페이지 이미지

obtain over it the advantage of using the lower-deck guns, the wind and sea having become much heavier. As the French Admiral, in this new disposition, had put his heaviest ships in the van, and his line was nearly in the wake of the British, Howe inferred an attack upon his rear. He therefore ordered his heaviest ship, the Cornwall, 74, to go there from the centre, exchanging places with the Centurion, 50, and at the same time signalled the fleet to close to the centre, — a detail worth remembering in view of Rodney's frustrated mancevure of April 17th, 1780. It now remained simply to await firmly the moment when the French should have covered the intervening ground, and brought to action so much of his rear as d'Estaing saw fit to engage; the conditions of the sea favoring the speed of the bulkier ships that composed the hostile fleet. The latter, however, soon abandoned the attempt, and "bore away to the southward, apparently from the state of the weather, which, by the wind freshening much, with frequent rain, was now rendered very unfavorable for engaging." It may be added that the hour was very late for beginning an action. At sundown the British were under close-reefed topsails, and the sea such that Howe was unable to return to the Eagle.1 The wind now increased to great violence, and a severe storm raged on the coast until the evening of the 13th, throwing the two fleets into confusion, scattering the ships, and causing numerous disasters. The Apollo lost her foremast, and sprung the mainmast, on the night of the 12th. The next day only two British ships of the line and three smaller vessels were in sight of their Admiral. When the

1 This account of the manoeuvres of the two fleets is based upon Lord Howe's dispatch, and amplified from the journal of Captain Henry Duncan of the flagship Eagle which has been published (1902) since the first publication of this work. See "Navy Records Society, Naval Miscellany." Vol. i, p. 161.

weather moderated, Howe went on board the Phwnix, 44, and thence to the Centurion, 50, with which he "proceeded to the southward, and on the 15th discovered ten sail of the French squadron, some at anchor in the sea, about twentyfive leagues east from Cape May."1 Leaving there the Centurion, to direct to New York any of Byron's ships that might come on the coast, he departed thither himself also, and on the evening of the 17th rejoined the squadron off Sandy Hook, the appointed rendezvous. Many injuries had been received by the various ships, but they were mostly of a minor character; and on the 22d the fleet again put to sea in search of the enemy.

The French had suffered much more severely. The flagship Languedoc, 90, had carried away her bowsprit, all her lower masts followed it overboard, and her tiller also was broken, rendering the rudder unserviceable. The Marseillais, 74, lost her foremast and bowsprit. In the dispersal of the two fleets that followed the gale, each of these crippled vessels, on the evening of the 13th, encountered singly a British 50gun ship; the Languedoc being attacked by the Renown, and the Marseillais by the Preston. The conditions in each instance were distinctly favourable to the smaller combatant; but both unfortunately withdrew at nightfall, making the mistake of postponing to to-morrow a chance which they had no certainty would exist after to-day. When morning dawned, other French ships appeared, and the opportunity passed away. The British Isis, 50, also was chased and overtaken by the Cesar, 74. In the action which ensued, the French ship's wheel was shot away, and she retired; — two other British vessels, one of the line, being in sight. The latter are not mentioned in the British accounts, and both sides claimed the advantage in this drawn action. The French captain lost an arm.

1 At the mouth of Delaware Bay.

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. a 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

« 이전계속 »