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After making temporary repairs, at the anchorage where Howe saw them on the 15th of August, the French fleet had proceeded again towards Newport. It was in the course of this passage that they were seen by Byron's flagship1 on the 18th, to the southward of Long Island. The Experiment, 50, which Howe had sent to reconnoitre Narragansett Bay, was chased by them into Long Island Sound, and only reached New York by the East River; being the first ship of the line or 50-gun ship that ever passed through Hell Gate. On the 20th d'Estaing communicated with General Sullivan, the commander of the American land forces on Rhode Island; but it was only to tell him that in his own opinion, and in that of a council of war, the condition of the squadron necessitated going to Boston to refit. Whatever may be thought of the propriety of this decision, its seriousness can be best understood from the report sent by Pigot to Howe. "The rebels had advanced their batteries within fifteen hundred yards of the British works. He was under no apprehensions from any of their attempts in front; but, should the French fleet come in, it would make an alarming change. Troops might be landed and advanced in his rear; and in that case he could not answer for the consequences." Disregarding Sullivan's entreaties that he would remain, d'Estaing sailed next day for Boston, which he reached on August 28th. On the 31st the indefatigable Howe came in sight; but the French had worked actively in the three days. Forty-nine guns, 18 and 24-pounders, with six mortars, were already in position covering the anchorage; and "the French squadron, far from fearing an attack, desired it eagerly."2 The withdrawal of the French fleet from Rhode Island was followed by that of the American troops from before Newport.
Howe had quitted New York the instant he heard of d'Estaing's reappearance off Rhode Island. He took with
1 Ante, p. 62. * Chevalier: "Marine Francaise," 1778.
him the same number of vessels as before, — thirteen of the line, — the Monmouth, 64, of Byron's squadron, having arrived and taken the place of the Isis, crippled in her late action. Before reaching Newport, he learned that the French had started for Boston. He hoped that they would find it necessary to go outside George's Bank, and that he might intercept them by following the shorter road inside. In this he was disappointed, as has been seen, and the enemy's position was now too strong for attack. The French retreat to Boston closed the naval campaign of 1778 in North American waters.
The inability or unwillingness of d'Estaing to renew the enterprise against Rhode Island accords the indisputable triumph in this campaign to Howe, — an honour he must share, and doubtless would have shared gladly, with his supporters in general. That his fleet, for the most part two years from home, in a country without dockyards, should have been able to take the sea within ten days after the gale, while their opponents, just from France, yet with three months' sea practice, were so damaged that they had to abandon the field and all the splendid prospects of Rhode Island, — as they already had allowed to slip the chance at New York, — shows a decisive superiority in the British officers and crews. The incontestable merits of the rank and file, however, must not be permitted to divert attention from the great qualities of the leader, but for which the best material would have been unavailing. The conditions were such as to elicit to the utmost Howe's strongest qualities, — firmness, endurance, uninterrupted persistence rather than celerity, great professional skill, ripened by constant reflection and ready at an instant's call. Not brilliant in intellect, perhaps, but absolutely clear, and replete with expedients to meet every probable contingency, Howe exhibited an equable, unflagging energy, which was his greatest characteristic, and which
eminently fitted him for the task of checkmating an enemy's every move — for a purely defensive campaign. He was always on hand and always ready; for he never wearied, and he knew his business. To great combinations he was perhaps unequal. At all events, such are not associated with his name. The distant scene he did not see; but step by step he saw his way with absolute precision, and followed it with unhesitating resolution. With a force inferior throughout, to have saved, in one campaign, the British fleet, New York, and Rhode Island, with the entire British army, which was divided between those two stations and dependent upon the sea, is an achievement unsurpassed in the annals of naval defensive warfare. It may be added that his accomplishment is the measure of his adversary's deficiencies.
Howe's squadron had been constituted in 1776 with reference to the colonial struggle only, and to shallow water, and therefore was composed, very properly, of cruisers, and of ships of the line of the smaller classes; there being several fifties, and nothing larger than a sixty-four. When war with France threatened, the Ministry, having long warning, committed an unpardonable fault in allowing such a force to be confronted by one so superior as that which sailed from Toulon, in April, 1778. This should have been stopped on its way, or, failing that, its arrival in America should have been preceded by a British reinforcement. As it was, the government was saved from a tremendous disaster only by the efficiency of its Admiral and the inefficiency of his antagonist. As is not too uncommon, gratitude was swamped by the instinct of self-preservation from the national wrath, excited by this, and by other simultaneous evidences of neglect. An attempt was made to disparage Howe's conduct, and to prove that his force was even superior to that of the French, by adding together the guns in all his ships, disregarding their classes, or by combining groups of his small