Action of 15 September 1782
The Action of 15 September 1782 was a naval action in the mouth of the Delaware Bay in which four Royal Naval vessels under the command of the George Elphinstone pursued and attacked three French warships which included two frigates which was under the command of Comte de la Touche Tréville. The French 38 gun frigate Aigle was grounded and captured along with the Comte de la Touche.
In early 1782, Captain Latouche-Tréville assumed command of Aigle, which, along with the frigate Gloire, ferried funds and equipment for the fleet of Admiral Vaudreil. On 5 September 1782 Aigle and Gloire encountered the recently acquired British ship Hector, a former French ship of the line which had been severely damaged and then captured at the Battle of the Saintes. Hector managed to escape but she was damaged further and later sank in the 1782 Central Atlantic hurricane. Aigle and Gloire went on to capture the brig HMS Racoon off the Delaware River on 10 September 1782. On 13 September a small British squadron consisting of HMS Vestal, HMS Bonetta, and the prize Sophie, led by Captain George Elphinstone in HMS Warwick, and HMS Lion sighted the three vessels anchored in the Delaware River off Cape Henlopen Light. The British set out in chase; Captain George Elphinstone, in the 50-gun ship Warwick dispatched the lighter vessels 28-gun frigate Vestal, the sloop Bonetta and the Sophie under command of Richard Keats as they were to traverse shallow waters.
Aigle and Gloire were soon hotly pursued into the Delaware by three Royal navy vessels. The French were able to navigate the sandbanks with the help of Racoon's pilot, who agreed to help the French for a payment of 500 Louis d'or. The Gloire succeeded in getting so far up the river that she could not be attacked with any prospect of success, the British ships had to traverse the shallows having no pilot on board. Aigle which now had most of Racoon's crew was soon grounded while the Vestal and Bonetta, drawing less water, were dispatched to attack the French frigate. The Vestal ran aground on the starboard quarter of the Aigle, the Bonetta anchoring within 200 yards of her larboard quarter, while the Sophie anchored under her stern. La Touche had cut away her masts in an attempt to lighten her, and when that failed, had had holes bored in her hull. The ships were so judiciously placed, that Aigle was unable to bring a gun to bear on them, and, after receiving a few broadsides. La Touche stayed with the ship and seeing any further resistance was useless so struck her colours. Gloire and Racoon managed to escape.
The British captured along with the Aigle all of Racoon's crew. Aigle had had on board some senior French officers, who escaped ashore, as did the now-wealthy pilot. The French officers who escaped included comte de Rochambeau (commander of the French army), vicomte de Laval, Duke Laurun, Viscount de Fleury, and some others. They took most of the treasure the ships were carrying, as well.
British were able to re-float Aigle and took her into service as HMS Aigle . Comte La Touche, along with several noblemen that included two of marquis de Lafayette's family, as well 600 sailors and troops were captured by the crew of the Royal naval vessels, helped by a number of British troops who had arrived very late in the action. Comte De la Touche Tréville remained a prisoner for the rest of the war's duration.
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