1898 09 01

1898 Sept 1st         The Military Manoeuvres

The Attack on the Yarnbury Castle (by our own reporter) Tuesday

Yarnbury Castle, an old British encampment similar in style to Old Sarum, fell to the attack of the Southern Army on Tuesday as they proceeded with their onward march towards Beacon Hill. That attack was a fine sight, well worth the stiff climb and the long walk from Wylye station. Before the Castle was reached our representative with many others from Salisbury was near enough to witness the work of the Northern Artillery before they retired upon the Castle, as they endeavoured to check the advance of the Southerners. The latter were not visible then, but as soon as the Duke of Connaught’s Infantry was safely entrenched inside the first ridge of the Castle, the Southern Infantry were sighted on the horizon.

The rattle of musketry had foretold their approach, and the volleys from the Castle-holders told of a warm reception awaiting them. They advanced steadily in splendid order; long thin lines of red coated men stretching from right to left almost as far as the eye could reach. Where the men themselves could hardly be discerned a glittering line of sunlight reflected from the rifles they held told of their presence. As they approached the firing became fiercer. They were advancing under cover of the Artillery which approached nearer and nearer as the lines advanced and kept up a constant cannonade. To the extreme left could be seen cavalry making their way under the shelter of the hedges, and several batteries of Artillery also were going round in that direction.

Meanwhile the Northern Artillery replied to the attack of the Southern by constant fire over Yarnbury Castle from a small wood in the rear. But the Southerners still approached, till the Northern Infantry vacated their position and retired over the Castle Berwick-wards. Yarnbury was taken. The Southern Infantry swarmed over the steep ridges, and one battalion more eager than the rest ran right into the arms of a small Northern force of Cavalry. The advance continued slowly but surely, and the retreat equally so. By this time our representative was well in with the Southern Army, and continued under their protection till they reached a spot on high ground where it would have been necessary to organise a strong attack in order to displace the Duke of Connaughts’ Artillery and Infantry which were in a magnificent position on the other side of the valley.

A long line of smoke marked their position, and the continual and defiant boom of their cannon showed the confidence they had in their position. It was strong without a doubt. The Southerners would have had some difficulty in taking it, but whether they would have done so or not was a matter which could only be judged by military experts for “Cease Fire” sounded before the attack could be made. As a matter of fact Sir Redvers himself admitted his position to be hopeless. The Duke’s generalship of the days operations was remarkable. Sir Redvers attacked Yarnbury Castle with his whole army under the impression that it was the Dukes’ main point, but the latter preferred to vacate it and retiring fast take up the strong position at Berwick above mentioned. There he was practicably unapproachable. The mistake made by Sir Redvers is possibly explicable by the fact that his balloon was early put out of action.

The Days Plan

According to the Special Idea the main Army of the Reds, an Imaginary Force was strengthening itself in fighting position east of the Avon, in a line from Beacon Hill to Laverstock, while the Red, the actual army, was to protect this operation and hold back the Blues by offering them resistance on a line drawn from Yarnbury Castle to the Wily. The remainder was to be so disposed as to cover the retirement of its rearguard at Yarnbury, and delay the enemy on the high ground east of stream from Winterbourne Stoke and Berwick St James to Stapleford. The Bath force, having reached Devizes, special observation was to be directed to the right flank, while no part of the Red force was to be west of a line drawn from Banegrove to Fisherton de la Mere before half past eight o’clock. The Southern Army on the line of Stockton and Chiltern St Mary were to drive the Red forces eastwards, while near Maddington a junction might be expected with the Blue force from Devizes. Thus the disposition of the Red force was pretty well settled by the Idea, and all that their General had to do was determine what troops were to be posted at Yarnbury and what behind the river. The Third Division was ordered to distribute itself from the 18th milestone on the Salisbury Road to a point on the map which dominates Stapleford Castle. The extreme flank was assigned to the 1st Welsh, who were very carefully disposed to meet any attack on this side, and cover the approaches up the valley and slope with direct enfilading fire. This flank was further secured by small detached posts who held the bridges over the Wily from Great Wishford, so that timely warning might be given in case of any attack from the direction of Groveley Wood. Next to the Third Division the guns were disposed, the Corps of Fi 14 Artillery and the Batteries of the Third and those of the Second Division, which then took up the line and carried along the high ridges to Winterbourne Stoke, where part of the division in front might be expected to cross if driven backwards on its supports.

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