Our Land Forces being disembarked, erect a fascine battery-our ship is ordered, with four more, to batter the port of Bocca Chica — Mackshane’s cowardice-the Chaplain’s frenzy — honest Rattlin loses one hand — his heroism and reflections on the battle — Crampley’s behaviour to me during the heat of the Fight
Our forces being landed and stationed as I have already mentioned, set about erecting a fascine battery to cannonade the principal fort of the enemy; and in something more than three weeks, it was ready to open. That we might do the Spaniards as much honour as possible, it was determined, in a council of war, that five of our largest ships should attack the fort on one side, while the battery, strengthened by two mortars and twenty-four cohorns, should ply it on the other.
Accordingly, the signal for our ship to engage, among others, was hoisted, we being advertised, the night before, to make everything clear for that purpose; and, in so doing, a difference happened between Captain Oakum and his well-beloved cousin and counsellor Mackshane, which had well nigh terminated in an open rupture. The doctor, who had imagined there was no more danger of being hurt by the enemy’s shot in the cockpit than in the centre of the earth, was lately informed that a surgeon’s mate had been killed in that part of the ship by a cannon-ball from two small redoubts that were destroyed before the disembarkation of our soldiers; and therefore insisted upon having a platform raised for the convenience of the sick and wounded in the after-hold, where he deemed himself more secure than on the deck above. The captain, offended at this extraordinary proposal, accused him of pusillanimity, and told him, there was no room in the hold for such an occasion: or, if there was, he could not expect to be indulged more than the rest of the surgeons of the navy, who used the cockpit for that purpose. Fear rendering Mackshane obstinate, he persisted in his demand, and showed his instructions, by which it was authorised; the captain swore these instructions were dictated by a parcel of lazy poltroons who were never at sea; nevertheless he was obliged to comply, and sent for the carpenter to give him orders about it. But, before any such measure could be taken, our signal was thrown out, and the doctor compelled to trust his carcass in the cockpit, where Morgan and I were busy in putting our instruments and dressings in order.
Our ship, with others destined for this service, immediately weighed, and in less than half-an-hour came to an anchor before the castle of Bocca Chica, with a spring upon our cable, and the cannonading (which indeed was dreadful) began. The surgeon, after having crossed himself, fell flat on the deck; and the chaplain and purser, who were stationed with us in quality of assistants, followed his example, while the Welshman and I sat upon a chest looking at one another with great discomposure, scarce able to refrain from the like prostration. And that the reader may know it was not a common occasion that alarmed us thus, I must inform him of the particulars of this dreadful din that astonished us. The fire of the Spaniards proceeded from eighty-four great guns, besides a mortar and small arms, in Bocca Chica; thirty-six in Fort St. Joseph; twenty in two fascine batteries, and four men-of-war, mounting sixty-four guns each. This was answered by our land-battery mounted with twenty-ono cannon, two mortars, and twenty-four cohorns, and five great ships of seventy or eighty guns, that fired without intermission.
We had not been many minutes engaged, when one of the sailors brought another on his back to the cockpit, where he tossed him down like a bag of oats, and pulling out his pouch, put a large chew of tobacco in his mouth without speaking a word. Morgan immediately examined the condition of the wounded man, and cried out, “As I shall answer now, the man is as tead as my great grandfather.” “Dead,” said his comrade; “he may be dead now, for aught I know, but I’ll be d — d if he was not alive when I took him up.” So saying, he was about to return to his quarters, when I bade him carry the body along with him, and throw it overboard. “D— n the body!” said he, “I think ’tis fair enough if I take care of my own.” My fellow mate, snatching up the amputation knife, pursued him half-way up the cock-pit ladder, crying, “You lousy rascal, is this the churchyard, or the charnel-house, or the sepulchre, or the golgotha, of the ship? — but was stopped in his career by one calling, “Yo he, avast there — scaldings!” “Scaldings!” answered Morgan; “Cot knows ’tis hot enough indeed: who are you? “Here’s one!” replied the voice; and I immediately knew it to be that of my honest friend Jack Rattlin, who coming towards me, told me, with great deliberation, he was come to be docked at last, and discovered the remains of one hand, which had been shattered to pieces with a grape shot. I lamented with unfeigned sorrow his misfortune, which he bore with heroic courage, observing, that every shot had its commission: “It was well it did not take him in the head! or if it had, what then? he should have died bravely, fighting for his king and country. Death was a debt which every man owed, and must pay; and that now was as well as another time.” I was much pleased and edified with the maxims of this sea-philosopher, who endured the amputation of his left hand without shrinking, the operation being performed (at his request) by me, after Mackshane, who was with difficulty prevailed to lift his head from the deck, had declared there was a necessity for his losing the limb.
While I was employed in dressing the stump, I asked Jack’s opinion of the battle, who, shaking his head, frankly told me, he believed we should do no good: “For why? because, instead of dropping anchor close under shore, where we should have to deal with one corner of Bocca Chica only, we had opened the harbour, and exposed ourselves to the whole fire of the enemy from their shipping and Fort St. Joseph, as well as from the castle we intended to cannonade; that, besides, we lay at too great a distance to damage the walls, and three parts in four of our shot did not take place; for there was scarce anybody on board who understood the pointing of a gun. Ah! God help us!” continued he, “If your kinsman, Lieutenant Bowling, had been here, we should have had other guess work.” By this time, our patients had increased to such a number, that we did not know which to begin with; and the first mate plainly told the surgeon, that if he did not get up immediately and perform his duty, he would complain of his behaviour to the admiral, and make application for his warrant. This remonstrance effectually roused Mackshane, who was never deaf to an argument in which he thought his interest was concerned; he therefore rose up, and in order to strengthen his resolution, had recourse more than once to a case-bottle of rum, which he freely communicated to the chaplain, and purser, who had as much need of such extraordinary inspiration as himself. Being thus supported, he went to work, and arms and legs were hewed down without mercy. The fumes of the liquor mounting into the parson’s brain, conspired, with his former agitation of spirits, to make him quite delirious; he stripped himself to the skin; and, besmearing his body with blood, could scarce be withheld from running upon deck in that condition. Jack Rattlin, scandalised at this deportment, endeavoured to allay his transports with reason; but finding all he said ineffectual, and great confusion occasioned by his frolics, he knocked him down with his right hand, and by threats kept him quiet in that state of humiliation. But it was not in the power of rum to elevate the purser, who sat on the floor wringing his hands, and cursing the hour in which he left his peaceable profession of a brewer in Rochester, to engage in such a life of terror and disquiet.
While we diverted ourselves at the expense of this poor devil, a shot happened to take us between wind and water, and (its course being through the purser’s store room) made a terrible havoc and noise among the jars and bottles in its way, and disconcerted Mackshane so much, that he dropped his scalpel, and falling down on his knees, pronounced his Pater-noster aloud: the purser fell backward, and lay without sense or motion; and the chaplain grew so outrageous, that Rattlin with one hand could not keep him under; so that we were obliged to confine him in the surgeon’s cabin, where he was no doubt guilty of a thousand extravagancies. Much about this time, my old antagonist, Crampley, came down, with express orders, as he said, to bring me up to the quarter-deck, to dress a slight wound the captain had received by a splinter: his reason for honouring me in particular with this piece of service, being, that in case I should be killed or disabled by the way, my death or mutilation would be of less consequence to the ship’s company than that of the doctor or his first mate. At another time, perhaps, I might have disputed this order, to which I was not bound to pay the least regard; but as I thought my reputation depended upon my compliance, I was resolved to convince my rival that I was no more afraid than he of exposing myself to danger. With this view I provided myself with dressings, and followed him immediately to the quarter-deck, through a most infernal scene of slaughter, fire, smoke, and uproar. Captain Oakum, who leaned against the mizen-mast, no sooner saw me approach in my shirt, with the sleeves tucked up to my armpits, and my hands dyed with blood, than he signified his displeasure by a frown, and asked why the doctor himself did not come? I told him that Crampley had singled me out, as if by express command; at which reply he seemed surprised, and threatened to punish the midshipman for his presumption, after the engagement. In the meantime, I was sent back to my station, and ordered to tell Mackshane, that the captain expected him immediately. I got safe back, and delivered my commission to the doctor, who flatly refused to quit the post assigned to him by his instructions; whereupon Morgan, who I believe, was jealous of my reputation for courage, undertook the affair, and ascended with great intrepidity. The captain, finding the surgeon obstinate, suffered himself to be dressed, and swore he would confine Mackshane as soon as the service should be over.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00