Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Siege of Drogheda, September 11, 1649

"I am persuaded that this is a righteous judgement of God on these barbarous wretches, who have imbrued their hands with so much innocent blood; and that it will tend to prevent the effusion of blood for the future, which are satisfactory grounds for such actions which cannot otherwise but work remorse and regret." --Oliver Cromwell to Parliament.

Today is the 364th anniversary of the fall of Drogheda on September 11, 1649. According to this website:

In a furious passion, Cromwell ordered that no quarter was to be given. Mill Mount was protected by a bank and ditch and a timber palisade but these defences were soon broken down and the Royalists put to the sword. Aston was bludgeoned to death with his own wooden leg, which the Parliamentarian soldiers believed to be filled with gold coins. The rest of the garrison fled across the Boyne into the northern part of the town, pursued closely by Colonel Venables' troops who prevented the Royalists from raising the drawbridge behind them.

By late evening, up to 6,000 Parliamentarians were in the town overwhelming all resistance and slaughtering officers and soldiers. A cavalry screen outside the walls prevented escape to the north. Catholic priests and friars were treated as combatants and killed on sight. Many civilians died in the carnage. A group of defenders who had barricaded themselves in the steeple of St Peter's Church in the north of Drogheda were burned alive when the Parliamentarians set fire to the church. Around 2,000 people died in the storming and massacre of Drogheda; a number of prisoners who surrendered before Cromwell gave the order for no quarter were murdered in cold blood. Surviving members of the garrison captured the following day were transported to Barbados. Parliamentarian losses were around 150.

According to the conventions of 17th century warfare, a besieged city that refused a summons to surrender and was then taken by storm could expect no mercy. Cromwell regarded the massacre at Drogheda as a righteous judgment on the Catholics who had slaughtered Protestant settlers in the Irish Uprising of 1641, a view that was probably shared by most Protestants at the time. He also considered that the example of Drogheda would serve as a warning to other garrisons in Ireland to surrender rather than risk a similar fate, thus preventing bloodshed in the long run. However, the massacre of Drogheda left an indelible stain on Cromwell's reputation. It has lived on in Irish folk memory, making his name into one of the most hated in Irish history.

The BBC debated Cromwell's reputation in 1999, the 400th anniversary of his birth.

Readers of Gone With the Wind might remember that Scarlett O'Hara has a rather confused view of Drogheda and when it occurred. Rhett Butler calls her the most historically ignorant person he has ever met.

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