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garrison reaching Yorktown on the 22d of August. Cornwall's force was then seven thousand troops; and there were with him besides about a thousand seamen, belonging to some half-dozen small vessels, which were shut up in the York by the arrival from Haiti of the French fleet under de Grasse, which on August 30th, 1781, had anchored in Lynnhaven Bay, inside of Cape Henry.
On July 2A Arbuthnot had sailed for England, leaving the command at New York to Rear-Admiral Thomas Graves. Graves on the same day wrote to Rodney by the brig Active, that intercepted dispatches of the enemy had revealed that a large division from the West Indies was to arrive on the American coast during the summer, to cooperate with the force already in Newport. Rodney, on the other hand, dispatched to New York on July 7th the Swallow sloop, 16, with word that, if he sent reinforcements from the West Indies, they would be ordered to make the Capes of the Chesapeake, and to coast thence to New York. He asked, therefore, that cruisers with information might be stationed along that route. Two days later, having then certain news that de Grasse had sailed for Cap Francois, he sent this intelligence to Sir Peter Parker at Jamaica, and gave Sir Samuel Hood preparatory orders to command a reinforcement of ships destined for the continent. This, however, was limited in numbers to fifteen sail of the line, Rodney being misled by his intelligence, which gave fourteen ships as the size of the French division having the same destination, and reported that de Grasse himself would convoy the trade from Cap Francois to France. On the 24th instructions were issued for Hood to proceed on this duty. He was first to convoy the trade from Jamaica as far as the passage between Cuba and Haiti, and thence to make the utmost speed to the Chesapeake. A false rumour, of French ships reaching Martinique from Europe, slightly delayed this movement. The convoy was dispatched to Jamaica with two ships of the line, which Sir Peter Parker was directed to send at once to America, and requested to reinforce with others from his own squadron. Hood was detained until the rumour could be verified. On the 1st of August Rodney sailed for England on leave of absence. On the 10th Hood left Antigua with fourteen ships of the line, direct for the Capes. He had already received, on August 3d, Graves's letter by the Active, which he sent back on the 8th with his answers and with a notification of his speedy departure.
The Swallow and the Active should have reached Graves before Hood; but neither got to him at all. The Swallow arrived safely in New York on the 27th of July; but Graves had sailed with all his squadron on the 21st, for Boston Bay, hoping there to intercept an expected convoy from France, concerning which a special caution had been sent him by the Admiralty. The Swallow was at once sent on by the senior naval officer at New York, but was attacked by hostile vessels, forced ashore on Long Island, and lost. The Active was captured before she reached New York. Graves, thus uninformed of the momentous crisis at hand, continued cruising until the 16th of August, when he returned to Sandy Hook. There he found the duplicates of the Swallow's letters, but they only notified him of the course a reinforcement would take, not that Hood had started. On August 25th the latter, being then off the Chesapeake, sent duplicates of the Active's dispatches, but these preceded by little his own arrival on the 28th. That evening news was received in New York that de Barras had sailed from Newport on the 25th, with his whole division. Hood anchored outside the Hook, where Graves, who was senior to him, undertook to join at once. On the 31st five sail of the line and a 50-gun ship, all that could be got ready in time, crossed the bar, and the entire body of nineteen ships of the line started at once for the Chesapeake, whither it was understood now that both the French fleet and the united armies of Washington and Rochambeau were hurrying.
Count de Grasseupon his arrival at Cap Francois had found that many things must be done before he could sail for the continent. Measures needed to be taken for the security of Haiti; and a large sum of money, with a considerable reinforcement of troops, was required to insure the success of the projected operation, for which but a short time was allowed, as it was now August and he must be again in the West Indies in October. It was not the least among the fortunate concurrences for the American cause at that moment, that de Grasse, whose military capacity was not conspicuous, showed then a remarkable energy, politic tact, and breadth of view. He decided to take with him every ship he could command, postponing the sailing of the convoys; and by dexterous arrangement with the Spaniards he contrived to secure both the funds required and an efficient corps of thirtythree hundred French troops, without stripping Haiti too closely. On the 5th of August he left Cap Francois, with twenty-eight ships of the line, taking the route through the Old Bahama Channel,1 and anchored in Lynnhaven Bay, just within the entrance of the Chesapeake, on the 30th, the day before Graves sailed from New York for the same place. The troops were landed instantly on the south side of the James River, and soon reached La Fayette, who commanded the forces so far opposed to Cornwallis, which were thus raised to eight thousand men. At the same time Washington, having thrown Clinton off his guard, was crossing the Delaware on his way south, with six thousand regular troops, two thousand American and four thousand French, to join La Fayette. French cruisers took position in the James
1 Along the north coast of Cuba, between it and the Bahama Banks.
River, to prevent Cornwallis from crossing, and escaping to the southward into Carolina. Others were sent to close the mouth of the York. By these detachments the main fleet was reduced to twenty-four sail of the line.
On the 5th of September, at 8 A.m., the French look-out frigate, cruising outside Cape Henry, made the signal for a fleet steering for the Bay. It was hoped at first that this was de Barras's squadron from Newport, known to be on its way, but it was soon evident from the numbers that it must be an enemy. The forces now about to be opposed, nineteen British sail of the line to twenty-four French, were constituted as follows: British, two 98's (three-deckers); twelve 74's, one 70, four 64's, besides frigates; French, one 104 (three-decker),1 three 80's, seventeen 74's, three 64's.
The mouth of the Chesapeake is about ten miles wide, from Cape Charles on the north to Cape Henry on the south. The main channel is between the latter and a shoal, three miles to the northward, called the Middle Ground. The British fleet, when the French were first seen from it, was steering south-west for the entrance, under foresails and topgallant sails, and it so continued, forming line as it approached. The wind was north-north-east. At noon the ebb-tide made, and the French began to get under way, but many of their ships had to make several tacks to clear Cape Henry. Their line was consequently late in forming, and was by no means regular or closed as they got outside.
At 1 P.m. Graves made the signal to form column on an east and west line, which with the wind as it was would be the close-hauled line heading out to sea, on the other tack from that on which his fleet still was. In this order he continued to head in for the entrance. At 2 P.m. the French van, standing out, three miles distant by estimate, bore south
1 The Ville de Paris, to which Troude attributes 104 guns. She was considered the biggest and finest ship of her day.
from the London, Graves's flagship, and was therefore abreast of the centre of the British line. As the British van came near the Middle Ground, at 2.13 P.m., the ships wore together. This put them on the same tack as the French, Hood's division, which had been leading, being now the rear in the reversed order. The fleet then brought-to, — stopped, — in order to allow the centre of the enemy to come abreast of the centre of the British (aa, aa.) The two lines now were nearly parallel, but the British, being five ships fewer, naturally did not extend so far as the rear of the French, which in fact was not yet clear of the Cape. At 2.30 Graves made the signal for the van ship (the Shrewsbury), to lead more to starboard (1) — towards the enemy. As each ship in succession would take her course to follow the leader, the effect of this was to put the British on a line inclined to that of the enemy, the van nearest, and as the signal was renewed three quarters of an hour later, — at 3.17, — this angle became still more marked (bb).1 This was the original and enduring cause of a lamentable failure by which seven of the rear ships, in an inferior force undertaking to attack, never came into battle at all. At 3.34 the van was ordered again to keep still more toward the enemy.
At 3.46 the signal was made for ships to close to one cable, followed almost immediately by that to bear down and engage the enemy, — the signal for the line still flying. Graves's flagship, the London, 98 (f), which was hove-to, filled and bore down. Under the conditions, the van ships of course got first under fire, and the action gradually extended from them to the twelfth in the order, two ships astern of the London. According to the log of the latter, at 4.11 the signal for the line ahead was hauled down, that it might not interfere with that for close action, but at 4.22 it was rehoisted,
1 This reproduced the blunder of Byng, between whose action and the one now under discussion there is a marked resemblance.