Tour Of The Caribbean - Cul de Sac Bay
( Originally Published 1925 )
CASTRIES harbour with its many capes and bays is protected on the north side by a spit of bare land which ends seawards in a hillock, shaped like the bowl of an inverted spoon. This is La Vigie, the look-out. Across this promontory is the bay called Anse du Choc, where eager armed men in crowding boats made so often a landing. Cul de Sac Bay, to the south, is a sheltered and pleasant inlet at the foot of the southern slopes of the Morne Fortune. It is a deep-water bay where the lead-line sinks to from ten to twenty fathoms.
The haven was made memorable during the attack on the island in 1778. War had broken out between England and France, and with one accord the French and British fleets made all haste for St. Lucia.
The English under General Grant had the good fortune to reach the island first, as has been already stated. Grant landed his men, to the number of 5000, in Cul de Sac Bay, and there he anchored his ships. As the French garrison was very small, the Morne Fortune and other forts were taken next day with practically no resistance.
The French fleet carrying 9000 men, under Count D'Estaing, hove in sight a few days later, bearing for Castries under a cloud of canvas. D'Estaing was very happy. The island was so still, so peaceful, so unconscious that the signs of war were already in the skies. He would himself bring the news and with it good cheer to his long-banished comrades. He and his 9000 men would make the good old Morne impregnable, so that when the English came they would have a reception not easy to be forgotten, for he would cover the slopes of the hill with British red-coats. He could see that there were no ships in Castries harbour ; the well-beloved flag of France was flying at the point as well as on the mount. Unhappily he could not see into Cul de Sac Bay.
One may be sure that the Frenchmen cheered as they came sailing into the harbour mouth. No sooner, however, were they within the shelter of the island than—with a puff of smoke and a thrust of flame—a clap of thunder broke out from La Vigie. It was a cannon shot. In a moment every gun in the fort was ablaze. It was no feu de joie, for deck houses were being shattered and bulwarks cut to splinters, while men, with a cheer for the French flag on their lips, were falling dead. D'Estaing found that he was in a trap. How had these accursed English got here? With much confusion, jostling, and yelling, the ships were put about, and escaped from the net of the fowler to the open sea.
As D'Estaing moved southwards he took a look into Cul de Sac Bay. There they were, snug enough, curse them ! Those were their hateful shouts that echoed back mockingly from the cliffs of the haven. D'Estaing vowed he would sink them at their anchors, for in this land-locked cove they lay at his mercy—or at least so he thought. He made a desperate attack upon the jeering ships from the sea, but they showed no disposition to sink at their anchors. More than that, these men who cheered so heartily actually drove him off. He tried again to crush them, but in the second venture he fared even worse. He determined then to land and to drive these obstinate trespassers from the island. With this intent he sailed north to Gros Islet Bay where he anchored and landed his troops on the ample beach. He marched his men towards Castries, resolving to take La Vigie and to bayonet the wretches who had manned those infernal guns.
La Vigie was held by General Meadows with only 1300 men. Across the neck of land which joins the promontory with the mainland was a line of substantial entrenchments. The French advanced upon the trenches in three columns, a formidable body of men. They came within musket range of the earthworks, but not a shot was fired by the English. In a silence which would have daunted the bravest they neared the still barricade. The defenders made no sign. It was not until the French were actually in the very ditch that the British responded. They made answer with a heavy fire which poured down like a sudden hail upon the crowd of men in the fosse. The results were disastrous.
The French, however, were not to be denied. As soon as they had reformed they charged the bank with fixed bayonets, but the British fire drove them back. They hurled themselves once more against the wall of gabions and piled-up earth. Once more they were beaten off. A third time, with angry shouts, they rushed upon the earthworks, helmetless, maddened, stung with wounds, every bayonet gripped with desperation. A third time they fell away under the murderous fire of the British. They retired out of musket range, halted, hesitated, and then, while bleeding men were crawling back out of the ditch, the bugle sounded the retreat. This gallant attempt upon La Vigie cost the French no less than 400 killed and 1000 wounded.
D'Estaing had had enough. In ten days' time he had buried his dead, had got his wounded on board, and had sailed away out of sight.