He had possession of the hill near Edendune, which has been already described. He had established his head-quarters here, and made his strongest fortifications on the summit of the eminence. The main body of his forces were, however, encamped upon the plain, over which they extended, in vast numbers, far and wide. Alfred halted his men to change the order of march into the order of battle. Here he made an address to his men. As no time was to be lost, he spoke but a few words. He reminded them that they were to contend, that day, to rescue themselves and their country from the intolerable oppression of a horde of pagan idolaters; that God was on their side, and had promised them the victory; and he urged them to act like men, so as to deserve the success and happiness which was in store for them.
The army then advanced to the attack, the Danes having been drawn out hastily, but with as much order as the suddenness of the call would allow, to meet them. When near enough for their arrows to take effect, the long line of Alfred’s troops discharged their arrows. They then advanced to the attack with lances; but soon these and all other weapons which kept the combatants at a distance were thrown aside, and it became a terrible conflict with swords, man to man.
It was not long before the Danes began to yield. They were not sustained by the strong assurance of victory, nor by the desperate determination which animated the Saxons. The flight soon became general. They could not gain the fortification on the hill, for Alfred had forced his way in between the encampment on the plains and the approaches to the hill. The Danes, consequently, not being able to find refuge in either part of the position they had taken, fled altogether from the field, pursued by Alfred’s victorious columns as fast as they could follow.
Guthrum succeeded, by great and vigorous exertions, in rallying his men, or, at least, in so far collecting and concentrating the separate bodies of the fugitives as to change the flight into a retreat, having some semblance of military order. Vast numbers had been left dead upon the field. Others had been taken prisoners. Others still had become hopelessly dispersed, having fled from the field of battle in diverse directions, and wandered so far, in their terror, that they had not been able to rejoin their leader in his retreat. Then, great numbers of those who pressed on under Guthrum’s command, exhausted by fatigue, or spent and fainting from their wounds, sank down by the way-side to die, while their comrades, intent only upon their own safety, pressed incessantly on. The retreating army was thus, in a short time, reduced to a small fraction of its original force. This remaining body, with Guthrum at their head, continued their retreat until they reached a castle which promised them protection. They poured in over the drawbridges and through the gates of this fortress in extreme confusion; and feeling suddenly, and for the moment, entirely relieved at their escape from the imminence of the immediate danger, they shut themselves in.