Cromwell charging through a piece of boys’ own history writing

An online search for Samuel Rawson Gardiner’s 1886 History of the Great Civil War revealed that the 1886 edition of the three volumes was available for £750. Finding the books on the shelves of the library, I turned to Gardiner’s account of the Battle of Langport. His writing combines history with hagiography and not a little adventure writing.

Whatever Goring might have done, Fairfax could not afford to decline the challenge. The battle commenced by a brisk fire from the Parliamentary artillery, posted on the crest of the slope on the eastern side of the stream. Goring’s two guns were soon silenced, and musketeers were then sent down to clear the hedges on either side of the ford. As soon this had been accomplished it was possible for cavalry to charge. Yet even then a charge could only be executed at every possible disadvantage. The ford was deep and narrow, and the lane up the hill was scarcely less narrow. On the open ground at the top Goring’s cavalry were collected in seemingly overwhelming numbers, ready to fall upon the narrow stream of horsemen as they struggled up the lane before they had time to form.

Desperate as the enterprise appeared, the officers of the New Model Army were never wanting in audacity. Major Bethel, whose name stood high amongst the military saints, was ordered to make the perilous attempt at the head of a small force of 350 men and Desborough, with  another small fierce, was told off to second him. Through the ford and up narrow lane this handful of heroes charged. If an army equal in spirit and discipline to their own had been ranged on the heights, they could hardly have escaped destruction. As it was, they had to do with an enemy irresolute and fonder of plunder than of fighting. Bethel, when he arrived at the end of the lane, flew at a body horse more than three times his number. He was checked at first, but Desborough soon arrived to his succour. Together they broke the regiments opposed to them, whilst at the same time the Parliamentary musketeers, stealing up amongst the hedges, poured a galling fire upon the -enemy. The Royalists, horse and foot alike, turned and fled. A few troops of horse and a small force of musketeers had beaten the whole of Goring’s army.  No wonder that Cromwell, as from the opposite height he watched the dust-clouds rolling away, gave glory to God for this marvellous overthrow of His enemies, or that Harrison, the most enthusiastic of enthusiasts, broke ‘forth into the praise of God with fluent expressions expressions, as if he had been in a rapture.’

Then came the pursuit. Of the enemy’s horse, some fled through Langport, setting fire to the town as they passed to cover their retreat. Cromwell was not to be stopped so easily. Charging through the burning street, he fell on them as they hurried across the bridge, where most of the fugitives were slain or captured. The larger part of the Royalists retreated by the northern bank of the Parret. Though they made a stand near Aller, they dared not await an attack from their pursuers. Goring’s foot, entangled in the ditches of the moor, surrendered as the King’s foot had surrendered at Naseby. His army, as an army capable of waging war, ceased to exist.

There is almost a sense of a need to find a piece of dramatic music to accompany the reading of the text.

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