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French fleet. He brought a stronger force than he had been able to gather for the defence of New York, having now one 74, seven 64's, and five 50's, in all thirteen of the line, besides several smaller vessels; but he still was greatly inferior to opponent, by any rational mode of naval reckoning.
Howe's energies in New York had not been confined to preparations for resisting the entrance of the enemy, nor did they cease with the latter's departure. When he first arrived there from Philadelphia, he had hastened to get his ships ready for sea, a pre-occupation which somewhat, but not unduly, delayed their taking their positions at Sandy Hook. Two, for instance, had been at the watering-place when the approach of the French was signalled. Owing to this diligence, no time was lost by his fault when the new destination of the enemy was made known to him, on the 28th or 29th of July, by the arrival of the Raisonnable, 64,1 from Halifax. This ship narrowly escaped the French fleet, having passed it on the evening of the 27th, steering for Rhode Island. The Renown, 50, which on the 26th had reached New York from the West Indies, had a similar close shave, having sailed unnoticed through the rear of the enemy the night before. Besides these two, Howe was joined also by the Centurion, 50, from Halifax, and by the Cornwall, 74; the latter, which crossed the bar on the 30th, being the first of Byron's fleet to reach New York. The three others belonged to Howe's own squadron. For the two Halifax ships which helped to make this most welcome reinforcement, the Admiral was indebted to the diligence of the officer there commanding, who hurried them away as soon as he learned of d'Estaing's appearance on the coast. The opportuneness of their arrival attracted notice. "Had they appeared a few days sooner," says a contemporary narra
1 It may be interesting to recall that this was the ship on the books of which Nelson's name was first borne in the navy, in 1771.
tive, "either they must have been prevented from forming a junction with our squadron, and forced again to sea, or we should have had the mortification to see them increase the triumph of our enemy."
On the 1st of August, forty-eight hours after the Cornwall had come in from a stormy passage of fifty-two days, the squadron was ready for sea, and Howe attempted to sail; but the wind hauled foul immediately after the signal to weigh had been made. It did not become fair at the hour of high water, when alone heavy ships could cross the bar, until the morning of the 6th. "Rhode Island was of such importance," says the narrator already quoted, "and the fate of so large a portion of the British army as formed the garrison was of such infinite consequence to the general cause, that it was imagined the Admiral would not lose a moment in making some attempt for their relief." He had learned of the detachments made from the French fleet, and hoped that some advantage might be taken of this division. In short, he went, as was proper and incumbent on him in such critical circumstances, to take a great risk, in hope of a favourable chance offering. On the 9th, as before stated, he anchored off Point Judith, and opened communications with the garrison, from which he learned the events that had so far occurred, and also that the enemy was well provided with craft of all kinds to make a descent upon any part of the Island.
As deGrasse at Yorktown, when rumour announced the approach of a British fleet, was deterred only by the most urgent appeals of Washington from abandoning his control of the Chesapeake, essential to the capture of Cornwallis, so now d'Estaing, in Narragansett Bay, was unwilling to keep his place, in face of Howe's greatly inferior squadron.1
1 Troude attributes d'Estaing's sortie to a sense of the insecurity of his position; Lapeyrouse Bonfils, to a desire for contest. Chevalier dwells upon the exposure of the situation.
The influence exerted upon these two admirals by the mere approach of a hostile fleet, when decisive advantages depended upon their holding their ground, may be cited plausibly in support of the most extreme view of the effect of a "fleet in being;" but the instances also, when the conditions are analysed, will suggest the question: Is such effect always legitimate, inherent in the existence of the fleet itself, or does it not depend often upon the characteristics of the man affected? The contemporary British narrative of these events in Narragansett Bay, after reciting the various obstacles and the inferiority of the British squadron, says: "The most skilful officers were therefore of opinion that the Vice-Admiral could not risk an attack; and it appears by his Lordship's public letter that this was also his own opinion: under such circumstances, he judged it was impracticable to afford the General any essential relief." In both these instances, the admirals concerned were impelled to sacrifice the almost certain capture, not of a mere position, but of a decisive part of the enemy's organised forces, by the mere possibility of action; by the moral effect produced by a fleet greatly inferior to their own, which in neither case would have attacked, as things stood. What does this prove?
Immediately upon Howe's appearance, the French seamen who had landed the day before on Conanicut were recalled to their ships. The next morning, August 10, at 7 A.m., the wind came out strong at north-east, which is exceptional at that season. D'Estaing at once put to sea, cutting the cables in his haste. In two hours he was outside, steering for the enemy. Howe, of course, retired at once; his inferiority1 did not permit an engagement except on his own terms. To insure these, he needed the weather-gage, the offensive position of that day, which by keeping south he expected to gain, when the usual wind from that quarter
1 For the respective force of the two fleets see pp. 66, 67, 71.
should set in. The French Admiral had the same object, hoping to crush his agile opponent; and, as the sea breeze from south-west did not make that day, he succeeded in keeping the advantage with which he had started, despite Howe's skill. At nightfall both fleets were still steering to the southward, on the port tack, the French five or six miles in the rear of the British, with the wind variable at east. The same course was maintained throughout the night, the French gradually overhauling the British, and becoming visible at 3 A.m. of the 11th. By Howe's dispatch, they bore in the morning, at an hour not specified, east-northeast, which would be nearly abeam, but somewhat more distant than the night before, having apparently kept closer to the wind, which by this had steadied at east-north-east.
In the course of the day Howe shifted his flag from the Eagle, 64, to the Apollo, 32, and placed himself between the two fleets, the better to decide the movements of his own. Finding it impossible to gain the weather-gage, and unwilling, probably, to be drawn too far from Rhode Island, he now made a wide circle with the fleet by a succession of changes of course: at 8 A.m. to south, then to south-west and west, until finally, at 1.30 P.m., the ships were steering north-west; always in line of battle. The French Admiral seems to have followed this movement cautiously, on an outer circle but with a higher speed, so that from east-north-east in the morning, which, as the fleets were then heading, would be on the starboard side of the British, abreast and to windward, at 4 P.m. the French bore south-south-east, which would be somewhat on the port quarter, or nearly astern but to leeward. At this time their van was estimated by Howe to be two or three miles from the British rear, and, according to his reading of their manoeuvres, d'Estaing was forming his line for the same tack as the British, with a view of "engaging the British squadron to leeward," whereby he would