페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

of d'Estaing's sailing, but also reported that she herself had fallen in with him to the southward, not very far from the American coast, and had been chased by his ships. His appearance off New York, therefore, was imminent.

Howe's measures were prompt and thorough, as became his great reputation. To watch for d'Estaing's approach, a body of cruisers was despatched, numerous enough for some to bring frequent word of his movements, while others kept touch with him. The ships at New York were ordered down to Sandy Hook, where the defence of the entrance was to be made. Clinton, who had been hard pressed by Washington throughout his march, arrived on the 30th of June — the day after Howe himself — on the heights of Navesink, on the seacoast, just south of Sandy Hook. During the previous winter the sea had made a breach between the heights and the Hook, converting the latter into an island. Across this inlet the Navy threw a bridge of boats, by which the army on the 5th of July passed to the Hook, and thence was conveyed to the city.

On the same day the French fleet was sighted off the coast of Virginia by a cruiser, which reached Howe on the 7th; and two days later another brought word that the enemy had anchored on the 8th off the Delaware. There d'Estaing again tarried for two days, which were diligently improved by the British Admiral, who at the same time sent off despatches to warn Byron, of whose coming he now had heard. Despite all his energy, his preparations still were far from complete, when on the morning of the 11th a third vessel arrived, announcing that the French were approaching. That evening they anchored outside, four miles south of Sandy Hook. Howe, who during all these days was indefatigable, not only in planning but also in personal supervision of details, hastened at once to place his vessels according to the disposition which he had determined, and which he had carefully explained to his captains, thus insuring an intelligent cooperation on their part.

The narrow arm of land called Sandy Hook projects in a northerly direction from the New Jersey coast, and covers the lower bay of New York on the south side. The main ship-channel, then as now, ran nearly east and west, at right angles to the Hook and close to its northern end. Beyond the channel, to the north, there was no solid ground for fortification within the cannon range of that day. Therefore such guns as could be mounted on shore, five in number, were placed in battery at the end of the Hook. These formed the right flank of the defence, which was continued thence to the westward by a line of seven ships, skirting the southern edge of the channel. As the approach of the French, if they attacked, must be with an easterly wind and a rising tide, the ships were placed with that expectation; and in such wise that, riding with their heads to the eastward, each successive one, from van to rear, lay a little outside — north — of her next ahead. The object of this indented formation was that each ship might bring her broadside to bear east, and yet fire clear of those to the east of her. In order to effect this concentration of all the batteries in an easterly direction, which would rake the approach of the enemy, a spring1 was run from the outer, or port quarter of every ship, except the leader.2 These springs were not taken to

1 A spring is a rope taken usually from the quarter (one side of the stern) of a ship, to the anchor. By hauling upon it the battery is turned in the direction desired.

2 The leader, the Leviathan, was excepted, evidently because she lay under the Hook, and her guns could not bear down channel. She was not a fighting ship of the squadron, but an armed storeship, although originally a ship of war, and therefore by her thickness of side better fitted for defence than an ordinary merchant vessel. Placing her seems to have been an afterthought, to close the gap in the line, and prevent even the possibility of the enemy's ships turning in there and doubling on the van. Thus Howe avoided the bow cable or anchor, as was often done, but to anchors of their own, placed broad off the port bows. If, then, the enemy attacked, the ships, by simply keeping fast the springs and veering the cables, would swing with their broadsides facing east. If the enemy, which had no bow fire, survived his punishment, and succeeded in advancing till abreast the British line, it was necessary only to keep fast the cables and let go the springs; the ships would swing head to the east wind, and the broadsides would once more bear north, across the channel instead of along it. These careful arrangements were subject, of course, to the mischance of shot cutting away cables or springs; but this was more than offset by the probable injury to the enemy's spars and rigging, as well as hulls, before he could use his batteries at all.

Such was the main defence arranged by Howe; with which New York stood or fell. In the line were five 64's, one 50, and an armed storeship. An advanced fine, of one fifty with two smaller vessels, was placed just inside the bar — two or three miles outside the Hook — to rake the enemy as he crossed, retiring as he approached; and four galleys, forming a second line, were also stationed for the same purpose, across the channel, abreast of the Hook.1 The retreat of these was secure into the shoal water, where they could not be followed. One 64 and some frigates were held as a reserve, inside the main line, to act as occasion might require. The total available force was, six 64's, three 50's, and six frigates. D'Estaing's fleet, in detail,

the fatal oversight made by Brueys twenty-years later, in Aboukir Bay.

1 It may be recalled that a similar disposition was made by the Confederates at Mobile against Farragut's attack in 1864, and that it was from these small vessels that his flagship Hartford underwent her severest loss. To sailing ships the odds were greater, as injury to spars might involve stoppage. Moreover, Howe's arrangements brought into such fire all his heavier ships.

consisted of one 90-gun ship, one 80, six 74's and one 50. Great as was this discrepancy between the opponents, it was counterbalanced largely by Howe's skilful dispositions, which his enemy could not circumvent. If the latter once got alongside, there was little hope for the British; but it was impossible for the French to evade the primary necessity of undergoing a raking fire, without reply, from the extreme range of their enemies' cannon up to the moment of closing. The stake, however, was great, and the apparent odds stirred to the bottom the fighting blood of the British seamen. The ships of war being shorthanded, Howe called for volunteers from the transports. Such numbers came forward that the agents of the vessels scarcely could keep a watch on board; and many whose names were not on the lists concealed themselves in the boats which carried their companions to the fighting ships. The masters and mates of merchantmen in the harbour in like manner offered their services, taking their stations at the guns. Others cruised off the coast in small boats, to warn off approaching vessels; many of which nevertheless fell into the enemy's hands.

Meanwhile d'Estaing was in communication with Washington, one of whose aides-de-camp visited his flagship. A number of New York pilots also were sent. When these learned the draught of the heavier French ships, they declared that it was impossible to take them in; that there was on the bar only twenty-three feet at high water. Had that been really the case, Howe would not have needed to make the preparations for defence that were visible to thousands of eyes on sea and on shore; but d'Estaing, though personally brave as a lion, was timid in his profession, which he had entered at the age of thirty, without serving in the lower grades. The assurances of the pilots were accepted after an examination by a lieutenant of the flagship, who could

[ocr errors]

find nothing deeper than twenty-two feet. Fortune's favors are thrown away, as though in mockery, on the incompetent or the irresolute. On the 22d of July a fresh north-east wind concurred with a spring tide to give the highest possible water on the bar.1

"At eight o'clock," wrote an eye-witness in the British fleet, "d'Estaing with all his squadron appeared under way. He kept working to windward, as if to gain a proper position for crossing the bar by the time the tide should serve. The wind could not be more favourable for such a design; it blew from the exact point from which he could attack us to the greatest advantage. The spring tides were at the highest, and that afternoon thirty feet on the bar. We consequently expected the hottest day that had ever been fought between the two nations. On our side all was at stake. Had the men-of-war been defeated, the fleet of transports and victuallers must have been destroyed, and the army, of course, have fallen with us. D'Estaing, however, had not spirit equal to the risk; at three o'clock we saw him bear off to the southward, and in a few hours he was out of sight."

Four days later, Howe, reporting these occurrences, wrote: "The weather having been favourable the last three days for forcing entrance to this port, I conclude the French commander has desisted." It is clear that the experienced British admiral did not recognise the impossibility of success for the enemy.

After the demonstration of the 22d, d'Estaing stood to the southward, with the wind at east. The British adviceboats brought back word that they had kept company with him as far south as the Capes of the Delaware, and there had left him ninety miles from land. When their leaving

1 A letter to the Admiralty, dated October 8th, 1779, from ViceAdmiral Marriot Arbuthnot, then commander-in-chief at New York, states that "at spring tides there is generally thirty feet of water on the bar at high water."

« 이전계속 »