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Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 8


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To constitute the intended batteries, ten large ships of from six hundred to one thousand four hundred tons burthen were cut down, and made bomb-proof on the top. They were to be prevented sinking by the enormous thickness of the timber in their bottoms, and their sides, which were to be six or seven feet thick, bolted, and covered with raw hides. They were to be rendered more buoyant by thicknesses of cork, and the interstices were to be filled with wet sand to prevent combustion. There were to be plentiful supplies, by means of pumps, pipes, and cisterns, of water, everywhere, to put out fire, for they seem to have been aware of the burning balls preparing for them. To defend the assailants on these batteries, they were furnished with hanging roofs, constructed of strong rope netting covered with thick layers of wet hides, and these so sloping that it was calculated that the balls and shells would glance off into the water. Two hundred thousand feet of timber were consumed in the construction of these invincible batteries, and the whole country round was drained of hides of horses and cattle for their covering. They were then supplied with brass cannon, so managed that a whole broadside could be fired at once.

As a rumour of the approaching visit of lord Howe had reached the Spanish camp, all was in haste to anticipate his arrival, and take the great fortress before he could succour it. Accordingly the great united fleet of Spain and France, which so lately had paraded in the British Channel, sailed into Algesiras Bay, and on the 13th of September the great floating batteries were hauled out by a number of the ships, and anchored at regular distances, within six hundred yards of the English works. There they were supported by forty gun-boats, with long guns; forty bomb-boats, mounted with twelve-inch mortars; five large bomb- ketches, and an immense raft, also mounted as a battery. There were also a dozen of frigates and lesser vessels acting as tenders, and three hundred row-boats busy supplying them with ammunition.

Whilst this extraordinary armada was approaching and arranging, the most tremendous fire was kept up from the land, with three hundred long guns and mortars, to divert the attention of the garrison; but old general Elliot was ready with his red-hot balls, and, the moment the floating batteries came within gunshot distance, he poured into them a most destructive fire-hail. The Spaniards, notwithstanding, placed and secured their monster machines in a very short time, and then four hundred cannon from land and sea played on the old rock simultaneously and incessantly. The spectacle at this moment, perhaps, never was exceeded in intense interest and sublimity. There was not a summit or slope of the Spanish hills all round, including those of Algesiras and Cabareta Point, but was thronged with spectators. For some time, the hot balls appeared to do no damage. The timbers, being of green wood, closed up after the balls, and so prevented their immediate ignition. In other cases, where smoke appeared, the water-engines dashed in deluges, and extinguished the nascent fire. But anon the fire from the batteries began to slacken; it was discovered that the balls - which had many of them pierced into the timbers three feet deep - were doing their work. The floating battery, commanded by the prince of Nassau, on board of which was also the engineer, D'Arcon, himself, was found smoking on the side of the garrison, at two o'clock in the day. No water could reach the seat of the mischief, and by seven o'clock it had become so extensive as to cause the firing to cease, and to turn the thoughts of all to endeavours for escape. Rockets were thrown up as signals for the vessels to come up and take off the crews. But this was found impracticable. The garrison actually rained deluges of fire, and all approach to the monster machines was cut off. No vessel could approach, except at the penalty of instant destruction. For four more hours, the vaunted floating batteries remained exposed to the pitiless pelting of the garrison. Before midnight, the Talla Piedra, the greatest of the monster machines, and the flag-ship, Pastora, at her side, were in full flame, and, by their light, the indefatigable Elliot could see, with the more precision, to point his guns. The flames of the burning batteries and the fiery sweep of the blazing balls illuminated the whole scene with a terribly sublime splendour. Seven of the ten floating machines were now on fire; the guns aboard them had entirely ceased, and those on land, as if struck with wonder and despair, ceased too. Then were heard the shrieks of the unfortunate crews on board the burning machines, and the English general, ceasing his fire, sent out captain Curtis, with his marine brigade of gun-boats, our only naval force there, to save the shrieking Spaniards. Before this could be accomplished, two of them blew up; but the English sailors dashed amongst the flaming wrecks, picking off their horrified enemies, or gathering them from floating fragments of timber to which they were clinging. At the utmost peril of their lives, they managed to bring off about two hundred and fifty of the sufferers, but not without considerable injury to themselves. Captain Curtis had an almost miraculous escape. One of the machines exploding when he was actually lifting men from it, involved him and his boatswain in the cloud of fire and smoke. General Elliot, who saw the occurrence, believed the whole boat's crew destroyed; but presently the pinnace emerged from the smoke, with the coxswain killed, several of her crew injured, but the captain alive. The bottom of the boat, however, was driven in by some of the falling timber, and the sailors only kept her afloat by stuffing their jackets into the hole. Thus vanished all the proud hopes built on the invention of the chevalier D'Arcon. That sanguine engineer was on board the Talla Piedra till the last moment. In the morning, he saw the whole of his leviathan machines destroyed, his one hundred and fifty fine brass cannon, with an immense amount of property beside, were all at the bottom of the sea; the whole scheme had vanished like a dream, and one thousand poor wretches had been killed, more than six hundred besides, were wounded or prisoners. In the first agony of his thoughts, he wrote to the French ambassador at Madrid: - "I have burnt the temple of Ephesus! Everything is gone, and through my fault. What comforts me under my calamity is, that the honour of the two kings remains untarnished."

It might have been imagined that this magnificent and destructive repulse would have convinced the allies that the siege was hopeless, but they were pretty well informed that general Elliot had well nigh exhausted his ammunition in this prodigal death-shower, and they had still their great combined fleet, snug in the narrow bay, with scouts in the straits to prevent the carrying in of supplies. But on the 24th of September news arrived at Madrid that the fleet of lord Howe was under weigh for Gibraltar. Immediately two thousand land troops were put on board the fleet, but it still continued to lie in the bay of Algesiras. On the 11th of October lord Howe's fleet came in sight, convoying one hundred and fifty transports and trading vessels, carrying all sorts of supplies for the garrison of Gibraltar. Howe's fleet of thirty-four sail-of-the-line, six frigates, and three fire-ships, though in the immediate neighbourhood of one of fifty sail-of-the-line, besides a number of frigates and smaller vessels, managed to get into the bay of Gibraltar all safe, and amid the wildest acclamations of soldiers and inhabitants. By the 18th all the store-ships had discharged their cargoes, and had passed through the straits, and on the 19th lord Howe followed them with his fleet. The enemy's fleet then came out after him, and the next day they were in the open ocean, and Howe proceeded to their leeward to receive them. Some of their vessels had suffered in the late gales, but they had still at least forty-four sail to Howe's thirty-four, and, having the weather-gage, had every advantage. But after a partial firing, in which they received great damage from Howe, they hauled off, and got into Cadiz bay. Howe, then dispatching part of his fleet to the West Indies, and a second squadron to the Irish coast, returned home himself. The news of the grand defence of Gibraltar produced a wonderful rejoicing in England; thanks were voted by parliament to the officers and privates of the brave garrison; general Elliot was invested with the order of the Bath on the king's bastion in sight of the works which he had preserved, and on his return, in 1787, at the age of seventy, he was created a peer as lord Heath- field of Gibraltar. But the noblest fame which the veteran has achieved was that accorded by his enemies, who venerated him for his virtues, and long remembered with blessings his humanity in seeking with such zeal to save his defeated assailants.

With these superb demonstrations on the part of England terminated the war. Her enemies discovered that her hoped-for fall was yet far off, and were much more inclined to listen to overtures of peace, of which they were now all in great need. Before the dissolution of the Rockingham ministry, private negotiations had for some time been going on betwixt the English government and Franklin in Paris. Lord Shelburne, as secretary of state, had received an intimation of pacific views from Franklin, and had dispatched Mr. Richard Oswald, a London merchant, well versed in American affairs, to have an interview with the doctor. Franklin, with an astonishing coolness of demand, proposed that not only should the independence of the United States be acknowledged, but that Canada should be thrown into the bargain. This looked rather like a studied insult than a real desire for negotiation. The English ministry, howę ever, without regarding for a moment the proposition regarding Canada, continued to state their views of a treaty, and Thomas Grenville was also dispatched to endeavour to induce M. Vergennes to enter into the negotiations on the part of France.

Upon the formation of the Shelburne cabinet, and the news of Rodney's victory over De Grasse, the negotiations were still continued, Mr. Grenville only being recalled, and Mr. Alleyne Fitzherbert, afterwards lord St. Helens, being put in his place. France, Spain, Holland, were all groaning under the costs and disasters of the war, yet keeping up an air of indifference, in order to enhance their demands. The Americans were more decided, for they were stimulated by the accounts of the wretched condition of affairs at home. It was represented to Franklin by congress, that, however France or Spain might delay proposals for peace, it was necessary for the United States. That, with their coasts blockaded by an English fleet, now augmented to twenty- six sail of the line, besides frigates, fire ships, &c., and the French so completely beaten at sea, without money and without credit, the American population, as well as the army, were fast sinking into the lowest condition of human misery.

The position of Franklin, nevertheless, was extremely difficult. There was the treaty of alliance betwixt France and the States of 1778, strictly stipulating that neither party should conclude either peace or truce without the other. What added to the difficulty was, that France had, within the last two years, shown an unusual interest and activity of assistance. It had not only dispatched a fleet and army to America, but, besides its annual loans and advances to the United States, it had made them free gifts, amounting, together, to twelve millions of livres. Franklin, in order to strengthen his hands for the important crisis, requested that other commissioners might be sent to Paris; and John Jay quickly arrived from Spain, John Adams from Holland, and Henry Laurens from London. The American commissioners soon became strongly impressed with the sentiment, that France and Spain were keeping back a peace solely for their own objects; and this was greatly confirmed by a letter of M. de Marbois, the secretary of the French legation at Philadelphia, which had been seized by an English cruiser, and had been laid by Mr. Fitzherbert before them. This letter appeared to be part of a diplomatic correspondence betwixt the French minister, Vergennes, and the French minister in America, which threw contempt on the claims which America set up to a share of the Newfoundland fisheries. It created a strong belief that France was endeavouring to keep America in some degree dependent on her; and Jay and Adams were extremely incensed at Vergennes, and not only accused Franklin of being blindly subservient to the French court, but it made them resolve that no time should be lost in effecting a separate treaty. Vergennes contended for the rights of the Indian nations betwixt the Alleghanies and the Mississippi, and of Spain on the lower Mississippi, and this the American commissioners called an attempt to divide and weaken their territory. Vergennes sought only to restrain them from aggressions. When these matters were afterwards cleared up, the Americans were convinced that the French had, notwithstanding appearances, acted throughout with entire good faith towards America. The suspicion, excited, however, for the time, operated to determine a separate and prompt treaty, and to cause the Americans to let fall any such chimerical demands as that of Canada. A private and earnest negotiation for peace was therefore entered upon as soon as a severe illness of Franklin permitted.

There was no difficulty in these negotiations as to the full and entire recognition of the independence of the states. The great and difficult points were but two - first, that regarding the fishery; and second, regarding the interests of the loyalists or tories. The British commissioners stood out strongly for the free permission of all who had been engaged in the war on the English side to return to their homes, and for the restitution of all property confiscated in consequence of such partisanship. The American commissioners endeavoured to get rid of this demand by saying the recommendations of congress would have all the effect that the English proposed. This the commissioners properly regarded as so many words, and they stood out so determinedly on this head, that it appeared likely that the negotiation would be broken off altogether. At last Franklin, who was never at a loss for subtle devices, said they would consent to allow for all losses suffered by the royalists, on condition that a debtor and a creditor account was opened, and recompense made for the damages done by the royalists on the other side, in burning houses and plantations, carrying off slaves, &c.; commissioners to be appointed for the purpose of settling all these claims. The English envoys saw at once that this was a deception, that there would be no meeting, or no use in meeting, and they therefore abandoned the point; and the question of the fishing being in part conceded, the provisional articles were signed on the 30th of November, by the four American commissioners on the one side, and by Mr. Oswald on the other. In the preamble, it was stated that these articles were to be inserted in and to constitute a treaty of peace, but which treaty was not to be concluded until the terms of peace were also settled with France and Spain.

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