As brave as a man needs to be…

 

     The French frigate fired a second broadside, having used the experience of its futile first broadside to correct ranging and aiming.  Several of the cannonballs hit Armagh on the starboard quarter.  The two most forward-mounted carronades were struck, one torn from its mount and toppled end-over-end on the deck, the other dislodged from its pivot.  Two of that second carronade’s crew were killed by another shot, which passed through both men and lodged itself in the port rail, all the way across the deck which had been strewn and sprayed with bits of the two dead men.  Another French shot hit the starboard rail between two carronades and showered the weather-deck with splinters.       

     Lawrence had mentally prepared himself for the effects of round-shot:  the two men killed by the single cannonball had died instantly, albeit not cleanly.  Lawrence had not, however, foreseen the damage that splinters could cause.  When the shot, traveling at barely subsonic speed, hit Armagh’s starboard rail, the wood was torn into pointed, sharp-edged splinters from a few inches to a foot and a half long, which flew at scarcely diminished velocity in a spherical pattern from the point of impact.  Five men on the crew of the adjacent carronade were killed, one instantly as a splinter pierced his skull, the others mortally wounded, run through the chest or abdomen, writhing about on the deck and crying out most terribly until oblivion mercifully seized them.  Another ten men were wounded less severely, though in an era without antisepsis and antibiotics any wound might fester and over time prove fatal.

     Lawrence observed fifteen of his crew-mates killed or maimed by a single shot—a shot that had not even hit them, or anything other than the rail!—and felt fear.  He noticed, as if for the first time, as if the taking of such stations had not been a part of every beat-to-quarters drill, that marines had not only taken positions as sharpshooters in the fighting tops but as battle-police on the weather-deck, standing as sentries by the companionways and thereby preventing flight by sailors who might be inclined to flee to what seemed the relative safety of the gun-deck.  Lawrence saw the sprays of pink foam jetted onto the deck from the mouths of men whose lungs had been pierced by splinters, and his face lost all color.  Then he felt a blow, not hard enough to harm but too hard to be ignored, across his shoulders.

     “Steady on, Lawrence,” said Midshipman Lewis.

Edwin Lawrence: …ultimately faced with the choice of whether to fire on his own country’s flag or to die…