CHAPTER IV. THE CONQUEST OF GAUL.
In the mean time, Caesar had collected a large number of sailing vessels from the whole line of the French shore, by means of which he proposed to transport his army across the Channel. He had two legions to take into Britain, the remainder of his forces having been stationed as garrisons in various parts of Gaul. It was necessary, too, to leave a considerable force at his post of debarkation, in order to secure a safe retreat in case of any disaster on the British side. The number of transport ships provided for the foot soldiers which were to be taken over was eighty. There were, besides these, eighteen more, which were appointed to convey a squadron of horse. This cavalry force was to embark at a separate port, about eighty miles distant from the one from which the infantry were to sail.
[Embarkation of the troops.]
At length a suitable day for the embarkation arrived; the troops were put on board the ships, and orders were given to sail. The day could not be fixed beforehand, as the time for attempting to make the passage must necessarily depend upon the state of the wind and weather. Accordingly, when the favorable opportunity arrived, and the main body of the army began to embark it took some time to send the orders to the port where the cavalry had rendezvoused; and there were, besides, other causes of delay which occurred to detain this corps, so that it turned out, as we shall presently see, that the foot soldiers had to act alone in the first attempt at landing on the British shore.
[Sailing of the fleet.] [Preparations of the Britons.]
It was one o'clock in the morning when the fleet set sail. The Britons had, in the mean time, obtained intelligence of Caesar's threatened invasion, and they had assembled in great force, with troops, and horsemen, and carriages of war, and were all ready to guard the shore. The coast, at the point where Caesar was approaching, consists of a line of chalky cliffs, with valley-like openings here and there between them, communicating with the shore, and sometimes narrow beaches below. When the Roman fleet approached the land, Caesar found the cliffs every where lined with troops of Britons, and every accessible point below carefully guarded. It was now about ten o'clock in the morning, and Caesar, finding the prospect so unfavorable in respect to the practicability of effecting a landing here, brought his fleet to anchor near the shore, but far enough from it to be safe from the missiles of the enemy.
[Caesar calls a council of officers.]
Here he remained for several hours, to give time for all the vessels to join him. Some of them had been delayed in the embarkation, or had made slower progress than the rest in crossing the Channel. He called a council, too, of the superior officers of the army on board his own galley, and explained to them the plan which he now adopted for the landing. About three o'clock in the afternoon he sent these officers back to their respective ships, and gave orders to make sail along the shore. The anchors were raised and the fleet moved on, borne by the united impulse of the wind and the tide. The Britons, perceiving this movement, put themselves in motion on the land, following the motions of the fleet so as to be ready to meet their enemy wherever they might ultimately undertake to land. Their horsemen and carriages went on in advance, and the foot soldiers followed, all pressing eagerly forward to keep up with the motion of the fleet, and to prevent Caesar's army from having time to land before they should arrive at the spot and be ready to oppose them.
[The landing.] [The battle.] [Defeat of the Britons.]
The fleet moved on until, at length, after sailing about eight miles, they came to a part of the coast where there was a tract of comparatively level ground, which seemed to be easily accessible from the shore. Here Caesar determined to attempt to land; and drawing up his vessel, accordingly, as near as possible to the beach, he ordered the men to leap over into the water, with their weapons in their hands. The Britons were all here to oppose them, and a dreadful struggle ensued, the combatants dyeing the waters with their blood as they fought, half submerged in the surf which rolled in upon the sand. Some galleys rowed up at the same time near to the shore, and the men on board of them attacked the Britons from the decks, by the darts and arrows which they shot to the land. Caesar at last prevailed; the Britons were driven away, and the Roman army established themselves in quiet possession of the shore.
[Caesar's popularity at Rome.]
Caesar had afterward a great variety of adventures, and many narrow escapes from imminent dangers in Britain, and, though he gained considerable glory by thus penetrating into such remote and unknown regions, there was very little else to be acquired. The glory, however, was itself of great value to Caesar. During the whole period of his campaigns in Gaul, Rome and all Italy in fact, had been filled with the fame of his exploits, and the expedition into Britain added not a little to his renown. The populace of the city were greatly gratified to hear of the continued success of their former favorite. They decreed to him triumph after triumph, and were prepared to welcome him, whenever he should return, with greater honors and more extended and higher powers than he had ever enjoyed before.
[Results of his campaigns.]