Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

l))%. the orders for conducting him to the admiral.' A compliance being refused, the captain fired a (hot across the Belle Poule, which she instantly returned, by pouring her whole broadside into the Arethusa. A desperate engagement 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 Weight of metal, but in number of men. The Arethusa was so shattered, that she became almost unmanageable, as there was little wind. The captain was obliged to act with ths more caution, as he was upon the French coast, ^ind close. on shore at midnight. The Belle Poule hav-. ing 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 fore part 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 Licorne, occasioned one of the convoy to fire a shot across her way, as a signal for keeping her course, when to the astonishment of admiral Keppel and the whole fleet, 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 tp th,e French captain. The frigate instantly struck her colours, as soon as she jaad discharged her fire. Only four of the America's

people

people were wounded. Notwithstanding the provoca- >778» tion, 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 Were suffered to pass through the fleet unmolested. The capture of th£ French frigates afforded the admiral a source of the most critical and alarming information. He was now withift fight of Ushant, when he discovered to his astonishment, that the French fleet in Brest road and Brest water amounted to 32 ships of the line, beside 10 or 1* frigates, while his own force consisted only of 20 of the former, and three of the latter. The odds between the two fleets was so vast, that he could not justify risking an action, which might prove fatal to the kingdom. But it gave him the greatest uneasiness, to find himself obliged to turn his back on France. The French no sooner depermined to take a decided part with the Ame* ricans, than they assiduously applied themselves to th6 getting of their navy into the utmqst forwardness for actual service; and had proceeded with such profound secrecy, that the strength of it had1 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 mean for obtaining it. The Brest fleet lay ready for sailing; and was only detained till the destination of admiral Byron's force Cqu.14 be ascertained at Paris.

. On the return of the British fleet to Portsmouth, the June admiral's conduct was branded with the most opprobrious 37'

I 4 terms,

1778-terms, and ascribed to the most disgraceful motives, and j 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 admiralty. The seasonable arrival 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 admiJuly ralry, ICeppel was enabled to put again to sea, on the 9th '* of July, w}th 24 ships of the line, and was joined on the way by fix 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 ostensible ground for issuing out orders for a reprisal on British ships, and the ordinance signed the 28th of March) was immediately published. Similar measures were pursued in Great Britain, when the account of these transactions was rej ceived, Thus nothing of war was wanting between the ! jewo nations excepting the formality of the declaration.

The force and destination of admiral Byron being at Jength made certain to the French ministry, orders were sens to the Brest fleet to proceed to sea. They instantly weighed anchor^ and sailed the day preceding the departure of the British fleet from Portsmouth, They

amounted

amounted to 32 ships of the line and a cloud of frigates, 1778* 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 fleet, 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 fleet was also thrown into three divisions, the van being commanded by Sir Robert Hail and, and the rear by Sir Hugh Palliscr. 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 fight of each other on the 23d in the afternoon. From ,j. 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 being in number the same as when on its station before Brest. He appeared disposed to bring on an immediate action: but when the fleets approached so near, as to discover each other's force, he apparently relinquished that determination, and continued afterward to evade, with great caution and knowledge in his profession, all those endeavours which were used on the other side to bring on an engagement. Through a freih gale and a change of wind

in

177*-to the night, the French gained the weather gage, by' which they 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 leeward, and were so effectually cut off from the rest of the fleet, that they were never able to rejoin it during the remainder of the cruise. This put the hostile fleets on an equality in' poiht of number, with respect to line of battle ships. The British fleet continued constantly to beat up against the wind in pursuit of tr e 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 there motives, and labored to bring them to action; and as the preserving of a regular line of battle with any hope of it was evidently impracticable, the signal for July chacing to windward was kept constantly flying. Some .7* sudden shifts of wind, together 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 fleets so close that they could not part without an action. But the French endeavoured to evade its consequences as much as possible; .and by suddenly putting about on the contrary tack, altered the course of the ships in each fleet, so that they could engage only as they passed, instead of lying side to side, and thereby making an effectual impression.

The French began, by siring at a great distance on the headmost of Sir Robert Harland's division as the

« ZurückWeiter »