General Brock
Chapter III - Service Abroad - The Baltic


"Of Nelson and the North sing the day."
—Campbell.

EUROPE was now engaged in a death struggle with her great foe who was everywhere victorious. After the battle of Hohenlinden on December 3rd, 1800, Austria consented to peace with France, and England was left without an ally. Paul, the half-mad emperor of Russia, had quarreled with her, partly on account of the ill-starred expedition to Holland, partly because she would not give up to him the island of Malta. Bonaparte, whose astute mind saw where advantage was to be gained, promoted the quarrel, and in order to gain the czar's friendship collected all the Russian prisoners in France, clothed them, supplied them with muskets and sent them back to Russia. This had the desired effect, and Paul, from an enemy, became for the time a devoted friend to France.

As a first proof of his friendship he seized the English vessels in his harbours, his excuse being that England had sent a fleet to Copenhagen to oblige Denmark to acknowledge the navigation laws and the right of search of neutral vessels.

In December, 1800, the Russian emperor coneluded a coalition or alliance with Denmark and Sweden, to which Prussia afterwards acceded. In consequence of this step, England put an embargo on the vessels of the Baltic powers.

Bonaparte now had visions of a greater empire beyond Europe, and secretly concerted with Russia for an expedition to India. In the meantime, he hoped by commercial embarrassment, by the weight of arms, and by the skilful management of the powers of Europe, to overthrow England, his last and greatest enemy. He had reckoned without Nelson.

In order to meet the dangers that threatened her on all sides, Great Britain brought together the most powerful fleet she could collect in the northern waters. There were eighteen sail of the line, besides frigates, bombs, fire ships, etc., amounting in all to fifty-three sail. On February 17th, 1801, Nelson received orders to place himself under the command of Sir Hyde Parker, and to prepare for an expedition against the combined Danish and Russian fleets in the Baltic. It was Isaac Brock's good fortune to assist in this memorable expedition, and he was placed second in command of the land forces engaged.

Colonel, afterwards General, Sir William Stewart, second son of the Earl of Galloway, was in chief command of the marines on this occasion. It was another fortunate occurrence for Brock to be thus associated with one of the most progressive soldiers of the age. Colonel Stewart had served in the West Indies in command of the 67th Foot, and afterwards with the Austrian and Russian armies in the campaign of 1799. On account of what he saw there of the rifle shooting of the Croats and Tyrolese he organized a corps of riflemen in the British army, afterwards known as the Rifle Brigade. Colonel Stewart was much in advance of his times. He brought into the army modern methods such as lectures and schools for the men, classification in shooting, athletic exercises, and medals for good conduct and valour. Nelson called him "the rising hope of our army." His brother, Charles James Stewart, was the well-known and beloved Bishop of Quebec.

Colonel Brock embarked at Portsmouth with his own regiment of about seven hundred and sixty rank and file on board Nelson's squadron, and sailed to Yarmouth Roads, where they joined the fleet under Sir Hyde Parker. Nelson was anxious to proceed at once before the Danes would have time to prepare for them, but there were many vexatious delays. It was March 20th before the fleet anchored in the Kattegat, eighteen miles from Elsinore, where the Sound narrows to three miles. The Russian navy was divided, part being at Cronstadt and part hemmed in by the ice at Revel.

The British fleet advanced very deliberately, a frigate being sent ahead to land the British envoy, Mr. Vansittart. whose instructions were to allow the Danes forty-eight hours to accept the demands of Great Britain and withdraw from the coalition. This delay annoyed Nelson, who much preferred action to parley, and believed that delay only gave advantages to the defence. "A fleet of British ships are the best negotiators in Europe," he had written. "Strike quick and home," was his motto. On the 23rd Vansittart returned with terms rejected, and brought a report that the batteries at Elsinore and Copenhagen were much stronger than they had been informed. So strong did Vansittart think the defences, that he said if the fleet proceeded to attack, it would be beaten. The numerous delays had given the Danes time to line the shoals and harbours with a formidable flotilla, and to stud the shores with batteries.

The attempt to take the place was nearly given up by Sir Hyde Parker, but Nelson was determined to persevere, and prevailed upon his chief to adopt his plan of action. Twelve ships of the line were given to the daring admiral in addition to his smaller vessels—in all thirty-three ships, while the rest of the fleet remained to the north four miles away.

It was on March 30th, 1801, that Nelson's squadron came to anchor between the island of Huen and Copenhagen. On the morning of April 2nd he shifted his flag from the St. George to the Elephant, placed his ships in order of battle and gave the signal to advance. Then came a check. Two vessels, the Bellona and Russell, grounded, 26 and although they could use their guns, they were too crippled to be of much use. Nelson's ship followed, and when he saw them ground and realized that he had lost their support he hailed the Ganges on which was the 49th Regiment and told it to keep as close as possible ahead of the Elephant. Colonel Brock was now ordered to lead the 49th in storming the principal battery in conjunction with five hundred seamen under Captain Freemantle of the Ganges, as soon as the fire of seventy guns should be silenced.

The Danes made a heroic defence, and the plan of assault with small boats being impracticable, Brock and his men remained on board the Ganges. Savery Brock was with him, and while in the act of pointing one of the guns a grape shot tore his hat from his head and threw him on his back. "Poor Savery is killed," his brother exclaimed, but the apparently wounded youth jumped up, rubbed his head, and fired the guns as if nothing had happened. In the early part of the action, when it was expected that the 49th would land to storm the batteries, Savery had announced his intention of going in the boat with his brothel-, who, knowing the hopeless character of the attempt to be made, insisted on his remaining on board, observing, "Is it not enough that one brother should be killed?" The captain of the Ganges then gave Savery command of the gun and his narrow escape put an end to the discussion.

With crippled ships and mangled crews Nelson fought on in spite of the signal that came from Admiral Parker to leave off action.1 In heroic disobedience he still persevered until what might have been an overwhelming disaster turned to victory. When the heavy fire south of the three-crown battery had ceased, when most of the Danish vessels were helpless hulks, four of them remained through which the batteries and the British kept firing. The ships that had struck were resisting the attempts of the British to board them, and it was then that Nelson sent his famous message to the Crown Prince calling upon him to surrender in the name of humanity. It was Brock's good fortune to be near the admiral when he wrote it, and the lesson he learned that day was one he remembered and acted on years afterwards when he had to send a similar message to a beleaguered foe. The message was:—"To the brothers of Englishmen, the Danes,—Lord Nelson has directions to spare Denmark when no longer resisting; but if the firing is continued on the part of Denmark, Lord Nelson will be obliged to set on fire all the floating batteries he has taken, without having the power of saving the brave Danes who have defended them. (Signed) Nelson and Bronté."

When the signal came from Admiral Parker, Nelson said to his captain, "You know Foley I have only one eye, I have a right to be blind sometimes," and then putting the glass to his 'blind eye he exclaimed, I really do not see the signal." It was therefore not repeated from his vessel and the action went on.

It was in the preparation and despatch of this note that Nelson gave another illustration, often quoted, of his cool consideration of all the circumstances surrounding him, and of the politic regard for effect which he ever observed in his official intercourse with men. It was written by his own hand, a secretary copying as he wrote. When finished the original was put into an envelope, which the secretary was about to seal with a wafer, but this Nelson would not permit, directing that taper and wax should be brought. The messenger sent for these was killed. When this was reported to the admiral, his only reply was, "Send another messenger"; and he waited until the wax came and then saw that particular care was exercised to make a full and perfect impression of the seal which bore his own arms. Colonel Stewart said to him, "May I take the liberty of asking why, under so hot a fire, and after so lamentable an accident, you have attached so much importance to a circumstance so trifling?" Nelson replied, "Had I made use of the wafer, it would still have been wet when presented to the Crown Prince; he would have inferred that the letter was sent off in a hurry, and that we had some very pressing reasons for being in a hurry. The wax told no tales."

A verbal message by his principal aide-de-camp was sent back by the Crown Prince asking the particular object of sending the flag of truce, to which Nelson replied, "Lord Nelson's object in sending on shore a flag of truce is humanity; he therefore consents that hostilities shall cease till Lord Nelson can take his prisoners out of the prizes, and he consents to land all the wounded Danes, and to burn or remove his prizes." By this time the Crown Prince had sent orders to the batteries to cease firing, so the battle ended, and both sides hoisted flags of truce.

It was acknowledged by Nelson that his ships had suffered more than in any other battle he had ever fought. His success, however, was complete. Niebuhr, the Danish historian, wrote, "We cannot deny it, we are quite beaten." As to the importance of the victory, by it the great coalition of the northern powers was broken and Bonaparte once more was foiled in his great game.

Unknown to the combatants at the time, however, was the death of the chief supporter of the coalition—the Czar Paul. On the night of March 24th he had been murdered, and his young son Alexander reigned in his stead. This news did not reach Copenhagen until after the armistice was signed.

In October of the same year preliminaries of peace were entered into in London, and on March 27th, 1802, at Amiens, Great Britain, on the one part, and France, Spain, and Holland on the other, concluded a treaty of peace. The Marquis Cornwallis was the plenipotentiary for England and Joseph Bonaparte for France. By this treaty France agreed to evacuate Naples and the states of the church; England on her side gave up all her conquests during the war to the powers to which they had formerly belonged, excepting the islands of Trinidad and Ceylon. Egypt was restored to Turkey, the Cape of Good Hope to Holland, and it was promised that within three months the English should evacuate Malta, which was to be given back, under certain conditions, to the Knights of St. John.

After the victory of Copenhagen, when the 49th returned to England, it was stationed for a time at Colchester, and in the spring of 1802 was ordered to Canada where it was destined to remain many years.


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