Enniskillen, Caillemot crossed, at the head of a long column of French refugees. A little to the left of Caillemot and his refugees, the main body of the English infantry struggled through the river, up to their armpits in water. Still further down the stream the Danes found another ford. In a few minutes the Boyne, for a quarter of a mile, was alive with muskets and green boughs.
It was not till the assailants had reached the middle of the channel that they became aware of the whole difficulty and danger of the service in which they were engaged. They had as yet seen little more than half the hostile army. Now whole regiments of foot and horse seemed to start out of the earth. A wild shout of defiance rose from the whole shore: during one moment the event seemed doubtful: but the Protestants pressed resolutely forward; and in another moment the whole Irish line gave way. Tyrconnel looked on in helpless despair. He did not want personal courage; but his military skill was so small that he hardly ever reviewed his regiment in the Phoenix Park without committing some blunder; and to rally the ranks which were breaking all round him was no task for a general who had survived the energy of his body and of his mind, and yet had still the rudiments of his profession to learn. Several of his best officers fell while vainly endeavouring to prevail on their soldiers to look the Dutch Blues in the face. Richard Hamilton ordered a body of foot to fall on the French refugees, who were still deep in water. He led the way, and, accompanied by several courageous gentlemen, advanced, sword in hand, into the river. But neither his commands nor his example could infuse courage into that mob of cowstealers. He was left almost alone, and retired from the bank in despair. Further down the river Antrim's division ran like sheep at the approach of the English column. Whole regiments flung away arms, colours and cloaks, and scampered off to the hills without striking a blow or firing a shot.
- That I have done no injustice to the Irish infantry will appear from the accounts which the French officers who were at the Boyne sent to their government and their families. La Hoguette, writing hastily to Louvois on the 4/14th of July, says: "Je vous diray seulement, Monseigneur, que nous n'avons pas esté battus, mais que les ennemys ont chassés devant eux les trouppes Irlandoises comme des moutons, sans avoir essayé un seul coup de mousquet."
Writing some weeks later more fully from Limerick, he says, "J'en meurs de honte." He admits that it would have been no easy matter to win the battle, at best. "Mais il est vray aussi," he adds, "que les Irlandois ne firent pas la moindre resistance, et plièrent sans tirer un seul coup." Zurlauben, Colonel of one of the finest regiments in the French service, wrote to the same effect, but did justice to the courage of the Irish horse, whom La Hoguette does not mention.
There is at the French War Office a letter hastily scrawled by Boisseleau, Lauzun's second in command, to his wife after the battle. He wrote thus: "Je me porte bien, ma chère feme. Ne t'inquieste pas de moy. Nos Irlandois n'ont rien fait qui vaille. Ils ont tous laché le piè."
Desgrigny writing on the 10/20th of July, assigns several reasons for the defeat. "La première et la plus forte est la fuite des Irlandois qui sont en vérité des gens sur lesquels il ne faut pas compter du tout." In the same letter he says: "Il n'est pas naturel de croire qu'une armée de vingt cinq mille hommes qui paroissoit de la meilleure volonté du monde, et qui à la veue des ennemis faisoit des cris de joye, dût être entièrement défaite sans avoir tiré l'epée et un seul coup de mousquet. Il y a en tel regiment tout entier qui a laissé ses habits, ses armes, et ses drapeaux sur le champ de bataille, et a gagné les montagnes avec ses officiers."
I looked in vain for the despatch in which Lauzun must have given Louvois a detailed account of the battle.