victory in the end declared for the garrison all along the line; the men had not only stood fire firmly, but repelled a fierce assault with success. Baker on that day behaved well. From the walls of the city, like a good general, he kept his eye on every point of the field, and where he observed that the men under fire were in any danger, he was always ready with reinforcements to send to their relief. The women of Derry, in their own fashion, rendered excellent service also. When the shot of the enemy flew around like hail, they carried bread, drink, and ammunition to the men in the trenches, and at the time when the grenadiers were pressing hard upon their fathers, brothers, and husbands, near the Bog-side, they kept up a constant fire of stones to annoy and to blind the assailants. It was estimated that the Jacobites in this engagement lost about four hundred men in killed and wounded;[17] and, besides, various officers were taken prisoners, and four flags captured. The loss of the garrison was surprisingly small; it amounted only to one captain and five or six men, who were killed. This can only be accounted for by the fact that they fought under cover of the rampart, and were not much exposed, except to that dreaded flank fire from the other side of the river.

This was the most important engagement that occurred during the siege, and the result was most encouraging to the garrison. The Jacobites had in force attempted to storm their earthworks outside the city gates, and had failed. There was, of course, rejoicing in town; but trembling mingled with their joy, for the besiegers, in their anger and vexation, discharged that night no less than thirty-six bombs into the city.[18]

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[17] A dragoon who came up to Dublin to be cured of his wounds, prior to the 8th of June, reported "that he left 400 lying of their wounds in the Church of Culmore; that they had lost near seven or eight thousand by the sword and sickness since they sat down before Derry."—A True Account, p. 11. The latter statement is certainly an exaggeration.

[18] Mack., June 4th; Walker and Ash, June 4th.

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.