Battle of Sedgemoor

Battle of Sedgemoor

July 6, 1685

Why was there a Battle at Sedgemoor?

The Battle of Sedgemoor was last battle of English soil was fought on July 6, 1685, on the open moor near Bridgwater called the King’s Sedgemoor. On July 5, the Earl of Feversham with a strong Government Army encamps at Westonzoyland. From his base at Bridgwater, the Duke of Monmouth saw an opportunity, and overnight marched his Army across the moor. His plan was to make a bold attack on the Government camp. By watching this video you will walk the battlefield as Monmouth’s Army makes its assault on Feversham’s men asleep in their tents.

The Wider Sedgemoor and Battlefield
The Opposing Armies

The Government army numbers around 3,600 soldiers. The infantry is formed into 5 battalions, and three of these are guards. The Grenadier companies appear to be combined into a 6th battalion. In addition, there are 5 Squadrons of Cavalry, and 18 artillery pieces. While just 3 miles away at Middlezoy, there were two Militia regiments and a squadron of Militia of horse, possibly 3,000 in all.

The Whig army under the Duke of Monmouth numbered around 4,000 soldiers. The infantry is in 6 large battalions, with one of these being a combined battalion of scythes and muskets. Alongside these were around 600 horsemen formed into 4 squadrons of Cavalry each of 2 or 3 troops, all support by 3 light artillery pieces. While on the Bristol Road are another 2,000 poorly armed soldiers and an artillery piece acting as baggage guard.

The Whig Advance

On the morning of July 5, 1685, the Duke of Monmouth and his Whig army were in Bridgwater while the Earl of Feversham with the Government army was at Somerton 15 miles away. In had been agreed by the Whig army council that they would march north to Bristol. The Whigs baggage train and army had already crossed the River Parrett but at around noon, scouts came in with the news that the main Government army was marching towards them. More concerning was the news that enemy cavalry where at Westonzoyland just 3 miles away.

This created a problem for the Whig plans, if army started their march north, they would risk being attacked in the rear. Consequently, Monmouth ordered the column to stand at arms, while more intelligence was gathered. Over the next hours it became clear that the Government army was intent on encamping on the western edge of the nearby village. The Whig commanders agreed to leave Bridgwater at dusk and cover the march with a strong force of infantry and most of the horse.

However, Monmouth was keen to know if the enemy were entrenching or throwing up earthworks. When his agents returned with the news that no effort was being made to fortify the infantry lodgement that Monmouth went up the Church Tower to see the position for himself. Using his spyglass, the duke could just make out the camp along the low ridge. In that moment, the experienced officer saw an opportunity for victory. After discussing his plan with his senior officers Monmouth modified his orders, rather than covering the march his men would surprise the enemy. They would march out in silence that evening. Once they reached Peasey Farm the wagons and a large baggage guard would continue north, while his infantry, cavalry and artillery would attack the enemy encampment.

It is not clear what the actual plan of engagement was, but the Whig infantry was not initially ordered to attack the encampment. Therefore, the strategy may have been for the cavalry to raid the encampment sweeping from the upper Plungeon to the lower, while the foot and artillery covered the withdrawal. From Monmouth own account, the Whigs had built bridges to cross the many Rhyne’s that led onto the large low-lying Sedgemoor.

The Government Advance

Early on the July 5, the Earl of Feversham had sent out his acting Adjutant General, Colonel Ramsey with a strong cavalry force under Major Compton to identify the encampment. Ramsey arrived at Westonzoyland in the late morning and after posting vedettes, the best area for the lodgement was selected and laid out by the Quartermaster General. This was on a low ridge with a watercourse running across its front. On either flank were crossing points out onto the wide moor and Ramsey took his cavalry out on a wide arc about 1,000 paces from the camp. The vedettes were placed to give warning of any attack. As each infantry battalion arrived, they were directed to their camping ground along the ridge, facing Bridgwater. To their left was the Artillery Park, facing the main road from Bridgwater, on the left was a combined Grenadier battalion. The cavalry and dragoons were billeted in the village.

After arriving at Westonzoyland, the earl of Feversham received the intelligence that Monmouth had crossed over the River Parrett and that the Whigs had fortified Bridgwater. Therefore, not taking any risks, to cover the army, Feversham placed a detachment of musketeers in Penzoy pound to cover the main road into the village. The cavalry detachment under Captain Upcott was positioned to cover at entrance into the moor from Fowlers Plot, while a large squadron of cavalry under Major Compton covered the right flank. At dusk with sentries posted and guard-houses setup, a cavalry patrol under Oglethorpe was sent out to make a wide sweep of the roads that headed to Bristol. Feversham then set out with his Ramsey to check his detachments stationed on the outer perimeter, ending with Compton. The General finally returned to his headquarters in the village at around 1 o’clock on the morning of 6 July, to await Oglethorpe’s reports.

The Night March

Monmouth’s army left Bridgwater at some point around 10 or 11 in the evening, arriving at Peasey Farm close to midnight. After leaving the baggage heading north to Bristol, Monmouth took his army down the trackway towards the great Sedgemoor. The vanguard was comprised of the horse under Lord Grey. Behind them came the artillery and the infantry battalions who used small bridges bought from Bridgwater to cross the watercourses, while the cavalry crossed the using the fords. In this way, the Whig’s moved quickly and silently towards the open moor that edged the Government camp. Around the same time as Monmouth started his move, Major Oglethorpe took his patrol up onto the Wells Road before returning to Pendon Hill, and from here to Chedzoy. The Government horse remained there until midnight, and it was from here that the Major sent back a report to Feversham that there is no sign of Monmouth or his army.

Army dispositions before the Battle of Sedgemoor

As the leading Whig squadron under Captain Hucker approached the Longmoor Stones, a flash and the crack of a carbine rang out. It is 1:30am and they had been spotted by a vedette. After this it became a race to the camp, and Captain Hucker urged his squadron across the Longmoor Rhyne and off towards the upper Plungeon. However, with the sound of the warning shot ringing across the moor, Major Compton mounted his squadron, and after sending the warning back to the camp advanced into the dark. As Hucker’s Whig cavalry advanced across the moor, Compton’s troop hit them in the flank. In the frenzied melee that follows, Compton is wounded but the Whigs are broken. As the Government horse withdraws, Hucker’s horse rout into the following units under Lord Grey. With the sound of battle to his left Monmouth, orders his infantry to double their pace and advance towards the enemy camp still 1/2 mile away.

Compton attacks Hucker’s squadron at 1:30 on 6 July 1685

As Monmouth takes the foot across the moor, behind him Hucker’s broken squadron is causing chaos in the Whig cavalry trying to cross the Longmoor Rhyne. However, by 1:45am the warning has been raised in the Government camp, and the drummers start beating out the fricassee. With the sound of drums beating out across the moor, Monmouth urges his men forward and fast as they can. Knowing hey only have 20 or so minutes before the redcoats are ready for them. However, in the dark the going is slow as in the Government camp companies are being formed, and the Government cavalry is mustering in the Village.

The Whig’s race to the camp
The Whig Attack

It is not until around 2 am, that Monmouth orders is close enough to order his infantry to deploy into Battalia, while in the camp the Government battalions are performing the same exercise. Out of the right, Lord Grey has rallied some of the Whig cavalry and takes these across the moor but without his guide, he misses the upper Plungeon. Instead on reaching the watercourse, he turns his squadron right and towards the sound of the drums. As they ride along the Bussex Rhyne they are confronted by the Government foot who open a fire on them as they pass.

The fire fight begins

By 2:20am Monmouth’s men have formed into line some 500 paces from the Government camp which they can now see by the glow of the match on their left, these are the Scots of Lord Douglas’ battalion. To the experienced military eye, it is too late, the Government army is ready to receive the Whigs. There is time to withdraw, but as Monmouth is deliberating, rolling musket fire rings out to his front. The duke assumes that his cavalry is in the enemy camp, so  orders his foot to attack. However, only his front line is available as back in the track from Bridgwater, the rest of Monmouth’s foot have been disordered by the fleeing horse. Although, Captain Jones has rallied his squadron and is reforming them ready to advance.

Grey is broken and Jones crosses the upper Plungeon

What is left of Lord Grey’s squadron reaches the lower Plungeon and attempts to cross, only to be engaged by Colonel Kirke’s battalion. It is around 2:30am, and Feversham orders up the guns and the grenadier battalion from his left wing. As Monmouth foot advance, they stop short of the Bussex Rhyne and a firefight develops across the line. On the right of the Whig line, is Wade’s battalion and next to them Matthews’ men come within musket range. Now dismounted and with a half-pike in his hand, Monmouth orders his men forward but is unable to get his men to cross the Bussex Rhyne under fire from the Government foot.

While Monmouth’s infantry presses forward to attack the Government foot, Oglethorpe’s patrol returns from Bridgwater and having gathered up Upcott’s troop, attacks Lord Grey’s cavalry from the rear. It’s now close to 3 am and while Monmouth’s artillery deploys and starts a deadly fire into the ranks of the Government foot. Lord Cornbury’s dragoons arrives on the right flank to face Colonel Holmes’ regiment now coming into the battle line to the left of the artillery. At the same Jones’ squadron has advanced over the moor to cross the upper Plungeon and attack the Government horse holding the Halsom Rhyne ford.

Monmouth orders one last push
The Government Counterattack

It is now close to 3:10 am and the early light of day is over the smoky battlefield. On the duke’s left, Oglethorpe’s cavalry break Grey’s horse. In the centre the infantry fire volley after volley into each other and are now joined by the deadly input from the artillery. However, neither side press home an attack content to stay in a firefight. On the Whig left, Jones’ squadron charges home, hitting the Government troop and a fierce combat breaks out. To their right Cornbury’s dragoons have dismounted and have engaged Holmes regiment but early in the encounter, Colonel Holmes is wounded and goes missing. Jones’ cavalry is victorious and push the Government horseback, while Colonel Brandt places his Scythe battalion on the left of the Whig line, while the last two regiments are still marching across the moor. Feversham orders Villiers’ squadron across the lower Plungeon, while Orby’s and Oglethorpe’s troopers are ordered to go around the right flank. In the centre six light guns from the Government artillery are brought into line and start firing into the infantry. However, the Whig infantry are beginning to run short of ammunition, and the powder wagons have not reached battlefield.

Breaking Jones’ Squadron

On Feversham’s right Oglethorpe supported by Orby charge Jones’ squadron, while Kirke’s combined foot battalion is ordered to the right wing. By 3:20am, under overwhelming pressure, the outnumbered troopers of Jones’ squadron break. This lets Oglethorpe wheels his victorious troopers across the Bussex Rhyne while Orby ensures Jones’ men flee the field. Meanwhile Lord Grey has rallied a troop of horse and returns to the battlefield to join Monmouth in the centre.

By 3:40 am, Oglethorpe has deployed his troopers on the right of the line, and across the Bussex facing the open flank of the Whig. The Government horse charges the Whig infantry, while Orby deploys further to the right. On the left flank, Villiers’ is also extending the open Whig flank, but the little remaining Whig horse stabilise that flank. Although Grey has returned, Monmouth sees the danger, both wings are open and under attack from the enemy horse, he orders his infantry to withdraw. However, on the left although Brandt’s Scythemen have repulsed Oglethorpe’s horse, the last two battalion of Bovett and Foulkes are only now deploying, only to come under attack from Orby cavalry.

Oglethorpe is beaten back

By 3:50 am, Oglethorpe has deployed his troopers on the right of the line, and across the Bussex facing the open flank of the Whig. The Government horse charges the Whig infantry, while Orby deploys further to the right. On the left flank, Villiers’ is also extending the open Whig flank, but the little remaining Whig horse stabilise that flank. Although Grey has returned, Monmouth sees the danger, both wings are open and under attack from the enemy horse, he orders his infantry to withdraw. However, on the left although Brandt’s Scythemen have repulsed Oglethorpe’s horse, the last two battalion of Bovett and Foulkes are only now deploying, only to come under attack from Orby cavalry.

Whig right wing pulls back

It is now 4am and Monmouth right wing has starts into rolling retreat but on the left the Government horse’s continued assault fragments the Whig line as units try to pull out of the combat. Then a troop of Government horse finds a gap in the Whig line and hits Holmes’ regiment in the flank and now Douglas’ Scots battalion crosses the Bussex. Leaderless, and now attacked in the flank and front, Holme’s men break, and the Whig left wing crumbles. Only Foulkes’ battalion in the rear withdraws in order. About this time the first Militia horse units arrive on the field pressing home the attack on the broken Whig infantry.

Monmouth left wing under assault

On the right of the Whig line, Monmouth has pulled his men back to the Langmoor Rhyne. To their front, Feversham has ordered his foot across the Bussex, and the combined grenadier battalion is the first to cross. It is now around 4:20am and Wade’s battalion has been holding a crossing over the Langmoor against Villiers’ cavalry. Next to them Matthews is hold a low ride in the cornfields, and further to the left Foulkes’ is now over the Rhyne. However, the rest of the Whig foot is being cut down and the artillery has been lost.

Government Cavalry Start the Slaughter
Monmouth Leaves the Field

While the Government horse set about slaughtering the broken Whig infantry on the moor, both Matthews’ and Foulkes’ have retreat into the cover of the cornfields. But on the right Wade’s regiment fights off assaults by both the Horse Grenadiers and combined Grenadier battalion. Finally, Wade manages to pull his infantry across the Langmoor and deploys across the lane to Bridgwater.

It is now around 4:40am and Feversham orders his units to hold at the edge of the cornfields, while the Militia mop up the broken Whig foot hiding on the moor. With Whig army clearly defeated, after a discussion with the remaining officers, Monmouth and Grey leave the battlefield. Behind them Wade holds the lane as a last stand. The Monmouth Rebellion is over, but the fugitives still need to escape. It is now around 5am but fearing an ambush Feversham orders his men to advance slowly up the lane. This gives the remaining Whig to leave the battlefield in a semblance of order. With Monmouth’s army defeated, Feversham send Oglethorpe to London with news of the victory. The victorious General then organises a brigade of foot and horse under Lord Churchill to advance to Bridgwater.

The Fighting Retreat

The battle of Sedgemoor is over and about 300 Whigs are rounded up to be held in the Church of Westonzoyland. The Militia horse continue chasing under the fleeing Whigs. Finally, seizing the Whig baggage out on the moor near Axbridge. The Whigs have lost around 400 men in the battle, while 1,600 more are captured. While the Government casualties are close to 200 soldiers and officers. When Wade arrives in Bridgwater, he finds two full squadrons of Whig horse but with defeat being total, its every man for himself.

By sunrise the Battle of Sedgemoor was over. This was the final battle of the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685.

This account is based on a more detail description of the Earl of Argyll’s & the Duke of Monmouth’s campaign of 1685 available from Helion & Company in my Book Fighting For Liberty.