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and citizens. Had not the whole attention of the Danes
been directed to strengthen their own means of defense,
they might most materially have annoyed the invading
squadron, and, perhaps, frustrated the impending attack ;
for the British ships were crowded in an anchoring
ground of little extent : — it was calm, so that mortar-boats
might have acted against them to the utmost advantage ;
and they were within range of shells from Amak Island.
A few fell among them; but the enemy soon ceased to
fire. It was learned afterwards, that, fortunately for the
fleet, the bed of the mortar had given way ; and the Danes
either could not get it replaced, or, in the darkness, lost
the direction.

This was an awful night for Copenhagen — far more so
than for the British fleet, where the men were accustomed
to battle and victory, and had none of those objects before
their eyes which render death terrible. Nelson sat down
to table with a large party of his officers ; he was, as he
was ever wont to be when on the eve of action, in high
spirits, and drank to a leading^ wind, and to the success
of the morrow. After supper they returned to their
respective ships, except Riou, who remained to arrange
the order of battle with Nelson and Foley, and to draw
up instructions: Hardy, meantime, went in a small boat
to examine the channel between them and the enemy;
approaching so near, that he sounded round their leading
ship with a pole, lest the noise of throwing the lead should
discover him. The incessant fatigue of body, as well as
mind, which Nelson had undergone during the last three
days, had so exhausted him, that he was earnestly urged
to go to his cot; and his old servant, Allen, using that

1. Lcarfinrj. Fair, favorable.

258 . The Life of Nelson

kind of authority which long and affectionate services
entitled and enabled him to assume on such occasions,
insisted upon his complying. The cot was placed on the
floor, and he continued to dictate from it. About eleven
Hardy returned, and reported the practicability of the
channel, and the depth of water up to the enemy's line.
About one, the orders were completed ; and half-a-dozen
clerks in the foremost cabin, proceeded to transcribe
them : Nelson frequently calling out to them from his cot
to hasten their work, for the wind was becoming fair.
Instead of attempting to get a few hours of sleep, he was
constantly receiving reports on this important point. At
daybreak it was announced as becoming perfectly fair.
The clerks finished their work about six. Nelson, who
was already up, breakfasted, and made signal for all cap-
tains. The land forces, and five hundred seamen, under
Captain Fremantle and the Hon. Col. Stewart, were to
storm the Crown Battery as soon as its fire should be
silenced : and Riou — whom Nelson had never seen till this
expedition, but whose worth he had instantly perceived,
and appreciated as it deserved — had the Blanche and
Alcmene frigates, the Bart and Arrow sloops, and Zephyr ,
and Otter fire-ships, given him, with a special command
to act as circumstances might require : — every other ship
had its station appointed.

Between eight and nine, the pilots and masters were
ordered on board the Admiral's ship. The pilots were
mostly men who had been mates in Baltic traders; and
their hesitation about the bearing of the east end of the
shoal, and the exact line of deep water, gave ominous
warning of how little their knowledge was to be trusted.
The signal for action had been made, the wind was fair —
not a moment to be lost. Nelson urged them to be steady,
— to be resolute, and to decide : but they wanted the only
ground for steadiness and decision in such cases; and

The Life of Nelson



\\ N

South South-east

under Parker





Shoa I


April 2,1801


51 sail in all,

.16 ships-of-the-line


19 ships-of-the-Iine

260 The Life op Nelson

Nelson had reason to regret that he had not trusted to
Hardy's single report. This was one of the most painful
moments of his life ; and he always spoke of it with bit-
terness. ^'I experienced in the Sound," said he, ''the
misery of having the honor of our country entrusted to a
set of pilots, who had no other thought than to keep the
ships clear of danger, and their own silly heads clear of
shot. Everybody knows what I must have suffered : and
if any merit attaches itself to me, it was for combating
the dangers of the shallows in defiance of them." At
length Mr. Bryerly, the master of the Bellona, declared
that he was prepared to lead the fleet ;^ his judgment was
acceded to by the rest : they returned to their ships ; and,
at half-past nine, the signal was made to weigh in

Captain Murray, in the Edgar, led the way ; the Aga-
memnon was next in order : but, on the first attempt to
leave her anchorage, she could not weather the edge of
the shoal ; and Nelson had the grief to see his old ship, in
which he had performed so many years' gallant services,
immovably aground, at a moment when her help was so
greatly required. Signal was then made for the Polyphe-
mus: and this change in the order of sailing was executed
with the utmost promptitude : yet so much delay had thus
been unavoidably occasioned, that the Edgar was for
some time unsupported : and the Polyphemus, whose place
should have been at the end of the enemy 's line, where
their strength was the greatest, could get no farther than
the beginning, owing to the difficulty of the channel:
there she occupied, indeed, an efficient station, but one
where her presence was less required. The Isis followed,
with better fortune, and took her own berth.^ The Bel-

1. Lead the fleet. That is, pilot it, sliifting for ttie purpose to the
foremost ship, the Edgar.

2. Rer own berth. Her proper station, as assigned in the order of battle.

The Life of Nelson 261

lona, Sir Thomas Boulden Thompson, kept too close on
the starboard shoal, and grounded abreast of the outer
ship of the enemy : this was the more vexatious, inasmuch
as the wind was fair, the room ample, and three ships
had led the way. The Uussellj following the Bellona,
grounded in like manner ; both were within reach of shot ;
but their absence from their intended stations was se-
verely felt. Each ship had been ordered to pass her
leader on the starboard side, because the water was sup-
posed to shoal on the larboard shore. Nelson, who came
next after these two ships, thought they had kept too far
on the starboard direction, and made signal for them to
close with the enemy, not knowing that they were
aground : but, when he perceived that they did not obey
the signal, he ordered the Elephant's helm to starboard,^
and went within these ships : thus quitting the appointed
order of sailing, and guiding those which were to follow.
The greater part of the fleet were probably, by this act
of promptitude on his part, saved from going on shore.
Each ship, as she arrived nearly opposite to her ap-
pointed station, let her anchor go by the stern, and pre-
sented her broadside to the Danes. The distance between
each was about a half-cable. The action was fought
nearly at the distance of a cable 's length from the enemy.
This, which rendered its continuance so long, was owing
to the ignorance and consequent indecision of the pilots.
In pursuance of the same error which had led the Bellona
and the Russell aground, they, when the lead was at a
quarter less five,- refused to approach nearer, in dread
of shoaling their water on the larboard shore : a fear alto-
gether erroneous, for the water deepened up to the very
side of the enemy's line.

1. Helm to starboard. Thus turning the ship in the opposite direc-
tion, to the left.

2. A quarter less five. Four fathoms and three quarters, or 28 1/^ feet.

262 The Life of Nelson

At five minutes after ten the action began. The first
half of our fleet was engaged in about half an hour; and,
by half -past eleven, the battle became general. The plan
of the attack had been complete : but seldom has any plan
been more disconcerted by untoward accidents. Of
twelve ships of the line, one was entirely useless, and two
others in a situation where they could not render half the
service which was required of them. Of the squadron of
gun-brigs only one could get into action: the rest were
prevented, by baffling currents, from weathering the
eastern end of the shoal; and only two of the bomb-
vessels could reach their station on the Middle Ground,
and open their mortars on the arsenal, firing over both
fleets. Eiou took the vacant station against the Crown
Battery, with his frigates ; attempting, with that unequal
force, a service in which three sail of the line had been
directed to assist.

Nelson 's agitation had been extreme when he saw him-
self, before the action began, deprived of a fourth part of
his ships of the line ; but no sooner was he in battle, where
his squadron was received with the fire of more than a
thousand guns, than, as if that artillery, like music, had
driven away all care and painful thoughts, his counte-
nance brightened ; and as a bystander describes him, his
conversation became joyous, animated, elevated, and de-
lightful. The Commander-in-Chief, meantime, near
enough to the scene of action to know the unfavorable
accidents which had so materially weakened Nelson, and
yet too distant to know the real state of the contending
parties, suffered the most dreadful anxiety. To get to his
assistance was impossible; both wind and current were
against him. Fear for the event, in such circumstances,
would naturally preponderate in the bravest mind ; and,
at one o 'clock, perceiving that, after three hours ' endur-
ance, the enemy's fire was unslackened, he began to de-

The Life of Nelson 263

spair of success. ' ' I will make the signal of recall, ' ' said
he to his captain, ' ' for Nelson 's sake. If he is in a con-
dition to continue the action successfully, he will disre-
gard it ; if he is not, it will be an excuse for his retreat,
and no blame can be imputed to him," Captain Domett
urged him at least to delay the signal, till he could com-
municate with Nelson; but, in Sir Hyde's opinion, the
danger was too pressing for delay : — "The fire," he said,
* ' was too hot for Nelson to oppose ; a retreat he thought
must be made — he was aware of the consequences to his
own personal reputation, but it would be cowardly in
him to leave Nelson to bear the whole shame of the failure,
if shame it should be deemed. ' ' Under a mistaken judg-
ment,* therefore, but with this disinterested and generous
feeling, he made the signal for retreat.

Nelson was at this time, in all the excitement of action,
pacing the quarter-deck. A shot through the mainmast
knocked the splinters about ; and he observed to one of his
officers with a smile, ' ' It is warm work ; and this day may
be the last to any of us at a moment : ' ' — and then stop-
ping short at the gang-way, added with emotion — ''But,
mark you! I would not be elsewhere for thousands."
About this time the signal-lieutenant called out, that No.
39 (the signal for discontinuing the action) was thrown
out by the Commander-in-Chief. He continued to walk
the deck, and appeared to take no notice of it. The signal-
officer met him at the next turn, and asked him if he
should repeat it. "No," he replied, "acknowledge it."^
Presently he called after him to know if the signal for

* I have great pleasure in rendering this justice to Sir Hyde Par-
ker's reasoning. This fact is here stated upon the highest and most
unquestionable authority. — Southey's Note.

1. Acknowledge it. To acknowledge a signal is simply to hoist a
flag showing that the signal has been understood ; to repeat it is to
hoist the signal itself, thus transmitting the order to other ships.
There is considerable evidence that Nelson understood the commander-

264 The Life op Nelson

clpse action was still hoisted ; and being answered in the
affirmative, said, "Mind you keep it so," He now paced
the deck, moving the stump of his lost arm in a manner
which always indicated great emotion. * ' Do you know, ' ^
said he to Mr. Ferguson, "what is shown on board the
Commander-in-Chief? No. 39!" Mr. Ferguson asked
what that meant. — "Why, to leave off action!" Then,
shrugging up his shoulders, he repeated the words —
' ' Leave off action ? Now, damn me if I do ! You know,
Foley, ' ' turning to the Captain, ' ' I have only one eye, — I
have a right to be blind sometimes : ' ' — and then, putting
the glass to his blind eye, in that mood of mind which
sports v^ith bitterness, he exclaimed, ' ' I really do not see
the signal ! ' ' Presently he exclaimed, ' ' Damn the signal !
Keep mine for closer battle flying ! That 's the way I an-
swer such signals ! Nail mine to the mast ! ' ' Admiral
Graves, who was so situated that he could not discern
what was done on board the Elephant, disobeyed Sir
Hyde's signal in like manner: whether by a fortunate
mistake, or by a like brave intention, has not been made
known. The other ships of the line, looking only to Nel-
son, continued the action. The signal, however, saved
Riou 's little squadron, but did not save its heroic leader.
This squadron, which was nearest the Commander-in-
Chief, obeyed, and hauled off. It had suffered severely in
its most unequal contest. For a long time the Amazon
had been firing, enveloped in smoke, when Riou desired
his men to stand fast, and let the smoke clear off, that
they might see what they were about. A fatal order ; for
the Danes then got clear sight of her from the batteries,
and pointed their guns with such tremendous effect, that
nothing but the signal for retreat saved this frigate from

in-chief s order was merely permissive, Bot mandatory, in which case
the quarter-deck conversation on the Elephant may be taken as half-

The Life of Nelson 265'

destruction. ''What will Nelson think of us?" was
Riou's mournful exclamation, when he unwillingly drew
off. He had been wounded in the head by a splinter, and
was sitting on a gun, encouraging his men, when, just
as the Amazon showed her stern to the Trekroner Bat-
tery,^ his clerk was killed by his side ; and another shot
swept away several marines, who were hauling in the
main brace. ' ' Come, then my boys ! ' ' cried Riou, ' 'let us
die all together ! ' ' The words had scarcely been uttered
before a raking shot cut him in two. Except it had been
Nelson himself, the British navy could not have suffered
a severer loss.

The action continued along the line with unabated
vigor on our side, and with the most determined resolu-
tion on the part of the Danes. They fought to great ad-
vantage, because most of the vessels in their line of
defense were without masts: the few which had any
standing had their top-masts struck, and the hulls could
only be seen at intervals. The Isis must have been de-
stroyed by the superior weight of her enemy's fire, if
Captain Inman in the DesirSe frigate, had not judiciously
taken a situation which enabled him to rake the Dane, and
if the Polyphemus had not also relieved her. Both in
the Bellona and the Isis many men were lost by the burst-
ing of their guns. The former ship was about forty years
old, and these guns were believed to be the same which
she had first taken to sea : they were, probably, originally
faulty, for the fragments were full of little air-holes.
The Bellona lost seventy-five men ; the Isis, one hundred
and ten; the Monarch, two hundred and ten. She was,
more than any other line of battle ship, exposed to the
great battery: and supporting, at the same time, the

1. Trekroner Battery. The larger of the Crown Batteries ; so called
in reference to the three crowns of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway,
once united.

266 The Life of Nelson

united fire of the Holstein and the Zealand, her loss this
day exceeded that of any single ship during the whole
war. Amid the tremendous carnage in this vessel, some
of the men displayed a singular instance of coolness: the
pork and peas happened to be in the kettle; a shot
knocked its contents about; they picked up the pieces,
and ate and fought at the same time.

The Prince Royal had taken his station upon one of the
batteries, from whence he beheld the action, and issued
his orders. Denmark had never been engaged in so ardu-
ous a contest, and never did the Danes more nobly display
their national courage : — a courage not more unhappily,
than impoliticly, exerted in subserviency to the interests
of France. Captain Thura, of the Indfoedsretten, fell
early in the action; and all his officers, except one lieu-
tenant and one marine officer, were either killed or
wounded. In the confusion, the colors were either struck
or shot away; but she was moored athwart one of the
batteries in such a situation that the British made no at-
tempt to board her; and a boat was despatched to the
Prince, to inform him of her situation. He turned to
those about him, and said, '' Gentlemen, Thura is killed;
which of you will take the command ? ' ' Schroedersee, a
captain who had lately resigned, on account of extreme
ill health, answered, in a feeble voice, ''I will!" and
hastened on board. The crew, perceiving a new com-
mander coming alongside, hoisted their colors again, and
fired a broadside. Schroedersee, when he came on deck,
found himself surrounded by the dead and wounded,
and called to those in the boat to get quickly on board :
a ball struck him at that moment. A lieutenant, who had
accompanied him, then took the command, and continued
to fight the ship. A youth of seventeen, by name Ville-
moes, particularly distinguished himself on this memor-
able day. He had volunteered to take the command of a

The Life of Nelson 267

floating battery, which was a raft, consisting merely, of
a number of beams nailed together, with a flooring to
support the guns : it was square, with a breastwork full
of port-holes, and without masts, carrying 24 guns, and
120 men. With this he got under the stern of the Ele-
phant^ below the reach of the stern-chasers;^ and under
a heavy fire of small arms from the marines, fought his
raft, till the truce was announced, with such skill, as
well as courage, as to excite Nelson 's warmest admiration.
Between one and two the fire of the Danes slackened ;
about two it ceased from the greater part of their line,
and some of their lighter ships were adrift. It was, how-
ever, difficult to take possession of those which struck,
because the batteries on Amak Island protected them;
and because an irregular fire was kept up from the ships
themselves as the boats approached. This arose from the
nature of the action; the crews were continually rein-
forced from the shore ; and fresh men coming on board,
did not inquire whether the flag had been struck, or, per-
haps, did not heed it; — many, or most of them, never
having been engaged in war before — knowing nothing,
therefore, of its laws, and thinking only of defending
their country to the last extremity. The Danhrog fired
upon the Elephant's boats in this manner, though her
Commodore had removed her pendant and deserted her,
though she had struck, and though she was in flames.
After she had been abandoned by the Commodore, Braun
fought her till he lost his right hand, and then Captain
Lemming took the command. This unexpected renewal
of her fire made the Elephant and Glatton renew theirs,
till she was not only silenced, but nearly every man in
the praams^ ahead and astern of her was killed. When the

1. stern-chasers. Guns mounted to flre astern.

2. Praams. Floating batteries ; praams is the Danish name for
large flat-boats or scows.

268 The Life of Nelson

smoke of their guns died away, she was seen drifting in
flames before the wind, those of her crew who remained
alive, and able to exert themselves, throwing themselves
out of her port-holes.

Captain Eothe commanded the Nyeborg praam ; and,
perceiving that she could not much longer be kept afloat,
made for the inner road. As he passed the line, he found
the Aggershuus praam in a more miserable condition than
his own ; her masts had all gone by the board, and she was
on the point of sinking. Rothe made fast a cable to her
stern, and towed her off: but he could get her no
farther than a shoal, called Stubben, when she sunk;
and soon after he had worked the Nyeborg up to the
landing place, that vessel also sunk to her gunwale.
Never did any vessel come out of action in a more
dreadful plight. The stump of her foremast was the
only stick standing; her cabin had been stove in; every
gun, except a single one, was dismounted: and her
deck was covered with shattered limbs and dead

By half -past two the action had ceased along that part
of the line which was astern of the Elephant y but not with
the ships ahead and the Crown Batteries. Nelson, seeing ,
the manner in which his boats were fired upon, when they
went to take possession of the prizes, became angry, and
said, he must either send on shore to have this irregular
proceeding stopped, or send a fire-ship and burn them.
Half the shot from the Trekroner, and from the batteries
at Amak, at this time struck the surrendered ships, four
of which had got close together ; and the fire of the Eng-
lish, in return, was equally, or even more, destructive
to these poor devoted Danes. Nelson, who was as humane
as he was brave, was shocked at this massacre, for such
he called it: and, with a presence of mind peculiar to
himself, and never more signally displaj^ed than now, he

The Life of Nelson 269

retired into the stern gallery, and wrote thus to the Crown
Prince : ' ' Vice- Admiral Lord Nelson has been commanded
to spare Denmark, when she no longer resists. The line
of defense which covered her shores has struck to the
British flag ; but if the firing is continued on the part of
Denmark, he must set on fire all the prizes that he has
taken, without having the power of saving the men who
have so nobly defended them. The brave Danes are the
brothers, and should never be the enemies, of the Eng-
lish." A wafer^ was given him, but he ordered a candle
to be brought from the cockpit, and sealed the letter with
wax, affixing a larger seal than he ordnarily used.
*'This," said he, "is no time to appear hurried and in-
formal." Captain Sir Frederic Thesiger, who acted as
his aide-de-camp, carried this letter with a flag of truce.
Meantime the fire of the ships ahead, and the approach of
the Ramillies and Defense, from Sir Hyde's division,
which had now worked near enough to alarm the enemy,
though not to injure them, silenced the remainder of
the Danish line to the eastward of the Trekroner. That
battery, however, continued its fire. This formidable
work, owing to the want of the ships which had been
destined to attack it, and the inadequate force of Riou's
little squadron, was comparatively uninjured; towards
the close of the action it had been manned with nearly
fifteen hundred men, and the intention of storming it,
for which every preparation had been made, was aban-
doned as impracticable.

During Thesiger 's absence. Nelson sent for Fremantle
from the Ganges, and consulted with him and Foley,
whether it was advisable to advance, with those ships
which had sustained least damage, against the yet unin-
jured part of the Danish line. They were decidedly of
opinion, that the best thing which could be done was,

1. Wafer. A thin disk of dried paste, used for sealing letters.

270 The Life of Nelson

while the wind continued fair, to remove the fleet out of
the intricate channel, from which it had to retreat. In
somewhat more than half an hour after Thesiger had
been despatched, the Danish Adjutant-General, Lind-
holm, came bearing a flag of truce: upon which the
Trekroner ceased to fire, and the action closed, after four
hours' continuance. He brought an inquiry from the
Prince, What was the object of Nelson's note? The
British Admiral wrote in reply: ''Lord Nelson's object
in sending a flag of truce was humanity; he therefore
consents that hostilities shall cease, and that the wounded
Danes may be taken on shore. And Lord Nelson will
take his prisoners out of the vessels, and burn or carry
off his prizes as he shall think fit. Lord Nelson, with
humble duty to his royal highness the Prince, will con-
sider this the greatest victory he has ever gained, if it
may be the cause of a happy reconciliation and union
between his own most gracious sovereign and his majesty

Online LibraryRobert SoutheySouthey's Life of Nelson → online text (page 21 of 29)