Sunday, 6 February 2011

Battle of Coventry 1642

This week we refought an early action from the English Civil War. In August 1642, prior to the Battle of Edgehill, Charles I approached Coventry and was refused entry. He attacked it, but was repulsed. The game used a small number of figures, but resulted in a close encounter that was in the balance until the last roll of the dice.
The defenders consisted of a unit of the trained band, which their colonel divided, putting the musketeers on the walls, covering the gate and the pikes held back to counter attack any Royalist incursion. To their right the mayor had raised a local militia to cover a breach made by the royalist artillery. Two light guns were available, one covered the gate, the other the breach.

The King, with a bodyguard of Gentlemen Pensioners, had a unit of foot (Penderell's), a forlorn hope of dismounted dragoons, a unit of firelocks and a unit of horse. Two light guns covered the gate and the field guns were on a hill, quite a way from the walls.

The King's plan was simple, demonstrate an attack on the gate, but put the main effort into carrying the breach. The line of stakes seen in the photograph represent a muddy ditch, passable to infantry, but not cavalry.

Stepping forward with purpose and covered by the dismounted dragoons, Penderell's advanced on the breach. They were supported by the battery on the hill, but the guns had little effect, other than to bury themselves in the ground, or thud into the old town walls. The defenders were unscathed and as the Royalists neared the wall, casualties began to mount.

Over by the gate the 'demonstration' had had more effect. The light guns had opened a telling fire on the trained band holding the wall and the firelocks had advanced to add their fire. However, by advancing the firelocks had drawn the attention of a sniper in the gatehouse tower and two of the officers were casualties. The royalist sniper, 'Old Ned' was ensconced in a house near the gate, waiting for a suitable target. With officer casualties rising he was ordered over to the firelocks to try and subdue his opposite number. Gathering his tackle together, he ambled across the street, confident he was far enough away from the walls. Just as he neared the cover of a barn he was felled by a shot from the parliamentarian sniper. One-Nil to the parliamentarians! Fortunately for the Royalist cause, the sniper seemed to lose his touch after this feat and he inflicted no further casualties on the firelocks. The King was further encouraged by the arrival of a further unit of horse and a small company of dragoons.

By now the attack on the breach was well under way. The forlorn had moved aside and Penderell's pikes struggled across the ditch. As they reformed they were astonished to see the local militia charging towards them. A confused melee took place in the breach, with the locals putting a gallant, but ultimately doomed, defence. Penderell's musketeers scaled the walls, hooping to gain a secure lodgement in the town, but the Parliamentarian commander had moved forward his pike reserve and they charged the unfortunate musketeers. Another one-sided melee ensued with all the musketeers killed or captured. Penderell's pikes now found themselves in an awkward position. A parliamentarian light gun was close enough to employ 'hail' shot against them, which caused severe casualties; they were also now threatened by the trained band pikes, who outnumbered them. Confusion reigned and they began to edge back towards the ditch. The Royalist main attack had stalled, but what of the 'diversion'?

Encouraged by the decline of fire from the walls, the firelock's commander sent a message back saying the way was open for the cavalry to burst through the gateway. Needing little encouragement the cavalry surged forward. The light gun 'defending' the gateway fired one ineffectual shot before the gunners ran and the cavalry broke into the town.

All that faced them was the remnants of the trained band musketeers, but they stood their ground, fired a volley and managed to hold the cavalry. This gave just enough time for the pikes to get back and join in the melee. A fierce fight now began on the streets near the gate. On cue the Parliamentarian reinforcements arrived, threatening the flank of the Royalist position. Luckily, Charles' advisers had prevailed upon him to keep his reinforcements in hand for just such an eventuality. A confused cavalry melee now took place, with the Royalists having the advantage of numbers and quality of troops. These advantages prevailed and the Parliamentarian cavalry quit the field almost as quickly as they had entered it, but importantly, they took with them the Royalist cavalry who refused, or were unable, to rein in. The cavalry, which could perhaps have helped in the town, had gone. Charles had been passive in command, leaving matters to his officers, who he assumed knew best. His opposite number had been far more active. He personally had led reserves to where they were wanted and he was again to be on the spot when it mattered.
Gradually the royalist cavalry had made progress, they were on the point of breaking through the rapidly thinning line of infantry. Colonel Braford gathered half a dozen officers together and turning to them cried "let us charge together for Coventry and our cause". Charging down the bloodied street they struck the Royalist cavalry. Hemmed in as they were the Royalists could not see how many were attacking, only that their line of retreat was threatened, losing heart, those that could, escaped, the rest were captured. Coventry had been held for Parliament.

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