1809 - Expedition to the Scheldt


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1809 British and French Fleets 140

should arrive at the break of day. The disembarkation would be accomplished without striking a blow, and Bruges be immediately occupied. The light detachments would then advance upon Sluis, a dismantled fort, and then by Moldeghem and Caprike, upon Ghent. A division of 10,000 or 12,000 men should also march upon Courtray, with orders to push forward a party and retain a communication with Ghent by the great road of Menin. At length the main body of the army arrives, by forced marches, at the Tête de Flandre and Liefkenshoeck, both of which it carries in a trice. Meanwhile the English fleet appears at the mouth of the Scheldt, and is now able, with some prospect of success, to commence operations in combination with the army. Any one may convince himself, " says the writer, " by referring to the map, that this object may be attained, as far as relates to the journey, in 72 hours after the disembarkation has been effected at Blankenberg. "

Could, as the French writer supposes, all this have been accomplished, the dock-yard and arsenal at Antwerp might easily have been destroyed ; for, until the 2d or 3d of August, the garrison consisted of a mere handful of men. The 10 sail of the line, four frigates, and 40 or 50 gun-brigs, must then either have set fire to themselves or have submitted to be captured. No other alternative remained to them. What a contrast this presents to that which really was done. Nor did the expense, which a million sterling would not cover, nor the disgrace, which no sophistry could gloss over, comprise all the mischief caused by this ill-planned, ill-timed, and ill-executed expedition : the official returns show, that upwards of 14,000 officers and men were made sick by the unhealthy climate of Walcheren. And, although, according to the same returns, not many more than composed a fourth part of that number died of the " Polder fever," scarcely one who is alive at this day but carries in his frame some unsubdued portion of the disease ; some rheumatic affection or periodical ague-fit, forcing upon his recollection the share he had in an expedition, which, for the credit of its planners and the honour of their country, it were better, on every account, could be buried in oblivion.

The Expedition to the Scheldt was ill-planned, because General the Earl of Chatham, as he admitted in his examination before the Committee of the House of Commons appointed to inquire into the cause of the failure, did not, at the time of his departure from England, know to what extent Antwerp was fortified ; nor whether the citadel commanded the dock-yard ; nor, in short, any thing about the place he was going to attack. It was ill-timed, because the sickly season had actually commenced a few days before the expedition sailed from the Downs ; and it was ill-executed, as evinced by the manner in which the attack was made, (take the failure to occupy Cadzand as one

* For the original, see Appendix, No. 10.

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