Imagens das páginas

in the evening of the twenty-third of July, the Isle of Ouessant being thirty leagues distant, and the wind at west. The count d’Orvilliers, believing the enemy weaker than he was in reality, desired impatiently to bring him to action. But on approaching the British fleet, and finding it nearly as strong as his own, he avoided an engagement no less cautiously than he had eagerly sought it at first. As he had the advantage of the wind, it was impossible for the English to force him to it, against his will. During the night, two French ships were driven by the force of the wind to the leeward of the British fleet. Admiral Keppel having perceived it in the morning, made signal to give chase and cut them off from the main body of their fleet. He hoped that in order to save them, the French admiral would give him battle, or at least that these ships would be taken, or so forced out of their course that it would be impossible for them to rejoin their fleet. The count d’Orvilliers preferred not to make any movement to succour them ; and thus the two vessels, though they had the good fortune to escape the English, were chased so far, that they could take no part in the events which followed. During the four following days the two fleets remained in sight; the British admiral endeavoring all the time to get the wind, or to beat up so near the French fleet as to force it to action. But to arrive at this object, it was impossible to maintain the disposition entire ; and therefore Keppel had commanded that the ships should take rank according to their swiftness, as they gained to the windward, with attention, however, to keep their distances as much as possible. This movement was also necessary, in order not to lose sight of the enemy. But it was not without danger, since it might offer the French an occasion to fall suddenly with superior force upon some one of the English ships. It was also the cause, that on the twenty-seventh, the day of battle, the French fleet was formed in better order than that of England, which appeared deranged. On the morning of that day, the wind continuing from the west, and favoring the French, the two fleets were separated, one from the other, a distance of only three leagues, in such manner, however, that the English rear found itself a little more to the leeward than the centre and van. Keppel therefore ordered Palliser, who commanded it, to press up to the windward in order to form in a line with the two other divisions of the fleet. Palliser executed the orders of the admiral. This movement induced the count d’Orvilliers, to believe, and perhaps not without reason, as Palliser continued to crowd more and more to the windward, that it was the intention of the enemy to attack the French rear, and to gain on the opposite tack the weathergage of that division. To defeat this manoeuvre, he directly put his ships about, and reversing his order

of battle, his rear became van. This very movement, together with
some variations in the wind, of which the English dexterously availed
themselves, brought the two fleets so near each other, that the
action commenced immediately, the wind blowing from the west,
and the French running from north to south, the English from south
to north. This manner of combating, by which a close and station-
ary action was avoided, the ships firing only as they passed each
other in opposite directions, was the result of the manoeuvre just
made by the French fleet.
It suited the count d’Orvilliers so much the better, as since he
had not been able to decline the engagement, it assured him, at
least, that it could not be decisive. For it was a necessary conse-
quence of this order of battle, that the two fleets must break their
line during the action, and that the party who should have sustained
the least damage, could not immediately pursue their advantages,
whether against any particular ship of the enemy, or against his
entire fleet. The two fleets thus standing on opposite tacks, and
but a slight distance apart, the first ships of the English van, and
those of the French rear, which, as we have said, was become the
van, began to exchange broadsides, and the battle was joined suc-
cessively, as the whole English line passed close along side of the
whole French line; so that the rear, commanded by sir Hugh Palli-
ser, and the van by the count Duchaffault, were the last to attack
each other. The effects of this collision were very destructive on
both sides; but as the French, according to their custom, had fired
at the tackling, and the English, as they usually do, at the body of
the ships, the hulls of the French vessels were more severely dam-
aged, than those of their enemies; whereas the English were much
the greater sufferers in their masts, yards, and rigging. The French,
profiting of this advantage of their sails, soon tacked and formed
their line anew. The British van and centre also in a short time
recovered their stations, though the admiral's ship had suffered
extremely. But the ships of Palliser and several others, not only
had not yet tacked, but being in a disabled condition, they obeyed
the wind and fell rapidly to leeward. In this state of things, whe-
ther the count d’Orvilliers intended, as the English pretend, to cut
their line, and separate these ships from the rest of the fleet, or, as
the French affirm, wishing to place himself under the wind, in order,
as he expected a second battle, to deprive the English of the advan-
tage he would thus gain for himself, of using the lower batteries with
effect, he made signals for all his fleet to advance by a successive
movement, and penetrate between the ships of Keppel and those of
The English admiral, perceiving the design of his adversary,
immediately put his ships about, and stood athwart the enemy's

[ocr errors][merged small]

foremost division, directing at the same time sir Robert Harland to form his division in a line astern, in order to face the enemy, till sir Hugh Palliser could bring up his ships. It is not clear, whether this movement of Keppel frustrated the project of the count d’Orvilliers, for intercepting Palliser's division, or whether it was merely the intention of that admiral to get under the wind ; but certain it is, that in consequence of this evolution the English remained to the windward. It was therefore in their power to renew the battle, provided, however, that all their ships had been in condition to take part in the action; and this would have been the wish of Keppel. But the squadron of Palliser, since the admiral and Harland had thrown themselves between him and the French, to whom they were now very near, found itself to the windward of the other divisions, and of course, remote from the French fleet, and little within reach to be of any assistance in case of a new engagement. On this consideration, Keppel made a signal for all the ships to the windward to resume their respective posts in the order of battle. Here a mistake happened, which prevented the execution of his orders. Palliser's ship, the Formidable, not having repeated the signal, the captains of the other ships understood that of Keppel as an order to rally in the wake of the commander of their own division, which they did accordingly. Meanwhile, the French continued drawn up, to leeward, in order of battle. Keppel renewed the same signal, but with no better success. Afterwards, about five in the evening, [Palliser says at seven, he commanded the captain of the frigate, Fox, to convey to Palliser a verbal message of the same import as the order he had already intimated by signals. It was still in vain ; neither the Formidable nor the other ships obeyed. On seeing this, and the day far spent, Keppel made the signal to each of the ships of Palliser to resume their stations in the line ; excepting, however, the Formidable, apparently from a certain regard to the rank, and particular functions of the vice-admiral. This time, his orders were executed ; but night came, and put an end to all possibility of further operations against the enemy. Such are the causes which prevented admiral Keppel from renewing the battle ; whether the disobedience of Palliser proceeded from the impossibility of managing his ships, disabled in the engagement, as seems probable, and as the court martial decided, in the solemn trial which followed, or that it was owing to any personal pique of that officer, who, being of the ministerial party, was politically at variance with Keppel. Be this as it may, the French thence took occasion to say, that from noon till night they offered battle to Keppel, who would not accept it. The fact in itself is incontestable ; but as to the intentions of the British admiral, it is certain that he WOL. II. 18

was well disposed to recommence the action, but was prevented by the obstacles we have just related. Satisfied with their conduct in this combat, and with its issue, which might be represented as a victory, a thing so important at this first epoch of the war, or finding the condition of their fleet too shattered to warrant their exposing themselves to the hazards of a second battle, the French profited in the night of a fair wind to recover their own coasts; and entered the next day with full sails into the port of Brest. They had, however, left in the place of battle, three ships with lights at the mast heads, to deceive the English into the belief that all their fleet was still there. At break of day, the French fleet was already at such a distance that it was only discernible from the mast heads of the largest ships in the British fleet; nothing remained in sight but the three vessels above mentioned. Keppel ordered the Prince George, the Robust, and another ship, to give them chase, but as they were good sailers, and the English had suffered extremely in their sails and rigging, this pursuit was fruitless. Admiral Keppel made the best of his way to Plymouth, where he purposed to repair the damages of his fleet; he left, however, some ships that had suffered the least, to protect the British trade, and especially the fleets which were expected. The English, in this action, had one hundred and forty killed, and about four hundred wounded. The loss of the French is uncertain ; but it is probable that it exceeded that of the English. Some private authorities lead to this belief, as also the throng of sailors and marines with which they are accustomed to fill their vessels. The two fleets proceeded again to sea the next month. But whether they mutually sought to meet each other, as they gave out, or that each endeavored to avoid the other, as it was reciprocally asserted, it is certain that they did not meet again. It is equally indisputable that the trade of England was effectually protected; while, on the other hand, an immense number of French vessels with rich and valuable cargoes, fell into the power of the enemy. These losses excited the complaints of the cities of Bordeaux, Nantz, Saint Malo, and Havre de Grace. Such was the issue of the battle of Ouessant, which commenced the European war. The English observed in it, to their great surprise, that the French not only fought with their accustomed valor, but that they displayed also no ordinary dexterity in profiting of the advantage of wind, in the management of their ships, and in their naval evolutions. Hence they could not but inser, that if they obtained successes in the present war, they would have to pay dearer for them than in the last. Public rejoicings were made in France, to animate the people, and inspire them with better hopes. The impression was quite

[ocr errors]

different in England; some complained of Keppel, others of Palliser, according to the various humors of the parties; all of fortune. After certain warm discussions, the admiral and vice-admiral were both put upon trial; but both were acquitted; the first, to the universal exultation of the people; the second to the particular gratification of the friends of the ministry.


« AnteriorContinuar »