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that the place could be held for so long a time as seven weeks,
Early on the 17th of December, Fort Mulgrave, on the height La Grasse, was stormed by an immense body of the enemy, after having kept up an incessant fire upon it, with shot and shells, for four-and-twenty hours. As usual, the right, occupied by the Spaniards, soon gave way, by which means the French entered the works, and got entire possession of the height. At the same time they attacked and carried the heights of Pharon, immediately over Toulon.
Things were now growing to a crisis. A council of war, that sure herald of discomfiture, was summoned, and it was determined to evacuate a place that could be no longer held.
The Spanish admiral, Langara, undertook to destroy the ships in the inner harbour or basin, and to scuttle and sink the two powder-vessels, which contained all the powder belonging to the French ships, as well as that belonging to the distant magazines within the enemy's reach.
The disarray had already begun. The Neapolitans deserted their posts, and stole on board their ships in confusion and disorder; and the next morning, December 18th, the Neapolitan commanding officer at the post of Sepel sent word that there he would no longer remain. The
retreat of the British troops and the evacuation, could not therefore be deferred. Accordingly, in the night, the whole of the troops embarked without the loss of a single man, and fourteen thousand eight hundred and seventy
men, women, and children, of the royalists of Toulon, were sheltered in the British ships.
It was now Sir Sidney's turn to come into action. By this time, the Republican forces pressed so energetically upon the place, that its final occupation by them seemed to rest entirely with themselves. It therefore became necessary to decide upon the disposition of the French ships in the harbour and on the stocks, and the arsenal then full of military and naval muniments of war; and this too at the very critical moment, when the extrication of the allied army from their dangerous position was the paramount object of solicitude, and just then occupied nearly all the attention, and absorbed all the naval capabilities, of the combined squadrons.
Sir Sidney Smith proceeds on his perilous service-Fires the
arsenals—The misconduct, or the treachery, of the Spaniards-Explosion of the powder-ships-He re-embarks safely–His despatch.
At the crisis mentioned in the last chapter, Sir William Sidney Smith, having delivered up his troublesome charge to the commander-inchief Lord Hood, was, as his guest on board of the Victory, then waiting for a passage to England. At this anxious moment he volunteered his services to burn the French fleet, magazines, and everything that could at all be of service to the naval or military equipments of the enemy. This was deemed almost visionary, certainly impracticable with the slender means that could then be afforded to our hero. It was, however, one of those possible impracticabilities in which his genius rejoiced. Against the almost universal opinion, he accomplished the undertaking in a manner that justified his appointment
to so forlorn an enterprise,—ten ships of the line, and several frigates, in the arsenal and inner harbour, with the mast-house, great storehouse, and other buildings, being completely destroyed.
It is well understood and confessed by all impartial men, that the fortifications surrounding Toulon were, owing to the treachery and imbecility of our allies, ill defended, and the evacuation of the place too long deferred. Had neither of these contingencies happened, the immense naval force, with all its appointments, would have passed over quietly into the possession of the English, and thousands of the royalist Frenchmen saved, who were slain on the republicans taking the place, or who afterwards fell victims to the ruthless guillotine, or the still more ruthless noyades. This was at the acme of the reign of terror.
The proximate cause of this disaster, which spread confusion and almost terror throughout the English fleet, was, as before related, the permitting the enemy to gain possession of an elevated battery, on a point of land that laid open the British naval force to a destructive cannonade. This post, so commanding, so all-important, was strangely neglected by the military ; hence all the confusion, disarray, and misery that ensued.
It was the high destiny of Sir Sidney Smith
gallantly to remedy some of the consequences of this mistake. Already was a large portion of the enemy in the town; plunder and murder had commenced their savage orgies, and, to increase this infliction upon the distracted inhabitants, the galley-slaves had obtained their liberty, when, with his officers and the few men under his command, and surrounded by a tremendous conflagration, he found that he had nearly completed his dangerous service.
But little more remained to be done, when the loud shouts and the republican songs of the enemy announced their approach to the spot where Sir Sidney and his small band were spreading around them destruction. The scene became terrible; for the screams of the wounded, and the roaring and the hissing of the voluminous flames, were drowned, at rapid intervals, by the rattling volleys of musketry, the terrific explosion of shells, and the thunder-emulating booming of the artillery. War revelled in rapine, and whilst his feet were saturated with human blood, his many-toned and hideous voice seemed to shake the smoke-obscured firmament.
Whilst all these horrors were enacting, and which seemed even so terrible to the vindictive and exasperated enemy that their progress was,
, for a space, arrested, a most overwhelming ex