The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle’s wreck
Shone round him o’er the dead.
Yet beautiful and bright he stood,
As born to rule the storm;
A creature of heroic blood,
A proud, though childlike form.
The flames roll’d on…he would not go
Without his father’s word;
That father, faint in death below,
His voice no longer heard.
He call’d aloud…”Say, father, say
If yet my task is done!”
He knew not that the chieftain lay
Unconscious of his son.
“Speak, father!” once again he cried
“If I may yet be gone!”
And but the booming shots replied,
And fast the flames roll’d on.
Upon his brow he felt their breath,
And in his waving hair,
And looked from that lone post of death,
In still yet brave despair;
And shouted but one more aloud,
“My father, must I stay?”
While o’er him fast, through sail and shroud
The wreathing fires made way,
They wrapt the ship in splendour wild,
They caught the flag on high,
And stream’d above the gallant child,
Like banners in the sky.
There came a burst of thunder sound…
The boy-oh! where was he?
Ask of the winds that far around
With fragments strewed the sea.
With mast, and helm, and pennon fair,
That well had borne their part;
But the noblest thing which perished there
Was that young faithful heart.
It was on the evening of July 28 of 1798 that the English naval squadron under Lord Nelson sailed into Abū Qīr Bay and immediately attacked the French fleet . The French were taken completely by surprise by the timing of the attack, having recalled its sailors from shore leave to man the fleet, they were expecting a naval battle. They were not expecting the British fleet to attack at nightfall or for them to navigate behind the anchored French fleet. The French flagship was the L’Orient and it soon found itself flanked by English ships attacking from both sides. A fierce battle was soon raging and the flashes of 2000 guns lit up the ships in the gathering darkness. L’Orient caught by broadsides was set ablaze. It was then that the English sailors saw an amazing sight. There on that burning deck they saw a boy standing alone. He was Giacomo Jocante the young son of Louis De Casabianca Captain of L’Orient. Surrounded by flames and facing the astonished English foe, the boy perished when the whole ship erupted in a massive explosion.
Louis de Casabianca (1752-1798) entered the French navy and served in the convoy of the French troops sent to aid the American colonies in their War of Independence. He took part in various naval actions off the North American coast. In 1790 he became a Captain and represented Corsica in the Convention. As Captain of L’Orient, the flagship of the French fleet at the Battle of Abū Qīr Bay (Battle of the Nile), he served under the fleet Commander Francois-Paul Brueys d’Aigailliers. When the latter was killed, Captain Louis de Casabianca took command in a heroic last defiant stand. His son Giacomo Jocante refused to leave the ship and died with his father. This heroic act was the theme of poems by the French contemporary writers Ecouchard Lebrun and Andre Chenier, as well as by Mrs. Felicia Dorothea Hemans.
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