Battle of San Domingo

Battle of San Domingo The 6th of February 1806 marks the Battle of San Domingo in the Napoleonic Wars when Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Duckworth’s 7 British ships-of-the-line, 2 frigates & 2 brigs defeated Vice-Admiral Corentin-Urbain Leissègues’s 5 French ships-of-the-line, 2 frigates & 1 corvette.

After the Battle of Trafalgar, the Royal Navy ceased blockading French Atlantic Ports. Leissègues slipped out. His orders: to raid British merchant shipping & avoid battle.

He disappeared into the Atlantic. Duckworth, assigned to watch Cadiz, abandoned his post in November to hunt for Allemand’s squadron off the Savage Islands. Allemand eluded him. He then met Willaumez’s squadron, which also escaped. Meanwhile, his absence was discovered, had the ensuing battle gone badly, he’d have been court-martialed. He sailed for Barbados to resupply, then return to Cadiz.

Duckworth would reach Barbados on the 12th of January.

Admiral John Thomas Duckworth (1748-1817), by William Beechey

2 ships-of-the-line from another squadron joined him. Leissègues was at San Domingo. On 1 February, Duckworth learned of him. He reached San Domingo at 06:00, 6 February. Leissègues & many officers & men were ashore. Some ships received damaged in a storm & needed repair. Learning of Duckworth, he ordered his men back aboard & set sail. Some men didn’t reach their ships until after fighting began.

Leissègues formed a line of battle with 80-gun Alexandre in the lead.

His flagship, 120-gun Impérial, followed. Then came 74-guns Diomède, Jupiter & Brave. At 08:00, Duckworth formed 3 lines. He led Line 1 – 74-guns Superb (his), Northumberland, Spencer & 64-gun Agamemnon. Rear Admiral Thomas Louis led Line 2 – 80-gun Canopus (his) & 74 guns Atlas & Donegal. The frigates formed Line 3. He planned to engage Leissègues’ front. During the 2-hour chase, his columns began breaking up.

At 10:10, Superb fired on Alexandre. Northumberland engaged the Impérial.

The Battle of San Domingo, 6 February 1806, with H.M.S. Canopus Joining the ActionThomas Lyde Hornbrook

Spencer helped her & also engaged Diomède. At 10:25, Alexandre veered left. She hoped to drive between Spencer & Northumberland & rake both. Spencer turned across Alexandre’s bow, raked her, came about on her far side & fired on her at close range. Thick smoke hid this maneuver from other British ships. Superb & Northumberland fired on Spencer before realizing their mistake.

Impérial engaged Superb. To save her, Northumberland interposed herself between them. She suffered severe damage. Some of Impérial’s shots passed through her into Superb. Louis arrived at 10:35. 3 of his ships raked Alexandre as they passed, dismasting & crippling her. A fire started. She surrendered at 11:10, Donegal raked Brave, then pulled alongside & fired on her. Brave surrendered, Donegal rammed Jupiter, trapping her, as a result she also surrendered.

Duckworth’s ships now engaged Impérial & Diomède.

Sir J.T. Duckworth’s Action off San Domingo, Feb. 7 8th 1806Thomas Whitcombe, 1817, National Maritime Museum

Atlas & Canopus collided.

Atlas lost her foremast.

Isolated & dismasted, Impérial disengaged at 11:30. She ran aground at 11:40. Diomède ran aground soon after. Both ships lost all their masts & sustained severe damage. Most of the crew escaped to shore. Duckworth boarded them & took 156 captives. He burned both ships, Leissègues’ smaller ships escaped.

In conclusion, Duckworth lost 74 dead, 264 wounded. Northumberland lost her mainmast & was severely damaged. Donegal lost her topmast. Atlas’ bowsprit was gone. Her tiller was damaged. Spencer’s hull had over 60 shot holes. Leissègues lost 1,500 dead/wounded, 1,156 captive & 5 ships-of-the-line.

Lastly, Duckworth was celebrated across Britain. Of his prizes, only Jupiter was seaworthy, she was commissioned “HMS Maida.”

Battle of San Domingo by Garrett Anderson

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