Battle of Alresford


Battle of Alresford

Alresford, Hampshire The 29th of March 1644 AD

Perhaps because the casualties there were fairly low, the Battle of Alresford (sometimes called the Battle of Cheriton), though of huge significance, is far less well known than say Marston Moor which was of similar strategic importance.
Over the autumn of 1643 and the winter of 1644 Waller and his southern Parliamentary army had clashed with Hopton's royalist force, engaging in skirmishes and minor engagements. Each side was seeking a strategic advantage through manoeuvring, Waller wanting to retain his lines of communication with London , and Hopton seeking to deny him this. Hopton by March 1644 managed to place his force between Waller and London, and into the bargain had succeeded in occupying defensively attractive high ground near Cheriton in Hampshire.
By this point Hopton had been reinforced by Lord Forth and a small part of the King's main army, moving out of Oxford . Essex in turn had foreseen the danger and beefed up the Parliamentary forces with reinforcements from London, though these men, perhaps 2,000 of them, were of dubious value given they were untried.
In the days prior to the battle proper elements of the two forces came into contact and exchanged fire, but for a time it looked as if Waller, strategically disadvantaged though with around 11,000 men (split roughly evenly between horse and foot) would be edged into retreat by Hopton who had maybe 6,500.
For his previous exploits Waller had the nickname "Night Owl", and again he changed the dynamic of the clash, albeit temporarily, with a move made in the darkness of the early hours of March 29. Some 1,000 musketeers under Leighton moved into Cheriton Wood on Hopton's left flank, a position that would command fire over the Royalist centre too. These men were ejected by Royalist musketeers equal in number, but it seems under the command of Appleyard superior in valour, the Roundheads seen retreating in disarray there by the Royalist line.
Without orders to do so, probably fired up by the sight of Leighton's retreat, Sir Henry Bard on the Royalist right advanced, and without support was cut off and nullified, creating a dangerous imbalance in the two opposing forces, at least from Hopton's point of view.
Either to counter the destruction of Bard's regiments, or again without orders being given, much of the Royalist horse in the centre advanced via a constricted lane lined with hedges, arriving without impetus and in piecemeal fashion such that they were easily beaten by the waiting Roundheads, including the London Lobsters, heavily armoured cavalry.
The battle had obviously turned against Hopton and Forth (Forth was nominally in command, but had not been keen to be at the battle, and allowed Hopton to control the King's side). It seems that the one occasion where Forth had a major decision to make was after Leighton's men fled Cheriton Wood, but rather than follow through with a concerted attack and break the Roundhead flank he chose to wait in the hope that Waller would withdraw.
Waller had won the day, though fighting dragged on. Hopton and Forth eventually withdrew, with Forth now making a better show, personally commanding a cavalry rearguard that regularly turned and faced the advancing enemy.
It is thought that the Royalists lost perhaps 300 - 500 men at Alresford. Estimates of the Roundhead casualties vary from just 60 (possibly a propaganda figure) to numbers equal to their opponents‚ losses. Whatever the death toll it was Waller who had won the day, however ingloriously. Hopton and Forth had to retreat to Oxford. London was even more strongly secured for Parliament. And rather than fighting an offensive campaign, Charles was forced into preparing for a defensive one. Royalist morale was damaged; Parliament grew stronger as the months passed and its superior economic base allowed for improvements to its forces and munitions. It is for these consequences that some commentators refer to the battle as the southern Marston Moor.

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Battle of Bannockburn - 1314, Battle of Sluys - 1340, First Recorded Tynwald Day - 1417, Punch Invents the Cartoon - 1843, Mersey Tunnel Opens - 1971, The Humber Bridge Opens to Traffic - 1981
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