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Battle (Siege) of Drogheda Area Today

A map of the area around the battle positions

Battle (Siege) of Drogheda summary

The Siege of Drogheda took place on 3–11 September 1649 at the outset of the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. The town of Drogheda in eastern Ireland was held by the Irish Catholic Confederation and English Royalists when it was besieged and stormed by English Parliamentarian forces under Oliver Cromwell.

  1. Drogheda's defences consisted of medieval curtain walls. These were high but relatively thin, making them vulnerable to cannon fire. Most of the town was situated on the northern bank of the river Boyne but its two main gates, the Dublin and Duleek gates, were in an enclave south of the river.
  2. Cromwell arrived at Drogheda on 3 September and his siege guns, brought up by sea, arrived two days later. His total force was about 12,000 men and eleven heavy, 48-pounder, siege artillery pieces
  3. Cromwell positioned his forces on the south side of the river Boyne in order to concentrate them for the assault, leaving the northern side of the town open and covered by a small screen of cavalry. A squadron of Parliamentarian ships also blockaded the harbour of the town.
  4. The Parliamentary commander set up his batteries at two points near the Duleek gate, either side of St Mary's Church, where they would have an interlocking field of fire. Having opened two breaches in the walls, one to the south the other to the east of the church, he called on the Royalists to surrender.
  5. Aston, the Royalist commander, refused to surrender. The garrison of Drogheda was critically short of gunpowder and ammunition. Their hope was that Ormonde, nearby at Tercroghan with some 4,000 Royalist troops, would come to their relief.
  6. At 5PM on 11 September, Cromwell ordered simultaneous assaults on the southern and eastern breaches in the walls of Drogheda. Three regiments attacked the breaches, gaining a foothold in the south but being beaten back in the east.
  7. Cromwell had to reinforce the eastern attack with two more regiments before it succeeded, the second wave climbing over a heaped pile of their comrades' corpses.
  8. At the southern breach the defenders counterattacked. The death of their commander, Colonel Wall, caused them to fall back, allowing further Parliamentary reinforcements to be funneled into the breach.
  9. After the death of Colonel Wall, and with more and more Parliamentary soldiers streaming into the breaches, the Royalist resistance at the walls collapsed. The surviving defenders tried to flee across the river Boyne into the northern part of the town, while Arthur Aston and 250 others took refuge in Millmount Fort overlooking Drogheda's southern defences.
  10. After breaking into the town the Parliamentarian soldiers pursued the defenders through the streets and into private properties, sacking churches and defensible positions as they went. There was a drawbridge that would have stopped the attackers reaching the northern part of the town, but the defenders had no time to pull it up behind them and the killing continued in the northern part of Drogheda.
  11. Some 200 Royalists under Arthur Aston, the garrison commander, had barricaded themselves in Millmount Fort overlooking the south-eastern gate, while the rest of the town was being sacked. Cromwell was wary of trying to storm the fort, which he described as a place very strong, and of difficult access, being exceeding high, having a good graft, and strongly palisaded . Parliamentarian Colonel Daniel Axtell offered to spare the lives of the governor and the 200 men with him if they surrendered on the promise of their lives, which they did . According to Axtell, the disarmed men were then taken to a windmill and killed about an hour after they had surrendered.
  12. Another group of about 100 Royalist soldiers sought refuge in the steeple of St Peter's Church at the northern end of Drogheda. Parliamentarian soldiers led by John Hewson, on Cromwell's orders, set fire to the church steeple. Some 30 of the defenders were burned to death in the fire and 50 more were killed outside when they fled the flames
  13. The final major concentration of Royalist soldiers was a group of 200 men who had retreated into two towers: the West Gate and a round tower next the West Gate called St. Sunday's. They were asked to surrender but they refused. So a guard was placed on the towers and the Parliamentarians waited knowing that hunger would force them to capitulate. When the occupants of the towers surrendered, they were treated differently. Those in one tower, numbering between 120 and 140 men, had killed and wounded some of the guards. All of the officers in that tower were killed, and the ranks were decimated. The remainder of the men from the first tower, along with the soldiers in the other were deported to Barbados.