* Home * Loney home * Life & career * Documents * Album * Ships * Portrait * Uniform * Background * * Search this site * 
William Loney RN - Background

Home-Loney-Background-The Royal Navy (1/3) (2/3) (3/3)

Henry Norton Sulivan on the 1845 Anglo-French action in Uruguay


THE BATTLE OF OBLIGADO, 1845-46.

On November 8th the combined British and French squadrons - composed of the ships mentioned [here] started on their expedition up the river.

BRITISH.
 Tons.Guns. 
Gorgon (paddle-steamer)11116Capt. C. Hotham.
Firebrand (P.S.)11906Capt. J. Hope.
Philomel4288Com. B.J. Sulivan.
Comus49218Act. Com. E.A. Inglefield.
Dolphin3183Lieut. R. Levinge.
Fanny 1 (schooner)1Lieut. A.C. Key.
FRENCH.
San Martin 12008Capt. Tréhouart.
Fulton (P.S.)6502Lieut. Mazères.
Expéditive16Lieut. De Miniac.
Pandour10Lieut. Du Paie.
Procida4Lieut. De la Rivière.
l Taken from Brown's squadron

The wind was fair. The British squadron, led by the Philomel, composed the "port", the French, led by the San Martin, the "starboard" division. Owing to the strong current and the occasional grounding of ships, they only made forty miles the first day, and did not reach the ground suitable for exercising the landing-parties. So the next morning, as the wind was then foul, the Firebrand took the Philomel and Fanny in tow, to go on in search of a proper place. This done, on the 11th the training began. While the French sailors were properly drilled to act on land, there was no such system in the English service, as may be imagined from the following description of the men who were shortly wanted to face large bodies of trained troops. It was only the simplest evolutions that were required of them, yet they were ignorant even of these. Sulivan had to hold some of the lieutenants before he could get them to understand that, as pivot-men when wheeling in line, they must stand still. Of one ship's company, it was discovered not one man had been taught to use a musket. The officers and men of this large ship's company showed such utter ignorance of soldiering, that, fearing a mistake on their part in action might endanger the whole party, it was decided to do without them, there not being thought to be sufficient time to train them. However, a young officer. Lieutenant Brickdale, a supernumerary on board the ship, asked Sulivan to be allowed to try what he could do with the men. Leave being given him, he took the men out of sight of the others, and so drilled them in one week that it was thought well to allow them to join the rest.

To continue with the journals:-

"'PHILOMEL,' FORTY-FIVE MILES UP THE PARANA,
"November 12th, 1845.

"The men really make a good show. The orders for landing, etc., came out last night. Marines, commanded by Captain Hurdle, form one column on the right - the seamen-battalion, under Captain Hotham, one column on the left. The companies of seamen commanded by Lieutenants Woodley, Barker, Levinge, and Brickdale. The Philomel's party, commanded by Commander Sulivan and Lieutenant Doyle, will form in front, and precede the columns as skirmishers. The French have been drilling apart from us, but to-morrow we all land together. It is very singular that in the Uruguay, at the mouth of the Parana, we had not one mosquito, and that the moment we enter this river we find them swarming, yet there is very little difference in the land on the banks of the river. Even among the islands in the Uruguay we had not one. Is it not a singular thing that all the captains of our squadron are collegians - Hotham, Hope, Inglefield, myself, also Lieutenant Key? The latter got the first medal, and afterwards won his commission at the New System College. It is astonishing how the few days' drill has got the men on. The naval battalion to-day 'marched past', and went through all the exercises uncommonly well, and the 'light company' were complimented on their exercise. The officers have been laughing at Doyle being such a good light-infantry man, he being about the heaviest in the field; and our 'double quick' to-day, and the constant four hours' work, with frequent runs to get into our rallying square, has quite knocked him up. We all feel the benefit of this daily exercise after being cooped up so long, but the weather is getting very warm. We are to go on on Monday. I do hope the Fulton will arrive first, as there is still a probability that she may bring news of peace; and however well we may succeed, it would be very sad to think that we had any loss of life that was not necessary to gain our object. But the desire to open the trade of this river will, I fear, prevent the ministers coming to any terms with Rosas, until they have by force passed up the river."

"OBLIGADO, RIO PARANA,
"November 23rd, 1845.

"Through the merciful providence of God I have been preserved through scenes of bloodshed while many have been called away. I can only give you a short account of it, as the letters must be closed to-night. We reached our anchorage two miles below this on the 18th (my birthday). We saw the batteries prepared to dispute our passage. They were certainly more formidable than we anticipated, and were beautifully built: parapets twelve feet thick (some more), of rammed clay - the position excellent, a slight bend enabling them to fire both right down and across the river. We reached the place too late to do anything on the 18th. The boats were all sent early that day to bring some enemy's vessels from under the land; but on getting near, they were found to be two miles up a narrow creek, close under high land, with a force posted along the cliffs all the way, and out of reach of the ships' guns. Richards, with two of our gigs, and a French lieutenant, in his boat, going near the mouth to examine, were fired on, and one Frenchman was wounded. Two shots came into our gig close to young Steveley, who was steering her. The officers all agreed that it would not be right to risk the loss they must have met with to destroy a few little boats (for they were nothing more), and very prudently returned, much to my delight, as I saw the position from our masthead, and thought it useless to attempt it.

Map
PLAN OF OBLIGADO

"On the night of the 18th I went with a French officer, Lieutenant Mazères (each in our own boat with muffled oars), and sounded close up to the chain and batteries, without being discovered, though we heard them talking on shore. Then a man in the French boat, who interpreted for us, whispered to me, 'The captain thinks it time to be off.' I quite coincided, particularly as several lights were shown, and I expected a shower of shot on us. The next day was spent in reconnoitring and planning the attack. I was given command of the left division, and was to lead it - the heaviest vessels (San Martin, Comus, and Pandour) being intended to be more abreast of the batteries, while Dolphin was with them to attack the enemy's vessel. It was not supposed that many guns would bear toward the left division, and we should, we thought, rake the batteries, except No. 1. We were therefore to go first, so as to cover the right division in taking their positions. On the morning of the 20th there was a fog with a light breeze; and as the current, of three or four knots, was against us, we could not go on. At eight it cleared; and thinking there was wind enough, Hotham made the Philomel's signal to weigh. Tréhouart had very handsomely ordered the two commanders of the French vessels in my division to put themselves under my orders, as if theirs were English ships. Hotham had also put our ships of the right division under Tréhouart, who was in San Martin. When we weighed, the Expéditive could not get on, and anchored again, which obliged me to wait for her. She soon came on, and we proceeded. Procida was close to me - Fanny, Expéditive, just astern; but we only got over the ground about half a mile an hour, so light was the wind and strong the stream. As we got near, I saw Nos. 1, 2, 3, batteries could point all the guns at us, and we saw them turning them towards us. I confess I wished all the other ships were up to share it; but the right division were some way astern, except Dolphin (Levinge), who, being anchored farther up, did not wait for her division, but weighed as soon as we came abreast of her, and ran up the middle of the river. Levinge's doing so saved us from a dreadful loss. We had got within three or four hundred yards of our station, only just making headway against the stream, when a thirty-two-pounder in No. 1 fired at us (9.50 a.m.). The shot passed inside our rigging, a few feet above the ship, and cut the ensign halliards and brought down our ensign; it was soon rehoisted, and we fired one of our bow-guns in return (we had two on the topgallant forecastle), and the next moment every gun opened on us, and a hail of shot and rockets flew past us, all either a few feet over or on one side. As young Steveley described it, they were like large cricket-balls passing us. I had just been forward to fire a shell with the starboard bow-gun, to try the range, and then had gone aft to look to the steering (as we had to anchor by bearings as a guide to the others), when I saw a crash on the forecastle. A large shot flew past my head (we were standing straight for the batteries), and I saw poor Doyle (who had gone to fire the gun I had just fired before) fall back, and roll nearly off the forecastle, while two or three other men were knocked down. A shot had come through the gun-carriage and slide, knocking them in pieces, and the iron splinters caused all the damage. I thought Doyle was killed, but was soon told he was only dreadfully wounded. The shots still came close past, and in a minute the fore-topmast was cut more than half through (the only shot that went high), and we were obliged to lower the fore-topsail below the wound, and at the same moment the main topsail-tye was shot away, and down came the main-topsail, and she began to drop astern, so we let go the anchor about three hundred yards short of our position. In another moment two more shots came through our starboard bow. Just as I was going up on the forecastle to see what damage was done to the gun, one shot came through under the forecastle, and knocked a fowl-coop to pieces, the splinters and iron bars flying past in a way I cannot describe, and knocking down two or three more men. Our deck aft to the wheel was covered with splinters of wood and iron. We then got two more guns through our bow-ports under the forecastle. But all this that I have described took place in less then ten minutes, and was only the first burst of the batteries. And beautifully the enemy fired; they had placed targets to practise at before, and so knew the range exactly. The vessels in my division anchored at the same time; but trying to get their broadsides to bear across such a strong tide, were all swept away back some distance, except Fanny, with Key, who kept close to us. At this time the only other vessel up was Dolphin; and she, not getting the first burst, stood on, till, seeing her nearer and more abreast of them than we were, the enemy turned every gun at her, except two of the No. 1 battery. Had not Levinge been up, I am convinced we should have suffered dreadfully. At this time there was not a steamer within a mile of us. But poor Levinge soon began to receive the same treatment as we had, with this difference, that it lasted longer with him, for he went on till all his ropes and sails were cut away, and then anchored, as he could get no nearer. He was exposed within six hundred yards to the fire of every gun, the only return to which was from her three guns, three bow-guns of Philomel, and one of Fanny. In another quarter of an hour, Tréhouart, in the San Martin, came up, and got ahead of Levinge, taking all the weight of the fire off Dolphin; but by that time the latter had been terribly handled, having nineteen men killed and wounded. The same treatment was then given to the French brig. The San Martin's sails were rapidly disabled, but she had nearly shot the short distance to her station when her anchor was let go by a shot cutting the stoppers. Comus, following, had been able to reach her station near San Martin, where her broadside of heavy carronades would have been most effective; but trying to use a stern-anchor as a spring, she drifted back, and brought up outside Dolphin in an exposed but less effective broadside position. San Martin was thus left unsupported in her advanced position, as Pandour had brought up near her station, below the intended position of Comus. When we consider that she was a small brig of about two hundred tons, we may safely assert that no vessel of her size was - few even of any size were - ever exposed to such a trial, and certainly one never behaved more nobly. On her beam, at a distance of six hundred yards, she had a large share of the fire from the three first batteries; on her port bow, the nearly raking fire of the seven guns of No. 4, at six hundred yards' range; and, nearly ahead, the raking fire of the eight guns of the Republicano and gun-boats. Some idea of the severity of this fire may be had from the following facts: On the port bow, between her figure-head and cat-head, she was struck by thirty-six round-shot. The three shell-guns on her broadside, as well as the bow eighteen-pounders, had been rapidly disabled; and on shifting one over from the other side, three men who tried to fire it were killed in succession before doing so; and before another could fire it, it was dismounted, as were the other two guns shortly after they were shifted over. She was thus rendered a passive target for the enemy's guns. Yet she kept her station! Her cable being shot away, she drifted down a little, but again brought up in a good position. Though the other vessels were by that time coming up and opening their fire, and the steady fire of Dolphin, Philomel, and Fanny was evidently beginning to slacken the fire of the batteries, yet they poured such a fire into poor Tréhouart that his vessel became a complete wreck, with forty-four out of his one hundred men killed and wounded. The other vessels could not all get up to good positions, the wind getting so light (At 10.50 the enemy let loose ten fire-vessels, but they drifted past the ships without doing any harm). But the steamers about this time came up, and began to throw their heavy shot and shell; and the French steamer went right on to support her senior officer, and took a very good position, by which she received much damage. Fearing damage to the machinery, it had not been intended that the steamers should go close until the chain was cut, when they were to pass the chain, and flank the batteries from above. But the signal being made by Tréhouart that she was to support him, the French steamer (Fulton) went right up in the thick of it near the chain. The cause of the damage to the leading ships was the lightness of the wind, which prevented all getting up to their stations, so that the batteries could take each in detail; and what we had for a few minutes Levinge had for much longer, and the French brig for still longer. But her greater loss is to be partly attributed to this: she was old Admiral Brown's brig, which we had seized with other of Rosas' vessels at Monte Video; and seeing their old vessel brought against them, it made them pick her out for a more particular share of their favours. I confess, when I saw Dolphin and ourselves under such a heavy fire, and then the French brig and our ships coming up one by one, and also observing the beautiful way the batteries fired, I began to fear we should not pass. About 11.30 the crew of the Republicano deserted her in the gun-boats, and, having set fire to her, went to add to the strength of the seamen in No. 4 battery, which, from its high parapet and its position, had scarcely suffered any damage. But No. 3 was nearly silenced, and the field-guns had been withdrawn, but were placed in other positions in the wood. Several guns in Nos. 1 and 2 were also silenced, but the remainder were worked as gallantly and as coolly as ever. The cross-fire on these batteries repeatedly cleared the men from the guns, but they were as quickly replaced. Carts full of dead or wounded men could be seen constantly passing to the rear of the woods. One small body of infantry appeared to be retreating, but were driven back by cavalry. From the shot and shell that passed over the batteries, sweeping the ground in their rear, the slaughter amongst the troops there was also great. But we saw large bodies of cavalry and infantry retreating a little inland, and the batteries were evidently not fully manned. The enemy certainly behaved well; and one man in a white waistcoat was most conspicuous on No. 1 battery, directing the guns, standing on the parapet while the shot ploughed up the clay round him; yet he remained unhurt to the last, and was the admiration of all. But I am sorry to say we afterwards heard he was old Brown's son (Afterwards understood to be Colonel Rodriguez; but Colonel Thorn's son has lately claimed the honour for his father; see page 91); yet, though born of English parents in Buenos Ayres, he is, according to Sir Robert Peel's late decision, a Buenos Ayrean, and therefore, I suppose, has a right to fight us. The other battery that held out so well was commanded by Thorn, an American, and worked by seamen, many of whom were English; and some we have found wounded. But they said if they refused to serve they would have had their throats cut!

"But to proceed. About noon, having repaired our rigging a little, a light breeze enabled us to weigh and get closer. During the rest of the action only an occasional gun was fired at us, and our hull was never struck again. About a quarter past twelve the Republicano blew up. But the boats of the San Martin and Dolphin were destroyed, and they had suffered so much that they could not attempt to cut the chains, on which all now depended. So Captain Hope volunteered to do it. With three boats (calling at Dolphin for the armourers, who had previously practised chain-cutting) he pulled for the chain, about the seventh or eighth vessel from the island, and within five hundred yards of the batteries. In a moment there were three sets of saws at work, - one with Captain Hope cutting through the four cables on the deck of one of the vessels; the others with Lieutenant Webb, Mr. Nicholson (mate of Dolphin), and Mr. Commerell (midshipman), cutting the six riding-cables of three vessels, the boats' crews in the boats being sheltered by the vessels' hulls. The whole fire of the batteries appeared to be directed on the small clusters of men on the vessels' decks. Yet, though round- and grape-shot were driving splinters from the spars and decks on which they stood, not one man was touched, and in four minutes the ten chain-cables had been sawn through, and three vessels swung out of the line, leaving a gap nearly a hundred yards wide. From prisoners we learnt that the general had ridden to the batteries, and offered fifty ounces (£200) to the men of any gun that would knock Captain Hope down - his tall figure (six feet two inches), standing by the working-parties, making him a conspicuous object.

"The Fulton had before this fired away all her shot and shell, and, like San Martin, had become only an unresisting target for the enemy. As soon as the passage was made, the French steamer, went through, and soon after Firebrand and Gorgon; then for the first time the two latter were under fire, but there were only a few guns then firing, and they received no loss, only one or two shots and rockets hitting them. Their position above now enabled them to rake the batteries. Soon after Hotham made the signal for the armed boats to go to Gorgon, and we all shoved off -Richards and young Sulivan (The late Captain W. Sulivan, his first cousin) going with our party, besides myself, leaving Fegan and Brown on board, with men enough to work two guns. When the boats were pulling past the chain to go to Gorgon, they fired at them with grape-shot from No. 4, but did not hit any one. When I got on board, I found Hotham in great doubt about landing. We knew there had been at least three thousand men on shore, and we did not then know how much execution our fire had done; but Hotham evidently felt that the thing would be only half done if the guns were not destroyed. Hope had been to the French commandant, who said he was so cut up he could not spare any men; but if Hotham landed, as he was then coming up with two French vessels (into one of which he had shifted), he would lay them close to the batteries to cover us. Hotham asked for my opinion. I felt so much the uncertainty and the responsibility of it, also that if we failed it would give the enemy a victory; and if we left it undone, we should not really succeed in our intentions. What between the anxiety to land, and the fear of the advantage it would give Rosas if he prevented our landing, I hardly knew what to say, and for the first time I said I would rather not give an opinion, but if he decided on going I should be very glad to go. Hope had previously asked to go also if we landed, though it was intended he should command afloat. Hope and Captain Hurdle of the marines had, I believe, been in favour of landing. Hotham in a few minutes determined to land, and bring it to a decisive issue (180 seamen and 145 marines were landed. Tréhouart, in spite of his disabled state, managed after all to land a party of French seamen to assist our men). The batteries being flanked by woods, made it impossible to know what force they had there. And as No. 4 battery was then firing guns, in spite of some beautiful shots thrown into it, and as our force was reduced by the absence of the French, and the killed and the wounded of the English, Hotham certainly deserves every praise for his determination to try and carry the batteries when there was so much doubt about it. The principal battery being No. 1, it was determined to attack that first, as Nos. 2 and 3 were close down, and the ships could destroy them at any time. We landed under these. While we were coming on shore and forming up, they fired one or two shots from No. 4 at us; but we were so close under they could not depress the guns enough to hit us. I then spiked some of the guns in No. 2 (Whilst the men were forming on the beach, he went alone into No. 2 battery, which was open to the rear, and spiked five of the guns, under a heavy musketry fire from the enemy. But with the sixth the spike bent, but would not break; so, after hitting itseveral times, the balls rattling round him, he jumped over the parapet unhurt. In later years this action would doubtless have won for him the Victoria Cross. - Ed.), but unfortunately forgot to haul down the large flag with all Rosas' mottoes, though I was close to the staff. When formed, we moved up towards No. 1, which is on a steep slope forty feet high. (I have marked in dots the way we went up.) I had to lead with a company of seamen under Lieutenant Key of Gorgon, and the coverers of the Philomel under Lieutenant Richards, who were the battery party. Key went round, while we went right up the slope, both arriving in the battery at the same moment. There was not a soul in it, but a number of bodies dreadfully mutilated by our shot. One of our men hauled the flag down. We had scarcely shown ourselves when a sharp fire of musketry was opened on us from the trees within fifty yards, though we did not see a man. It is perfectly wonderful numbers of us were not struck; but they fired high. We poured a heavy fire into the wood, and in a minute or two their fire ceased. Before the marines, who were close behind us, could get up it was all over. Key's men then lined the wood, as ordered, while we laid down our arms and commenced trying to break the guns' trunnions. I first spiked the gun that had fired the most at us, and that had done so much injury to Doyle and others (myself and Richards, with two men, had a hammer and a bag of spikes each for this purpose). It was a beautiful brass thirty-two-pounder, richly ornamented. I hope to show it to you one day mounted in some public place at home. We had just spiked them all, and the men were trying to break the trunnions off, when just at the flag-staff I saw one of our men, as I thought, examining one of the dead bodies, and told him to come away, when, to my surprise and grief, I found it was poor Pollyblank, my coxswain, who had been close to me as we reached the top of the slope, and must have been killed at that moment. He was shot through the head, and only breathed slightly for an hour, dying as we returned to the ship. You may easily imagine what my feelings were. However, there was not much time to think of it further than what a mercy it was that his was the only life lost, for the balls whistled as close past our heads as possible. During this time there was some sharp firing in the wood, where Hope had two companies of seamen. He had entered the battery while we were firing, while the marines stood across the rear of the battery to hold it till we could dismount the guns. This we soon did, but could not break off their trunnions (I am now glad of it, as we have them on board safe as trophies). Out of six only two were serviceable, the carriages of the others being hit by shot. One gun was much dented in by a shot; all but one were struck and slightly dented in. The parapet was scored up, and the rocket-tube had two shots through it. I should think every gun and carriage averaged three shot each that had struck. And when it is considered that we were at first nine hundred yards, or perhaps a thousand, off, and never nearer than five hundred, and that the battery was forty feet above us, it will show how beautifully we fired: there was not much difference in any ship. The French fired well also; in fact, their countrymen may well be proud of their behaviour altogether. With half the number of men we had, they lost about twice as many; but their loss was nearly all in San Martin.

BRITISH.FRENCH (450 men).
 Killed.Wounded. Killed.Wounded.
Gorgon03San Martin1025
Firebrand (s.)11Expéditive24
Philomel16Pandour210
Comus22Fulton16
Dolphin514Procida00
Fanny01 

"The French had four hundred and fifty men altogether, and their killed and wounded were sixty, or one in seven and a half. Our loss fell on Dolphin, Comus, and Philomel, they having between them thirty killed and wounded, out of the thirty-six. Now these three ships had only two hundred and forty men in them, so that the loss in them was one in eight, very nearly the same as the French. Even San Martin did not lose many more than Dolphin in proportion; she had thirty-five killed and wounded out of a hundred, and Dolphin had eighteen out of fifty-eight; so there is not a great difference. It is singular that in such a severe contest there is not one marine killed or wounded, the whole of the marines from the ships having been sent to the steamers beforehand to be ready to land. The steamers were under fire only a few minutes in passing the chain, and that from only one or two guns; and when the landing took place, the skirmish in the fort was over before the marines could get up.

"Perhaps I should add, as you will all be pleased with it, that when I went to Hotham, after the heat of the action was over, before the chain was cut, to suggest something to him about the position of one of the ships, he told me before all hands on Gorgon's quarter-deck that the way Philomel behaved was the admiration of every one. However, I cannot help giving first place (of the English) to Dolphin. The other most meritorious points were Hope's cutting the chains in the manner he did, and Hotham's determination to land and decide the thing at once, rather than risk the chance of their saying we had not entirely succeeded. Then the gallant way in which the enemy fought at first! They certainly gained great advantage by the damage they did to Dolphin and San Martin. This would have enabled them to make out a pretty good story, but for our decisive success in landing. When we think that our loss in landing was only two killed and three wounded, it certainly was most fortunate and creditable to Hotham that he decided to try it. I forgot to say that, not liking to separate our forces, we only disabled Nos. 1, 2, and 3 batteries by dark, while their flag was flying in No. 4, and there was a skirmish going on between our boat-guards and men in the wood round No. 4. It was there the Gorgon's man was wounded. One of our boys (Payne) shot one man who was in the act of firing at him. We killed and wounded several by our first fire in the skirmish at No. I battery, and found them in the wood as our light company advanced.

"I must give you particulars of Philomel's loss. Considering the position we were in, and that on board Gorgon the officers say that the shot rained round us so the first few minutes that they thought we must be sunk, it is indeed a most merciful interposition of Providence that prevented our loss being greater. The only man killed was Pollyblank, my coxswain. Poor Doyle, though, is, I fear, mortally wounded. The fragments of a large cast-iron plate in the gun-carriage entered his side and left thigh in three places, fracturing his hip-bone, while another entered and broke his arm, and another smashed his hand; so that if he survives the dreadful wound in the hip (which the doctors think impossible), he must lose his arm. He behaved nobly when told they were deserting the batteries; he cheered as he lay in such agony; and when the fire slackened, and I went below for a moment to see him, he asked if we were driving them out, and seemed delighted when I told him we were. The poor fellow then said he had just been thinking how much better it was for him to be hit than me, as he had no one depending on him, as I had. This was too much for me, and I think I never felt more grief than I did at that moment. To see him so mangled and bleeding, and, as we thought, dying fast, and yet thinking of others! It really showed a noble spirit.

"I believe the enemy will never make a stand again, this has been such a lesson to them. But it is dreadful to think of the carnage! In the little space we have walked about in close to the shore, there are above a hundred dead bodies, all most dreadfully cut to pieces by round-shot; for it is a most singular thing that, notwithstanding the number of shells fired, few men have been killed by their bursting (I could only see one), while both men and horses have been killed by the shot or shell before it burst. Every hut has its proportion of dead, and we hear at first they took numbers away in carts, to prevent others being disheartened. We saw cavalry outside trying to force infantry back; and in one case an officer on horseback tried to send a party of infantry back into the wood, and they shot him and marched on. Every day we have found poor wounded wretches in the wood still alive. To-day three were found who had lain three days with limbs off, and yet alive: they have had their limbs amputated since. I fear that in the large wood numbers are still actually dying of starvation, being unable to move on account of their wounds. There are men of all nations among the wounded: we find English, Americans, Spaniards, Russians, etc., and a number of poor blacks. I trust I may never again have to enact a part in such a scene; and yet I am astonished with myself, and rather disgusted at my want of feeling, that the second day I found myself moving among these bodies as unconcerned as if they were not human beings, and examining the effects of our shot. Yet when I thought how many my own hand might have put to death, it certainly made me shudder; for, as we changed our charge of powder with our distance, and the shots were not so good, I fired several myself to get the range. In fact, I fired so many that I wore off the skin of my fingers by pulling the trigger-line, because I saw it was of the utmost importance to fire so as to make them fear every shot. Sometimes we cleared the battery, when a few men would come, fire one or two guns, and either be killed or leave ; but their places would be again supplied by others. Yet, with such slaughter, old Brown's son could stand nearly the whole time on the parapet without being hit. Sometimes he went and laid the gun, and whenever he did a shot went into something or another. Both Dolphin and we at last got quite a respect for him, and did not wish him to fall. We only hear it was Brown's son from the wounded prisoners, but of course are not certain. One of our shot had an extraordinary effect. There was a large tree with a very thick trunk, and right in a line with us behind it, in the rear of the battery, three officers had evidently placed themselves to avoid our shot, thinking the tree a protection. The ball passed through the tree, and took all three of their heads off, and they were lying in the exact line as they had fallen. The huts and houses had evidently been long inhabited, and things of all kinds were found, plenty of wine and spirits, all of which were started, even to a number of cases of champagne. Unfortunately five marines got too fond of the spirits, and are to be punished to-morrow. Only one of my marines was complained of; and Hotham paid our men a great compliment, particularly for the way we worked at the batteries. As we shoved off from Gorgon to land, he hailed us, and said, 'Philomel, recollect I have picked you out to get into the batteries and disable the guns, because I know you of old, and I am sure you will do it well.'

"The next day we landed early, the French leading up to No. 4 to destroy more guns, but there was no resistance; the seven guns were rolled over into the water. At the same time I had two companies given me to go to No. 1, and try to saw through the trunnions of the guns (we had by this time disabled the carriages); but finding we could not succeed, I asked Hotham to give me a lot of men and let me try and get the guns off; so he gave me a hundred and fifty marines besides my men, while the seamen kept guard and had an occasional shot at the enemy reconnoitring. We had lots of ropes on the guns, and hauled them down to the boat by main force; and by working hard at it all day, we got them all off by half an hour after dark, the marines and seamen relieving each other. We are all delighted at our success, as they are splendid trophies, and a good set-off against our flags in Buenos Ayres. The account of them in the sketch is not quite right, as the guns are larger than we then thought they were - three thirty-two-pounders, five twenty-four-pounders, and two eighteen-pounders, all splendid old Spanish brass guns, one highly ornamented, cast in 1663, and the others about 1780, all at the royal foundry at Seville. I suppose more beautiful brass guns have never been taken. We of course give half to the French, but the five we shall get will do very well as trophies (The Frenchmen's trophies are still to be seen at Paris. Ours were returned, with somewhat of an apology, on the change of government). To show how well they fired, at first, except one, not a shot passed ten feet above us, and the jib that was kept set after we anchored had seven shot through the foot of it, without any higher up but the one shot that cut the topmast.

"And now I think I have told you all except the names of our wounded. Besides Doyle, poor old Raymond, the captain of the forecastle, who was five years in Beagle, was dangerously wounded. A piece of iron as large as a thimble was taken out of his head (it cut the temple artery), besides which his elbow-bone is broken; but still I hope he may do well. Cummings and boy Williams both severely wounded by splinters, and old Lee slightly in his back and arm, and Templeman in both arms. These are all we return; but there are two others in the list with contusions. I did not like the idea of swelling the list too much, and therefore would not have them put in. Besides these, there were numbers with blood on the face and hands, from the multitude of slight splinters that flew about. One young Scotch boy, that had just joined us out of a merchant-brig, was going up on the forecastle with the powder, as coolly as if it was his every day's work, with the blood running down his cheek. Lee and one or two others, after their wounds were dressed, could hardly be kept below five minutes. There seemed more curiosity about watching our shot than fear about the round-shot that were knocking about us. The youngsters did very well; they both went to their stations in the tops for furling, when we anchored, as eagerly as usual, and Steveley hailed me that the fore-topmast was nearly gone, just as he would to let go a rope. W. Sulivan hoisted the ensign directly after the halliards were shot away; and as it was hoisted, and the shot went through it, old Hall, the quartermaster, proposed that it should not be repaired, but should be hoisted with the hole in it when we went home. It was very singular that one of the first shots fired at us should nearly have killed Doyle; and the first fired at Comus took poor Lieutenant Brickdale's head off as he was firing the forecastle gun, and it killed the powder-boy, but did not touch the ship. One of the first fired at Expéditive knocked her thirty-two-pounder off her forecastle, killing the lieutenant who was going to fire it. Only one other officer was killed, and he was a fine young man - G. Andrews, clerk in charge of Dolphin. She had had her cable shot away, and drifted some way off; but the firing was then nearly over, and he had just said how wonderfully they had escaped, when a round-shot came through below and killed him in the gun-room, where he was assisting the doctor."

The casualties among the British officers were as follows:-
Lieutenant C. Brickdale, Comus, killed.
G. Andrews, Clerk, in charge Dolphin, killed.
Lieutenant Doyle, Philomel, wounded severely (died).
R. Warren, 2nd Master, Dolphin, wounded slightly.
J. Gallagher, Assist. Surgeon, Dolphin, " "
T. Ellstob, Assist. Clerk, Dolphin, " "
Lieutenant Key, Fanny, " "

It may be well here to add extracts from Captain Sulivan's evidence before the Royal Commission on Coast Defences, 1860. He used the statements to show how difficult it was to stop vessels passing batteries, also to show how batteries should be constructed, as well as the value of vertical fire over direct fire at forts. His reduced charges really turned his guns into howitzers. Some conclusions may be drawn therefrom bearing on modern warfare.

"They could not sink the vessels, in consequence of the smoothness of the water. The San Martin had a hundred and six round-shot through her hull, and the greater proportion in the copper above the water. The nearer the water-line the thicker the shot, which was the only reason a man was left on her deck. They did not strike so much above; they fired at the water-line. If she had heeled six inches, she would have gone down; but there was not one shot under water. Yet I believe that as long as there had been a single sail set she could have gone by."

"The batteries were built by a Russian engineer, entirely of rammed clay, with a sixteen-feet parapet; and so perfect were they, that a cross-fire from vessels even in eight hours could not silence them; and only those guns that were behind parapets, where the embrasures were not deep enough and the parapets high enough to shelter the men's heads, or to cover the guns sufficiently, could be silenced, — not by injuring the guns, for after eight hours the principal battery had only one gun injured; it was only accomplished by cutting off the men's heads and shoulders by careful parapet-firing from the ship."

"I do not think shell-fire would succeed in stopping a ship going by a battery. I may add that so little effect had a fire on one battery, which had a parapet a foot above the men's heads (the only one of the kind), that, though two of our heavy steamers, after the booms were passed, got very close on its flank, where the guns could not fire on them, and were for three or four hours with four heavy guns flanking it, besides all the direct fire on it, not the slightest impression could be made on it, and hardly a man was hurt."

"We had not concussion-shells then. The fuse-shells were evidently so wasted against the earthwork, that, after I had fired twelve myself carefully at one battery, finding that they either went into the parapet without bursting, or, if they passed the least to the rear, burst beyond the men, and that it was only wasting the shell, I would not fire any more, and I confined myself to shot with reduced one-pound charge, fired as close as possible over the parapet, to drop them into the battery (He likened it to a boy lobbing stones over a wall, and afterwards always used this incident as an argument in favour of the advantage of vertical over direct fire against such forts. - ED). There was one remarkable case there to show what a steam-vessel could stand. The French steam-boat Fulton (six or seven hundred tons) went up to cover her chief, who was suffering dreadfully, and anchored between him and the batteries. The boom not being cut, she was detained there for, 1 think, three hours. They put fifty-six heavy round-shot into her paddle-wheels and sponsons; they destroyed every particle of the wheel nearest the side, both the wheel and the paddle-beam, so that the shaft only had a mass of broken iron to heave round; and yet, when the chains were cut, she was the first that went through with her one remaining wheel, and she afterwards came down and repassed the batteries, to tow up some other vessel with her one wheel. Though three round-shot went in among her engines, they did not do any damage."

"There were eight hundred men, by their own account, killed and wounded, out of three thousand; but they were nearly all struck by round-shot in the batteries as fast as the men were brought in, and we believe from the deserters' accounts that the loss was very much greater."

"Were any of the guns which you speak of 'en barbette'?" - "None, though they were all in embrasures; and, with the exception of one battery, the mistake had been made of not raising the parapet enough, which left the men's heads and shoulders showing over it, and left the guns exposed to direct fire, so that we saw the breech of the gun over the parapet very well."

Captain Key: "Do you know how many guns we had engaged at that time?" - "Not reckoning one which was disabled, and only fired two shots, we (Philomel) were only firing three guns at the batteries; the Dolphin fired two; then there was one long thirty-two-pounder in Fanny; and the Comus had two thirty-two-pounders. One French vessel had six shell-guns (three on one side); and when they were all knocked over, she shifted the other three, and the whole were disabled in an hour. That makes fourteen. There were about sixteen thirty-two-pounder, medium and long guns in the sailing-vessels. In the steamers there were one ten-inch, two heavy sixty-eight-pounders, and one thirty-two-pounder. Those were the most that bore at any one time. And there were about thirty carronades, twenty-four and thirty-two-pounders, on the broadsides of other vessels [almost ineffective]." (Captain Sherard Osborne wrote in 1861, referring to this action "My argument amounts to this: If you with brigs and corvettes can fight such an action against an enemy firing shot and come off victors, whilst our huge ships were repulsed at Sevastopol without one being sunk, that the only way to account for it is by the moral effect of the shell and hot shot fired at the ships." (Hence the need of armour.))

Dr. Niddrie, the surgeon of the Gorgon, went in a small gig through the thickest of the fight from ship to ship to aid the surgeons in the ships suffering most. When he found his own ship had later on passed the batteries, he followed her under fire against a four-knot stream. His conduct was admired by both French and English; yet, being unmentioned in the despatches, he was not rewarded, in spite of Sulivan's later efforts on his behalf. Twenty-five years after, my father was telling the story to some young doctors in the Turkish baths at Blarney. One of them afterwards, in my presence, went up to a lady visitor at the establishment, and said, "We have been hearing the story of a Dr. Niddrie who was at Obligado. Was he any relation of yours?" "My husband!" She told my father that, disappointed at being passed over, really because he had bravely spoken out when it was his duty to do so, he retired into private practice soon afterwards, but did not survive his disappointment many years.

Sulivan, in his pamphlet on "Honorary Rewards," speaking also of Captain Tréhouart, says, "His noble conduct was the admiration of all, and the cordial, frank, and thoroughly straightforward manner in which he acted towards his allies throughout the expedition was beyond all praise." For this action Captain Tréhouart was promoted to the rank of admiral. It is a pity our rules do not admit of a similar promotion for special naval service.

Hotham gave Sulivan the flag the latter had hauled down under fire. In 1883 the authorities at Buenos Ayres returned a British flag, supposed to be one of the 71st Highlanders', captured from them in 1807 (but afterwards proving to be one taken from one of our merchant-ships). Sulivan then, through the Argentine consul in London, made a return of his flag. It will be seen, from the following copy of his letter to the consul, he thought the defender of the battery was Rodriguez. But after my father's death Admiral Brown's grandson wrote claiming the honour for his father. It will be seen in these journals that Brown was the name originally mentioned, so there is evidently some uncertainty about the matter.

"BOURNEMOUTH, 1883.

"At the battle of Obligado in the Parana, on November 20th, 1845, an officer in command of the principal battery excited the admiration of those English officers who were nearest to him by the manner in which he encouraged his men and kept them to the guns during a heavy cross-fire, under which that battery more especially suffered. For more than six hours he walked the parapet of the battery exposed to his feet, except when he occasionally left it to point a gun himself. From wounded prisoners of his regiment we afterwards learned that he was Colonel Rodriguez, of the Buenos Ayrean Regiment of Patricios. When all the artillerymen were killed or wounded, he manned the guns with men of his infantry regiment to near the close of the battle, losing five hundred killed and wounded out of the eight hundred men of his regiment. When the English seamen and marines landed in the evening, and first took that battery, he and the remainder of his regiment alone, of all the defending force, held the position in the rear of the battery, notwithstanding the heavy cross-fire of all the ships through the woods in the rear of the batteries, and were the last to retreat. The flag of the battery he had so nobly defended was hauled down by one of the men with me, and was given to me by the English senior officer, Captain Hotham. When hauled down, the flag fell on some of the bodies of those who had fallen, and was stained with their blood. I have lately seen a statement that an English regimental flag, that had been in the possession of an Argentine family since the war of 1807, has been restored to the regiment by a member of that family. I am desirous of following that example by restoring to Colonel Rodriguez, if alive - or if not, to the Patricio Regiment of Buenos Ayres, if still existing - the flag that so many of their regiment nobly fell under in the defence of their country. If Colonel Rodriguez is dead, and the regiment does not now exist, I would ask any of the surviving members of the colonel's family to accept it in remembrance of him, and of the very gallant conduct of himself, his officers, and men at Obligado. Those of us opposed to him who had witnessed his self-devotion and gallantry were very glad indeed to hear afterwards that he had escaped unhurt to the end of the action.

"B. J. SULIVAN, Admiral."


Source: Henry Norton Sulivan: "The Life and Letters of Admiral Sir B.J. Sulivan K.C.B.", John Murray, 1896, 52 - 70.
Top (1/3) (2/3) (3/3)

 * Home * Loney home * Life & career * Documents * Album * Ships * Portrait * Uniform * Background *
Valid HTML 5.0