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Timeline Event

1st Battle of the Fords of Isen: Overview

Event Type: Military/Strategic

Age: 3rd Age - Ring War

Date: February 25, 3019

Description:

An event in the Invasion of Westfold by Saruman; see that entry for an overview:

Table of Contents:
The Summary
The Combatants
— Attacking Forces
— Defensive Forces
The Timeline
The Prelude
The Battle
The Aftermath
Notes

The Summary
The opening assault by Saruman's forces on Rohan, in which Théodred, the son and heir of Théoden King, is slain.

The Combatants

Attacking Forces
[Saruman] has taken Orcs into his service, and Wolf-riders, and evil Men, and he has closed the Gap against us, so that we are likely to be beset both east and west.

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 3, Ch 2, The Riders of Rohan

The enemy was in fact in positions prepared for the event, behind trenches manned by pikemen....

Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 5, The Battles of the Fords of Isen

Saruman's eastern force came down with unexpected speed; it was much smaller than the western force, but more dangerous. In its van were some Dunlending horse­men and a great pack of the dreadful Orcish wolfriders, feared by horses. Behind them came two battalions of the fierce Uruks, heavily armed but trained to move at great speed for many miles.

Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 5, The Battles of the Fords of Isen

[There] appeared a company of men or Orc-men..., ferocious, mail-clad, and armed with axes.

Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 5, The Battles of the Fords of Isen


Defensive Forces
[Théodred] therefore manned the approaches... to the Fords with the sturdy men on foot from the levies of Westfold. Leaving three companies of Riders, together with horse-herds and spare mounts, on the east bank, he himself passed over with the main strength of his cavalry: eight companies and a company of archers

Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 5, The Battles of the Fords of Isen


The Timeline
[February 3019]
25
The Company pass the Argonath and camp at Parth Galen. First Battle of the Fords of Isen; Théodred son of Théoden slain.

[See: Théodred counterattacks Saruman's army]
[See: Théodred retreats to the Fords of Isen]

[See: Théodred, Théoden's heir, slain in battle]
[See: Elfhelm arrives]

[See: Saruman's army retreats after Théodred's death]

[See: Erkenbrand Takes Command over the West-mark]
[See: Erkenbrand Provisions Helm's Deep for Attack]

The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, The Tale of Years: The Third Age


The Prelude
The Isen came down swiftly from its sources above Isengard, but in the flat land of the Gap it became slow until it turned west; then... it became deep and rapid. Just above this westward bend were the Fords of Isen. There the river was broad and shallow, passing in two arms about a large eyot.... Only here, south of Isengard, was it possible for large forces, especially those heavily armed or mounted, to cross the river. Saruman thus had this advantage: he could send his troops down either side of the Isen and attack the Fords... from both sides. Any force of his east of Isen could if necessary retreat upon Isengard. On the other hand, Théodred might send men across the Fords... but if they were worsted, they would have no retreat except back over the Fords with the enemy at their heels, and possibly also awaiting them on the eastern bank. South and west along the Isen they had no way home, 1 unless they were provisioned for a long journey into Western Gondor.

Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 5, The Battles of the Fords of Isen

When Théoden became... prematurely old... there was no effective central command: a state of affairs encouraged by his counsellor Gríma. The King... fell into the habit of issuing orders to Háma, Captain of his Household, to Elfhelm, and even to the Marshals of the Mark, by the mouth of Gríma Wormtongue. This was resented, but the orders were obeyed, within Edoras.

Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 5, The Battles of the Fords of Isen: Appendix

The Second and Third Marshals were assigned commands according to the needs of the time. In the beginning of the year 3019 the threat from Saruman was the most urgent, and the Second marshal, the King's son Théodred, had command over the West-mark...; the Third Marshal [was] the King's nephew Éomer....

Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 5, The Battles of the Fords of Isen: Appendix

'Indeed since [Gandalf's] last coming in the summer all things have gone amiss. At that time our trouble with Saruman began. Until then we counted Saruman our friend, but Gandalf came then and warned us that sudden war was preparing in Isengard. He said that he himself had been a prisoner in Orthanc and had hardly escaped....'

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 3, Ch 2, The Riders of Rohan

As far as fighting was concerned, when the war with Saruman began Théodred without orders assumed general command. He summoned a muster of Edoras, and drew away a large part of its Riders, under Elfhelm, to strengthen the Muster of Westfold and help it to resist the invasion.

Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 5, The Battles of the Fords of Isen: Appendix

It was clearly seen in Rohan, when the true accounts of the battles at the Fords were known, that Saruman had given special orders that Théodred should at all costs be slain.

Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 5, The Battles of the Fords of Isen: Appendix


The Battle
[There was] a mustering of troops before the Gates of Isengard... But when [Théodred] rode on [west of the Isen] to attack the main host the resistance stiffened.... he descried other forces [east of the river] now hasting towards the Fords.... He at once ordered a retreat.

Saruman's eastern force came down with unexpected speed... The garrison of the east bank... was swept away, and the Riders... were driven from the Fords....

Théodred fell, hewn down by a great Orc-man.... there [Grimbold] would himself soon have died, but for the coming of Elfhelm....

The attack... ceased, and the enemy... faded away into the dark. 2

Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 5, The Battles of the Fords of Isen


The Aftermath
The Rohirrim held the Fords of Isen; but their losses were heavy, not least in horses; the King's son was dead, and they were leaderless, and did not know what might yet befall.

Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 5, The Battles of the Fords of Isen

Erkenbrand of Westfold assumed command of the West-mark when news of the fall of Théodred reached him in the Hornburg on the next day. He sent errand-riders to Edoras... to bear to Théoden his son's last words, adding his own prayer that Éomer should be sent at once with all help that could be spared.... But Gríma... [furthered] his policy of delay. It was not until his defeat by Gandalf that any action was taken. The reinforcements with Éomer and the King himself set out in the afternoon of March the 2nd, but that night the Second Battle of the Fords was fought and lost, and the invasion of Rohan began.

Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 5, The Battles of the Fords of Isen: Appendix


Notes
1Beyond the Gap the land between Isen and Adorn was nominally part of the realm of Rohan; but though Folcwine had reclaimed it, driving out the Dunlendings that had occupied it, the people that remained were largely of mixed blood, and their loyalty to Edoras was weak: the slaying [in 2754] of their lord, Freca, by King Helm was still remembered. Indeed at this time they were more disposed to side with Saruman, and many of their warriors had joined Saruman's forces. In any case there was no way into their land from the west except for bold swimmers. [Author's note.]

Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 5, The Battles of the Fords of Isen: Notes, Note 4

2A marginal jotting states that after the Battle of the Fords of Isen it was found that many Drúedain did indeed survive in the Drúwaith Iaur, for they came forth from the caves where they dwelt to attack remnants of Saruman's forces that had been driven away southwards.

Unfinished Tales, Part 4, Ch 1, The Drúedain: Notes, Note 13

Contributors:
Lyllyn 9Sep03
Elena Tiriel 5Feb05, 9Feb05

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