June 5th 1798, Battle Of New Ross – Irish Revolutionaries
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June 5th 1798, Battle Of New Ross

June 5th 1798, Battle Of New Ross

Since the rebellion had started in Wexford, the British were expecting the United Irishmen to attack the town of New Ross, situated in the South-Western part of the county, located on the River Barrow, near the border with County Kilkenny.

The plan was to take the town and then spread the rebellion into Kilkenny and possibly Munster (Waterford is only 20km away), but the British had a week to prepare the defences of the town.

The town garrison consisting of regular soldiers, militia and yeomanry dug trenches around the town and placed canons facing all the main streets, so they could fire directly at the rebels when they charged on foot.

On June 4th 1798, the rebels advanced from their camp on Carrigbyrne Hill to Corbet Hill, just outside New Ross town, almost 10,000 rebels, massed in three columns outside the town.

The Battle, the bloodiest of the 1798 rebellion, began at dawn on June 5th.

Bagenal Harvey, the United Irish Leader, recently released from captivity following the rebel seizure of Wexford town, attempted to negotiate the surrender of New Ross but the rebel emissary Matt Furlong was shot down by Crown outposts while bearing the flag of truce.

His death provoked a furious charge by an advance guard of 500 insurgents led by John Kelly (of ballad fame) who had instructions to seize the Three Bullet Gate and wait for reinforcements before pushing into the town. To aid their attack, the rebels first drove a herd of cattle through the gate.

Another rebel column attacked the Priory Gate, but the third pulled back from the Market Gate intimidated by the strong defences.

Seizing the opportunity the garrison sent a force of cavalry out the Market Gate to attack and scatter the remaining two hostile columns from the flanks.

However the main rebel force had not yet been deployed and upon spotting the British manoeuvre, rallied the front ranks who stood and broke the cavalry charge with massed pikes.

The encouraged rebel army then swept past the Crown outposts and seized the Three Bullet Gate causing the garrison and populace to flee in panic.

Without pausing for reinforcement, the rebels broke into the town attacking simultaneously down the steeply sloping streets but met with stiff resistance from well-prepared second lines of defence of the well-armed soldiers.

Despite horrific casualties, the rebels managed to seize two-thirds of the town by using the cover of smoke from burning buildings and forced the near withdrawal of all Crown forces from the town.

However, the rebels' limited supplies of gunpowder and ammunition forced them to rely on the pike and blunted their offensive. The military managed to hold on and to follow the arrival of reinforcements, launched a counterattack before noon which finally drove the exhausted rebels from the town.

No effort to pursue the withdrawing rebels was made, but when the town had been secured, a massacre of prisoners, trapped rebels and civilians of both sympathies alike began which continued for days.

Hundreds were burned alive when, and more rebels are believed to have been killed in the aftermath of the battle than during the actual fighting. This is supposed to have played a significant part in the retaliatory killing of over 100 loyalists in the flames of Scullabogue Barn later that day.

Casualties in the Battle of New Ross are estimated at 2,800 to 3,000 Rebels and 200 Garrison dead. Most of the dead Rebels were thrown in the River Barrow or buried in a mass grave outside the town walls, a few days after the Battle.

The defeat was a massive blow to the United Irishmen in Wexford who were desperate to spread the rebellion into Kilkenny and Munster.


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