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2018年9月 7日 (金)

ships were lashed together

The conduct of Landais has presented a problem difficult of solution. It has been surmised, and upon the warrant of his own statement, that he would have thought it no harm if the Richard had struck to the Serapis, and he could have had the glory of recapturing her and then forcing the surrender of the English frigate; but whether he really meant by his dastardly conduct to compel this situation from which he trusted he could reap so much honor, is another story. Most of the historians have been unable to see anything in his actions but jealousy and treachery. The most eminent critic, however, who has treated of the battle[21] has thought his actions arose from an incapacity, coupled with a timidity amounting to cowardice, which utterly blinded his judgment; that he was desirous of doing something, and felt it incumbent upon him to take some part in the action and that his firing into the Richard was due to incompetency rather than to anything else. With all deference, it is difficult to agree with this proposition. The officers of the squadron, in a paper which was prepared less than a month after the action, bore conclusive testimony that while it is true that he was an incapable coward, he was, in addition, either a jealous traitor, or--and this is the only other supposition which will account for his action--that he was irresponsible, in short, insane. This is a conclusion to which his own officers afterward arrived, and which his subsequent career seems to bear out. At any rate, this is the most charitable explanation of his conduct which can be adopted. If he had been simply cowardly, he could have done some service by attacking the unprotected convoy, which was entirely at his mercy, and among which he could have easily taken some valuable prizes. It is stated to their credit that some of the officers of the Alliance remonstrated with Landais, and pointed out to him that he was attacking the wrong ship, and that some of his men refused to obey his orders to fire.

There is but one other circumstance to which it is necessary to refer. All the plans of the battle which are extant, and all the descriptions which have been made, from Cooper to Maclay and Spears, show that the Richard passed ahead of the Serapis and was raked; and that the Serapis then ranged alongside to windward of the American and presently succeeded in crossing the Richard's bow and raking her a second time. Richard Dale's account, in Sherburne's Life of Paul Jones, written some forty-six years after the action, seems to bear out this idea. Jones himself, whose report is condensed and unfortunately wanting in detail, says: "Every method was practiced on both sides to gain an advantage and rake each other, and I must confess that the enemy's ship, being much more manageable than the Bon Homme Richard, gained thereby several times an advantageous situation, in spite of my best endeavors to prevent it." Nathaniel Fanning, midshipman of the maintop in the action, stated in his narrative, published in 1806, twenty-seven years later, that the Serapis raked the Richard several times.

Notwithstanding this weight of apparent testimony, I must agree with Captain Mahan in his conclusion that the Serapis, until the , engaged the Richard with her port battery only, and that the plan as given above is correct. In the first place, Jones' statement is too indefinite to base a conclusion upon unless clearly corroborated by other evidence. Dale, being in the batteries, where he could hardly see the maneuvers, and writing from memory after a lapse of many years, may well have been mistaken. Fanning's narrative is contradicted by the articles which he signed concerning the conduct of Landais, in October, 1779, in the Texel, so that his earliest statement is at variance with his final recollection, and Fanning is not very reliable at best.

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