Fighting for yourself

Fought in July 1645, the Battle of Langport was a significant victory for Cromwell’s New Model Army in its campaign against Royalist forces. The army of the Royalist general Goring was routed and driven back to Bridgwater.   Sir Richard Bulstrode, one of
Goring’s officers, wrote:

After the beating up of Lieutenant General Porter’s Quarters, Fairfax, with his Army, marched directly to us from Evil [Yeovil], where, being in a plain and rising Ground, the Enemy’s Army was drawn up upon it, with a great Marsh and Bogg between both Armies, which hindred the Enemy from attacking up, except by one Passage in the Bottom of the Hill, between both Armies, which Passage was narrow, and our General had placed there two Regiments of Foot to guard that Passage; which were Collonel Slaughter’s and Collonel Wise’s Regiments, lately raised in South Wales.

General Goring himself, with all his Horse, was drawn up upon the Hill, at the mouth of the Passage, with the Infantry upon his right Hand, near Langport, to succour those two Regiments, in case of Attack upon the Pass, which the General hoped to make good, at least till night, that then we might retire with less Loss, being unseen.

In the mean time, General Goring commanded me to send away all the Baggage and Cannon, except two Field Pieces, which he commanded should be drawn to the top of the Hill, at the Head of the Pass, and bid me to order Sir Joseph Wagstaffe from him, who commanded the Foot near to Langport, that in case the Enemy should force the Pass upon him, that then Sir Joseph Wagstaffe should retire with all his Foot to Langport, and there pass the River towards Bridgwater and burn down the Bridge behind him, which was a Draw-bridge over the River; and, in the Morning, when I had Orders to send away the baggage and Cannon, I sent them that Way, for their greater Security, otherwise they had been all lost; for we were in Hopes to keep that Pass till Night: Yet so soon as the Enemy had put their Army in Order of Battle, upon the Top of the Hill, on the other Side the Bogg, which we thought was their whole Army, they opened and drew to their Right and Left, advancing towards the Pass, whilst another great Body came up in their Place, by which their Army was more than double our Number.

However, our General neither lost his Courage nor Conduct, but still remained at the Head of the Pass, with his own Guards of Horse, commanded by Collonel Charles Goring, his Excellency’s Brother, who was also seconded by Sir Arthur Slingsby, with his Regiment of Horse, and the rest of the Horse Army behind him; but the Enemy advancing very fast down the Hill, with Horse, Foot, Dragoons and Cannon, much overpowered us in Number; and our Foot that were drawn to guard the Pass not doing their Duty, many of them deserting, and shooting against us, the Enemy thereupon gained the Pass.

The General charged the Enemy twice, but being much overpowered in Number, we were at last beaten off, and obliged to a very disorderly Retreat. The Foot, commanded by Major General Wagstaffe, retired to Langport; as did likewise the Lord Wentworth, and retreated over the Bridge that way to Bridgwater, having broken and burnt down the Draw-bridge behind them: But our Horse were obliged to retreat the ordinary Way, which being a moorish Ground, full of several narrow Passes, where several Officers were obliged to stay, to make good the Retreat for others; so that divers of Distinction were taken, too many to be reckoned up.

“Our Foot that were drawn to guard the Pass not doing their Duty, many of them deserting, and shooting against us:” these were presumably the so called “club men,” local men who were armed and pressed into service with the Royalist forces.  Bulstrode’s account does not suggest why these men left the ranks and started “shooting against us,” (although it seems unlikely they would have been equipped with firearms, they were more likely pikemen). Could it have been because the Royalist troops had started setting fire to Langport? What would Richard Bulstrode have done if defeated soldiers running from an enemy had started burning his home?


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