« ZurückWeiter »
mentable ; but the admiral acted with such prudence and call. tion, as to prevent that increase of the public alarm, that a dis.. play of these circumstances must have occasioned. He urged his private applications to the admiralty, with such assiduity and effect, that a new spirit and unusual degree of vigor were sud- . denly seen to prevade the naval department: and such industry was used, that beside dispatching the twelve ships for America under Byron, he was enabled to take the scas with a ficet of twenty sail of the line, at the time already mentioned. He had scarcely arrived at his station in the Bay of Biscay, when two French frigates, with two smaller vessels appeared in sight, and were evidently taking a survey of the fleet. Warhad not been declared nor reprisals ordered: but it was necessary to stop these frigates, as well to obtain intelligence, as to prevent its being conveyed. A general signal for chasing was made; a ship of the line got at length along side of the Licorne of 32 guns ; on her firing a gun, the Frechman stood to her and was brought into the fleet. Mean while, the other French frigate, La Belle Poule, of twenty-six heavy twelve pounders, beside several others of lighter metal, with a schooner of teo guns in company were closely pursued by the Arethusa frigate of only twenty-eight six pounders, and the Alert cutter, till ought of sight of the feet. The Arethusa getting up with her chase, captain Marshall requested the French officer, lieutenant Chedeau de la Clocheterie to bring to, and acquainded him with the order for conducting him to the admiral. A compliance being retused, the captain fired a shot across the Belle Poule, which she instantly returned, by pouring her whole broadside into the Arethusa. A desperate en.. gagement ensued with unusual warmth and animosity for above two hours, each side vying with the utmost degree of national emulation to obtain the palm of victory, in this first action and opening of a new war. "The Belle Poule had the superiority not only in the weight of metal, but to number of men. The Arethusa was so shattered, that she became almost unmanagcable as there was little wind. The captain was obliged to act with the more caution, as he was upon the French coast, and close on shore at midnight. The Belle Poule having her head in with the land, and meeting with no further interruption from the Arethusa, embraced the opportunity of standing into a small bay. During the forepart of this action, the engagement was no'less warm between the Alert cutter and French schooner.Their force was about equal. The contest was well supported for upward of an hour, when the schooner was compelled to strike. Next morning an unexpected movement made by the Licornc, occasioned one of the convoy to fire a shot across her
way, as a signal for keeping her course, when to the astonishnient of admiral Keppel and the whole flect, she suddenly poured her whole broad-side, accompanied with a general discharge of musketry, into the America, of 74 guns, at the instant lord Longford, her commander, was standing upon the gunwale, and talking in terms of the utmost politeness to the French captain. The frigate instantly struck her colours, as soon as she had discharged her fire. Only four of the America's people were wounded. Notwithstanding the provocation, lord Longford had such command of his temper as not to return a single shot. Another French frigate falling in with the fleet, was detained by the admiral, under the plea of hostility committed by the Licorne ; but several French merchantmen wer suffered to pass through the fleet unmolested. The capture of the French fria gaies afforded the admiral a source of the most critical and alarming information. He was now within sight of Ushant, when he discovered to his astonishment, that the French fleet in Brest road and Brest water, amounted to thirty-two ships of the line, beside ten or twelve frigates, while his own force consisted only of twenty of the former and three of the latter. The odds between the two tleets was so vast, that he could not justify risking an action, wbich might prove tatal to the kingdom. But it gave him the greatest uneasiness to find himself obliged to turn his back on France. The French no sooner determined to take a decided part with the Americans, than they assiduously applied themselves to the getting of their navy into the utmost forwardness for actual service; and had proceeded with such profound secrecy that the strength of it had not transpired so as to reach the British ministry, who appear to have been wanting in procuring good and early intelligence; which was a matter of so much importance in the estimation of the French, that they used every means for obtaining it. The Brest fleet lay ready for sailing; and was only detained till the destination of adiniral Byron's force could be ascertained at Paris.
June 27.) On the return of the Britislı fieet to Portsmouth, the admiral's conduct was branded with the most opprobrious terms, and ascribed to the most disgraceful motives, and his general character treated with the most indecent scurrility in those publications which he considered as under the immediate direction of the ministers. He bore all with wonderful temper; made no complaints; pressed forward the preparations for his return to sea, without noise or parade ; and submitted to all the unmerited reproach thrown upon him, without being provoked to a justification, which, by the narration of the fact, must have criminated the first lord of the adniralty. The seasonable arrim VOL. II,
val of the two first of the British West-India fleets, and of the Levant trade, brought in a supply of seamen at the most critical period in which they could have been wanted. By this mean, and the exertions every where used by the admiralty, Keppel was cnabled to put again to sea, on the ninth of July, with 24 ships of the line, and was joined on the way by six more; he had also an addition of one frigate and two fire ships. Mean while the French king made use of the engagement with the Belle Poule and the taking of the other frigates, as the ostensi. ble ground for issuing out orders for a reprisal on british ships, and the ordinance signed the 28th of March, was immediately publisbed. Similar incasures were pursued in Great-Britain, when the account of these transactions, was received. Thus 110thing of war was wanting between the two nations, excepting the formality of the declaration.
The force and destination of admiral Byron being at length made certain to the French ministry, orders were sent to ihe Bresi fleet to proceed to sea. They instantly weighed anchor, and sailed the day preceding the departure of the British flect from Portsmouth. They amounted to 32 ships of the line, and a cloud of frigatos, and were divided into three squadrons, the whole under the command of the count d'Orvilliers, who was assisted in his own particular division, by admiral the count de Guichen. The second was commanded by the count Duchaffault, assisted by monsieur de Rochechovart;, and the third by the duke of Chartres, a prince of the blood, seconded by admiral the count de Grasse. The duke was sent on board by the court to animate the fieet, and to intimate the greatness of the objects proposed, and how much reliance was placed on the courage and exertions of the officers and seamen.. The British fieet was also thrown into three divisions, the van being conimanded by Sir Robert Harland, and the rear by Sir Hugh Palliser. The commander in chief, with the centre division, was assisted by the voluntary services of admiral Campbell, a brave and experienced officer, who from ancient friendship and a long participation of danger and service, condescended to act as first captain in Keppel's own ship, the Victory. The two fleets came in sight of each other on the 23d, in the afternoon. From the movements of the French admiral, it was inferred that he had no knowledge of the increase of Keppel's strength; but considered his fleet as be. ing in number the same as when on its station before Brest. He appeared disposed to bring on an immediate action ; but when the ficets approached so near as to discover each other's force, he apparently relinquished that deterniination, and continued afterward to cyade, with great caution and knowledge in his professiony, all those endeavours which were used on the other side to bring on an engagement. Through a fresh gale and a change of wind in the night, the French gained the weather gage, by which thcy had the advantage either of bringing it on, or of totally avoiding it. But two of their line of battle ships fell considerably to the Iceward, and were so effectually cut off froin the rest of the fleet, that they were never able to rejoinit during the remainder of the cruise. This put the hostile fleets on an equality in point of number, with respect to line of battle ships. The British flect contin nued constantly to beat up against the wind in pursuit of the French, who declined coming to a general engagement, as they daily expected a strong reinforcement, and hoped to intercept the commercial fleets, that, while making for the British ports, would have to pass through the track in which their numerous frigates were stationed. Admiral Keppel penetrated their motives, and labored to bring thein to action; and as the preserving of a regular line of battle with any hope of it was evidently impracticable, the signal for chasing to windward was kept constantly flying. [July 27.] Some sudden shifts of wind, togethe: with an unexpected and unintentional effect produced by an evolution on the French side, being all improved by the most masterly efforts on the other, brought the two flect so close that they could not part without an action. But the French endeavored to avade its consequences as much as possible ; and by suddenly putting about on the contrary tack, altered the course of the ships in cach feet, so that they could engage only as they passed, instead of lying side to side, and thereby making an effectual impression.
The French begån, by firing at a great distance on the headmost of Sir Bobert Harland's division as the ships led up, but not a shot was returned till they were near the enemy. The example was followed, or a similar conduct pursued by the fleet in general, as fast as each ship could close up with the French ; and not withstanding their having been necessarily extended by the chase, they were all soou in battle. As the fleets passed each other very close on the opposite tacks, the cannonade was heavy, and the effect considerable. The action lasted about three hours. As the French in their usual way, directed their fire principaily against the rigging, several of the British ships suffered considerably in their masts, yards and sails. The British fire which was principally levelled at the hulls of the enemy, was not deiicient in its effect of another kind, the destruction of the seamen. The action being over for the present, admiral Keppel hauled. down the signal for battle, till the ships could recover their stations, or get ncar enough to support each other on the renewas
of the action. To call them together for that purpose, he im. mediately made the signal to form the line of battle a-head, which was considered as commanding the most prompt obedience. Admiral Palliser was at this moment in his proper station; but quitted it and passing Keppel to leeward on the contrary tack, while the latter was advancing to the enemy, never came into the line during the rest of the day. Palliser being totally out of the line, other ships for a-stern, and 5 disabled in their rigo ging, at a great distance to leeward, the British admiral, about 3 o'clock in the afternoon,could not collect above twelve ships to renew the engagement. The French observing the exposed situation of the British ships which had fallen to leeward to repair their damages, edged away with an evident intention of cutting them off from the rest of the fleet. Adm. Keppel instantly disa cerned their design and the danger of the ships, and suddenly wore and stood athwart the van of the enemy, in a diagonal line, for their protection. He also dispatched orders to Sir Robert Harland to form his division at a distance astern of the Victory, to cover the rear and keep the enemy in check, till Palliser should, in obedience to the signal, come with his division into his proper station. The protection of the disabled ships being accomplished, and the French continuing to form their line, ranging up to Jeeward parallel to the centre division, it became the admiral's immediate object to form his as speedily as possible, in order to bear down upon them and renew the battle. Seeing Palliser still to windward, he sent capt. Windsor of the Fox frigate with express orders to him to bear down into his wake ; and to tell him, that he only waited for him and his division to renew the attack. This order' not producing the desired effect, the admiral threw out the signal for all ships to come into their stations ; and again at seven o'clock, being wearied out with fruitless expectation, he made the signal for each particular ship of Palliser's division to come into her station in the line ; but before they had complied with this signal, night put an end to all further operations. From a motive of delicacy, no signal was particularly throwa out to the Formidable, Sir Hugh Palliser's own ship. · The French could have renewed the action during every hour of the afternoon, with apparent advantages, which from the situation of affairs could not possibly have escaped their observation. Their conduct the following night indicated their indisposition to a renewal of it. Three of their best sailing vessels were station. ed at proper distances with lights to divert the attention of the British fleet, and to induce a belief that their whole line still kept ats position. During this deception the rest of the fieet withdrew in the most silent manner, without lights or other sig.