|With the Wagg Rhyne clear of Royalist dragoons, Major Bethel leads the New Model cavalry|
on its charge up Picts Hill at the Battle of Langport 1645
I thought this year I would carry on the story of looking at the English Civil War in Devon by focussing on a battle in Somerset that was pivotal to the siege of Exeter and the Battle of Torrington posted about earlier this month.
I don't propose to go through why the Royalist forces in the south west found themselves defending a hilltop river crossing in Somerset in July of 1645 against Fairfax and Cromwell's New Model Army.
Suffice to say, the last significant Royalist army and base of support lay in the West Country in 1645 and following the defeat of the King's northern army at Naseby on the 14th June 1645, Fairfax took the war to this part of the country looking to end the first civil war the following year.
For a more thorough explanation of the strategic situation you should follow the link below to the excellent BCW Project site.
BCW Project - English Civil War in the West-Country/South-West,1645
This and the links below at the bottom of the post formed my principle recap on the battle and its events and I discovered the guide leaflet to the Langport Trail provided by the Langport & District History Society, which was a very handy route to follow and gave a very pleasant two hour walk across the fields via the country footpaths. I would however recommend taking a copy of the OS map illustrated on the Battlefield Trust site as further guidance to the trail map and for getting a better idea of where the two armies are thought to have lined up.
Battle of Langport Trail Guide
You will also find that there is still some debate on the precise battle site as the three nearby crossing points of the Wagg Rhyne have been suggested as the focal points of the battle, with the modern day railway crossing in amongst them.
|Opposing Commanders at Langport - Goring (left), Fairfax (right)|
I have gone with the accepted offering ready to do a follow up post if necessary once the needed battlefield archaeology research has been completed.
We started our walk after a very welcome hot bowl of soup and bread at the Rose & Crown (Eli's) Pub (Point 1 on the map above) famous for its bar or more correctly that it doesn't have one. On entering the pub you find yourself almost stood among the pumps and optics.
The battle was fought in July and the ground would have been quite different to the December day we decided to walk the area. If you decide to follow the route I would suggest taking a pair of walking boots as the paths could be quite muddy whatever the season.
|The footpath leading from the pub, over the railway line towards the rear of the Royalist line on Picts Hill|
Goring was looking to cover the withdrawal back north towards the coast at Bridgewater and further supplies of men and materials from the King's forces across the Bristol Channel in Wales.
He had already sent off the bulk of his artillery and supplies earlier and felt confident in holding the New Model Army up until nightfall using the hill and Rhyne to help compensate for his lack of guns and numbers.
|Point 2, The incline of the road shows the significance of Goring's choice of ground to set up his rear-guard|
|Point 3. The view from the Royalist guns down to the Wagg Rhyne and up which Majors Bethel and Desborough charged|
|Point 4. Moving out onto the ridge line of Picts Hill and looking east towards the New Model lines on the hill opposite above the crossing over the Rhyne just behind the van on the road|
|Point 4. Looking further along the Parliamentary held ridge towards the south-east, the approach route of the New Model Army.|
|Colonel Thomas Rainsborough|
The New Model dragoons under Colonel Thomas Rainsborough soon established superiority over their Royalist opposition and with the crossing secure, perhaps one of the most audacious cavalry attacks began as Major Bethel led a column of cavalry up the lane, four abreast which broke in among the Royalist cavalry.
I have also read some comments that Bethel may well have deployed into line once crossing the Rhyne, which seems more likely but less glorious!
|Major John Desborough|
|Point 5. Looking north with the New Model line on the right of picture. The Wagg Rhyne runs alongside the lane, Wagg Drove and was a key focal point of the battle with debate on the likely crossing point still not decided by archaeological research.|
"We understanding their intentions by some scouts and other countrymen, resolved to charge them and accordingly drew down a commanded party of musketeers to beat them from the hedges which was done with gallant resolution, advancing the same time with two regiments of horse into the lane, all that we could draw up in front was but a single troop and that commanded by Bethel, the enemy standing ready with bodies of horse of about 1,000 to charge him. He with a single troop charged and broke two of their divisions, of about 400 received the charge of the third division both in front and flank was somewhat overborne at last and forced to retire to the General’s Regiment which was about 100 yards behind Desborough, with the General’s troop sheltered him by his flank to rally and charge up himself with about 200 horse of the General’s Regiment disposed of the enemy and set them all a running, gained freedom by it for all our horse and foot to draw into bodies, sent the enemy running not being able to endure another charge. The General, Lieutenant General and some other officers upon the hill, beholding the gallant charges commended it for the most excellent peice of service that ever was in England."
|Point 5. Looking back towards the west and the Royalist line atop Picts Hill|
The defeat of Goring's army shattered Royalist resistance, and he withdrew the remnants back into Devon harried on the way by Somerset Clubmen (partizans against both armies) who had negotiated with Fairfax on the 11th of July to not interfere with the New Model in return for supplies.
Fairfax quickly moved to secure his own lines before moving off in pursuit of Goring and into Devon. The first major garrison to fall was at Bridgwater which was finally surrendered on the 23rd July to be followed by the City of Bristol which was stormed on the 10th of September.
|Point 5. Our route back to the pub this time under rather than over the railway line that straddles one of the suggested alternative crossing points used by the New Model.|
"the consequences of this blow is very much for there is so great terror and dejection amongst our men that I am confident at this present they could not be brought to fight against half their number"
Battle of Langport- Lord Goring's Account
Battle of Langport - Sir Thomas Fairfax's Account
Battle of Langport - Lt.Gen.Cromwell's Account
Next up, seasonal fun and games at Chez Chas in North Devon, A review of 2016 and look forward to 2017, plus British Napoleonic Generals and French Horse Artillery for Talavera 208.