Battle of Dunbar and all that

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Battle of Dunbar and all that

Post by Strafford »

Many people know what buttons were worn on uniform and how long a musket should be. They know what battle they are re-enacting but don't involve themselves in the circumstances of the Battles. The Battle is often the 'diamond' set in a gold ring. There is more gold than diamond but the diamond draws the blood.
This is my take on the battle of Dunbar and some of the circumstances leading up to it. If you find it interesting, I'll post my stuff on 17th Century Ireland and the seeds that were sewn for the Potato Famine and many of the later Troubles.
I'm not an educator, in fact I have 2 CSEs from 1966 when my schooling ended at age 15. To love and study History is to find a navigable way through a present day minefield. eg: Russia today is akin to post WW1 Germany. Disrespected, unsupported in progressive measures by Gorbachev and left to fester since 1989. History should have told Politicians that the SEcond World War might have been avoided and penalizing the entire German People after WW1 was crazy.
I also love History because many 'stories' are quoted as History. These stories are often irritating wounds that exist between peoples.
The Story I am about to tell you is, as far as I can ascertain, History. It overturns a story which has festered for 366 years.

Here is a story that hasn't been told. It could go in your blogs if you wish.
I am afraid that this cannot be a 'simple' communication because the subject is complicated. It concerns the fate of Scottish prisoners taken by Oliver Cromwell on September 3rd. 1650. Until now, it has been believed that the prisoners (somewhere around 3,500) were cruelly forced marched to Durham and left to starve to death in the Cathedral there. Some of the prisoners were shipped to America as Indentured Servants (it has often been said that they were slaves). Looking at the laws of Boston at the time, the Scots were far from being slaves.

In the beginning: In early July 1650 an 'order to muster' went out around Scotland to defend the country against Cromwell's invasion of Scotland. The English Parliament had good reason to strike at Scotland because the Scottish Presbyterian Theocracy was in the process of welcoming Charles II and binding him in a contract which would impose Presbyterianism on all his subjects if the Scots helped him to regain his throne. That would have been the third time that the Scots had attempted to impose their system of worship. The Second attempt they made was through the 'Engagers' which saw Lord Hamilton bring an army into England for Charles I.

The muster determined how many men would be required from each town or area. It also demanded that the Heritors/Lairds should bring with them supplies for their men. 30 days supplies below Aberdeen and 40 days supplies above Aberdeen. The country below Edinburgh was subject to a scorched earth policy. After provisions for 30,000 men had been removed from the various towns, cities and villages, we may assume that there was very little left for the people left behind to subsist on. All men between the age of 10 and 60 were subject to the Muster. They would have taken horses and carts, smithing and wheelwright equipment leaving many areas without the wherewithal to replace the food demanded by muster.

On the 2nd September 1650 Cromwell was in a sorry state. He had only seven or eight thousand men who were in fit condition to fight. They were short of provisions because the weather made it impossible to land anything from ships. Truth is, a lesser general would have donned ladie's clothes and headed for the English Border pretending to be a washer woman. (sorry about the levity) On the 2nd September, not many people seem to realise the state the Sir David Leslie was in. His 'state' contained an army that was into 45 days of 30 days supplies and not a lot of means to top those supplies up. He had played a waiting game with Cromwell, refusing to face Cromwell in a pitched battle. His men had also been marching up and down the South of Edinburgh. His men had also been cold and exposed but Cromwell's men were soldiers.

If, as I believe, Leslie was short of provisions (many of the Scottish Prisoners said they hadn't eaten for four days before the battle) I also believe that Leslie dismissing a large number of the Royalist element of his army, did so, believing that he could beat Cromwell without them and not have to feed them. The story about him dismissing the 'ungodly' sounds great, but daft. The story also of him abandoning the high ground of Doon hill because the Clerics told him to may be true but if he had an army, the majority of which had not eaten for four days and will have been on short rations before that, Leslie HAD to beat Cromwell before his men either fell down with starvation or mutinied.

The Battle of Dunbar lasted an hour. Then Cromwell was faced with a problem far more complicated than a good battle. In 1648, Cromwell had allowed many of the conscripts in the Scottish Army to return to Scotland. He even provided soldiers to convoy them and protect them from the 'locals'. This could not be the same here. There were between 7,000 and 10,000 prisoners, cold, frightened and half starved. They were in an area which was suffering from famine. His own men were subsisting on a diet of peas and oats. Cromwell's first act was to dismiss half of the prisoners as being 'sick, wounded or starving'.
He sent trumpets around Scotland inviting people to fetch the sick and wounded from the battlefield with no hindrance from his own soldiers. The remaining Scots were a problem. To release them into an area in which there was very little or no food would have been catastrophic. To release them so they could go back to the army and fight Cromwell in a few week's time would have been unthinkable.

The thing is, that Leslie left the battlefield with 13,000 men but he didn't attempt to regroup and attack Cromwell, even though he must have seen the state that Cromwell's men were in. That says to me that either; Leslie was so short of provisions that he couldn't spend any more time in the field, or that Leslie had withdrawn with his 'proper' soldiers and the men left behind were just conscripts, not worth rescuing.

The march of the Prisoners must have been a 'forced march'. They had to be got under cover and fed. There was nowhere between Dunbar and Durham where food for 5,000 men could be obtained. Even the guard of the prisoner down to Berwick Upon Tweed would have been inadequate because Cromwell was short of men.

There is a letter by Sir Arthur Hesilrige to the Council of State For Scotland And Ireland. (One of the main players on that Council was Sir Henry Vane The Younger, friend of Roger Williams and one time Governor of Massachusetts). Hesilrige's description of his treatment of the Scots seems like a pack of lies until you look at the mis-diagnoses of the starving men who were allied prisoners of the Japanese in WWII. Also, the attempts at feeding the victims of the German Concentration Camps.

In his letter, Hesilrige describes 'Refeeding Syndrome' three hundred years before it was a diagnosed condition.. All of his description of the malaise fits with the description of refeeding the Allied Soldiers in 1945. Right down to the fact that men got well and seemed to be thriving and suddenly died. Hesilrige and his physicians thought that they were dealing with a 'plague' like illness so, when they sent prisoners South for shipment to America, they sent them by sea in case they were contageous. Heselrige and his officers would not have taken such precautions if they had been starving the men. It might also explain why the first ship from Newcastle with prisoners in was abandoned and the prisoners left, locked in until someone heard their cries for help and released them.

There are various other things that arise from looking closely at the prisoners and their destination in America. Why would a colony that is often struggling to survive pay good money for just mouths to feed?
There is a clue in that some of the Scots were put to work in the salt pans of South Shields. Sensible really, if you consider that there will have been Scots in that army who had worked in the numerous salt pans around Scotland. There will have been men who worked in Iron foundries and weaving and in the production of lime for cement. There were men in the ranks of those poor, starved wretches who had the skills that were needed in America.

There is no doubt that around 2,000 men perished in Durham Cathedral. It has been said that they froze to death too, but the majority of the deaths were in September and October. It is also said that they burnt all the woodwork in the Cathedral to keep warm. There are pieces of Durham Cathedral woodwork in a number of churches, sold, long before the Prisoners arrived. Robbing the graves to pay for food is another story but it would be interesting to know how one person in amongst thousands might rob a grave and hold on to his plunder long enough to trade it to food. Or.... how having got the food, he might hang on to it long enough to eat it.

So that is a potted version of a piece of history that I believe to have been jubject to the same distortions and half truths which have been Oliver Cromwell's posterity.

The only chance of me finding reasonably honest contemporary narrative is to come to Massachusetts and search through your records. Is that possible? Would I be able to spend ten days trawling your records?

Lastly. Henry Vane fell out with Oliver Cromwell but Roger Williams didn't. Cromwell's treatment of other sects and religions reflected Roger William's view on how a civil authority should treat and aberrant religion... 1: Permit. 2: Protect. Roman Catholicism was a bit harder to deal with because it was an organisation involved in the wholesale persecution of Protestants.

This is the letter from Heselrige which contains all the clues to the deaths being due to refeeding syndrome.
A Letter From Sir Arthur Hesilrige, To the Honorable Committee Of The Councel Of State For Irish and Scotish Affairs at White Hall, Concerning the Scots Prisoners
I Received your Letter dated the Twenty sixth of October, in that you desire me, That Two thousand three hundred of the Scotch Prisoners now at Durham or elswhere, able and fit for Foot Service, be selected, and marched thence to Chester and Liverpool, to be shipped for the South and West of Ireland, and that I should take special care not to send any Highlanders. I am necessitated upon the receipt of this, to give you a full accompt concerning the Prisoners: After the Battel at Dunbar in Scotland, my Lord General writ to me, That there was about Nine thousand Prisoners, and that of them he had set at liberty all those that were wounded, and, as he thought, disabled for future Service, and their Number was, as Mr Downing writ, Five thousand one hundred; the rest the general sent towards Newcastle, conducted to Berwick by Major Hobson, and from Berwick to Newcastle by some Foot out of that Garison, and the Troop of Horse; when they came to Morpeth, the Prisoners being put into a large walled Garden, they eat up raw Cabages, Leaves and Roots, so many, as the very seed and the labor, at Four pence a day, was valued by sufficient men at Nine pounds; which Cabage, as I conceive, they having fasted, as they themselves said, near eight days, poysoned their Bodies; for as they were coming from thence to Newcastle, some dyed by the way-side, and when they came to Newcastle, I put them into the greatest Church in the Town, and the next morning when I sent them to Durham, about Sevenscore were sick, and not able to march, and three dyed that night, and some fell down in their march from Newcastle to Durham, and dyed; and when they came to Durham, I having sent my Lieutenant Colonel and my Major, with a strong Guard both of Horse and Foot, and they being there told into the great Cathedral Church, they could not count them to more then Three thousand; although Colonel Fenwick writ to me, That there were about Three thousand five hundred, but I believe they were not told at Berwick and most of those that were lost, it was in Scotland, for I heard, That the Officers that marched with them to Berwick, were necessitated to kill about Thirty, fearing the loss of them all, for they fell down in great Numbers, and said, They were not able to march; and they brought them far in the night, so that doubtless many ran away. When I sent them first to Durham, I writ to the Major, and desired him to take care, that they wanted not any thing that was fit for Prisoners, and what he should disburse for them, I would repay it. I also sent them a daily supply of bread from Newcastle, and an allowance equal to what had been given to former Prisoners: But their Bodies being infected, the Flux encreased amongst them. I sent many Officers to look to them, & appointed that those that were sick should be removed out the cathedral Church into the Bishops Castle, which belongs to Mistris Blakiston, and provided Cooks, and they had Pottage made with Oatmeal, and Beef and Cabages, a full Quart at a Meal for every Prisoner: They had also coals daily brought to them; as many as made about a hundred Fires both day and night, and Straw to lie upon; and I appointed the Marshal to see all these things orderly done, and he was allowed Eight men to help him to divide the coals, and their Meat, Bread and Pottage equally; They were so unruly, sluttish and nasty, that it is not to be believed; they acted rather like Beasts then Men, so that the Marshal was allowed Forty men to cleanse and sweep them every day: But those men were of the lustiest Prisoners, that had some small thing given them extraordinary: And these provisions were for those that were in health; and for those that were sick, and in the Castle, they had very good Mutton Broth, and sometimes Veal Broth, and Beef and Mutton boild together, and old Women appointed to look to them in the several Rooms: There was also a Physitian which let them Blood, and dressed such as were wounded, and gave the sick Physick and I dare confidently say, There was never the like care taken for any such Number of prisoners that ever were in England. Notwithstanding all this, many of them dyed, and few of any other Disease but the Flux; some were killed by themselves, for they were exceeding cruel one towards another. If a man was perceived to have any Money, it was two to one but he was killed before morning, and Robbed; and if any had good clothes, he that wanted, if he was able, would strangle him, and put on his clothes: And the Disease of the Flux still encreasing amongst them, I was then forced, for their preservation, if possible it might be, to send to all the next Towns to Durham, within four ot five miles, to command them to bring in their Milk, for that was conceived to be the best Remedy for stopping of their Flux, and I promised them what Rates they usually sold it for at the Markets, which was accordingly performed by about Threescore Towns and places, and Twenty of the next Towns to Durham continue still to send daily in their Milk, which is boiled, some with Water, and some with Bean flower, the Physitians holding it exceeding good for recovery of their health.
Gentlemen, You cannot but think strange this long preamble, and to wonder what the matter will be; in short its this, Of the Three thousand prisoners that my Officers told into the Cathedral Church at Durham, Three hundred from thence, and Fifty from Newcastle of the Sevenscore left behinde, were delivered to Major Clerk by order from the Councel, and there are about Five hundred sick in the Castle, and about Six hundred yet in health in the Cathedral, the most of which are in probability Highlanders, they being hardier then the rest, and other means to distinguish them we have not, and about Sixteen hundred are dead and buried, and Officers about Sixty, that are at the Marshals in Newcastle. My Lord General having released the rest of the Officers, and the Councel having given me power to take out what I thought fit, I have granted to several well-affected persons that have Salt-works at Sheels, and want Servants, Forty, and they have engaged to keep them to work at their salt-pans; and I have taken out more about Twelve Weavers, to begin a Trade of Linnen cloth like unto the Scotch-cloth, and about Forty Laborers. I cannot give you on this sudden a more exact Accompt of the prisoners, neither can any Accompt hold true long, because they still dye daily, and doubtless so they will, so long as any remain in Prison. And for those that are well, if Major Clerk could have believed that they had been able to have marched on foot, he would have marched them by Land; for we perceive that divers that are seemingly healthy, and have not all been sick, suddenly dye, and we cannot give any reason of it, onely we apprehend they are all infected, and that the strength of some holds it out till it seize upon their very hearts. Now you fully understand the condition and the number of the Prisoners, what you please to direct, I shall observe, and intend not to proceed further upon this Letter, until I have your Answer upon what I have now written. I am,
Your affectionate Servant,
Art: Hesilrige
Octob, 31, 1650
NB. If you like this write up and understand that it changes over 360 years of anti Cromwell, anti Commonwealth stories I will happily send in a far more contentious issue.... Ireland. The clue to Ireland is in 'Star Wars'. Ireland the Death Star, The Emperor, the Pope and Darth Vader, Ormonde. If you take Drogheda and Wexford out of their historic and cultural settings, it's like looking at twenty minutes of a full length film. Same applies to the story above.
More later... Laurie

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