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with a rapidity gratifying to the two commanders, who also went out in person. The British, however, were outside first, with five sail of the line and a 50-gun ship. Nine of the supply vessels were captured by them, and four forced ashore. The French Rear-Admiral had by this time got out of Fort Royal with three ships of the line, – the Annibal, 74, Vengeur, 64, and Réfléchi, 64, - and, being to windward, covered the entrance of the remainder of the convoy. As the two hostile divisions were now near each other, with a fine working breeze, the British tried to beat up to the enemy; the Conqueror, 74, Captain Walter Griffith, being ahead and to windward of her consorts. Coming within range at 5, firing began between her and the French flagship, Annibal, 74, and subsequently between her and all the three vessels of the enemy. Towards sunset, the Albion, 74, had got close up with the Conqueror, and the other ships were within distant range; “but as they had worked not only well within the dangers of the shoals of the bay (Fort Royal), but within reach of the batteries, I called them off by night signal at a quarter before seven.”’’ In this chivalrous skirmish, – for it was little more, although the injury to the French in the loss of the convoy was notable, –Parker was equally delighted with his own squadron and with his enemy. “The steadiness and coolness with which on every tack the Conqueror received the fire of these three ships, and returned her own, working his ship with as much exactness as if he had been turning into Spithead, and on every board gaining on the enemy, gave me infinite pleasure. It was with inexpressible concern,” he added, “that I heard that Captain Walter Griffith, of the Conqueror, was killed by the last broadside.” ” Having occasion, a few days later, to exchange a flag of truce with the French Rear-Admiral, he wrote to him; “The conduct of your Excellency in the affair 1 Parker's Report. 2 Ibid.
130 MAJOR OPERATIONS OF THE NA VIES IN THE
of the 18th of this month fully justifies the reputation which
* Ante, p. 115.
* Rodney's Report. The French authorities give their line of battle as twenty-two ships of the line. There was no 90-gun ship among them — no three-decker; but there were two of 80 guns, of which also the British had none.
“Their manoeuvres,” he wrote, “indicated a wish to avoid battle,” and he therefore was careful to counteract them. At daylight of April 17th, they were seen forming line of battle, on the port tack, four or five leagues to leeward, – that is, to the westward. The wind being east, or east by north, the French would be heading south-south-east (Fig. 1, aa). The British order now was rectified by signal from the irregularities of darkness, the ships being directed to keep two cables'' lengths apart, and steering as before to the northward and westward. At 7 A.M., considering this line too extended, the Admiral closed the intervals to one cable (aa). The two fleets thus were passing on nearly parallel lines, but in opposite directions, which tended to bring the whole force of Rodney, whose line was better and more compact than the enemy's, abreast the latter's rear, upon which he intended to concentrate. At 8 A.M. he made general signal that this was his purpose; and at 8.30, to execute it, he signalled for the ships to form line abreast, bearing from each other south by east and north by west, and stood down at once upon the enemy (Fig. 1, bb). The object of the British being evident, de Guichen made his fleet wear together to the starboard tack (bb). The French rear thus became the van, and their former van, which was stretched too far for prompt assistance to the threatened rear, now headed to support it. Rodney, baulked in his first spring, hauled at once to the wind on the port tack (Fig. 1, cc), again contrary to the French, standing thus once more along their line, for their new rear. The intervals were opened out again to two cables. The fleets thus were passing once more on parallel lines, each having reversed its order; but the British still retained the advantage, on whatever course and interval, that they were much more compact than the French, whose line, by Rodney's estimate, extended four leagues in length." The wariness of the two combatants, both trained in the school of the eighteenth century with its reverence for the line of battle, will appear to the careful reader. Rodney, although struggling through this chrysalis stage to the later vigor, and seriously bent on a deadly blow, still was constrained by the traditions of watchful fencing. Nor was his caution extravagant; conditions did not justify yet the apparent recklessness of Nelson's tactics. “The different movements of the enemy,” he wrote, “obliged me to be very attentive, and watch every opportunity that offered of attacking them to advantage.” The two fleets continued to stand on opposite parallel courses — the French north by west, the British south by east — until the flagship Sandwich, 90, (Fig. 2, S') was abreast the Couronne, 80, (C), the flagship of de Guichen. Then, at 10.10 A.M., the signal was made to wear together, forming on the same tack as the enemy. There being some delay in execution, this had to be repeated, and further enforced by the pennant of the Stirling Castle, which, as the rear ship, should begin the evolution. At half-past ten, apparently, the fleet was about (Fig. 2, aa), for an order was then given for rectifying the line, still at two cables. At 11 A.M. the Admiral made the signal to prepare for battle, “to convince the whole fleet I was determined to bring the enemy to an engagement,” ” and to this succeeded shortly the order to alter the course to port (bb), towards the enemy.” Why he
* A cable was then assumed to have a length of 120 fathoms, – 720 feet.
1 A properly formed line of twenty ships, at two cables' interval, would be about five miles long. Rodney seems to have been satisfied that this was about the condition of his fleet at this moment.
* Rodney's Report.
* Testimony of the signal officer at the court-martial on Captain Bateman.