The French Admiral is the second in the series of Dewey Lambdin’s Alan Lewrie series of naval adventures.
The French Admiral is set during the period August 1781 through January 1782 and covers the Battle of the Capes, the Siege of Yorktown, and the evacuation of Loyalist families from Wilmington, NC.
It begins with Lewrie still aboard the HMS Desperate, a 28-gun frigate on the North American station. Lewrie’s commander has developed a strong dislike for him because he has been apprised of the circumstances under which Lewrie was sent to the Navy, a dislike which has been aggravated by a blow to the head he took from a French rammer in the previous novel, The King’s Coat.
Matters aren’t helped when Lewrie and a companion connive their way onto shore in Charleston, SC, and end up in a fatal brawl involving Patriot sympathizers. During a visit to a brothel, Lewrie becomes aware of the brutal internecine warfare being waged between Patriots and Loyalists in the South.
Serious spoilers follow.
One interesting theme in this particular novel is the extremely even-handed treatment he gives to Loyalists and to men, like Banastre Tarleton, who, at least to those of us who attended school in Virginia, are usually portrayed as purely evil. I was reminded of movie reviews of Mel Gibson’s 2000 movie, The Patriot, and the objections to the scene in which the character loosely based on Tarleton, Colonel William Tavington, herds Patriot families into a church and sets it aflame. Most claimed that this was simply lifting the WW II massacres of Lidice and Oradour-sur-Glane. Anyone vaguely familiar with how partisan warfare in the southern colonies was not. How the hangings in the aftermath of the Battle of Kings Mountain or the origins of the word lynch could have escaped the grasp of otherwise educated people was a source of amazement to me.
Back to our story, Lewrie’s efforts at applying himself to his duties, despite his desire to be out of the Navy, wins him supporters on board the Desperate in the form of the first lieutenant, Railsford, and the purser, the improbably named Cheatham. Cheatham asks his banker brother to find out more about Lewrie’s parentage.
He witnesses the Battle of the Capes (as I was taught in college) or the Battle of the Chesapeake which it seems to be called more frequently now. The HMS Desperate is used to repeat signals from Admiral Graves to his fleet. He watches dumbfounded as Admiral Hood’s squadron is never brought into action and the British fleet breaks off the fight leaving the British Army at Yorktown to its fate.
Lewrie finds himself assigned ashore during the Siege of Yorktown and befriends two young officers in a Loyalist regiment from North Carolina, Gouvernour and Burgess Chiswick. Through a series of mishaps, Lewrie and two small boatloads of British seamen and Loyalist avoid Cornwallis’s surrender, fight their way to freedom, and rejoin the fleet.
He returns to find the HMS Desperate to be a virtual pariah in the fleet because even though the commander, Commander The Honourable Tobias Treghues, was given permission to attempt a breakout from the York River where it and two other vessels were trapped, HMS Desperate was the only British ship to make its way through the French blockade. An odor of cowardice hangs over Treghues and Desperate.
Because of the acclaim Lewrie receives as a result of his epic fighting retreat from Yorktown, Lewrie’s reputation drastically improves in the eyes of his commander. As a reward he is promoted from midshipman to master’s mate.
HMS Desperate is an escort for the merchantmen tasked with the evacuation of Loyalist families from Wilmington, NC. There he pays a call on the family of the redoubtable Chiswick brothers, who accompanied him on his Yorktown adventure, and is smitten by their 17 year old sister, Caroline… of whom we will read more in the future.
The French Admiral, of course, is Admiral Comte de Grasse who, though he never appears in the novel, governs the course of the narrative by his actions.
Like the other Alan Lewrie books, this is an engrossing read, rich in geographical and historical detail, a very plausible story line (as we mentioned in our story on Admiral Sir Edward Pellew, he was involved in the Battle of Saratoga and surrendered with General John Burgoyne) and continuing development of the Lewrie character in directions he, Lewrie, clearly does not understand.