The Waterford Campaign, 1649
Cromwell’s next objective after the capture of Wexford was the town of New Ross on the western border of Leinster, which was the first crossing point over the River Barrow and gave access to southern Munster. Leaving Colonel Cook’s regiment to garrison Wexford, Cromwell advanced rapidly overland towards New Ross with three siege guns drawn by teams of oxen while a naval squadron sailed up the River Barrow with supplies and additional artillery. At the same time, Major-General Ireton took a detachment to threaten the fort at Duncannon, which commanded the eastern bank of the Barrow estuary.
The capture of New Ross
Cromwell arrived before New Ross on 17 October 1649. Anxious to avoid the fate of Drogheda and Wexford, Sir Lucas Taaffe, the governor of New Ross, persuaded the Marquis of Ormond to allow him to surrender the town on terms if the Parliamentarians succeeded in breaching the walls. Taaffe did not reply to Cromwell’s initial summons to surrender, so the Parliamentarian artillery was deployed and began bombarding the town walls on the morning of 19 October. A breach was quickly made near the main gate. Just as Cromwell’s infantry was preparing to storm the breach, Taaffe responded to the summons and asked for terms. In order to demonstrate that he would grant lenient terms to garrisons that surrendered, Cromwell announced that Taaffe and the New Ross garrison would be allowed to march away with their weapons and equipment; the town would not be plundered and the civilian population could remain there unmolested or depart with their goods. However, Cromwell refused to allow Taaffe to remove artillery or ammunition from the town and he was adamant that the practice of Catholicism would not be tolerated. Taaffe accepted the terms and marched out with 2,000 men to rejoin Ormond’s main army.
With New Ross secured, Cromwell ordered his pioneers to build a bridge of boats across the Barrow to enable the Parliamentarian army to advance into Munster. The construction of the bridge was difficult because the fast-flowing river was nearly 200 yards wide at New Ross and swollen by autumn rains, but to the surprise of their enemies, the feat was accomplished in two weeks.
The loss of New Ross worsened the enmity between Catholics and Protestants in Ormond’s coalition. Five hundred Protestant soldiers in one of Lord Inchiquin’s regiments at New Ross refused to march away with Taaffe’s garrison and defected to the Parliamentarians. Although Inchiquin had arrested the ringleaders of the revolt at Youghal in early October, Protestant officers at Cork declared for Parliament on 16 October. The arrested ringleaders were liberated and the Youghal garrison also declared for Parliament. Cromwell sent Lord Broghill and Colonel Phayre’s regiment in Blake’s ships to secure Cork and Youghal and to encourage further defections.
The first siege of Waterford
Despite the loss of Wexford, New Ross and other garrisons in southern Leinster, theMarquis of Ormond remained hopeful that Cromwell’s relentless advance could be halted. The strength of the Parliamentarian field army had fallen to little more than 5,000 men after garrisons had been posted in captured towns and fortresses; furthermore the weather was worsening and sickness was beginning to take its toll. On 20 October 1649, Ormond finally concluded a treaty with Owen Roe O’Neill, commander of the Irish Ulster army, who had remained aloof from the Confederate-Royalist coalition until news of the storming and massacre of Drogheda persuaded him that an alliance with Ormond was his only hope of restoring the Catholic church and Irish rule to Ulster. Units of the Ulster army began arriving to reinforce Ormond from the end of October.
Cromwell next turned his attention to Waterford, the most important major port still held by the Royalists. In order to land heavy artillery to bombard Waterford’s walls, Cromwell first needed to secure control of the estuary of the River Barrow, where two Royalist forts hindered Parliamentarian naval operations: Duncannon on the east bank and Passage Fort on the west. Major-General Ireton took a detachment to summon Duncannon while Cromwell attacked New Ross, but Ormond was aware of Duncannon’s importance to the defence of Waterford and sent reinforcements, including 120 men of his own lifeguard and its captain, Edward Wogan, who took over command of the garrison.
Wogan was a charismatic officer who successfully overcame the mounting hostility between Catholics and Protestants in Ormond’s coalition to rejuvenate the defence of Duncannon. On 27 October, Lieutenant-General Jones led an additional 2,000 troops to the siege but the field guns he brought were not powerful enough to breach Duncannon’s walls and the garrison was too strong to risk an assault. Wogan conducted an aggressive defence; raiders from the garrison attacked Parliamentarian work parties and two field guns were captured on 5 November. After this setback, Jones and Ireton abandoned the siege of Duncannon and marched back to rejoin Cromwell at New Ross.
Meanwhile, Cromwell’s pioneers had completed the construction of a bridge of boats across the River Barrow at New Ross, enabling the main Parliamentarian army to advance into County Kilkenny and to threaten eastern Munster. Cromwell had fallen ill, but Jones and Ireton crossed the Barrow on 15 November 1649 and marched north-westwards towards the Confederate capital Kilkenny. They hoped to engage the main Royalist army, confident that they could defeat Ormond and decide the Munster campaign in a single battle. Although the Royalist army was reinforced with contingents of O’Neill’s Ulstermen, Ormond was reluctant to risk a battle. He had advanced towards New Ross in the hope of threatening the Parliamentarian bridgehead, but quickly retreated when Jones crossed the Barrow. The Parliamentarians pursued the Royalists, who crossed the River Nore at Thomastown and destroyed the bridge across the river, thus preventing Jones from advancing any further towards Kilkenny.
With his army now short of food, Jones was obliged to withdraw to New Ross to replenish his supplies. However, he sent a large cavalry detachment under Colonel Reynolds to capture Carrick, a fortified town on the River Suir. Reynolds arrived before Carrick early in the morning of 19 November. While one part of his force attacked the main gate, Reynolds led another party through an unmanned gate and into the town, at which point the garrison gave up all hope of resistance and fled. Reynolds had captured Carrick without the loss of a single man; the Royalists claimed that the town was betrayed.
The capture of Carrick was of major strategic significance. Its bridge over the Suir gave the Parliamentarians an easy route from New Ross into County Waterford, to approach the town of Waterford from the west along the southern bank of the Suir. Having recovered from his illness, Cromwell advanced with his main army from New Ross on 21 November. At Carrick, communications were established with Lord Broghill who had been in Munster since mid-October attempting to persuade Lord Inchiquin’s Protestant garrisons to defect to Parliament. Ormond’s treaty with Owen Roe O’Neill had encouraged further defections among the Protestant troops and by the time Cromwell arrived at Carrick, the towns of Cork, Kinsale, Youghal and Dungarvan were all in Broghill’s hands.
Leaving Reynolds with 700 men to garrison Carrick, Cromwell advanced with his main force to Waterford. Ormond marched south to challenge the Parliamentarians but opinion among his officers was divided on how best to proceed. The Ulster Irish officers insisted that Carrick should be attacked, while the Royalists wanted to reinforce Waterford. Ormond eventually decided on a compromise that divided his forces. He personally led a column along the north bank of the Suir to be shipped across to reinforce Waterford while Lord Inchiquin and the Earl of Castlehaven stayed to supervise the Ulster troops in an assault on Carrick, which took place on 24 November. Lacking siege artillery, the Irish attempted to burn down the town gate and to climb the walls. Although short of ammunition, Reynolds’ garrison held off the attack, which was finally called off after four hours’ fighting in which 500 Ulstermen were killed.
Arriving before Waterford on the same day as the Irish attack on Carrick, Cromwell sent Lieutenant-General Jones to capture Passage Fort on the west bank of the River Barrow. Although it was well-manned, the garrison surrendered on terms the following day. The capture of Passage Fort allowed English ships to sail safely along the western bank of the Barrow to unload heavy siege artillery for the assault on Waterford. However, heavy rain had left the ground too wet and boggy to support the weight of the guns, so the attempt was abandoned. With only 3,000 men left and sickness rife in his army, Cromwell’s only hope was that Waterford would surrender on terms. He agreed to a five-day truce with Colonel Lyvett, the governor of Waterford, while negotiations continued. During this period, Ormond’s relief column arrived on the north bank of the Suir. On 30 November, Lieutenant-General Richard Farrell reinforced the garrison with 1,500 Ulstermen. Realising that there was no hope that the town would surrender or that it could be taken by storm, Cromwell abandoned the siege of Waterford on 2 December. Marching west into the territory secured by Lord Broghill, Cromwell dispersed his army into winter quarters at Cork, Youghal and Dungarvan.
Despite the setback at Waterford, the first stage of Cromwell’s Irish campaign had been a spectacular success. On Ormond’s advice, King Charles II abandoned plans to use Ireland as a springboard for an invasion of England. However, Cromwell’s army was exhausted, short of supplies and gripped by an epidemic of malaria and dysentery. Up to 1,000 Parliamentarian troops died during the winter of 1649/50, including the veteran Colonel Horton and Lieutenant-General Michael Jones, the hero of Rathmines.
S.R. Gardiner, History of the Commonwealth and Protectorate vol. i, (London 1903)
Peter Gaunt, The Cromwellian Gazetteer, (Stroud 1987)
James Scott Wheeler, Cromwell in Ireland, (New York 1999)