The First Sally during the Siege of Derry

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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FIRST SALLY.—Sunday, 2lst April.

The cannonade against the city opened at an early hour on Sunday, by the Irish planting a gun on the heights of Clooney, and, from a distance of one hundred and eighty perches, firing across the river upon the town. Little harm was done, however, except to the roofs of the houses in Pump Street, and to the Market-house, which stood in the centre of the Diamond.

The garrison was not disposed in such circumstances to remain very long quiescent. Having observed from the walls that a detachment of some two hundred men passed along the heights west of the city apparently in the direction of Culmore, it was determined to make an attempt to cut them off. Five hundred men were sent out in small bodies, with orders to line the fences between the town and Pennyburn. For want of forage, only a hundred horses could be kept in the city; so that the cavalry at command of the garrison were very insignificant in numbers. The horse, as many as could be got ready, were divided into two small parties, one of which was led by Colonel Murray, the other by Major Nathan Bull,[1] and advanced along the North Strand; on the right they were covered by the river, and on the left they were supported by about five hundred foot, who were planted higher up the hill, in sight of the enemy, and kept for a reserve. The movement did not escape the attention of Maumont. He was removed some four or five miles from his main army, and had gone down to give directions about capturing Culmore. Most of his cavalry had gone to forage; but when he saw the detachment in danger, he put himself with his general officers at the head of a hundred horse, and rode forward along the Strand to cover and protect the party that was advancing down the hill. Murray and his horsemen, without noticing the foot, rode straight against the covering party on the shore. The onset of the cavalry was furious. Murray charged right through the enemy, and forced his way back again to his friends, having his horse killed in the encounter, and three times he came into personal conflict with Lieutenant-General Maumont, in the last of which the French officer was slain.[2] Montmejan, aide-de-camp to Maumont, was dangerously wounded, and barely escaped with life.

The other division of horse, under Major Bull, was not so successful, for, affected with some sudden panic, they wheeled round and galloped in the direction of the city, pursued by about fifteen of the enemy's horse, who slashed and pistolled them till within musket-range of the walls. The foot were about to engage, when they observed that most of the horse had already fled, and fearing that their retreat might be cut of by the enemy's cavalry, the main body of which was attempting to get between them and the city, they retired under the protection of the city guns. The horse of the enemy, who had left the main body in pursuit of Bull's party, had now to return, and were attacked by the men who lined the fences, as well as by the foot who came down the hill to join them; the result of which was that only two of the pursuers escaped. When the battle was at the hottest, the party at the Waterside brought down the great gun, with which all the morning they had been firing from Clooney against the city, to a point opposite that where the fight was going on at Pennyburn; but before it was able to do very much harm, a well directed cannon-shot from the walls killed their gunner and disabled their gun.

This action at Pennyburn was in reality a repulse, which was turned into a victory by a rash pursuit on the part of the enemy. But slight as the advantage was, it was encouraging to the garrison. It was the first encounter in which the Williamites had held their own since the war broke out, and it inspired their leaders with the hope that, untrained as their men were, they would be able in a short time to keep their ground against the enemy. At the cost of nine or ten men, of which the most important were Lieutenant M'Phedris and Cornet Brown, they had taken a standard and some little spoil, and inflicted upon the enemy a loss which was estimated at two hundred, including Lieutenant-General Maumont and several officers of note.[3]

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[1] "I will only say that by the prudent government of these two gentlemen, being encouraged by many in the garrison, the town has been preserved."—True and Impartial Account, p. 21.

[2] Walker has his own reasons for not mentioning that Murray slew the French general, but it is mentioned by Mackenzie, April 21st; and in the Londerias, book iii. 3; also in the Royal Voyage, a play written and acted in 1689, and quoted by Lord Macaulay, History, ch. xix. Avaux says he was killed by a gun-shot in the head at the first discharge; he does not say by whom. He of course had no means of knowing.

[3] Mackenzie, April 21st; Walker, April 21st; Ash, April 21st; Avaux to Louvois, 6th May/26th April, 1689. True and Impartial Account, p. 24. The report of this battle as it reached Dublin was grossly exaggerated. It was said that the garrison "had killed four or five thousand of our common soldiers, the French General Maumont, one major, five captains, and several other inferior officers, and wounded the Duke of Berwick in the thigh."—Ireland's Lament., p. 34.

William R. Young’s Fighters of Derry has for decades been one of the most overlooked works on the Siege of Derry and as a local genealogical resource. First published in 1932, the book was the product of ten years’ research into identifying participants at the siege which the author undertook when suffering from ill-health in the latter part of his life.

The book is essentially divided into two parts: the first contains 1660 biographical entries relating to the defenders of Derry, tracing, where possible, the family lineage; and the second part includes 352 entries on the Jacobite side. Apart from individual accounts of eminent protagonists in the siege, such as David Cairnes, Rev. George Walker, the Duke of Schomberg, Patrick Sarsfield, etc., there is also background given to many of the most influential families involved in the conflict.