New Model Army

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The New Model Army became the best known of the various Parliamentarian armies in the English Civil War. It comprised professional soldiers led by trained generals, unlike other military forces of the era, which tended to have aristocratic leaders with no guarantee of military training. Apart from their military successes, the New Model Army troops also became famous for their Puritan religious zeal and support for the "Good Old Cause".

Contents

Foundation

Oliver Cromwell started the formation of the New Model Army from the existing Roundhead forces on February 15, 1645 with the progression of the Self-denying Ordinance to remove the former leadership of the Roundheads. Sir Thomas Fairfax took up the overall command, with Cromwell himself at first only in charge of the cavalry. The Army finally came into being in April 1645.

The New Model Army consisted of 22,000 soldiers, including 11 regiments of cavalry (6600 men), 12 regiments of infantry (14,400 men) and 1 regiment of 1000 dragoons. Soldiers conscripted from all over the country and transferred from older regiments joined together to form the army.

The original founders intended that proficiency rather than social standing or wealth should determine the Army's leadership and promotions. However, Cromwell also preferred soldiers devoted, like himself, to Puritan ideals, and some of them sang psalms prior to battle. Cromwell also instituted standard daily pay (8 pence for infantry, 2 shillings for cavalry) and guaranteed food, clothing and other provisions. Cavalrymen had to supply their own horses.

Cromwell merged men from multiple regiments into a single one and provisioned them with red uniforms to replace their former regimental colors. A "Soldier's catechism" dictated new regulations and drill procedures.

Prince Rupert, one of the King's followers, gave them their nickname of Ironsides. This referred more to their ability to cut through opposing forces than to their armour, as sometimes claimed; their armour extended to leather jerkins.

Battlefield tactics

The New Model Army's elite troops were its cavalry, whose tactics were based on fast hit-and-run attacks against the flanks of the enemy -usually other cavalry units. Frontal attack would have meant exposing them to the Royalist artillery. Cromwell specifically forbade his men to pursue a fleeing enemy, but demanded they hold the battlefield. This meant that the New Model cavalry could charge, break an enemy force, regroup and charge again at another objective. This made them a formidable force on the battlefield. Cavalry troopers carried pistols and carbines as well as swords. In battle they usually carried two loaded pistols, one of which was fired just before they came into contact with the enemy, the other was kept either to cover their own retreat or to fire at a fleeing enemy. At close quarters, cavalrymen would use their sabres, and the New Model cavalry were trained to charge sword in hand, using the shock of the charging horse and their swords to break up enemy formations.

The infantry of the army would generally be positioned in the centre of a formation, with pike and musket units interspersed evenly. Their role in battle was usually to engage the main body of enemy foot soldiers until the cavalry had outflanked them and broken their formation. The pikemen were supposed to project a solid front of spearheads, to protect the musketeers from cavalry while they reloaded. Musketeers were supposed to keep up a constant fire by means of the "countermarch", where units fired in volleys by ranks and then filed to the rear of the formation (usually about 6 deep). By the time they had reached the front rank again, they should have reloaded and been prepared to fire. At close quarters, there was often no time for musketeers to reload and infantry would engage each other by the "push of the pike" -i.e. the collision of two bodies of pikemen - or using their musket butts as clubs.

The New Model's artillery was used to most effect in sieges, where its role was to blast breaches in fortifications for the infantry to assault. Cromwell and the other commanders of the Army were not trained in siege warfare and generally tried to take fortified towns by storm rather than go through the complex and time-consuming process of building earthworks and trenches around it so that batteries of cannon could be brought close to the walls to pound it into surrender. The New Model generally performed well when storming fortifications - for example at the siege of Drogheda, but paid a heavy price at Clonmel when Cromwell ordered them to attack a well-defended breach. The New Model's dragoons - mounted infantry - were often used to assault breaches carrying flintlock carbines and grenades. The storming party were sometimes offered cash payments, as this was a very risky job. The regular infantry would then follow them into the breach, armed with their more cumbersome weapons of pikes and matchlock muskets.

Civil War Campaigns

The New Model Army won important victories at Naseby (14 June 1645, its baptism of fire) and Preston (August 1648). After the end of major civil war hostilities in England, they were in a position to dictate the future of England, which caused a great deal of tension between the political radicals in their ranks and their commanders such as Cromwell and Henry Ireton.

Having won the Civil War, the soldiers became very discontented with the Long Parliament, for several reasons. Firstly, they had not been paid regularly and on the end of hostilities, the conservative MP's in Parliament wanted to either disband the New Model or send them to fight in Ireland without receiving their back pay. Secondly, seeing that most Parliamentarians wanted to restore the King without major democratic reforms or religious freedom, many soldiers asked why they had risked their lives in the first place - a sentiment that was strongly expressed by their elected representatives in the Putney Debates. Having come under the influence of London radicals called the Levellers, the troops of the New Model proposed a revolutionary new constitution named the Agreement of the People, which called for almost universal male suffrage, reform of electoral boundaries, power to rest with the Parliament which was to be elected every two years (not the King), religious freedom and an end to imprisonment for debt.

Increasingly concerned at the failure to pay their wages and by political maneuverings by King Charles and by some in Parliament, the army marched to London in August 1647 and debated their proposals in the Putney Debates. Cromwell managed to defuse his soldier's demands by his personal charisma, but the radical sentiment in the army was brought to boiling point by the outbreak of the Second English Civil War in 1648. The New Model routed English royalist insurrections in Surrey and Kent before crushing a Scottish invasion force at the battle of Preston (1648). Many of the army's radicals now called for the execution of the King, whom they called, "Charles Stuart, that man of blood". This was one of the reasons why Cromwell chose to execute Charles I in 1649, using his troops to purge the Rump Parliament of those who disagreed. However, Cromwell, Ireton, Fairfax and the other "Grandees" were not prepared to countenance the army's proposals for a revolutionary new settlement, which eventually brought them into conflict with elements of the New Model Army.

In 1649 a mutiny occurred over pay and political demands. After the resolution of the pay issue, 400 troopers (under the command of Captain William Thompson) who had sympathies with the Levellers continued to negotiate their political demands. Cromwell launched a night attack (13 May 1649) on the "Banbury mutineers". Several mutineers perished in the skirmish, but Captain Thompson escaped only to die in another skirmish near the Diggers community at Wellingborough. Three other leaders were hanged, William Thompson's brother, Corporal Perkins and John Church on May 17, 1649. This destroyed the Levellers' power base in the New Model Army.

Later that year the New Model Army landed in Ireland (15 August 1649) to start the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. Many soldiers were reluctant to serve in Ireland, and regiments had to draw lotts to decide who would go on the expedition.

Although Royalist alliance they met in Ireland was no match for the New Model Army, its soldiers did suffer considerably in the campaign. About 2000 of them died in abortive assaults on a breach in the siege of Clonmel in 1650. Thousands more of them died of disease, particularly in the long sieges of Limerick, Waterford and Galway. In addition, they werre constantly at risk of attack by Irish guerrillas or "tories", who attacked vulnerable garrisons and supply columns. By the end of the war in Ireland in 1653, much of the Army's wages were still in arrears. About 12,000 veterans were awarded land confiscated from Irish Catholics in the place of the money owed to them. Many soldiers sold their land grants to other Protestant settlers, but about 7,500 of them settled in Ireland. They were required to keep their weapons to act as a reserve in case of any future rebellions in the country.

In 1650, while the campaign in Ireland was still ongoing, part of the New Model was recalled to Scotland to fight Scottish Covenanters, who had been allied to the Parliament in the English Civil War, but who had now crowned Charles II as King of the Three Kingdoms. Despite being outnumbered, Cromwell led the New Model to crushing victories over the Scots at the battles of Dunbar and Inverkeithing. Following a desperate Scottish invasion of England led by Charles II, the New Model along with local militia forces, routed the royalists at the last major battle of the Civil war at Worcester.

Interregnum

Part of the New Model Army, under George Monck occupied Scotland during the Interregnum. They were kept busy throughout the 1650s by minor Royalist uprisings in the Scottish Highlands and by endemic lawlessness by bandits known as mosstroopers.

In England the New Model was involved in numerous skirmises with a range of opponents, but they were little more than policing actions. The largest rebellion of the Protectorate took place when the Sealed Knot instigated an insurrection in 1655. Only one of the coordinated uprisings ended in fighting, the Penruddock uprising and it was put down by one company of cavalry.

The major foreign entanglement of this period was the Anglo-Spanish War. In 1654, the English Commonwealth declared war on Spain and further regiments of New Model Army were sent to conquer the Spanish colony of Hispaniola in the Caribbean. They failed and took heavy losses from tropical diseases, however, they did take the lightly defended island of Jamaica. The English troops did better in the European theatre of the war in Flanders. During the Battle of the Dunes (1658), as part of Turenne's army, the red-coats of the New Model Army, under the leadership of Sir William Lockhart Cromwell's ambassador at Paris, astonished both the French and Spanish armies by the stubborn fierceness of their assaults, particularly with a successful assault up a strongly defended sandhill 50 meters (150 feet) high. (The English had learnt a lot about war since two rabbles had met at the battle of Edgehill in 1642). Incidentally, some of the Spanish defences on the Dunes were manned by English Royalists, including James Stuart, later to be James II of England.

After the death of Oliver Cromwell, the Protectorate died a slow death, and with it died the New Model army. For a time in 1659 it looked as if the New Model army forces loyal to different Generals might wage war on each other. But in the end the New Model Army regiments which had been garrisoning Scotland under the command of General George Monck were able to march on London, to oversee the Crowning of Charles II, without significant opposition from the regiments under other Generals, in particular those of Charles Fleetwood and John Lambert. With the exception of Monck's own regiment which became the Coldstream Guards, the New Model Army disbanded after the Restoration of 1660.

Sources

  • Ohlmeyer, Jane, Kenyon John (ed.ís) The Civil Wars, Oxford 1998.
  • Ian Gentles, The New Model Army - In England, Ireland and Scotland 1645-53, Blackwell Press, Oxford 1994.

See also

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