• Si Biggs

Capture of Bastia - Nelson Looses his Eye


The siege of Bastia was a combined British and Corsican military operation during the early stages of the French Revolutionary Wars. The Corsican people had risen up against the French garrison of the island in 1793, and sought support from the British Royal Navy's Mediterranean Fleet under Lord Hood. After initial delays in the autumn, Hood had supplied a small expeditionary force which had successfully driven the French out of the port of San Fiorenzo in February 1794. Hood then turned his attention to the nearby town of Bastia, which was held by a large French garrison.

The attack was delayed by an unedifying squabble between the British commanders over the best method to approach the siege; Hood, supported by Captain Horatio Nelson, was over-confident and assumed the town would fall by assault and bombardment in just ten days. The French positions were however far stronger than Hood had assumed and in the end the siege lasted for six weeks, the garrison only forced to surrender when its food reserves ran out. Hood permitted the garrison safe passage back to France and began preparations for the assault of the final French-held town on the island, at Calvi. By August 1794, the last of the French had been driven from Corsica, which had become a self-governing part of the British Empire with a new constitution. [Wikipedia] From the Historical Record of the Royal Marine Forces [By PAUL HARRIS NICOLAS, Lieut. Royal Marines];


On the 4th of April, lord Hood arrived at the anchorage before Bastia, and on the same evening the troops, guns, and stores were landed ; and a detachment of seamen, commanded by captain Horatio Nelson of the Agamemnon, disembarked to the northward of the town. The total of the combined forces, when landed, amounted to 1248 officers and men, [the force comprised detachments from the Royal Artillery and the 11th, 25th, 30th, 50th, and 69th Regiments of Foot alongside units of Royal Marines detached from the fleet] exclusive of about the same number of Corsicans under general Paoli ; whilst the french and corsican troops in the garrison of Bastia were about 3000.


A Southern View of Bastia in the Island of Corsica from on board His Majesty's ship Victory during the Siege of that Town in May 1794. Watercolour by en:Ralph Willett Miller

Lord Hood moored the fleet in the form of a crescent, just out of the reach of the enemy's guns, and the entrance to the harbour was effectually guarded by gun-boats and armed launches. After a siege of thirty-seven days, and four of negotiation, the town and citadel of Bastia, with the several outposts, surrendered (22nd May). The loss sustained by the army was only 7 killed and 21 wounded ; and that of the navy, lieutenant Carey Tupper of the Victory, and 6 men killed ; lieutenant Andrews, and 12 men wounded.


On the 19th, captain Nelson, the senior officer in the absence of lord Hood, (who with the fleet had sailed to look after the Toulon squadron,) disembarked the troops at Port Agra, situated about three miles from Calvi; and on the same day lord Hood, arriving in Mortella Bay, sent on shore a detachment of seamen under captains Hallowell and Serecold. On the 27th, the Victory having arrived before Calvi, seven of her lower-deck guns were landed, and the batteries were soon opened ; but it was not until the siege had lasted fifty-one days that general Casa-Bianca could be induced to capitulate ; and on the 10th of August the garrison of Calvi surrendered. The loss on the part of the british army was 1 field-officer, 2 lieutenants, and 20 men killed ; 3 captains, 4 lieutenants, and 46 wounded. Of the navy, captain W. Serecold, 1 midshipman, and 5 seamen were killed, and 6 seamen wounded. Captain Nelson was not reported wounded, although he lost the sight of his right eye, from some particles of sand which had been driven into it, by a shot striking the battery near him.


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