Principal Battles & Engagements

Principal Battles and Engagements of the
First Civil War
in Chronological Order

1642  |  1643  |  1644  |   1646

Inverlochy : 2nd February, 1645

Montrose, returning from the harrying of Clan Campbell, was nearly trapped in the Great Glen between Lord Seaforth’s army of 5,000 in front and 3,000 embittered Argylls under Duncan Campbell in his rear. Being unable to fight his way out with only 1,500 men Montrose decided to double back by a circuitous route and surprise the Campbells at Inverlochy. In bitter weather and without much food or any warmth Montrose marched his men along the steep, treacherous ledges beneath the mountain peaks. And at dawn, from the shadow of Ben Nevis, his men fell upon the astounded Campbells encamped around Inverlochy Castle. Argyll at once took to flight but Duncan Campbell put up what resistance he could. However, the furious charge of Montrose’s and Alasdair Macdonald’s men proved too much for the Campbells and the fight was soon over. Duncan Campbell fought bravely and was killed together with some 1,500 of the clan. Montrose lost only a handful of men but among them a valued friend in Sir Thomas Ogilvy.

Auldearn : 9th May, 1645

Colonel Hurry, commanding the Covenanting army, attempted to lure Montrose into country that was known to be unfriendly to him, and there give battle in circumstances favourable to himself. He accordingly fell back in front of Montrose from Elgin almost to Nairn, and then suddenly turned upon his pursuer hoping to gain surprise. Surprise was not achieved, although Montrose had little time in which to take up a suitable defensive position. He occupied the high ground just north of the village of Auldearn with a small force of some 500 men under Alasdair Macdonald, and kept the main body of his troops on the reverse slope of the ridge running to the south of the village. Hurry made the mistake that Montrose hoped he would of attacking Macdonald with his entire force, which left his right flank open to attack from the Royalists’ main line of battle. Macdonald’s men were nearly worsted in a fierce battle for the hill, but the Gordons, who formed the main part of Montrose’s troops on the reverse slope, smashed the Covenanters’ flank and allowed Macdonald to rally his Irishmen and complete the defeat of the Covenanters.

Naseby : 14th June, 1645

This was the last major battle of the First Civil War. The defeat of the Royalist army under the King and Prince Rupert by the New Model Army under Sir Thomas Fairfax virtually destroyed the King’s military machine. The battle was fought over the undulating ground immediately north of Naseby. Fairfax with more than 13,000 men, including 6,500 cavalry under Oliver Cromwell and Henry Ireton, was opposed by only 7,500 Royalists. Prince Rupert on the Royalist right wing met with inital success, but the King’s cavalry on the left was defeated by Cromwell. In the centre the Royalist infantry fought with great determination and courage, but after three hours’ hard slogging were eventually overpowered by weight of numbers and captured almost to a man.

Alford : 2nd July, 1645

It was now the turn of Montrose to draw the Covenanters away from a strong position into an area where he thought he had better prospects of offering battle successfully. He drew the Covenanting General Baillie southwards from Strathbogie and prepared to meet him on high ground south of the river Don at a point about a mile to the west of the present town of Alford. Both armies were almost equal in infantry, but Baillie had superiority in cavalry. He was, however, at a disadvantage in having to ford the river before bringing his men to the attack, and Lord Gordon, on Montrose’s right, gave him little chance to regroup after crossing the Don. In a fierce fight with troops under Lord Balcarres, Gordon succeeded in driving Baillie’s cavalry off the field and then turned on the Covenanting centre. At the same time Lord Aboyne and Colonel O’Kean advanced against the enemy. Montrose gained the victory, but in the pursuit Lord Gordon, his great friend and able lieutenant, was killed.

Langport : 10th July, 1645

After the Roundhead victory at Naseby, Leicester surrendered and Parliament urged Fairfax to march to the relief of Taunton. This town had long been a tiresome thorn in the King’s western side; the garrison under its intrepid commander Robert Blake had resisted three sieges. On 4th July Lord Goring raised the siege for the last time and fell back towards Bridgewater, taking up a strong position in difficult, waterlogged ground near Langport. Goring was outnumbered, and a feint towards Taunton, intended to confuse Fairfax’s army, was only partly successful. Fairfax attacked Goring’s main position with 1,500 musketeers, backed up by elements of two cavalry regiments and a strong infantry reserve. At first Goring’s men fought desperately in the marshy fields bordering the rivers Yeo and Parret, but they were broken and routed. Cromwell’s troops, which had not been engaged, joined in the pursuit. About 2,000 prisoners were taken, and others, less fortunate, fell prey to clubmen. Goring’s army, virtually the King’s last hope, was destroyed.

Kilsyth : 15th August, 1645

Not long after Montrose’s victory at Alford he received news of King Charles’ defeat at Naseby and he clearly saw the need to cross the border and go to the King’s aid. By the middle of August Montrose had under his command his largest army since he first commenced operations, but Baillie was still capable of putting into the field a greater force, and he was not prepared to let Montrose slip away. The two armies met in some meadows a mile northeast of Kilsyth. At that time these meadows formed a basin of what is now a reservoir, and Baillie occupied a commanding position on the high ground which gave him a considerable advantage. However, the Covenanting Committee, which usually accompanied the army in the field, ordered Baillie to carry out a dangerous flank march in full view of the enemy so as to prevent any possibility of Montrose’s army escaping from what they confidently considered was a well set trap. The result was dangerous, because before long Baillie was to find his army cut in two. There was, however, a fierce fight on Montrose’s left flank, which had become threatened by the advance portion of Baillie’s army. The situation here was brought under control by the veteran Lord Airlie and the Ogilvys, while Alasdair Macdonald, as impetuous as ever, had brought a seemingly unwise attack on Baillie’s hilltop position to a successful conclusion. Baillie’s defeat was absolute and his infantry almost annihilated. Montrose was, for the time being, master of Scotland.

Capture of Sherborne Castle : 15th August, 1645

Once the castle walls had been breached by a mine, the Royalist garrison under Sir Lewis Dyves was unable to hold out. The siege is notable for the action of the Dorset clubmen. These local peasants came out in strength to meet Cromwell on Hambledon Hill, and, although principally interested in the defence of their properties, they were, in Dorset, in league with the Royalists during the siege of Sherborne.

Capture of Bristol : 23rd August and 11th September, 1645

With Sherborne Castle taken the way was open for Fairfax to reduce the most important stronghold left to the Royalists, Bristol. Prince Rupert commanded between 1,500 and 2,000 men in this city but the defences were weak in places and there was a plaque epidemic raging. Summoned to surrender on 4th September, Prince Rupert prevaricated for some days until on the 10th Fairfax lost patience and mounted an attack. The garrison around Prior’s Hill Fort resisted strongly, but was ultimately overborne and slaughtered. Unable to stem Fairfax’s cavalry, who had gained entrance where the walls were virtually down, Rupert, on being again offered terms surrendered the city on 11th September.

Philliphaugh : 13th September, 1645

Montrose, the recent victor of Kilsyth and many other battles, now found himself with a pathetically small army of 500 Irish infantry and perhaps 1,000 mounted gentlemen - there were no other ranks among his cavalry. David Leslie, on receiving information of the weak state of the Royalist army, carried out a remarkably swift march to take Montrose’s men by surprise as they were camped just below Selkirk. Attacking through the morning mist with some 4,000 horse the result was never in doubt. Montrose and most of the cavalry made good their escape, but only about fifty Irishmen received quarter.

Rowton Heath : 24th September, 1645

A cavalry battle fought in difficult cavalry country two miles south-east of Chester between Sir Marmaduke Langdale (Royalist) and Major-General Sydenham Poyntz. Poyntz was forced to attack and was at first worsted, but obtaining infantry support from Colonel Michael Jones, who was besieging Chester, he eventually chased the Northern Horse off the battlefield. This defeat, together with an unsuccessful sally under Lord Litchfield (who was killed by the Chester garrison), virtually sealed the fate of the city. Charles marched out of it the next day with 2,400 horse: Lord Byron surrendered the city on 3rd February 1646.

The sack of Basing House : 14th October, 1645

Basing House, the home of the Catholic Marquis of Winchester, stood athwart the London - Winchester road and occupied a position of great strategic importance. It had been held for the Royalists throughout the Civil War, on 11th October it refused Cromwell’s summons to surrender. The heavy guns soon made irreparable breeches in the walls and at 6 am, on the morning of the 14th the defenders were totally unable to repel the storming parties. The destruction of life and property that followed was exacerbated by sectarian intolerance. The house was looted and completely destroyed. More than 100 people were killed.

1642  |  1643  |  1644  |   1646