Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

of his force to India, under general Meadows, and returned himself with the Romney, his frigates and rich prizes, to England. M. de Suffren having thrown a strong garrison into the Cape of Good Hope, continued his voyage for the East Indies. Thus the war which raged already in Europe, America, and Africa, was about to redouble its violence upon the distant banks of the Ganges. Meanwhile, Gibraltar continued to hold out; to the furious attack given that place, had succeeded an almost total calm. The gunboats, alone, profited of the obscurity of night, to keep the garrison in continual alarms. In order to restrain them, the governor caused his advanced batteries to be armed with guns and mortar pieces, peculiarly calculated to throw their shot to a great distance. As they could now reach the camp of St. Roch, every time the gunboats made their attacks, the Spanish lines were assailed by the most violent fire. Don Mendoza having perceived that general Elliot did thus by way of reprisal for the assaults of the gunboats, ordered the commanders of the flotilla to desist from all further insult against the place, and to keep their station quietly in the port of Algesiras. He enjoined them, however, to exert the greatest vigilance to prevent the entrance of supplies into the place. The Spaniards were indefatigable in pushing forward their trenches. They had now brought them quite to the foot of the rock, so that the circumvallation extended from right to left across the whole breadth of the isthmus by which the rock itself connects with the main land. They had excavated upon their left the mine of communication between their outer circumvallation and the parallels. General Elliot, full of security upon the summit of the rock he defended, unwilling to lavish his ammunition, without utility, had not disturbed the workmen. But when he saw that their works were completed, he resolved to destroy them by the most unexpected and vigorous sally. The twentyseventh of November, towards midnight, he issued from the place at the head of three brigades of infantry, commanded by general Ross. These troops were followed by a great number of pioneers, miners and engineers. The sally was conducted with suitable order and silence. The English appeared all of a sudden before the advanced guards, and routed them in a few instants; they found themselves masters of the first parallel and proceeded to destroy it. The engineers, furnished with combustible materials, set fire to every thing that was capable of receiving it. The carriages of the cannon were rendered unserviceable, and the pieces, including the mortars, were spiked with admirable promptitude. The workmen tore up the platforms and traverscs, and levelled the breastworks with the ground. All the magazines were successively consigned to the flames. A single half hour witnessed the destruction of those works which had been erected at so vast an expense of toil and treasure. The Spaniards, whether from the stupor of consternation, or supposing the enemy to be much stronger than he was in reality, were afraid to go out of their camp to repulse him. They contented themselves with keeping up an incessant, though harmless, fire with balls and grape-shot. The English, after having accomplished their purpose, returned sound and safe into the fortress. In the meantime, a project was conceived in Europe, the execution of which could not fail to give a severe shock to the British power in the Mediterranean. The Spaniards remained very ill satisfied with France; they believed themselves authorised to reproach her with having hitherto consulted exclusively her own interests, to the prejudice of her allies. They complained, with peculiar bitterness, that she had in no shape promoted the expeditions of Jamaica and Gibraltar, as if she were loath to see the prosperity of the Spanish arms in the seas of America and upon the European continent. The revictualling of Gibraltar, on the part of the English, by dint of force, without a single movement of any sort being made by the French to prevent it, and the despair experienced by the Spaniards at having consumed themselves in vain efforts for the reduction of that place, had prodigiously increased their ill humor, and caused it to degenerate into an open discontent. The Spanish people murmured in bold language; the court was become the object of the most vehement aninadversion. It was accused of having undertaken this expedition merely in subservience to the ambitious views of France, and not at all for the interests of the Spanish nation; the Spaniards called it a court war, a family war. Stimulated by the vivacity of these complaints, and reflecting moreover that the reduction, in whatever mode, of the British power, was the augmentation of her own, France took the resolution to give into some enterprise whose immediate fruit should be gathered by Spain. An expedition against Jamaica necessarily involving long delays, and a fresh attack upon Gibraltar promising no better than dubious results, it was determined to attempt an operation, the success of which appeared the more probable, as the English were far from expecting it; and that was, the conquest of the island of Minorca. If France had motives for wishing it with eagerness, it must have been still more desirable for the Spaniards. Minorca is so favorably situated for cruising, that it was become the habitual resort of an immense number of privateers. Their audacity was not confined to infesting the seas, and disturbing the navigation and commerce of the Spaniards and French ; they even intercepted neutral vessels employed in trafficing with these two nations; this island also served as a place of arms for the English. They deposited in it the munitions of war and provisions which they drew from the neighboring coasts of Africa, whether for the use of their shipping or for the consumption of Gibraltar. The facility of the enterprise was another persuasive invitation to attempt it. In effect, however imposing was Fort St. Philip, from its position and works, the garrison which guarded it was far from corresponding to the strength and importance of the place ; it consisted of only four regiments, two of them British and two Hanoverians, who all together did not exceed two thousand men. Notwithstanding the salubrity of the air, and the abundance of fresh provisions, these troops were infected with the scurvy. They were commanded by the generals Murray and Draper. In pursuance of the plan concerted between the courts of Versailles and Madrid, the count de Guichen departed from Brest, towards the last of June, with eighteen sail of the line, and repaired to the port of Cadiz, in order to join the Spanish fleet which awaited him there. He had under him two general officers of great reputation, M. de la Motte Piquet, and M. de Beausset. The Spanish fleet, commanded by don Lewis de Cordova, and by the two vice-admirals, don Gaston and don Vincent Droz, was composed of thirty ships of the line. A corps of ten thousand selected troops was embarked without any delay on board of this armament. It set sail the twenty-second of July, and after having been much thwarted by the winds, appeared in sight of Minorca the twentieth of August. The debarkation was effected in Musquito bay. The whole island was occupied without obstacle, including the city of Mahon, its capital. The garrison, too feeble to defend all these posts, had evacuated them, and thrown itself into Fort St. Philip. A little aster, four French regiments arrived from Toulon, under the conduct of the baron de Falkenhayn. The two courts had confided the general command of all the forces employed upon this expedition to the duke de Crillon, distinguished as well for his military knowledge, as for his courage and thirst of glory. He had entered into the service of Spain, and, as a Frenchman of illustrious birth, he was thought the most suitable personage to head the common enterprise. But the siege of Fort St. Philip presented difficulties of no ordinary magnitude. The works are cut in the solid rock, and mined in all their parts. The glacis, and covered way, likewise cut in the rock, are mined, countermined, palisaded, and surnished with batteries which defend their approaches. Around the fosse, which is twenty feet in depth, runs a covered and looped gallery, which affords a secure shelter to the garrison. Subterraneous communications are excavated between the outer works and the body of the place. In the latter, which forms a sort of labyrinth, are sunk deep wells with drawn covers, and barbacans pierce the walls in all directions. The castle itself, also surrounded by a countermined covered way, is defended not only by counterscarps and half moons, but also by a wall sixty feet high, and a fosse thirty-six feet deep. Finally, the nucleus, which is a square tower flanked by four bastions, presents walls eighty feet high, and a ditch forty feet deep, and cut in the rock. This ditch has also its corridor and lodges. In the centre of all is an esplanade for marshalling the garrison. Around it are con

structed the soldiers’ barracks, and magazines for the munitions, both bomb proof, and all wrought in the hard rock. To add to their safety, the English had totally rased the neighboring city of St. Philip. The allies approached the citadel with circumspection; its losty position overlooking all the adjacent country, it was not by scooping trenches, but by transporting and heaping earth, that they formed their parallels. They raised a wall of about two hundred feet in length, five in height, and six in thickness. This laborious construction was finished, without the besiegers having experienced any loss, as Murray did not attempt a single sally, whether in consequence of the weakness of the garrison, or from excess of confidence in the strength of the place. He contented himself with keeping up a fire of cannon and mortars, which produced no effect. The parallels being completed, the duke de Crillon unmasked his batteries, and fulminated the fortress with one hundred and eleven twenty-four pounders, and thirty-three mortar pieces opening thirteen inches of diameter. During the siege of Fort St. Philip, the combined fleets of France and Spain, amounting to near fifty sail of the line, under the count de Guichen, bent their course towards the coasts of England. The intention of the French admiral was to throw himself in the way of the British fleet, and to attack it. The great inferiority of the British rendered their defeat almost inevitable. The count de Guichen also designed by this movement, to prevent the enemy from passing succours from England to Minorca. He even hoped to cut off and capture the convoys that were then on their passage from the two Indies, bound for the ports of Great Britain. His views were likewise directed upon another convoy, which was assembled at the port of Cork, in Ireland, in order to watch its opportunity to make sail for the East and West Indies. Perhaps the French admiral was not without hopes that the sudden appearance of so formidable an armament upon the coasts of the British islands, might afford him an occasion to reach them with a stroke of the last importance. He hastened therefore to occupy the entrance of the channel in all its breadth, by extending his line from the isle of Ushant to those of Scilly. Admiral Darby was then at sea with twenty-one ships of the line, and on the way to meet his convoy. He had the good fortune to fall in with a neutral vessel, which apprised him of the approach of the combined squadrons. But for this intelligence, he must inevitably have fallen headlong into the midst of forces so superior to his own, that he could hardly have retained the smallest hope of safety. He instantly retired with all sails upon Torbay. He was there soon reenforced by several ships of the first rank, which carried his fleet to thirty sail of the line. He disposed his order of battle in the form of a crescent within the bay itself, although it is open, and little susceptible of defence. These dispositions, however, appeared to him WOL. II. 45

sufficient to repulse the enemy, in case they should present themselves. But the peril was really extreme; they menaced at once the fleet and the maritime cities. None was more exposed than Cork, an unfortified place, and containing immense magazines of every denomination. All England was thrown into a state of the most anxious alarm. The allied armament at length appeared in sight of Torbay. The count de Guichen immediately held a council of war, to deliberate upon the course to be pursued in the present conjuncture. His own opinion was in favor of attacking the British fleet in the position it now occupied. He alleged, that it might be considered as if caught in a net, and that a more auspicious occasion could never present itself for wresting from Great Britain the dominion of the sea. He represented what disgrace, what eternal regrets, would be incurred by allowing it to escape them. He maintained that the enemy, cramped in his movements within a bay, from which there was no outlet, must inevitably become the prey of the innumerable fire-ships with which the combined fleets might support their attack. Finally, he declared that the honor of the arms of the two allied sovereigns was staked upon the issue of this expedition. Don Vincent Droz not only concurred in the opinion of the admiral, but even offered to lead the attempt at the head of the vanguard. But M. de Beausset, the second in command, a seaman of high reputation, manifested a contrary opinion. He contended that the situation of the English squadron would enable it to fight them at their great disadvantage ; they could not attack it in a body, but must form their line ahead, and fall down singly upon the enemy. This would expose every ship to the collected fire of the whole British fleet, lying fast at anchor, and drawn up in such a manner as to point all its guns at any object within its reach. He concluded with observing, that since an attack under such circumstances could by no means be justified, it became expedient to bend their attention exclusively upon an expedition, which, though less brilliant, was certainly of great moment, the capture of the West India convoy, probably at that instant, not very far from the shores of Europe. Don Lewis de Cordova, and all the other Spanish officers, with the exception of don Vincent Droz, adopted the sentiment of M. de Beausset. The project of attacking the British fleet was therefore rejected by a majority of votes. But if the allies would not, or knew not how to, profit of the occasion which fortune had provided them, she seemed to take her revenge in baffling the designs to which they had given the preference. Contagious maladies began to rage on board their fleet, and especially on board the Spanish ships. The weather became shortly after so tempestuous, that the two admirals were obliged to think of their safety. The count de Guichen returned to Brest, and don Lewis de Cordova to Cadiz. The British convoys reached their ports without obstacles. Thus this second appearance of the allies upon the coasts of England proved as vain

« AnteriorContinuar »