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Something about fireships.
[from the N. O. Picayune.]

According to personal accounts of members of that gallant and devoted little band who participated in the daring and successful expedition to the Passes last week, the fire vessels engaged in the enterprise did good duty. Through they did not come in contact with the enemy's fleet, they frightened the most powerful one of them away, and that, too, at a most critical juncture, just as the Manassas seemed in imminent danger of capture.

Fireships have always had a place in the list of recognized implements of naval warfare. Vessels of this character were effectively used by the Rhodians in their war with the Syrians, a hundred years before the commencement of the Christian era, according to Livy. The English also employed them in their engagements with the famous Spanish armada, in 1588, and very effectively, too.--Previously, in the course of the long war between Spain and the Netherlands, they were used, with fearful effect, in the defence of the city of Antwerp, to facilitate the capture of which the Duke of Parma constructed a great bridge across the Scheldt. Sent adrift down the stream, they came in contact with the bridge, and exploding, carried terrible destruction into the ranks of the Spaniard.

In this very century fireships have been effectually employed by the Greeks in their struggle for independence against the Turks.

The purpose to be accomplished by these vessels is two-fold; the original and principal object being to carry fire among the enemy's fleet. The fireship is filled with inflammable materials so arranged as to be easily ignited, and being navigated as near as may be to the vessels towards which it is directed, these materials are set on fire, and the ship is deserted by the crew. The chief object to be attained is that the ship shall be in complete conflagration, as she drifts near the vessel to be attacked. Besides this, they are sometimes so arranged as to explode when near, or in contact with the fleet. Grappling irons are sometimes placed upon fireships to enable those navigating them to hook the vessel they would attack, and so secure its destruction.

When, in 1588, the much-vaunted Spanish armada came into the British channel for the purpose of invading England and subduing the revolted Netherlands, and was lying in those narrow straits, between Dover and Calais, and along that low, sandy shore--one hundred and thirty ships, the greater number of them the largest and most heavily armed in the world — face to face, and scarce out of cannon shot, with an English fleet of sloops and frigates, all far less in size, and immensely inferior in armaments, one of the brave sailors, in a lucky moment remembered something he had heard four years before of the fireships sent by the Antwerpers against Parma's bridge. This intrepid sea dog, Sir William Winter by name, suggested to the Commander of the fleet that some stratagem of the kind should be attempted against Philip's ‘"invincible armada."’

The Italian Gianibelli, who had invented the ships alluded to, and who had ever since been held in holy horror as a devil-dealing wizard, by the superstitious Spanish soldiers, happened at the very moment to be constructing fortifications on the Thames, and Winter shrewdly thought that the knowledge of this fact would greatly increase the panic with which it was his project to afflict the Spanish fleet.

The plan was adopted and we make some interesting extracts from Motley's History of the United Netherlands, to show with what effect:

It was decided that Winter's suggestion should be immediately acted upon, and Sir Henry Palmer was sent in a pinnace to Dover, to bring off a number of old vessels, fit to be fired, together, with a supply of light-wood, rosin, sulphur and other combustibles, most adapted to the purpose. * * * As the twilight deepened, the moon became totally obscured, dark cloud-masses spread over the heavens. At an hour past midnight, it was so dark that it was difficult for the most practiced eye to pierce far into the gloom. But a faint dip of oars now struck the ears of the Spaniards as they watched from the decks. A few minutes afterwards the sea became suddenly luminous, and six flaming vessels appeared at a slight distance, bearing steadily down upon them, before the wind and tide.

There were men in the armada who had been at the siege of Antwerp only three years before. They remembered with horror the devil-ships of Gianibelli, those floating volcanoes which had seemed to rend earth and ocean, whose explosion had laid so many thousands of soldiers dead at a blow, and which had shattered the bridge and floating forts of Farnese, as though they had been toys of glass. They knew, too, that the famous engineer was at that moment in England.

In a moment, one of those terrrible panics which spread with such contagious rapidity among large bodies of men seized upon the Spaniards. There was a yell throughout the fleet, ‘"the fireships of Antwerp ! the fireships of Antwerp !"’ And in an instant every cable was cut, and frantic attempts were made by each galleon and galease to escape what seemed imminent destruction. The confusion was beyond description.

Four or five of the largest of the Spanish ships, became entangled with each other.--Two others were set on fire by the flaming vessels and were consumed. Medina Sidonia, the commander of the fleet, who had been warned, even before his departure from Spain, that some such artifice would probably be attempted. * * * * gave orders, as well as might be that every ship, after the danger should be passed, was to return to its post and await his further orders. But it was useless in that moment of unreasoning panic to issue commands. The despised Gianibelli, who had met with so many rebuffs at Philip's court, and who, owing to official incredulity, had been but partially successful in his magnificent enterprise at Antwerp, had now inflicted more damage on Philip's armada than had hitherto been accomplished by Howard and Drake, Hawkins and Frobisher combined.

So long as night and darkness lasted, the confusion and uproar continued. When the morning dawned, several of the Spanish vessels lay disabled, while the rest of the fleet was seen at a distance of two leagues from Calais, driving towards the Flemish coast.

The author describes vividly the wreck, produced by this expedition of the fireships of the squadron of galeases, ‘"the largest and most splendid vessel in the armada, the show-ship of the fleet, 'the very glory and stay of the Spanish Navy'"’ and which, ‘"during the previous two days, had been visited by great numbers of Frenchmen from the shore."’

This was, in effect, simple as was the contrivance, the death-blow to the expedition of the Spanish King's ‘"invincible armada,"’ which was sent forth from Lisbon, but a short time before, for the conquest of England and Holland. There were skirmishes and engagements between the fleets, afterwards, of greater or less account. But his panic, assisted by the fury of the elements, which Providence sent as the powerful allies of Elizabeth and the states, was its ruin. Soon after, as says the historian, ‘"the coasts of Norway, Scotland, Ireland, were strewn with the wrecks of that pompous fleet, which claimed the dominion of the seas; with the bones of those invincible legions which were to have sacked London, and made England a Spanish vice-royalty."’ And again, ‘"this was the result of the invasion, so many years preparing, and at an expense almost incalculable. And with all this outlay, and with the sacrifice of so many lives, nothing had been accomplished, and Spain, in a moment, instead of seeming terrible to all the world, had become ridiculous."’

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