The Siege of Minas Tirith, also known as the Siege of Gondor, occurred in the year TA 3019 when Sauron's army besieged the city of Minas Tirith during the War of the Ring. The siege, though nearly successful, was broken by the arrival of Théoden and the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
Gondor was first attacked on June 20, 3018 when the forces of Mordor launched a surprise attack on the ruined city of Osgiliath. However while the eastern half of the city fell, Boromir the son of Steward Denethor II successfully defended the western half by destroying the last bridge that crossed the Anduin river. Nine months passed after the skirmish in Osgiliath when Sauron's ally Saruman sent forth a large army to destroy the people of Rohan. They were, however, defeated by the forces of the Rohirrim in the Battle of the Hornburg. After this decisive victory, Aragorn revealed himself to Sauron through the Palantír of Orthanc, which spurred the Dark Lord into action, making him send his armies before the full force was prepared. He decided to release his long-prepared army in hopes of quickly annihilating his greatest enemy, Gondor before aid could arrive. Due to the threat of a huge fleet of Corsair warships sailing from Umbar, the southern fiefdoms of Gondor sent far fewer people to aid Minas Tirith's defense than expected.
Nay, this is no weather of the world. This is some device of his malice, some broil of fume from the Mountain of Fire that he sends to darken hearts and council.
—Beregond to Pippin about Sauron's cloud
There was no dawn between March 9 and 10. This was the day which is called the "Dawnless Day". A large cloud from Mordor silently crept over the lands of Rohan and Gondor, covering the sun and preventing sunlight from penetrating the clouds. Sauron's purpose was to instil fear amongst the Army of the West, and also to ease the passing of his minions who feared daylight. On that same day, an army from the Black Gate emerged and captured the island of Cair Andros. The purpose was two-fold: to prevent the Rohirrim from reaching Minas Tirith, and to attempt to cut off the garrison at Osgiliath. The Muster of Rohan, led by King Théoden, left the camp at Dunharrow, the Beacons of Gondor being lit one day prior. During the Dawnless Day, the Ring-bearer Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee, and their guide, Gollum, approached Minas Morgul. When they arrived, they saw a red flash emanating from beyond the eastern mountains - likely from Orodruin - which was answered by lightning and blue flame issuing from Minas Morgul and the surrounding hills. The Witch-king of Angmar emerged from the city on a black horse, accompanied by an army stated to be larger than any that departed from the vale since the time of Isildur. This was the smaller of Sauron's forces; the larger host issuing forth from the Black Gate.
Fall of Osgiliath
They have paid dear for the crossing, but less dearly than we hoped.
On March 11, Denethor sent forces to reinforce the garrison at Osgiliath, expecting a large blow from the enemy. After giving a report to Denethor, Faramir left to command the garrison. That night, they were attacked by the Witch-king's forces, who had been joined by Haradrim regiments. In the morning of the next day, despite stout resistance, the Witch-king's forces crossed the Anduin and Faramir retreated to the Causeway Forts of the Rammas Echor, the wall surrounding the Pelennor Fields, holding the position for most of March 12. Gandalf arrived to give heart to the defenders, remaining there for most of the day, before escorting wounded back to Minas Tirith. Although Faramir and his men resisted stoutly and inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy forces, the Witch King's army began to breach the wall, forcing Faramir to retreat with most of his remaining men, but was soon overtaken by Orcs and Southrons pouring onto the fields. Prince Imrahil and Gandalf led a cavalry sortie which allowed the retreating men to regroup and return to Minas Tirith, but Faramir was wounded by a Southron arrow and was carried by Imrahil.
Upon arriving at the city, the enemy sprawled before the main walls of Minas Tirith. They quickly put up siege equipment and dug trenches. A large force of Orcs and Easterlings was sent to guard the northern roads against possible reinforcements from Rohan. It put trenches and stakes on the road, enough to halt any charge.
On March 13, the Witch-king began to soften the defences of the city. However the outer wall of Minas Tirith, the Othram, built when the Númenóreans in-exile were still strong, was as impregnable as the tower of Orthanc. The siege engines of Mordor, while not penetrating it, were able to launch incendiary missiles into the lower city, setting it ablaze. The heads of casualties and prisoners taken in Osgiliath and at the Causeway Forts were also hurled into the city to demoralise the defenders. Soon, dismayed by the cries of the Nazgûl and the seeming hopelessness of the defence, most of the men on the walls had fled into the second circle of the city. A distraught Denethor refused to command the defence, as he thought the entire city was to be destroyed and Faramir was doomed to die. Gandalf and Imrahil then took charge, and inspired hope whenever they went.
In the night, large siege towers were dragged to the walls by Mûmakil to test the garrison. The main assault was launched against the Great Gate - the only vulnerable point in the wall - by a huge battering ram, Grond. However the resistance was stoutest at that point, and the forces of Mordor suffered high casualties. Grond was hurled against the gate three times, but on the third try, it and the Witch-king's magic managed to destroy the gate completely. The Witch-king entered the city, with only Gandalf upon Shadowfax confronting him. At this moment, the horns of the Rohirrim sounded, forcing the Witch-king to leave and confront the new foe.
With the arrival of the Rohirrim, the men of Gondor were encouraged and sortied from the city to attack their besiegers, beginning the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. After the coming of the Grey Company and reinforcements from southern Gondor, the siege was completely overthrown.
Portrayal in adaptations
The Lord of the Rings film trilogy
There is no darkness to represent the Dawnless Day in the movie, and no one sees the sun until the Rohirrim arrive. However, artificial dark clouds created by Sauron are shown in the film. In the film, the battle starts when the Orcs begin to launch the severed heads of their human prisoners (of the defenders of Osgiliath) towards the city to frighten and demoralize both citizens and soldiers alike as a means of psychological warfare. Denethor orders the army of Gondor to flee, but Gandalf knocks him unconscious, taking command of the fleeing soldiers saying, "Prepare for battle!". He then rides through the streets shouting, "Return to your posts!" The two armies exchange fire with catapults and trebuchets, and hundreds of Orcs and dozens of Gondor soldiers are killed.
The Nazgûl began to destroy the trebuchets of Minas Tirith, while more siege towers lumbered towards the walls. The siege towers did reach the walls, but the soldiers of Gondor were able to hold them off, while sustaining some losses as well. At the same time, the Orcs attempted to break the gate with a small wooden battering ram, but it had no effect.
Meanwhile, archers of Gondor archers mercilessly shot down at the Orcs, and hundreds were felled. The Orcs eventually brought out their largest battering-ram -- Grond, which by nightfall breaks the city's gate. About 100 soldiers of Gondor engage the trolls, Easterlings, and Orcs at the gate with Gandalf's aid. Despite fighting bravely, the soldiers of Gondor were overwhelmed, and were forced to retreat to the second level of the city. The Orcs then began to swarm through the broken gate torrentially. Despite dozens of archers firing at the Orcs, the invading party heavily outnumbered them.
The next day at dawn, the Orcs began to engage in melee combat with the soldiers of Gondor, who were then being slaughtered due to their exhaustion, earned by fighting non-stop through the night. The soldiers of Minas Tirith used the tactic "defend and retreat", which required the Men of Gondor to defend each level shortly, before retreating deeper into their burning citadel. Pippin alerts Gandalf of Denethor's madness and plans of suicide. Gandalf and Pippin rush to stop it, but are confronted by the Witch-king. Gandalf tries to confront the Lord of the Nazgûl, but is defeated when the Witch king breaks Gandalf's staff. Before the Witch-king can slay him, Rohan horns sound, the Witch-king leaves to confront the new threat.
- The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter VII: "Helm's Deep"
- The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter X: "The Voice of Saruman"
- The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter I: "Minas Tirith"
- The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter III: "The Muster of Rohan"
- The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, Book Five, Ch. IV: "The Siege of Gondor"