The Preston Campaign, 1648

In the north of England, Sir Marmaduke Langdale seized Berwick for the King on 28 April 1648; the next day Sir Philip Musgrave captured Carlisle. The northern Royalists intended to secure the road into England for the Duke of Hamilton's Engager army and to then link up with uprisings against Parliament that were expected to break out in other parts of the country. Unfortunately for the Royalists, the plan was badly co-ordinated. The Engager army that finally marched into Cumberland on 8 July was undermanned and very poorly equipped. Hamilton's 6,000 foot and 3,000 horse were reinforced by another 3,000 foot and a few hundred horse raised by Langdale but the English Royalist leaders were unable to raise as much support as they had hoped. This was partly because the weather that summer was unusually cold and wet, which discouraged potential English volunteers from leaving their hearths, while at the same time encouraging large numbers of Scots to desert and return home.

The Duke of Hamilton spent another month in the north of England waiting for more recruits from Scotland, which eventually brought the strength of the Engager army up to around 18,000 troops. This included the English Royalists and a contingent of 3,000 veteran Scots recalled from Ulster and commanded by Major-General George Monro. However, Monro's veterans were left behind in reserve when the Engagers finally marched south because Monro quarrelled with Hamilton's second-in-command James Livingston, Earl of Callendar, and refused to take orders from him. The Engagers quickly became notorious for violent plundering and lawlessness.

The Preston Campaign 1648
The Preston Campaign, 1648

Parliamentarian forces in the north were commanded by Major-General Lambert. From May through to August 1648, contingents of the New Model Army under Cromwell and Fairfax were tied down at the sieges of Pembroke and Colchester. With only about 4,000 troops at his disposal, Lambert stood on the defensive. Hamilton quartered his troops around Penrith and Appleby and made only sporadic skirmishes against Lambert, who coolly withdrew and regrouped whenever he was threatened. As the strength of the Scottish army increased, however, Lambert fell back across the Pennines and consolidated his forces at Barnard Castle to block the route into Yorkshire and to prevent the possibility of the Engagers joining forces with Colonel John Morris and the Royalists at Pontefract Castle, who declared for the King early in June.

Although the Engagers were expected to try to force their way into Yorkshire, Hamilton eventually decided to march south through Lancashire, intending to join up with Lord Byron who was attempting to incite a Royalist uprising in north Wales. But by the time the Engagers finally marched south from Cumberland and Westmorland, Lieutenant-General Oliver Cromwell was on his way up to Yorkshire from Pembroke. He joined forces with Lambert at Wetherby on 12 August to bring the strength of the Parliamentarian army in the north up to around 9,000 men — about half the strength of the Engagers.

The battle of Preston, Lancashire, August 1648

Under terrible weather conditions, the Engagers made slow progress southwards. Lacking supplies and gaining little support from English Royalists, Hamilton's army began to disintegrate through desertion. Hamilton was not aware that Cromwell was on his way north and allowed his forces to become badly strung out. Monro's veterans were left far behind in reserve in north Lancashire then, as Hamilton's main force approached Preston, Lieutenant-General Middleton rode ahead towards Wigan with most of the cavalry on a foraging expedition. Meanwhile Cromwell rapidly crossed the Pennines from Yorkshire into Lancashire. Rather than attempting to block the Engager army's advance southwards, Cromwell decided to march along the north bank of the River Ribble to cut them off from the road back to Scotland and Monro's reserves.

Map of the battle of Preston 1648

On 16 August, still unaware of Cromwell's approach, Hamilton posted Sir Marmaduke Langdale with 2,000 men to guard the road into Preston from the north-east while the main body of the Engager army crossed the rivers Ribble and Darwen south of the town. Langdale first became aware of the proximity of Parliamentarian forces when Cromwell's advance guard clashed with a Royalist outpost near Clitheroe. Despite Langdale's warning, Hamilton and Callendar continued marching the infantry across the rivers with the intention of joining Middleton's cavalry at Wigan. Langdale was left to fend off what was thought to be a harassing attack by the Parliamentarians.

On the morning of 17 August, Langdale took up a strong defensive position on Ribbleton Moor, deploying musketeers among hedged and ditched enclosures on either side of a sunken lane that led into Preston, with a stand of pikemen in the lane itself supported by a small force of Scottish lancers. After weeks of heavy rain, the ground was soft and muddy, which prevented Cromwell from fully exploiting the superiority of the Parliamentarian cavalry. An initial advance along the lane led by Major Smithson of Colonel Lilburne's regiment was driven back by the Scottish lancers. Cromwell was obliged to spend several hours deploying his forces for an effective attack on Langdale's position and did not resume the battle until 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Colonel Harrison's and Cromwell's own cavalry regiments were assigned the task of clearing the lane, while infantry was deployed to drive the musketeers from the enclosures. Langdale's Royalists resisted stubbornly but were gradually overwhelmed by weight of numbers and driven out onto the open road and back into Preston.

The Duke of Hamilton belatedly realised the seriousness of the situation and began sending infantry units back across the river to reinforce Langdale. However, the Earl of Callendar angrily objected to the manoeuvre because there was no cavalry support. He insisted that the Scottish infantry should continue their withdrawal and then take up a defensive position south of the Ribble to await the return of Middleton's cavalry from Wigan. As usual, Hamilton gave way to Callendar and Langdale was left unsupported. Hamilton himself remained north of the river with a small party to wait for Langdale, whose forces were driven back into Preston where most of the infantry were taken prisoner. By the time Langdale joined Hamilton, the Parliamentarians were already attacking the Ribble bridge. Sending the cavalry north to find Monro, the two commanders with a troop of Hamilton's lifeguard fought their way down to the river and swam across to rejoin the main army.

Meanwhile, Major-General Baillie, commander of the Scottish infantry, deployed musketeers to defend the Ribble bridge and drew up the main body of Scots infantry in a strong position on high ground south of the smaller River Darwen. Urgent orders were sent to recall Middleton's cavalry, who were sixteen miles away at Wigan. When the infantry were deployed, Baillie sent six hundred musketeers to reinforce the troops holding the Ribble bridge. As they crossed the flat ground between the two bridges, however, they came under heavy fire from the Parliamentarians on the north bank of the Ribble and were driven back, leaving the bridge-guard unsupported.

Having secured Preston, Cromwell's troops were faced with a battle for the bridge over the Ribble and then the bridge over the Darwen before they could reach the main Scottish position. The Ribble bridge was defended grimly for two hours. Finally, the Scots were driven back at "push of pike" and the momentum of the Parliamentarian attack continued, driving the Scots from the Darwen bridge soon after.

With darkness beginning to fall, Cromwell's advance troops were pushing towards the main Scottish position. The Scottish supply wagons were seized by the Parliamentarians as both sides prepared to spend an uncomfortable night in the field. Despite the wind and driving rain, however, Callendar persuaded Hamilton to withdraw the infantry under cover of darkness. He planned to meet up with Middleton's cavalry, who were on their way up from Wigan, and then to regroup the whole army, which still greatly outnumbered the Parliamentarians. Orders were given for the Scottish infantry to prepare for a drumless march under cover of darkness and heavy rain, to gain a head start before the move was detected. Although they got away without alerting the Parliamentarians, the infantry took a different road to Wigan from the one Middleton was on, so the Scottish cavalry and infantry missed one another on the way. Middleton blundered into the Parliamentarian advance troops in the early hours of the morning. He promptly turned south again to catch up with the Scottish foot but Cromwell sent Colonel Thornhaugh with three regiments of cavalry in hot pursuit. Now acting as a rearguard to the withdrawal of the infantry, Middleton's horse fought a gallant fighting retreat all the way back down the Wigan road. Colonel Thornhaugh was mortally wounded by Scottish lancers near the village of Chorley, but the Parliamentarians kept up the pressure on the rear of the Scottish army.

The battle of Winwick Pass, Lancashire, August 1648

On 18 August, Cromwell advanced south with his main force in pursuit of the disordered Scots. Having left a strong force at Preston to guard the prisoners and to garrison the town against a possible attack by Monro, Cromwell had only 3,000 foot and 2,500 horse and dragoons against 10,000 Scots. However, Hamilton's troops were exhausted and demoralised. Their supply wagons had been lost at the Darwen bridge and the gunpowder they carried with them was mostly ruined in the ceaseless heavy rain. With discipline breaking down, the hungry Scots violently plundered Wigan, despite its traditional Royalist sympathies. Middleton's cavalry continued to act as a rearguard as the Scottish infantry withdrew from Wigan during the night of 18 August. In the confusion and near-panic, the cavalry officer Colonel James Turner was attacked and wounded in Wigan market-place by Scottish pikemen who had mistaken his troop for Parliamentarians. Turner furiously retaliated by ordering his cavalry to ride down and scatter the offending pikemen.

Hamilton and the Earl of Callendar still hoped to join Lord Byron, who was believed to be raising Royalist forces in Cheshire and north Wales. They planned to make a stand at Warrington by defending the bridge over the River Mersey while the Scottish army was re-organised and contact was established with Byron. Meanwhile, the pursuing Parliamentarians continued to harass every step of the Scottish march. It was therefore decided that most of Major-General Baillie's infantry would make a stand near the village of Winwick, three miles north of Warrington, to delay the Parliamentarian advance while Hamilton and Callendar continued on with the horse to prepare Warrington's defences.

The Scottish infantry occupied a strong natural defensive position where the road from Wigan to Warrington entered a pass between two areas of high ground: a high, man-made bank with a hedge running along it known as Red Bank to the east, and an isolated sandstone bluff to the west. The position was further strengthened with hastily-erected earthworks and barricades. Baillie massed his pikemen in the centre of the position to hold the road itself while musketeers were deployed to occupy the high ground on the flanks. He intended to hold off the Parliamentarians until nightfall and then to withdraw into Warrington under cover of darkness.

At around midday on 19 August, Cromwell's advance guard approached the pass, but were immediately driven back. Cromwell was determined to take the position as quickly as possible and resumed the attack without waiting for all of his infantry to arrive. Colonel Bright's regiment led the attack on the Scottish centre while musketeers and dragoons tried to dislodge the Scots holding the high ground on the flanks. However, the Scots continued to defend the position resolutely and the Parliamentarians were unable to break through. After several hours' fierce fighting, Cromwell called off the attack and waited for the rest of his forces to come up. During the interval in the fighting, some local men offered to show Cromwell a way by which his cavalry could outflank the Scottish position to the east. A party of Scottish horse came up to support the infantry holding the pass, but they quickly dispersed when they saw Cromwell's cavalry approaching from the east to threaten the Scottish flank and rear. At the same time, Cromwell ordered another infantry attack in the centre, spearheaded by the veterans of Colonel Pride's regiment. This time the Scots were unable to withstand the onslaught and were driven back in a fighting retreat towards Warrington. Some of the Scottish foot were cut off by the Parliamentarian horse and formed up to make a last stand on the green near Winwick church, where they finally surrendered after suffering many casualties in further fierce fighting.

Baillie made his way into Warrington with about 2,700 surviving Scottish infantry to find that the Duke of Hamilton, Callendar, Middleton and Langdale had fled south across the Mersey with most of the horse, leaving orders for Baillie to seek what terms he could for the surrender of the foot. In despair, Baillie pleaded with his fellow officers to end his disgrace by shooting him, but no-one obliged. The Scots completed the barricade across Warrington Bridge and drew up in battle order to await Cromwell's arrival. By now, the survivors were short of weapons and ammunition and close to mutiny. WIth no possibility of further resistance, Baillie met Cromwell at the bridge and agreed terms. The Scots were taken prisoner, surrendering their colours and weapons.

Pursued by Major-General Lambert, Hamilton fled through Cheshire and Staffordshire accompanied by his remaining weary and dispirited cavalry. Lieutenant-General Middleton was captured in Cheshire after his horse fell on him. Sir Marmaduke Langdale got away to Nottingham but was captured while resting in an alehouse. On 25 August, with his men close to mutiny and Parliamentarian forces closing in on all sides, the Duke of Hamilton surrendered to Lambert at Uttoxeter. He was subsequently brought to trial and beheaded as a traitor. The Earl of Callendar escaped to the Netherlands. Major-General Monro retreated to Scotland.

With the destruction of the Engager army, the Second Civil War was effectively over. Colchester surrendered to Fairfax on 28 August, quickly followed by other Royalist outposts in the south. Lord Byron fled from north Wales to the Isle of Man. Sir Philip Musgrave and the northern Royalists surrendered Carlisle in October. Only Pontefract Castle held out for the King in a stubborn and futile resistance that lasted until March 1649. The Engagers in Edinburgh were overthrown as a result of the Whiggamore Raid and Cromwell marched into Scotland on 21 September. He struck a wary accord with the Marquis of Argyll and obtained the removal from office of everyone who had supported the Engagement.


John Barratt, Last Stand of the Blue Bonnets: the battle of Winwick Pass

C.H. Firth, The Regimental History of Cromwell's Army vol. i (Oxford 1940)

S.R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War vol. iv (London 1894)

Peter Gaunt, The Cromwellian Gazetteer (Stroud 1987)

P.R. Newman, Atlas of the English Civil War (London 1985)

Stuart Reid, All the King's Armies: a military history of the English Civil War 1642-1651 (Staplehurst 1998)

Austin Woolrych, Battles of the English Civil War (London 1961)