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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsThe Revolt Of The Netherlands - Siege Of Antwerp By The Prince Of Parma, In The Years 1584 And 1585 Continued
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The Revolt Of The Netherlands - Siege Of Antwerp By The Prince Of Parma, In The Years 1584 And 1585 Continued Post by :mikeg513 Category :Nonfictions Author :Frederich Schiller Date :May 2012 Read :3480

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The Revolt Of The Netherlands - Siege Of Antwerp By The Prince Of Parma, In The Years 1584 And 1585 Continued

The burgomaster of Antwerp, St. Aldegonde, had, indeed, repeatedly urged the fleet of Zealand to attack the enemy's works, which should be supported on the other side from Antwerp. The long and frequently stormy nights would favor this attempt, and if at the same time a sally were made by the garrison at Lillo, it seemed scarcely possible for the enemy to resist this triple assault. But unfortunately misunderstandings had arisen between the commander of the fleet, William von Blois von Treslong, and the admiralty of Zealand, which caused the equipment of the fleet to be most unaccountably delayed. In order to quicken their movements Teligny at last resolved to go himself to Middleburg, were the states of Zealand were assembled; but as the enemy were in possession of all the roads the attempt cost him his freedom and the republic its most valiant defender. However, there was no want of enterprising vessels, which, under the favor of the night and the floodtide, passing through the still open bridge in spite of the enemy's fire, threw provisions into the town and returned with the ebb. But as many of these vessels fell into the hands of the enemy the council gave orders that they should never risk the passage unless they amounted to a certain number; and the result, unfortunately, was that none attempted it because the required number could not be collected at one time. Several attacks were also made from Antwerp on the ships of the Spaniards, which were not entirely unsuccessful; some of the latter were captured, others sunk, and all that was required was to execute similar attempts on a grand scale. But however zealously St. Aldegonde urged this, still not a captain was to be found who would command a vessel for that purpose.

Amid these delays the winter expired, and scarcely had the ice begun to disappear when the construction of the bridge of boats was actively resumed by the besiegers. Between the two piers a space of more than six hundred paces still remained to be filled up, which was effected in the following manner: Thirty-two flat-bottomed vessels, each sixty-six feet long and twenty broad, were fastened together with strong cables and iron chains, but at a distance from each other of about twenty feet to allow a free passage to the stream. Each boat, moreover, was moored with two cables, both up and down the stream, but which, as the water rose with the tide, or sunk with the ebb, could be slackened or tightened. Upon the boats great masts were laid which reached from one to another, and, being covered with planks, formed a regular road, which, like that along the piers, was protected with a balustrade. This bridge of boats, of which the two piers formed a continuation, had, including the latter, a length of twenty-four thousand paces. This formidable work was so ingeniously constructed, and so richly furnished with the instruments of destruction, that it seemed almost capable, like a living creature, of defending itself at the word of command, scattering death among all who approached. Besides the two forts of St. Maria and St. Philip, which terminated the bridge on either shore, and the two wooden bastions on the bridge itself, which were filled with soldiers and mounted with guns on all sides, each of the two-and-thirty vessels was manned with thirty soldiers and four sailors, and showed the cannon's mouth to the enemy, whether he came up from Zealand or down from Antwerp. There were in all ninety-seven cannon, which were distributed beneath and above the bridge, and more than fifteen hundred men who were posted, partly in the forts, partly in the vessels, and, in case of necessity, could maintain a terrible fire of small-arms upon the enemy.

But with all this the prince did not consider his work sufficiently secure. It was to be expected that the enemy would leave nothing unattempted to burst by the force of his machines the middle and weakest part. To guard against this, he erected in a line with the bridge of boats, but at some distance from it, another distinct defence, intended to break the force of any attack that might be directed against the bridge itself. This work consisted of thirty-three vessels of considerable magnitude, which were moored in a row athwart the stream and fastened in threes by masts, so that they formed eleven different groups. Each of these, like a file of pikemen, presented fourteen long wooden poles with iron heads to the approaching enemy. These vessels were loaded merely with ballast, and were anchored each by a double but slack cable, so as to be able to give to the rise and fall of the tide. As they were in constant motion they got from the soldiers the name of "swimmers." The whole bridge of boats and also a part of the piers were covered by these swimmers, which were stationed above as well as below the bridge. To all these defensive preparations was added a fleet of forty men-of-war, which were stationed on both coasts and served as a protection to the whole.

This astonishing work was finished in March, 1585, the seventh month of the siege, and the day on which it was completed was kept as a jubilee by the troops. The great event was announced to the besieged by a grand _fete de joie_, and the army, as if to enjoy ocular demonstration of its triumph, extended itself along the whole platform to gaze upon the proud stream, peacefully and obediently flowing under the yoke which had been imposed upon it. All the toil they had undergone was forgotten in the delightful spectacle, and every man who had had a hand in it, however insignificant he might be, assumed to himself a portion of the honor which the successful execution of so gigantic an enterprise conferred on its illustrious projector. On the other hand, nothing could equal the consternation which seized the citizens of Antwerp when intelligence was brought them that the Scheldt was now actually closed, and all access from Zealand cut off. To increase their dismay they learned the fall of Brussels also, which had at last been compelled by famine to capitulate. An attempt made by the Count of Hohenlohe about the same time on Herzogenbusch, with a view to recapture the town, or at least form a diversion, was equally unsuccessful; and thus the unfortunate city lost all hope of assistance, both by sea and land.

These evil tidings were brought them by some fugitives who had succeeded in passing the Spanish videttes, and had made their way into the town; and a spy, whom the burgomaster had sent out to reconnoitre the enemy's works, increased the general alarm by his report. He had been seized and carried before the Prince of Parma, who commanded him to be conducted over all the works, and all the defences of the bridge to be pointed out to him. After this had been done he was again brought before the general, who dismissed him with these words: "Go," said he, "and report what you have seen to those who sent you. And tell them, too, that it is my firm resolve to bury myself under the ruins of this bridge or by means of it to pass into your town."

But the certainty of danger now at last awakened the zeal of the confederates, and it was no fault of theirs if the former half of the prince's vow was not fulfilled. The latter had long viewed with apprehension the preparations which were making in Zealand for the relief of the town. He saw clearly that it was from this quarter that he had to fear the most dangerous blow, and that with all his works he could not make head against the combined fleets of Zealand and Antwerp if they were to fall upon him at the same time and at the proper moment. For a while the delays of the admiral of Zealand, which he had labored by all the means in his power to prolong, had been his security, but now the urgent necessity accelerated the expedition, and without waiting for the admiral the states at Middleburg despatched the Count Justin of Nassau, with as many ships as they could muster, to the assistance of the besieged. This fleet took up a position before Liefkenshoek, which was in possession of the Spaniards, and, supported by a few vessels from the opposite fort of Lillo, cannonaded it with such success that the walls were in a short time demolished, and the place carried by storm. The Walloons who formed the garrison did not display the firmness which might have been expected from soldiers of the Duke of Parma; they shamefully surrendered the fort to the enemy, who in a short time were in possession of the whole island of Doel, with all the redoubts situated upon it. The loss of these places, which were, however, soon retaken, incensed the Duke of Parma so much that he tried the officers by court-martial, and caused the most culpable among them to be beheaded. Meanwhile this important conquest opened to the Zealanders a free passage as far as the bridge, and after concerting with the people of Antwerp the time was fixed for a combined attack on this work. It was arranged that, while the bridge of boats was blown up by machines already prepared in Antwerp, the Zealand fleet, with a sufficient supply of provisions, should be in the vicinity, ready to sail to the town through the opening.

While the Duke of Parma was engaged in constructing his bridge an engineer within the walls was already preparing the materials for its destruction. Frederick Gianibelli was the name of the man whom fate had destined to be the Archimedes of Antwerp, and to exhaust in its defence the same ingenuity with the same want of success. He was born in Mantua, and had formerly visited Madrid for the purpose, it was said, of offering his services to King Philip in the Belgian war. But wearied with waiting the offended engineer left the court with the intention of making the King of Spain sensibly feel the value of talents which he had so little known how to appreciate. He next sought the service of Queen Elizabeth of England, the declared enemy of Spain, who, after witnessing a few specimens of his skill, sent him to Antwerp. He took up his residence in that town, and in the present extremity devoted to its defence his knowledge, his energy, and his zeal.

As soon as this artist perceived that the project of erecting the bridge was seriously intended, and that the work was fast approaching to completion, he applied to the magistracy for three large vessels, from a hundred and fifty to five hundred tons, in which he proposed to place mines. He also demanded sixty boats, which, fastened together with cables and chains, furnished with projecting grappling-irons, and put in motion with the ebbing of the tide, were intended to second the operation of the mine-ships by being directed in a wedgelike form against the bridge. But he had to deal with men who were quite incapable of comprehending an idea out of the common way, and even where the salvation of their country was at stake could not forget the calculating habits of trade.

His scheme was rejected as too expensive, and with difficulty he at last obtained the grant of two smaller vessels, from seventy to eighty tons, with a number of flat-bottomed boats. With these two vessels, one of which he called the "Fortune" and the other the "Hope," he proceeded in the following manner: In the hold of each he built a hollow chamber of freestone, five feet broad, three and a half high, and forty long. This magazine he filled with sixty hundredweight of the finest priming powder of his own compounding, and covered it with as heavy a weight of large slabs and millstones as the vessels could carry. Over these he further added a roof of similar stones, which ran up to a point and projected six feet above the ship's side. The deck itself was crammed with iron chains and hooks, knives, nails, and other destructive missiles; the remaining space, which was not occupied by the magazine, was likewise filled up with planks. Several small apertures were left in the chamber for the matches which were to set fire to the mine. For greater certainty he had also contrived a piece of mechanism which, after the lapse of a given time, would strike out sparks, and even if the matches failed would set the ship on fire. To delude the enemy into a belief that these machines were only intended to set the bridge on fire, a composition of brimstone and pitch was placed in the top, which could burn a whole hour. And still further to divert the enemy's attention from the proper seat of danger, he also prepared thirty-two flatbottomed boats, upon which there were only fireworks burning, and whose sole object was to deceive the enemy. These fire-ships were to be sent down upon the bridge in four separate squadrons, at intervals of half an hour, and keep the enemy incessantly engaged for two whole hours, so that, tired of firing and wearied by vain expectation, they might at last relax their vigilance before the real fire-ships came. In addition to all this he also despatched a few vessels in which powder was concealed in order to blow up the floating work before the bridge, and to clear a passage for the two principal ships. At the same time he hoped by this preliminary attack to engage the enemy's attention, to draw them out, and expose them to the full deadly effect of the volcano.

The night between the 4th and 5th of April was fixed for the execution of this great undertaking. An obscure rumor of it had already diffused itself through the Spanish camp, and particularly from the circumstance of many divers from Antwerp having been detected endeavoring to cut the cables of the vessels. They were prepared, therefore, for a serious attack; they only mistook the real nature of it, and counted on having to fight rather with man than the elements. In this expectation the duke caused the guards along the whole bank to be doubled, and drew up the chief part of his troops in the vicinity of the bridge, where he was present in person; thus meeting the danger while endeavoring to avoid it.

No sooner was it dark than three burning vessels were seen to float down from the city towards the bridge, then three more, and directly after the same number. They beat to arms throughout the Spanish camp, and the whole length of the bridge was crowded with soldiers. Meantime the number of the fire-ships increased, and they came in regular order down the stream, sometimes two and sometimes three abreast, being at first steered by sailors on board them. The admiral of the Antwerp fleet, Jacob Jacobson (whether designedly or through carelessness is not known), had committed the error of sending off the four squadrons of fire-ships too quickly one after another, and caused the two large mine-ships also to follow them too soon, and thus disturbed the intended order of attack.

The array of vessels kept approaching, and the darkness of night still further heightened the extraordinary spectacle. As far as the eye could follow the course of the stream all was fire; the fire-ships burning as brilliantly as if they were themselves in the flames; the surface of the water glittered with light; the dykes and the batteries along the shore, the flags, arms, and accoutrements of the soldiers who lined the rivers as well as the bridges were clearly distinguishable in the glare. With a mingled sensation of awe and pleasure the soldiers watched the unusual sight, which rather resembled a fete than a hostile preparation, but from the very strangeness of the contrast filled the mind with a mysterious awe. When the burning fleet had come within two thousand paces of the bridge those who had the charge of it lighted the matches, impelled the two mine-vessels into the middle of the stream, and leaving the others to the guidance of the current of the waves, they hastily made their escape in boats which had been kept in readiness.

Their course, however, was irregular, and destitute of steersmen they arrived singly and separately at the floating works, where they continued hanging or were dashed off sidewise on the shore. The foremost powder-ships, which were intended to set fire to the floating works, were cast, by the force of a squall which arose at that instant, on the Flemish coast. One of the two, the "Fortune," grounded in its passage before it reached the bridge, and killed by its explosion some Spanish soldiers who were at work in a neighboring battery. The other and larger fire-ship, called the "Hope," narrowly escaped a similar fate. The current drove her against the floating defences towards the Flemish bank, where it remained hanging, and had it taken fire at that moment the greatest part of its effect would have been lost. Deceived by the flames which this machine, like the other vessels, emitted, the Spaniards took it for a common fire-ship, intended to burn the bridge of boats. And as they had seen them extinguished one after the other without further effect all fears were dispelled, and the Spaniards began to ridicule the preparations of the enemy, which had been ushered in with so much display and now had so absurd an end. Some of the boldest threw themselves into the stream in order to get a close view of the fire-ship and extinguish it, when by its weight it suddenly broke through, burst the floating work which had detained it, and drove with terrible force on the bridge of boats. All was now in commotion on the bridge, and the prince called to the sailors to keep the vessel off with poles, and to extinguish the flames before they caught the timbers.

At this critical moment he was standing at the farthest end of the left pier, where it formed a bastion in the water and joined the bridge of boats. By his side stood the Margrave of Rysburg, general of cavalry and governor of the province of Artois, who had formerly-served the states, but from a protector of the republic had become its worst enemy; the Baron of Billy, governor of Friesland and commander of the German regiments; the Generals Cajetan and Guasto, with several of the principal officers; all forgetful of their own danger and entirely occupied with averting the general calamity. At this moment a Spanish ensign approached the Prince of Parma and conjured him to remove from a place where his life was in manifest and imminent peril. No attention being paid to his entreaty he repeated it still more urgently, and at last fell at his feet and implored him in this one instance to take advice from his servant. While he said this he had laid hold of the duke's coat as though he wished forcibly to draw him away from the spot, and the latter, surprised rather at the man's boldness than persuaded by his arguments, retired at last to the shore, attended by Cajetan and Guasto. He had scarcely time to reach the fort St. Maria at the end of the bridge when an explosion took place behind him, just as if the earth had burst or the vault of heaven given way. The duke and his whole army fell to the ground as dead, and several minutes elapsed before they recovered their consciousness.

But then what a sight presented itself! The waters of the Scheldt had been divided to its lowest depth, and driven with a surge which rose like a wall above the dam that confined it, so that all the fortifications on the banks were several feet under water. The earth shook for three miles round. Nearly the whole left pier, on which the fire-ship had been driven, with a part of the bridge of boats, had been burst and shattered to atoms, with all that was upon it; spars, cannon, and men blown into the air. Even the enormous blocks of stone which had covered the mine had, by the force of the explosion, been hurled into the neighboring fields, so that many of them were afterwards dug out of the ground at a distance of a thousand paces from the bridge. Six vessels were buried, several had gone to pieces. But still more terrible was the carnage which the murderous machine had dealt amongst the soldiers. Five hundred, according to other reports even eight hundred, were sacrificed to its fury, without reckoning those who escaped with mutilated or injured bodies. The most opposite kinds of death were combined in this frightful moment. Some were consumed by the flames of the explosion, others scalded to death by the boiling water of the river, others stifled by the poisonous vapor of the brimstone; some were drowned in the stream, some buried under the hail of falling masses of rock, many cut to pieces by the knives and hooks, or shattered by the balls which were poured from the bowels of the machine. Some were found lifeless without any visible injury, having in all probability been killed by the mere concussion of the air. The spectacle which presented itself directly after the firing of the mine was fearful. Men were seen wedged between the palisades of the bridge, or struggling to release themselves from beneath ponderous masses of rock, or hanging in the rigging of the ships; and from all places and quarters the most heartrending cries for help arose, but as each was absorbed in his own safety these could only be answered by helpless wailings.

Many had escaped in the most wonderful manner. An officer named Tucci was carried by the whirlwind like a feather high into the air, where he was for a moment suspended, and then dropped into the river, where he saved himself by swimming. Another was taken up by the force of the blast from the Flanders shore and deposited on that of Brabant, incurring merely a slight contusion on the shoulder; he felt, as he afterwards said, during this rapid aerial transit, just as if he had been fired out of a cannon. The Prince of Parma himself had never been so near death as at that moment, when half a minute saved his life. He had scarcely set foot in the fort of St. Maria when he was lifted off his feet as if by a hurricane, and a beam which struck him on the head and shoulders stretched him senseless on the earth. For a long time he was believed to be actually killed, many remembering to have seen him on the bridge only a few minutes before the fatal explosion. He was found at last between his attendants, Cajetan and Guasto, raising himself up with his hand on his sword; and the intelligence stirred the spirits of the whole army. But vain would be the attempt to depict his feelings when he surveyed the devastation which a single moment had caused in the work of so many months. The bridge of boats, upon which all his hopes rested, was rent asunder; a great part of his army was destroyed; another portion maimed and rendered ineffective for many days; many of his best officers were killed; and, as if the present calamity were not sufficient, he had now to learn the painful intelligence that the Margrave of Rysburg, whom of all his officers he prized the highest, was missing. And yet the worst was still to come, for every moment the fleets of the enemy were to be expected from Antwerp and Lillo, to which this fearful position of the army would disable him from offering any effectual resistance. The bridge was entirely destroyed, and nothing could prevent the fleet from Zealand passing through in full sail; while the confusion of the troops in this first moment was so great and general that it would have been impossible to give or obey orders, as many corps had lost their commanding officers, and many commanders their corps; and even the places where they had been stationed were no longer to be recognized amid the general ruin. Add to this that all the batteries on shore were under water, that several cannon were sunk, that the matches were wet, and the ammunition damaged. What a moment for the enemy if they had known how to avail themselves of it!

It will scarcely be believed, however, that this success, which surpassed all expectation, was lost to Antwerp, simply because nothing was known of it. St. Aldegonde, indeed, as soon as the explosion of the mine was heard in the town, had sent out several galleys in the direction of the bridge, with orders to send up fire-balls and rockets the moment they had passed it, and then to sail with the intelligence straight on to Lillo, in order to bring up, without delay, the Zealand fleet, which had orders to co-operate. At the same time the admiral of Antwerp was ordered, as soon as the signal was given, to sail out with his vessels and attack the enemy in their first consternation. But although a considerable reward was promised to the boatmen sent to reconnoitre they did not venture near the enemy, but returned without effecting their purpose, and reported that the bridge of boats was uninjured, and the fire-ship had had no effect. Even on the following day also no better measures were taken to learn the true state of the bridge; and as the fleet at Lillo, in spite of the favorable wind, was seen to remain inactive, the belief that the fire-ships had accomplished nothing was confirmed. It did not seem to occur to any one that this very inactivity of the confederates, which misled the people of Antwerp, might also keep back the Zealanders at Lille, as in fact it did. So signal an instance of neglect could only have occurred in a government, which, without dignity of independence, was guided by the tumultuous multitude it ought to have governed. The more supine, however, they were themselves in opposing the enemy, the more violently did their rage boil against Gianibelli, whom the frantic mob would have torn in pieces if they could have caught him. For two days the engineer was in the most imminent danger, until at last, on the third morning, a courier from Lillo, who had swam under the bridge, brought authentic intelligence of its having been destroyed, but at the same time announced that it had been repaired.

This rapid restoration of the bridge was really a miraculous effort of the Prince of Parma. Scarcely had he recovered from the shock, which seemed to have overthrown all his plans, when he contrived, with wonderful presence of mind, to prevent all its evil consequences. The absence of the enemy's fleet at this decisive moment revived his hopes. The ruinous state of the bridge appeared to be a secret to them, and though it was impossible to repair in a few hours the work of so many months, yet a great point would be gained if it could be done even in appearance. All his men were immediately set to work to remove the ruins, to raise the timbers which had been thrown down, to replace those which were demolished, and to fill up the chasms with ships. The duke himself did not refuse to share in the toil, and his example was followed by all his officers. Stimulated by this popular behavior, the common soldiers exerted themselves to the utmost; the work was carried on during the whole night under the constant sounding of drums and trumpets, which were distributed along the bridge to drown the noise of the work-people. With dawn of day few traces remained of the night's havoc; and although the bridge was restored only in appearance, it nevertheless deceived the spy, and consequently no attack was made upon it. In the meantime the prince contrived to make the repairs solid, nay, even to introduce some essential alterations in the structure. In order to guard against similar accidents for the future, a part of the bridge of boats was made movable, so that in case of necessity it could be taken away and a passage opened to the fire-ships. His loss of men was supplied from the garrisons of the adjoining places, and by a German regiment which arrived very opportunely from Gueldres. He filled up the vacancies of the officers who were killed, and in doing this he did not forget the Spanish ensign who had saved his life.

The people of Antwerp, after learning the success of their mine-ship, now did homage to the inventor with as much extravagance as they had a short time before mistrusted him, and they encouraged his genius to new attempts. Gianibelli now actually obtained the number of flat-bottomed vessels which he had at first demanded in vain, and these he equipped in such a manner that they struck with irresistible force on the bridge, and a second time also burst and separated it. But this time, the wind was contrary to the Zealand fleet, so that they could not put out, and thus the prince obtained once more the necessary respite to repair the damage. The Archimedes of Antwerp was not deterred by any of these disappointments. Anew he fitted out two large vessels which were armed with iron hooks and similar instruments in order to tear asunder the bridge. But when the moment came for these vessels to get under weigh no one was found ready to embark in them. The engineer was therefore obliged to think of a plan for giving to these machines such a self-impulse that, without being guided by a steersman, they would keep the middle of the stream, and not, like the former ones, be driven on the bank by the wind. One of his workmen, a German, here hit upon a strange invention, if Strada's description of it is to be credited. He affixed a sail under the vessel, which was to be acted upon by the water, just as an ordinary sail is by the wind, and could thus impel the ship with the whole force of the current. The result proved the correctness of his calculation; for this vessel, with the position of its sails reversed, not only kept the centre of the stream, but also ran against the bridge with such impetuosity that the enemy had not time to open it and was actually burst asunder. But all these results were of no service to the town, because the attempts were made at random and were supported by no adequate force. A new fire-ship, equipped like the former, which had succeeded so well, and which Gianibelli had filled with four thousand pounds of the finest powder was not even used; for a new mode of attempting their deliverance had now occurred to the people of Antwerp.

Terrified by so many futile attempts from endeavoring to clear a passage for vessels on the river by force, they at last came to the determination of doing without the stream entirely. They remembered the example of the town of Leyden, which, when besieged by the Spaniards ten years before, had saved itself by opportunely inundating the surrounding country, and it was resolved to imitate this example. Between Lillo and Stabroek, in the district of Bergen, a wide and somewhat sloping plain extends as far as Antwerp, being protected by numerous embankments and counter-embankments against the irruptions of the East Scheldt. Nothing more was requisite than to break these dams, when the whole plain would become a sea, navigable by flat-bottomed vessels almost to the very walls of Antwerp. If this attempt should succeed, the Duke of Parma might keep the Scheldt guarded with his bridge of boats as long as he pleased; a new river would be formed, which, in case of necessity, would be equally serviceable for the time. This was the very plan which the Prince of Orange had at the commencement of the siege recommended, and in which he had been strenuously, but unsuccessfully, seconded by St. Aldegonde, because some of the citizens could not be persuaded to sacrifice their own fields. In the present emergency they reverted to this last resource, but circumstances in the meantime had greatly changed.

The plain in question is intersected by a broad and high dam, which takes its name from the adjacent Castle of Cowenstein, and extends for three miles from the village of Stabroek, in Bergen, as far as the Scheldt, with the great dam of which it unites near Ordam. Beyond this dam no vessels can proceed, however high the tide, and the sea would be vainly turned into the fields as long as such an embankment remained in the way, which would prevent the Zealand vessels from descending into the plain before Antwerp. The fate of the town would therefore depend upon the demolition of this Cowenstein dam; but, foreseeing this, the Prince of Parma had, immediately on commencing the blockade, taken possession of it, and spared no pains to render it tenable to the last. At the village of Stabroek, Count Mansfeld was encamped with the greatest part of his army, and by means of this very Cowenstein dam kept open the communication with the bridge, the headquarters, and the Spanish magazines at Calloo. Thus the army formed an uninterrupted line from Stabroek in Brabant, as far as Bevern in Flanders, intersected indeed, but not broken by the Scheldt, and which could not be cut off without a sanguinary conflict. On the dam itself within proper distances five different batteries had been erected, the command of which was given to the most valiant officers in the army. Nay, as the Prince of Parma could not doubt that now the whole fury of the war would be turned to this point, he entrusted the defence of the bridge to Count Mansfeld, and resolved to defend this important post himself. The war, therefore, now assumed a different aspect, and the theatre of it was entirely changed.

Both above and below Lillo, the Netherlanders had in several places cut through the dam, which follows the Brabant shore of the Scheldt; and where a short time before had been green fields, a new element now presented itself, studded with masts and boats. A Zealand fleet, commanded by Count Hohenlohe, navigated the inundated fields, and made repeated movements against the Cowenstein dam, without, however, attempting a serious attack on it, while another fleet showed itself in the Scheldt, threatening the two coasts alternately with a landing, and occasionally the bridge of boats with an attack. For several days this manoeuvre was practised on the enemy, who, uncertain of the quarter whence an attack was to be expected, would, it was hoped, be exhausted by continual watching, and by degrees lulled into security by so many false alarms. Antwerp had promised Count Hohenlohe to support the attack on the dam by a flotilla from the town; three beacons on the principal tower were to be the signal that this was on the way. When, therefore, on a dark night the expected columns of fire really ascended above Antwerp, Count Hohenlohe immediately caused five hundred of his troops to scale the dam between two of the enemy's redoubts, who surprised part of the Spanish garrison asleep, and cut down the others who attempted to defend themselves. In a short time they had gained a firm footing upon the dam, and were just on the point of disembarking the remainder of their force, two thousand in number, when the Spaniards in the adjoining redoubts marched out and, favored by the narrowness of the ground, made a desperate attack on the crowded Zealanders. The guns from the neighboring batteries opened upon the approaching fleet, and thus rendered the landing of the remaining troops impossible; and as there were no signs of co-operation on the part of the city, the Zealanders were overpowered after a short conflict and again driven down from the dam. The victorious Spaniards pursued them through the water as far as their boats, sunk many of the latter, and compelled the rest to retreat with heavy loss. Count Hohenlohe threw the blame of this defeat upon the inhabitants of Antwerp, who had deceived him by a false signal, and it certainly must be attributed to the bad arrangement of both parties that the attempt failed of better success.

But at last the allies determined to make a systematic assault on the enemy with their combined force, and to put an end to the siege by a grand attack as well on the dam as on the bridge. The 16th of May, 1585, was fixed upon for the execution of this design, and both armies used their utmost endeavors to make this day decisive. The force of the Hollanders and Zealanders, united to that of Antwerp, exceeded two hundred ships, to man which they had stripped their towns and citadels, and with this force they purposed to attack the Cowenstein dam on both sides. The bridge over the Scheldt was to be assailed with new machines of Gianibelli's invention, and the Duke of Parma thereby hindered from assisting the defence of the dam.

Alexander, apprised of the danger which threatened him, spared nothing on his side to meet it with energy. Immediately after getting possession of the dam he had caused redoubts to be erected at five different, places, and had given the command of them to the most experienced officers of the army. The first of these, which was called the Cross battery, was erected on the spot where the Cowenstein darn enters the great embankment of the Scheldt, and makes with the latter the form of a cross; the Spaniard, Mondragone, was appointed to the command of this battery. A thousand paces farther on, near the castle of Cowenstein, was posted the battery of St. James, which was entrusted to the command of Camillo di Monte. At an equal distance from this lay the battery of St. George, and at a thousand paces from the latter, the Pile battery, under the command of Gamboa, so called from the pile-work on which it rested; at the farthest end of the darn, near Stabroek, was the fifth redoubt, where Count Mansfeld, with Capizuechi, an Italian, commanded. All these forts the prince now strengthened with artillery and men; on both sides of the dam, and along its whole extent, he caused piles to be driven, as well to render the main embankment firmer, as to impede the labor of the pioneers, who were to dig through it.

Early on the morning of the 16th of May the enemy's forces were in motion. With the dusk of dawn there came floating down from Lillo, over the inundated country, four burning vessels, which so alarmed the guards upon the dams, who recollected the former terrible explosion, that they hastily retreated to the next battery. This was exactly what the enemy desired. In these vessels, which had merely the appearance of fire-ships, soldiers were concealed, who now suddenly jumped ashore, and succeeded in mounting the dam at the undefended spot, between the St. George and Pile batteries. Immediately afterward the whole Zealand fleet showed itself, consisting of numerous ships-of-war, transports, and a crowd of smaller craft, which were laden with great sacks of earth, wool, fascines, gabions, and the like, for throwing up breastworks wherever necessary, The ships-of-war were furnished with powerful artillery, and numerously and bravely manned, and a whole army of pioneers accompanied it in order to dig through the dam as soon as it should be in their possession.

The Zealanders had scarcely begun on their side to ascend the dam when the fleet of Antwerp advanced from Osterweel and attacked it on the other. A high breastwork was hastily thrown up between the two nearest hostile batteries, so as at once to divide the two garrisons and to cover the pioneers. The latter, several hundreds in number, now fell to work with their spades on both sides of the dam, and dug with such energy that hopes were entertained of soon seeing the two seas united. But meanwhile the Spaniards also had gained time to hasten to the spot from the two nearest redoubts, and make a spirited assault, while the guns from the battery of St. George played incessantly on the enemy's fleet. A furious battle now raged in the quarter where they were cutting through the dike and throwing up the breastworks. The Zealanders had drawn a strong line of troops round the pioneers to keep the enemy from interrupting their work, and in this confusion of battle, in the midst of a storm of bullets from the enemy, often up to the breast in water, among the dead and dying, the pioneers pursued their work, under the incessant exhortations of the merchants, who impatiently waited to see the dam opened and their vessels in safety. The importance of the result, which it might be said depended entirely upon their spades, appeared to animate even the common laborers with heroic courage. Solely intent upon their task, they neither saw nor heard the work of death which was going on around them, and as fast as the foremost ranks fell those behind them pressed into their places. Their operations were greatly impeded by the piles which had been driven in, but still more by the attacks of the Spaniards, who burst with desperate courage through the thickest of the enemy, stabbed the pioneers in the pits where they were digging, and filled up again with dead bodies the cavities which the living had made. At last, however, when most of their officers were killed or wounded, and the number of the enemy constantly increasing, while fresh laborers were supplying the place of those who had been slain, the courage of these valiant troops began to give way, and they thought it advisable to retreat to their batteries. Now, therefore, the confederates saw themselves masters of the whole extent of the dam, from Fort St. George as far as the Pile battery. As, however, it seemed too long to wait for the thorough demolition of the dam, they hastily unloaded a Zealand transport, and brought the cargo over the dam to a vessel of Antwerp, with which Count Hohenlohe sailed in triumph to that city. The sight of the provisions at once filled the inhabitants with joy, and as if the victory was already won, they gave themselves up to the wildest exultation. The bells were rung, the cannon discharged, and the inhabitants, transported by their unexpected success, hurried to the Osterweel gate, to await the store-ships which were supposed to be at hand.

In fact, fortune had never smiled so favorably on the besieged as at that moment. The enemy, exhausted and dispirited, had thrown themselves into their batteries, and, far from being able to struggle with the victors for the post they had conquered, they found themselves rather besieged in the places where they had taken refuge. Some companies of Scots, led by their brave colonel, Balfour, attacked the battery of St. George, which, however, was relieved, but not without severe loss, by Camillo di Monte, who hastened thither from St. James' battery. The Pile battery was in a much worse condition, it being hotly cannonaded by the ships, and threatened every moment to crumble to pieces. Gainboa, who commanded it, lay wounded, and it was unfortunately deficient in artillery to keep the enemy at a distance. The breastwork, too, which the Zealanders had thrown up between this battery and that of St. George cut off all hope of assistance from the Scheldt. If, therefore, the Belgians had only taken advantage of this weakness and inactivity of the enemy to proceed with zeal and perseverance in cutting through the dam, there is no doubt that a passage might have been made, and thus put an end to the whole siege. But here also the same want of consistent energy showed itself which had marked the conduct of the people of Antwerp during the whole course of the siege. The zeal with which the work had been commenced cooled in proportion to the success which attended it. It was soon found too tedious to dig through the dyke; it seemed far easier to transfer the cargoes from the large store-ships into smaller ones, and carry these to the town with the flood tide. St. Aldegonde and Hohenlohe, instead of remaining to animate the industry of the workmen by their personal presence, left the scene of action at the decisive moment, in order, by sailing to the town with a corn vessel, to win encomiums on their wisdom and valor.

While both parties were fighting on the dam with the most obstinate fury the bridge over the Scheldt had been attacked from Antwerp with new machines, in order to give employment to the prince in that quarter. But the sound of the firing soon apprised him of what was going on at the dyke, and as soon as he saw the bridge clear he hastened to support the defence of the dyke. Followed by two hundred Spanish pikemen, he flew to the place of attack, and arrived just in time to prevent the complete defeat of his troops. He hastily posted some guns which he had brought with him in the two nearest redoubts, and maintained from thence a heavy fire upon the enemy's ships. He placed himself at the head of his men, and, with his sword in one hand and shield in the other, led them against the enemy. The news of his arrival, which quickly spread from one end of the dyke to the other, revived the drooping spirits of his troops, and the conflict recommenced with renewed violence, made still more murderous by the nature of the ground where it was fought. Upon the narrow ridge of the dam, which in many places was not more than nine paces broad, about five thousand combatants were fighting; so confined was the spot upon which the strength of both armies was assembled, and which was to decide the whole issue of the siege. With the Antwerpers the last bulwark of their city was at stake; with the Spaniards it was to determine the whole success of their undertaking. Both parties fought with a courage which despair alone could inspire. From both the extremities of the dam the tide of war rolled itself towards the centre, where the Zealanders and Antwerpers had the advantage, and where they had collected their whole strength. The Italians and Spaniards, inflamed by a noble emulation, pressed on from Stabroek; and from the Scheldt the Walloons and Spaniards advanced, with their general at their head. While the former endeavored to relieve the Pile battery, which was hotly pressed by the enemy, both by sea and land, the latter threw themselves on the breastwork, between the St. George and the Pile batteries, with a fury which carried everything before it. Here the flower of the Belgian troops fought behind a well-fortified rampart, and the guns of the two fleets covered this important post. The prince was already pressing forward to attack this formidable defence with his small army when he received intelligence that the Italians and Spaniards, under Capizucchi and Aquila, had forced their way, sword in hand, into the Pile battery, had got possession of it, and were now likewise advancing from the other side against the enemy's breastwork. Before this intrenchment, therefore, the whole force of both armies was now collected, and both sides used their utmost efforts to carry and to defend this position. The Netherlanders on board the fleet, loath to remain idle spectators of the conflict, sprang ashore from their vessels. Alexander attacked the breastwork on one side, Count Mansfeld on the other; five assaults were made, and five times they were repulsed. The Netherlanders in this decisive moment surpassed themselves; never in the whole course of the war had they fought with such determination. But it was the Scotch and English in particular who baffled the attempts of the enemy by their valiant resistance. As no one would advance to the attack in the quarter where the Scotch fought, the duke himself led on the troops, with a javelin in his hand, and up to his breast in water. At last, after a protracted struggle, the forces of Count Mansfeld succeeded with their halberds and pikes in making a breach in the breastwork, and by raising themselves on one another's shoulders scaled the parapet. Barthelemy Toralva, a Spanish captain, was the first who showed himself on the top; and almost at the same instant the Italian, Capizucchi, appeared upon the edge of it; and thus the contest of valor was decided with equal glory for both nations. It is worth while to notice here the manner in which the Prince of Parma, who was made arbiter of this emulous strife, encouraged this delicate sense of honor among his warriors. He embraced the Italian, Capizucchi, in presence of the troops, and acknowledged aloud that it was principally to the courage of this officer that he owed the capture of the breastwork. He caused the Spanish captain, Toralva, who was dangerously wounded, to be conveyed to his own quarters at Stabroek, laid on his own bed, and covered with the cloak which he himself had worn the day before the battle.

After the capture of the breastwork the victory no longer remained doubtful. The Dutch and Zealand troops, who had disembarked to come to close action with the enemy, at once lost their courage when they looked about them and saw the vessels, which were their last refuge, putting off from the shore.

For the tide had begun to ebb, and the commanders of the fleet, from fear of being stranded with their heavy transports, and, in case of an unfortunate issue to the engagement, becoming the prey of the enemy, retired from the dam, and made for deep water. No sooner did Alexander perceive this than he pointed out to his troops the flying vessels, and encouraged them to finish the action with an enemy who already despaired of their safety. The Dutch auxiliaries were the first that gave way, and their example was soon followed by the Zealanders. Hastily leaping from the dam they endeavored to reach the vessels by wading or swimming; but from their disorderly flight they impeded one another, and fell in heaps under the swords of the pursuers. Many perished even in the boats, as each strove to get on board before the other, and several vessels sank under the weight of the numbers who rushed into them. The Antwerpers, who fought for their liberty, their hearths, their faith, were the last who retreated, but this very circumstance augmented their disaster. Many of their vessels were outstripped by the ebb-tide, and grounded within reach of the enemy's cannon, and were consequently destroyed with all on board. Crowds of fugitives endeavored by swimming to gain the other transports, which had got into deep water; but such was the rage and boldness of the Spaniards that they swam after them with their swords between their teeth, and dragged many even from the ships. The victory of the king's troops was complete but bloody; for of the Spaniards about eight hundred, of the Netherlanders some thousands (without reckoning those who were drowned), were left on the field, and on both sides many of the principal nobility perished. More than thirty vessels, with a large supply of provisions for Antwerp, fell into the hands of the victors, with one hundred and fifty cannon and other military stores. The dam, the possession of which had been so dearly maintained, was pierced in thirteen different places, and the bodies of those who had cut through it were now used to stop up the openings.

The following day a transport of immense size and singular construction fell into the hands of the royalists. It formed a floating castle, and had been destined for the attack on the Cowenstein dam. The people of Antwerp had built it at an immense expense at the very time when the engineer Gianibelli's useful proposals had been rejected on account of the cost they entailed, and this ridiculous monster was called by the proud title of "End of the War," which appellation was afterwards changed for the more appropriate sobriquet of "Money lost!" When this vessel was launched it turned out, as every sensible person had foretold, that on account of its unwieldly size it was utterly impossible to steer it, and it could hardly be floated by the highest tide. With great difficulty it was worked as far as Ordain, where, deserted by the tide, it went aground, and fell a prey to the enemy.

The attack upon the Cowenstein dam was the last attempt which was made to relieve Antwerp. From this time the courage of the besieged sank, and the magistracy of the town vainly labored to inspirit with distant hopes the lower orders, on whom the present distress weighed heaviest. Hitherto the price of bread had been kept down to a tolerable rate, although the quality of it continued to deteriorate; by degrees, however, provisions became so scarce that a famine was evidently near at hand. Still hopes were entertained of being able to hold out, at least until the corn between the town and the farthest batteries, which was already in full ear, could be reaped; but before that could be done the enemy had carried the last outwork, and had appropriated the whole harvest to their use. At last the neighboring and confederate town of Malines fell into the enemy's hands, and with its fall vanished the only remaining hope of getting supplies from Brabant. As there was, therefore, no longer any means of increasing the stock of provisions nothing was left but to diminish the consumers. All useless persons, all strangers, nay even the women and children were to be sent away out of the town, but this proposal was too revolting to humanity to be carried into execution. Another plan, that of expelling the Catholic inhabitants, exasperated them so much that it had almost ended in open mutiny. And thus St. Aldegonde at last saw himself compelled to yield to the riotous clamors of the populace, and on the 17th of August, 1585, to make overtures to the Duke of Parma for the surrender of the town.

Friedrich Schiller's Book: Revolt of The Netherlands

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