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again of the hold which the line then still had upon men's minds. Of this des Touches cleverly availed himself, by ordering his van ships, which so far had borne the brunt, to keep away together and haul up on the other tack (e), while the ships behind them were to wear in succession; that is, in column, one following the other. The French column then filed by the three disabled British vessels (d), gave them their broadsides one by one, and then hauled off to the eastward, quitting the field (D). Arbuthnot made signal to wear in pursuit, but the Robust and Prudent, two of the van ships, were now wholly unmanageable from the concentration of fire upon them caused by des Touches's last movement; and the maintopsail yard of the London, the only British three-decker, had been shot away. The chase therefore was abandoned, and the squadron put into Chesapeake Bay, for which the wind was fair (D). The French returned to Newport. The respective losses in men were: British, 30 killed, 73 wounded; French, 72 killed, 112 wounded.
In this encounter, both sides had eight ships in line, besides smaller craft. The advantage in force was distinctly with the British, who had one three-decked ship, three 74's, three 64's, and a 50; while the French had one 84, two 74's, four 64's, and the late British Romulus, 44. Because of this superiority, probably, the action was considered particularly discreditable by contemporaries; the more so because several vessels did not engage closely, — a fault laid to the British admiral's failure to make the signal for close action, hauling down that for the line. This criticism is interesting, for it indicates how men's minds were changing; and it shows also that Arbuthnot had not changed, but still lived in the middle of the century. The French commodore displayed very considerable tactical skill; his squadron was handled neatly, quickly, and with precision. With inferior force he carried off a decided advantage by sheer intelligence and good management. Unluckily, he failed in resolution to pursue his advantage. He probably could have controlled the Chesapeake had he persisted.
His neglect to do so was justified by Commodore de Barras, who on the 10th of May arrived in Newport from France to command the squadron. This officer, after pointing out the indisputable tactical success, continued thus: —
"As to the advantage which the English obtained, in fulfilling their object, that is a necessary consequence of their superiority, and, still more, of their purely defensive attitude. It is a principle in war that one should risk much to defend one's own positions, and very little to attack those of the enemy. M. des Touches, whose object was purely offensive, could and should, when the enemy opposed to him superior forces, renounce a project which could no longer succeed, unless, contrary to all probability, it ended not only in beating but also in destroying entirely, that superior squadron."
This exaltation of the defensive above the offensive, this despairing view of probabilities, this aversion from risks, go far to explain the French want of success in this war. No matter how badly the enemy was thrashed, unless he were entirely destroyed, he was still a fleet "in being," a paralysing factor.
The retreat of des Touches and the coming of Arbuthnot restored to the British the command of Chesapeake Bay. Clinton, as soon as he knew that the British and French squadrons had sailed, had sent off a reinforcement of two thousand troops for Arnold, under General Phillips. These arrived in Lynnhaven Bay on March 26th, ten days after the naval battle, and proceeded at once to Portsmouth, Virginia. It is unnecessary to speak of the various operations of this land force. On the 9th of May, in consequence of letters received from Cornwallis, it moved to Petersburg. There on the 13th Phillips died, the command reverting momentarily to Arnold. On the 20th Cornwallis joined from Wilmington, North Carolina,1 and Arnold soon after returned to New York.
Cornwallis now had with him about seven thousand troops, including the garrison at Portsmouth; but a serious difference of opinion existed between him and Clinton, the Commander-in-Chief. The latter had begun the conquest of South Carolina, and did not welcome the conclusion of his lieutenant that the conquest could not be maintained away from the seaboard, unless Virginia also were subdued; for from there, a rich and populous region, men and supplies supported the American cause in the south. Cornwallis had tested the asserted strength of the Royalists in the Carolinas, and had found it wanting. Offensive operations in Virginia were what he wished; but Clinton did not approve this project, nor feel that he could spare troops enough for the purpose. Between October, 1780, and June, 1781, he said, seven thousand seven hundred and twenty-four effectives had been sent from New York to the Chesapeake; and he could not understand the failure to cut off the greatly inferior force of the enemy in Virginia. This at least did not indicate probable success for a renewed offensive. The garrison of New York was now short of eleven thousand and could not be diminished further, as he was threatened with a siege. In short, the British situation in America had become essentially false, by the concurring effect of insufficient force and ex-centric — double — operations. Sent to conquer, their numbers now were so divided that they could barely maintain the defensive. Cornwallis therefore was ordered to occupy a defensive position which should control an anchorage for ships of the line, and to strengthen himself in it. After' some discussion, which revealed further disagreement, he placed himself at Yorktown, on the peninsula formed by the James and York rivers. Portsmouth was evacuated, the 1 See ante, p. 153.