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A History of Sea Power by Stevens and Westcott

It moved around to Corunna and Ferrol


followed four days later, on June 13, steering for his old post in the Mediterranean, but at the same time despatching the fast brig _Curieux_ to England with news of the French fleet's return. This vessel by great good fortune sighted Villeneuve in mid-ocean, inferred from his northerly position that he was bound for Ferrol, and reached Portsmouth on July 8. Barham at the Admiralty got the news the next morning, angry that he had not been routed out of bed on the arrival of the captain the night before. By 9 o'clock the same morning, orders were off to Calder on the Ferrol station in time so that on the 22d of July he encountered the enemy, still plowing slowly eastward, some 300 miles west of Cape Finisterre.

As a result of admirable communication work and swift administrative action the critic of Nelson at Cape St. Vincent now had a chance to rob the latter of his last victory and end the campaign then and there. His forces were adequate. Though he had only 14 ships to 20, his four three-deckers, according to the estimates of the time, were each worth two of the enemy 74's, and on the other hand, the 6 Spanish ships with Villeneuve could hardly be counted for more than three. In the ensuing action, fought in foggy weather, two of the Spanish were captured and one of Calder's three-deckers was so injured that it had to be detached. The two fleets remained in contact for three days following, but neither took the aggressive. In a subsequent

court martial Calder was reprimanded for "not having done his utmost to renew the said engagement and destroy every ship of the enemy."


On July 27 the Allied fleet staggered into Vigo, and a week later, after dropping three ships and 1200 sick men, it moved around to Corunna and Ferrol. Instead of being shaken down and strengthened by the long cruise, it was, according to the commander's plaintive letters, in worse plight than when it left Toulon. Nevertheless, ten days later he was ready to leave port, with 29 units, 14 of them raw vessels from Ferrol, and 11 of them Spanish. If, as Napoleon said, France was not going to give up having a navy, something might still be done. His orders to Villeneuve were to proceed to Brest and thence to Boulogne. "I count," he ended, "on your zeal in my service, your love of your country, and your hatred of that nation which has oppressed us for 40 generations, and which a little preseverance on your part will now cause to reenter forever the ranks of petty powers."[1]

[Footnote 1: Orders of 26 July, Desbriere, PROJETS, Vol. V, p. 672.]

Such were Villeneuve's instructions, the wisdom or sincerity of which it was scarcely his privilege to question (though it may be ours). In passing judgment on his failure to execute them it should be remembered that two months later, to avoid the personal disgrace of being superseded, he took his fleet out to more certain disaster than that which it now faced in striking northward from Corunna. "_Un poltron du tete et non de la coeur_"[2] the French Admiral was handicapped throughout by a paralyzing sense of the things he could not do.

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