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WHy, as a signal for keeping her course, when to the astonishjjientof admiral Jieppel and the whole fleet, she suddenly pourfed her whole broad-side, accompanied with a general discharge '6f musketry, into' the America, of 74 guns, at the instant lord tipngford, her commander, was standing upon the gunwale, and ■talking in terms of the utmost politeness to the French captain. The frigate instantly struck her colours, as soon as she had discharged her fire. Only four of the America's people were •wounded. Notwithstanding the provocation, lord Longford had Such command of his temper as not to return a single shot.— Another French frigate falling in with the fleet, was detained by the admiral, under the plea of hostility committed by the Li■iorne; but several French merchantmen wer suffered to pass through the fleet unmolested. The capture of the French frigates afforded the admiral a source of the most critical and alarming information. He was now within sight of Ushant, when he1 discovered to his astonishment, that the French fleet in Brest road and Brest water, amounted to thirty-two ships of the line, Beside ten or twelve frigates, while his own force consisted only; ■ef twenty of the former and three of the latter. The odds between the two fleets was so vast, that he could not justify risking an action, which might prove fatal to the kingdom. But it gave him the greatest uneasiness to find himse*f obliged to turn his back on Fiance. The French no sooner determined to take a decided part with the Americans, than they assiduously applied themselves to the getting of their navy into the utmost forwardness for actual service; and had proceeded with such profound secrecy that the strength of it had not transpired so as to reach the British ministry, who appear to have been wanting in ferocuring good and early intelligence; which was a matter of so much importance in the estimation of the French, that they used every means for obtaining it. The Brest fleet lay ready for sailing; and was only detained till the destination of admiral Byron's force could be ascertained at Paris. r' fjune 27.] On the return of the British fleet to Portsmouth, the admiral's conduct was branded with the most opprobrious terms, and ascribed to the most disgraceful motives, and his general character treated with the most indecent scurrility in •<hose publications which he considered as under the immediate direction of the ministers. He bore all with wonderful temper; made no complaints; pressed forward the preparations for his refenn to sea, without noise or parade; and submitted to all the unmerited reproach thrown upon him, without being provoked tb'a justification, which, by the narration of the fact, must have Criminated the first lord of the admiralty. The seasonable ami Vol. II. X x
val of che two first of the British West-India fleets, and of thfe Levant trade, brought in a supply of seamen at the most critical period in which they could have been wanted. By this tnean, and the exertions every where Used by the admiralty, Keppsl was enabled to put again to sea, on the ninth of July, with 24 ships of the line, and was joined on the way by six more; he had also an addition of One frigate and two five ships. Mean while the French king made use of the engagement with the Belle Poule and the taking of the other frigates, as the ostensible ground for issuing out orders for a reprisal on British ships, and the ordinance signed the 28th of March, was immediately published. Similar measures were pursued in Great-Britajn, when the account of these transactions was received, Thus nothing of war was wanting between the two. nations, excepting the formality of the declaration. , . •
The force and destination of admiral Byron /being at length made certain to the French ministry, orders were sent-to, the Brest fleet to proceed to sea. They instantly" weighed anchor, and sailed the day preceding the departure of the British fleet from Portsmouth. They amounted to 32 ships of the line, and a cloud of frigates, and were divided into three squadrons, tl)e whole under the command of the count d'Oi villiers, who was assisted in his own particular division, by admiral the Count de Guichen. The second was commanded by the count Duchaffault, assisted by monsieur de Rochechovai t; and the third by the duke of Chartres, a prince of the blood, seconded by admiral the count de Grasse. The duke was sent on board by the court to animate the fleet, and to intimate the greatness of the object* proposed, and how much reliance was placed on the courage and exertions of the officers and seamen. The British fleet was also> thrown into three divisions, the van being commanded by Sir Robert Hat land, and the rear by Sir Hugh Palliser. The commander in chief, with the centre division, was assistedby the voluntary services of admiral Campbel l, a brave and experienced officer, who from ancient friendship and a long participation of danger and service, condescended to act as first captain in KeppePs own ship, the Victory. The two fleets came in, Sight of each other on the 23d, in the afternoon. From the movements of the French admiral, it was inferred that he had no knowledge of the increase of Keppel's strength; but considered his fleet as being in number the same as when on its station before Brest. He appeared disposed to bring on an immediate action; but whenthe fleets approached so near as to discover each other's force, he apparently relinquished that determination, andcontinuedafterward
to evade, with great cautioa and knowledge ia his profession-,
all those endeavours which were used on the other side to bring on an engagement. Through a fresh gale and a change of j in the night, the French gained the weather gage, by which they had the advantage either of bringing it on, or of totally avoidin it. But two of #: line of battle ships fell considerably to the Heeward, and were so effectuallycut # from the reSt of the fleet, that they were never able to rejoin it during the remainder of the cruise. This put the hostile fleets on an equality in point of number, with respect to o of battle ships. The British fleet continued constantly to beat up against the wind in pursuit of the • French, who declined coming to a general engagement, as they daily expected a strong reinforcement, and hoped to intercept ... the cosmercial fleets, that, while making for the British ports, would have to pass through the track in which their numerous - frigates were stationed. Admiral Keppel penetrated their motives, and labored to bring them to action; and as the preserving of a regular line of battle with any hope of it was evidently im: practicable, the signal for chasing to windward was kept constantly flying. [july 27.] Some sudden shifts of wind, together * with an unexpected and unintentional effect produced by an evo* fution on the French side, being all improved by the most master- Hy efforts on the other, brought the two fleet so close that they could not part without an action. But the French endeavored to avade its consequences as much as possible ; and by sudden! putting about on the contrary tack, altered the course of the ships in each fleet, so that they could engage only as they passed, instead of lying side to side, and thereby making an effectual im* Pression. - - - - The French began, by #ing at a great distance on the headInost of Sir Bobert Harland’s division as the ships led up, but not • a shot was returned till they were near the enemy. The example was followed, or a similar conduct pursued by the fleetin general, as fast as each ship could close up with the French ; and not- withstanding tileir having been necessarily extended by the chase, - they were all soon in battle. As the fleets passed each other very close on the opposite tacks, the cannonade was heavy, and the effect considerable. The action lasted about three hours. As the fire och in ti, cit usual way, directed their fire principally a- gainst the rigging, several of the British ships stiffered consideraws, in their masts, yards and soils. The British five which was principalsy seveiled at the hulls of the enginy, was not defito tiert in its effect of another kind, the destruction of the seamen. t. Five a tou being over for the present, admiral Keppei hauled dow a the signal for battle, till the ships could recover their sta- ***, or of ocar enough to support each other on the o * - - - - - -- . . . . . . - . . . Q.
of the action. To call them together for that purpose, he irrfmediately made the signal to form the line of battle a-hearf, which was considered as commanding the most prompt obedience. Admiral PalliseT was at this moment in his proper station ; but quitted it and passing Keppei to leeward on the contrary tack, while the latter was advancing to the enemy, never came into the line during the rest of the day, Palliser being totally out of the line, other ships for a-sfcern, and 5 disabled in their rigging, at a great distance to leeward, the British admiral,-about 3 o'clock, iii the afternoon, could not collect above twelv e ships to xenewi the engagement. The French observing the exposed situation of the British ships wnich had fallen to leeward to repair their damages, edged away with an evident intention of cutting them off from the rest of'the fleet. Adm. Keppei instantly discerned their design and the danger of the ships, and suddenly ■wore and stood athwart the van of the enemy, in a diagonal line,for their protection. He also dispatched orders to Sir Robert Harland to form his division at a distance astern of the Victory, to cover the rear and keep the enemy in check, till Palliser should, it* obedience to the signal, come with his division into his proper station. The protection of the disabled ships being accomplished, and the French continuing to form their line, ranging up toleeward parallel to the centre division, it became the admiral's immediate object to form his as speedily as possible, in order to bear down upon them and renew the battle. Seeing Palliser" still to windwaid, he sent capt. Windsor of the Fox frigate with express orders to him to bear down inta his wake ; and to tell him, that he only waited for him and his division to renew theattack. This order not producing the desired effect, the admiral threw.out the signal for all ships to come into their stations ; and again at seven o'clock, being wearied out with fruitless expectation, he made the signal for each particular ship of Palliser's division to come into her station in the line ; but before they had complied with this signal, night put an end to all further operations.-*-* From a motive of delicacy, no signal was particularly thrownout to the Formidable, Sir Hugh Palliser's own shipr • The French could have renewed the action during every hotfr' of the afternoon, with apparent advantages, which from the situation of affairs could not possibly have escaped their observation. Their conduct the following night indicated their indisposition to a renewal of it. Three of their best sailing vessels were stationed at proper distances with lights to divert the attention of the British fleet, and to induce a belief that their whole line still kept its position. During this deception the rest of the fleet withdrew in the most silent manner, without lights or other'signals
Bills than the throwing up of some rockets; ami made tire best to£ their way to Brest, where they arrived the next evening. By -day-light the French tleet had got at such a distance, that the British atimiral concluded, he had not the smallest prospect of com* ing up with them, and that neither a general nor partial pursuit •could answer any beneficial purpose. He therefore left only a -proper force to protect the homeward bound trade, and then juade the best of his way to Plymouth, as being the nearest port, in order to put the fleet into a proper condition to return in quest of the enemy. . .... -It was observed on tire day of action with equal surprise and -segret, and by some of the bravest and most experienced British, officers, that the Freneh worked and manoeuvred their ships, with a degree of seaman-like address and dexterity, which they never before perceived- The event of the day, and the consequent escape of the French fleet were to admiral Keppel intolerably grievous. By his consummate skiM, and the most incessant industry, he had gained after four days pursuit of the enemy, one -of the fairest opportunities of doing the most signal service to .his country, in the most critical exigency, and of raising his own name to the summit of naval renown* lie hoped to have made SiG 27th of July, " a proud day to Great-Britain." All these mighty advantages and glorious rewards were unaccountably ravished from hinij when they appeared within his grasp. In Plymouth, -the failure of a complete victory was attributed to Sir Hugh Palliser; whose non-compliance with tire admiral's signals has been ascribed by many to the disabled condition of some j©f the ships in his division. . .
The admiral, with wonderful temper, and no less prudence, accommodated his conduct to the necessity of his situation, and made the public security and interest the only objects of his direction. He advanced no charge against Palliser. His public letter was short, general, and barren of information. It stated facts so far as it went, threw no blame upon any body, and commended the bravery of the officers in general, and of Sir Robert Harland and Sir Hugh Palliser in particular. But this approbation is to be applied only to tire particular circumstances and immediate time of the action : the subsequent transactions of the afternoon, were in general thrown into the shade; and the Causes that prevented a renewal of the engagement left in sucli obscurity, as has drawn no small share of censure upon Keppel himself.
! The.French fleet returned to Brest considerably damaged.in -their hulls, but glorying in an action, wherein they had eugaged .fit equal number of British ships without the loss of a single ves..,. sel,