The shock of the Turkish onset was effectually broken by the dexterous disposition made of the galleasses of Venice.
Continuing The Battle of Lepanto and the Destruction of the Turkish Navy,
our selection from Don John of Austria by Sir William Stirling-Maxwell published in 1883. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in seven easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in The Battle of Lepanto and the Destruction of the Turkish Navy.
Place: Gulf of Patras
The main body of the Turkish left wing, though long of engaging the Christian right, fought with perhaps greater fierceness than any other part of the fleet. The battle was raging in that part of the line with very doubtful aspect, when Don John of Austria found himself free from the attacks of the enemies immediately around him. Thither, therefore, he steered to the assistance of his comrades. The Turks, perceiving the approach of a succoring squadron, and surmising the disasters which had occurred in the centre, immediately gave way and dispersed. Sixteen of the Algerine galleys, however, retired together, and rallying at a little distance, adopted the tactics of their chief, by making a circuit toward the shore of the Morea, and endeavoring to sweep round upon the rear of the Christians. Their maneuvers were closely watched by Don Juan de Cardona, who placed himself in their path with eight galleys. The encounter which took place between the two unequal squadrons was one of the bloodiest episodes of the battle. Cardona was completely successful, disabling some of his antagonists and putting the rest to flight. His loss was, however, very severe. His own galley suffered more damage than any vessel in the fleet which was not rendered absolutely unfit for service. The forecastle was a ruin; the bulwark and defences of all kinds were shattered to pieces; and the masts and spars were stuck full of arrows. Cardona himself, after escaping a ball from an arquebus, which was turned by a cuirass of fine steel given to him at Genoa by the Prince of Tuscany, received a severe wound in the throat, of which he died. Of the five hundred Sicilian soldiers who fought on board his galleys only fifty remained unwounded. Many of the officers were slain, and not one escaped without a wound. Others had suffered even greater loss. In the Florence, a papal galley, not only many knights of St. Stephen were killed, but also every soldier and slave; and the captain, Tommaso de’ Medicis, himself severely wounded, found himself at the head of only seventeen wounded seamen. In the San Giovanni, another vessel of the Pope, the soldiers were also killed to a man, the rowing-benches occupied by corpses, and a captain laid for dead with two musket-balls in his neck. The Piamontesa of Savoy had likewise lost her commander and all of her soldiers and rowers.
Although Doria, having suffered himself to be outmaneuvered by Aluch Ali, and having failed to exchange a shot with that leader, could not claim any considerable part of the laurels of the day, he was nevertheless frequently engaged with other foes and made several prizes. He escaped without a wound, though he was covered with blood of a soldier killed by a cannon-ball close behind him.
On the left wing of the Christian fleet, the battle, which had begun so unpropitiously, was also brought to a prosperous issue. The wound of Barbarigo transferred the command to the commissary Canale. Aided by Nano, who commanded Barbarigo’s galley, Canale engaged and sunk the vessel of the Pacha of Alexandria. Mahomet Sirocco himself, severely wounded, was fished out of the sea by Gian Contarini, and sent on board Canale’s galley. As the wound of the Turk appeared to be mortal, the Venetian relieved him from further suffering by cutting off his head. Marco Quirini likewise did gallant service, compelling several of the enemy to strike their flags. Of the remaining galleys many were run ashore by their crews, of whom the greater number were slain or drowned as they attempted to swim to land.
The victory of the Christians at Lepanto was in a great measure to be ascribed to the admirable tactics of their chief. The shock of the Turkish onset was effectually broken by the dexterous disposition made of the galleasses of Venice. Indeed, had the great ships been there to strengthen the sparse line formed by these six vessels, it is not impossible that the Turks would have failed in forcing their way through the wall of that terrible fire. Each Christian vessel, by the retrenchment of its peak, enjoyed an advantage over its antagonist in the freer play of its artillery. When, however, the galleys of Selim came to close combat with the galleys of the League, the battle became a series of isolated struggles which depended more upon individual mind and manhood than upon any comprehensive plan of far-seeing calculation. But Don John of Austria had the merit or the good-fortune of bringing his forces into action in the highest moral and material perfection; of placing admirable means in the hands of men whose spirit was in the right temper to use them. He struck his great blow at the happy moment when great dangers are cheerfully confronted and great things easily accomplished.
His plan of battle was on the whole admirably executed. The galleys of the various confederates were so studiously intermingled that each vessel was incited to do its utmost by the spur of rivalry. Vaniero and Colonna deserve their full share of the credit of the day; and the gallant Santa Cruz, although at first stationed in the rear, soon found and employed his opportunity of earning his share of laurels. On Doria alone Roman and Venetian critics, and indeed public opinion, pronounced a less favorable verdict. His shoreward movement unquestionably had the effect of enabling Aluch Ali to cut the Christian line and fall with damaging force upon its rear, and of rendering the victory more costly in blood and less rich in prizes. This movement was ascribed to the desire of the Genoese to spare his own ships, and to secure a safe retreat for himself in case of a disaster; and he was further even taunted with cowardice for hauling down the gilded celestial sphere, the proud cognizance of his house, which usually surmounted his flag-staff. To the latter charge his friends replied that the sphere was taken down to secure it from injury, it being the gift of his wife, and that his ship was too well known to both the fleets to find safety in the want of her usual badge. The other accusations, they considered, were disposed of by the necessity of shaping his course according to the tactics of the Algerine, and abundantly refuted by the vigor and success with which he at last attacked the enemy. It is not improbable that the true explanation of his conduct is that offered by the captain of a Neapolitan galley, present at the battle, that he wished to gain an advantage over Aluch Ali by seamanship, and that the renegade, no less skilled in the game, played it on this occasion better than he.
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