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“the ships not being sufficiently extended.” The meaning of this expression may be inferred from Beatson's account: —
“The London, by taking the lead, had advanced farther towards the enemy than some of the ships stationed immediately ahead of her in the line of battle; and upon luffing up (f') to bring her broadside to bear, they having done the same thing, her second ahead (m) was brought nearly upon her weather beam. The other ships ahead of her were likewise too much crowded together.”
As the ship on the London's weather beam could not fire upon the enemy unless she drew ahead, this condition probably accounts for the flagship being again hove-to, while firing, as Hood says that she was. The signal for the line was hauled down again at 4.27, by the London's log, that for close action being up, and repeated at 5.20, when Hood (h) at lastbore down with his division (h'), but the French ships bearing up also, he did not near them. Firing ceased shortly after sunset. The loss of the British was 90 killed, 246 wounded; that of the French is given only in round numbers, as about 200 killed and wounded.
Hood's statement introduces certain important qualifications into the above account: —
“Our centre began to engage at the same time as the van, at four, but at a most improper distance, and our rear, being barely within random shot, did not fire while the signal for the line was flying. The London had the signal for close action flying, as well as the signal for the line ahead at half a cable was under her topsails, with the main topsail to the mast," though the enemy's ships were pushing on.”
As showing the improper distance at which the London brought-to to fire, he says: —
“The second ship astern of her (of the London) received but trifling damage, and the third astern of her received no damage at all, which most clearly proves [at] how much too great a distance was the centre division engaged.”
* I.e. she had stopped.
The day after the action Hood made a memorandum of his criticisms upon it, which has been published. The gist of this is as follows. As the French stood out, their line was not regular or connected. The van was much separated from the centre and rear, and it appears also, from the French narratives, that it was to windward of the rest of the fleet. From these causes it was much exposed to be attacked unsupported. There was, by Hood's estimate, “a full hour and a half to have engaged it before any of the rear could have come up.” The line of battle on the port tack, with the then wind, was east and west, and Graves had first ranged his fleet on it, as the French were doing; but afterwards, owing to his method of approach, by the van bearing down and the other ships following in its wake, the two lines, instead of being parallel, formed an angle, the British centre and rear being much more distant from the enemy than the van was. This alone would cause the ships to come into battle successively instead of together, a fault of itself; but the Commander-in-Chief, according to Hood, committed the further mistake that he kept the signal for the line of battle flying until 5.30 P.M., near to sunset. In Hood's understanding, while that signal flew the position of each ship was determined by that of Graves's flagship. None could go closer than the line through her parallel to the enemy. Hence Hood's criticism, which is marked by much acerbity towards his superior, but does not betray any consciousness that he himself needed any justification for his division not having taken part.
“Had the centre gone to the support of the van, and the signal for the line been hauled down, or the Commander-in-Chief had set the example of close action, even with the signal for the line flying, the van of the enemy must have been cut to pieces, and the rear division of the British fleet would have been opposed to those ships the centre division fired at, and at the proper distance for engaging, or the Rear-Admiral who commanded it would have a great deal to anSwer for.” ”
So much for the tactical failure of that day. The question remained what next was to be done. Graves contemplated renewing the action, but early in the night was informed that several of the van ships were too crippled to permit this. He held his ground, however, in sight of the French, until dark on the 9th, when they were seen for the last time. They were then under a cloud of sail, and on the morning of the 10th had disappeared. From their actions during this interval, Hood had inferred that de Grasse meant to get back into the Chesapeake without further fighting; and he implies that he advised Graves to anticipate the enemy in so doing. Though some ships were crippled aloft, the British batteries were practically intact, nor had men enough been disabled to prevent any gun in the fleet from being fought. Could but a single working day be gained in taking up an anchorage, a defensive order could be assumed, practically impregnable to the enemy, covering Cornwallis, and not impossibly intercepting the French ships left in the Bay. In the case of many men such comment might be dismissed as the idle talk of the captious fault-finder, always to the fore in life; but in the case of Hood it must be received with deference, for, but a few months later, when confronted with greater odds, he himself did the very thing he here recommended, for an object less vital than the relief of Cornwallis. Having regard to the character of de Grasse, it is reasonable to believe that, if he had found the British fleet thus drawn up at anchor in Chesapeake Bay, as he found Hood at St. Kitts in the following January, he would have waited off the entrance for de Barras, and then have gone to sea, leaving Washington and Rochambeau to look at Cornwallis slipping out of their grasp. On the 10th of September Graves decided to burn the Terrible, 74, which had been kept afloat with difficulty since the action. This done, the fleet stood towards the Chesapeake, a frigate going ahead to reconnoitre. On the 13th, at 6 A.M., Graves wrote to Hood that the look-outs reported the French at anchor above the Horse Shoe (shoal) in the Chesapeake, and desired his opinion what to do with the fleet. To this Hood sent the comforting reply that it was no more than what he had expected, as the press of sail the (French) fleet carried on the 9th, and on the night of the 8th, made it very clear to him what de Grasse's intentions were. He “would be very glad to send an opinion, but he really knows not what to say in the truly lamentable state [to which] we have brought ourselves.”.” On the 10th de Barras had reached the Bay, where he was joined by de Grasse on the 11th, so that there were then present thirty-six French ships of the line. Graves, therefore, returned to New York, reaching Sandy Hook September 19th. On the 14th Washington had arrived before Yorktown, where he took the chief command; and the armies closed in upon Cornwallis by land as the French fleets had done already by water. On the 19th of October the British force was compelled to surrender,
1 Hood himself.
* Letters of Lord Hood, p. 32. Navy Records Society. My italics. Concerning the crucial fact of the signal for the line of battle being kept flying continuously until 5.30 P.M., upon which there is a direct contradiction between Hood and the log of the London, it is necessary to give the statement of Captain Thomas White, who was present in the action in one of the rear ships. “If the London's log, or the log of any other individual ship in the fleet, confirm this statement,” (that Hood was dilatory in obeying the order for close action), “I shall be induced to fancy that what I that day saw and heard was a mere chimera of the brain, and that what I believed to be the signal for the line was not a union jack, but an tgnis fatuus conjured up to mock me.” White and Hood also agree
that the signal for the line was rehoisted at 6.30. (White: “Naval Researches,” London, 1830, p. 45.)