7th July 1689

7th July 1689

These few extract from “Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689” outline the ‘state of play’ of the Siege in early July:

“The three original and best-known records of the siege, written by men who lived within the city, make us well acquainted with what transpired within the walls during that memorable time; but they tell us very little of what occurred within the [Jacobite] camp, seeing that their means of knowing it was so slight and untrustworthy. 


The following letter, written by General Rosen himself two days after the poor people departed, is also exceedingly valuable for supplying us with much of what is lacking in the three city historians. It shows the interpretation which the enemy put upon the conduct of Kirke; it lets us see why the Jacobites were in the beginning of July more desirous than ever that the city should be in their possession, and also why it was that they were not able to take it.


5th July, 1689.


“I am grieved to see so little attention given to the execution of your Majesty’s orders, at a time when matters are become troublesome and embarrassed. Kirke is always at his post, waiting the arrival of three regiments of cavalry and two of infantry, which are to join him, under the command of Charles Count Schomberg. There is no doubt but this expectation has kept him from making any attempt to throw provisions into Derry, as he might easily have done, by hazarding some vessels for that end; yet your troops which have been lately sent have arrived almost in the same condition with the former, having been obliged to take such arms with them as were given them, the greater part of which are damaged and broken, and accordingly useless, as you have not in all your army a single gunsmith to mend them.


“The troops which are here with Hamilton are in a still worse condition, and the regiments entirely lost and ruined; the strongest battalion having but two hundred men, and more than two-thirds of them without swords, belts, or bandeliers. The cavalry and dragoons are not the better that they are the more numerous, as the strongest company has not more than twelve or fourteen troopers able to serve. The river which divides your army, and prevents a communication, diminishes it considerably. The detachment under the Duke of Berwick’s command, being more than thirty miles from this place, weakens it entirely, as he cannot leave the post which he has been obliged to take, without allowing the Enniskilleners to possess it, and to shut us up behind. All this, Sire, together with the embarrassment of the artillery, and the carriages which are here, with very little means of conveying them in a country where one is necessarily obliged to go by the one road, which is very bad, should now induce your Majesty to adopt a measure which is of the utmost consequence to the good of your service. It is for this reason I humbly beseech you to consider this maturely, and to send me instantly your orders about what we should do, as I had already the honour to ask by my two last letters, to which I have yet received no answer.


“I cannot comprehend how the regiment of Walter Butler could be sent away from Dublin without swords and without powder and ball. I am still more surprised that Bagnal’s regiment has been employed to escort the treasure, without giving them a single shot, although, as the officers told me, they frequently asked, without being able to obtain any; yet, Sire, they both of them marched two days quite close to the garrison of Enniskillen, in danger of falling a prey to them. The garrison of Belturbet is in the same situation, having had, as Sutherland told me, but little powder, and not a single ball. My heart bleeds, Sire, when I reflect on the continuance of this negligence, since it appears to me that no one is in any pain about the ruin of your affairs. I hope that the return of this express will bring me your Majesty’s ultimate orders, and I wish they may arrive in time enough for me to put them properly in execution, having no other object but to show you my zeal and attachment for your service; because I am, with a very profound respect, submission, and loyalty, Sire, your Majesty’s, etc., etc.,


Badly off as King James’s troops were for ammunition and equipments, the difficulties under which the garrison laboured at the same time were very much greater…hunger, and the diseases produced by hunger and privation, were the most formidable enemies of the garrison. Famine slew more than the cannon of the enemy; even the bombs discharged from the camp killed but few, compared with the multitudes that perished from sickness. 


“I could not,” says John Hunter, of Maghera, who served as a common soldier throughout the siege, “… get a drink of clean water, and suffered heavily from thirst, and was so distressed by hunger that I could have eaten any vermin, but could not get it. Yea, there was nothing that was any kind of flesh or food that I would not have eaten, if I had it. May the good Lord, if it be His pleasure, never let poor woman’s son meet with such hardships as I met with at that great siege, for I cannot mention them as I ought. Oh! none will believe, but those who have found it by experience, what some poor creatures suffered in that siege. There were many who had been very curious respecting what they put into their mouths before they came to the siege of Londonderry, who before that siege was ended would have eaten what a dog would not eat—for they would have eaten a dead dog, and be very glad to eat it; and one dog will hardly eat another. I speak from woeful experience, for I myself would have eaten the poorest cat or dog I ever saw with my eyes. The famine was so great that many a man, woman, and child died from want of food. I myself was so weak from hunger, that I fell under my musket one morning as I was going to the walls; yet God gave me strength to continue all night at my post there, and enabled me to act the part of a soldier as if I had been as strong as ever I was; yet my face was blackened with hunger. I was so hard put to it, by reason of the want of food, that I had hardly any heart to speak or walk; and yet when the enemy was coming, as many a time they did, to storm the walls, then I found as if my former strength returned to me. I am sure it was the Lord kept the city, and none else; for there were many of us that could hardly stand on our feet before the enemy attacked the walls, who, when they were assaulting the out-trenches, ran out against them most nimbly and with great courage. Indeed, it was never the poor, starved men that were in Derry that kept it out, but the mighty God of Jacob, to whom be praise for ever and ever.”
The simple words of this unlettered soldier picture the sufferings of the garrison with more distinctness and force than the choicest language of the most brilliant of English historians.”