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

Gantheaume did not elude Cornwallis


The

objections to the September combination are fairly obvious. It was exceedingly improbable that the three fleets could escape at the time and in the order which Napoleon desired, or that crews enervated by long captivity in port would succeed in difficult operations when thrust out into the wintry gales of the Atlantic and the Channel. Besides, success could only be won after a serious dispersion of French naval resources; and the West Indian expeditions must be regarded as prompted quite as much by a colonial policy as by a determination to overrun England or Ireland.[327]

At any rate, if the Emperor's aim was merely to distract us by widely diverging attacks, that could surely have been accomplished without sending twenty-six sail of the line into American and African waters, and leaving to Gantheaume so disproportionate an amount of work and danger. This September combination may therefore be judged distinctly inferior to that of July, which, with no scattering of the French forces, promised to decoy Nelson away to the Morea and Egypt, while the Toulon and Rochefort squadrons proceeded to Boulogne.

The September schemes hopelessly miscarried. Gantheaume did not elude Cornwallis, and remained shut up in Brest. Missiessy escaped from Rochefort, sailed to the West Indies, where he did some damage and then sailed home again. "He had taken a pawn and returned to his own square."[328] Villeneuve slipped out from

Toulon (January 19th, 1805), while Nelson was sheltering from westerly gales under the lee of Sardinia; but the storm which promised to renew his reputation for good luck speedily revealed the weakness of his ships and crews.

"My fleet looked well at Toulon," he wrote to Decres, Minister of Marine, "but when the storm came on, things changed at once. The sailors were not used to storms: they were lost among the mass of soldiers: these from sea-sickness lay in heaps about the decks: it was impossible to work the ships: hence yard-arms were broken and sails were carried away: our losses resulted as much from clumsiness and inexperience as from defects in the materials delivered by the arsenals."[329]

Inexperience and sea-sickness were factors that found no place in Napoleon's calculations; but they compelled Villeneuve to return to Toulon to refit; and there Nelson closed on him once more.

Meanwhile events were transpiring which seemed to add to Napoleon's naval strength and to the difficulties of his foes. On January 4th, 1805, he concluded with Spain a treaty which added her naval resources to those of France, Holland, and Northern Italy. The causes that led to an open rupture between England and Spain were these. Spain had been called upon by Napoleon secretly to pay him the stipulated sum of 72,000,000 francs a year (see p. 437), and she reluctantly consented. This was, of course, a covert act of hostility against England; and the Spanish Government was warned at the close of 1803 that, if this subsidy continued to be paid to France, it would constitute "at any future period, when circumstances may render it necessary, a just cause of war" between England and Spain. Far from complying with this reasonable remonstrance, the Spanish Court yielded to Napoleon's imperious order to repair five French warships that had taken refuge in Ferrol from our cruisers, and in July, 1804, allowed French seamen to travel thither overland to complete the crews of these vessels. Thus for some months our warships had to observe Ferrol, as if it were a hostile port.

Clearly, this state of things could not continue; and when the protests of our ambassador at Madrid were persistently evaded or ignored, he was ordered, in the month of September, to leave that capital unless he received satisfactory assurances. He did not leave until November 10th, and before that time a sinister event had taken place. The British Ministry determined that Spanish treasure-ships from South America should not be allowed to land at Cadiz the sinews of war for France, and sent orders to our squadrons to stop those ships. Four frigates were told off for that purpose. On the 5th of October they sighted the four rather smaller Spanish frigates that bore the ingots of Peru, and summoned them to surrender, thereafter to be held in pledge. The Spaniards, nobly resolving to yield only to overwhelming force, refused; and in the ensuing fight one of their ships blew up, whereupon the others hauled down their flags and were taken to England. Resenting this action, Spain declared war on December 12th, 1804.


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