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THE CASTLE OF ABÛKIR AND THE SCENE OF THE BATTLE OF THE NILE. The sea beyond is Abûkis Bay, in which Nelson won the Battle of the Nile. The French held this castle during the battle.
not of the same value in supporting the fleet as it would be nowadays, for the guns of the Nelsonic era were not like ours, and the French fleet had to lie three miles from the shore on account of the shallowness of the coast water. But Brueys, as Nelson divined from the rough chart taken from a prize, which was all he had to guide him in the most daring piece of seamanship in the whole history of the world, had not anchored as close to the shoal water as he might have done either on the side or at the head of his column. Otherwise Nelson could never have executed his unutterably daring manæuvre of penetrating between the French and the shore. And instead of anchoring his ships so close to each other that his line could not be pierced, he anchored them five hundred yards apart. The skilled eyes of Nelson and his captains took in the points of the situation at a glance. "Where a French ship can swing,” said Nelson, “an English ship can pass," or words to that effect; and proceeded to advance to the task, with his own ship in the centre of his line, so as to be in the best position for adapting the attack to circumstances. To show the full daring of the attack, I must recall a few facts of the history of that eventful day.
It was at a quarter to three in the afternoon of August 1, 1798, that the mast-head-man of the Zealous discovered the long-sought-for enemy lying in Abukir Bay, fifteen miles east of Alexandria. The enemy was so distant that Nelson knew he could not reach them till nightfall, and that he would not only have to fight the battle in the dark, but that some of his ships would have to take up their positions in the dark, with hardly anything to guide them but their knowledge of the margin, which a bad seaman like the French admiral would allow himself. Each side had thirteen ships, but Nelson's were all two-deckers, and some of the French were three-deckers, so their preponderance in the number of guns and the weight of metal was enormous. Further, only ten of Nelson's thirteen ships were with him. Two of them, the Alexander and the Swiftsure, were a dozen miles to leeward, doing frigate's duty; and the Culloden, captained by Troubridge, the finest sailor in the fleet after Nelson, was seven miles to windward, towing a prize. It was almost too much to expect of mortal man to make the attack that night, short of three of his best ships, and facing the awful perils of penetrating between a hostile fleet and a shoaling shore, almost uncharted, as darkness fell. But Nelson saw it in a different light. “The admiral," said Berry, who was so long his flag-captain, “ viewed the obstacles with the eye of a seaman determined to attack.” To wait for the next morning was to give the French admiral time to correct some of his errors. He was almost certain to be unprepared for an attack that night. It mattered not that there was no time for Nelson to hold a council of war with his captains ; they had discussed the whole situation so often before, that, when called upon to give battle, in unknown waters in the dusk, without previous consultation with their admiral, they were all competent for the task. One shines with a special glory, Captain Foley; for it was Foley who said to himself, as he led the line, with Hood in the Zealous almost abreast of him, that the French would not be so ready for action on the side protected by the shore ; and this fired him to lead inside the French line. Nelson had perforce left the course of the fleet to the van-ships, as his chart was such a rough
The awful carnage on the French ships at the Battle of the Nile testifies to the perspicacity of admiral and captain. Brueys, when the signal of the approach of the English was made in the afternoon, was not properly cleared for action. A great deal of furniture and partitions, and other woodwork deadly for splinters, was encumbering his decks. As Foley contemplated, he did not throw them overboard, but stowed them on the side of the ships protected by the shore, making the handling of the guns on that side more difficult, and exceedingly dangerous.
The English took a wide course round Nelson's Island and stood in, between the sandbanks and the mudbanks, close to the head of the French line. The wind was blowing down the line, which enabled him to execute with precision the manæuvre he desired. It was at half-past five that Nelson hoisted his signal for line of battle. But in spite of that, and
of the French fire, they sailed in with the greatest deliberation-all except Troubridge in the Culloden, who, cutting his prize adrift, was in such a hurry to take part in the battle that he grounded on the edge of a shoal, and lay there pounding heavily till the next morning. The little Leander, of fifty guns, and the brig Mutine, strove heroically to tug him off ; but Troubridge saw that it was vain, and ordered the Leander to take her place in the battle. One thing he could do-by dint of signal and lantern he kept the Alexander and the Swiftsure from sharing his fate, and saved them for Nelson.
Meanwhile Nelson executed his ideal maneuvre of throwing the whole of his fleet on a portion of the fleet of an enemy less skilled in seamanship. His was the sixth ship, and instead of following the first five inside the French line, he altered his course, and led the remaining ships outside the line, laying his own ship, the Vanguard, within a pistol-shot of the Spartiate, the third ship in the French line. The first two were already shattered. The Zealous had dismasted the Guerrier within ten minutes ; the Goliath and the Audacious had riddled the Conquérant with their broadsides. As the other English ships came up, each was to lay itself alongside the first French ship it came to; but two of them, the Bellerophon and the Majestic, were carried down the line, the Bellerophon fetching up against the gigantic L'Orient, which had a hundred and twenty guns against her seventy-four, and a still greater inequality in the size of the guns. Their failure to take their places in the concentrated British attack on the French van caused very great loss in killed and wounded, not only on the Bellerophon, exposed to the terrific fire of L'Orient, but on Nelson's own ship, the Vanguard, which, while she was fighting the Spartiate, had her bows raked by the Aquilon, which was for awhile unengaged. The actual firing began at half-past six ; the Guerrier's masts were all shot away before sundown, a quarter of an hour later. None of the ships engaged shifted their positions until after eight. Just as the Bellerophon, unable to resist the fire of L'Orient at close quarters any longer, had cut her cable and hauled off, the Alexander and the Swiftsure and the