Sieges in the first part of the war were haphazard and often not well prosecuted. Often the building being besieged was not designed to withstand the attack of artillery. As the war dragged on they were carried out in a much more methodical way. The Parliamentarian train that accompanied the New Model Army was very powerful and was increased as the army came under control of the Commonwealth. There were many fortified places in Britain in the 1640s, some of which were more important or better placed strategically than others. It cannot be emphasized enough that their defences were themselves of widely varying condition. Hull, having been designed by the Tudor engineer John
Rogers, was considered to be extraordinarily well defended, while at the siege of Newcastle on 19 October 1644 the walls were unprotected by earthworks and breaches were effected very quickly, forcing the defenders to scamper around trying to find ways of defending them. In most respects artillery was far more important for siege work than for the field. Both guns and mortars were essential to the attack or defence of fortified places. This is one of the reasons why Civil War commanders were forced to create large siege trains and with them all the paraphernalia of supporting them. The artillery train was not only responsible for guns but for the supply, repair and delivery of weapons. It was very common for the train to include pioneers, carpenters, blacksmiths and other such skilled men. The artillery train was not, of course, the only form of siege weapon and we must not lose sight of the importance of the navy during this period. Parliament's almost complete domination of the navy through the Earl of Warwick gave them a massive advantage not only in sea transport but also in mobile firepower that could be used to support a siege. In fact, land and naval guns became somewhat interchangeable and the Earl of Warwick was, often under duress, obliged to remove them from ships in order to lay siege to a fortress or castle.
The attack of fortified places required a detailed examination of the place to be attacked. William Eldred put great store by this examination and logically it allowed the gunner to decide the best way or place to site his guns. Normally a siege required the besiegers to erect lines of circumvallation or fortified trenches all the way around the fortification. This allowed them to place guns and keep the attacking infantry in safety. The besiegers would then dig trenches in zigzags towards the enemy fortification so that either miners could get within striking distance of the walls or the gun batteries could be moved closer for better effect. Nevertheless, the largest gun, the cannon, would not take
A complete leather gun and carriage in the Bavarian army museum at Ingolstadt. The carriage appears to be original and is very finely made, as is the gun barrel. The wheels are not made to carry heavy weights, hence the spokes are slender and there is little reinforcing on the felloes.
A very interesting detail from a German gun barrel from the early 17th century. This casting shows the method used to pull a plough and gives reasonably good detail of the horse equipment required to pull it. The swingle trees or short wooden bars behind the horse are very reminiscent of later gun carriage equipment but it may well be that they were being used to pull guns and limbers during the Civil War. In fact with the plough removed the wheels and draw bar are very similar to those illustrated in manuscripts and it may well be that the one led to the other.
very long to destroy even the stoutest of walls. Gunners generally aimed to fire an inverted T pattern on the wall at its base to weaken it and hopefully bring it down under its own weight. Guns were emplaced in batteries. A battery normally consisted of a levelled position with earthen banks and defended to the front by gabions. These gabions were large baskets made from the intertwined small branches of local trees and filled with earth. Earth was commonly piled up around them to form an embrasure through which a gun barrel would fire. The guns would be mounted on wooden platforms and they would be sited as near as possible to the enemy position without exposing the gunners to the fire of enemy guns or muskets. Small powder stores were built in the vicinity and were often covered with fascines to protect them. The guns were normally of large calibre and typically the cannon, the demi-cannon, and the culverin were the three preferred guns, but often, if the place was well fortified, the culverin, with its 15—161b round shot, was not enough to pierce a thick-walled castle. The two larger pieces could throw a projectile of up to 631b in weight and veiy little could survive the continuous bombardment of such weapons.
In order to hit the target, the gunner was required to set the elevation on the gun to get the correct range. In the Civil War this was clone through the use of a quoin or triangular wooden block placed under the breech of the gun. Normally a gunner's quadrant was used to measure the angle of the gun barrel. The gunner placed the quadrant in the muzzle of the piece with the scale and plumb bob at the muzzle face. The gun could then be adjusted until the angle was correct. Other types of quadrant functioned similarly but were placed on the breech of the gun. As has been stressed, the mortar was the weapon that caused most consternation. At the siege of Gloucester in 1643, mortars were used to devastating effect. The governor, Edward Massey, stated:
The enemy still prepared for a general storm ... shooting grenades, fire-balls and great stones out of their mortar pieces. In one night they shot above twenty fiery melting hot iron bullets; some eighteen 41
pound weight, others two and twenty pound weight, which were seen to fly through the air like the shooting of a star. (Young, Sieges of the Great Civil War)
Once the breach had been made the generally preferred method of reducing the town was to storm the breach to get inside.
The vexed question of the effectiveness of artillery in the Civil War is not a simple matter to answer. The utility of guns during a siege was indisputable but the effectiveness of artillery depended as much on the skills of the gunners and the placing of the guns as it did on the reluctance of the target units to endure their fire. The ability to use guns in new ways was only in part understood in the Civil War and thereafter the use of artillery changed very little at least until the Napoleonic Wars. The Duke of Cumberland could be seen aligning his guns between his units in the front line at the battle of Culloden. Incremental changes in the use and preparation of artillery can be seen, but not until the latter half of the 18th century did its use become much more mobile. Although there had been refinements in the use and production of artillery, the gun barrels that were used in the Crimean War were still smooth bore muzzle-loading guns that would not have appeared alien to the members of the artillery trains of the 1640s and 50s.
One of the finest bronze sakers in existence in Britain today, mounted on a replica gun carriage, information for which was taken from von Wallhausen's Manual of 1617. This gun is known as the Phillips gun as it was cast by Richard Phillips in 1601. It was not, however, used in the Civil War since it was recaptured from the Chinese in 1842. It was probably captured from an English ship and it is inscribed with Chinese characters. Nevertheless, it is exactly the type of gun used in the field during the Civil War and gives a good idea of the size of such pieces. The barrel is 9ft 8in long and the bore is 33/iin. (Courtesy of the Trustees of the Royal Armouries)
Was this article helpful?