Book 1, Chapter 3, 55 BC to 78 AD – Julius Caesar – Continued
During the winter active preparations were carried on by the Romans in Gaul for a renewed descent in the following year. Upwards of eight hundred galleys and transports were collected or built, to carry five legions of infantry, or more than thirty thousand men, and two thousand cavalry, with provisions, and military engines. In the spring of the year 54 Bc., Caesar embarked with this large and well appointed armament, at the same port, and sailed for the coast near to where he had formerly landed, at a spot which he had selected as being the most convenient for disembarkation. This time, the Britons did not dispute his landing, but withdrew inland to their native forests. An entrenched camp was immediately formed by the Romans, and leaving ten cohorts of infantry, or about six thousand men and three hundred horse soldiers, to guard the camp and the ships, the general, with the main army, followed the natives into the interior. After a night march of about fifteen miles, he found them strongly posted on some rising grounds behind a river, (supposed to have been the Stour, near Canterbury). As he approached, they came down to the river to meet him, with their horsemen and chariots, and attempted to begin the battle, and repel the Roman troops. But the cavalry soon drove them back, and then they took refuge in the woods, where they had a place singularly strong both by nature and art, and which to all appearance had been constructed as a stronghold during their civil wars. Every approach to it was effectually blocked up with felled trees laid one upon another. Some of the Britons continued to skirmish among the woods inflicting some damage upon their opponents. At length, the place was carried by assault, after a severe conflict by the soldiers of the seventh legion locking their shields together, so as to form a testudo, or roof above their heads, and then, scaling a mound which had been thrown up against the defences, they took the place, and expelled the Britons.
Caesar forbade pursuit, but employed his troops in fortifying and improving the camp, a custom which the Romans invariably observed, even though intending to remain but one night in a place. On the following morning, news came of a disaster to the ships, occasioned by a tempest, and the general instantly returned to the coast with all speed, to find forty vessels hopelessly wrecked and many more greatly damaged. With his usual promptness and determination, he ordered all the available workmen to proceed with the repairs, and sent word for new vessels to be constructed on the Gallic coast. As soon as the damage was repaired, he resolved, notwithstanding the difficulty of the task, to haul up all his ships, and enclose them within the camp, which was accomplished by incessant labour during ten days and nights. This done, Caesar resumed his aggressive march into the country, where he found the Britons posted near to the scene of the late battle, but greatly reinforced and under one nominal leader, Cassivellaunus, the king or chief of the Cassii. For several days there were smart skirmishes, in which, on the whole, the Romans had the worst, for the woods gave secure shelter to the Britons, who were able to harass their opponents by sudden and unexpected attacks, and when repulsed, to retreat without loss, as the heavy armed legionaries could not overtake them.
In all these skirmishes, Caesar tells us, “So immediately under our eyes, and close to the camp, it was evident that the weight of our men’s armour prevented them from pursuing the enemy when they retreated, or advancing far from their own colours. In short, their accoutrements were ill adapted for contending with such an enemy as they had now to deal with, and the cavalry, in particular, were much exposed on the field of battle, for the Britons would often make a feigned retreat, and allure them to separate from the legions, after which they would leap from the chariots, and take the cavalry at a disadvantage. Moreover, the Britons never advanced in one body, but fought in small parties, stationed at intervals, so that one squadron relieved another, and our men, who had been Contending against those who were exhausted, suddenly found themselves engaged with a fresh body, who had taken their places.
The next day, the enemy posted themselves on the hills, at some distance from the camp, and only appeared a few at a time, and they were also less disposed to attack our cavalry than they had been the day before. About noon, Caesar sent out Caius Trebonius, the lieutenant, with three legions and all the cavalry, to forage, upon which the enemy assembled from all sides, and surrounded the foragers, who were unable to leave their colours, or separate from the legions. Our men now made a general attack upon them, and put them to flight and pursued them without interruption, as long as the legions .kept in sight to give the cavalry confidence of support whilst they drove the Britons before them. In this manner they did not allow them time to rally, or halt, or leap from their chariots, according to their usual custom. In consequence of this defeat, the British reinforcements, which were arriving from all sides, again disbanded, and from that time the enemy never again came to a general engagement. Caesar now knowing their intentions led his army towards the Thames, in order to invade the territories of Cassivellaunus. The river could only be passed, on foot, in one place, and that with difficulty. When he arrived on its banks, he perceived a large force drawn up on the other side to oppose him, the bank, moreover, was planted with sharp stakes, and others of the same kind were fixed in the bed of the river beneath the water. Caesar gained intelligence of this from prisoners and deserters. He accordingly sent the cavalry in advance, and brought up the infantry immediately in their rear. So great were the ardour and impetuosity of the soldiers, that, whilst their heads alone appeared above the water, the enemy, unable to sustain their attack, abandoned the bank and fled precipitately.
Chapter 3, Julius Caesar
Second Visit 54 BC
Chapter 3, Caractacus
Chapter 3, The Romans Revenge
Categories: Book 1