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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 line, 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
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."
freed him from observation, he turned, and made for Narragansett Bay, an attack on which, in support of an American land force, had been concerted between him and Washington. On the 29th he anchored three miles south of Rhode Island, and there awaited a suitable moment for forcing the entrance.
Narragansett Bay contains several islands. The two largest, near the sea, are Rhode Island and Conanicut, the latter being the more westerly. Their general direction, as that of the Bay itself, is north and south; and by them the entrance is divided into three passages. Of these, the eastern, called Seakonnet, is not navigable above Rhode Island. The central, which is the main channel, is joined by the western above Conanicut, and thus the two lead to the upper Bay. The town of Newport is on the west side of Rhode Island, four miles from the main entrance.
On the 30th of July, the day after the French fleet had arrived, two of its ships of the line, under command of the afterwards celebrated Suffren, went up the western channel, anchoring within it near the south end of Conanicut. One of them, as she passed, was hulled twice by the British batteries. At the same time, two frigates and a corvette entered Seakonnet; whereupon the British abandoned and burned a sloop of war, the Kingfisher, 16, and some galleys there stationed. The British general, Sir Robert Pigot, now withdrew his detachments from Conanicut, after disabling the guns, and concentrated the bulk of his force in the southern part of Rhode Island and about Newport. Goat Island, which covers the inner harbour of the town, was still occupied, the main channel being commanded by its batteries, as well as by those to the north and south of it upon Rhode Island. On the 5th of August, Suffren's two ships again got under way, sailed through the western passage, and anchored in the main channel, north of Conanicut; their former positions being taken by two other ships of the line.1 The senior British naval officer, seeing retreat cut off both north and south, now destroyed those ships of war2 which could not enter the inner harbour, sinking two between Goat and Rhode Islands, to prevent any enemy passing there. Five transports also were sunk north of Goat Island, between it and Coaster's Harbour, to protect the inside anchorage in that direction. These preliminary operations cost the British five frigates and two sloops, besides some galleys. Guns and ammunition taken from them went to increase the defences; and their officers and crews, over a thousand in number, served in the fortifications.
On the 8th of August the eight remaining French ships of the line ran the batteries on Rhode and Goat Islands, anchoring above the latter, between it and Conanicut, and were rejoined there by the four previously detached to the western passage. Ten thousand American troops having by this time crossed from the mainland to the northern part of Rhode Island, d'Estaing immediately landed four thousand soldiers and seamen from the fleet upon Conanicut, for a preliminary organisation; after which they also were to pass to Rhode Island and join in the operations. For the moment, therefore, the British garrison, numbering probably six thousand men,3 was hemmed in by vastly superior forces, by land and by water. Its embarrassment, however, did not last long. On the following morning Lord Howe appeared and anchored off Point Judith, seven miles from the entrance to the Bay, and twelve from the position then occupied by the
1 These four ships were among the smallest of the fleet, being one 74, two 64's, and a 50. D'Estaing very properly reserved his heaviest ships to force the main channel.
'Flora, 32; Juno, 32; Lark, 32; Orpheus, 32; Falcon, 16.
31 have not been able to find an exact statement of the number; Beatson gives eight regiments, with a reinforcement of five battalions.