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A Half Century of Conflict - Volume I by Parkman

Lying off the north shore and called Isle aux Oeufs


ship that carried Colonel King, of the artillery, had a narrow escape. King says that she anchored in a driving rain, "with a shoal of rocks on each quarter within a cable's length of us, which we plainly perceived by the waves breaking over them in a very violent manner." They were saved by a lull in the gale; for if it had continued with the same violence, he pursues, "our anchors could not have held, and the wind and the vast seas which ran, would have broke our ship into ten thousand pieces against the rocks. All night we heard nothing but ships firing and showing lights, as in the utmost distress."[167]

Vetch, who was on board the little frigate "Despatch," says that he was extremely uneasy at the course taken by Walker on the night of the storm. "I told Colonel Dudley and Captain Perkins, commander of the 'Despatch,' that I wondered what the Flag meant by that course, and why he did not steer west and west-by-south."[168] The "Despatch" kept well astern, and so escaped the danger. Vetch heard through the fog guns firing signals of distress; but three days passed before he knew how serious the disaster was. The ships of war had all escaped; but eight British transports, one store-ship, and one sutler's sloop were dashed to pieces.[169] "It was lamentable to hear the shrieks of the sinking, drowning, departing souls," writes the New England commissary, Sheaf, who was very near sharing their fate.

The disaster

took place at and near a rocky island, with adjacent reefs, lying off the north shore and called Isle aux Oeufs. On the second day after it happened, Walker was told by the master of one of the wrecked transports that eight hundred and eighty-four soldiers had been lost, and he gives this hasty estimate in his published Journal; though he says in his Introduction to it that the total loss of officers, soldiers, and sailors was scarcely nine hundred.[170] According to a later and more trustworthy statement, the loss of the troops was twenty-nine officers, six hundred and seventy-six sergeants, corporals, drummers, and private soldiers, and thirty-five women attached to the regiments; that is, a total of seven hundred and forty lives.[171] The loss of the sailors is not given; but it could scarcely have exceeded two hundred.

The fleet spent the next two days in standing to and fro between the northern and southern shores, with the exception of some of the smaller vessels employed in bringing off the survivors from the rocks of Isle aux Oeufs. The number thus saved was, according to Walker, four hundred and ninety-nine. On the twenty-fifth he went on board the General's ship, the "Windsor," and Hill and he resolved to call a council of war. In fact, Hill had already got his colonels together. Signals were made for the captains of the men-of-war to join them, and the council began.

"Jack Hill," the man about town, placed in high command by the influence of his sister, the Queen's tire-woman, had now an opportunity to justify his appointment and prove his mettle. Many a man of pleasure and fashion, when put to the proof, has revealed the latent hero within him; but Hill was not one of them. Both he and Walker seemed to look for nothing but a pretext for retreat; and when manhood is conspicuously wanting in the leaders, a council of war is rarely disposed to supply it. The pilots were called in and examined, and they all declared themselves imperfectly acquainted with

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