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Nelson's Narrative of the Action with the French.
within half pistol-shot. As soon as our after-guns ceased to bear, the ship was hove in stays, keeping up, as she came round, a constant fire, and the ship was worked with as much exactness as if she had been turning into Spithead. On getting round, I saw the Sans Culotte, who had before wore, with many of the enemy's ships under our lee-bow, and standing, to pass to leeward of us, under topgallant sails. At half-past one P.M. the admiral made the signal for the van ships to join him. I instantly bore away, and prepared to set all our sails; but the enemy, having saved their ship, hauled close to the wind, and opened their fire so distant as to do us no harm, not a shot, I believe, hitting. Our sails and rigging were very much cut, and we had many shot in our hull and between wind and water ; but, wonderful to say, only seven men were wounded. The enemy, as they passed our nearest ships, opened their fire, yet not a shot,
saw, reached except the Captain, who had a few through her sails. We were employed until evening in shifting our topsails and splicing our rigging; at dark we were in our station. The signal was then made for each ship to carry a light. What little wind we had was south-westerly all night :-stood to the eastward, as
did the enemy
March 14th, at day-light, we were taken aback with a fine breeze at n.w. which gave us the weathergage, whilst the enemy's fleet kept the southerly wind. Saw the Ça-Ira and a line-of-battle ship, who had her in tow, about three miles and a half from and the body of the enemy's fleet about five miles distant. At a quarter past six A.m. the signal was made for a line-of-battle s.E, and n.w.; and at forty minutes past six for the Captain and Bedford to attack the enemy. At seven A.m. signal for the Bedford to engage close - Bedford's signal repeated for
Nelson's Narrative of the Action with the French.
close action; at five minutes past seven for the Captain to engage close — the Captain's and Bedford's signals repeated. At this time the shot from the enemy reached us, but from a great distance. At a quarter past seven, the signal was made for the fleet to come to he wind on the larboard tack : this signal threw us and the Princess Royal to leeward of the Illustrious, Courageux, and Britannia. At twenty minutes past seven the Britannia hailed, and ordered me to go to the assistance of the Captain and Bedford: made all sail ; Captain lying like a log on the water, all her sails and rigging being shot away; Bedford on a wind, on the larboard tack. At halfpast seven, the signal made to annul coming to the wind on the larboard tack. At thirty-five minutes past seven, signal for the Illustrious and Courageux to make more sail; forty minutes past seven, the same signal repeated; forty-two minutes past seven, Bedford to wear, and Courageux to get into her station. At this time I passed the Captain, hailed Admiral Goodall, and told him Admiral Hotham's orders, and desired to know if I should go ahead of him. Admiral Goodall desired me to keep close to his stern. The Illustrious and Courageux took their stations ahead of the Princess Royal ; the Britannia placed herself astern of me, and the Tancredi lay on the Britannia’s lee quarter. At eight A.m. the enemy began to pass our line to windward, and the Ça-Ira and the Censeur were on our lee side : therefore, the Illustrious, Courageux, Princess Royal, and Agamemnon, were obliged to fight on both sides of the ship. The enemy's fleet kept the southerly wind, and this enabled them to preserve their distance, which was very great. From eight to ten we continued engaging on both sides. About three quarters past eight, the Illustrious lost her main and mizen masts; at a quarter past nine, the Courageux lost her main and
Surrender of the French Ships.
mizen masts; at twenty-five minutes past nine, the Ça-Ira lost all her masts, and fired very little; at ten, Le Censeur lost her main mast. At five minutes past ten they both struck, and I sent Lieutenant George Andrews [brother of the lady for whom Nelson conceived an attachment in France) as gallant an officer as ever stepped a quarter-deck, to board them, who hoisted English colours, and carried their captains, by order of Admiral Hotham, to Admiral Goodall, on board the Princess Royal. By computation, the ÇaIra is supposed to have about 350 killed and wounded both days, and Le Censeur about 250 killed and wounded. [The English ships engaged had 73 killed and 272 wounded.] From the lightness of the air of wind, the fleets were a very long time in passing each other, and it was past one P.m. before all firing ceased; at which time the enemy crowded all possible sail to the westward, our ships lying with their heads to the south-east and east. Our fleet had 1090 guns and 7650 men; the French had 1174 guns and 16,900 men.”
Nelson's correspondence furnishes some particulars admirably illustrative of his ardent spirit, in addition to this valuable document. Thus, writing to his wife, he says:“ I wish to be an admiral and in the command of the English fleet. I should very soon either do much or be ruined. My disposition cannot bear tame or slow measures. Sure I am, had I commanded our fleet on the 14th, that either the whole French fleet would have graced my triumph, or I should have been in a confounded scrape. I went on board Admiral Hotham as soon as our firing grew slack in the van, and the Ça-Ira and Censeur had struck, to propose to him leaving our two crippled ships, the two prizes, and four frigates to themselves, and to pursue the enemy; but he, much cooler than myself, said, “We must be contented; we have done very
Nelson's Remarks on the Action.
well.' Now, had we taken ten sail and had allowed the eleventh to escape, when it had been possible to have got at her, I could never have called it well done. Goodall backed me; I got him to write to the admiral, but it would not do: we should have had such a day as, I believe, the annals of England never produced. I verily think, if the admiral can get hold of them once more, and he does but get us close enough, that we shall have the whole fleet. Nothing can stop the courage of English seamen.”
Again he says: “The time of my being left out here by Lord Hood I may call well spent; had I been absent how mortified should I now be! What has happened may never happen to any one again ; that only one ship of the line out of fourteen should get into action with the French fleet, and for so long a time as two hours and a half, and with such a ship as the Ça-Ira. Had I been supported, I should certainly have brought the Sans Culotte to battle most glorious prospect! A brave man runs no more risk than a coward, and Agamemnon, to a miracle, has suffered scarcely any thing.”
In this encounter, which, as Nelson justly observed, could not be denominated a battle, as the enemy would not afford any opportunity of closing with them, the French ships, being provided with furnaces, continually fired hot shot and shells from some of their guns. They were also furnished with a combustible preparation, which was placed in a skeleton, like a carcass, became liquid when discharged, and was not to be extinguished by water. These materials were so carefully concealed on board the captured ships, that they were not found without difficulty. The prisoners said that they were sent by the Convention from Paris, that they had not used any of them, but only hot shot, which, however, they found to be useless. The consciousness of resorting to
Nelson appointed Colonel of Marines.
expedients which brave men would disdain, no doubt induced a belief which prevailed on board those ships that the English would give them no quarter, and hence the unusually obstinate resistance which they made.
The British fleet sailed with its prizes, which were much shattered and very leaky, to St. Fiorenzo, and then proceeded to Leghorn to refit. Here they were joined by another Neapolitan 74, and, after cruizing in anxious expectation of a reinforcement from England, sailed for Minorca to await the arrival of a convoy from Gibraltar. As soon as it had joined, Admiral Hotham returned to St. Fiorenzo, where he arrived on the 29th of June.
If the French fleet had been despatched for an attempt against Corsica, their plan had evidently been frustrated by the result of the action in March, in which Nelson's merits were too conspicuously displayed not to demand some remuneration. Accordingly, on a promotion of flag-officers made on the 1st of June, in honour of the first anniversary of Lord Howe's victory, the captain of the Agamemnon was appointed colonel of marines, as he himself said, “ in the handsomest manner,” the answer returned to many applications being, " The King knows of no officer who has a better claim than Captain Nelson.”
The French armies had begun at this time to overrun the north of Italy. The continental dominions of the king of Sardinia and part of the territory of the Genoese republic were in their possession. General de Vins, the commander of the Austrian and Sardinian force opposed to them, and the British minister at Turin, applied to Admiral Hotham for naval assistance to expel them from the Riviera de Genoa. As Nelson had been so much in the habit of soldiering, it was immediately determined that the Brigadier should go. He according sailed