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Oliver Cromwell versus Charles II of Scotland: A Loyalist army under Charles operates on interior lines against the onslaught of a Parliamentarian army under Cromwell. Can Charles hold off one of Cromwell’s separated wings long enough to defeat the other in detail?
It was important that Cromwell won this battle in such a decisive manner to simplify the complex military and political situation in the future British Isles during the Civil War. Had Cromwell simply won a marginal victory and forced a retreat, the war could have been a longer and bloodier conflict than it had already been. This battle illustrates the bond between politics and war that can never be ignored.
This battle was much closer than the numbers and casualties involved would appear. Charles’ plan to use interior lines to defeat one of Cromwell’s wings while the other struggled to overcome defensive positions along natural terrain features. Charles very nearly overran the Parliamentarian right wing in one bold attack while Cromwell was preoccupied with actions on his left. However, Charles made a few mistakes in his groupings and taskings. For starters, it appears that Charles expected Montgomery command his right wing to actually defend and retain the line of the River Teme, which was unnecessary for his plan to work. For starters, the right wing’s defensive strength depended on the River Teme to be a reliable barrier, something rivers seldom are (Seymour, 1975: 150). Charles should have given orders for Montgomery to simply delay the Parliamentarian left wing. This delaying action could have withdrawn to the urban terrain of St John’s and would have drawn Parliamentarian forces north away from their bridge of boats where they could not have simply turned and saved their right once the Loyalist main attack began. Reducing Montgomery’s task would have allowed Charles to deploy Montgomery’s reserve where it should have been: on the left to exploit the initial success of the main attack. Montgomery may not have been up to the task of executing a delaying action and withdrawal, one of the more delicate maneuvers in warfare, but would have given Charles a better chance to win.
Even so, Charles’ command was somewhat admirable and was certainly sabotaged by Leslie’s refusal to commit his cavalry for the decisive stroke. Charles may have been better served by placing Leslie’s cavalry in the center front-lines from the start to ensure his forces would have no choice but to fight for their survival, much like Flavius Aetius did with his less reliable Alan allies at the Battle of Catalaunian Plains in 451.
I realize that the choice of this battle as a representative of the British Isles region is a peculiar one. Hastings, Bosworth, Culloden and Naseby are likely more decisive and interesting in the context of the isles’ history. Worcester was chosen for two reasons: it illustrated the concept of interior lines and the strength of numbers overall. Too often, battles in which a commander defeats a numerically superior force are spotlighted. Hopefully, this is only a matter of battles such as this getting coverage not an overwhelming glorification of battles through primary sources by the winning side. I sense that at some point, I will investigate the factor of numbers in battles/campaigns and shed some light on this curiosity.
– Jonathan Webb
Dupuy, Trevor N. The Harper Encyclopedia of Military History: From 3500 BC to the Present, Fourth Edition. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.
Plant, David. “1651: the Worcester Campaign.” British Civil Wars and Commonwealth Website. http://www.british-civil-wars.co.uk/military/1651-worcester.htm (accessed June 13, 2009).
Seymour, William. Battles in Britain 1642-1746, Vol. II. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1975.
Young, Peter and Richard Holmes. The English Civil War. London: Eyre Methuen, 1974.
Charles II: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_II_of_England
Loyalist soldiers: http://www.collingwoodhistoricart.com/single_figures.htm
Map of England: http://kids.britannica.com/comptons/art-107323/England-during-the-Civil-Wars?
Map of the world: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_map_projections
Oliver Cromwell: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_Cromwell
Parliamentarian soldiers: http://www.thomas-wentworth.co.uk/troops.htm
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