Siege of Bastia
|Siege of Bastia|
|Part of the French Revolutionary Wars|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Lacombe St Michel||
Sir David Dundas |
Britain1,200 plus Royal Navy fleet |
|Casualties and losses|
743 casualties |
The Siege of Bastia took place in 1794 during the French Revolutionary War when an allied force of British and Corsicans laid siege to the French town of Bastia. After a six-week siege the garrison surrendered due to a lack of supplies owing to a blockade by the Royal Navy. The siege was marked by constant disputes between Lord Hood the naval commander and senior army officers.
British land and naval forces intervened in Corsica in January 1794 following a request by Pasquale Paoli, the leader of the Corsican independence movement. It was agreed that a British protectorate, the Anglo-Corsican Kingdom, should be created. Three isolated French garrisons remained at Saint-Florent, Calvi and Bastia. Morale in these garrisons was low thanks to a blockade under Horatio Nelson which had deprived them of resources.
Corsica offered potential to the British as a naval base which would allow them to continue the blockade of the major French fleet at the port of Toulon. Its significance grew following the Allied withdrawal from Toulon in December 1793. A force under David Dundas was landed to support the inhabitants, many of whom had refused to accept the island's 1768 annexation by France. On 18 February 1794, Dundas captured Saint-Florent but failed to follow it up with an immediate attack on Bastia, which was around eight miles away. The Admiral and overall commander of British forces in the Mediterranean Lord Hood was extremely disappointed as his strategy to seize Corsica relied on speed. Rumours reached them of a French relief force of 12,000 men being prepared at Nice.
Bastia was the largest settlement on Corsica and until recently had been the capital. The French had around 4,000-5,000 troops in the port while the British had 1,200 British regulars supported by a contingent of Corsican militia. Nelson oversaw a blockade of the town, but small French ships were able to run the blockade and bring supplies from Italy. Following the fall of Saint-Florent, and the approach of Dundas' troops, the French garrison of Bastia initially began preparing to withdraw. As it became clear that no attack was imminent they instead began to strengthen their defences and seized a strategic position near the village of Cardo from Corsican forces. A number of French troops who had escaped from Saint-Florent arrived to boost the garrison. After deciding against an immediate attack Dundas withdrew his forces back towards Saint-Florent where he could keep them supplied more easily.
After rejecting an assault via land, Dundas waited for the Royal Navy under Hood to impose a tighter blockade on the town cutting it off from supplies. He also refused to consider another attack until he received 2,000 British reinforcements he had been promised by London. This led to arguments with Hood who favoured an immediate assault on the town and was unsympathetic to Dundas' complaints about supply problems. On 11 March after repeated clashes Dundas decided to return home and handed over command to his subordinate Abraham D'Aubant. D'Aubant shared Dundas' views on the campaign and also refused Hood's request to attack Bastia. A Council of War was divided with naval officers supporting an attack and army officers including John Moore opposed to it. Horatio Nelson declared that not to assault Bastia would be a "national disgrace" although he significantly underestimated the size of its garrison. Eventually Hood announced he would go ahead without the support of the army, and he received limited assistance from the army.
On 4 April a combined force of around 1,500 British soldiers and sailors led by Nelson was landed to the north of Bastia. At a site recommended by Nelson they began constructing artillery batteries. They were relieved by the failure of the French to launch any sorties while they were vulnerable. A bombardment of the town began on 11 April after a demand for a surrender was refused by the French commander Lacombe St Michel. The French artillery returned fire against the battery. The British and Corsicans partisans were able to keep up a heavy fire against a strategic French tower at Toga.
After two weeks the bombardment had made little impact on the defenders, despite Hood's belief that the French would surrender after ten days. The British continued their bombardment, destroying large swathes of northern Bastia, and eventually morale began to sink amongst the French garrison as casualties increased. In spite of this, the British officers were impressed by the resistance of the defenders as the siege continued to wear on. Nelson who had originally believed the landing and blockade would stun the French into a surrender, now began to believe that troop reinforcements were needed so an assault could be launched. A proposal that the British army seize the French redoubts around Cardo, and use the commanding heights to support Nelson's batteries was rejected by D'Aubant. In spite of this Nelson was able to establish further batteries that were able to bombard the town's citadel.
On 25 April Lacombe St Michel slipped out of Bastia to go to the French mainland notionally to try to speed up French reinforcements and the town came under the command of General Gentili. St Michel later justified himself by suggesting that he wanted to stop a French relief expedition fruitlessly sailing to Bastia's aid now that it was so close to surrender. Meanwhile, on 15 May D'Aubant decided to leave Corsica due to frustration at the relations with the navy and departed before his replacement Charles Stuart arrived.
By mid-May the situation in the town was growing desperate more from the lack of supplies and food than from Nelson's bombardment. On 19 May after exchanges between intermediaries under a flag of truce, an agreement was made for the town and its garrison to surrender. The terms of surrender were generally considered generous. The French troops were to be repatriated by ship to mainland France while the Corsican defenders were granted an amnesty. These terms drew criticism from some British officers and also from Pasquale Paoli for perceived leniency.
After occupying Bastia the Anglo-Corsican forces moved on the remaining French stronghold in Corsica at Calvi. It was captured in August after a lengthy siege. Although Paoli was able to establish control across the island, the situation soon began to deteriorate and in October 1796 British troops were withdrawn from Corsica.
- Sugden p.495
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- Sugden p.491-92
- Gregory Anglo-Corsican Kingdom p.72
- Sugden p.490
- Sugden p.493
- Gregory Anglo-Corsican Kingdom p.72-73
- Gregory Hudson Lowe p.22-23
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- Gregory, Desmond. Napoleon's Jailor: Lt. General Sir Hudson Lowe: A Life. Associated University Presses, 1996.
- Sugden, John. Nelson: A Dream of Glory. Pimlico, 2005.