It was through this busy Lancashire, of which we have been reading in the last chapter, that Cromwell came marching to meet the Scots. The Scots leader, the Duke of Hamilton, was a bad general. His officers quarrelled among themselves and with the English Royalists, and he was not strong enough to make them agree and do as he commanded. Each wanted to go his own way, yet there was no great man among them who could force them to act together. Indeed, he would have been a clever man who could have made Scots Presbyterians and English Episcopalians do that.
Hamilton's line of march was so long and straggling, that his army was really divided into three parts. Most of the horse was at Wigan; Hamilton himself at Preston, fifteen miles behind, and a third party at Kirby Lonsdale, in Westmorland, thirty miles still farther off, when Cromwell attacked them.
It was upon the English Royalists under Langdale, and a few Scottish horse under Hamilton, that the first shock of battle fell. For four hours they fought gallantly in the hedge-ringed fields of Preston Moor. But from hedge to hedge they were beaten back, till at last, with ranks broken and disordered, they fled towards Preston pursued by the Ironsides. Through the streets they fled, and over the bridge which crossed the Ribble, then scattering, some fled northward to carry the news of disaster to the Scottish foot; some southward to Wigan; some they knew not where. Of the army which had fought that day on Preston Moor, few indeed remained, for a thousand lay dead upon the field, and four thousand more were prisoners—"nothing hindering the ruin of that part of the enemy's army but the night," wrote Cromwell. "Where Langdale and his broken forces are I know not; but they are exceedingly shattered."
In the Scottish camp there was gloom and despair, yet the leaders were no more united than before. Some wanted to make a stand and fight where they were. Others wished to march away in the darkness and try to join the horse at Wigan. This they decided to do. They had no horses to carry their baggage and ammunition. All must be left behind. So each man filled his powder-flask, and the rest was left to fall later into the hands of Cromwell. Then, without sound of drum or pipe, in the rain and silence of the night, the already weary, hungry men began their march southward. So quietly did they go, so weary were the pursuing Ironsides, that they were already three miles on the way before Cromwell found out that they had gone. Then he started in pursuit.
While the Scottish foot were thus marching southward in the rain and dark, the horse from Wigan marched northward to meet them. They went, however, by different roads, and so missed each other. But Middleton, the leader of the horse, finding out his mistake, turned back again, and, coming between the foot soldiers and Cromwell's pursuing army, beat him back again and again.
So at last, the weary soldiers reached Wigan. They were faint with hunger, wet to the skin and covered with mud, for it had poured with rain all day and the roads were like marshes. Cromwell and his men were close behind and encamped outside the town, being "very dirty and weary, and having marched twelve miles of such ground as I never rode in all my life," says Cromwell.
But there was no rest for the weary Scots with the terrible Ironsides pursuing. Having plundered Wigan, Royalist town although it was, for food and clothes, they marched on again, hoping to reach Warrington and put the Mersey between themselves and their foes.
The heavy rainclouds now blew over, and a watery moon shone out. It shone upon those who wearily fled, and upon those who, almost as weary, pursued. Next morning at Winwick, a few miles from Warrington, Cromwell came up with the Scots. Again there was a desperate fight. Again the Royalists were defeated. Leaving behind them a thousand dead and two thousand prisoners, they continued the spiritless march. After them came the Ironsides; but the chase was nearly over. At Warrington, four thousand more surrendered to Cromwell, Hamilton and a few thousand horse only escaping. "They (the Scots) are so tired and in such confusion," writes Cromwell, "that if my horse could but trot after them, I could take them all. But we are so weary, we can scarce be able to do more than walk after them. They are the miserablest party that ever was. I durst engage myself, with five hundred fresh horse, and five hundred nimble foot, to destroy them all. My horse are miserably beaten out; and I have ten thousand prisoners."
The three days' fight named from Preston was over. "A wonderful great mercy and success," the Parliament called it. The great Royalist army of the North was utterly crushed by a force scarcely one-third its size. The fleeing remnants, one way or another, fell into the hands of Cromwell. And so the second Civil War ended, having lasted only a few months. Of the ten thousand prisoners, some were allowed to go free, after promising never again to take up arms against the Parliament. Others were sent as slaves to the plantations of Virginia and the West Indies.