Offensive fortifications

The would-be attacker, seeing the difficulty of approaching these fortifications across an open field, could bombard the defences with various artillery pieces hoping to create a breach. But even if this succeeded, approaching the breach in safety would be virtually impossible because of the enfilading fire from the bastions and various detached outworks and forts. The besiegers would therefore 'lay down' a regular siege in the hope of starving the garrison into surrender. This was the tactic successfully employed by the New Model Army before Colchester in 1648.

The main method for besieging a place was to construct encircling lines of fortifications both to contain the besieged as well as to defend against any relieving force attempting to 'raise' the siege. These siegeworks were called circumvallations and contravallations respectively, although it was rare for besiegers to build the latter. Newark offers a rare example of a place where

Troops besieging a fortified place

During many regular sieges of castles and towns, the besieging forces dug trenches (or saps) towards the walls in order to breach them through intense cannon fire; or by mining and exploding mines below the walls. The workers in the trenches were protected by cover fire from batteries behind them as well as from various forms of cover such as wooden blinds and gabions. In this scene, building operations are in progress and a miner is emerging from a mine shaft.

Fortifications Building

right An engraving from Theatro Militare by Captain Flaminio published in Antwerp in 1617. depicting some of the various methods of fortifying a bastion including vertical storm poles, horizontal palisades and an abbatis of twigs in between. Some of these methods may have been employed in the Civil War.

Bastion FortificationCircumvallation

below Lines of circumvallation from Muller's Attack and defence of fortified places (1747). Even though this engraving dates from a century after the Civil War. the principles are identical, with the besiegers' camp positioned behind the circling entrenchment.

the besiegers dug such double fortifications. Siegeworks built by the Parliamentarians before Lathom House, Lancashire, in 1644, were described in a Royalist diary as:

an open trench round the house, a yard of ditch, and a yard raised with turf, at the distance of sixty, one hundred, or two hundred yards from the walls. They had eight sconces raised in such places as might most annoy our men in the sally ... with two yards of rampart and a yard of ditch, in some places staked and palisaded to keep off a violent assault. Their pioneers were lirsl sheltered by baskets and hurdles, and afterwards by a kind of testudo, a wooden engine running on wheels, roofed towards the house, with thick planks, and open for the enemy to cast up the earth.

Raised batteries would be constructed of earth to provide protection for the siege artillery whose task was to bombard the garrison into submission. While many batteries conformed to standard principles, others were adaptations constrained by time or materials available. In December 1645, the Parliamentarian Colonel Browne, while attempting to bombard the Royalist garrison at Donnington Castle into surrender, 'made a mount upon the said level some 200 paces of the Castell, trench and palisade it, the walls being high, cannon proof, and the top made of great thickness and strong, as covered over with bricks and earth propped with great beams and laid over with packs of wool to prevent the execution of mortar grenades'.

There are numerous descriptions of batteries built by besieging forces. At Lathom House, a battery built to protect a large mortar used to bombard the building was constructed on rising ground about half a musket-shot to the south-west. It was in the form of a full moon, witii a rampart 2'/2yds above the quarry ditch. While (lie mortar caused considerable damage, the battery failed to stop a Royalist sally in April 1644 that levelled the ditch and hauled the menacing weapon into the house.

If bombardments failed to force the garrison into submission, trenches would be dug towards the besieged place with the intention of mining the walls or bombarding at close range to create a breach that would allow penetration by the attacking force to storm the place, which happened at Basing House in 1645 and Drogheda, Ireland, in 1649. These trenches were termed approaches. Soldiers would dig the saps or trenches under the protection of a variety of structures called blinds that provided cover from missiles and bullets. Assuming approaches were successful, miners could then burrow towards the walls and place explosives under the structures. An alternative approach would be to place explosive devices called petards against gates or in walls to blow them open.

Mining operations were conducted by Parliamentarian troops against Lathom House, Bridgnorth Castle, and elsewhere, while at Lichfield Close, Prince Rupert 'caused the Colliers to come in, and they brought with them all their pick-axes to undermine it'. The diarist of the Lathom siege makes reference to mining. The garrison were on guard against any mines and they 'had diligent observers to hearken to any noises from their trench, by which our men might thereby direct their countermines'. On another occasion, it was discovered that mining operations had been temporarily curtailed because rainfall had slackened and loosened the earth, causing a cave-in that killed three miners. At Hawarden Castle, Flintshire, Parliamentarian mining operations were discovered by the Royalist garrison, while at Wardour Castle, Gloucester, the Royalists successfully (ietonaXed a mine under \Viv buM'ing.

Sometimes, siege engines were employed by attacking troops. Called sows because of their shape, they were vehicles on wheels covered with boards to protect those within from musket shot. The Royalist newspaper Mercurius Rusticus described the use of a 'sow' and a 'boar' at Corfe Castle, Dorset, in 164.1, so that Parliamentarian besiegers could 'make their approaches to the wall with more safety'. Sir William Brereton, the Parliamentarian commander in north-west England, took possession of three 'moveable breastworks' in March 1643/4. They were 'fitted to storm any place or enter any breach and will shelter from the enemy's shot 18 musketeers... these also will be of use to barricade suddenly any bridge, lane or narrow pass.' Besieged garrisons could use them also for when a breach was made; 'they can be used to make forward works'.

So important was it for troops to assault a place under some form of cover that various inventors vied for the business of constructing such engines and, in 1644, one Kdmond Felton petitioned Parliament for a contract in a pamphlet entitled Engi/is Invented to saw much Wood and Momyes. He even claimed that his

Make War GabionMake War Gabion
This kind of image was very common in military treatises of the period and served to demonstrate how to conduct offensive operations against fortified places. Cannon are shown protected by cannon baskets or gabions.
Gabion Civil War

A siege battery in operation

Civil War sieges involved bombardment by a variety of heavy weapons that were hauled to the site and placed on raised earthen platforms known as batteries. The cannon were positioned on a floor of oak planks or hurdles protected by cannon-baskets or gabions filled with earth. Large cannon had a crew of five while demi-cannon were served by four men.The smaller saker had two gunners.

Demi CannonTrenches Vauban

left Principles of siegecraft in 17th-century Europe showing the besiegers' trenches and approaches The line of communication or circumvallation can be seen at the bottom, with advanced zigzags approaching the walls. An original watercolour from a manuscript after Vauban.

below The method of digging trenches and saps, from a manuscript written in the early-18th century.The techniques of siege warfare changed little over 200 years. Sappers would dig trenches under cover of wooden fences and blinds surmounted by bundles of wood.

left Principles of siegecraft in 17th-century Europe showing the besiegers' trenches and approaches The line of communication or circumvallation can be seen at the bottom, with advanced zigzags approaching the walls. An original watercolour from a manuscript after Vauban.

below The method of digging trenches and saps, from a manuscript written in the early-18th century.The techniques of siege warfare changed little over 200 years. Sappers would dig trenches under cover of wooden fences and blinds surmounted by bundles of wood.

ideas had been stolen by a l)r Chillingworth and that the Royalists were developing siege engines based on his designs, some of which were used at the siege of Gloucester in 1643 after a design. One source suggests that the Parliamentarians may have left behind a 'sow' when Beeston Castle, Cheshire, was relieved in March 1645, although the writer might have confused Beeston with Gloucester. This was described as a lower of wood, musket-proof, mounted on wheels and hauled by oxen. The tower was divided into rooms with loopholes.

All this assumes that the besiegers did not attempt to counter-attack using sallies, which were often conducted tinder cover of darkness. If they were successful, temporary fortifications might be destroyed, guns syikfid and tjtixanecs taken. Latham House again offers an example where the Royalist garrison 'sallied forth' on several occasions, attacking the besieging troops and demolishing their works. For instance, in April 1644, over 140 troops came out of the postern gate of the house, forced the enemy out of the siegeworks and batteries, nailed the cannons and killed about 50 soldiers.

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