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On Board The Agamemnon






THE SIEGE OF BASTIA.--THE SIEGE OF CALVI.--THE ANNEXATION OF
CORSICA.--THE CAPTURE OF THE "CA IRA" AND THE "CENSEUR."

BY ROBERT SOUTHEY.


On January 30th, 1793, by the united interest of Prince William, now
Duke of Clarence, and Lord Hood, Nelson was appointed to the Agamemnon
of sixty-five guns and was ordered to the Mediterranean to serve under
Lord Hood. While here, he was sent with despatches to Sir William
Hamilton, our envoy at the court of Naples, and thus formed the
acquaintance of Sir William and his wife. When returning from this
mission, he fell in with five sail of the enemy and gave chase. He came
near enough to one frigate to engage her, but after inflicting and
receiving much damage was unable to follow up his advantage. Shortly
after, he was detached with a small squadron to co-operate with General
Paoli and the anti-Galician party in Corsica, an expedition--the
immediate object of which was the conquest of the city of Bastia, then
held by the French--in which Nelson showed what a determined sailor can
do on shore.

Lord Hood submitted to General Dundas, who commanded the land forces, a
plan for the reduction of this place; but the general declined
co-operating, thinking the attempt impracticable without a reinforcement
of two thousand men, which he expected from Gibraltar. Upon this Lord
Hood determined to reduce it with the naval force under his command,
and leaving part of his fleet off Toulon, sailed with the rest to
Bastia. General d'Aubant, who succeeded General Dundas in the command of
the land forces, held the same opinion as his predecessor and refused to
furnish his lordship with a single soldier, cannon, or any stores. Lord
Hood could only obtain a few artillerymen; so ordering on board the
troops who, having been embarked as marines, were borne on the ships'
books as part of their respective complements, he began the siege with
eleven hundred and eighty-three soldiers, artillerymen, and marines, and
two hundred and fifty sailors. "We are but few," said Nelson, "but of
the right sort; our general at St. Fiorenzo not giving us one of the
five regiments he has there lying idle."

These men were landed on April 4th, under Lieutenant-Colonel Villettes
and Nelson, who had now acquired from the army the title of brigadier.
Guns were dragged by the sailors up heights where it appeared almost
impossible to convey them; a work of the greatest difficulty, and one
which Nelson said could never, in his opinion, have been accomplished by
any but British seamen. The soldiers, though less dexterous in such
service, because not accustomed, like sailors, to habitual dexterity,
behaved with equal spirit. "Their zeal," said the brigadier, "is almost
unexampled. There is not a man but considers himself as personally
interested in the event, and as deserted by the general. It has, I am
persuaded, made them equal to double their numbers."

La Combe St. Michel, the commissioner from the national convention, who
was in the city, replied to the summons of the British admiral in these
terms: "I have hot shot for your ships, and bayonets for your troops.
When two-thirds of our men are killed, I will then trust to the
generosity of the English." The siege, however, was not sustained with
the firmness which such a reply seemed to augur. On May 19th a treaty of
capitulation was begun, and that same evening the troops from St.
Fiorenzo made their appearance on the hills; and, on the following
morning, General d'Aubant arrived with the whole army to take possession
of the town.

The events of the siege had justified the confidence of the sailors; but
they themselves excused the opinion of the generals, when they saw what
they had done. "I am all astonishment," said Nelson, "when I reflect
upon what we have achieved: one thousand regulars, fifteen hundred
national guards, and a large party of Corsican troops, four thousand in
all, laying down their arms to twelve hundred soldiers, marines, and
seamen! I always was of opinion, have ever acted up to it and never had
any reason to repent it, that one Englishman was equal to three
Frenchmen. Had this been an English town, I am sure it would not have
been taken by them."

The Agamemnon was now despatched to co-operate at the siege of Calvi
with General Sir Charles Stuart. Nelson had less responsibility here
than at Bastia, and was acting with a man after his own heart, who was
never sparing of himself, and slept every night in the advanced battery.
But the service was not less hard than that of the former siege. "We
will fag ourselves to death," said he to Lord Hood, "before any blame
shall lie at our doors. I trust it will not be forgotten that
twenty-five pieces of heavy ordnance have been dragged to the different
batteries, mounted, and all but three fought by seamen, except one
artilleryman to point the guns." The climate proved more destructive
than the service; for this was during the period of the "lion sun," as
they there call our season of the "dog days." Of two thousand men above
half were sick, and the rest like so many phantoms. Nelson described
himself as the reed among the oaks, bowing before the storm when they
were laid low by it. "All the prevailing disorders have attacked me,"
said he, "but I have not strength enough for them to fasten on." The
loss from the enemy was not great; but Nelson received a serious injury:
a shot struck the ground near him, and drove the sand and small gravel
into one of his eyes. He spoke of it slightly at the time: writing the
same day to Lord Hood, he only said that he got a little hurt that
morning, not much; and the next day, he said, he should be able to
attend his duty in the evening. In fact, he suffered it to confine him
only one day; but the sight was lost.

After the fall of Calvi, his services were, by a strange omission,
altogether overlooked and his name was not even mentioned in the list of
wounded. Nelson felt himself neglected. "One hundred and ten days," said
he, "I have been actually engaged, at sea and on shore, against the
enemy; three actions against ships, two against Bastia in my ship, four
boat actions, and two villages taken, and twelve sail of vessels burnt.
I do not know that any one has done more. I have had the comfort to be
always applauded by my commander-in-chief, but never to be rewarded;
and, what is more mortifying, for services in which I have been wounded
others have been praised, who, at the same time, were actually in bed,
far from the scene of action. They have not done me justice. But, never
mind. I'll have a Gazette of my own." How amply was this prediction
realised!

As the result of this expedition, Corsica was annexed to the British
Crown with the consent of the majority of the people, and received a
constitution as free as our own. Some, however, favoured French
occupation, and soon after France taking advantage of the discontent,
sought the reconquest of the island. Corsica was now loudly threatened.
The French had a superior fleet in the Mediterranean, and they sent it
out with express orders to seek the English and engage them.
Accordingly, the Toulon fleet, consisting of seventeen ships of the
line, and five smaller vessels, put to sea. Admiral Hotham, who had
succeeded Lord Hood, received this information at Leghorn, and sailed
immediately in search of them. He had with him fourteen sail of the line
and one Neapolitan seventy-four; but his ships were only half manned,
containing but seven thousand six hundred and fifty men, whereas the
enemy had sixteen thousand nine hundred. He soon came in sight of them:
a general action was expected; but after manoeuvring for a day in sight
of the English fleet, they allowed themselves to be chased. Nelson
followed the Ca Ira for several hours, inflicting and receiving
considerable damage, the result of which was that seven of the
Agamemnon men were hurt, while the Ca Ira lost one hundred and ten,
and was so cut up that she could not get a top mast aloft during the
following night.

The next morning the French fleet was observed about five miles off the
Ca Ira, and the Censeur which had her in tow being about three and a
half miles distant. All sail was made to cut these ships off, and a
partial engagement of the two fleets ensued. The Agamemnon was again
engaged with her yesterday's antagonist; but she had to fight on both
sides the ship at the same time. The Ca Ira and the Censeur fought
most gallantly: the first lost nearly three hundred men, in addition to
her former loss; the last, three hundred and fifty. Both at last struck,
and Lieutenant Andrews, of the Agamemnon, hoisted English colours on
board them both. As soon as these vessels had struck, Nelson went to
Admiral Hotham, and proposed that the two prizes should be left with the
Illustrious and Courageux, which had been crippled in the action,
and with four frigates, and that the rest of the fleet should pursue the
enemy and follow up the advantage to the utmost. But his reply was--"We
must be contented: we have done very well." "Now," said Nelson, "had we
taken ten sail, and 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."

Nelson's next expedition was to Genoa to co-operate with the Austrian
and Sardinian forces; but his allies were unworthy of him and by their
irresolution and delay continued to frustrate his best laid schemes. In
an engagement between the Austrians and the French, General de Vins, the
Austrian general, gave up the command in the middle of the battle,
pleading ill-health. "From that moment," says Nelson, "not a soldier
stayed at his post: it was the devil take the hindmost. Many thousands
ran away who had never seen the enemy; some of them thirty miles from
the advanced posts. Had I not--though, I own, against my
inclination--been kept at Genoa, from eight to ten thousand men would
have been taken prisoners, and, amongst the number, General de Vins
himself; but, by this means, the pass of the Bocchetta was kept open.
The purser of the ship, who was at Vado, ran with the Austrians eighteen
miles without stopping: the men without arms, officers without soldiers,
women without assistance. The oldest officer, say they, never heard of
so complete a defeat, and certainly without any reason. Thus has ended
my campaign."

The defeat of General de Vins gave the enemy possession of the Genoese
coast from Savona to Voltri; and it deprived the Austrians of their
direct communication with the English fleet. The Agamemnon, therefore,
could no longer be useful on this station, and so Nelson sailed for
Leghorn to refit. When his ship went into dock, there was not a mast,
yard, sail, or any part of the rigging but what stood in need of repair,
having been cut to pieces with shot. The hull was so damaged that it had
for some time been secured by cables, which were served or thrapped
round it.





Next: The Evacuation Of Corsica And The Battle Of Cape St Vincent

Previous: First Steps Up The Ladder



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