Introduction to our series Siege of Londonderry and the Battle of the Boyne:
King James II lost the throne of England in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. James had the support of the Catholic Irish. His opponent; King William had the support of the Protestant English. Hoping to use Ireland as a base in the war to regain his throne, James counter-attacked in Ireland. His first objective was the town of Londonderry, inhabited by English Protestants. Rumors reached the town that James intended to kill all the inhabitants.
Tobias Smollett (1721-1771) in his Complete History of England gives one of the best accounts of this campaign. And now, Tobias G. Smollett.
Place: Londonderry, Ireland and the River Boyne, Ireland
By this time King James had taken Coleraine, invested Kilmore, and was almost in sight of Londonderry. George Walker, rector of Donaghmore, who had raised a regiment for the defense of the Protestants, conveyed this intelligence to Lundy, the governor; this officer directed him to join Colonel Crafton, and take post at the Longcausey, which he maintained a whole night against the advanced guard of the enemy, until, being overpowered by numbers, he retreated to Londonderry and exhorted the governor to take the field, as the army of King James was not yet completely formed. Lundy assembling a council of war, at which Cunningham and Richards assisted, they agreed that as the place was not tenable, it would be imprudent to land the two regiments; and that the principal officers should withdraw themselves from Londonderry, the inhabitants of which would obtain the more favorable capitulation in consequence of their retreat; an officer was immediately despatched to King James with proposals of a negotiation; and Lieutenant-general Hamilton agreed that the army should halt at the distance of four miles from the town.
Notwithstanding this preliminary, James advanced at the head of his troops, but met with such a warm reception from the besieged that he was fain to retire to St. John's Town in some disorder. The inhabitants and soldiers in garrison at Londonderry were so incensed at the members of the council of war who had resolved to abandon the place that they threatened immediate vengeance. Cunningham and Richards retired to their ships, and Lundy locked himself in his chamber. In vain did Walker and Major Baker exhort him to maintain his government; such was his cowardice or treachery that he absolutely refused to be concerned in the defense of the place, and he was suffered to escape in disguise, with a load of matches on his back; but he was afterward apprehended in Scotland, from whence he was sent to London to answer for his perfidy or misconduct.
After his retreat the townsmen chose Mr. Walker and Major Baker for their governors with joint authority; but this office they would not undertake until it had been offered to Colonel Cunningham, as the officer next in command to Lundy; he rejected the proposal, and with Richards returned to England, where they were immediately cashiered. The two new governors, thus abandoned to their fate, began to prepare for a vigorous defense: indeed their courage seems to have transcended the bounds of discretion, for the place was very ill-fortified; their cannon, which did not exceed twenty pieces, were wretchedly mounted; they had not one engineer to direct their operations; they had a very small number of horse; the garrison consisted of people unacquainted with military discipline; they were destitute of provisions; they were besieged by a king, in person, at the head of a formidable army, directed by good officers, and supplied with all the necessary implements for a siege or battle.
The town was invested on April 20th; the batteries were soon opened, and several attacks were made with great impetuosity, but the besiegers were always repulsed with considerable loss; the townsmen gained divers advantages in repeated sallies, and would have held their enemies in the utmost contempt had they not been afflicted with a contagious distemper, as well as reduced to extremity by want of provisions; they were even tantalized in their distress, for they had the mortification to see some ships, which had arrived with supplies from England, prevented from sailing up the river by the batteries the enemy had raised on both sides, and a boom with which they had blocked up the channel.
Continued on Monday, November 24th.
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