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The Life of Napoleon I (Volume 1 of 2) by Rose

He at once wrote to Gantheaume


The

plan of using the Toulon fleet to cover an invasion of England was not entirely new. As far back as the days of De Tourville, a somewhat similar plan had been devised: the French Channel and Atlantic fleets under that admiral were closely to engage Russell off the Isle of Wight, while the Toulon squadron, sailing northwards, was to collect the French transports on the coasts of Normandy for the invasion of England. Had Napoleon carefully studied French naval history, he would have seen that the disaster of La Hogue was largely caused by the severe weather which prevented the rendezvous, and brought about a hasty and ill-advised alteration in the original scheme. But of all subjects on which he spoke as an authority, there was perhaps not one that he had so inadequately studied as naval strategy: yet there was none wherein the lessons of experience needed so carefully to be laid to heart.

Fortune seemed to frown on Napoleon's naval schemes: yet she was perhaps not unkind in thwarting them in their first stages. Events occurred which early suggested a deviation from the combinations noticed above. In the last days of 1803, hearing that the English were about to attack Martinique, he at once wrote to Gantheaume, urging him to despatch the Toulon squadron under Admiral Latouche-Treville for the rescue of this important island. The commander of the troops, Cervoni, was to be told that the expedition aimed at the Morea, so that spies might report this

news to Nelson, and it is clear from our admiral's despatches that the ruse half succeeded. Distracted, however, by the thought that the French might, after all, aim at Ireland, Nelson clung to the vicinity of Toulon, and his untiring zeal kept in harbour the most daring admiral in the French navy, who, despite his advanced age, excited an enthusiasm that none other could arouse.

To him, in spite of his present ill-fortune, Napoleon intrusted the execution of a scheme bearing date July 2nd, 1804. Latouche was ordered speedily to put to sea with his ten ships of the line and four frigates, to rally a French warship then at Cadiz, release the five ships of the line and four frigates blockaded at Rochefort by Collingwood, and then sweep the Channel and convoy the flotilla across the straits. This has been pronounced by Jurien de la Graviere the best of all Napoleon's plans: it exposed ships that had long been in harbour only to a short ocean voyage, and it was free from the complexity of the later and more grandiose schemes.

But fate interposed and carried off the intrepid commander by that worst of all deaths for a brave seaman, death by disease in harbour, where he was shut up by his country's foes (August 20th).

Villeneuve was thereupon appointed to succeed him, while Missiessy held command at Rochefort. The choice of Villeneuve has always been considered strange; and the riddle is not solved by the declaration of Napoleon that he considered that Villeneuve at the Nile showed his _good fortune_ in escaping with the only French ships which survived that disaster. A strange reason this: to appoint an admiral commander of an expedition that was to change the face of the world because his good fortune consisted in escaping from Nelson![325]

Napoleon now began to widen his plans. According to the scheme of September 29th, three expeditions were now to set out; the first was to assure the safety of the French West Indies; the second was to recover the Dutch colonies in those seas and reinforce the French troops still holding out in part of St. Domingo; while the third had as its objective West Africa and St. Helena. The Emperor evidently hoped to daze us by simultaneous attacks in Africa, America, and also in Asiatic waters. After these fleets had set sail in October and November, 1804, Ireland was to be attacked by the Brest fleet now commanded by Gantheaume. Slipping away from the grip of Cornwallis, he was to pass out of sight of land and disembark his troops in Lough Swilly. These troops, 18,000 strong, were under that redoubtable fighter, Augereau; and had they been landed, the history of the world might have been different. Leaving them to revolutionize Ireland, Gantheaume was to make for the English Channel, touch at Cherbourg for further orders, and proceed to Boulogne to convoy the flotilla across: or, if the weather prevented this, as was probable in January, he was to pass on to the Texel, rally the seven Dutch battleships and the transports with their 25,000 troops, beat back down the English Channel and return to Ireland. Napoleon counted on the complete success of one or other of Gantheaume's moves: "Whether I have 30,000 or 40,000 men in Ireland, or whether I am both in England and Ireland, the war is ours."[326]


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