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ment followed between her and the British ship, the Arethusa, 32. The King of France subsequently declared that this occurrence fixed the date of the war's beginning. Although both Keppel's and d'Estaing's orders prescribed acts of hostility, no formal war yet existed.
Byron had a very tempestuous passage, with adverse winds, by which his vessels were scattered and damaged. On the 18th of August, sixty-seven days from Plymouth, the flagship arrived off the south coast of Long Island, ninety miles east of New York, without one of the fleet in company. There twelve ships were seen at anchor to leeward (north), nine or ten miles distant, having jury masts, and showing other signs of disability. The British vessel approached near enough to recognise them as French. They were d'Estaing's squadron, crippled by a very heavy gale, in which Howe's force had also suffered, though to a less extent. Being alone, and ignorant of existing conditions, Byron thought it inexpedient to continue on for either New York or Narragansett Bay. The wind being southerly, he steered for Halifax, which he reached August 26th. Some of his ships also entered there. A very few had already succeeded in joining Howe in New York, being fortunate enough to escape the enemy.
So far as help from England went, Lord Howe would have been crushed long before this. He owed his safety partly to his own celerity, partly to the delays of his opponent. Early in May he received advices from home, which convinced him that a sudden and rapid abandonment of Philadelphia and of Delaware Bay might become necessary. He therefore withdrew his ships of the line from New York and Narragansett, concentrating them at the mouth of Delaware Bay, while the transports embarked all stores, except those needed for a fortnight's supply of the army in a hostile country. The threatening contingency of a superior enemy's appearing off the coast might, and did, make it imperative not to risk the troops at sea, but to choose instead the alternative of a ninety-mile march through New Jersey, which a year before had been rejected as too hazardous for an even larger force. Thus prepared, no time was lost when the evacuation became necessary. Sir William Howe, who had been relieved on the 24th of May by Sir Henry Clinton, and had returned to England, escaped the humiliation of giving up his dearly bought conquest. On the 18th of June the British troops, twelve thousand in number, were ferried across the Delaware, under the supervision of the Navy, and began their hazardous march to New York. The next day the transports began to move down the river; but, owing to the intricate navigation, head winds, and calms, they did not get to sea until the 28th of June. On the 8th of July, ten days too late, d'Estaing anchored in the mouth of the Delaware. "Had a passage of even ordinary length taken place," wrote Washington, "Lord Howe with the British ships of war and all the transports in the river Delaware must inevitably have fallen; and Sir Henry Clinton must have had better luck than is commonly dispensed to men of his profession under such circumstances, if he and his troops had not shared at least the fate of Burgoyne."
Had Howe's fleet been intercepted, there would have been no naval defence for New York; the French fleet would have surmounted the difficulties of the harbour bar at its ease; and Clinton, caught between it and the American army, must have surrendered. Howe's arrival obviated this immediate danger; but much still needed to be done, or the end would be postponed only, not averted. A fair wind carried the fleet and the whole convoy from the Delaware to Sandy Hook in forty-eight hours. On the morning of the 29th, as Howe was approaching his port, he spoke a packet from England, which not only brought definite news 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.
* 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 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.