seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Battle of Cassano

battle-of-cassanoUnits of the Irish Brigade of France fight at the Battle of Cassano on August 16, 1705, during the War of the Spanish Succession. The battle is fought at the town of Cassano d’Adda, in Lombardy, Italy, between a French army commanded by Louis Joseph, Duke of Vendôme and an Imperial army under Prince Eugene of Savoy.

By August 1705, the French occupy most of Savoy, with the exception of Turin. In order to relieve the pressure, Prince Eugene tries to cross the river Adda at Cassano, and threaten Milan. Although the French are taken by surprise, they manage to hold the bridge after six hours of intense conflict, both sides suffering heavy casualties.

The deep and fast-flowing river Adda has limited crossing points, especially for large bodies of men. The town of Cassano is on the right bank, with a stone bridge protected by a small fortification or redoubt. The area is also divided by numerous small streams and irrigation channels, the most significant being the Retorto, an irrigation canal running parallel to the Adda. This is connected to the left bank by another bridge, protected by another strongpoint.

Assuming Prince Eugene is still heading for Mantua, Vendôme orders his brother Philippe to leave his positions around Cassano and intercept him. In fact, the Imperial troops had marched overnight from Romanengo and are approaching the town when spotted by one of Vendôme’s cavalry patrols early the next morning. Realising their intentions, Vendôme heads to Cassano, along with approximately 2,000 reinforcements.

On arrival, he finds Philippe’s troops unprepared and in an extremely dangerous position, the bulk of their force caught between the Retorto canal and the Adda, and the main bridge blocked by their transport. Vendôme orders the baggage thrown into the river and forms a line running from the Retorto on the left, his centre around the main bridge, and his extreme right resting on the road leading to the nearby village of Rivolta d’Adda. Armand St. Hilaire, the French artillery commander, positions his guns inside the town, allowing him to fire directly on the bridge.

Around 2:00 in the afternoon, Austrian grenadiers attack the French positions around the Retorto. They initially succeed in capturing the bridge before being repulsed by St. Hilaire’s guns and a counter-attack. Vendôme sends four regiments of the French Irish Brigade to reinforce his left, but after a fierce struggle, the Imperialists capture the canal’s sluice gates. After these are closed, the water level in the canal is lowered enough for men to wade across it.

Prince Eugene orders Leopold I, Prince of Anhalt-Dessau, and his Prussians into the canal to assault the French left. They manage to seize the further bank but suffer heavily in doing so. The battle surges back and forth across the river for several hours, in the course of which Vendôme has his horse killed under him, while Prince Eugene is wounded twice and has to leave the field. The fighting lasts another four to five hours, until ended by sheer exhaustion, with the opposing forces back at their starting positions.

The battle is inconclusive. While the French prevent the Imperialists crossing the Adda, Prince Eugene succeeds in delaying an assault on Turin until June 1706. Combined with having to transfer forces to Northern France following their defeat at Ramillies in May 1706, the French siege is broken in September, and fighting in Northern Italy ends in March 1707.

(Pictured: The battle of Cassano 1705 (War of the Spanish Succession), painted by Jean Baptiste Martin (1659-1735). Oil on canvas, Heeresgeschichtliches Museum, Vienna, Austria)


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The Battle of the Hill of Tara

battle-of-tara-hillThe Battle of the Hill of Tara is fought on the evening of May 26, 1798 between British forces and Irish rebels involved in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, resulting in a heavy defeat for the rebels and the end of the rebellion in County Meath.

Following the outbreak of the rebellion, signaled in Meath by the prearranged signal of the ceasing of a mail coach near Turvey hill, road blocks are posted on the Navan road. Members of the Society of United Irishmen and rebels in Meath begin to assemble at the Hill of Tara. Tara is chosen as it provides strategic control of road access to the capital of Dublin and cultural significance as the former seat of the High Kings of Ireland. Between 4,000-7,000 rebels gather at the hill. Following the outbreak of the rebellion on May 23, there are incidents of violent encounters throughout the countryside as rallying rebels make their way to Tara.

Picking up yeomanry reinforcements along the way, the combined fencible, yeoman and militia force forms up at the bottom of the hill in advance of the attack on the rebels who have established a large camp on the hill. The lack of any cannon or cavalry places the rebels at a great disadvantage despite their numbers. Disciplined volley fire and flanking cavalry action combined with withering grapeshot delivered from a 6 pounder cannon drive the rebels to within the graveyard walls at the summit. There, at dusk, the rebels make their last stand on the hill until a final grenadier assault finishes them.

The loss to the fencibles, yeomen and militia is minimal. However rebel casualties have estimates running from several hundred to several thousand dead and many wounded. Many bodies are removed during the night of the 26th and 350 dead are counted still lying on the battlefield the following day. Witnesses to the burial recollect many more bodies of those rebels who died of their wounds during the night being collected from the surrounding countryside in carts. It is noted by the witnesses that the bodies are universally disembowelled by the victors. The dead are buried in a mass grave marked by the Lia Fáil stone which is moved to mark the burial site. The defeat effectively ends the United Irishmen’s rising in Meath.

(Pictured: The high cross at the site of the Battle of the Hill of Tara, County Meath)


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The Siege of Limerick

cittie-of-limerickSiege of Limerick commences on August 9, 1690 when William of Orange and his army of 25,000 men reach Limerick and occupy Ireton’s fort and Cromwell’s fort outside the city. His siege cannons are still making their way from Dublin with a light escort so all he has available is his field artillery. The siege train is intercepted by Patrick Sarsfield’s cavalry at Ballyneety in County Limerick and destroyed, along with the Williamites‘ siege guns and ammunition. This forces William to wait another ten days before he can start bombarding Limerick in earnest while another siege train is brought up from Waterford.

By this time it is late August. Winter is approaching and William wants to finish the war in Ireland so he can return to the Netherlands and proceed with the main business of the War of the Grand Alliance against the French. For this reason, he decides on an all out assault on Limerick.

His siege guns blast a breach in the walls of the “Irish town” section of the city and William launches his assault on August 27. The breach is stormed by Danish grenadiers but the Jacobite’s French officer Boisseleau has built an earthwork or coupure inside the walls and has erected barricades in the streets, impeding the attackers. The Danish grenadiers, and the eight regiments who follow them into the breach, suffer terribly from musketry and cannon fire at point blank range. Jacobite soldiers without arms and the civilian population, including women, line the walls and throw stones and bottles at the attackers. A regiment of Jacobite dragoons also make a sortie and attack the Williamites in the breach from the outside. After three and a half hours of fighting, William finally calls off the assault.

William’s men suffer about 3,000 casualties, including many of their best Dutch, Danish, German, and Huguenot troops. The Jacobites lose only 400 men in the battle. Due to the worsening weather, William calls off the siege and puts his troops into winter quarters, where another 2,000 of them die of disease. William himself leaves Ireland shortly afterwards, returning to London. He subsequently leaves London to take command of Allied forces fighting in Flanders, and leaves Godert de Ginkell to command in Ireland. The following year Ginkell wins a significant victory at the Battle of Aughrim.

Limerick is to remain a Jacobite stronghold until it surrenders after another Williamite siege the following year. Following the loss of this last major stronghold, Patrick Sarsfield leads the army into exile in the Flight of the Wild Geese to the Continent, where they continue to serve the cause of James II and his successors.