The Battle of Newtonbutler (Newtownbutler)

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER VI...continued

NEWTONBUTLER.—Same day, 3lst July.

By eleven o'clock, Wolseley sent to say that he had come to Berry's relief. He had taken the old road to Lisnaskea, and the two officers met at the moat above the town with mutual congratulations. Wolseley and his men had come with such haste to relieve their friends that they had brought no provisions with them, and to them it was a necessity either to engage the enemy without loss of time or to return immediately to Enniskillen. On the suggestion of the officers, it was agreed that the men themselves should be consulted. They were called together, and the question was put—Advance and fight, or retreat to Enniskillen ? The men and the officers agreed unanimously to advance and fight. The battle-word was given—No Popery; than which none could be more acceptable to Enniskillen men.

From every troop four men were taken, and, with an officer at their head, were sent forward in advance to prevent a surprise. The main body followed after, consisting of sixteen troops of horse, three of dragoons, and twenty-one companies of foot, making in all something over 2000 men. There was not a very great disproportion between them and the body which they were about to encounter. Macarthy, ten days before, had left Dublin at the head of 3600 men.[47]

Meanwhile, the Jacobite general had reached Newtonbutler on his way to meet the Enniskilleners. Half a mile beyond Donagh the advance parties of the two armies came in sight of each other. The Jacobite party retired, and the Williamites went forward. Within half a mile of Newtonbutler there is a hill, and at the base of the hill, on the Lisnaskea side, there was a bog over which the narrow road ran, like a causeway made across a swamp. On the hill overlooking this pass, a party of Macarthy's men were stationed, in a position so advantageous that, if disposed, they could have disputed the passage with some prospect of success. The Enniskillen men saw at a glance the disadvantage of position at which they themselves were placed, but did not hesitate a moment as to the course they were to take. By order of Wolseley, Colonel Tiffin, with his foot, took the bog on the right; Lloyd, with his foot, took the bog on the left; and Berry, at the head of the horse, advanced in the centre along the causeway. Wolseley, with the main body, brought up the rear, prepared to send relief to any quarter where relief might most be needed. Before they came within range, the Jacobites opened upon them a fire of small arms; but their opponents, without breaking their ranks, marched steadily through the bog, and they had not fired more than two or three volleys till they saw the enemy begin to retreat. On observing this, their impulse, as might be expected from non-professional soldiers, was to break from their ranks, and start in full pursuit—an act which on their part would have forfeited the honours of the day. Their officers, however, held them in with a tight rein, because the enemy retired in such good order, that it was feared the design was to draw them into an ambuscade. Guided by their officers, they advanced in as good order as the enemy retreated. As the Jacobites retired, they set fire to the town of Newtonbutler, and the country houses which lay around it.

In this way the one party withdrew and the other went forward, until both had passed through the town of Newtonbutler, and had gone nearly a mile beyond it. Here they reached another bog nearly a mile in extent, through which the narrow road passed as before, and on the rising ground at the remote end of this causeway the main body of the enemy was drawn up in order of battle. The horse were planted on the hill; the foot, a little farther down, were posted mostly under cover; and the cannon were planted in such a position that they could command the causeway, and sweep along its whole length.

The Enniskilleners advanced against them in the same order as before; the foot took the bog and the horsemen kept the road. The cannon of the enemy, however, played so incessantly, that the Enniskillen horse could not advance a single step along the hazardous pathway. As the foot made their way across the bog, the enemy, from behind their cover, fired briskly at them; but still they went on steadily until they had gained firm ground, and dashing forward with force, they beat them out of their shelter, seized their cannon, killed the gunners, and commenced deliberately to ascend the hill. No sooner were the cannon silenced, than the Enniskillen horse dashed over the causeway at full speed to take their part in the conflict. When the enemy's horse, from the top of the hill, saw that the bog had been crossed and the guns captured, they wheeled about and galloped off in the direction of Wattle-bridge; leaving their foot to shift for themselves. The foot kept their ground until they saw that their own horse were fled, and that the Enniskillen horse were upon them; then they too broke and fled. They "fled in such terror," says Avaux, "that they threw away their muskets, pistols, and swords, and when most of them had burst their horses they cast away their garments that they might go more quickly on foot."

Avaux records the case of St. Martin, a French officer of distinction, who lost his life on this occasion. He was engaged in discharging a cannon, when he was wounded in the belly by a musket-ball. A brother officer lent him a horse, on which he fled along with the cavalry. He had hoped to stop at Cavan, but seeing that all the others fled farther on, he continued his flight. After riding fourteen miles he fell, exhausted, from his horse. He was then raised again to the saddle and put in charge of a horseman, but after riding two miles farther his bowels were protruding from the wound, and he fell from the horse stiff dead.[48]

It seems strange that the Jacobite horse fled, not only without an effort to retrieve the fortune of the day, but even without taking any part whatever in the engagement. Within a few weeks after it had occurred, one of the most trustworthy historians of the time—a chaplain in King William's army—was informed that the whole affair was caused by an officer mistaking the word of command. It seems that when the Enniskilleners charged very briskly the right wing of the enemy, Macarthy ordered some of the men to face to the right and march to the support of their friends. The officer who received the general's orders, in the confusion of the moment mistook their import, ordered the men, not to face to the right, but to face right-about and march. When the men on the hill saw their own soldiers turned with their faces to them, they concluded they were retreating, and galloped off immediately. Those in front of the Enniskilleners, seeing that they were deserted by their own party, then flung down their arms and scampered away.[49]

Had the fugitives taken to the open country on the left hand and broken up into small parties, most of them would have eventually escaped; but, being strangers, it so happened that nearly all took to the right through a great bog, in the direction of Lough Erne. The Enniskillen horse continued the pursuit for ten miles, but failed to overtake the horse of the enemy, most of whom escaped; but they planted a guard at Wattle-bridge, and swept the road from the bridge to the battle-field. Lough Erne was impassable in front, and the third side of the triangle was occupied by the Enniskillen foot, who now broke up into small parties, and pursued the fugitives. In their panic the strangers flung their arms into turf-pits, and hurried on till the lake stopped them. The Enniskilleners, mindful of the perfidy of Galmoy, gave little quarter. All that night they beat the bushes and hunted along the turf-banks, looking for the enemy, and it was ten o'clock the next morning before the officers could recall them from the pursuit. By that time there was scarcely a foot-soldier in all Macarthy's army, who was not taken prisoner or dead. Those who were not slain in the bog were drowned in the Erne. Out of five hundred who took the water, only one man, who proved to be a powerful swimmer, escaped the bullets of his pursuers, and made good his way to the opposite shore.

When Lieutenant-General Macarthy saw that his men were fled, and that the battle was irretrievably lost, he and five or six of his officers went into a clump of trees near the place where the cannon were planted, and, some short time after the main body had started in pursuit, he issued from his place of concealment, and with his companions made an attack upon the small party who were left in charge of the guns. At first, the men took them for a party of their own friends, but when their leader undeceived them by firing his pistol at them, they levelled their muskets at him and brought him to the ground desperately-wounded. A soldier was about to finish up with the butt-end of his musket, when one of his companions cried out to them to spare his life, for he was their general. Captain Cooper, in command of the party, instantly gave him quarter, and had him removed to Newtonbutler, that his wounds might be dressed. When asked why he did not escape with the rest of the horse, he said that he was now convinced that the cause of King James was lost; that, with the exception of the men in front of Derry, his were the best soldiers that his master possessed; and that he had no wish to outlive the disaster of that day. He had on one occasion saved the life of Colonel Crichton of Crom, whom Galmoy wished to treat as he treated Dixie, but through the forcible interference of Macarthy he had been saved; and the Enniskilleners were glad to have it in their power to repay his generosity, by giving him his life. Sir Stephen Martin was killed, and Lord Abercorn wounded on this occasion, while various other officers of distinction barely escaped with life.[50]

The following is the account which Avaux gave his master of the Battle of Newtonbutler:—"The troops return from the siege of Derry entirely ruined, and those commanded by Lord Mountcashel have been beaten and put to flight in a manner to make one despair of such soldiers. When the Enniskilleners came in great disorder but with great courage to attack Mountcashel, the cavalry and dragoons fled without firing a pistol, and after some of them had burst their horses with the force of flight, they took to their feet and threw away their weapons, their swords, and jackets, that they might run more swiftly. The infantry also behaved badly. Mountcashel, who headed the reserve battalion, has been wounded, his horse killed, himself taken, and, as he was forsaken by all, it was reported that he is dead; but he is under good treatment at Enniskillen."[51]

He was kept at Enniskillen till his wounds were healed; but not being very closely guarded, he escaped at the end of five months' captivity, by bribing one of his sentinels.[52]

This was by far the greatest victory yet obtained by the Williamites, on the field of battle, since the commencement of the war. Two thousand amateur soldiers at Enniskillen, led by English officers, had, in a pitched battle, defeated nearly a double number of the enemy. Two thousand were actually slain, five hundred drowned in the Lough, and four hundred were taken prisoners, most of whom were officers; and when the remnant of Macarthy's army reached Dublin, it was found that three thousand of those who had left it only two weeks before were missing. On the side of the Enniskilleners, there were only twenty killed, and forty or fifty wounded. So profound was the alarm that this defeat produced in Dublin, that King James in a secret council was advised by Melfort to retire from the city to the Castle of Rathfarnham, and to give up the struggle. It was owing to Tyrconnel, the Lord Chief Justice, and the Lord Chief Baron, who united in a different opinion, that he remained in Ireland a little longer.[53]

On Thursday, the 2nd of August, the victors returned home, having captured from the enemy seven cannon, thirteen barrels of powder, a great quantity of ball, and all their drums and colours. It was not till two or three days afterwards, they learned that the day of their great victory at Newtonbutler was the very day on which the army of King James fled from Derry. The 31st July, 1689, was a memorable point in the history of this kingdom; the friends of King William and of the Revolution, through the favour of Divine Providence, had gained two victories in one day.[54] For more than three months the two towns had fought a fierce fight against overpowering numbers; the same day was made memorable by the deliverance of them both.

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[47] Memoirs of King James II., in Excidium Macariae, Note 94, p. 310.

[48] Avaux to Seignelay. 19/9th Aug., 1689.

[49] Story's Impartial History, p. 5.

[50] Macpherson Papers, i., p. 220.

[51] Letter to Louis, 14/4th Aug., 1689.

[52] Macpherson Papers, i, p. 219, gives James's account of the battle of Newtonbutler.

[53] Avaux to Louis, 24/14th Nov., 1689.

[54] Hamilton, pp. 39-45; MacCarmick, pp. 61-65; Harris, book viii., pp. 223-225; Excidium Macariae, chap, xxxvi, ; Avaux to Louvois, 14th 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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