1809 - Expedition to the Scheldt


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1809 Expedition to the Scheldt 139

principal cause, no doubt, was the inundation of the country, the French having cut the dike to the right of the town. The Earl of Chatham learnt also, for the first time, that Antwerp was strongly fortified ; that the approaches to it could be completely inundated ; that the citadel commanded the arsenal and dock-yard ; that the ships of war, with their guns and stores in, could retire to a spot within one mile of Ruplemonde, which is five miles above Antwerp ; and that, by taking out their guns and stores, they could go to Dendermonde, a fortified town situated 15 miles higher. These and other causes led to a council of war on the 26th ; and a council of war, as it more commonly does, determined, that to abandon the enterprise was better than to run the risk of failing to accomplish it.

The British immediately began the evacuation of Zuid-Beveland, and by the 4th of September not a sail was to be seen in the road of Saeftingen. Leaving a sufficient force to occupy Walcheren, the Earl of Chatham and the bulk of the army re-embarked at Veer, Rammekens, and Flushing. Towards the end of the year, when the healthy season was just commencing, the British government gave orders to withdraw the troops from Walcheren. Accordingly, the embarkation took place in the early part of December; the basin, arsenal, and sea-defences of Flushing having previously been blown up and destroyed, and the place rendered, for a time at least, utterly useless to the French emperor as a naval depot. Of the three vessels on the stocks, two, a frigate and brig, were destroyed ; but the timbers of the 74 were brought away, and, being put together at Woolwich dock-yard, produced, by the year 1812, the Chatham, of 1860 tons. A fine new frigate of 1104 tons, the Fidelle, also fell into the hands of the British, and was afterwards commissioned as a 38, and named the Laurel.

The far-famed Expedition to the Scheldt partaking less of a naval than of a military character, we shall not venture many remarks upon the lamentable issue that attended it. We will first transcribe a few observations which a French writer has made upon what he considers ought to have been the plan of the campaign. " Blankenberg," he says, " is the point of the coast the most conveniently situated for the disembarkation of a body of troops destined for the invasion of Flanders. From this spot a paved road runs straight to Antwerp. Its length is 20 leagues it passes through Bruges and Ghent. These two cities, at this time the capitals of rich and populous departments, which indirect taxation was harassing more than the conscription, would have supplied few recruits; but, in taking up a position there, the English would give to their plans an air of importance, convert to their use the resources of this fertile country, occasion a momentary inquietude and fear, and paralyze the zeal of those Belgians who, from interest, were devoted to France. From the Downs to Blankenberg is 20 leagues ; and the passage could be so managed that the fleet

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