The Influence of Sea Power upon History/Chapter XI

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The Influence of Sea Power upon History by Alfred Thayer Mahan
Chapter XI
Chapter XI.
Maritime War in Europe, 1779-1782.

The last chapter closed with the opinions of Washington. expressed in many ways and at many times, as to the effect of sea power upon the struggle for American independence. If space allowed, these opinions could be amply strengthened by similar statements of Sir Henry Clinton, the English commander-in-chief.[1] In Europe the results turned yet more entirely upon the same factor. There the allies had three several objectives, at each of which England stood strictly upon the defensive. The first of these was England herself, involving, as a preliminary to an invasion, the destruction of the Channel fleet,--a project which, if seriously entertained, can scarcely be said to have been seriously attempted; the second was the reduction of Gibraltar; the third, the capture of Minorca. The last alone met with success. Thrice was England threatened by a largely superior fleet, thrice the threat fell harmless. Thrice was Gibraltar reduced to straits; thrice was it relieved by the address and fortune of English seamen, despite overpowering odds.

After Keppel's action off Ushant, no general encounter took place between fleets in European seas during the year 1778 and the first half of 1779. Meantime Spain was drawing toward a rupture with England and an active alliance with France. War was declared by her on the 16th of June, 1779; but as early as April 12, a treaty between the two Bourbon kingdoms, involving active war upon England, had been signed. By its terms the invasion of Great Britain or Ireland was to be undertaken, every effort made to recover for Spain, Minorca, Pensacola, and Mobile, and the two courts bound themselves to grant neither peace, nor truce, nor suspension of hostilities, until Gibraltar should be restored.[2]

The declaration of war was withheld until ready to strike but the English government, doubtless, should have been upon its guard in the strained relations of the two countries, and prepared to prevent a junction of the two fleets. As it was, no efficient blockade of Brest was established, and twenty-eight French sail-of-the-line went out unopposed[3] June 3, 1779, under D'Orvilliers, Keppel's opponent of the year before. The fleet steered for the coasts of Spain, where it was to find the Spanish ships; but it was not till the 22d of July that the full contingent joined. Seven precious summer weeks thus slipped by unimproved, but that was not all the loss; the French had been provisioned for only thirteen weeks, and this truly great armada of sixty-six ships-of-the-line and fourteen frigates had not more than forty working-days before it. Sickness, moreover, ravaged the fleet; and although it was fortunate enough to enter the Channel while the English were at sea, the latter, numbering little more than half their enemies, succeeded in passing within them. The flabbiness of coalitions increased the weakness due to inefficient preparation; a great and not unnatural panic on the English Channel coast, and the capture of one ship-of-the-line, were the sole results of a cruise extending, for the French, over fifteen weeks.[4] The disappointment, due to bad preparation, mainly on the part of Spain, though the French ministry utterly failed to meet the pressing wants of its fleet, fell, of course, upon the innocent Admiral d'Orvilliers. That brave and accomplished but unfortunate officer, whose only son, a lieutenant, had died of the pestilence which scourged the allies, could not support the odium. Being of a deeply religious character, the refuge which Villeneuve after Trafalgar found in suicide was denied him; but he threw up his command and retired into a religious house.

The scanty maritime interest of the year 1780, in Europe, centres round Cadiz and Gibraltar. This fortress was invested by Spain immediately upon the outbreak of war, and, while successfully resisting direct attack, the supply of provisions and ammunition was a matter of serious concern to England, and involved both difficulty and danger. For this purpose, Rodney sailed on the 29th of December, 1779, having under his command twenty slips-of-the-line with a large convoy and reinforcements for Gibraltar and Minorca, as well as the West India trade. The latter parted company on the 7th of January, under the came of four frigates, and the following morning the fleet fell in with and captured a Spanish squadron of seven ships-of-war and sixteen supply-ships. Twelve of the latter being laden with provisions were carried off to Gibraltar. A week later, at one P.M. of the 16th, a Spanish fleet of eleven sail-of-the-line was seen in the southeast. They held their ground, supposing the approaching vessels to be only supply-ships for Gibraltar, without a strong force of men-of-war,--an unfortunate error from which they did not awake until too late to escape, owing to the yet more unfortunate oversight of having no lookout frigates thrown out. When the Spanish admiral, Don Juan de Langara, recognized his mistake, he attempted to escape; but the English ships were copper-bottomed, and Rodney making the signal for a general chase overtook the enemy, cut in between him and his port, regardless of a blowy night, lee shore, and dangerous shoals, and succeeded in capturing the commander-in-chief with six ships-of-the-line. A seventh was blown up. The weather continuing very tempestuous, one of the prizes was wrecked, and one forced into Cadiz; several of the English ships were also in great danger, but happily escaped, and within a few days the entire force entered Gibraltar Bay. The convoy for Minorca was at once despatched, and immediately after the return of the ships-of-war guarding it, on the 13th of February, Rodney sailed for the West Indies with four ships-of-the-line, sending the rest of his force, with the prizes, to England under Admiral Digby.

The state of politics and parties in England at this time was such that, combined with the unavoidable inferiority of the Channel fleet, it was difficult to find an admiral willing to accept the chief command. An admirable officer, Barrington, the captor of Sta. Lucia, refused the first place, though willing to serve as second, even to a junior.[5] The allied fleet, to the number of thirty-six sail-of-the-line, assembled at Cadiz. Their cruises, however, were confined to the Portuguese coast; and their only service, a most important one, was the capture of an entire convoy, largely laden with military stores, for the East and West Indies. The entrance of sixty English prizes, with nearly three thousand prisoners, into Cadiz, was a source of great rejoicing to Spain. On the 24th of October, De Guichen, returning from his contest with Rodney, came into the same port with his West Indian squadron, of nineteen ships-of-the-line; but the immense armament thus assembled did nothing. The French ships returned to Brest in January, 1781.

While thus unproductive of military results in Europe, the war in 1780 gave rise to an event which cannot wholly be passed over by any history of sea power. This was the Armed Neutrality, at the head of which stood Russia, joined by Sweden and Denmark. The claim of England to seize enemy's goods in neutral ships bore hard upon neutral powers, and especially upon those of the Baltic and upon Holland, into whose hands, and those of the Austrian Netherlands, the war had thrown much of the European carrying-trade; while the products of the Baltic, naval stores and grain, were those which England was particularly interested in forbidding to her enemies. The declarations finally put forth by Russia, and signed by Sweden and Denmark, were four in number:

1. That neutral vessels had a right, not only to sail to unblockaded ports, but also from port to port of a belligerent nation; in other words, to maintain the coasting trade of a belligerent.

2. That property belonging to the subjects of a power at war should be safe on board neutral vessels. This was the principle involved in the now familiar maxim, "Free ships make free goods."

3. That no articles are contraband, except arms, equipments, and munitions of war. This ruled out naval stores and provisions unless belonging to the government of a belligerent.

4. That blockades, to be binding, must have an adequate naval force stationed in close proximity to the blockaded port.

The contracting parties being neutral in the present war, but binding themselves to support these principles by a combined armed fleet of a fixed minimum number, the agreement received the name of the Armed Neutrality. The discussion of the propriety of the various declarations belongs to International law; but it is evident that no great maritime State situated as England then was, would submit to the first and third as a matter of right. Policy only could induce her to do so. Without meeting the declarations by a direct contradiction, the ministry and the king determined to disregard them,--a course which was sustained in principle even by prominent members of the bitter opposition of that day. The undecided attitude of the United Provinces, divided as in the days of Louis XIV. between the partisans of England and France, despite a century of alliance with the former, drew the especial attention of Great Britain. They had been asked to join the Armed Neutrality; they hesitated, but the majority of the provinces favored it. A British officer had already gone so far as to fire upon a Dutch man-of-war which had resisted the search of merchant-ships under its convoy; an act which, whether right or wrong, tended to incense the Dutch generally against England. It was determined by the latter that if the United Provinces acceded to the coalition of neutrals, war should be declared. On the 16th of December, 1780, the English ministry was informed that the States-General had resolved to sign the declarations of the Armed Neutrality without delay. Orders were at once sent out to Rodney to seize the Dutch West India and South American possessions; similar orders to the East Indies; and the ambassador at the Hague was recalled. England declared war four days later. The principal effect, therefore, of the Armed Neutrality upon the war was to add the colonies and commerce of Holland to the prey of English cruisers. The additional enemy was of small account to Great Britain, whose geographical position effectually blocked the junction of the Dutch fleet with those of her other enemies. The possessions of Holland fell everywhere, except when saved by the French; while a bloody but wholly uninstructive battle between English and Dutch squadrons in the North Sea, in August, 1781, was the only feat of arms illustrative of the old Dutch courage and obstinacy.

The year 1781, decisive of the question of the independence of the United States, was marked in the European seas by imposing movements of great fleets followed by puny results. At the end of March De Grasse sailed from Brest with twenty-six ships-of-the-line. On the 29th he detached five under Suffren to the East Indies, and himself continued on to meet success at Yorktown and disaster in the West Indies. On the 23d of June De Guichen sailed from Brest with eighteen ships-of-the-line for Cadiz, where he joined thirty Spanish ships. This immense armament sailed on the 22d of July for the Mediterranean, landed fourteen thousand troops at Minorca, and then moved upon the English Channel.

The English had this year first to provide against the danger to Gibraltar. That beset fortress had had no supplies since Rodney's visit, in January of the year before, and was now in sure want, the provisions being scanty and bad, the biscuits weevilly, and the meat tainted. Amid the horrors and uproar of one of the longest and most exciting sieges of history, the sufferings of the combatants were intensified by the presence of many peaceful inhabitants, including the wives and families of soldiers as well as of officers. A great fleet of twenty-eight ships-of-the-line sailed from Portsmouth on the 13th of March, convoying three hundred merchant-ships for the East and West Indies, besides ninety-seven transports and supply-ships for the Rock. A delay on the Irish coast prevented its falling in with De Grasse, who had sailed nine days after it. Arriving off Cape St. Vincent, it met no enemy, and looking into Cadiz saw the great Spanish fleet at anchor. The latter made no move, and the English admiral, Derby, threw his supplies into Gibraltar on the 12th of April, undisturbed, At the same time he, like De Grasse, detached to the East Indies a small squadron, which was destined before long to fall in with Suffren. The inaction of the Spanish fleet, considering the eagerness of its government about Gibraltar and its equal if not superior numbers, shows scanty reliance of the Spanish admiral upon himself or his command. Derby, having relieved Gibraltar and Minorca, returned to the Channel in May.

Upon the approach of the combined fleet of nearly fifty sail in August following, Derby fell back upon Torbay and there anchored his fleet, numbering thirty ships. De Guichen, who held chief command, and whose caution when engaged with Rodney has been before remarked, was in favor of fighting; but the almost unanimous opposition of the Spaniards, backed by some of his own officers, overruled him in a council of war,[6] and again the great Bourbon coalition fell back, foiled by their own discord and the unity of their enemy. Gibraltar relieved, England untouched, were the results of these gigantic gatherings; they can scarcely be called efforts. A mortifying disaster closed the year for the allies. De Guichen sailed from Brest with seventeen sail, protecting a large convoy of merchantmen and ships with military supplies. The fleet was pursued by twelve English ships under Admiral Kempenfeldt, an officer whose high professional abilities have not earned the immortality with which poetry has graced his tragical death. Falling in with the French one hundred and fifty miles west of Ushant, he cut off a part of the convoy, despite his inferior numbers.[7] A few days later a tempest dispersed the French fleet. Only two ships-of-the-line and five merchantmen out of one hundred and fifty reached the West Indies.

The year 1782 opened with the loss to the English of Port Mahon, which surrendered on the 5th of February, after a siege of six months,--a surrender induced by the ravages of scurvy, consequent upon the lack of vegetables, and confinement in the foul air of bombproofs and casemates, under the heavy fire of an enemy. On the last night of the defence the call for necessary guards was four hundred and fifteen, while only six hundred and sixty men were fit for duty, thus leaving no reliefs.

The allied fleets assembled this year in Cadiz, to the number of forty ships-of-the-line. It was expected that this force would be increased by Dutch ships, but a squadron under Lord Howe drove the latter back to their ports. It does not certainly appear that any active enterprise was intended against the English coast; but the allies cruised off the mouth of the Channel and in the Bay of Biscay during the summer months. Their presence insured the safe arrival and departure of the homeward and outward bound merchantmen, and likewise threatened English commerce; notwithstanding which, Howe, with twenty-two ships, not only kept the sea and avoided an engagement, but also succeeded in bringing the Jamaica fleet safe into port. The injury to trade and to military transportation by sea may be said to have been about equal on either side; and the credit for successful use of sea power for these most important ends must therefore be given to the weaker party.

Having carried out their orders for the summer cruise, the combined fleets returned to Cadiz. On the 10th of September they sailed thence for Algesiras, on the opposite side of the bay from Gibraltar, to support a grand combined attack by land and sea, which, it was hoped, would reduce to submission the key to the Mediterranean. With the ships already there, the total rose to nearly fifty ships-of-the-line. The details of the mighty onslaught scarcely belong to our subject, yet cannot be wholly passed by without at least such mention as may recognize and draw attention to their interest.

The three years' siege which was now drawing to its end had been productive of many brilliant feats of arms, as well as of less striking but more trying proofs of steadfast endurance, on the part of the garrison. How long the latter might have held out cannot be said, seeing the success with which the English sea power defied the efforts of the allies to cut off the communications of the fortress; but it was seemingly certain that the place must be subdued by main force or not at all, while the growing exhaustion of the belligerents foretold the near end of the war. Accordingly Spain multiplied her efforts of preparation and military ingenuity; while the report of them and of the approaching decisive contest drew to the scene volunteers and men of eminences from other countries of Europe. Two French Bourbon princes added, by their coming, to the theatrical interest with which the approaching drama was invested. The presence of royalty was needed adequately to grace the sublime catastrophe; for the sanguine confidence of the besiegers had determined a satisfactory denouement with all the security of a playwright.

Besides the works on the isthmus which joins the Rock to the mainland, where three hundred pieces of artillery were now mounted, the chief reliance of the assailants was upon ten floating batteries elaborately contrived to be shot and fire proof, and carrying one hundred and fifty-four heavy guns. These were to anchor in a close north-and-south line along the west face of the works, at about nine hundred yards distance. They were to be supported by forty gunboats and as many bomb vessels, besides the efforts of the ships-of-the-line to cover the attack and distract the garrison. Twelve thousand French troops were brought to reinforce the Spaniards in the grand assault, which was to be made when the bombardment had sufficiently injured and demoralized the defenders. At this time the latter numbered seven thousand, their land opponents thirty-three thousand men.

The final act was opened by the English. At seven o'clock on the morning of September 8, 1782, the commanding general, Elliott, began a severe and most injurious fire upon the works on the isthmus. Having effected his purpose, he stopped but the enemy took up the glove the next morning, and for four days successively poured in a fire from the isthmus alone of six thousand five hundred cannon-balls and one thousand one hundred bombs every twenty-four-hours. So approached the great closing scene of September 13. At seven A.M. of that day the ten battering-ships unmoored from the head of the bay and stood down to their station. Between nine and ten they anchored, and the general fire at once began. The besieged replied with equal fury. The battering-ships seem in the main, and for some hours, to have justified the hopes formed of them; cold shot glanced or failed to get through their sides, while the self-acting apparatus for extinguishing fires balked the hot shot.

About two o'clock, however, smoke was seen to issue from the ship of the commander-in-chief, and though controlled for some time, the fire continued to gain. The same misfortune befell others; by evening, the fire of the besieged gained a marked superiority, and by one o'clock in the morning the greater part of the battering-ships were in flames. Their distress was increased by the action of the naval officer commanding the English gunboats, who now took post upon the flank of the line and raked it effectually,--a service which the Spanish gunboats should have prevented. In the end, nine of the ten blew up at their anchors, with a loss estimated at fifteen hundred men, four hundred being saved from the midst of the fire by the English seamen. The tenth ship was boarded and burned by the English boats. The hopes of the assailants perished with the failure of the battering-ships.

There remained only the hope of starving out the garrison. To this end the allied fleets now gave themselves. It was known that Lord Howe was on his way out with a great fleet, numbering thirty-four ships-of-the-line, besides supply vessels.

On the 10th of October a violent westerly gale injured the combined ships, driving one ashore under the batteries of Gibraltar, where she was surrendered. The next day Howe's force came in sight, and the transports had a fine chance to make the anchorage, which, through carelessness, was missed by all but four. The rest, with the men-of-war, drove eastward into the Mediterranean. The allies followed on the 13th; but though thus placed between the port and the relieving force, and not encumbered, like the latter, with supply-ships, they yet contrived to let the transports, with scarcely an exception, slip in and anchor safely. Not only provisions and ammunition, but also bodies of troops carried by the ships-of-war, were landed without molestation. On the 19th the English fleet repassed the straits with an easterly wind, having within a week's the fulfilled its mission, and made Gibraltar safe for another year. The allied fleet followed, and on the 20th an action took place at long range, the allies to windward, but not pressing their attack close. The number of ships engaged in this magnificent spectacle, the closing scene of the great drama in Europe, the after-piece to the successful defence of Gibraltar, was eighty-three of the line,--forty-nine allies and thirty-four English. Of the former, thirty-three only got into action; but as the duller sailers would have come up to a general engagement, Lord Howe was probably right in declining, so far as in him lay, a trial which the allies did not too eagerly court.

Such were the results of this great contest in the European seas, marked on the part of the allies by efforts gigantic in size, but loose-jointed and flabby in execution. By England, so heavily overmatched in mere numbers, were shown firmness of purpose, high courage, and seamanship; but it can scarcely be said that the military conceptions of her councils, or the cabinet management of her sea forces, were worthy of the skill and devotion of her seamen. The odds against her were not so great--not nearly so great--as the formidable lists of guns and ships seemed to show; and while allowance must justly be made for early hesitations, the passing years of indecision and inefficiency on the part of the allies should have betrayed to her their weakness. The reluctance of the French to risk their ships, so plainly shown by D'Estaing, De Grasse, and De Guichen, the sluggishness and inefficiency of the Spaniards, should have encouraged England to pursue her old policy, to strike at the organized forces of the enemy afloat. As a matter of fact, and probably from the necessities of the case, the opening of every campaign found the enemies separated,--the Spaniards in Cadiz, the French in Brest.[8] To blockade the latter in full force before they could get out, England should have strained every effort; thus she would have stopped at its head the main stream of the allied strength, and, by knowing exactly where this great body was, would have removed that uncertainty as to its action which fettered her own movements as soon as it had gained the freedom of the open sea. Before Brest she was interposed between the allies; by her lookouts she would have known the approach of the Spaniards long before the French could know it; she would have kept in her hands the power of bringing against each, singly, ships more numerous and individually more effective. A wind that was fair to bring on the Spaniards would have locked their allies in the port. The most glaring instances of failure on the part of England to do this were when De Grasse was permitted to get out unopposed in March, 1781; for an English fleet of superior force had sailed from Portsmouth nine days before him, but was delayed by the admiralty on the Irish coast;[9] and again at the end of that year, when Kempenfeldt was sent to intercept De Guichen with an inferior force, while ships enough to change the odds were kept at home. Several of the ships which were to accompany Rodney to the West Indies were ready when Kempenfeldt sailed, yet they were not associated with an enterprise so nearly affecting the objects of Rodney's campaign. The two forces united would have made an end of De Guichen's seventeen ships and his invaluable convoy.

Gibraltar was indeed a heavy weight upon the English operations, but the national instinct which clung to it was correct. The fault of the English policy was in attempting to hold so many other points of land, while neglecting, by rapidity of concentration, to fall upon any of the detachments of the allied fleets. The key of the situation was upon the ocean; a great victory there would have solved all the other points in dispute. But it was not possible to win a great victory while trying to maintain a show of force everywhere.[10]

North America was a yet heavier clog, and there undoubtedly the feeling of the nation was mistaken; pride, not wisdom, maintained that struggle. Whatever the sympathies of individuals and classes in the allied nations, by their governments American rebellion was valued only as a weakening of England's arm. The operations there depended, as has been shown, upon the control of the sea; and to maintain that, large detachments of English ships were absorbed from the contest with France and Spain. Could a successful war have made America again what it once was, a warmly attached dependency of Great Britain, a firm base for her sea power, it would have been worth much greater sacrifices; but that had become impossible. But although she had lost, by her own mistakes, the affection of the colonists, which would have supported and secured her hold upon their ports and sea-coast, there nevertheless remained to the mother-country, in Halifax, Bermuda, and the West Indies, enough strong military stations, inferior, as naval bases, only to those strong ports which are surrounded by a friendly country, great in its resources and population. The abandonment of the contest in North America would have strengthened England very much more than the allies. As it was, her large naval detachments there were always liable to be overpowered by a sudden move of the enemy from the sea, as happened in 1778 and 1781.

To the abandonment of America as hopelessly lost, because no military subjection could have brought back the old loyalty, should have been added the giving up, for the time, all military occupancy which fettered concentration, while not adding to military strength. Most of the Antilles fell under this head, and the ultimate possession of them would depend upon the naval campaign. Garrisons could have been spared for Barbadoes and Sta. Lucia, for Gibraltar and perhaps for Mahon, that could have effectually maintained them until the empire of the seas was decided; and to them could have been added one or two vital positions in America, like New York and Charleston, to be held only till guarantees were given for such treatment of the loyalists among the inhabitants as good faith required England to exact.

Having thus stripped herself of every weight, rapid concentration with offensive purpose should have followed. Sixty ships-of-the-line on the coast of Europe, half before Cadiz and half before Brest, with a reserve at home to replace injured ships, would not have exhausted by a great deal the roll of the English navy and that such fleets would not have had to fight, may not only be said by us, who have the whole history before us, but might have been inferred by those who had watched the tactics of D'Estaing and De Guichen, and later on of De Grasse. Or, had even so much dispersal been thought unadvisable, forty ships before Brest would have left the sea open to the Spanish fleet to try conclusions with the rest of the English navy when the question of controlling Gibraltar and Mahon came up for decision. Knowing what we do of the efficiency of the two services, there can be little question of the result; and Gibraltar, instead of a weight, would, as often before and since those days, have been an element of strength to Great Britain.

The conclusion continually recurs. Whatever may be the determining factors in strifes between neighboring continental States, when a question arises of control over distant regions, politically weak,-- whether they be crumbling empires, anarchical republics, colonies, isolated military posts, or islands below a certain size,--it must ultimately be decided by naval power, by the organized military force afloat, which represents the communications that form so prominent a feature in all strategy. The magnificent defence of Gibraltar hinged upon this; upon this depended the military results of the war in America; upon this the final fate of the West India Islands; upon this certainly the possession of India. Upon this will depend the control of the Central American Isthmus, if that question take a military coloring; and though modified by the continental position and surroundings of Turkey, the same sea power must be a weighty factor in shaping the outcome of the Eastern Question in Europe.

If this be true, military wisdom and economy, both of time and money, dictate bringing matters to an issue as soon as possible upon the broad sea, with the certainty that the power which achieves military preponderance there will win in the end. In the war of the American Revolution the numerical preponderance was very great against England; the actual odds were less, though still against her. Military considerations would have ordered the abandonment of the colonies; but if the national pride could not stoop to this, the right course was to blockade the hostile arsenals. If not strong enough to be in superior force before both, that of the more powerful nation should have been closed. Here was the first fault of the English admiralty; the statement of the First Lord as to the available force at the outbreak of the war was not borne out by facts. The first fleet, under Keppel, barely equalled the French; and at the same time Howe's force in America was inferior to the fleet under D'Estaing. In 1779 and 1781, on the contrary, the English fleet was superior to that of the French alone; yet the allies joined unopposed, while in the latter year De Grasse got away to the West Indies, and Suffren to the East. In Kempenfeldt's affair with De Guichen, the admiralty knew that the French convoy was of the utmost importance to the campaign in the West Indies, yet they sent out their admiral with only twelve ships; while at that time, besides the reinforcement destined for the West Indies, a number of others were stationed in the Downs, for what Fox justly called "the paltry purpose" of distressing the Dutch trade. The various charges made by Fox in the speech quoted from, and which, as regarded the Franco-Spanish War, were founded mainly on the expediency of attacking the allies before they got away into the ocean wilderness, were supported by the high professional opinion of Lord Howe, who of the Kempenfeldt affair said: "Not only the fate of the West India Islands, but perhaps the whole future fortune of the war, might have been decided, almost without a risk, in the Bay of Biscay."[11] Not without a risk, but with strong probabilities of success, the whole fortune of the war should at the first have been staked on a concentration of the English fleet between Brest and Cadiz. No relief for Gibraltar would have been more efficacious; no diversion surer for the West India Islands; and the Americans would have appealed in vain for the help, scantily given as it was, of the French fleet. For the great results that flowed from the coming of De Grasse must not obscure the fact that he came on the 31st of August, and announced from the beginning that he must be in the West Indies again by the middle of October. Only a providential combination of circumstances prevented a repetition to Washington, in 1781, of the painful disappointments by D'Estaing and De Guichen in 1778 and 1780.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. The curious reader can consult Clinton's letters and notes, in the "Clinton Cornwallis Controversy," by B. F. Stevens. London, 1888.
  2. Bancroft: History of the United States, vol. x. p. 191.
  3. Although the English thus culpable failed to use their superiority to the French alone, the Channel fleet numbering over forty of the line, the fear that it might prevent the junction caused the Brest fleet to sail in haste and undermanned,--a fact which had an important effect upon the issue of the Cruise. (Chevalier, p. 159.)
  4. The details of the mismanagement of this huge mob of ships are so numerous as to confuse a narrative, and are therefore thrown into a foot-note. The French fleet was hurried to sea four thousand men short. The original orders to D'Orvilliers contemplated a landing at Portsmouth, or the seizure of the Isle of Wight, for which a large army was assembled on the coast of Normandy. Upon reaching the Channel, these orders were suddenly changed, and Falmouth indicated as the point of landing. By this time, August 16, summer was nearly over; and Falmouth, if taken, would offer no shelter to a great fleet. Then an easterly gale drove the fleet out of the Channel. By this time the sickness which raged had so reduced the crews that many ships could be neither handled nor fought. Ships companies of eight hundred or a thousand men could muster only from three to five hundred. Thus bad administration crippled the fighting powers of the fleet while the unaccountable military blunder of changing the objective from a safe and accessible roadstead to a fourth-rate and exposed harbor completed the disaster by taking away the only hope of a secure base of operations during the fall and winter months. France then had no first-class Port on the Channel; hence the violent westerly gales which prevail in the autumn and winter would have driven the allies into the North Sea.
  5. Life of Admiral Keppel, vol. ii pp. 72, 346. 403. See also Barrow: Life of Lord Howe, pp. 123-125.
  6. Beatson gives quite at length (vol. v. p. 395) the debate in the allied council of war. The customary hesitation of such councils, in face of the difficulties of the situation, was increased by an appeal to the delusion of commerce-destroying as a decisive mode of warfare. M. de Beausset urged that "the allied fleets should direct their whole attention to that great and attainable object, the intercepting of the British homeward-bound West India fleets. This was a measure which, as they were now masters of the sea, could scarcely fail of success; and it would prove a blow so fatal to that nation, that she could not recover it during the whole course of the war." The French account of Lapeyrouse-Bonfils is essentially the same. Chevalier, who is silent as to details, justly remarks: "The cruise just made by the allied fleet was such as to injure the reputation of France and Spain. These two powers had made a great display of force which had produced no result." The English trade also received little injury. Guichen wrote home "I have returned from a cruise fatiguing but not glorious."
  7. This mishap of the French was largely due to mismanagement by De Guichen, a skilful and usually a careful admiral. When Kempenfeldt fell in with him, all the French ships-of-war were to leeward of their convoy, while the English were to windward of it. The former, therefore, were unable to interpose in time; and the alternative remedy, of the convoy running down to leeward of their escort could not be applied by all the merchant-ships in so large a body.
  8. "In the spring of 1780 the British admiralty had assembled in the Channel ports forty-five ships-of-the-line. The squadron at Brest was reduced to twelve or fifteen... To please Spain, twenty French ships-of-the-line had joined the flag of Admiral Cordova in Cadiz. In consequence of these dispositions, the English with their Channel fleet held in check the forces which we had in Brest and in Cadiz. Enemy's cruisers traversed freely the space between the Lizard and the Straits of Gibraltar." (Chevalier, p. 202.) In 1781 "the Cabinet of Versailles called the attention of Holland and Spain to the necessity of assembling at Brest a fleet strong enough to impose upon the ships which Great Britain kept in the Channel. The Dutch remained in the Texel, and the Spaniards did not leave Cadiz. From this state of things it resulted that the English, with forty ships-of-the-line, blocked seventy belonging to the allied powers."(p. 265.)
  9. "A question was very much agitated both in and out of Parliament; namely, Whether the intercepting of the French fleet under the Count de Grasse should not have been the first object of the British fleet under Vice-Admiral Darby, instead of losing time in going to Ireland, by which that opportunity was missed. The defeat of the French fleet would certainly totally have disconcerted the great plans which the enemies had formed in the East and West Indies. It would have insured the safety of the British West India islands; the Cape of Good hope must have fallen into the hands of Britain; and the campaign in North America might have had a very different termination." (Beatson's Memoirs, vol. v. p. 341, where the contrary arguments are also stated.)
  10. This is one of the most common and flagrant violations of the principles of war,--stretching a thin line, everywhere inadequate, over an immense frontier. The clamors of trade and local interests make popular governments especially liable to it.
  11. Annual Register, 1782.