« AnteriorContinuar »
BOOK Xi. THE AMERICAN WAR. 215
acceptable to the victors, who were much in want of supplies. General Prevost was then at Savannah, with only a part of his troops; the remainder were still in their cantonments, on the island of Port Royal, near the coast of Carolina. At sight of so pressing a danger, he sent orders by express to colonel Maitland, who commanded in that island, to rejoin him with all possible celerity. He likewise recalled the detachment that occupied Sunbury. The vessels at anchor in the Savannah were removed higher up, to secure them from the fire of the enemy, or sunk to obstruct his passage. Other impediments for the same purpose were planted in the river. The British also destroyed the batteries they had erected in the island of Tybee, and compelled the blacks to work without intermission at the sortifications. The seamen, who had been put ashore, joined the land troops, and were especially employed for the service of the artillery. The news of d'Estaing's arrival excited transports of exultation at Charleston. General Lincoln immediately commenced his march for Savannah at the head of a strong detachment. A great number of small craft were despatched to the French admiral, to facilitate the debarkation of troops upon the coast, which large vessels cannot approach very near. With the assistance of these light vessels, d' Estaing, who had anchored off the bar which lies at the mouth of the Savannah, was enabled to land his troops at Beaulieu, about thirteen miles from the town of Savannah. At the same time his frigates were occupied in taking possession of the lower river, and of the different inlets; approaching as near to the town and lines as the circumstances of water and defence would admit. On the fifteenth of September, the French appeared under the walls of Savannah. They were accompanied by Pulaski's legion, who had made a forced march to join them. After some slight skirmishes, general Prevost contracted all his posts within the cover of the artillery on the works. Colonel Maitland not being yet arrived, the garrison, far from being sufficient for acting offensively, were scarcely competent to the defence of the works. D'Estaing imperiously summoned Prevost to surrender the place; he announced in high language, that he commanded the same troops, a detachment of whom had recently taken the Hospital Hill, in Grenada, by storm; that he owed it to his humanity to remind him of it, after which, it could not be imputed to him, if he should not be able to restrain the fury of his soldiers, in the event of a fruitless resistance. The Americans observed with extreme displeasure and jealousy, that the summons was made exclusively in the name of the king of France. General Prevost reflecting that his reenforcements had not yet joined him, and that his lines were still in a very imperfect state of defence, thought it prudent to gain all the time that was possible, by pretending a willingness to negotiate a capitulation. He accordingly
216 THE AMERICAN WAR. BOOK XI.
answered the French admiral, that he neither could nor should surrender without being first made acquainted with the conditions, and that he begged him to be more explicit on that head. Messages passed backwards and forwards; and at length, so shrewd was Prevost, and so simple or so confident was d’Estaing, that a truce of twenty-sour hours was agreed upon, to afford time for deliberation. During this interval, colonel Maitland arrived with the troops from Port Royal, after having surmounted a variety of obstructions, and made his way through almost impassable swamps and morasses. On the junction of this reenforcement, upon which depended, in truth, the principal hope of defence, Prevost gave the French admiral to understand, that he should hold out to the last. Two days before, however, general Lincoln had joined the camp of the besiegers with about three thousand men, among regular troops and militia. The French amounted to between four and five thousand. The garrison, including sailors and loyalists, consisted of about three thousand men; the French established their quarters to the right, and the Americans to the left of the place. After the refusal of the British commander to surrender upon the first summons, the allies could not expect that a mere assault should triumph over a formidable garrison, intrenched behind works which they strengthened every day. It was, therefore, resolved to commence a regular siege. The trenches were opened immediately, and were carried on with so much vigor, that by the twentyfourth of September, a sap had been pushed to within three hundred yards of the abattis, on the left flank of the town. The besieged were active in their endeavors to interrupt the works; but their efforts were ineffectual. Finally, the trenches being completed, and the batteries arined, the bombardment commenced in the night of the third of October; the fire became still more violent at daybreak on the morning of the fourth, when thirty-seven pieces of cannon and nine mortars were unmasked ; while sixteen other pieces of cannon enfiladed the works from the shipping. To increase the terror, the besiegers lanched carcasses into the town, which burned several houses. Five entire days of this tempestuous fire caused infinite mischief to the town, but made little impression upon the fortifications, which the besieged repaired with diligence, wherever they were at all damaged. It even seemed, that amidst the storm of balls and bombs, they daily acquired new strength and solidity. The garrison, and such of the inhabitants as joined the troops in defending the ramparts, received little injury. But the fate of the women, children, and unarmed multitude, was indeed worthy of pity. Their lives were continually threatened by the fall of their burning roofs. Many perished, others, more unfortunate, were miserably crippled. Touched by their distress, general Prevost wrote to d' Estaing, requesting permission that they should be sent aboard ships down the river, and placed under the protection of a French ship of war, in which state they were to continue until the business of the siege should be decided. At the same time acquainting him, that his own wife and family should be among the first to profit of the indulgence. The anticipation of such a request was more to have been expected from a generous enemy than its resusal; since the reduction of the place depended on force, and not on samine. But the French admiral, whether he acted of himself or at the instigation of general Lincoln, who, like all the inhabitants of Massachusetts, carried the spirit of party to the extreme, after a delay of three hours, returned a haughty answer to this demand. He objected that Prevost had deceived him by the truce, and that his present proposition very probably concealed a new artifice. He suspected him of intending by this stratagem to cover the rich spoils of Carolina. He assured him, finally, that he sincerely lamented the unhappy condition of the individuals for whom he petitioned, but that general Prevost must impute it wholly to himself, and those illusions which had darkened his understanding. Whatever was the ability of the British engineers, and especially that of captain Moncriefle, who rendered eminent services in this siege; whatever was the valor with which the garrison defended the breaches, incessantly repaired by their exertions, the British general could have had little hope of holding out long, and still less of a successful defence, if the enemy had persevered in his gradual approaches. But d'Estaing experienced great difficulties. Far from expecting to encounter so obstinate a resistance under the walls of Savannah, he had calculated with such confidence on a prompt surrender, that he had come to anchor with his fleet of heavy capital ships, upon an inhospitable coast, and in a most critical season of the year. He had even signified to the Americans, that he could not remain on shore more than eight or ten days. Twenty were already elapsed since the siege had commenced, and still there appeared no immediate prospect of its termination. The season was growing worse every day, and the naval officers were continually representing to their admiral the perils to which he would expose the ships and troops of the king, if he persisted any longer in the prosecution of this expedition. It might also happen, that a British fleet would arrive with every advantage united, and force the French squadron to engage, at a moment when a part of its crews and artillery were thus employed in the siege of Savannah. Under these considerations, although the trenches were not yet carried to the requisite perfection, and though no considerable breach had been opened, the count d'Estaing resolved to attempt the assault. Necessity now urged him to this extreme counsel, after having delayed to embrace it when at his landing he had sound the works not yet completed, and the garrison not yet reenforced by colonel Maitland.
He consulted with general Lincoln upon the plan of attack; it was determined to direct it against the right flank of the place. On this side, a swampy hollow way might bring the besiegers under cover to within fifty yards of some of the principal works, and, at some points still nearer.
The ninth of October, before day, the count d'Estaing and general Lincoln, having formed the flower of both armies in three columns, advanced by the hollow way to reconnoitre the point of attack. But through the darkness, they took a greater circuit to the left, and got deeper in the bog than they needed or intended to have done ; a circumstance which, besides the loss of time, could scarcely fail of producing some disorder in the columns. They, however, soon formed anew, approached the foot of the walls, and mounted to the assault with incredible spirit and audacity. It is said, that the English had notice of it the preceding evening, and that they were, consequently, prepared. It is certain, at least, that they defended themselves with a vigor not inferior to that which assailed them. A redoubt on the Ebenezer road became the scene of the most terrible conflict. But every where the same courage was displayed, and no where could it be conjectured which of the parties victory was disposed to crown. D'Estaing and Lincoln were at the head of their columns, exposed to the most violent fire. Prevost, Maitland and Moncrieffe, displayed an equal ardor; they continually stimulated their soldiers to repulse from their walls, to exterminate these rebels to the king, and those inveterate enemies of the British name. The combat was supported for above an hour with the same fury. But little by little the assailants became exhausted by their efforts. They were excessively galled by the artillery, which Moncrieffe had disposed with extreme dexterity, and which assailed them in almost every direction with a deluge of balls and grape-shot. The violence of the attack abated, and the besieged hailed the moment in which they saw their safety in their own hands. They made a vigorous sally ; a corps of grenadiers and marines was at the head of the column which, in a few instants, swept the ramparts and ditches. Not content with this first success, and hurried on by their impetuosity, the English pursued their enemies, and drove them in the greatest confusion through the abattis into the hollow we have mentioned. This movement was executed with such rapidity, that the reenforcements which Prevost had pushed forward could not arrive in time to take part in it. Nor should it be omitted, that in the height of the assault, the count Pulaski, at the head of two hundred light horse, charging at full speed, attempted to penetrate into the town, in order to assail the British in rear. But he received a mortal wound; his troop, on seeing him fall, were discouraged and fell back.
When the fog and smoke were dissipated, which had darkened the air during the combat, horrible was the spectacle that discovered itself. Heaps of dead and dying covered the ground, and particularly near the Ebenezer redoubt; streams of blood rilled from the wrecks; lamentable cries arose on every side. The allies requested a truce with leave to bury the dead, and carry off the wounded; the first was granted, but a restriction laid in point of distance as to the rest. The assault of Savannah cost the allies a great sacrifice of men. The loss of the French in killed and wounded amounted to upwards of seven hundred ; more than forty of whom were officers. Among the wounded were d’Estaing himself, the viscounts de Fontange and de Bethizy, and the baron de Steding. The Americans lost in slain and wounded about four hundred. The loss on the British side, as they sought secure, was inconsiderable. Great civilities now passed between the French camp and the British lines, and many apologies were made for the answer returned general Prevost with respect to the women and children. They were now pressed to place themselves in the situation which they had then requested; the Chimera, commanded by the chevalier de St. Rumain, was named for the reception of the general's wife, her children and company. Prevost answered with a certain bluntness, that what had been once refused, and that in terms of insult, could not in any circumstance be deemed worth the acceptance. A few days after died the count Pulaski, a Pole of illustrious birth. Finding no opportunity in his own country to employ his sword in the defence of liberty, of which he was one of the most zealous partisans, he took the generous resolution to repair to the succour of the cause he adored in America. If he lost life there, he also left a name revered by all the brave. It is related, that when his death was announced to the king of Poland, he exclaimed ; “Pulaski! always valiant, but always foe to kings.’ It cannot be denied that king Stanislaus had good reason to complain of him. The Congress decreed him a monument. : The eighteenth of October, the allied army raised the siege of Savannah; its retreat was effected so precipitately that it was inpossible for the English to pursue it. General Lincoln passed his regular troops to the left bank of the Savannah, the militia disbanded. The French reembarked with all their troops, artillery and stores. The count d'Estaing immediately set sail to clear the coasts of America. His intention was to return to Europe with a part of his fleet, and to send the remainder to the West indies; but a violent storm dispersed his ships, and he had great difficulty in getting them together again. Such was the issue of the count d’Estaing's campaign upon the coasts of North America, of that campaign in which the allies had placed such sanguine hopes. After missing the expedition of the