Battle of Wakefield
The taking in May 1643 of the strategic and wealthy town of Wakefield by the Parliamentary army was surely one of the strangest encounters of the Civil War . Lord Fairfax and his son Thomas saw it as vital to the securing of the whole of the West Riding, as left untouched it would provide a base for stealthy raids on the Roundhead forces in the area. The Fairfaxes were also keen to use any prisoners captured in Wakefield to trade for their comrades seized by the Royalists at the recent battle of Seacroft Moor, where between 500 and 800 of their number had fallen into Lord Goring’s hands on March 30.
The intelligence available to the Parliamentary side was deeply flawed. The plan to attack was based on Goring, in command of the city, having considerably fewer than 1,000 soldiers under him, and it was launched at night in the expectation that the garrison would be surprised. Neither belief was to prove correct.
Lord Fairfax split his forces, numbering about 1,500, for the night-time raid, attacking at two and possibly three points, a risky strategy as each unit was shockingly small. The attackers reached the outskirts of the town and found their enemy in place and well organised, musketeers awaiting them with loaded weapons, protected by strong hedges, and the town strengthened with barricades built at the weak points in its defences.
In spite of these preparations, the sheer force of Thomas Fairfax’s will, plus Roundhead courage, led to a breach of one of the barricades. Fairfax and some cavalry charged through the breach and continued towards the centre, almost managing to get themselves cut off – legend has it that Fairfax himself had to jump his horse over a barricade to escape. By accident or design, however, he had found a route in. This advantage was pressed home when captured artillery was trained on the defenders, shots into the market place causing severe losses and widespread panic, a situation further exploited by a charge by the Parliamentary cavalry. By mid-morning the town had fallen and large numbers of prisoners been taken, including Lord Goring.
Fairfax was to find that rather than a garrison of 800 to 1,000 he and his 1,500 men had overcome approximately 4,000 well entrenched fighters who had enjoyed good artillery support. Many of the defenders made their escape, but 1,500 or so remained and were taken prisoner.
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