Once the rebellion in the counties of Antrim and Down were suppressed by the Crown Forces under the leadership of General Lake, he then wanted to bring the rebellion in County Wexford to an abrupt end. Meanwhile in the previous weeks the rebel army had experienced some major defeats at the battles of Newtownbarry (Bunclody), New Ross and Arklow, they then regrouped at Vinegar Hill and this was where General Lake and his forces would meet the rebels for the decisive battle.
The well trained and equipped Crown Forces were ordered by Lake to surround the rebels on all sides and prevent any escape, however by nightfall on the 20th of June, General Needham who was to be positioned on the southern slope of Vinegar Hill had not yet arrived. Lakes forces numbered approximately 10,000 men fully equipped with muskets and artillery while the rebel army numbered approximately the same however they were mainly armed with melee weapons such as pikes. To make matters worse for the rebels, Edward Roche and re-enforcements from Wexford town had not yet returned and approximately 15,000 civilians and family members of the rebels sought refuge at Vinegar Hill.
Timeline of the Battle of Vinegar Hill
- 3 am General Johnson commences artillery bombardment of the rebel positions on the western outskirts of Enniscorthy town.
- 4 am General Lake commences artillery bombardment of the rebel positions on Vinegar Hill.
- 5 am After an intense artillery bombardment Barker and Kearns order their men to pull back to the Duffry Gate.
- 6 am General Lake stops the artillery bombardment on Vinegar Hill in order to commence infantry assault on the Hill. New explosive shell used the Lake’s artillery bombardment inflict terrible casualties on the rebel camp.
- 7 am Lake’s forces engage the first rebel positions on their assault of Vinegar Hill. Meanwhile General Johnson pushes Barker and Kearns’s men from the Duffry Gate into Market Square where intense house to house fighting takes place for the next hour.
- 8 am Barker and Kearns pull their men back over Enniscorthy Bridge and a stalemate ensues with both the rebels and crown forces inflicting heavy causalities upon one another. Barker is seriously wounded by having his arm blown off and Wicklow men led by Billy Byrne aid Kearns in his defence of the bridge.
- 8.30 am General Dundas and his men make significant advancement while attacking his section on the right of Vinegar Hill while Generals Loftus and Duff were heavily pressed on the centre and left of the rebel positions. Rebel Leaders realise their defence of Vinegar Hill is futile without re-enforcement from Wexford town and contemplate a general retreat.
- 9 am Whether acting under orders or on their own initiative some of General Johnson’s men burn down the rebel hospital in Enniscorthy town with 70 wounded men inside.