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two miles from Gorey; and it is pretty certain that, if the yeoman cavalry, (who were seldom of any real use,) could have been prevailed on to charge at the proper time, the defeat would have been a most murderous one to the rebels. As it was, they escaped with considerable loss of honor. But even this they retrieved within a few days, in a remarkable way, and with circumstances of still greater scandal to the military discretion in high quarters, than had attended the movements of General Fawcet in the south.
On the 4th of June, a little army of 1500 men, under the command of Major-General Loftus, had assembled at Gorey. The plan was to march by two different roads upon the rebel encampment at Corrigrua; and this plan was adopted. Meantime, on that same night, the rebel army had put themselves in motion for Gorey; and of this counter-movement, full and timely information was given by a farmer at the royal head-quarters; but such was the obstinate infatuation, that no officer of rank would condescend to give him a hearing. The consequences may be imagined. Colonel Walpole, an Englishman, full of courage, but presumptuously disdainful of the enemy, led a division upon one of the two roads, having no scouts, nor taking any sort of precaution. He was suddenly surprised, and faced he refused to halt or to retire; was shot through the head; and a great part of the advanced detachment was slaughtered on the spot, and his artillery captured. General Loftus, advancing on the parallel road, heard the firing, and detached the grenadier company of the Antrim militia, to the aid of Walpole. These, to the amount of seventy men, were cut off almost to a man; and when the General, who could not cross over to the other road, through the enclosures, from the encumbrance of his artillery, had at length reached the scene of
action by a long circuit, he found himself in the following truly ludicrous position:-The rebels had pursued Colonel Walpole's division to Gorey, and possessed themselves of that place; the General had thus lost his head-quarters, without having seen the army whom he had suffered to slip past him in the dark. He marched back disconsolately to Gorey, took a look at the rebel posts which now occupied the town in strength, was saluted with a few rounds from his own cannon, and finally retreated out of the county.
I have related this movement of General Loftus, and the previous one of General Fawcet, more circumstantially than might have been proper, because they both forcibly illustrate the puerile imbecility with which the Royal cause was then conducted. Both foundered in one hour, through surprises against which each was amply forewarned. Fortunately for the Government, the affairs of the rebels were managed even worse. Two sole enterprises were undertaken by them after this, previously to their final and ruinous defeat at Vinegar Hill; both of the very utmost importance to their interests, and both sure of success if they had been pushed forward in time. The first was the attack upon Ross, undertaken on the 29th of May, the day after the capture of Enniscorthy; it must inevitably have succeeded, and would immediately have laid open to the rebels the important counties of Waterford and Kilkenny. Being delayed until the 5th of June, the assault was repulsed with prodigious slaughter. The other was the attack upon Arklow, in the north. On the capture of Gorey, on the night of June 4, as the immediate consequence of Colonel Walpole's defeat, had the rebels advanced upon Arklow, they would have found it for some days totally undefended; the whole garrison having retreated in panic, early in the morning of June 5,
to Wicklow. The capture of this important place would have laid open the whole road to the capital, would probably have caused a rising in that great city, and, in any event, would have indefinitely prolonged the war, and multiplied the distractions of Government. Merely from sloth, and the spirit of procrastination, however, the rebel army halted at Gorey until the 9th, and then advanced with what seemed the overpowering force of 27,000 men. It is a striking lesson upon the subject of procrastination, that, precisely on that morning of June 9, the attempt had first become hopeless. Until then the place had been positively emptied of all inhabitants whatsoever. Exactly on the 9th, the old garrison had been ordered back from Wicklow, and reinforced by a crack English regiment, (the Durham Fencibles,) on whom chiefly the defence on this day devolved; which was peculiarly arduous, from the vast numbers of the assailants, but brilliant and perfectly successful.
This obstinate and fiercely contested battle of Arklow was, by general consent, the hinge on which the rebellion turned. Nearly 30,000 men, all armed with pikes, and 5000 with muskets, and supported by some artillery, sufficiently well served to do considerable execution at a most important point in the line of defence, could not be defeated without a very trying struggle. And here again it is worthy of record, that General Needham, who commanded on this day, would have followed the example of Generals Fawcet and Loftus, and have ordered a retreat, had he not been opposed by Colonel Sherret of the Durham regiment. Such was the almost uniform imbecility, and the want of moral courage, on the part of the military leaders for it would be unjust to impute any defect in animal courage to the feeblest of these leaders. General Needham, for example, exposed his person without reserve
throughout the whole of this difficult day. But he could not face a trying responsibility.
From the defeat of Arklow, the rebels gradually retired, between the 9th and the 20th of June, to their main military position of Vinegar Hill, which lies immediately above the town of Enniscorthy, and had fallen into their hands on the 28th of May, when that place was captured. Here their whole forces, with the exception of perhaps 6000, who attacked General Moore, when marching on the 26th towards Wexford, were concentrated; and hither the Royal army, 13,000 strong, with a respectable artillery, under the supreme command of General Lake, converged in four separate divisions, about the 19th and 20th of June. The great blow was to be struck on the 21st; and the plan was, that the Royal forces, moving to the assault of the rebel position upon four opposite radii, should completely surround their encampment and shut up every avenue to escape. On this plan, the field of battle would have been one vast slaughter-house; for quarter was not granted. But the manœuvre, if it were ever seriously entertained, was entirely defeated by the failure of General Needham, who did not present himself with his division until nine o'clock, a full half-hour after the battle was over, and thus gained for himself the sobriquet of the late General Needham. Whether the failure were really in this officer, or (as was alleged by his apologists) in the inconsistent orders issued to him by General Lake, with the covert intention, as many believe, of mercifully counteracting his own scheme of wholesale butchery, to this day remains obscure. The effect of this delay, caused how it might, was for once such as must win everybody's applause. The action had commenced at seven o'clock in the morning. By halfpast eight, the whole rebel army was in flight, and nat
urally making for the only point left unguarded, it escaped with no great slaughter, (but leaving behind all its artillery and a good deal of valuable plunder,) through what was facetiously called ever afterwards Needham's gap. After this capital rout of Vinegar Hill, the rebel army daily mouldered away. A large body, however, of the fiercest and most desperate continued for some time to make flying marches in all directions, according to the positions of the King's forces, and the momentary favor of accidents. Once or twice they were brought to action by Sir James Duff and Sir Charles Asgill; and, ludicrously enough, once more they were suffered to escape by the eternal delays of the late General Needham. At length, however, after many skirmishes, and all varieties of local success, they finally dispersed upon a bog in the county of Dublin. Many desperadoes, however, took up their quarters for a long time in the dwarf woods of Killaughrim, near Enniscorthy, assuming the trade of marauders, but ludicrously designating themselves the Babes in the Wood. It is an explicable fact, that many deserters from the militia regiments, who had behaved well throughout the campaign, and adhered faithfully to their colors, now resorted to this confederation of the woods; from which it cost some trouble to dislodge them. Another party in the woods and mountains of Wicklow, were found still more formidable, and continued to infest the adjacent country through the ensuing winter. These were not finally ejected from their lairs, until after one of their chiefs had been killed in a night skirmish by a young man defending his house, and the other, weary of his savage life, had surrendered himself to transportation.
It diffused general satisfaction throughout Ireland, that, on the very day before the final engagement of Vinegar Hill, Lord Cornwallis made his entry into Dublin as the