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Title: Naval Actions of the War of 1812
Author: Barnes, James
Language: English
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  THE WAR OF 1812







  FOR KING OR COUNTRY. A Story of the American Revolution.
  Illustrated. Post 8vo, Cloth, $1 50.

  A story that will be eagerly welcomed by boys of all ages.... It is
  doubtful whether the reader will be content to lay the story aside
  until he has finished it. It is a good book for an idle day in the
  country, and we cordially recommend it both to boys on a holiday
  and to boys that stay at home.--_Saturday Evening Gazette_, Boston.

  A spirited story of the days that tried men’s souls, full of
  incident and movement that keep up the reader’s interest to the
  turning of the last page. It is full of dramatic situations
  and graphic descriptions which irresistibly lead the reader
  on, regretful at the close that there is not still more of
  it.--_Christian Work_, N. Y.

  A fascinating study. It is replete with those Homeric touches which
  delight the heart of the healthy boy.... It would be difficult
  to find a more fascinating book for the young.--_Philadelphia

  A capital story for boys, both young and old; full of adventure
  and movement, thoroughly patriotic in tone, throwing luminous
  sidelights upon the main events of the Revolution.--_Brooklyn


Copyright, 1896, by HARPER & BROTHERS.




The country that has no national heroes whose deeds should be found
emblazoned on her annals, that can boast no men whose lives and conduct
can be held up as examples of what loyalty, valor, and courage should
be, that country has no patriotism, no heart, no soul.

If it be wrong to tell of a glorious past, for fear of keeping alive
an animosity that should have perished with time, there have been many
offenders; and the author of the following pages thus writes himself
down as one of them. Truly, if pride in the past be a safeguard for the
future in forming a national spirit, America should rejoice.

There exists no Englishman today whose heart is not moved at the word
“Trafalgar,” or whose feelings are not stirred by the sentence “England
expects every man to do his duty.” The slight, one-armed figure of
Admiral Nelson has been before the Briton’s eyes as boy and man,
surrounded always with the glamour that will never cease to enshroud
a nation’s hero. Has it kept alive a feeling of animosity against
France to dwell on such a man as this, and to keep his deeds alive? So
it may be. But no Englishman would hide the cause in order to lose the
supposed effect of it.

In searching the history of our own country, when it stood together as
a united nation, waging just war, we find England, our mother country,
whose language we speak, arrayed against us. But, on account of this
bond of birth and language, should we cease to tell about the deeds of
those men who freed us from her grasp and oppressions, and made us what
we are? I trust not. May our navy glory in its record, no matter the
consequences! May our youth grow up with the lives of these men--our
Yankee commanders--before them, and may they profit by their examples!

This should not inculcate a hatred for a former foe. It should only
serve to build up that national _esprit de corps_ without which no
country ever stood up for its rights and willed to fight for them. May
the sons of our new citizens, whose fathers have served kings, perhaps,
and come from other countries, grow up with a pride in America’s own
national history! How can this be given them unless they read of it in
books or gain it from teaching?

But it is not the intention to instruct that has caused the author
to compile and collate the material used in the following pages. He
has been influenced by his own feelings, that are shared by the many
thousands of the descendants of “the men who fought.” It has been his
pleasure, and this alone is his excuse.

Mr. Carlton T. Chapman, whose spirited paintings are reproduced to
illustrate this volume, has caught the atmosphere of action, and has
given us back the old days in a way that makes us feel them.


  INTRODUCTION                                                         1


  The United States frigate _Constitution_, on July 17th, 1812,
      falls in with a British squadron, but escapes, owing to the
      masterly seamanship of Captain Isaac Hull                       23


  The _Constitution_, under command of Captain Hull, captures
      the British frigate _Guerrière_, under command of Captain
      Richard Dacres, August 19th, 1812                               35


  The United States sloop of war _Wasp_, Captain Jacob Jones,
      captures the English sloop of war _Frolic_, October 18th,
      1812; both vessels taken on the same day by the English
      seventy-four _Poictiers_                                        47


  October 25th, 1812, the British frigate _Macedonian_, commanded
      by John S. Carden, is captured by the _United States_
      frigate, under command of Stephen Decatur; the prize is
      brought to port                                                 59


  Captain Wm. Bainbridge, in the _Constitution_, captures the
      British frigate _Java_ off the coast of Brazil, December
      29th, 1812; the _Java_ is set fire to and blows up              73


  Gallant action of the privateer schooner _Comet_, of 14 guns,
      against three English vessels and one Portuguese, January
      14th, 1813                                                      91


  The United States sloop of war _Hornet_, Captain James
      Lawrence, takes the British brig _Peacock_; the latter
      sinks after the action, February 24th, 1813                    103


  The United States frigate _Chesapeake_ is captured by the
      English frigate _Shannon_ after a gallant defence, June
      1st, 1813                                                      113


  The United States brig _Enterprise_, commanded by William
      Burrows, captures H. B. M. sloop of war _Boxer_, September
      5th, 1813; Burrows killed during the action                    129


  On September 10th, 1813, the American fleet on Lake Erie,
      under the command of Oliver Hazard Perry, captures the
      entire English naval force under Commodore Barclay             139


  The American privateer brig _General Armstrong_, of 9 guns and
      90 men, repulses a boat attack in the harbor of Fayal, the
      British suffering a terrific loss, September 27th, 1813        159


  March 28th, 1814, the United States frigate _Essex_, under
      Captain David Porter, is captured by two English vessels,
      the _Phoebe_ and the _Cherub_, in the harbor of Valparaiso     171


  The United States sloop of war _Peacock_, commanded by Captain
      Warrington, takes the British sloop of war _L’Epervier_ on
      April 29th, 1814                                               191


  The United States sloop of war _Wasp_, under command of Captain
      Blakeley, captures the British sloop of war _Reindeer_,
      June 28th, 1814. The _Wasp_ engages the British sloop of
      war _Avon_ on the 1st of September; the English vessel
      sinks after the _Wasp_ is driven off by a superior fore        199


  September 11th, the American forces on Lake Champlain, under
      Captain Macdonough, capture the English squadron, under
      Captain Downey, causing the evacuation of New York State by
      the British                                                    209


  The United States frigate _President_, under command of Captain
      Decatur, is taken by a British squadron after a long chase,
      during which the _President_ completely disabled one of her
      antagonists, January 15th, 1815                                219


  February 20th, 1815, the _Constitution_, under Captain Stewart,
      engages and captures two English vessels that prove to be
      the _Cyane_ and the _Levant_; one of her prizes is retaken,
      and the _Constitution_ again has a narrow escape               231


  The British brig of war _Penguin_ surrenders to the United
      States brig _Hornet_, commanded by Captain James Biddle;
      the _Penguin_ sinks immediately after the accident, March
      23d, 1815                                                      245


  The chase of the _Hornet_, sloop of war, by the _Cornwallis_, a
      British line-of-battle ship                                    255


  THE SURRENDER OF THE “GUERRIÈRE”                        _Frontispiece_

                                                             _Facing p._

  THE “CONSTITUTION” TOWING AND KEDGING                               26

  THE “WASP” RAKING THE “FROLIC”                                      50




  THE “PEACOCK” AND “HORNET” AT CLOSE QUARTERS                       106

  THE “CHESAPEAKE” LEAVING THE HARBOR                                116



  THE “ENTERPRISE” HULLING THE “BOXER”                               132


  THE “NIAGARA” BREAKS THE ENGLISH LINE                              148

  THE “ESSEX” BEING CUT TO PIECES                                    184


  THE “PEACOCK” CAPTURES THE “EPERVIER”                              192


  THE “WASP’S” FIGHT WITH THE “AVON”                                 204


  THE “PRESIDENT” ENDEAVORING TO ESCAPE                              222


  THE “CONSTITUTION” TAKING THE “CYANE”                              236


  THE “PENGUIN” STRIKES TO THE “HORNET”                              252


To study the condition of affairs that led up to the declaration of
the second war against Great Britain we have but to turn to the sea.
Although England, it must be confessed, had plenty of fighting on her
hands and troubles enough at home, she had not forgotten the chagrin
and disappointments caused by the loss of the American colonies through
a mistaken enforcement of high-handedness. And it was this same
tendency that brought to her vaunted and successful navy as great an
overthrow as their arms had received on land some thirty-seven years

The impressment of American seamen into the English service had been
continued despite remonstrances from our government, until the hatred
for the sight of the cross of St. George that stirred the hearts of
Yankee sailor men had passed all bounds. America under these conditions
developed a type of patriot seafarer, and this fact may account for his
manners under fire and his courage in all circumstances.

The United States was an outboard country, so to speak. We had no
great interstate traffic, no huge, developed West to draw upon, to
exchange and barter with. Our people thronged the sea-coast, and
vessels made of American pine and live-oak were manned by _American
men_. They had sought their calling by choice, and not by compulsion.
They had not been driven from crowded cities because they could not
live there. They had not been taken from peaceful homes and wives and
children by press-gangs, as was the English custom, to slave on board
the great vessels that Great Britain kept afloat by such means, and
such alone. But of his own free-will the Yankee sailor sought the sea,
and of his own free-will he served his country. It would be useless
to deny that the greater liberty, the higher pay, the large chance
for reward, tempted many foreigners and many ex-servants of the king
to cast their lot with us. But when we think that there were kept
unwillingly on English vessels of war almost as many American seamen as
were giving voluntary service to their country in our little navy, we
can see on which side the great proportion lies.

It is easy to see that the American mind was a pent furnace. It only
needed a few more evidences of England’s injustice and contempt to make
the press and public speech roar with hatred and cry out for revenge.
So when in June, 1812, war was declared against Great Britain, it was
hailed with approbation and delight. But shots had been exchanged
before this, and there were men who knew the value of seamanship,
recognized the fact that every shot must tell, that every man must
be ready, and that to the navy the country looked; for the idea of a
great invasion by England was scouted. It was a war for the rights
of sailors, the freedom of the high-seas, and the grand and never
thread-worn principles of liberty.

So wide-spread had been the patriotism of our citizens during the
revolutionary war that our only frigates, except those made up of aged
merchant-vessels, had been built by private subscription; but now the
government was awake, alert, and able.

To take just a glance at the condition of affairs that led up to this
is of great interest.

So far back as the year 1798 the impositions of Great Britain upon
our merchantmen are on record, and on November 16th of that year they
culminated in a deliberate outrage and insult to our flag.

The U. S. ship of war _Baltimore_, of 20 guns, was overhauled by a
British squadron, and five American seamen were impressed from the
crew. At this time we were engaged in the quasi-war with France, during
which the _Constellation_, under Captain Truxton, captured the French
frigate _L’Insurgent_, of 54 guns. On February 1st, 1800, a year after
the first action, the same vessel, under the same commander, captured
_La Vengeance_, of 54 guns. On October 12th of the same year the U.
S. frigate _Boston_ captured the French corvette _Le Berceau_. Minor
actions between the French privateers and our merchantmen occurred
constantly. We lost but one of our national vessels, however--the
schooner _Retaliation_, captured by two French frigates.

England was protecting the Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean at
this time, in order to keep out competitive commerce--a fine bit of
business! Europe and America bought immunity.

On June 10th, 1801, war was declared, however, by the Bashaw of Tripoli
against the United States, because we failed to accede to his demands
for larger tribute, and a brief summary of the conduct of this war
will show plainly that here our officers had chances to distinguish
themselves, and the American seamen won distinction in foreign waters.

Captain Bainbridge, in command of the frigate _Philadelphia_, late
in August, 1803, captured off the Cape de Gatt a Moorish cruiser,
and retook her prize, an American brig. About two months later the
_Philadelphia_, in chase of one of the corsairs, ran on a reef of rocks
under the guns of a battery, and after four hours’ action Bainbridge
was compelled to strike his flag to the Tripolitans. For months,
now, it was the single aim of the American squadron under Preble to
destroy the _Philadelphia_, in order to prevent her being used against
the United States, and on February 15th, 1804, this was successfully
accomplished by Lieutenant Stephen Decatur and seventy volunteers,
who entered the harbor on the ketch _Intrepid_, set fire to the
_Philadelphia_, and escaped.

All through August Preble’s squadron hovered about the harbor of
Tripoli, and bombarded the town on four separate occasions. On June
3d, 1805, he arranged a peace with the Tripolitans, and two days
later Bainbridge and the American prisoners were liberated. But the
bashaw could not control the piratical cruisers who made his harbor a
rendezvous, and in September hostilities were again commenced, during
which occurred the sad accident, the premature blowing up of the fire
ship _Intrepid_, by which the navy lost Captain Richard Somers, one of
its bravest officers, two lieutenants, and ten seamen.

But to return to the relations existing between America and England.
A crisis was fast approaching. Off the shore of Maryland on June 22d,
1807, the crowning outrage attending England’s self-assumed “right of
search” took place, when the British sloop of war _Leopard_, 50 guns,
fired upon the _Chesapeake_, 36 guns, which vessel, under command
of Captain Barron, had just shipped a green crew, and could return,
owing to her unprepared condition, but one shot to the Englishman’s
broadside. Barron hauled down his flag, and had to allow himself to
be searched by the orders of Captain Humphries, commander of the
_Leopard_, and four American-born seamen were taken out of his crew and
sent on board the Englishman. It was claimed by Captain Humphries that
three of these men were deserters from the British frigate _Melampus_.
Although the _Chesapeake_ had hauled down her flag and surrendered,
the _Leopard_ paid no attention to this, and sailed away, leaving
Barron with three men killed and eighteen wounded, and his ship badly
damaged in hull, spars, and rigging. Barron was censured by a court
of inquiry and suspended from his command. Looking at this sentence
dispassionately, it was most unjust.

But the indignation that was felt throughout the country over this
affair wrought the temper of the people to a fever-heat. Congress
passed resolutions, and the President of the United States issued a
proclamation, forbidding all British armed vessels from entering the
ports of the United States, and prohibiting all inhabitants of the
United States from furnishing them with supplies of any description.

Great Britain’s disavowal of the act of Admiral Berkeley (under whose
command Captain Humphries had acted) was lukewarm, and the Admiral’s
trial was something of a farce, and gave little satisfaction to America.

Napoleon at about this time had begun his senseless closing of French
ports to American vessels, and once more the French cruisers apparently
considered all Yankee craft their proper prey. They would interrupt and
take from them stores, water, or whatever they considered necessary,
without remuneration or apology. As the English were taking our seamen
and showing absolute contempt for our flag wherever found, the
condition of our merchant marine was most precarious. No vessel felt
secure upon the high seas, and yet the English merchant ships continued
to ply their trade with us.

On May 1st, 1810, all French and English vessels of any description
were prohibited from entering the ports of the United States. On June
24th of this year the British sloop of war _Moselle_ fired at the
U. S. brig _Vixen_, off the Bahamas, but fortunately did no damage.
Another blow to American commerce just at this period was the closing
of the ports of Prussia to American products and ships. But an event
which took place on May 16th, 1811, had an unexpected termination that
turned all eyes to England. The British frigate _Guerrière_ was one
of a fleet of English vessels hanging about our coasts, and cruising
mainly along the New Jersey and Long Island shores. Commodore Rodgers
was proceeding from Annapolis to New York in the _President_, 44 guns,
when the news was brought to him by a coasting vessel that a young man,
a native of New Jersey, had been taken from an American brig in the
vicinity of Sandy Hook, and had been carried off by a frigate supposed
to be the _Guerrière_. On the 16th, about noon, Rodgers discovered a
sail standing towards him. She was made out to be a man-of-war, and
concluding that she was the _Guerrière_, the commodore resolved to
speak to her, and, to quote from a contemporary, “he hoped he might
prevail upon her commander to release the impressed young man” (what
arguments he intended to use are not stated). But no sooner had the
stranger perceived the _President_, whose colors were flying, than she
wore and stood to the southward. Rodgers took after her, and by evening
was close enough to make out that she was beyond all doubt an English
ship. But owing to the dusk and thick weather it was impossible to
count her broadside, or to make out distinctly what was the character
of the flag that at this late hour she had hoisted at her peak. So he
determined to lay his vessel alongside of her within speaking distance,
and find out something definite. The strange sail apparently wished
to avoid this if possible, and tacked and manoeuvred incessantly in
efforts to escape. At twenty minutes past eight the _President_, being
a little forward of the weather beam of the chase, and within a hundred
yards of her, Rodgers called through his trumpet with the usual hail,
“What ship is that?” No answer was given, but the question was repeated
from the other vessel in turn. Rodgers did not answer, and hailed
again. To his intense surprise a shot was fired into the _President_,
and this was the only response. A great deal of controversy resulted
from the subsequent happenings. The English deny having fired the first
gun, and assert that Rodgers was the offender, as a gun was discharged
(without orders) from the American vessel almost at the same moment.
Now a brisk action commenced with broadsides and musketry. But the
commodore, noticing that he was having to deal with a very inferior
force, ceased firing, after about ten minutes of exchanging shots. He
was premature in this, however, as the other vessel immediately renewed
her fire, and the foremast of the _President_ was badly injured by two
thirty-two-pound shot. By this time the wind had blown up fresh, and
there was a heavy sea; but notwithstanding this fact and the growing
darkness, a well-directed broadside from the _President_ silenced the
other’s fire completely. Rodgers approached again, and to his hail
this time there was given some reply. Owing to his being to windward,
he did not catch the words, although he understood from them that his
antagonist was a British ship. All night long Rodgers lay hove to under
the lee of the stranger, displaying lights, and ready at any moment to
respond to any call for assistance, as it had been perceived that the
smaller vessel was badly crippled.

At daylight the _President_ bore down to within speaking distance and
an easy sail, and Rodgers sent out his first cutter, under command of
Lieutenant Creighton, to learn the name of the ship and her commander,
and with instructions to ascertain what damage she had received, and
to “regret the necessity which had led to such an unhappy result.”
Lieutenant Creighton returned with the information that the British
captain declined accepting any assistance, and that the vessel was
His Britannic Majesty’s sloop of war _Little Belt_, 18 guns. She had
nine men killed and twenty-two wounded. No one was killed on board the
_President_, and only a cabin-boy had been wounded in the arm by a

The account given to his government by Captain Bingham, of the _Little
Belt_, gives the lie direct to the sworn statement of the affair,
confirmed by all the officers and crew of the _President_, an account,
by-the-way, that after a long and minute investigation was sustained
by the American courts. It was now past doubting that open war
would shortly follow between this country and England. Preparations
immediately began in every large city to outfit privateers, and the
navy-yards rang with hammers, and the recruiting officers were besieged
by hordes of sailor men anxious to serve a gun and seek revenge.

Owing to circumstances, the year of 1812, that gave the name to the war
of the next three years, found the country in a peculiar condition.
Under the “gunboat system” of Mr. Jefferson, who believed in harbor
protection, and trusted to escape war, an act had been passed in
1805 which almost threatened annihilation of a practical navy. The
construction of twenty-five gunboats authorized by this bill had been
followed, from time to time, by the building of more of them under the
mistaken idea that this policy was a national safeguard. They would
have been of great use as a branch of coast fortification at that
time, it may be true, but they were absolutely of no account in the
prosecution of a war at sea. Up to the year 1811 in the neighborhood
of two hundred of these miserable vessels had been constructed, and
they lay about the harbors in various conditions of uselessness.

From an official statement it appears that there were but three
first-class frigates in our navy, and that but five vessels of any
description were in condition to go to sea. They were the _President_,
44 guns; the _United States_, 44 guns; the _Constitution_, 44 guns; the
_Essex_, 32 guns; and the _Congress_, 36 guns. All of our sea-going
craft taken together were but ten in number, and seven of these were of
the second class and of inferior armament. There was not a single ship
that did not need extensive repairs, and two of the smaller frigates,
the _New York_ and the _Boston_, were condemned upon examination. The
navy was in a deplorable state, and no money forthcoming.

But the session of Congress known as the “war session” altered this
state of affairs, and in the act of March 13th, 1812, we find the
repudiation of the gunboat policy, and the ridiculous error advanced,
to our shame be it said, by some members of Congress, that “in creating
a navy we are only building ships for Great Britain,” was cast aside.
Not only did the act provide for putting the frigates into commission
and preparing them for actual service, but two hundred thousand
dollars per annum was appropriated for three years for ship timber.
The gunboats were laid up “for the good of the public service,” and
disappeared. Up to this period all the acts of Congress in favor of
the navy had been but to make hasty preparations of a few vessels of
war to meet the pressure of some emergency, but no permanent footing
had been established. The conduct and the result of the war with
Tripoli had not been such as to make the American Navy popular, despite
the individual brave deeds that had taken place and the respect for
the flag that had been enforced abroad. But the formation of a “naval
committee” was a step in the right direction. There was a crisis to
be met, the country was awake to the necessity, and the feelings of
patriotism had aroused the authorities to a pitch of action. Many
men, the ablest in the country, were forced into public life from
their retirement, and a combination was presented in the House of
Representatives and in the Senate that promised well for the conduct of
affairs. The Republican party saw that there was no more sense in the
system of restriction, and that the only way to redress the wrongs of
our sailors was by war.

Langdon Cheves was appointed chairman of this Committee of Naval
Affairs of the Twelfth Congress, and took hold of the work assigned to
him with energy and judgment. There was some slight opposition given
by people who doubted our power and resources to wage war successfully
against Great Britain, but this opposition was overwhelmed completely
at the outset. The report of the naval committee shows that the naval
establishments of other countries had been carefully looked into,
and experienced and intelligent officers had been called upon for
assistance; that the needs and resources of the country had been
accurately determined, and the result was that the committee expressed
the opinion “_that it was the true policy of the United States to build
up a navy establishment as the cheapest, the safest, and the best
protection to their sea-coast and to their commerce, and that such an
establishment was inseparably connected with the future prosperity,
safety, and glory of the country_.”

The bill which was introduced and drafted by the committee recommended
that the force to be created should consist of frigates and sloops
of war to be built at once, and that those already in commission be
overhauled and refitted. To quote from the first bill for the increase
of the navy, communicated to the House of Representatives September
17th, 1811 (which antedated the final act of March 13th, 1812), Mr.
Cheves says for the committee: “We beg leave to recommend that all
the vessels of war of the United States not now in service, which are
worthy of repair, be immediately repaired, fitted out, and put into
actual service; that ten additional frigates, averaging 38 guns, be
built; that a competent sum of money be appropriated for the purchase
of a stock of timber, and that a dock for repairing the vessels of war
of the United States be established in some central and convenient
place.” There was no dock in the country at this date, and vessels had
to be “hove down” to repair their hulls--an expensive and lengthy

A large number of experiments had also been made during this year in
reference to the practical use of the torpedo. They were conducted
in the city and harbor of New York, under the supervision of
Oliver Walcott, John Kent, Cadwallader B. Colden, John Garnet, and
Jonathan Williams. Suggestions were also made for the defence of
vessels threatened by torpedo attack in much the same method that is
employed to this date--by nets and booms. Mr. Colden says in a letter
addressed to Paul Hamilton, Secretary of the Navy, in reference to
the experiments with Mr. Fulton’s torpedoes, “I cannot but think that
if the dread of torpedoes were to produce no other effect than to
induce every hostile vessel of war which enters our ports to protect
herself in a way in which the _Argus_ (the vessel experimented with)
was protected, torpedoes will be no inconsiderable auxiliaries in the
defence of our harbors.” Strange to say, a boom torpedo rigged to the
end of a boom attached to the prow of a cutter propelled by oars was
tried, and is to this day adopted in our service, in connection with
fast steam-launches. All this tends to show the advancing interest in
naval warfare. Paul Hamilton suggested, in a letter dated December 3d,
1811, that “a naval force of twelve sails of the line (74’s) and twenty
well-constructed frigates, including those already in commission, would
be ample to protect the coasting trade”; but there was no provision
in the bill as finally accepted, and no authority given for the
construction of any line of battle ships, although Mr. Cheves referred
in his speech to the letter from Secretary Hamilton. Plans were also
made this year to form a naval hospital, a much-needed institution.

When war was declared by Congress against Great Britain, on June
18th, 1812, and proclaimed by the President of the United States the
following day, the number of vessels, exclusive of those projected and
building, was as follows:

                      Rated   Mounting  Commanders
  _Constitution_       44      56     Capt. Hull
  _United States_      44      56     Capt. Decatur
  _President_          44      56     Com. Rodgers
  _Chesapeake_         36      44     Capt. Evans
  _New York_           36      44
  _Constellation_      36      44     Capt. Stewart
  _Congress_           36      44     Capt. Smith
  _Boston_             32
  _Essex_              32             Capt. Porter
  _Adams_              32

  _John Adams_         26             Capt. Ludlow

                         SLOOPS OF WAR
  _Wasp_               18      18     Capt. Jones
  _Hornet_             18      18     Capt. Lawrence

  _Siren_              16             Capt. Carroll
  _Argus_              16             Capt. Crane
  _Oneida_             16             Capt. Woolsey

  _Vixen_              14             Lieut. Gadsden
  _Nautilus_           14             Lieut. Sinclair
  _Enterprise_         14             Capt. Blakely
  _Viper_              10             Capt. Bainbridge

  _Vengeance_                        _Ætna_
  _Spitfire_                         _Vesuvius_

As we have stated before, the _Boston_, that was burned afterwards at
Washington, never put to sea, and the _New York_ was a worthless hulk.

The _Constitution_, the _United States_, and the _Constellation_ were
built in the year 1797, the _Constitution_ at Boston, the _United
States_ at Philadelphia, and the _Constellation_ at Baltimore. They had
been built in the most complete manner, and it might be of interest
to give some figures in connection with the construction of these
vessels, thus forming an idea of how they compare with the tremendous
and expensive fighting-machines of today. The first cost of the
_Constitution_ was $302,718. Her annual expenses when in commission
were $100,000. Her pay-roll per month was in the neighborhood of $5000.
There had been spent in repairs upon the _Constitution_ from October
1st, 1802, to October 1st, 1811, the sum of $302,582--almost as much as
her original cost, it is thus seen; but upon the outbreak of the war
only $5658 had to be spent upon her to fit her for sea. The first cost
of a small vessel like the _Wasp_, carrying 18 guns, was $60,000; the
annual expense in commission, $38,000.

Although the _Constitution_ was in such good shape, the _Chesapeake_
and the _Constellation_ were not seaworthy, and required $120,000
apiece to be expended on them before they would be considered ready for

An American 44-gun frigate carried about 400 men. The pay appears
ridiculously small, captains receiving but $100; masters-commandant,
$75 a month; lieutenants’ pay was raised from $40 to $60. Midshipmen
drew $19, an ordinary seaman $10, and a private of marines but $6 a

A 44-gun frigate was about 142 feet long, 38 feet 8 inches in breadth,
and drew from 17 to 23 feet of water, according to her loading. An
18-gun sloop of war was between 110 and 122 feet in length, and drew 15
feet of water.

At the time of the declaration of war the officers holding captains’
commissions were: Alexander Murray, John Rodgers, James Barron
(suspended), William Bainbridge, Hugh G. Campbell, Stephen Decatur,
Thomas Tingey, Charles Stewart, Isaac Hull, Isaac Chauncey, John
Shaw, John Smith--there was one vacancy. On the pay-rolls as
masters-commandant we find David Porter, Samuel Evans, Jacob Jones, and
James Lawrence.

It is hard to imagine nowadays the amount of bitterness, the extreme
degree of hatred, that had grown up between America and Great Britain.
Before the outbreak of hostilities, smarting under the defeats of
’76 and the struggle of the following years, with few exceptions
English officers burned to show their contempt for the service of the
new country whose flag was being sent about the world. During the
presence of the American fleets under Preble and Bainbridge in the
Mediterranean, insults were frequently forced upon them by the English.
An anecdote which brings in one of our nation’s heroes will show
plainly to what extent this feeling existed. From an American vessel
of war anchored at Malta a number of the junior officers had obtained
shore leave; among them was a tall, handsome lad, the brother of the
commander of the _Philadelphia_. Orders had been given for the young
gentlemen to mind their own affairs, to keep close together, and to pay
no attention to the treatment they might receive from the officers of
the English regiments or navy. Owing to the custom then holding, the
man who had not fought a duel or killed a man in “honorable” meeting
was an exception, even in our service. There was no punishment for
duelling in either the army or navy, even if one should kill a member
of his own mess, so there may be some excuse for the disobedience, or,
better, disregard, of the order given to the midshipmen before they
landed. There was an English officer at Malta, a celebrated duellist,
who stated to a number of his friends, when he was informed that the
American young gentlemen had landed, that he would “bag one of the
Yankees before ten the next morning.” He ran across them in the lobby
of a playhouse, and, rudely jostling the tallest and apparently the
oldest, he was surprised at having his pardon begged, as if the fault
had been the other’s. So he repeated his offence, and emphasized it by
thrusting his elbow in “the Yankee’s” face.

This was too much. The tall midshipman whipped out his card, the
Englishman did likewise. A few words and it was all arranged. “At nine
the next morning, on the beach below the fortress.” As he turned, the
middy saw one of his senior lieutenants standing near him. He knew that
it would be difficult to get ashore in the morning, and he made up his
mind that, as the chances were he would never return to his ship at
all, he would not go back to her that night. But what was his dismay
when the officer approached and ordered him and all of his party to
repair on board their vessel. Of course the rest of the youngsters
knew what had occurred, and they longed to see how their comrade would
get out of the predicament. _He had to be on shore!_ But as he sat in
the stern-sheets the lieutenant, not so many years his senior, bent
forward. “I shall go ashore with you at nine o’clock to-morrow, if you
will allow me that honor,” he said, quietly. Now this young officer was
a hero with the lads in the steerage, and the middy’s courage rose.

At nine o’clock the next morning he stood in a sheltered little stretch
of beach with a pistol in his hand, and at the word “Fire!” he shot
the English bully through the heart. The midshipman’s name was Joseph
Bainbridge, a brother of the Bainbridge of _Constitution_ fame, and his
second upon this occasion was Stephen Decatur.

This encounter was but one of many such that took place on foreign
stations between American and English officers. The latter at last
became more respectful of the Yankees’ feelings, be it recorded.

The following series of articles is not intended as a history of the
navy, but as a mere account of the most prominent actions in which
the vessels of the regular service participated. Two affairs in which
American privateers took part are introduced, but of a truth the doings
of Yankee privateersmen would make a history in themselves.

It will be noticed that the names of several vessels occur frequently,
and we can see how the _Constitution_ won for herself the proudest
title ever given to a ship--“Old Ironsides”--and how the victories at
sea united the American nation as one great family in rejoicing or in
grief. To this day there will be found songs and watchwords in the
forecastles of our steel cruisers that were started at this glorious
period. “Remember the _Essex_!” “Don’t give up the ship!” “May we die
on deck!” are sayings that have been handed down, and let us hope that
they will live forever.



[July 17th, 18th, 19th, 1812]


If during the naval war of 1812 any one man won laurels because he
understood his ship, and thus triumphed over odds, that man was Captain
Hull, and the ship was the old _Constitution_.

Returning from a mission to Europe during the uncertain, feverish days
that preceded the declaration of war between England and America,
Hull had drawn into the Chesapeake to outfit for a cruise. He had
experienced a number of exciting moments in European waters, for
everything was in a turmoil and every sail suspicious--armed vessels
approached one another like dogs who show their fangs.

Although we were at peace, on more than one occasion Hull had called
his men to quarters, fearing mischief. Once he did so in an English
port, for he well remembered the affair of the _Leopard_ and the

At Annapolis he shipped a new crew, and on July 12th he sailed around
the capes and made out to sea. Five days later, when out of sight of
land, sailing with a light breeze from the northeast, four sail were
discovered to the north, heading to the westward. An hour later a fifth
sail was seen to the northward and eastward. Before sunset it could
be declared positively that the strangers were vessels of war, and
without doubt English. The wind was fair for the nearest one to close,
but before she came within three miles the breeze that had brought
her up died out, and after a calm that lasted but a few minutes the
light wind came from the southward, giving the _Constitution_ the

And now began a test of seamanship and sailing powers, the like of
which has no equal in history for prolonged excitement. Captain Hull
was almost alone in his opinion that the _Constitution_ was a fast
sailer. But it must be remembered, however, that a vessel’s speed
depends upon her handling, and with Isaac Hull on deck she had the best
of it.

All through the night, which was not dark, signals and lights flashed
from the vessels to leeward. The _Constitution_, it is claimed by the
English, was taken for one of their own ships. She herself had shown
the private signal of the day, thinking perhaps that the vessel near to
hand might be an American.

Before daybreak three rockets arose from the ship astern of the
_Constitution_, and at the same time she fired two guns. She was H. M.
S. _Guerrière_, and, odd to relate, before long she was to strike her
flag to the very frigate that was now so anxious to escape from her.
Now, to the consternation of all, as daylight broadened, three sail
were discovered on the starboard quarter and three more astern. Soon
another one was spied to the westward. By nine o’clock, when the mists
had lifted, the _Constitution_ had to leeward and astern of her seven
sail in sight--two frigates, a ship of the line, two smaller frigates,
a brig, and a schooner. There was no doubt as to who they were, for
in the light breeze the British colors tossed at their peaks. It was
a squadron of Captain Sir Philip Vere Broke, and he would have given
his right hand to have been able to lessen the distance between him
and the chase. But, luckily for “Old Ironsides,” all of the Englishmen
were beyond gunshot. Hull hoisted out his boats ahead, and they began
the weary work of towing; at the same time, stern-chasers were run out
over the after-bulwarks and through the cabin windows. It fell dead
calm, and before long all of the English vessels had begun to tow also.
But the _Constitution_ had the best position for this kind of work,
as she could have smashed the boats of an approaching vessel, while
her own were protected by her hull. One of the nearest frigates, the
_Shannon_, soon opened fire, but her shot fell short, and she gave it
up as useless. At this moment a brilliant idea occurred to Lieutenant
Morris of the _Constitution_. It had often been the custom in our
service to warp ships to their anchorage by means of kedge-anchors when
in a narrow channel; by skillful handling they had sometimes maintained
a speed of three knots an hour. Hull himself gives the credit for this
idea to Lieutenant Charles Morris.

All the spare hawsers and rope that would stand the strain were spliced
together, and a line almost a mile in length was towed ahead of the
ship and a kedge-anchor dropped. At once the _Constitution_ began to
walk away from her pursuers--as she tripped one kedge she commenced to
haul upon another. Now for the first time Hull displayed his colors
and fired a gun; but it was not long before the British discovered the
Yankee trick and were trying it themselves.

A slight breeze happily sprang up, which the _Constitution_ caught
first and forged ahead of the leading vessel, that had fifteen or
sixteen boats towing away at her. Soon it fell calm again, and the
towing and kedging were resumed. But the _Belvidera_, headed by a
flotilla of rowboats, gained once more, and Hull sent overboard some
twenty-four hundred gallons of water to lighten his vessel. A few shots
were exchanged without result. But without ceasing the wearisome work
went on, and never a grumble was heard, although the men had been on
duty and hard at work twelve hours and more.

This was to be only the beginning of it. Now and then breezes would
spring from the southward, and the tired sailors would seize the
occasion to throw themselves on the deck and rest, often falling asleep
leaning across the guns--the crews had never left their quarters.

From eleven o’clock in the evening until past midnight the breeze held
strong enough to keep the _Constitution_ in advance. Then it fell
dead calm once more. Captain Hull decided to give his men the
much-needed respite; and, except for those aloft and the man at the
wheel, they slept at their posts; but at 2 A.M. the boats were out


During this respite the _Guerrière_ had gained, and was off the lee
beam. It seemed as if it were impossible to avoid an action, and
Hull had found that two of his heavy stern-chasers were almost worse
than useless, as the blast of their discharge threatened to blow out
the stern-quarters, owing to the overhanging of the wood-work and
the shortness of the guns. The soundings had run from twenty-six to
twenty-four fathoms, and now Hull was afraid of getting into deeper
water, where kedging would be of no use.

At daybreak three of the enemy’s frigates had crept up to within long
gunshot on the lee quarter, and the _Guerrière_ maintained her position
on the beam. The _Africa_, the ship of the line, and the two smaller
vessels had fallen far behind. Slowly but surely the _Belvidera_
drew ahead of the _Guerrière_, and at last she was almost off the
_Constitution’s_ bow when she tacked. Hull, to preserve his position
and the advantage of being to windward, was obliged to follow suit. It
must have been a wondrous sight at this moment to the unskilled eye;
escape would have seemed impossible, for the American was apparently
in the midst of the foe. Rapidly approaching her on another tack was
the frigate _Æolus_ within long range, but she and the _Constitution_
passed one another without firing. The breeze freshening, Hull
hoisted in his boats, and the weary rowers rested their strained arms.

All the English vessels rounded upon the same tack as the
_Constitution_, and now the five frigates had out all their kites,
and were masses of shining canvas from their trucks to the water’s
edge. Counting the _Constitution_, eleven sail were in sight, and
soon a twelfth appeared to the windward. It was evident that she was
an American merchantman, as she threw out her colors upon sighting
the squadron. The Englishmen did not despatch a vessel to pursue her,
but to encourage her to come down to them they all flew the stars and
stripes. Hull straightway, as a warning, drew down his own flag and set
the English ensign. This had the desired effect, and the merchantman
hauled on the wind and made his best efforts to escape.

Hull had kept his sails wet with hose and bucket, in order to hold the
wind, and by ten o’clock his crew had started cheering and laughing,
for they were slowly drawing ahead; the _Belvidera_ was directly
in their wake, distant almost three miles. The other vessels were
scattered to leeward, two frigates were on the lee quarter five miles
away, and the _Africa_, holding the opposite tack, was hull down on the
horizon. The latitude was made out at midday to be 38° 47´ north, and
the longitude, by dead reckoning, 73° 57´ west.

The wind freshened in the early afternoon, and, the sails being trimmed
and watched closely, Hull’s claim that his old ship was a stepper,
if put to it, was verified, for she gained two miles and more upon the
pursuers. And now strategy was to come into play. Dark, angry-looking
clouds and deeper shadows on the water to windward showed that a sudden
squall was approaching. It was plain that rain was falling and would
reach the American frigate first. The topmen were hurried aloft, the
sheets and tacks and clew-lines manned, and the _Constitution_ held on
with all sails set, but with everything ready at the command to be let
go. As the rush of wind and rain approached all the light canvas was
furled, a reef taken in the mizzen-topsail, and the ship was brought
under short sail, as if she expected to be laid on her beam ends. The
English vessels astern observed this, and probably expected that a hard
blow was going to follow, for they let go and hauled down as they were,
without waiting for the wind to reach them. Some of them hove to and
began to reef, and they scattered in different directions, as if for
safety. But no sooner had the rain shrouded the _Constitution_ than
Hull sheeted home, hoisted his fore and main topgallant-sails, and,
with the wind boiling the water all about him, he roared away over the
sea at a gait of eleven knots.

For an hour the breeze held strong--blowing almost half a gale, in
fact--and then it disappeared to leeward. A Yankee cheer broke out in
which the officers joined, for the English fleet was far down the wind,
and the _Africa_ was barely visible. A few minutes’ more sailing, and
the leading frigates were hull below the horizon.

Still they held in chase throughout all the night, signalling
each other now and then. At daybreak all fear was over; but the
_Constitution_ kept all sail, even after Broke’s squadron gave up and
hauled to the northward and eastward.

The small brig that had been counted in the fleet of the pursuers was
the _Nautilus_, which had been captured by the English three or four
days previously. She was the first vessel lost on either side during
the war. She was renowned as having been the vessel commanded by the
gallant Somers, who lost his life in the harbor of Tripoli.

Lieutenant Crane, who had command of her when taken by the English, and
who saw the whole chase, speaks of the wonder and astonishment of the
British officers at the handling of the _Constitution_. They expected
to see Hull throw overboard his guns and anchors and stave his boats.
This they did themselves in a measure, as they cut adrift many of their
cutters--and spent some time afterwards in picking them up--by the same
token. Nothing had been done to lighten the _Constitution_ but to start
the water-casks, as before mentioned.

So sure were the English of making a capture that Captain Broke
had appointed a prize crew from his vessel, the _Shannon_, and had
claimed the honor of sailing the _Constitution_ into Halifax; but, as
a contemporary states, “The gallant gentleman counted his chickens
before they were hatched”--a saying trite but true.

To quote from the _Shannon’s_ log, under the entry of July 18th, will
be of interest: “At dawn” (so it runs) “an American frigate within
four miles of the squadron. Had a most fatiguing and anxious chase;
both towing and kedging, as opportunity offered. American exchanged a
few shots with _Belvidera_--carried near enemy by partial breeze. Cut
our boats adrift, but all in vain; the _Constitution_ sailed well and

It is recorded in English annals that there were some very sharp
recriminations and explanations held in the _Shannon’s_ cabin. Perhaps
Captain Hull would have enjoyed being present; but by this time he was
headed northward. He ran into Boston harbor for water on the following

Broke’s squadron separated, hoping to find the _Constitution_ on some
future day and force her to action. In this desire Captain Dacres of
the _Guerrière_ was successful--so far as the finding was concerned;
but the well-known result started American hearts to beating high and
cast a gloom over the Parliament of England.

The ovations and praises bestowed upon the American commander upon his
arrival at Boston induced him to insert the following card on the books
of the Exchange Coffee-House:

“Captain Hull, finding that his friends in Boston are correctly
informed of his situation when chased by the British squadron off New
York, and that they are good enough to give him more credit for having
escaped it than he ought to claim, takes this opportunity of requesting
them to transfer their good wishes to Lieutenant Morris and the other
brave officers, and the crew under his command, for their very great
exertions and prompt attention to his orders while the enemy were in
chase. Captain Hull has great pleasure in saying that, notwithstanding
the length of the chase, and the officers and crew being deprived of
sleep, and allowed but little refreshment during the time, not a murmur
was heard to escape them.”

It is rather a remarkable circumstance that the _Belvidera_, which was
one of the vessels that in this long chase did her best to come up
with the _Constitution_, had some months before declined the honor of
engaging the _President_. For, on the 24th of June, Captain Rodgers
had fired with his own hand one of the _President’s_ bow-chasers at
the _Belvidera_, and thus opened the war. After exchanging some shots,
Captain Byron, of the _Belvidera_, decided that discretion was the
better part, and, lightening his ship, managed to escape.



[August 19th, 1812]

The history of the naval combats of our second war with Great Britain,
the career of the frigate _Constitution_, and the deeds of our Yankee
commodores will never be forgotten as long as we have a navy or
continue to be a nation. England, it must be remembered, had held
the seas for centuries. In no combat between single ships (where the
forces engaged were anything like equal) had she lost a vessel. The
French fleets, under orders of their own government, ran away from
hers, and the Spanish captains had allowed their ships’ timbers to
rot for years in blockaded harbors. Nevertheless, this was the age
of honor, of gallantry, of the stiff duelling code, when men bowed,
passed compliments, and fought one another to the death with a parade
of courtesy that has left trace today in the conduct of the intercourse
between all naval powers. In the duels of the ships in the past that
have stirred the naval world, America has records that are monuments to
her seamen, and that must arouse the pride of every officer who sails
in her great steel cruisers today.

Up to the affair of the _Constitution_ and the _Guerrière_, in 1812,
the British had not fairly tested in battle the seamanship or naval
metal of the Americans. With the exceptions of the actions between the
_Bonhomme Richard_ and the _Serapis_, the _Ranger_ and _Drake_, and the
_Yarmouth_ and _Randolph_, the war of ’76 was a repelled invasion.

The twenty-four hours of the 19th of August, 1812, began with light
breezes that freshened as the morning wore on. The _Constitution_ was
slipping southward through the long rolling seas.

A month before this date, under the command of Commodore Hull, she had
made her wonderful escape from Broke’s squadron after a chase of over
sixty hours.

Her cruise since she had left Boston, two weeks before, had been
uneventful. Vainly had she sought from Cape Sable to the region of
Halifax, from Nova Scotia to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, for any sign of
a foe worthy her metal. It was getting on towards two o’clock; her men
had finished their midday meal, the afternoon drills had not begun, and
an observation showed the ship to be in latitude 41° 40´ and longitude
55° 48´. Suddenly “Sail ho!” from the mast-head stirred the groups on
the forecastle, and caused the officer pacing the weather side of the
quarter-deck to stop suddenly and raise his head.

“Where away?” he shouted to the voice far up above the booming sails.

Almost before he could get the answer the stranger’s top-sails were
visible from the lower rigging, into which the midshipmen and idlers
had scrambled, and a few moments later they could be seen from the
upper deck. The vessel was too far off to show her character, but bore
E.S.E., a faint dot against the horizon.

Hull came immediately from his cabin. He was a large, fat man, whose
excitable temperament was held in strong control. His eye gleamed when
he saw the distant speck of white. Immediately the _Constitution’s_
course was altered, and with her light sails set she was running free,
with kites all drawing, and the chase looming clearer and clearer
each anxious minute of the time. At three o’clock it was plainly seen
that she was a large ship, on the starboard tack, close-hauled on the
wind, and under easy sail. In half an hour her ports could be descried
through the glass, and loud murmurs of satisfaction ran through the
ship’s company. The officers smiled congratulations at one another, and
Hull’s broad face shone with his suppressed emotion. In the official
account Hull speaks of the conduct of his crew before the fight in
the following words: “It gives me great pleasure to say that from the
smallest boy in the ship to the oldest seaman not a look of fear was
seen. They went into action giving three cheers, and requesting to be
laid close to the enemy.” The _Constitution_ gained on the stranger,
who held her course, as if entirely oblivious of her pursuer’s presence.

When within three miles, and to leeward, Hull shortened sail and
cleared the decks; the drum beat to quarters, and the men sprang to
their stations. No crew was ever better prepared to do battle for any
cause or country. Although few of the men had been in action before,
they had been drilled until they had the handling of the clumsy iron
guns down to the point of excellence. They had been taught to fire on
the falling of a sea, and to hull their opponent, if possible, at every
shot. They loved and trusted their commander, were proud of their ship,
and burned to avenge the wrongs to which many had been subjected, for
the merchant service had furnished almost half their number.

As soon as Hull took in his sail the stranger backed her main-topsail
yard, and slowly came up into the wind. Then it could be seen that
_her_ men were all at quarters also. Hull raised his flag. Immediately
in response up went to every mast-head of the waiting ship the red
cross of old England. It was growing late in the afternoon, the breeze
had freshened, and the white-caps had begun to jump on every side. The
crew of the _Constitution_ broke into three ringing cheers as their
grand old craft bore down upon the enemy. When almost within range
the English let go her broadside, filled away, wore ship, and fired
her other broadside on the other tack. The shot fell short, and the
_Constitution_ reserved her fire. For three-quarters of an hour the two
yawed about and manoeuvred, trying to rake and to avoid being raked in
turn. Occasionally the _Constitution_ fired a gun; her men were in a
fever of impatience.

At six in the evening the enemy, seeing all attempts to outsail her
antagonist were in vain, showed a brave indication of wishing to close
and fight. Nearer the two approached, the American in silence.

“Shall I fire?” inquired Lieutenant Morris, Hull’s second in command.

“Not yet,” replied Hull, quietly.

The bows of the _Constitution_ began to double the quarter of the
enemy. The latter’s shot began to start the sharp white splinters
flying about the _Constitution’s_ decks.

“Shall I fire?” again asked Lieutenant Morris.

“Not yet, sir,” was Hull’s answer, spoken almost beneath his breath.
Suddenly he bent forward. “Now, boys,” he shouted, loudly, so that
his voice rang above the enemy’s shots and the roaring of the seas
under the quarter, “pour it into them!” It was at this point, so the
story goes, that Hull, crouching in his excitement, split his tight
knee-breeches from waistband to buckle.

The _Constitution’s_ guns were double-shotted with round and grape.
The broadside was as one single explosion, and the destruction was
terrific. The enemy’s decks were flooded, and the blood ran out of
the scuppers--her cockpit filled with the wounded. For a few minutes,
shrouded in smoke, they fought at the distance of a half pistol-shot,
but in that short space of time the Englishman was literally torn to
pieces in hull, spars, sails, and rigging.

As her mizzen-mast gave way the Englishman brought up into the wind,
and the _Constitution_ forged slowly ahead, fired again, luffed short
around the other’s bows, and, owing to the heavy sea, fell foul of
her antagonist, with her bowsprit across her larboard quarter. While
in this position Hull’s cabin was set on fire by the enemy’s forward
battery, and part of the crew were called away from the guns to
extinguish the threatening blaze.

Now both sides tried to board. It was the old style of fighting for the
British tars, and they bravely swarmed on deck at the call, “Boarders
away!” and the shrill piping along the ’tween-decks. The Americans were
preparing for the same attempt, and three of their officers who mounted
the taffrail were shot by the muskets of the English. Brave Lieutenant
Bush, of the marines, fell dead with a bullet in his brain.

The swaying and grinding of the huge ships against each other made
boarding impossible, and it was at this anxious moment that the sails
of the _Constitution_ filled; she fell off and shot ahead. Hardly was
she clear when the foremast of the enemy fell, carrying with it the
wounded main-mast, and leaving the proud vessel of a few hours before a
helpless wreck, “rolling like a log in the trough of the sea, entirely
at the mercy of the billows.”

It was now nearly seven o’clock. The sky had clouded over, the wind
was freshening, and the sea was growing heavy. Hull drew off for
repairs, rove new rigging, secured his masts, and, wearing ship, again
approached, ready to pour in a final broadside. It was not needed.
Before the _Constitution_ could fire, the flag which had been flying at
the stump of the enemy’s mizzen-mast was struck. The fight was over.

A boat was lowered from the _Constitution_, and Lieutenant Read, the
third officer, rowing to the prize, inquired, with “Captain Hull’s
compliments,” if she had struck her flag. He was answered by Captain
Dacres--who must have possessed a sense of humor--that, for very
obvious reasons, she certainly had done so.

To quote a few words from Hull’s account of the affair--he says: “After
informing that so fine a ship as the _Guerrière_, commanded by an able
and experienced officer, had been totally dismasted and otherwise cut
to pieces, so as to make her not worth towing into port, in the short
space of thirty minutes (actual fighting time), you can have no doubt
of the gallantry and good conduct of the officers and ship’s company I
have the honor to command.”

In the _Constitution_ seven were killed and seven wounded. In the
_Guerrière_, fifteen killed, sixty-two wounded--including several
officers and the captain, who was wounded slightly; twenty-four were

The next day, owing to the reasons shown in Hull’s report, the
_Guerrière_ was set on fire. At 3.15 in the afternoon she blew up;
and this was the end of the ship whose commander had sent a personal
message to Captain Hull some weeks before, requesting the “honor of a
_tête-à-tête_ at sea.”

Isaac Hull, who had thus early endeared himself in the hearts of
his countrymen, and set a high mark for American sailors to aim at,
was born near the little town of Derby, not far from New Haven,
Connecticut, in the year 1775. He was early taken with a desire for the
sea, and at the age of twelve years he went on board a vessel that had
been captured by his father from the British during the Revolution.

Although he entered the navy at the age of twenty-three, he had already
made eighteen voyages to different parts of Europe and the West Indies,
and had seen many adventures and thrilling moments.

During the administration of John Adams there occurred “that
exceedingly toilsome but inglorious service” of getting rid of the
French privateers who infested the West Indian seas. During this
quasi-war Hull was first lieutenant of the frigate _Constitution_ under
Commodore Talbot. In May, 1798, he had a chance to distinguish himself,
and did not neglect the opportunity, although the upshot of it was
tragic but bloodless.

It might not be out of place to relate the incident here. In the harbor
Porto Plata, in the island of St. Domingo, lay the _Sandwich_, a
French letter-of-marque. Hull was sent by his superior, in one of the
cutters, to reconnoitre the Frenchman. On the way he found a little
American sloop that rejoiced in the name of _Sally_. Hull threw his
party of seamen and marines on board of her, and hid them below the
deck. Then the _Sally_ was put into the harbor, and, as if by some
awkwardness, ran afoul of the _Sandwich_, which, as a jocose writer
remarks, “they devoured without the loss of a man.” At the same time
this rash proceeding was being carried on under the eyes (or, better,
guns) of a Spanish battery, Lieutenant Carmick took some marines and,
rowing ashore, spiked the guns. The _Sandwich_ was captured at midday,
and before the afternoon was over she weighed her anchor, beat out of
the harbor, and joined the _Constitution_.

In the opinion of nautical judges this was the best bit of cutting-out
work on record, for Hull’s men were outnumbered three to one; and if he
had not taken precautions, the battery could have blown him out of the
water. But, alas and alack! all this daring and bravery went for worse
than naught. Spain complained of the treatment she had received, and
the United States government acknowledged that the capture was illegal,
having taken place in a neutral port. The _Sandwich_ was restored to
her French owners, and, worst of all, every penny of the prize money
due the _Constitution’s_ officers and men for this cruise went to pay
the damages.

Before the war of 1812, Hull distinguished himself by his fearlessness
and self-reliance during the Tripolitan war. The two occasions that
gave him renown during our struggle with Great Britain have been
recorded at length, and there is but to set down that, after the
conclusion of the war with Great Britain, Commodore Hull was in command
at the various stations in the Pacific and the Mediterranean, and
departed this life on the 13th of February, 1843. Of him John Frost
writes, in 1844, “He was a glorious old commodore, with a soul full of
all noble aspirations for his country’s honor--a splendid relic of a
departed epoch of naval renown.”



[October 18th, 1812]

Jacob Jones, of the United States Navy, was a native of Kent County, in
the State of Delaware. He rose rapidly through the various grades of
the service, attracting notice by his steadfastness and attention to
duty, and in 1811 he was transferred to the command of the _Wasp_, a
tidy sloop of war then mounting eighteen 24-pound carronades. She was a
fast sailer, given any wind or weather.

In the spring of 1812, Captain Jones was despatched to England with
communications to our minister at the Court of St. James. After
fulfilling his mission he immediately set sail for America. The
declaration of war between England and this country took place while
the _Wasp_ was on the high seas on her returning voyage; but as soon as
he had landed, the news greeted her commander, and he was eager to put
to sea again.

Captain Jacob Jones knew his ship, he knew his crew, and he rejoiced in
having about him a set of young officers devoted to the service. Their
names were James Biddle, George W. Rogers, Benjamin W. Broth, Henry B.
Rapp, and Lieutenants Knight and Claxton, and they were soon destined
to win laurels and glory for their country.

The first short cruise yielded no adventure of importance, but on
the 13th of October the _Wasp_ left the Delaware and two days later
encountered a heavy gale, during which her jib-boom was unfortunately
carried away and two of her people lost overboard. For some hours she
was thrown about like a shuttlecock, and all hands were called time and
again to shorten sail. The night of the 17th the sky cleared and the
stars shone brightly. To Captain Jones’s surprise several sail were
reported as being close at hand to the eastward. They were clearly seen
through the night-glass to be large, and apparently armed. Jones stood
straight for them, and gave orders to lay the same course that the
strangers were then holding, and so they kept until dawn of the next
day, which was a Sunday.

A heavy sea was running, and the _Wasp_, close-hauled, crept up to
windward of the fleet that she had followed through the night. At the
beginning of the early morning watch they were made out to be four
large ships and two smaller vessels under a spread of canvas, all
keeping close together.

But what was more interesting to the eager American crew was a sturdy
sloop of war, a brig, that was edging up slowly into the wind,
evidently guarding the six fleeing vessels to leeward--the sheep-dog of
the flock.

The _Wasp_, having the weather-gage, swung off a point or so to lessen
the distance.

As the stranger brig came nearer she heeled over until her broadside
could be counted with the eye, and her lower sails were seen to be wet
with the spray that dashed up over her bows.

For some time the Americans had been aloft getting down the topgallant
yards, and at eleven o’clock the stranger brig shortened sail and shook
out the Spanish flag. But this did not deceive the wary Yankee captain
for half an instant. No one but an American or an Englishman would
carry sail in that fashion or bring his ship up to an enemy like that,
and the _Wasp’s_ drummer beat to quarters.

Now for over thirty minutes the two vessels sailed on side by side, but
constantly nearing. At last they were so close that the buttons of the
officers’ coats could be seen, the red coat of a marine showed, and all
doubt on board the _Wasp_ of the other being anything but English was
dispelled in a flash. The matches had been smoking for a full quarter
of an hour.

When within near pistol-shot Captain Jones hailed through his trumpet.
Down came the colors of Spain and up went the cross of St. George. The
distance was scarcely sixty yards, and as the flags exchanged the brig
let go her broadside. A lucky incident occurred just then that probably
saved many lives on board the _Wasp_. A sudden puff of wind heeled the
enemy over as she fired, and her shot swept through the upper rigging
and riddled the sails. Jones immediately replied with all his guns,
that tore and hulled his antagonist with almost every shot; then, as
fast as his crew could load and fire, he kept at it. Now and then the
muzzles of his little broadside would sweep into the water; but those
of the enemy, aimed high, were mangling his rigging and sweeping away
braces, blocks, and running gear.

At the end of a hot five minutes there was a sharp crack aloft, and
the main-topmast of the _Wasp_ swayed and fell, bringing down the
main-topsail yard across the fore-topsail braces and rendering the
head-sails unmanageable. Three minutes more and away went the gaff at
the jaws, and the mizzen-topgallant-sail fluttered to the deck like a
huge wounded bird.

The American, slightly in advance, fell off her course and crossed her
enemy’s bows, firing and raking her at close range most fearfully.
At once the fire of the Englishman slackened, and the _Wasp_ drifted
slowly back to her former position.

Both vessels were jumping so in the seaway that boarding would be
attended by mutual danger. The enemy revived from the destructive
broadside, fired a few more shots, and the last brace of the _Wasp_
fell over her side, leaving the masts unsupported, and, badly wounded
as they were, in a most critical condition.

“We must decide this matter at once,” said Captain Jones, as he looked
at the creaking spars, and he gave orders to wear ship. Slowly his
vessel answered, and, paying off, the collision followed. With a
grinding jar the _Wasp_ rubbed along the Englishman’s bow, and the
jib-boom of the latter, extending clear across the deck immediately
over the American commander’s head, fouled in the mizzen-shrouds. It
was not necessary to make her fast, and she lay so fair for raking that
Jones gave orders for another broadside.

[Illustration: THE “WASP” RAKING THE “FROLIC”]

As the gunners of the _Wasp_ threw out their rammers the ends touched
the enemy’s sides, and the muzzles of two 12-pounders went through the
latter’s bow-ports and swept the deck’s length.

Jack Lange was an able American seaman who had once been impressed into
the British service, and the excitement of the moment was too much for
his feverish blood. Taking his cutlass in his teeth, he leaped atop a
gun and laid hold of the enemy’s nettings.

“Come out of that, sir! Wait for orders!” roared Captain Jones, who
wished to fire again.

But if Jack Lange heard he did not hesitate, and, despite the command,
hauled himself alone over the bows. Some of the men left their guns at
this and picked up pikes and boarding-axes.

Lieutenant Biddle glanced at his commander, the latter nodded grimly,
and with a spring the lieutenant gained the hammock cloth and reached
up for the ropes overhead. The vessels lurched and one of his feet
caught in a tangle, from which he vainly tried to free himself.

Little Midshipman Baker, who was too short to make a reach of it,
thought he saw his chance, and, laying hold of Lieutenant Biddle’s
coat-tails in his eagerness, tried to swarm up his superior’s legs.
The result was, however, that both fell back on the rail, and came
within an ace of pitching overboard into the sea. Jumping up quickly,
Lieutenant Biddle took advantage of a heave of the _Wasp_ and scrambled
over the enemy’s bowsprit on to the forecastle.

There stood Jack Lange, with his cutlass in his folded arms, gazing
at a wondrous sight. Not a living soul was on the deck but a wounded
man at the wheel and three officers huddled near the taffrail! But the
colors were still whipping and snapping overhead, and, two or three
more of the _Wasp’s_ boarders tumbling on board, the little party,
headed by Biddle, made their way aft. Immediately the officers, two
of whom were wounded, threw down their swords, and one of them leaned
forward and hid his face in his hands.

The young lieutenant jumped into the rigging and hauled down the flag.
It was almost beyond belief that such carnage and complete destruction
could have taken place in a time so short. But a small proportion
of the crew had escaped. The wounded and dying lay everywhere, the
berth-deck was crowded, and there were not enough of the living to
minister to their comrades. H. M. S. _Frolic_ was a charnel-ship.

The _Wasp’s_ crew brought on board all their blankets, and the American
surgeon’s mate was soon busy attending to the wounded.

With great difficulty the two vessels were separated, for the _Frolic_
had locked her antagonist, as it were, in a dying embrace; and no
sooner were they clear than both of the prize’s masts fell (one
bringing down the other), covering the dead and wounded, and hampering
all the efforts of Lieutenant Biddle and his crew to clear the decks.

All this time three great white topsails had been pushing up above the
horizon, and soon it was made out that a large ship of some kind was
bearing down, carrying all the canvas she safely could in the sharp

Jones, thinking that it might be one of the convoy returning to seek
the _Frolic_, called his tired crew to quarters, instructing Lieutenant
Biddle to fit a jury rig and to make with his charge for some Southern
port. It was not to be, however, and the gallant victory was to have a
different termination.

The lookout on the foremast called down something that changed the
complexion of matters entirely.

“A seventy-four carrying the English flag!” he shouted. That was all.
The men at the _Wasp’s_ guns put out their matches. There was nothing
to do but wait and be taken. Any resistance would be worse than foolish.

As the great battle-ship came bowling along she passed so close that
the faces could be seen looking through her three tiers of great open
ports. She disdained to hail, fired one gun over the little _Wasp_,
and swept on. Captain Jones hauled down his flag, and read the word
_Poictiers_ under the Britisher’s galleries. In a minute or two the
latter retook the _Frolic_, and, lowering her boats, placed prize crews
on board both her and the Yankee sloop. After some repairing, she set
sail and carried her captives to Bermuda.

As in all the separate engagements of the time, comparisons were made
between the armaments and crews of the fighters, and the press of Great
Britain and America began the customary argument. Probably the _Wasp_
had a few more men, but to quote:

“The _Frolic_ mounted sixteen 32-pound carronades, four 12-pounders on
the main-deck and two 12-pound carronades. She was, therefore, superior
to the _Wasp_ by exactly four 12-pounders. The number of men on board,
as stated by the officers of the _Frolic_, was 110. The number of
seamen on the _Wasp_ was 102. But it could not be ascertained whether
in this 110 were included marines and officers, for the _Wasp_ had,
besides her 102 seamen, officers and marines, making the whole crew
about 135. What, however, is decisive as to their comparative force is
that the officers of the _Frolic_ acknowledged that they had as many
men as they knew what to do with, and, in fact, the _Wasp_ could have
spared fifteen men.... The exact number of killed and wounded on board
the _Frolic_ could not be determined, but from the observations of our
officers and the declarations of those of the _Frolic_ the number could
not be less than about thirty killed, including two officers, and of
the wounded between forty and fifty, the captain and lieutenant being
of the number. The _Wasp_ had five killed and five slightly wounded.”

Captain Jones in his report speaks of the bravery of his officers,
the gallantry of his adversary, Captain Whinyates, and makes little
mention of himself. Upon his exchange and return to the United States
he was received with every honor belonging to a victor, and the sum
of $25,000 was voted by Congress to be divided as prize money among
his crew. The _Wasp_ soon flew the British flag, but was lost at sea.
Strange to relate, this was also the fate of the second _Wasp_ that was
soon afloat in the American service, and that had a career which was
surpassed by none of the smaller vessels of the day.



[October 25th, 1812]


    “Then quickly met our nation’s eyes
       The noblest sight in nature--
     A first-rate frigate as a prize
       Brought home by brave Decatur.”

                --_Old Song._

Eighty-four years ago, throughout the country, the name Decatur
was toasted at every table, was sung from the forecastle to the
drawing-room, from the way-side tavern to the stage of the city
playhouse. Today, written or spoken, it stands out like a watchword,
reminiscent of the days of brave gallantry and daring enterprise at sea.

Those writers who have been tempted by their Americanism and pride to
take up the navy as a field have repeated over and over again, more
than likely, everything that could be said about Stephen Decatur.

On his father’s side he was of French descent, as his name shows,
his grandfather being a native of La Rochelle in France, and his
grandmother an American lady from Rhode Island. He was named after his
father, Stephen Decatur, who was born at Newport, but who had at an
early age removed to Philadelphia, where he had married the beautiful
Miss Pine.

On the establishment of an American navy he was appointed to the
_Delaware_, sloop of war. This was after he had commanded one or two
merchant vessels and had proved himself a seaman. When the frigate
_Philadelphia_ was built by subscriptions of loyal-hearted merchants,
the command of her was tendered to the elder Decatur by the particular
request of the subscribers. The value of inheritance could not be shown
more strongly than by looking at the career of the son born to him on
the 5th of January, 1779. At the time of the birth of Stephen Decatur,
Jr., his parents were residing on the eastern shore of Maryland during
the days the British were in possession of the town of Philadelphia.
After the evacuation of that place they returned, and here their son
was educated with the idea of making a sailor of him from the very

Young Decatur entered the navy in March, 1798, and joined the frigate
_United States_, commanded by Commodore John Barry, who, by-the-way,
was instrumental in securing the appointment for him. It was not long
before he was promoted to be a lieutenant, and made a cruise on the
Spanish Main on the brig _Norfolk_ during the war against the French
cruisers. Returning after the peace was concluded with France, he was
ordered to the _Essex_ as first lieutenant, and sailed with Commodore
Dale’s squadron to the Mediterranean. This trip he made twice more,
for on the return of that squadron he was ordered to the _New York_
under Commodore Morris, who took the same station. After a short stay
Decatur returned to the _United States_, and soon afterwards he was
given his first command, the brig _Argus_, and with her proceeded to
join Commodore Preble’s squadron, and was transferred to the command
of the schooner _Enterprise_, exchanging vessels with Lieutenant
Isaac Hull. The story of the capture and blowing up of the frigate
_Philadelphia_, which under Captain Bainbridge had run ashore and been
taken by the Tripolitans, has been described times without number.
There is not space to write about it here. It is a tale in itself. But
after the success of Decatur’s attempt, in which he overcame obstacles
apparently insurmountable, the eyes of the country were turned upon
him, and the great things that he afterwards accomplished were

Decatur was one of those men whose courage and lofty spirit make it
impossible for them to remain spectators or mere directors of events
in which they are interested. It was necessary for him to be in the
midst of the fight, sword or pistol in hand, like a common seaman. The
story of his duel with the Turkish commander in the harbor of Tripoli,
where, with a sword broken at the hilt, he fought a hand-to-hand fight
and emerged victorious, gives a little insight into his character. Upon
his return to his country, after some short service he was appointed
to the command of the _Chesapeake_, succeeding Commodore Barron, who
had struck to the British frigate _Leopard_ in 1807. It was here that
the bad feeling between these officers that led to the tragic ending of
Decatur’s life began. As soon as the frigate _United States_ was put
in commission, Decatur was relieved of his command of the _Chesapeake_
(which, to tell the truth, he did not much relish), and thus found
himself, on the outbreak of the war with Great Britain, with plenty of
opportunities before him to add to his laurels.

In October of the year 1812 the frigate _United States_ was one of a
small squadron that was cruising not far from the island of Madeira. On
the twelfth day of the month she parted with the _President_, 44, and
later with the 16-gun brig _Argus_, both of which had sailed with her
from the port of Boston, all well officered, well manned, and eager to
meet the enemy. Bearing away southward into the paths of the British
West-Indiamen, Decatur, on the _United States_, hoped to intercept a
rich prize or two, or, better, if possible, to fall in with one of His
Majesty’s vessels, which were constantly hovering in that neighborhood.
Sharp lookouts were kept at the mast-head at all hours, and the crew
were spoiling for action.

Sunday morning, the 25th, dawned bright and clear. There was a stiff
breeze blowing, and the frigate was under easy canvas, steering a
course southeast by east. An observation showed her to be in latitude
29°, longitude 29° 30´ west. As soon as daylight was fairly broad, off
to windward, close to the horizon, the lookout descried a sail, and in
a few minutes it was discovered that the stranger was an English ship
of war carrying all but her lighter canvas. Quickly the _United States_
blossomed out from the topgallant yard to her main-course; and although
the breeze was strong, studding-sails were set, and, tossing the heavy
sea to left and right, she was soon hard upon the chase. The _United
States_ was a good sailer--all of our ships were in those days--and
long before seven o’clock it was seen that she was overhauling the
enemy rapidly. So great was the enthusiasm of her officers and men that
the cheers they gave were borne by the wind to the Englishman before a
single gun of the action had been fired. Through the glass it could be
seen that the enemy were at quarters. At nine in the morning Decatur
luffed a little, took in his lighter sails, and fired his gun-deck
battery; but the balls fell short. Both vessels were now on the same
tack, close on the wind, and Decatur found that it was impossible for
the _United States_ to gain the weather-gage.

Broadsides were exchanged as the distance was lessened, and for half
an hour the commanders continued firing, doing no vital damage.
Suddenly the enemy changed his course, squared his yards, and crossed
Decatur’s bows, letting drive his forward battery. Still the _United
States_ held on; and here the Englishman made a fatal error. It is
given by some authorities that Captain John Carden, the commander
of the _Macedonian_, supposed his opponent to be the _Essex_, which
only mounted carronades; therefore he commenced action at long-range.
It did not take long, however, to apprise him that he was out in his
reckoning, for although the distance was so great that carronades and
muskets were of no avail, almost every shot from the heavy metal of the
American struck its mark, despite the pitching cross-sea. Finding it
was too late to run, Captain Carden bravely bore down upon the _United
States_ to engage her at close quarters, as at the distance at which
the action had commenced he was being literally chopped to pieces. It
was reported that during the engagement, which then began in earnest,
so incessant were the broadsides of the American vessel the Englishman
supposed her to be on fire, and three or four times cheered in their
turn as the news ran through the ship; but they were soon undeceived.
The splendid gunnery of the Americans was apparent as the vessels
neared. The rigging and spars of the _Macedonian_ were riddled and cut,
many of her guns were dismounted, and in a few minutes her mizzen-mast
went by the board. Pitching to and fro, shrouded in the smoke which
blew towards her from the enemy’s guns, the _United States_ kept up
her destructive fire. For an instant the smoke cleared away, and there
hung the main-yard-arm of the English frigate in two pieces; her
main-topmast was gone, her fore-topmast was tottering, and no colors
were seen floating above her deck; her bowsprit was swaying to and
fro, held only by the jib-forestay, and sailing was impossible. She
ceased to gather headway, lurching and yawing to one side and the other

Strange to say, the _United States_ remained almost unhurt. Decatur
ceased his fire as he saw the enemy’s plight, furled his mizzen-topsail
(the mizzen-topmast being badly wounded), drew away, tacked, and came
under the lee of the English ship. She gave him a feeble broadside, and
Decatur luffed again across her bows. As he did so, Carden, perceiving
further resistance to be vain, hauled down his colors, which had again
been hoisted on a spar at the stump of the mizzen-mast.

Decatur, his face flushed with victory, hailed in person: “What ship is

“His Majesty’s frigate _Macedonian_, thirty-eight, John S. Carden,” was
the response.

Immediately a boat was lowered, and an officer was sent on board. In
the two hours of the engagement she had suffered terribly. Not less
than one hundred round-shot were counted in her hull, many of them
between wind and water. She had nothing standing but her main-mast
and fore-yard. Her boats were useless, with exception of one small
quarter-boat; and out of the officers and crew, three hundred in
number, thirty-six were killed and sixty-eight were wounded. The
American loss was five killed and six wounded.

The _Macedonian_ was but two years old, a fine vessel of her class,
rated thirty-eight, and carrying forty-nine guns--eighteen on her
gun-deck, and thirty-two-pound carronades above. The _United States_
was heavier and stronger, both in metal and men, it cannot be denied,
having a crew of four hundred and seventy-eight. But, even taking into
account the disparity in the weight of metal and the number of crew,
the action proved conclusively that American-built ships and American
seamen were to open the eyes of the world in conflicts on the sea.

Now comes the courtesy, the almost stilted politeness, that always
seems as if prepared especially for dramatic effect before translation
into history. As the brave Carden stepped upon the deck of the _United
States_ he proffered his sword to Decatur.

“No, sir,” exclaimed the latter, doffing his cocked hat, “I cannot
receive the sword of a man who has so bravely defended his ship; but,”
he added, smiling graciously, “I will receive your hand.”

As an honored guest, Decatur led the vanquished to his cabin, where
refreshments, to quote from another account of the affair, “were set
out and partaken of in a friendly spirit by the two commanders.”

Contrary to the opinion formed by the first inspection, Decatur found
his prize capable of being refitted, and he determined to bring her to
an American port. The _United States_ was speedily repaired. In charge
of Lieutenant Allen, who had made a jury-rigging for the _Macedonian_
turning her for the nonce into a bark, captor and captive set sail for
the United States. On the 4th of December his prize entered the harbor
of Newport, and it was upon this occasion that the old song was written
from which the stanza at the head of this article is taken.

Nothing could be more dramatic than the way the victory was announced
at Washington. Midshipman Hamilton, who was in the engagement with
Decatur, and served with signal bravery, was sent with the captured
flag of the _Macedonian_ to present it to his father, Paul Hamilton,
then Secretary of the Navy. He arrived in Washington on the evening of
the 8th of December. A ball was in progress, and the Secretary of the
Navy was present. The room was filled with beautiful women, with men
in all the color and glory of gold lace, epaulets, and side-arms, when
Hamilton entered. He carried the flag of the _Macedonian_ wrapped about
his shoulders. Instantly he was surrounded. The silk-stockinged dandies
caught him up on their shoulders, and it is even on record that,
strange to the customs of the times, dignity for once was cast aside,
and a cheer rang through the ballroom. In the possession of the author
is a letter (hitherto unpublished) written by Mrs. B. H. Latrobe,
grandmother of the ex-Mayor of Baltimore, to Mrs. Juliana Miller. It
gives such a graphic picture of the times that an extract from it
cannot fail of interest. The letter is dated Washington, December 14th,
and reads thus:

  “The dulness of the city has, however, been removed in some degree
  by a splendid entertainment on board the frigate _Constellation_.”
  We were invited to be there at eleven, to pass the day. The vessel
  lay about half a mile from the shore, and two very elegant barges
  of twelve oars conveyed the company. This was the only unpleasant
  part of the amusement, for the day proved extremely cold, and
  a high wind was blowing. However, we all arrived safe about
  twelve, and the deck was closed in with flags, awnings, etc., and
  two stoves so effectually heated it as to make the temperature
  delightful. The dancing soon commenced, and continued till three,
  when the boatswain’s whistle called us to a magnificent dinner
  below. The President and Mrs. Madison were seated at the end of a
  very long table; but I cannot tell you all the company, and can
  only say that the number was said to be five hundred. After dinner
  the dancing commenced again, and continued till about six in the
  evening, when the company broke up. On Tuesday a very splendid
  ball was given to the navy officers Hull, Morris, Stewart, etc.
  My husband could not be absent, as he holds an office in the Navy
  Department, and I was not sorry we went, as it is not likely I
  shall ever witness such another scene. At about five in the evening
  my husband came home, and informed me that we must immediately
  illuminate our house, as the account of a victory gained by
  Commodore Decatur had just arrived. My house in ten minutes was
  prepared for lighting up, and we prepared for the ball. The Avenue
  was very brilliant on our way to the Capitol Hill, and, the company
  assembling, the crowd was immense. Mrs. Madison was there, but not
  the President. The evening went on, with crowding as usual upon
  the toes and trains of those that did not dance, when, about ten
  o’clock, a loud huzza announced the arrival of young Archibald
  Hamilton, who had that moment appeared with the colors of the
  _Macedonian_. He was borne into the room by many officers. Good
  little Mrs. Hamilton, his mother, stood by me, and was so much
  agitated at the sight of her son that she must have fallen had I
  not stepped forward and offered her my arm. The young man sprang
  into her arms, his sisters threw their arms around him, and the
  scene was quite affecting. The colors were then held up by several
  gentlemen over the heads of Hull, Morris, and Stewart, and ‘Hail,
  Columbia!’ played, and there were huzzas until my head swayed.

  “The aforesaid colors were then laid at the feet of Mrs. Madison.
  _O tempora! O mores!_ This was rather overdoing the affair. I
  forgot to say that the flag of the _Guerrière_ was festooned on
  one side of the room, and of some other vessel. Now, between
  ourselves, I think it wrong to exult so outrageously over our
  enemies. We may have reason to laugh on the other side of our
  mouths some of these days; and as the English are so much stronger
  than we are with their navy, there are ten chances to one that we
  are beaten. Therefore it is best to act moderately when we take a
  vessel, and I could not look at those colors with pleasure, the
  taking of which had made so many widows and orphans. In the fulness
  of my feelings, I exclaimed to a gentleman who stood near me, ‘Good
  heavens! I would not touch that color for a thousand dollars!’
  He walked quickly away, I hearing another gentleman say, ‘Is it
  possible, Mrs. Latrobe?’ I looked around, and it was a good stanch
  Federalist from Rhode Island, Mr. Hunter, so that I shall escape
  hanging after so treasonable a speech.”

Perhaps the circumstances were a valid excuse for the cheering; but
this letter is a strange side light on some of the feeling of the times.

All through the country Decatur became the hero of the hour. With a
record for intrepidity and gallantry behind him, gained by his actions
during the war with Tripoli, handsome and young, he became the idol of
the public. Congress, by a unanimous vote, gave him a gold medal. The
legislatures of Massachusetts, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and
Virginia gave him thanks. The city of New York gave him the freedom of
the city and a magnificent sword, and tendered to his crew a banquet
at the City Hotel. Four hundred seamen sat down at the long tables,
and the memory of that feast of rejoicing was long kept green in
the service. As a picture of the day, a short account, taken from a
contemporaneous history, _The War_, of the banquet given to Commodores
Hull, Jones, and Decatur is of interest. The entertainment was given on
the day after the freedom of the city was presented to Captain Hull.
He and Decatur were present; Jones was absent. At five o’clock about
five hundred guests sat down at the tables, De Witt Clinton, the mayor,
presiding. “The room had the appearance of a marine palace,” said an
eye-witness. It was colonnaded around with masts of ships entwined
with laurels, and having the national flags of the world. Every table
had a ship in miniature with the American flag displayed. On the wall
was a mainsail of a ship, and when the third toast, “Our Navy,” was
given, with three cheers, this sail was furled, revealing “an immense
transparent painting of the three naval engagements in which Hull,
Jones, and Decatur were respectively engaged.” Too great to be spoiled,
Decatur still remained the quiet, simple hero, before whose eyes were
spelled two words--Country and Duty; the one he lived to serve, the
other to fulfil. And, alas! he died a victim to that curious, strained
sense of honor that kept men demanding explanations, and led them to
shoot one another under God’s sky, surrounded by their friends, in a
duel to the death. He was killed by Commodore Barron at Bladensburg,
Maryland, on March 22d, 1820. Commodore Bainbridge was Decatur’s
second, and he, with others, had made many ineffectual attempts to
avert the unfortunate meeting.



[December 29th, 1812]


William Bainbridge, commodore, was one of those commanders who were
graduated from the merchant service to take high place in the navy of
our country.

Owing to his own personal qualifications and character, he became
renowned. Bainbridge was born at Princeton, New Jersey, May 7th,
1774. He was descended from ancestors of high standing, who had for
several generations been residents of the State in which he was born,
his father being a prominent physician, who, shortly after the birth
of William, his fourth son, removed to New York. As a boy Bainbridge
conceived a great love for the sea; and although under the care of
his grandfather, John Taylor, he had been educated carefully for a
mercantile pursuit, his desires and importunities were gratified, and
at the age of fifteen he was placed on board a merchantman about to
sail from the port of Philadelphia.

In order to test him, he was given the berth of a common sailor before
the mast. Strong and agile, with his natural aptitude and born courage,
it was not long before he began to show what he was made of. After his
fourth voyage he was promoted to the rank of first mate on board a
vessel trading between this country and Holland. During this voyage a
mutiny arose which Bainbridge and the captain put down, although there
were seven men against them. For this act, and in recognition of his
skill as a navigator and practical seaman, he was given command of this
same vessel at the early age of nineteen.

Bainbridge as a young man was not foolhardy, but he was of that stamp
that brooked no interference with his rights, and allowed no insult to
pass by unnoticed. While in command of the _Hope_, a little vessel of
about one hundred and forty tons’ burden, mounting four guns and having
a crew of eleven men, he refused to stop at the hail of an English
schooner; whereat the latter fired at him, and Bainbridge, probably to
the Englishman’s great astonishment, replied so briskly with his little
broadside that the commander of the schooner actually surrendered,
although his force consisted of eight guns and thirty men. Several were
killed and wounded, and his vessel so much injured in the rigging and
hull that he hailed Bainbridge, asking what the latter proposed doing
with him. This was in the year 1796. There was no war between this
country and England, and Bainbridge contented himself by calling the
following message through his trumpet: “I have no use for you. Go about
your business, and report to your masters if they want my ship they
must either send a greater force or a more skillful commander.”

A few days after this event, while on the homeward voyage, the _Hope_
was stopped by a heavily armed British frigate, and one of her crew,
an American, was taken out of her on the pretence of his being a
Scotchman. Bainbridge offered to make oath to the contrary, but
nevertheless the man was impressed. Within the same week Bainbridge
fell in with an English brig much larger than his own ship, and,
surprising her by rowing alongside with an armed boat’s crew, he
took from her one of the English sailors, leaving this message:
“Captain--may report that Captain William Bainbridge has taken one
of His Majesty’s subjects in retaliation for a seaman taken from the
American ship _Hope_ by Lieutenant Norton of the _Indefatigable_ razee
commanded by Sir Edward Pellew.”

A contemporary adds: “The captured seaman received good wages and was
discharged just as soon as he reached an American port, in no way
dissatisfied with the service into which he had thus been forced.”

Bainbridge’s action in these small affairs attracted the notice of the
Secretary of the Navy, and early in 1798 he was given the command of
the _Retaliation_, a small vessel lately taken from the French by the
elder Decatur. In the fall of the year the _Retaliation_, in company
with the _Norfolk_ and the _Montezuma_, two little vessels of about
the same size, sailed for the West Indies, the squadron being under
the command of Commodore Murray. Off the island of Guadeloupe, in the
month of November, three sail were discovered to the eastward that
were supposed to be English. At the same moment two other vessels were
sighted to the westward. Commodore Murray sailed for the latter in
company with the _Norfolk_, while Bainbridge was ordered to reconnoitre
the three sails first sighted. Unfortunately they proved to be French,
and, having the weather-gage, they closed with the _Retaliation_
and ordered her to strike. As both of them were frigates, one being
_L’Insurgent_ and the other the _Volontier_, there was nothing for the
young captain to do but to comply. The French commander, St. Laurent,
declined to take Bainbridge’s sword, gallantly observing that, as he
had no opportunity to fight, he should prefer that he would retain
it. At once both frigates set out in chase of the _Montezuma_ and
_Norfolk_; and _L’Insurgent_, out sailing the other Frenchman, was
almost within firing distance of the two American ships when St.
Laurent asked their force. The deception that Bainbridge practised,
under the circumstances, was entirely pardonable; but in his reply
he gave full swing to his imagination, and overstated the American
armament by exactly doubling it, stating that the Americans were armed
with 28-pounders and full of men. At once _L’Insurgent_ was recalled
from the chase, much to the chagrin of her captain, who stated that
_les Américains_ did not carry a gun heavier than six pounds, for he
had been close enough to see them. St. Laurent forgave Bainbridge the
ruse, and treated him with great consideration.

After being in prison for some time, owing to negotiations, Bainbridge
was sent to the United States in his own vessel, which was filled with
liberated American prisoners.

Upon his return to his country he was promoted to the rank of
master-commander, and put in command of the _Norfolk_, the ship he had
saved. For over a year he cruised in the West Indies, meeting with many
adventures, of which there is not space here to tell, and in 1800,
at the age of twenty-six, he was given the highest rank then in our
navy, that of captain, and appointed to the command of the _George
Washington_, with the duty, much against his grain, before him, of
carrying tribute to the Bey of Algiers. He fulfilled this mission; but
there was not an end of it, as he was forced by circumstances to place
his vessel at the disposal of the barbaric potentate, and to conduct
a mission for him--no less than carrying an ambassador and his suite,
numbering some two hundred persons, to Constantinople, the Bey wishing
to conciliate the government of the Sublime Porte.

Despite his remonstrances, Bainbridge was compelled to do this, or
the safety of every American in Algiers would have been in jeopardy,
in addition to which the Bey declared he would immediately make war
upon the United States. This disagreeable duty was performed, and the
_George Washington_ was the first vessel to fly the flag of the United
States under the walls of Constantinople. The stars and stripes had
never been seen there before; and as the name United States signified
nothing to the governor of the Porte, Bainbridge had to explain that he
came from the New World that Columbus had discovered.

On the 21st of January, 1801, Bainbridge was again in Algiers. He
declined, however, to anchor in the harbor, as it was evident that
the wily Bey was not to be trusted. Later in this year Bainbridge
was transferred from the command of the _George Washington_ to the
_Essex_, which was one of a squadron of four vessels, consisting of
the _President_, the _Philadelphia_, and the schooner _Enterprise_,
under the command of Commodore Richard Dale, whose object was to
protect American merchant ships from the depredation of the Tripolitan
corsairs. Bainbridge was employed convoying merchantmen through the
Strait of Gibraltar until the spring of 1802, when, his vessel being
in need of repairs, he was ordered home. At once he was appointed to
the command of the _Philadelphia_, to take up again the service he had
left. On the 26th of August, not far from the strait, Bainbridge fell
in with two suspicious sail--one a brig, and the other, apparently,
one of the hated corsairs. He hailed them, and found that the brig was
an American, and the other a Moorish vessel--the _Meshtoha_. Searching
the latter, he found the officers and the crew of the brig under the
hold, they having been captured nine days before. He retook the brig,
placed her crew once more on board of her, and made a prize of the
Tripolitan. This capture was a decided check to Moorish depredations.
On the 21st of October, while Bainbridge was cruising off the harbor
of Tripoli, sailing after one of the pirates, he unfortunately ran on
a ledge of rock that was not down on the map which he possessed. All
efforts to force the _Philadelphia_ off the reef were unsuccessful,
although everything was done to accomplish this; and after being
subjected for five hours to the fire of numerous gunboats, a council of
officers was called, and it was decided to surrender the ship as the
only means of preserving the lives of her people. After this followed
the long confinement, during which Bainbridge saw from his prison-cell
the attempts of the American fleet under Preble to rescue him, and the
destruction of the _Philadelphia_ at last.

Shortly before the peace was made he was allowed to visit Preble’s
fleet, under pledge of his word of honor to return, although the
Bashaw exacted that he should leave a hostage. He returned to his
confinement, unable to effect conclusions satisfactory to the Turk and
to Commodore Preble; but in 1805 the Tripolitans gave in, the prisoners
were exchanged after their nineteen months of painful captivity, and
Bainbridge returned to the United States, where he was greeted with the
warmest sympathy and exonerated for the loss of the _Philadelphia_ by a
Court of Inquiry. After making successful cruises in various commands,
Bainbridge, being in America at the time war was considered imminent
between this country and England, hastened to Washington and appeared
before the Cabinet, and, with Commodore Stewart, successfully urged the
rehabilitation of our little navy, that, owing to the mistaken policy
then in force, had been allowed to fall into sad decay. Delighted
at the result, he returned to Boston, where he took command of the
navy-yard at Charlestown, which position he held at the time of the
declaration of war against Great Britain in 1812.

But, to quote from the _American Naval Biography_, by John Frost, “it
is not to be supposed that one so adventurous as Bainbridge could be
satisfied to remain on shore comparatively inactive when danger and
glory were to be courted on the sea.” Applying for the command of a
frigate, the _Constellation_, 38, was placed at his service; but his
arrangements were not completed when Captain Hull arrived in Boston
harbor in the _Constitution_, after his victory over the _Guerrière_.
Owing to some private affairs that demanded his immediate attention,
Hull was obliged to resign his command, and Bainbridge, at his own
request, was transferred to “Old Ironsides.” The _Essex_ and the
_Hornet_ also were placed under his orders, the former under command
of Captain David Porter, and the latter under the brave Lawrence. On
October 26th, 1812, the _Hornet_ and the _Constitution_ sailed out to
sea, bound for the Cape Verd Islands. The _Essex_, then being in the
Delaware, was ordered to join them there; but circumstances prevented
her from carrying this out, although Porter did his best to find his
superior officer and report.

Thus we find, in the latter part of December, 1812, the old frigate
_Constitution_ cruising in southern waters off the coast of Brazil. Her
brave little consort, the _Hornet_, she had left blockading the _Bonne
Citoyenne_, a British sloop of war, in the harbor of Bahia. Every day
the _Hornet_ dared the Englishman to leave her anchorage and meet her,
broadside to broadside, in the open sea beyond the neutral limits and
the protection of Brazilian guns. Writes Captain Lawrence of the Yankee
sloop to Captain Green of the _Bonne Citoyenne_: “I pledge my honor
that neither the _Constitution_ nor any other American vessel shall

And, as if to emphasize this announcement, the _Constitution_ spread
her sails and sailed off to the southward, Bainbridge’s last message to
the watching Lawrence being, “May glory and success attend you!” But
Captain Green was prudent; the English vessel kept to the harbor with
her load of specie and her superior armament, and Bainbridge it was who
won “the glory and success.” Surely the _Constitution_ was launched on
a lucky day. About sixty hours after leaving the Island of San Salvador
behind her, the _Constitution_ was again clearing decks for action, and
the men were cheering as they jumped to the guns. The following account
is compiled from the _Constitution’s_ log and Commodore Bainbridge’s

It was the 29th of December; the vessel was in 13° S. latitude and 38°
W. longitude, about ten leagues distant from the coast of Brazil. It
was 9 A.M. when two strange sails were discovered on her weather bow.
At 10 the strange sails were discovered to be ships. One of them stood
in for the land; the other stood offshore towards the _Constitution_.
At 10 Commodore Bainbridge tacked ship to the northward and westward,
and stood for the sail approaching him. At 11 A.M. he tacked to the
southward and eastward, hauling up the mainsail and taking in the
royals. At 11.30 made the private signal for the day, which was not
answered; then the commodore set mainsail and royals, to entice the
strange sail off from the neutral ground, and separate her from the
sail in company, which, however, was not necessary, as the other, with
everything drawing, was making up the coast.

At 12 the American ensign and pendant were hoisted on board the
_Constitution_. At fifteen minutes past 12 the strange sail hoisted an
English ensign, and displayed a signal at her main-mast.

At a quarter-past one, the ship in sight proving to be an English
frigate, and being sufficiently distant from land, Commodore Bainbridge
ordered the mainsails and royals to be taken in, tacked ship, and
stood for the enemy, who soon bore down with an intention of raking
the _Constitution_, which the latter avoided by wearing. At 2 P.M.
the British ship was within half a mile of the _Constitution_, and to
windward. She now hauled down her colors, except a union-jack at the
mizzen-mast-head. This induced Commodore Bainbridge to order a gun to
be fired ahead of her, to make her show her colors, This was succeeded
by the whole of the _Constitution’s_ broadside. Immediately the enemy
hoisted colors, and at once returned the fire. A general action now
commenced with round and grape shot. But the British frigate kept at a
much greater distance than the commodore wished. He, however, could not
bring her to closer action without exposing his vessel to be several
times raked. Both vessels for some time manoeuvred to obtain a position
that would enable them to rake or avoid being raked, and it was evident
that the Englishman was cautious and well manned. In the early part
of the engagement the wheel of the _Constitution_ was shot away; but
so well was she handled from below that her movements were hardly
retarded. Commodore Bainbridge now determined to close with the British
vessel, notwithstanding in so doing he should expose his ship to be
several times raked. He ordered the fore and main sails to be set, and
luffed up close to the enemy in such manner that his jib-boom got foul
of the Englishman’s mizzen-rigging. About 3 o’clock the head of the
British vessel’s bowsprit and jib-boom were shot away, and in the space
of an hour her foremast went by the board; her main-topmast just above
the cap, her gaff and spanker-boom were shot away, and her main-mast
went nearly by the board.

About 4 o’clock, the fire of the British vessel being completely
silenced, and her colors in the main-rigging being down, she was
supposed to have struck. The courses of the _Constitution_ were now
hauled on board, to shoot ahead, in order to repair her rigging, which
was very much cut. The British vessel was left in bad condition;
but her flag was soon after discovered to be still flying. The
_Constitution_, however, hove to, to repair some of her damages. About
a quarter of an hour after, the main-mast of the British vessel went by
the board. At a quarter of five or thereabouts the _Constitution_ wore,
and stood for the British vessel, and got close to her athwart her
bows, in a very effectual position for raking, when she very prudently
struck her flag. Had she suffered the broadside to rake her, her
additional loss would have been extremely great, for she lay quite an
unmanageable wreck upon the water.

After the British frigate struck, the _Constitution_ wore, and reefed
topsails. One of the only two remaining boats out of eight was then
hoisted out, and Lieutenant Parker of the _Constitution_ was sent
to take possession of the frigate. She proved to be His Britannic
Majesty’s frigate _Java_, rating 38 but carrying 49 guns. She was
manned by upwards of four hundred men, and was commanded by Captain
Lambert, a very distinguished naval officer. He was mortally wounded.
The action continued, from the time the firing commenced till the time
it ceased, one hour and fifty-five minutes.

The _Java_ was on fire and leaking; nothing could have saved her or the
souls on board if the _Constitution_ had been disabled.

The _Constitution_ had 9 men killed and 25 wounded. The _Java_ had 60
killed and 101 certainly wounded; but by a letter written on board the
_Constitution_ by one of the officers of the _Java_, and accidentally
found, it is evident her loss must have been much greater. The unknown
writer states it to have been 60 killed and 170 wounded.

The _Java_ had her own full complement of men, and upwards of one
hundred supernumeraries for British ships in the East Indies. Her
force in number of men, at the commencement of the action, was
probably much greater than the officers of the _Constitution_ were
enabled to ascertain. Her officers were extremely cautious in giving
out the number of her crew, but by her quarter bill she had one man
more stationed at each gun than the _Constitution_. The _Java_ was an
important ship. She had been fitted out in the most complete manner to
carry Lieutenant-General Hislop and staff to Bombay, of which place he
had been appointed governor, and several naval officers for different
vessels in the East Indies. She had despatches for St. Helena, the Cape
of Good Hope, and for every British establishment in the Indian and
Chinese seas. She had in her hold copper for a 74 and for two brigs,
building at Bombay.

The great distance from the United States and the disabled state of the
_Java_ precluded any attempt being made to bring her to a home port.
The commodore therefore determined to burn her; she was set on fire,
and the _Constitution_ sailed away. Shortly after dark the British ship
blew up. The prisoners were all landed at San Salvador and paroled,
and, sad to tell, the commander of the _Java_, Captain Lambert, died
soon after he was put on shore. The British officers paroled were: 1
lieutenant-general, 1 major, and 1 captain of land service; in the
naval service, 1 post-captain, 1 master and commander, 5 lieutenants,
3 lieutenants of marines, 1 surgeon, 2 assistant surgeons, 1 purser,
15 midshipmen, 1 gunner, 1 boatswain, 1 master, 1 carpenter,
and 2 captain’s clerks; likewise, 323 petty officers, seamen,
andmarines--making altogether 361 men; besides 9 Portuguese seamen
liberated, and 8 passengers, private characters, who were permitted to
land without restraint.

Lieutenant Aylwin, of the _Constitution_, was severely wounded during
the action. When the boarders were called to repel boarders, he mounted
the quarter-deck hammock cloths, and, in the act of firing his pistol
at the enemy, he received a ball through his shoulder. Notwithstanding
the severity of his wound, he continued at his post until the enemy
struck. A few days afterwards, when an engagement was expected with a
ship, which afterwards proved to be the _Hornet_, he left his bed and
repaired to quarters, though laboring under a considerable debility,
and under the most excruciating pain. He died on the 28th of January,
at sea. The following is the official account that Commodore Bainbridge
made to the Secretary of the Navy. It is as concise and dramatic as all
the reports of our naval heroes were in those days, and as he wrote
Bainbridge was suffering from serious wounds and in danger of his life:

  “I have the honor to inform you that on the 29th of December, at
  2 P.M., in south latitude 13° 6´, west longitude 38°, and about
  ten leagues distant from the coast of Brazil, I fell in with, and
  captured, His Britannic Majesty’s frigate _Java_, of 49 guns, and
  upwards of four hundred men, commanded by Captain Lambert, a very
  distinguished officer. The action lasted one hour and fifty-five
  minutes, in which time the enemy was completely dismantled, not
  having a spar of any kind standing.

  “The loss on board the _Constitution_ was 9 killed and 25 wounded.
  The enemy had 60 killed and 101 wounded (among the latter, Captain
  Lambert, mortally), but, by the enclosed letter, written on board
  this ship by one of the officers of the _Java_, and accidentally
  found, it is evident that the enemy’s wounded must have been much
  greater than as above stated, and who must have died of their
  wounds previous to their being removed. (The letter stated 60
  killed and 170 wounded.)...

  “Should I attempt to do justice, by representation, to the brave
  and good conduct of my officers and crew, I should fail in the
  attempt; therefore, suffice it to say that the whole of their
  conduct was such as to meet my highest encomiums. I beg leave
  to recommend the officers, particularly, to the notice of the
  government, as, also, the unfortunate seamen who were wounded, and
  the families of those brave men who fell in action.

  “The great distance from our own coast, and the perfect wreck we
  made of the enemy’s frigate, forbade every idea of attempting to
  take her to the United States. I had, therefore, no alternative
  but burning her, which I did on the 31st, after receiving all the
  prisoners and their baggage, which was very hard work, only having
  two boats left out of eight, and not one left on board the _Java_.

  “On blowing up the frigate _Java_ I proceeded to St. Salvador,
  where I landed all the prisoners on their parole, to return to
  England, and there remain until regularly exchanged, and not to
  serve in their professional capacities in any place or in any
  manner whatsoever against the United States of America until their
  exchange shall be effected.”

Upon the return of Commodore Bainbridge to the United States he was
everywhere received with the greatest joy. Congress voted $50,000 to
him and his crew, and ordered a gold medal to be struck for him and
silver ones for each of his officers. New York presented him with the
freedom of the city, and many banquets were given in his honor.

A pathetic and dramatic incident occurred when the wounded Captain
Lambert was being moved off the ship at San Salvador. He lay on
the deck suffering intense pain, when Bainbridge, supported by two
officers, approached. Bending down with great difficulty, he placed
Captain Lambert’s side-arms on the cot on which the latter lay, saying
that the sword of so brave a man should never be taken from him;
then the two wounded commanders grasped hands in mutual respect and
admiration. The correspondence between Lieutenant-General Hislop and
Commodore Bainbridge, after Lambert’s death, shows plainly the lofty
spirit that existed then between great-minded enemies.



[January 14th, 1813]

During the war of 1812 the American privateers sent home to United
States ports so many hundreds of British vessels that the printed
list makes quite a showing by itself. The names of the prizes taken,
their tonnage and value, were published in _Niles’s Weekly Register_,
of Baltimore, and each week during the progress of the war the
number grew, until it seemed that the stock of _Laughing Lassies_,
_Bouncing Besses_, _Arabellas_, _Lords_ something-or-other, _Ladies_
this or _Countesses_ of that, must surely be exhausted. In they
came to Baltimore, to New York, or Boston by the scores--brigs and
barks, schooners and ships, sloops and transports. Some were next
to worthless, some were valuable, and some were veritable floating
mines of wealth; some were heavily armed and had been captured after
fierce fighting; others had been picked up like ripe fruit and sent
home under prize-masters. Each one, however, was stamped with the
seal of her captor, who might be cruising anywhere from the China Sea
to the English Channel. Eager for racing, chasing, or fighting, the
American privateers were watching the highways of British commerce.
What did they care for armed consorts or guard-ships? They could show
a clean pair of heels to the fastest cruisers that carried the red
cross of St. George, or turn to and fight out of all proportion to
their appearance or size--and this latter was proved true in many
well-recorded instances. They were the kestrels and the game-cocks of
the sea. The names of some of them were familiar to every school-boy
eighty-odd years ago--_Revenge_, _Atlas_, _Young Eagle_, _Montgomery_,
_Teazer_, _Decatur_, _General Armstrong_, _Comet_. Here were some
tight little craft that caused their powder-monkeys fairly to smell of
prize-money on their return from each successful cruise.

All of these vessels were oversparred, overarmed, and overmanned. It
was the privateersman’s business to take risks, and many paid the
penalty for rashness; but their fearlessness and impudence were often
most astounding, and their self-reliance actually superb.

Up to the end of the first year of the war Maryland alone had sent
out more than forty armed vessels, and, as a writer in the _Weekly
Register_ naïvely remarks, “not one up to date has been even in
_danger_ of being captured, though frequently chased by British vessels
of war.”

But to come to the affair of the _Comet_, privateer, of Baltimore. Her
name had become familiar all along the Atlantic coast, her “winnings”
were anchored in almost every harbor, and she could have the pick of
the seamen lucky enough to be ashore at any place where she put in. Her
’tween-decks were crowded with extra crews and prize-masters to man
her captures when she sailed out again.

The _Comet_ was commanded by Captain Boyle, an intrepid sailor, and a
man liked and trusted by his crew of 120 well-trained tars. She was as
handy as a whip, and sailed like a cup-defender. She carried 6 guns in
a broadside, a swivel, and a gun amidships.

It was on the 9th of January, 1813, that Captain Boyle spoke a
Portuguese coasting-vessel which had just left the harbor of
Pernambuco, Brazil, and learned that in the harbor were three English
vessels loaded and ready to sail for Europe--one large armed ship and
two armed brigs.

Upon hearing this welcome news Captain Boyle shortened sail, and tacked
back and forth for five days, waiting and watching. On the 14th of the
month his sharp lookout was rewarded by the sight of not three but four
sail coming offshore before the wind. The _Comet_ sheered away to the
southward, and lay by, to give the strangers an opportunity of passing
her. When they had done so, she put after them. It was quite late in
the afternoon, a tremendous sea was running, and a freshening breeze
lifted the _Comet_ up the sides of the huge waves and raced her down
into the hollows. She overhauled the other vessels as if they had been
anchored. They kept close together, rising and then sinking hulls out
of sight in the great seas. They evidently had no fear of the little
vessel bearing down upon them, for they made no effort to spread their
lighter sails. The _Comet_ was under a press of canvas, and the water
was roaring and tumbling every now and then over her forward rails.

At six o’clock, or thereabouts, the reason for the leisurely movements
of the chase was discovered--one of the vessels was seen to be a
large man-of-war brig. She was hanging back, evidently awaiting the
American’s approach. The speed of the _Comet_ was not lessened, not a
stitch was taken in, but quickly the guns were loaded with round shot
and grape, and the decks were cleared for action. Then Captain Boyle
hoisted the American flag. The other hoisted Portuguese colors. As
the _Comet_ sheered up close, the stranger hailed and requested the
privilege of sending a boat on board, saying he wished to speak with
the American captain on a matter of importance.

Accordingly, the _Comet_ hove to, and her commander received the
Portuguese officer a few minutes later at the companion-way. The
conversation, in view of subsequent proceedings, must have been
extremely interesting. The officer was a little taken aback when he
saw the men standing stripped to the waist about the guns, the look of
determination and the man-o’-war appearance everywhere. But he doffed
his hat, and informed Captain Boyle sententiously that the vessel he
had just left belonged to His Majesty of Portugal, that she carried
twenty 32-pounders and a crew of 165 men.

Captain Boyle replied that he had admired her appearance greatly.

The Portuguese officer then went on to say that the three other vessels
ahead were English, and were under the protection of the commander of
his brig.

“By what right?” answered the captain of the _Comet_. “This is an
American cruiser. We are on the high seas, the highway of all nations,
and surely it belongs to America as much as to the King of Great
Britain or the King of Portugal.”

The officer upon this asked to see the _Comet’s_ authority from her
government. This Captain Boyle courteously showed to him. After reading
the papers carefully, the officer began to advise the American captain
in a manner that provoked the following reply: “I told him,” writes
Boyle, in the log-book of the _Comet_, “that I was determined to
exercise the authority I had, and capture those vessels if I could. He
said that he should be sorry if anything disagreeable took place; that
they were ordered to protect them, and should do so. I answered him
that I should equally feel regret that anything disagreeable should
occur; that if it did he would be the aggressor, as I did not intend
to fire upon him first; that if he did attempt to oppose me or to fire
upon me when trying to take those English vessels, we must try our
respective strengths, as I was well prepared for such an event and
should not shrink from it. He then informed me that those vessels were
armed and very strong. I told him that I valued their strength but
little, and would very soon put it to the test.”

What a fine old fighter this Baltimore captain must have been! Here
were four vessels, each of the three smaller ones as large as his own,
and one nearly twice as large, against him; the Portuguese mounting
twenty guns, the English ship fourteen, and the smaller brigs ten
guns apiece. Fifty-four guns against fourteen. But the American was
undaunted, and the Portuguese lieutenant rowed back to his ship.

Shortly afterwards the brig hailed again, asking Captain Boyle to lower
his boat and come on board.

“It is growing too dark!” shouted Captain Boyle through his
speaking-trumpet, and he squared his yards and made all sail for the
nearest English vessel--the big ship.

So fast a sailer was the _Comet_ and so quick in stays that she could
shuttle back and forth through the little fleet in a manner that, to
say the least, must have been confusing to the others. The moon was now
coming out bright as the sun went down; but little of daylight was left.

The _Comet_ came up handily with the English ship (the brigs were
sailing close by), and Boyle ordered her to back her main-topsail or
he would fire a broadside into her. So great was the headway of the
privateer, however, that she shot past, and had to luff about the
other’s bows, Boyle again hailing, and saying he was coming down on
the other side.

The man-of-war brig had crowded on all sail, and was hard after the
American; but the latter now let drive her broadside at the ship
and one of her smaller consorts, tacked quickly, and then found the
man-of-war close alongside. The Portuguese, disregarding the policy
of “minding one’s own business,” opened up her broadside upon the
American. The _Comet_ returned this with tremendous effect, and,
tacking, again let go her starboard battery at the third Englishman,
who was now closing in. Nothing but bad gunnery and good sailing must
have saved the daring little vessel at this moment. But she loaded
and fired, and the enemy appeared to be confused and frightened. The
_Comet_ stuck close to the English vessels, letting go whole broadsides
into them at point-blank distance, and firing at the man-of-war
whenever she came in range. The British vessels separated at last
to give their “protector” a better chance, but it availed them very
little. By the time the Portuguese was ready to fire the _Comet_
had spun about on her heel and was out of danger. It was the clever
boxer in a crowd of clumsy bumpkins. At eleven o’clock the big ship
surrendered, being cut almost to pieces and quite unmanageable. It was
broad moonlight; but the moon would soon go down, and in the ensuing
darkness Captain Boyle feared the others might escape him. As soon as
the ship hauled down her colors he gave the first brig a broadside
that ripped her bulwarks and cut away her running-gear. Immediately
down came her flag, and she surrendered also. She proved to be the
_Bowes_, of Liverpool.

The sea was yet running very high, but a boat was manned and lowered
away with a prize-crew, and made straight for the latest capture.
When the heavily laden boat was a short distance from the _Comet_,
around the bows of the captured ship came the man-of-war. She fired a
broadside at the rowboat, and nearly swamped it there and then; half
full of water, it returned to the _Comet_. Taking the boat’s crew on
board once more, the privateer headed for the Portuguese. Captain
Boyle’s blood was now up with a vengeance, and in the hot exchange that
followed the bumptious foreigner had so much the worst of it that he
withdrew from the engagement, and left the third English vessel to her
fate. Like the others, the last hauled down her flag to save herself
from further punishment. The situation was unusual. It was almost
pitch-dark, and, heaving about to leeward, the three captured vessels
were hardly discernible. The _Bowes_ was taken possession of, she
being the nearest, and the captain of the ship _George_, of Liverpool,
reported that he could hardly keep his vessel afloat. The other brig,
the _Gambier_, of Hull, was in much the same condition. Captain Boyle
determined to stand by them both until daybreak.

As soon as it was light, it was seen that the little fleet had drifted
in towards land, the wind having changed during the early morning. The
Portuguese had once more joined them, and made a feint of desiring
to fight again. The _Comet_ sailed to meet her; but the brig turned
tail, signalled the _George_ and the _Gambier_ to make for shore, and
followed as quickly as she could. Captain Boyle did not overtake them,
and the three reached Pernambuco in safety--the ship in a sinking
condition, the brig likewise, and the cockpit of the man-of-war, which
was badly cut up below and aloft, filled with dead and wounded. The
_Comet_ and the _Bowes_ reached the United States in safety, the former
making several more important captures, and sailing through the entire
English blockading squadron in the Chesapeake Bay to her wharf in the
city of Baltimore.



[February 24th, 1813]


After Commodore Bainbridge sailed southward from Bahia on the cruise
in which he fell in with and captured His Britannic Majesty’s frigate
_Java_, Captain Lawrence of the United States sloop _Hornet_ had
hoped to coax the _Bonne Citoyenne_, the English armed ship he was
blockading, to leave the safe moorings which she kept so closely in
the harbor of San Salvador. Captain Lawrence prayed each day that
she might venture out and give his gunners a mark worthy of their
skill. One morning, as the little _Hornet_ was lifting and tugging at
her anchor in the rough water at the entrance to the outer harbor,
keeping a watchful eye on the spars of the _Bonne Citoyenne_ and on
those of another British packet of 12 guns that lay well inshore, a
huge cloud of canvas came in sight to the eastward. Spar and sail she
rose out of the horizon sky, until it was plainly seen that she was a
line-of-battle ship flying the English flag. The _Montagu_ (74) had
heard the news of the _Bonne Citoyenne’s_ plight, word having been
brought to her as she lay in the harbor of Rio Janeiro. Immediately
she had set sail for San Salvador to raise the blockade. Reluctantly
Captain Lawrence, on sight of her, got up his anchor and slipped into
the harbor. He did not stay there long, however, and, after tacking
about some time, escaped to sea that same night at nine o’clock. There
were no ships of the line in the American navy at that time, and,
perforce, the only thing left for any of our cruisers to do was to give
those of the enemy the widest berth. So Lawrence, in the _Hornet_,
shifted his cruising-grounds and went out into blue water. On the 4th
of February, 1813, he captured the British brig _Resolution_, of 10
guns, and, not caring to man her, he took out $23,000 in specie and
set her on fire. Then for over a week the _Hornet_ cruised to and fro
off the coast of Maranham without sighting a single sail. On the 22d
of February Lawrence stood for Demerara, and on the 24th he discovered
a brig off to leeward. At once he gave chase, but running into shallow
water, and having no pilot, he had to haul offshore, much to his
disgust, as the other vessel made her way in near the mouth of the
Demerara River, and anchored close to a small fort about two and a half
leagues from the outer bar, where the _Hornet_ had been forced to come
about. As the latter had done so, however, her lookout had discovered
a vessel at anchor half-way in towards the shore. A peep through the
glass showed her to be a brig of war with the English colors flying.
Captain Lawrence determined to get at her; but to do this he had to
beat to windward to avoid a wide shoal on which the waves were breaking
furiously. At 3 P.M., as he had about made up his mind that the vessel
at anchor and the _Hornet_ were surely to try conclusions, Lawrence
discovered another sail on his weather-quarter and edging down towards

In a few minutes over an hour the new-comer hoisted English colors
also, and was seen to be a large man-o’-war brig. The _Hornet_ cleared
for action. As was usual in all naval actions when the wind was the
sole motive power, both vessels manoeuvred for a time, the _Hornet_
trying to win the advantage of the weather-gage from her antagonist.
But do his best Lawrence could not get it until another hour had
passed; then finding that the _Hornet_ was a better sailer than the
English brig, he came about. The two vessels passed each other on
different tacks at the distance of a few hundred feet--half pistol-shot.

Up to this time not a gun had been fired in the affair. But as they
came abreast they exchanged broadsides, the Englishman going high,
but the _Hornet’s_ round and grape playing havoc with the enemy’s
lower rigging. The brig held on for a few minutes, and then Lawrence
discovered her to be in the act of wearing. He seized his opportunity,
bore up, and receiving the starboard broadside, which did him little
damage, he took a position close under the brig’s starboard quarter.
So well directed was the vicious fire that was now poured into the
English vessel that in less than fifteen minutes down came her flag.
No sooner had it reached the deck, however, when another crawled
up in the fore-rigging. It was an ensign, union down; the brig was
sinking. The sea was heavy, and before a boat could be lowered down
came the Englishman’s main-mast. Lieutenant Shubrick, who had been on
the _Constitution_ when she captured the _Guerrière_ and the _Java_,
put out in one of the _Hornet’s_ boats, and soon reached the captured
vessel’s side, and found that she was H.B.M. brig _Peacock_, 22 guns,
commanded by Captain William Peake, who had been killed by the last
broadside from the _Hornet_. There was not one moment to lose; six feet
of water were in the hold, and the _Peacock’s_ decks were crowded with
dead and wounded. She was settling fast. Her anchor was let go, and the
_Hornet_ coming up, let go hers also close alongside. Every endeavor
was now made to save life; the men who a few minutes before had been
fighting one another pulled on the same rope together and manned the
same boats. The _Peacock’s_ guns were thrown overboard; such shot-holes
as could be got at were plugged; but the water gained despite the
furious men at the pumps and the bailing at the hatchways. The
_Peacock_ was doomed. The body of Captain Peake was carried into his
cabin and covered with the flag he had died so bravely defending, to
sink with her--“a shroud and sepulchre worthy so brave a sailor.” All
but some of the slightly wounded had been removed, and there remained
but a boat-load more to take off the lurching wreck, when she
suddenly pitched forward and sank in five and a half fathoms, carrying
down with her thirteen of her own crew and three American seamen--John
Hart, Joseph Williams, and Hannibal Boyd. Fine old down-east names,
mark you.


A boat belonging to the _Peacock_ broke away with four of her crew in
it before the vessel sank. They probably tried to make their escape
to land. In writing about this little episode afterwards, Lawrence
says, “I sincerely hope they reached the shore; but from the heavy
sea running at the time, the shattered state of the boat, and the
difficulty of landing on the coast, I am fearful they were lost.”
Captain Lawrence’s treatment of his prisoners was such as uniformly
characterized the officers of our navy, “who won by their magnanimity
those whom they had conquered by their valor.”

The loss on board the _Hornet_, outside of the three seamen drowned,
was trifling--one man killed and three wounded, two by the explosion of
a cartridge. The vessel received little or no damage. All the time that
the action was being fought the other brig lay in full sight, about
six miles off (she proved afterwards to have been _L’Espiègle_, of 16
guns), but she showed no desire to enter into the conflict. Thinking
that she might wish to meet the _Hornet_ later, Lawrence made every
exertion to prepare his ship for a second action, and by nine o’clock a
new set of sails was bent, wounded spars secured, boats stowed away,
and the _Hornet_ was ready to fight again. At 2 A.M. she got under way,
and stood to the westward and northward under easy sail.

On mustering the next morning it was found that there were 277 souls on
board, including the crew of the American brig _Hunter_, of Portland,
Maine, captured by the _Peacock_ a few days before. The latter was one
of the finest vessels of her class in the English navy; she was broader
by five inches than the _Hornet_, but not so long by four feet. Her
tonnage must have been about the same. Her crew consisted of 130 men.

To quote from an account of the times which describes the return
of the victorious _Hornet_ to the United States: “The officers of
the _Peacock_ were so affected by the treatment they received from
Captain Lawrence that on their arrival at New York they made grateful
acknowledgment of it in the papers. To use their own phrase, ‘They
ceased to consider themselves prisoners.’ Nor must we omit to mention
a circumstance highly to the honor of the brave tars of the _Hornet_.
Finding that the crew of the _Peacock_ had lost all their clothing by
the sudden sinking of their vessel, they made a subscription, and from
their own chest supplied each man with two shirts and a blue jacket and
trousers. Such may rough sailors be made when they have before them the
example of high-minded men.”

It was not long before poor Lawrence was to be borne on the shoulders
of his enemies and laid to rest, with all honors, in a foreign soil,
a last return of the courtesy he had extended to all those whom the
fortunes of war had placed under his care and keeping.



[June 1st, 1813]

  “Let shouts of victory for laurels won
   Give place to grief for Lawrence, Valor’s son.
   The warrior who was e’er his country’s pride
   Has for that country bravely, nobly died.”

              --_From “An Elegy in Remembrance of James Lawrence,
              Esquire,” published in June, 1813._

New Jersey claims the honor of being the birthplace of Captain James
Lawrence, at one time the idol of the naval service. Captain Lawrence
was born at Burlington, being the youngest son of John Lawrence,
Esq. Although at the age of twelve he manifested a desire to become
a sailor, his wish was not gratified until five years later, when,
abandoning the study of law, he took up that of navigation, and
received a warrant as midshipman on the 4th of September, 1798.

He made one voyage on the ship _Ganges_, under Captain Tingey, and
after two years of cruising in various vessels he was made an acting
lieutenant on board the frigate _Adams_, where he continued until the
reduction of the naval force began, and then, his appointment not being
confirmed, he once more found himself a midshipman.

Lawrence, like many a good officer, appeared to be continually at
loggerheads with the department at Washington. He objected to this
first reduction, and in 1801 his objection was sustained, and he
sailed to the Mediterranean as first lieutenant of the schooner
_Enterprise_ in 1803. All through the war with Tripoli he conducted
himself with such bravery as to bring commendation from all his
superiors. As an example of his spirit and fearlessness an incident
is well worth quoting. After he had returned with Commodore Preble
he was not allowed to rest long in idleness; again he was sent to
the Mediterranean, for what reason it would be hard to state; he was
hastened away in command of one of the foolishly constructed gunboats
that did not even rejoice in the dignity of possessing a name, being
merely known on the register as “No. 6.” None of these vessels was
qualified to take to the sea. They were built on the model of great
rowboats, and wallowed and tossed and pitched, and behaved in every
way that a vessel ought not to when under sail. The one big gun they
carried amidships on deck rendered them top-heavy, and, as some one
wrote at the time, “the leeway they gathered discounted the log.” But
Lawrence grimly accepted the duty assigned to him, and set out at once.
A few months afterwards one of his brother officers wrote in a letter
to a relation in the army, saying, “Lawrence has told me that when he
went on board the gunboat he had not the faintest idea that he would
ever arrive out to the Mediterranean in her, or indeed arrive anywhere
else. He also told me that on the coast of Europe he met an English
frigate, the captain of which would not at first believe that he had
crossed the Atlantic in such a vessel.”

But he crossed safely, however, and cruised about in his cockle-shell
for some sixteen months. Immediately after his return Lawrence was
made first lieutenant of the frigate _Constitution_; then transferred
to the schooner _Vixen_, of which he was given the command; whence he
went to the brig _Argus_, and at last to the sloop _Hornet_. Twice he
was sent to Europe in the latter with despatches to our ministers. Upon
the outbreak of the war Lawrence was yet in command of the _Hornet_,
which was one of the squadron of five sail that set out under Commodore
Rodgers in the unsuccessful attempt to intercept the Jamaica fleet.

Much upset in his mind by the promotion of a junior officer over
his head, only Lawrence’s patriotism and loyalty prevented him from
resigning from the service. The Senate restored him to his proper
number on the list, however, and he sailed with Commodore Bainbridge in
the cruise to the south, from which he returned soon after the capture
of the _Peacock_.

In all history it is customary to count the incidents of unsuccessful
but heroic resistance to the honor and glory of the nation. The
historians of Great Britain in all their works rightly take this stand
in detailing the actions between their vessels and those of the little
navy of the United States. There is on record in our annals the story
of an unsuccessful engagement that cannot but reflect credit on our
naval officers and our flag.

Jack Tars are more superstitious than any other class of men. They fear
Friday, and are on the constant lookout for omens and portents. Give
a ship an unlucky name and it counts against her in securing a good
crew. The _Chesapeake_ was an unlucky vessel. On the 22d of June, 1807,
manned by a green crew under the command of Commodore Barron, she had
left Hampton Roads. This was during the time that England was employing
her assumed “Right of Search,” that led to the struggle five years

Taken at a disadvantage, she was humiliated by being compelled to lower
her flag to H. M. S. _Leopard_, after the latter had poured in several
destructive broadsides without return. The _Chesapeake_ had three men
killed and eighteen wounded, and her commander was forced to submit
to the kidnapping of four alleged deserters from his crew. The vessel
had proved herself a slow sailer, and had accomplished nothing in her
cruises. In March, 1813, she was lying in Boston Harbor, her complement
of men not filled and her armament incomplete.

Captain Lawrence, fearing that he might be appointed to her, applied
for the command of the _Constitution_.

High-spirited and sensitive, he had taken offence at the manner in
which his request was received. The Secretary of the Navy entailed the
condition that if neither Captain Porter nor Captain Evans applied for
the command of “Old Ironsides,” Lawrence could have her. Objecting
to this treatment, he was given the appointment unconditionally; but
the next day, to his chagrin, he received a recall of the order, and,
after some vexations, counter-instructions to take command of the
_Chesapeake_, then lying in Boston Roads. Lawrence was prejudiced
against this ship, and disgruntled at his peculiar treatment; but to
his respectful remonstrances the Secretary of the Navy vouchsafed no
reply, and the gallant officer pocketed his pride and went on board his
unfortunate command.


British vessels of war were a common sight from any hill along the New
England coast. Outfitting at Halifax, they hovered about, and were in
constant communication with one another, the smaller vessels seldom
straying far from their towering guard-ships.

While Lawrence was endeavoring to teach the green crew of the
_Chesapeake_ something of discipline and man-of-war customs, a strange
sail boldly made in to the entrance of Boston Roads.

She tacked about, flying signals of defiance. It was the _Shannon_
(38), a prime vessel, magnificently equipped for the express purpose of
meeting a Yankee frigate. She had an unusually numerous crew of picked
men, thoroughly disciplined and well officered. She was commanded by
Captain Broke, a fearless and able officer, one of the best in the
service of Great Britain--a man who feared no danger, and fought with
desire to gain reputation and glory. He had dismissed the _Tenedos_,
line-of-battle ship, and wished to fight alone.

In Low’s _Great Battles of the British Navy_ the author speaks of
Captain Broke sending a formal challenge to the captain of the
_Chesapeake_ to come out and meet “ship to ship, to try the fortunes of
our respective flags.” The English writer adds that “the redoubtable
Captain Lawrence was not backward in accepting the challenge.”

This challenge, a model of the stilted courtesy and frank gallantry
of the day, was never received by the American commander, despite the
statement. It might have made some difference, for it told the number
of men, guns, and armament.

To Captain Broke’s honor be it said that he sought no favor and he had
no fear. An American publication speaks in the following words: “It
is to be deeply regretted that Captain Lawrence did not receive this
gallant challenge, as it would have given him time to put his ship
in proper order, and spared him the necessity of hurrying out in his
unprepared condition to so formidable and momentous an encounter.”

The English exploited in verse and song the victory they had gained. A
series of paintings and engravings representing different phases of the
engagement was designed by Captain R. H. King, R.N., and painted by
Schetky, and dedicated to Captain Sir Philip Bowes Vere Broke, Bart.,
R.N., K.C.B. The King, on hearing the news of the capture, is reported
to have clapped his hands.

That Lawrence fought the action contrary to his own judgment, and was
not sanguine of victory, is shown by a letter in his own hand, written
on board the _Chesapeake_, and sent off by the pilot; for the American
vessel, as she left the harbor, was surrounded by a fleet of small
craft, which came out to see the action. This letter is addressed,
“James Cox, Esq., Merchant, New York.”

The following is a copy of the letter, the original of which is now in
the possession of the author:

            _June 1st._

  “DEAR JAMES,--By the enclosed you will perceive that Bainbridge and
  myself have had a serious difference. It is in a measure, however,
  done away, in consequence of an explanation had last evening. You
  will pay him one and one-half twentieths of my prize-money, and
  demand the same resulting from the capture of the _Java_.... An
  English frigate is close in with the light-house, and we are now
  clearing ship for action.

  “Should I be so unfortunate as to be taken off, I leave my wife and
  children to your care, and feel confident that you will behave to
  them the same as if they were your own. Remember me affectionately
  to our good mother, and believe me,

            “Sincerely yours,
                “JAMES LAWRENCE.

  “P. S.--10 A.M. The frigate is plain in sight from our decks, and
  we are now getting under way.”

Trouble soon came; the crew, that had never sailed under Lawrence
before, acted in a listless, half-hearted manner. A villanous
boatswain’s mate, a Portuguese, showed signs of mutinous conduct;
for immediately after the _Chesapeake_ was under way, and Lawrence
had addressed a few words to the crew assembled in the waist, this
scoundrel replied in an insolent manner, complaining that he had not
received prize-money which had been due, he claimed, for some time
past. It was impossible, in view of the fact that he was entirely
unacquainted with the characters of his crew, for Captain Lawrence to
notice this conduct in the manner it deserved. He had had no time to
gain their affections or obtain influence through his personality.

Imagine the scene! With the enemy waiting in the offing, the
disaffected ones were taken to the cabin and there paid the money that
they claimed was owing them. As Lawrence looked about, he longed for
the Yankee tars that had served under him in the _Hornet_ and that he
had hoped to command in the _Constitution_. His heart must have failed

Up went the flag. The English had learned to read without the glass,
“Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights,” the motto painted on it.

As the _Chesapeake_ approached, the English vessel hauled off shore.

It was a beautiful summer day. The water was rippled, and there was
little or no swell. It was a day for target practice. The small craft
either held back or had been left behind as the two combatants,
sailing in silence, drew away from shore.

At 4 P.M. the _Chesapeake_ fired a gun. The _Shannon_ braced back her
main-topsail and hove to. The smoke from the first shot had cleared
away, and the vessels manoeuvred for some minutes to gain the advantage.

Lawrence must have seen that it would have been better had he listened
to the counsels of Bainbridge and others, who had advised him not to
seek a meeting just at that time. It was evident that the _Shannon_
was the better sailer. Several times the newly rove running-gear of
the _Chesapeake_ jammed in the blocks. Her crew were confused, and the
men did not know their numbers at the guns. All exertions were made,
however; but, after having been for some time within pistol-shot,
broadsides were fired with tremendous execution. The first broadside
that the _Chesapeake_ received was a catastrophe in itself; the
double-shotted guns of the enemy tore great breaks in her bulwarks, and
officers who had occupied positions of great danger fell in every part
of the ship. The first shot killed Mr. White, the sailing-master. The
fourth lieutenant, Mr. Ballard, received a mortal wound; and at this
same moment Captain Lawrence was shot through the leg by a musket-ball
from the _Shannon’s_ tops. He made no outcry, but, leaning against the
companion-way for support, continued to give his orders in a cool, firm
voice. The ships were now so close that the powder smoke blackened
their white streaks, and three broadsides were exchanged in quick
succession that were frightful in their results.

The English had placed expert riflemen in their tops, and three men
were shot successively from the _Chesapeake’s_ wheel. The American ship
fell off from her proper course, and the _Shannon_ veering close, her
after-port was caught by the _Chesapeake’s_ anchor. The ill-luck of the
latter vessel had followed her. For some time she could not bring a gun
to bear, while the Englishman from his foremost guns raked her upper
decks, killing and wounding the greater portion of the men there.

It had been for a long time a superstition with our cousins across the
water that naught could resist the onslaught of an English boarding
party. An exception, however, has been made in favor of the “damned
Yankees” by a well-known English writer.

Seeing that the spar-deck of the _Chesapeake_ was devoid of defenders,
a party of the _Shannon’s_ men took advantage of a favorable chance,
and, without waiting for orders, jumped on the American’s deck. Captain
Lawrence, still leaning heavily against the rail, and weak from loss
of blood, had scarcely time to call his boarders to repel the attack
when he received a second wound, from a bullet, in the abdomen. He fell
into the arms of Lieutenant Cox, who commanded the second division,
and was hurrying up from below. At this moment Captain Broke, of the
_Shannon_, bravely headed a second boarding party, and sprang over the
railing of the _Chesapeake_. Lawrence saw the danger as he struggled,
with Cox’s help, to rise from the deck.

“Don’t give up the ship! don’t give up the ship!” he said, and repeated
it over and over as they carried him down the companion-way.

A hand-to-hand struggle now ensued. The only American officer
remaining on the upper deck was Lieutenant Ludlow. He was so weakened
and disabled by numerous wounds that he was incapable of personal
resistance, and the small number of British succeeded in obtaining
possession before those from below could swarm up to the defence.

An account gathered from an officer after the surrender speaks as

“We were greatly embarrassed in consequence of being unacquainted with
our crew. In one instance, in particular, Lieutenant Cox joined a party
of the enemy through mistake, and was made sensible of his error by
their slashing at him with their cutlasses.”

Lawrence, lying below in the wardroom, suffering agony, heard the
firing cease, and, having no officer near him, he ordered the surgeon
who was attending his wound to hasten on deck and tell his followers to
fight on to the last, and never strike the colors, adding:

“They shall wave while I live.”

But nothing could be done. A ship without a captain is a man without
a soul. The fate of battle was decided. It was mere waste of life to
continue, and Lieutenant Ludlow gave up the _Chesapeake_.

There was the utmost confusion during the latter part of the battle,
but accounts differ in regard to the details. A hot-headed boy fired
at an English sentry placed at a gangway, and started an action that
resulted in Lieutenant Ludlow receiving a cutlass wound in the head
which fractured his skull and proved fatal. An English authority, in
speaking of the hauling down of the stars and stripes, recalls that
Lieutenant Wall, one of their own officers, was killed, and four or
five men fell, from a volley delivered by their own people from the
tops of the _Shannon_, “for in the hurry and excitement the Yankee flag
was hoisted uppermost.”

Thus terminated one of the most remarkable combats on naval record. The
action had lasted over a quarter of an hour. There is little use in
surmising what might have occurred had not the ships run foul of each

The _Chesapeake_ had received little injury to affect her safety, while
the _Shannon_ had several shots between wind and water, and could not
have sustained an action at gunshot distance for any great length of

The two ships presented terrible spectacles, says a witness. “Crowded
with wounded and the dying, they resembled floating hospitals, sending
forth groans at every roll.”

The brave Broke had received a severe wound in the head, and was lying
delirious on board of his own vessel. He constantly inquired for the
fate of his gallant adversary, and kept speaking of the “masterly
style” in which the latter had brought the _Chesapeake_ into action.

Lawrence, though conscious, sealed his lips and never spoke, though
suffering great bodily pain, making no comment upon the battle. He
lingered four days, and finally expired.

His body was wrapped in the colors of his ship and laid upon the
quarter-deck of the _Chesapeake_, to be conveyed for burial to Halifax.
At the time of his death he was but thirty-two years of age, sixteen
years of which had been passed in the service of his country.

Great were the rejoicings at the British port when the two vessels
sailed in, and our hearts cannot fail to be touched by the honors paid
on this occasion by the British to the departed American hero.

His pall was borne by the oldest captains in the British service that
were then in Halifax, and the naval officers crowded to yield the last
honors to a man who had been so lately their foe. There is a sympathy
between lofty souls that knows no distinction of clime or nation.

As usual, much controversy over the numbers engaged and the weight of
armament was aroused.

So far as can be learned, the crews were nearly matched, each numbering
about four hundred.

The _Shannon_ lost twenty-four killed, including three officers, and
fifty wounded. The _Chesapeake_, forty-seven killed and ninety-nine

Lawrence’s first lieutenant was killed, and all the surviving
lieutenants wounded, as were also five midshipmen and the chaplain.

Lieutenant William Cox, whose court-martial attracted much attention
after the investigation into the loss of the _Chesapeake_, was
doubtless a victim of the chagrin that the country felt at England’s
victory. Cox had fought bravely throughout the early part of the
action, and there is much to prove that his going below with the
wounded Lawrence was in compliance with the latter’s orders.

Lieutenant Provo Wallis, who brought the _Chesapeake_ as a prize into
Halifax, died within the last few years, an admiral, the oldest naval
officer then living in the service of Great Britain.



[September 5th, 1813]



William Burrows was one of those men from whose early training and
development of character great things might have been expected. He
was born in 1785, near Philadelphia, and as a boy he had marked
peculiarities that presaged somewhat the eccentricities that were shown
by him in after-life.

His father was wealthy, and, being a man of accomplished mind and
polished manners, he determined to fit his son for no profession, but
intended to give him the best education that could be had. But the boy
seemed to show little desire to master that which would only fit him to
enjoy the better a life of leisure. A desire for travel, a wild longing
for the sea and for ships, manifested itself before he was twelve years
old. He cherished a solitary independence of mind, and did not indulge
in much of the playfulness or the pranks of boyhood.

At last, seeing that it was impossible to break him of his desire for
a seafaring life, the whole course of his education was changed, and
before he had trod the deck of a vessel he was instructed in naval
science. This he took up with avidity, and the intense hatred for
mathematics he had shown hitherto entirely disappeared. In November,
1799, a midshipman’s warrant was procured for him, and the following
January he joined the corvette _Portsmouth_, and sailed for France. He
served on board various ships of war until 1803, when he was ordered to
the frigate _Constitution_, under Commodore Preble. He distinguished
himself in the Tripolitan war, and centred all his pride in becoming a
thorough and accomplished sailor. Being mortified by the appointment of
some junior officers over his head, he attempted to resign the service
just previous to the outbreak of the second war with Great Britain; his
resignation was not accepted. However, after much trouble, he received
a furlough, and made a trip to China as first officer on board the
merchant ship _Thomas Penrose_, which vessel he saved on one occasion
by his good seamanship. What was his delight, upon coming back to his
country, to find that his friends had been working for him, and that he
had been appointed to the command of the brig _Enterprise_, 16 guns, at
Portsmouth! His character immediately underwent a change. He threw off
the misanthropic manner and the morose feelings that had characterized
him, and showed such knowledge and despatch in outfitting his little
brig that she was probably as well equipped as any vessel of her
tonnage in any service, and her crew as well trained.

On the 1st of September the _Enterprise_ sailed from Portsmouth on a
cruise to the southward. She encountered light weather and baffling
winds, and saw no sail until early on the morning of the 5th, when
a brig was espied inshore getting under way. For some time the
_Enterprise_ tacked to and fro, unable to ascertain the character of
the stranger. But soon all doubts were put aside by seeing the brig
display two flags, one at each mast-head; and although some miles
distant, she fired a gun, as if in challenge.

The _Enterprise_ hauled up on the wind and stood out to sea, preparing
for action. Then followed one of the strange circumstances which
happened so often in those days. The wind died away, and for six
hours or more the two enemies drifted about in a dead calm, watching
each other through their glasses, and preparing for the conflict that
would take place as soon as the breeze would enable them to lessen the
distance between them.

At half-past two in the afternoon it came, from the southwest, a light
wind that gave the _Enterprise_ the advantage of the weather-gage. It
took only a few minutes to find out that, so far as sailing went, the
two vessels were on equal terms, and at 3 P.M. Burrows shortened sail,
squared his yards, and bore down before the wind. He hoisted an ensign
at each of his mast-heads and another at the peak, firing a gun to
answer the previous challenge of the morning. Then, in silence, the two
vessels neared. Closer and closer they came without a shot being fired,
the men at the guns being eager to commence, and the officers anxiously
awaiting word from the young commander (Burrows was but twenty-eight),
who was walking quickly to and fro alone on the quarter-deck.

When within half pistol-shot the Englishman came up into the wind and
gave three cheers, immediately letting go his starboard broadside. The
cheers and the broadside were returned, and the action at once became

Burrows had the opportunity for which he had been praying. He noticed
that the training of his crew was showing to good effect; all the care
and trouble he had taken were now being paid for.

He had turned to speak to Lieutenant McCall, to attract attention to
the way in which the enemy was being hulled, when a musket-ball struck
him in the body, and he fell. McCall bent over him. “Don’t take me
below,” he said, as he lay on the deck. “Never strike that flag.”

Maybe the recollection of the words of the great Lawrence influenced
him as he spoke. They brought a hammock from the nettings and placed it
underneath his head, and McCall assumed the active command.

This had happened during the first eight minutes of the engagement, and
so accurate was the gunnery of the Americans that the main-topmast and
the topsail yard of the Englishman were soon shot away, and a position
gained whence a raking fire was kept up for some twelve minutes.

Suddenly it was noticed that the enemy was not replying, although
the colors were still flying at the mast-heads.


McCall gave orders to cease firing, and then through the smoke came a
hoarse voice hailing the American brig. “Cease firing there!” it said.
“We have surrendered.”

“Why don’t you haul down your colors?” returned McCall through the

“We can’t, sir. They are nailed to the mast,” was the reply.

A boat was lowered from the _Enterprise_, and McCall climbed to the
deck of his late antagonist. She proved to be His Britannic Majesty’s
brig _Boxer_, 14 guns, that a few minutes before had been commanded by
Samuel Blyth, a brave officer, who burned to distinguish himself, and
had gone into action determined to follow the example of Sir Philip
Vere Broke, and lead “a captured Yankee into Halifax Harbor”--so he
had expressed himself. But he had not lived to see the outcome of the
action. At the same time that Burrows fell on board the _Enterprise_,
Blyth was killed by a cannon-shot on the quarter-deck of the _Boxer_.

His first officer came back with Lieutenant McCall, and approached the
wounded Burrows, who yet refused to be carried below. The doctor had
pronounced that he had but a few hours at most to live.

When he received the sword of his enemy, he grasped it in both hands.
“I am satisfied,” he said; and soon afterwards he was covered with the
flag below in his own cabin--“a smile on his lips,” wrote one of the

As usual, much controversy was excited in regard to the numbers of crew
and armament of the two vessels.

An extract from a letter from Commodore Hull to Commodore Bainbridge,
dated September 10th, 1813, is of great interest. Hull writes:

  “I yesterday visited the two brigs, and was astonished to see the
  difference of injury sustained in the action. The _Enterprise_ has
  but one eighteen-pound shot in her hull, one in her main-mast, and
  one in her foremast; her sails are much cut with grape-shot, but no
  injury was done by them.

  “The _Boxer_ has eighteen or twenty eighteen-pound shot in
  her hull, most of them at the water’s edge; several stands of
  grape-shot in her side, and such a quantity of smaller grape that
  I didn’t undertake to count them. Her masts, sails, and spars are
  literally cut to pieces; several of her guns dismounted and unfit
  for service. To give an idea, I inform you that I counted in her
  main-mast alone three eighteen-pound shot-holes.

  “I find it impossible to get at the number killed, as no papers are
  found by which we can ascertain it. I, however, counted upwards of
  ninety hammocks that were in her nettings, besides several beds
  without hammocks. I have no doubt that she carried one hundred men
  on board.”

The exact number on board the _Enterprise_ was one hundred and two.

In addition to the particulars thus officially given, from other
sources it was ascertained that the _Enterprise_ rated as 12 guns, but
carried 16--viz., 14 eighteen-pound carronades and 2 long nines; her
officers and crew consisted of one hundred and two persons, and her
burden was about two hundred and sixty-five tons.

The _Boxer_ rated as a 14-gun brig, but carried 18, disposed as
follows: 16 eighteen-pound carronades in her broadsides and 2 long
nines on deck. She was very heavily built, and was about three hundred
tons in burden.

Soon after the arrival of the _Enterprise_ and her prize at Portland
the bodies of the two dead commanders were brought on shore in
ten-oared barges rowed at minute strokes by masters of ships, and
accompanied by a procession of almost all the barges and boats in the
harbor. Minute-guns were fired from the vessels, the same ceremony was
performed over each body, and the procession moved through the streets,
preceded by the selectmen and the municipal officers, and guarded by
the crew of the _Enterprise_, all the officers of that vessel and of
the _Boxer_ acting as joint mourners.

It is a strange fact that Burrows had never been in a battle before,
and that McCall, on whom had devolved the responsibility of command,
had never previously heard the sound of a hostile shot.

The losses during the action were, as near as could be ascertained, as

The _Boxer_, twenty-eight killed and fourteen wounded; and the
_Enterprise_, one killed and thirteen wounded, three of whom afterwards



[September 10th, 1813]


Oliver Hazard Perry, the hero of Lake Erie, inherited from his father
a fearless, high-strung disposition, and early in life showed his
longing for adventure. The elder Perry was a seaman from the time he
could lift a handspike, and fought in the revolutionary days, first
as a privateersman on a Boston letter-of-marque, and afterwards as
a volunteer on board the frigate _Trumbull_ and the sloop of war
_Mifflin_. He was captured and imprisoned for eight long months in the
famous Jersey prison-ship, where he succeeded in braving the dangers of
disease, starvation, and hardship, and at last regained his liberty.
Once more he became a privateersman, but ill-fortune followed him. He
was captured in the English Channel, and confined for eighteen months
in a British prison, whence he again escaped and made his way to the
island of St. Thomas. From thence he sailed to Charleston, South
Carolina, where he arrived about the time that peace was concluded.
After that Perry found employment in the East Indian trade until 1798,
when he was appointed to the command of the U.S.S. _General Greene_.
He was the head of a large family, having married in 1783, the oldest
of his children being Oliver Hazard. Of the four other sons, three of
them also entered the navy and served with distinction.

Oliver Hazard as a boy was not physically strong; he grew tall at
an early age, and his strength was not in keeping with his inches.
Nevertheless, he declared himself positively in favor of taking up the
sea as a profession, and in April of 1799, after his father had been
in command of the _General Greene_ for one year, to his delight young
Perry received his midshipman’s warrant, and joined the same ship.

The young midshipman made several cruises with his father to the West
Indies; his health and strength increased with the life in the open
air; he showed capacity and courage, and participated in the action
that resulted in the reduction of Jacmel in connection with the land
attack of the celebrated General Toussaint’s army. This was the last
active service of the _General Greene_; she was sold and broken up,
and upon the reduction of the navy in 1801 the elder Perry left the
service. In 1803 his son returned from a cruise in the Mediterranean,
and was promoted to an acting lieutenancy.

In our naval history of this time the recurrence of various names,
and the references made over and over again to the same actions and
occurrences, are easily accountable when we think of the small number
of vessels the United States possessed and the surprisingly few
officers on the pay-rolls. The high feeling of _esprit de corps_ that
existed among them came from the fact that they each had a chance to
prove their courage and fidelity. There was a high standard set for
them to reach.

Oliver Hazard Perry went through the same school that, luckily
for us, graduated so many fine officers and sailors--that of the
Tripolitan war. After he returned to America, at the conclusion of
peace with Tripoli, he served in various capacities along the coast,
proving himself an efficient leader upon more than one occasion. The
first service upon which the young officer was employed after the
commencement of the war with England was taking charge of a flotilla of
gunboats stationed at Newport.

As this service was neither arduous nor calculated to bring chances
for active employment in the way of fighting, time hung on his hands,
and Perry chafed greatly under his enforced retirement. At last he
petitioned the government to place him in active service, stating
plainly his desire to be attached to the naval forces that were then
gathering under the command of Commodore Chauncey on the lakes. His
request was granted, to his great joy, and he set out with all despatch.

It was at an early period of the war that the government had seen
the immense importance of gaining the command of the western lakes,
and in October of 1812 Commodore Chauncey had been ordered to take
seven hundred seamen and one hundred and fifty marines and proceed
by forced marches to Lake Ontario. There had been sent ahead of him
a large number of ship-builders and carpenters, and great activity
was displayed in building and outfitting a fleet which might give to
the United States the possession of Lake Ontario. There was no great
opposition made to the American arms by the British on this lake, but
the unfortunate surrender of General Hull had placed the English in
undisputed possession of Lake Erie.

In March, 1813, Captain Perry having been despatched to the port of
Erie, arrived there to find a fleet of ten sail being prepared to take
the waters against the British fleet under Commodore Barclay--an old
and experienced leader, a hero of the days of Nelson and the _Victory_.

Before Perry’s arrival a brilliant little action had taken place in
October of the previous year. Two British vessels, the _Detroit_ and
the _Caledonia_, came down the lake and anchored under the guns of
the British Fort Erie on the Canadian side. At that time Lieutenant
Elliot was superintending the naval affairs on Lake Erie, and the news
having been brought to him of the arrival of the English vessels on the
opposite side, he immediately determined to make a night attack and
cut them out. For a long time a body of seamen had been tramping their
toilsome march from the Hudson River to the lakes, and Elliot, hearing
that they were but some thirty miles away, despatched a messenger to
hasten them forward; at the same time he began to prepare two small
boats for the expedition. About twelve o’clock the wearied seamen,
footsore and hungry, arrived, and then it was discovered that in the
whole draft there were but twenty pistols, and no cutlasses, pikes, or
battle-axes. But Elliot was not dismayed. Applying to General Smyth,
who was in command of the regulars, for arms and assistance, he was
supplied with a few muskets and pistols, and about fifty soldiers were
detached to aid him.

Late in the afternoon Elliot had picked out his crews and manned the
two boats, putting about fifty men in each; but he did not stir until
one o’clock on the following morning, when in the pitch darkness he
set out from the mouth of Buffalo Creek, with a long pull ahead. The
wind was not strong enough to make good use of the sails, and the poor
sailors were so weary that those who were not rowing lay sleeping,
huddled together on their arms, and displaying great listlessness and
little desire for fighting. At three o’clock Elliot was alongside the
British vessels. It was a complete surprise; in ten minutes he had
full possession of them and had secured the crews as prisoners. But
after making every exertion to get under sail, he found to his bitter
disappointment that the wind was unfortunately so light that the rapid
current made them gather an increasing sternway every instant. Another
unfortunate circumstance was that he would have to pass the British
fort below and quite close to hand, for he was on the Canadian shore.
As the vessels came in sight of the British battery, the latter opened
a heavy fire of round and grape, and several pieces of flying artillery
stationed in the woods took up the chorus.

The _Caledonia_, being a smaller vessel, succeeded in getting out of
the current, and was beached in as safe a position as possible under
one of the American batteries at Black Rock, across the river; but
Elliot was compelled to drop his anchor at the distance of about four
hundred yards from two of the British batteries. He was almost at their
mercy, and in the extremity he tried the effect of a ruse, or, better,
made a threat that we must believe he never intended carrying into

Observing an officer standing on the top of an earthwork, he hailed him
at the top of his voice:

“Heigh, there, Mr. John Bull! if you fire another gun at me I’ll bring
up all my prisoners, and you can use them for targets,” he shouted.

The answer was the simultaneous discharge of all of the Englishman’s
guns. But not a single prisoner was brought on deck to share the fate
of the Americans, who felt the effect of the fire, and who now began to
make strenuous efforts to return it. Elliot brought all of the guns on
one side of his ship, and replied briskly, until he suddenly discovered
that all of his ammunition was expended. Now there was but one chance
left: to cut the cable, drift down the river out of the reach of the
heavy batteries, and make a stand against the flying artillery with
small arms. This was accordingly done, but as the sails were raised
the fact was ascertained that the pilot had taken French leave. No one
else knew the channel, and, swinging about, the vessel drifted astern
for some ten minutes, then, fortunately striking a cross current, she
brought up on the shore of Squaw Island, near the American side. Elliot
sent a boat to the mainland with the prisoners first. It experienced
great difficulty in making the passage, being almost swamped once
or twice, and it did not return. Affairs had reached a crisis, but
with the aid of a smaller boat, and by the exercise of great care,
the remainder of the prisoners and the crew succeeded in getting on
shore at about eight o’clock in the morning. At about eleven o’clock a
company of British regulars rowed over from the Canadian shore to Squaw
Island and boarded the _Detroit_, their intention being to destroy
her, and burn up the munitions with which she was laden. Seeing their
purpose, Major Cyrenus Chapin, a good Yankee from Massachusetts, called
for volunteers to return to the island, and, despite the difficulties
ahead, almost every man signified his willingness to go. Quickly making
his selection, Major Chapin succeeded in landing with about thirty men
at his back, and drove off the English before they had managed to start
the flames. About three o’clock a second attempt was made, but it was
easily repulsed.

The _Detroit_ mounted six long 6-pounders, and her crew numbered some
sixty men. She was worth saving, but so badly was she grounded on
the island that it was impossible to get her off, and, after taking
her stores out, Elliot set her on fire to get rid of her. The little
_Caledonia_ was quite a valuable capture, aside from her armament, as
she had on board a cargo of furs whose value has been estimated at one
hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

But to return to the condition of affairs upon the arrival of Captain
Perry. The fleet that in a few weeks he had under his command consisted
of the brig _Lawrence_, of 20 guns, to which he attached his flag;
the _Niagara_, of 20 guns, in command of Elliot; and the schooners
_Caledonia_ and _Ariel_, of 3 and 4 guns respectively. There were
besides six smaller vessels, carrying from one to two guns each; in
all, Perry’s fleet mounted 55 guns. The British fleet, under command
of Barclay, consisted of the _Detroit_ (named after the one that was
wrecked), the _Queen Charlotte_, and the _Lady Prevost_. They mounted
19, 17, and 13 guns, in the order named. The brig _Hunter_ carried 10
guns; the sloop _Little Belt_, 3; and the schooner _Chippeway_, 1 gun;
in all, Barclay had 63 guns, not counting several swivels--that is,
more than eight guns to the good.

The morning of the 10th of September dawned fine and clear. Perry,
with his fleet anchored about him, lay in the quiet waters of Put-in
Bay. A light breeze was blowing from the south. Very early a number
of sail were seen out on the lake beyond the point, and soon the
strangers were discovered to be the British fleet. Everything depended
now upon the speed, with which the Americans could prepare for action.
In twelve minutes every vessel was under way and sailing out to
meet the on-comers; the _Lawrence_ led the line. As the two fleets
approached, the British concentrated the fire of their long and heavy
guns upon her. She came on in silence; at her peak was flying a huge
motto-flag; plain to view were the words of the brave commander of the
_Chesapeake_: “Don’t give up the ship.”

The responsibility that rested upon the young commander’s shoulders
was great; his position was most precarious. This was the first action
between the fleets of the two hostile countries; it was a battle for
the dominion of the lakes; defeat meant that the English could land
at any time an expeditionary force at any point they chose along the
shores of our natural northern barrier. The _Lawrence_ had slipped
quite a way ahead of the others, and Perry found that he would have to
close, in order to return the English fire, as at the long distance he
was surely being ripped to pieces.

Signalling the rest of the fleet to follow him, he made all sail and
bore down upon the English; but to quote from the account in the _Naval
Temple_, printed in the year 1816: “Every brace and bowline of the
_Lawrence_ being shot away, she became unmanageable, notwithstanding
the great exertion of the sailing-master. In this situation she
sustained the action within canister distance upwards of two hours,
until every gun was rendered useless, and the greater part of her crew
either killed or wounded.”

It is easy to imagine the feelings of Perry at this moment. The smaller
vessels of his fleet had not come within firing distance; there was
absolutely nothing for him to do on board the flagship except to lower
his flag. Yet there was one forlorn hope that occurred to the young
commander, and without hesitation he called away the only boat capable
of floating; taking his flag, he quit the _Lawrence_, and rowed off
for the _Niagara_. The most wonderful accounts of hair-breadth escapes
could not equal that of Perry upon this occasion. Why his boat was not
swamped, or its crew and commander killed, cannot be explained. Three
of the British ships fired broadsides at him at pistol-shot distance,
as he passed by them in succession; and although the water boiled about
him, and the balls whistled but a few inches overhead, he reached the
_Niagara_ in safety.

There are but a few parallel cases to this, of a commander leaving one
ship and transferring his flag to another in the heat of action.

The Duke of York upon one occasion shifted his flag, in the battle of
Solebay; and in the battle of Texel, fought on August 11, 1673, the
English Admiral Sprague shifted his flag from the _Royal_ _Prince_
to the _St. George_, and the Dutch Admiral Van Tromp shifted his flag
from the _Golden Lion_ to the _Comet_, owing to the former vessel being
practically destroyed by a concentrated fire. This does not detract
from the gallantry of Perry’s achievement. The danger he faced was
great, and he was probably closer to the enemy’s vessels than any of
the commanders above mentioned.


Perry’s younger brother, who was but a midshipman, was one of the seven
other men in the boat. They left on board the _Lawrence_ not above a
half score of able-bodied men to look after the numerous wounded. Owing
to the opinions of many of the contemporary writers, who gave way to an
intense feeling of partisanship, some bitterness was occasioned, and
sides were taken in regard to the actions of Master Commandant Elliot
and his superior officer; but looking back at it from this day, we can
see little reason for any feeling of jealousy. It is hard to point the
finger at any one on the American side in this action and say that
he did not do his duty. As Perry reached the side of the _Niagara_
the wind died away until it was almost calm; the smaller vessels, the
sloops and schooners--the _Somers_, the _Scorpion_, the _Tigress_, the
_Ohio_, and the _Porcupine_--were seen to be well astern. Upon Perry
setting foot on deck, Elliot congratulated him upon the way he had
left his ship, and volunteered to bring up the boats to windward, if
he could be spared. Upon receiving permission he jumped into the boat
in which Perry had rowed from the _Lawrence_, and set out to bring up
all the forces. Every effort was made to form a front of battle, and
the little gunboats, urged on by sweeps and oars, were soon engaged in
a race for glory. In the meantime, however, the English had slackened
their fire as they saw the big flag lowered from the _Lawrence’s_
masthead; they supposed that the latter had struck, and set up a
tremendous cheering. This was hushed as they caught sight of the flash
of oars and realized what was going forward. In a few minutes out of
the thick smoke came the _Niagara_, breaking their line, and firing
her broadsides with such good execution that great confusion followed
throughout the fleet. Two of their larger brigs, the _Queen Charlotte_
and _Detroit_, ran afoul of each other, and the _Niagara_, giving
signal for close action, ran across the bow of one ship and the stern
of the other, raking them both with fearful effect; then squaring away,
and running astern of the _Lady Prevost_, she got in another raking
fire, and, sheering off, made for the _Hunter_. Now the little 1-gun
and 2-gun vessels of the American fleet were giving good accounts of

Although their crews were exposed to full view and stood waist-high
above the bulwarks, they did no dodging; their shots were well
directed, and they raked the Englishmen fore and aft, carrying away
all the masts of the _Detroit_ and the mizzen-mast of the _Queen

A few minutes after 3 P.M., a white flag at end of a boarding-pike was
lifted above the bulwarks of the _Hunter_. At the sight of this the
_Chippeway_ and _Little Belt_ crowded all sail and tried to escape, but
in less than a quarter of an hour they were captured and brought back
by the _Trippe_ and the _Scorpion_, under the commands of Lieutenant
Thomas Holdup and Sailing-master Stephen Champlin. With a ringing cheer
the word went through the line that the British had surrendered. The
sovereignty of Lake Erie belonged to America. The question of supremacy
was settled.

The events of the day had been most dramatic. This fight amid the
wooded shores and extending arms of the bay was viewed from shore by
hundreds of anxious Americans. The bright sunlight and calm surface
of the lake, the enshrouding fog of smoke that from shore hid all but
the spurts of flame and the topmasts and occasionally the flags of the
vessels engaged, all had combined to make a drama of the most exciting
and awe-inspiring interest. Nor was the last act to be a letting down.
Perry determined to receive the surrender of the defeated enemy nowhere
else but on the deck of his old flagship that was slowly drifting up
into the now intermingled fleets.

Once more he lowered his broad pennant, and rowed out for the crippled
_Lawrence_. He was received on board with three feeble cheers,
the wounded joining in, and a number of men crawling up from the
slaughter-pen of a cockpit, begrimed and bloody.

On board the _Lawrence_ there had been left but one surgeon, Usher
Parsons. He came on deck red to the elbows from his work below, and the
terrible execution done by the concentrated English fire was evident to
the English officers as they stepped on board the flagship. Dead men
lay everywhere. A whole gun’s crew were littered about alongside of
their wrecked piece. From below came the mournful howling of a dog. The
cockpit had been above the water’s surface, owing to the _Lawrence’s_
shallow draught, and here was a frightful sight. The wounded had been
killed outright or wounded again as they lay on the surgeon’s table.
Twice had Perry called away the surgeon’s aids to help work ship, and
once his hail of “Can any wounded men below there pull a rope?” was
answered by three or four brave, mangled fellows crawling up on deck to
try to do their duty. All this was apparent to the English officers as
they stepped over the bodies of the dead and went aft to where Perry
stood with his arms folded, no vainglorious expression on his face,
but one of sadness for the deeds that had been done that day. Each of
the English officers in turn presented his sword, and in reply Perry
bowed and requested that the side-arms should be retained. As soon as
the formalities had been gone through with, Perry tore off the back of
an old letter he took from his pocket, and, using his stiff hat for
a writing-desk, scribbled the historic message which a detractor has
charged he cribbed from Julius Cæsar: “We have met the enemy and they
are ours:--two ships, two brigs, one schooner, and one sloop.”

Calling away a small boat, he sent Midshipman Forrest with the report
to General William Henry Harrison.

A computation has been made by one historian of the number of guns
directed against the _Lawrence_ in the early part of the action. The
English had heavier armaments and more long guns; they could fight at
a distance where the chubby carronade was useless. The _Lawrence_ had
but seven guns whose shots could reach her opponents, while the British
poured into her the concentrated fire of thirty-two! This accounts for
the frightful carnage.

When the _Lawrence_ was being shot through and through, and there
were but three guns that could reply to the enemy’s fire, Lieutenant
Yarnell, disfigured by a bad wound across his face from a splinter,
came up to where Perry was standing. “The officers of my division have
all been cut down,” he said. “Can I have others?” Perry looked about
him and sent three of his aids to help Yarnell, but in less than a
quarter of an hour the lieutenant returned again. His words were almost
the same as before, but he had a fresh wound in his shoulder. “These
officers,” he said, “have been cut down also.”

“There are no more,” Perry replied. “Do your best without them.”

Three times was Yarnell wounded, and three times after his wounds had
been hurriedly dressed he returned to his post.

Dulany Forrest, the midshipman whom Perry sent with the despatch to
General Harrison, had a most remarkable escape. He was a brave lad who
had faced death before; he had seen the splinters fly in the action
between the _Constitution_ and the _Java_. Forrest was standing close
to Captain Perry when a grape-shot that had glanced from the side of a
port struck the mast, and, again deflected, caught the midshipman in
the chest. He fell, gasping, at Perry’s feet.

“Are you badly hurt, lad?” asked the latter, anxiously, as he raised
the midshipman on his knee.

“No, sir; not much,” the latter answered, as he caught his breath. “But
this is my shot, I think.” And with that he extracted the half-spent
ball from his clothing and slipped it into his pocket.

Midshipman Henry Laub was killed in the cockpit just after having had a
dressing applied to his shattered right arm. A Narragansett Indian who
served as a gunner in the forward division of the _Lawrence_ was killed
in the same manner.

A summary of the losses on both sides shows that, despite the
death-list of the _Lawrence_, the English loss was more severe. On
board the American flagship twenty-two were killed and sixty-one were
wounded. On board the _Niagara_ two killed and twenty-five wounded. The
_Ariel_ had one killed and three wounded. The _Scorpion_, two killed.
The _Caledonia_, three wounded; and the _Somers_ and _Trippe_ each
showed but two wounded men apiece. In all, twenty-seven were killed and
ninety-six wounded on the American side. The comparison of the loss
of the rest of the fleet and that suffered by the _Lawrence_ makes a
remarkable showing. The English lost forty-one killed and ninety-four
wounded altogether. A number of Canadian Indians were found on board
the English vessels. They had been engaged as marksmen, but the first
shot had taken all the fight out of them and they had hidden and
skulked for safety.

Perry’s treatment of the prisoners was magnanimous. Everything that
would tend to relieve the sufferings of the wounded was done, and
relief was distributed impartially among the sufferers on both sides.
The result of this action was a restoration of practical peace along
the frontier of the lake. The British evacuated Detroit and Michigan,
and the dreaded invasion of the Indians that the settlers had feared so
long was headed off.

Perry, who held but a commission of master commandant, despite his
high acting rank, was promoted at once to a captaincy, the date of his
commission bearing the date of his victory. He was given the command of
the frigate _Java_, a new 44-gun ship then fitting out at Baltimore.
Gold medals were awarded to him and to Elliot by Congress, and
silver medals to each of the commissioned officers. A silver medal
also was given to the nearest male relative of Lieutenant Brooks of
the marines, and swords to the nearest male relatives of Midshipmen
Laub, Claxton, and Clark. Three months’ extra pay was voted to all the
officers, seamen, and marines, and, in addition, Congress gave $225,000
in prize-money, to be divided among the American forces engaged in
the action. This sum was distributed in the following proportions:
Commodore Chauncey, who was in command on the lakes, $12,750; Perry and
Elliot, $7140 each--besides which Congress voted Perry an additional
$5000; the commanders of gunboats, lieutenants, sailing-masters, and
lieutenants of marines received $2295 each; midshipmen, $811; petty
officers, $447 per capita; and marines and sailors, $209 apiece.

No money, however, could repay the brave men for the service they had
rendered the country. Today the dwellers along the shores of Lake Erie
preserve the anniversary of the battle as an occasion for rejoicing.
While the naval actions at sea reflected honor and glory to their
commanders and credit to the service, the winning of the battle of Lake
Erie averted a national catastrophe.



Samuel Chester Reid was born at Norwich, Connecticut, in August, 1783.
Like the majority of the commanders who gained renown during the war
of 1812, his seafaring life began at a very early age. At eleven years
he made his first voyage, and shortly afterwards he was captured
by a French privateer, and for some time confined in the prison at
Basseterre. He was released after six months’ imprisonment, and,
turning towards the regular navy, he served as acting midshipman on
the U.S.S. _Baltimore_, and saw a good bit of active service with the
squadron under Commodore Truxton in the West Indies.

As he held no regular commission in the service, he saw the great
chance and opportunity presented for privateering enterprise, and
took command of the _General Armstrong_, privateer. Her cruises were
uniformly successful, and had it not been that circumstances forced her
into national prominence she would probably have been forgotten like a
hundred others of her class that had a vogue at the time. They enjoyed
the popularity of the successful actor, but their names have gone out
of people’s memories after their short careers of glory.

But there has probably been as much writing done about the wonderful
defence of the _General Armstrong_, under Captain Samuel Reid, as
there has been about any action in which ships of our regular navy
participated. Captain Reid died in 1861, but even after his death the
“_Armstrong_ affair” was long kept before the public mind, owing to the
claims of the heirs of the owners of the American vessel for damages
against the Portuguese government.

The _General Armstrong_ was a fast-sailing, cleverly handled little
vessel, and she sailed from the port of New York, her crew having
been recruited there. It was a motley gathering, as a great many of
the crews of these vessels were, being composed of the pick of the
merchant service, a few down-east fishermen, and, not strange to
relate, adventurers of every sort and description, who, however, proved
themselves to be great fighters when under competent leadership. Her
full complement was about ninety men. The brig’s armament was rather
a peculiar one; she carried no carronades, but had three long nines
on either side, and a long 24-pounder amidships. She could fight at
a greater distance than many of the vessels belonging to the regular

Farragut in his journal mentions that when he was a midshipman of the
_Essex_, sailing from New York, a sail was sighted off the weather
beam. To the surprise of the officers she was carrying more canvas
than might have been considered prudent considering the weather,
but she stood up under it and legged it so fast that she soon came
within hailing distance of the _Essex_. The latter vessel, not knowing
her character, had her men at quarters. All the officers admired the
way the little brig was handled. Upon speaking her she proved to be
the _General Armstrong_, bound upon her second cruise into British
waters--her first had been most successful.

But to the event which has handed her name down to history. On
September 26th, 1814, the _General Armstrong_ came to anchor in the
Portuguese harbor of Fayal. At about sunset of the same day three large
ships, flying the British flag, were seen to enter the roads.

As the privateer lay some distance out and it was dead calm within the
harbor, Captain Reid deemed it wise to trust entirely to the neutrality
of the port, and to claim the protection that should be given to any
vessel by a neutral power.

As darkness fell he saw some suspicious actions on the part of the
British ships--the _Carnation_ coming as close as pistol-shot range,
and the others approaching to a distance of less than two miles;
through the glass Reid could see that boats were being lowered. He
trusted, however, for some time in the good faith and justice of
the British captains, but these preparations suggested no peaceful
intentions, and he began to warp his brig closer in to shore, anchoring
at last, stem and stern, under the very guns of the castle that
commanded the harbor.

Calling his men on deck, he told them that he thought that the British
intended, if possible, to cut him out. At once the temper of the crew
was evident. A boatswain’s mate approached him, and, saluting, said:
“You can trust in us, sir. What you _say_ we _do_.”

It was growing dusk. At about eight o’clock Captain Reid plainly saw
four boats filled with armed men row down towards him. As soon as they
were within hailing distance he stepped upon the bulwarks, and, making
a trumpet of his hands, he shouted: “Boats there! Approach no nearer;
for your safety I warn you.”

The rowing ceased, and there was evidently a consultation among
the officers in command. Captain Reid’s men were standing at their
quarters. Two of the guns were heavily loaded with grape. After talking
a few minutes it was evident that the English decided to risk the
venture, for the oars caught the water at once, and they came dashing
on towards the American vessel. All dissembling was laid aside, and
Reid ordered his men to fire. Two of the boats mounted swivels forward
and returned shots in answer. A discharge of small-arms also began,
but the torrent of grape that had raked one of the cutters had killed
a first lieutenant and several of his men, and most of the others
were wounded. The boats swung back, and made for the sanctuary of the
vessels in the harbor.

The moon had now risen, and it was very light. Large crowds had
gathered on the shore, but the castle displayed no intention of taking
any part in the affair.

The commanders of His Britannic Majesty’s ships _Plantagenet_, _Rota_,
and _Carnation_ held a consultation. It resulted in a “most outrageous
violation of the neutrality of a friendly port, and utter contempt of
the laws of civilized nations,” to quote from the report of John G.
Dabney, American consul at Fayal.

Angered at the result of their first attempt, the English threw all
caution aside. They crowded as many men as possible into all the boats
they had, armed them with carronades, swivels, and small-arms, and once
more rowed down in two divisions; but Reid was waiting for them. The
guns were double-shotted, and he moved two of the long nines from the
other side across the deck and cut ports for them in the bulwarks. A
tremendous action now began, which lasted about forty minutes. Never
in any of the hostile meetings between the frigates or the fleets of
the United States and England has such destruction and carnage been
recorded, in proportion to the number engaged, as is shown by the loss
of the British on this occasion. The fire from the brig cut away whole
boats’ crews and almost destroyed the boats. It is estimated that about
400 men were divided among the flotilla of the attacking party. They
fought bravely, but there is merit in being well prepared for defence.
More than half of the British were either killed or wounded, “Long
Tom,” the 25-pounder, doing terrible execution.

The outmost boats showed signs of giving up the contest. Those nearer
the _General Armstrong_ continued to fight desperately, but none had
approached near enough to cut their way through the boarding nettings
which Reid had strung along the sides.

Seeing that there was an intention to retire, if possible, on the
part of the British, he slackened his fire. Two boats were drifting,
however, beneath the quarter of the privateer. They were loaded with
their own dead. From these two boats only seventeen men reached shore
alive, and, with the exception of three, all of these were wounded.

The following day, from dawn until sunset, the British were occupied in
burying their dead, among them being two lieutenants, one midshipman of
the _Rota_, and the first lieutenant of the _Plantagenet_, who died of
his wounds. The British endeavored to conceal the extent of the loss,
but even they admit that they lost in killed and those who died of
their wounds afterwards upward of one hundred and twenty-five officers
and men.

The captain of the _Rota_, in his report, stated that he lost seventy
men from his own ship.

It was claimed by the English that the first expedition of four boats,
which was sent out early in the evening of the 26th, was merely a
reconnoitring party, and had no hostile intentions; but it seemed a
strange thing to reconnoitre at night an enemy’s vessel in a friendly
port with one hundred and twenty armed men, a third as many again
as were on board the American brig. There is no question, viewing
the proceedings dispassionately, that they had hoped to take Reid by

To quote from Dabney’s report once more: “In vain can he [the
British commander] expect by such subterfuge to shield himself from
the indignation of the world and the merited resentment of his own
government and nation for thus trampling on the sovereignty of their
most ancient and faithful ally, and for the wanton sacrifice of British

The comparison of the loss sustained by the American and by the British
sides is almost ridiculous--on the _Armstrong_ two were killed and
seven wounded. One of the former was Alexander O. Williams, of New
York, the second lieutenant, an officer of bravery and merit. The first
and third lieutenants, Messrs. Worth and Johnson, were wounded, and
thus, strange to say, Captain Reid was deprived of the services of all
of his junior officers, and was forced to conduct the defence alone.

The next morning one of the British ships took advantage of the wind
which sprang up, and, sailing in, commenced a heavy cannonade upon
the privateer. Captain Reid replied for a few moments, but finding
of course that the result of final capture was inevitable, owing to
the fact that the other vessels displayed intentions of joining in,
he decided to abandon the _General Armstrong_. He hove his guns and
powder overboard, and, manning his boats, brought his crew ashore.

As soon as the _Armstrong_ was abandoned the British took possession of
her, but, finding that she had been partially destroyed, out of revenge
immediately set fire to her.

Dabney, in his letter to the Secretary of State, remarks as follows:
“At nine o’clock in the evening (soon after the first attack) I called
on the Governor, requesting his Excellency to protect the privateer,
either by force or by such remonstrance to the commander of the
squadron as would cause him to desist from any further attempt. The
Governor, indignant at what had passed, but feeling himself totally
unable, with the slender means he possessed, to resist such a force,
took the part of remonstrating, which he did in forcible but respectful
terms. His letter to Captain Lloyd had no other effect than to produce
a menacing reply, insulting in the highest degree. Nothing can exceed
the indignation of the public authorities, as well as of all ranks and
descriptions of persons here, at this unprovoked enormity. Such was
the rage of the British to destroy this vessel that no regard was paid
to the safety of the town. Some of the inhabitants were wounded, and a
number of houses were much damaged. The strongest representations on
this subject are prepared by the Governor for his court.”

Now followed one of the strangest incidents that occurred during
our last war with England. The senior commander, Captain Lloyd,
threatened to send on shore an armed force to arrest the crew of
the privateer, claiming that Englishmen were among them; but the
_General Armstrong’s_ people fled to the mountains, and some of them
took possession of an old church, preparing to defend themselves.
Lloyd was fearful of losing more men if he tried to force this point;
so, resorting to stratagem, he addressed an official letter to the
Governor, stating that in the American crew were two men deserters from
his own squadron, and who were thus guilty of high-treason. Under this
claim a force was sent into the country by the Portuguese. The American
seamen were arrested and brought to town, but the pretended deserters
could not be found. All the seamen, however, had to pass under the
humiliating examination of the British officers.

It was a fortunate thing that the erroneous statement of Captain Lloyd
resulted in nothing more serious than this.

Reid protested against the actions of the commanders of the British
squadron, and also against the government of Portugal for not
protecting him, and it was on this protest that the wearisome waiting
and lawsuits arose which became known as the “Armstrong claims,”
and which were decided unfortunately against the Americans by Louis
Napoleon, who was chosen arbiter. The “Long Tom” was presented to
America by the Portuguese three years ago, and was exhibited at the
World’s Fair in Chicago.



[March 28th, 1814]

Late in the fall of 1813 a little American brig made her way up the
coast with a cargo that had once been consigned to some British
merchants in the West Indies.

The little brig had also, a few months previously, flown the British
flag, but now she came drifting into the harbor of New York under a
prize-master and his crew, for she had been taken in the Gulf of Mexico
by one of the privateers that had outfitted from New York.

She brought the news that only a short time before her capture three
smart English vessels had stopped at the port in which she had lain at
anchor. Two of these three vessels were sent from England on a special
mission; it was intended that they should round the Horn and cruise in
company in the Pacific Ocean in search of the frigate _Essex_, that had
spread terror from China to South America, and had chased the British
shipping off the western ocean.

On the 27th of October, 1812, the _Essex_, under the command of David
Porter, a fearless and persistent fighter, had set sail from the
United States on a cruise to the southward, his orders being to join
Bainbridge, his superior in the _Constitution_. The coast of Brazil
was then the cruising-ground for a large force of English ships of war.

Porter, hearing that Bainbridge, after his action with the _Java_, had
been forced to return to the United States, determined to make his way
around the continent into the blue waters of the Pacific. He had made
one important capture a few days before arriving at this last decision,
having taken the _Nocton_, one of King George’s packets. On board of
her were found eleven thousand pounds in specie.

After suffering severe hardships and meeting with many adverse winds
and tides in rounding the Horn, Porter at last made his way along the
harborless western coast, and arrived at Valparaiso on the 14th of
March, 1813.

The _Essex’s_ crew had been on short allowance of water and small
rations, but not a murmur of dissatisfaction had been raised throughout
the voyage.

Having rested and victualled his ship, in a short time Porter hoisted
his anchors, spread his sails, and sailed out to sea again.

He had been out but a few days when he came across a Peruvian
corsair. Ordering her to heave to, he boarded her, and found, to his
astonishment, that she had on board twenty-four American sailors, the
crews of two whaling ships which she had taken on the coast of Chili.
When asked to explain his conduct, the Peruvian captain answered that,
in view of the fact that his country was an ally of Great Britain, and
that war was soon to be declared between Spain and America, he had
taken matters into his own hand. Porter, much incensed, released the
American sailors, and having thrown all the ammunition and guns of the
rather previous pirate overboard, he was let go, with a letter to the
Viceroy, complaining of his conduct.

Just before the _Essex_ entered the harbor of Lima she overhauled one
of the corsair’s prizes, replaced her crew on board of her, and sent
them on their way to New Bedford rejoicing.

For a year the _Essex_ cruised up and down the coast of South America,
extending her voyages far to the westward, to the various islands,
which were visited then infrequently by traders and whaling vessels.

During this cruise she frightened British commerce entirely from these
waters, and the strange spectacle of seeing one ship in control of a
vast territory was presented to the eyes of the world. The British
Admiralty were vexed and astounded beyond measure. Here one day and
there the next, Porter appeared to be in command of a fleet instead of
a single frigate.

He had fitted one of the captured British whalers as a tender, and
named her the _Essex Junior_, placing her under the command of
Lieutenant Downes, giving her an armament of ten 18-pound carronades
and ten short sixes, with a complement of sixty men.

At last, tiring of capturing merchantmen and glutted with the spoils
of easy victories, Porter decided to look for larger game; for the
news had been brought to him that the vessels which the little brig had
reported at New York so long before were on their way, sailing under
orders to find him at all hazards.

His ship required repairing, and therefore he sailed, accompanied
by his convoy of prizes, to the island of Nookaheeva, one of the
Washington group, that had been discovered by Captain Ingraham, of
Boston. Porter took possession in the name of the United States,
renaming it “Madison Island.”

Here he cached many of his stores, and anchored three of the prizes
well inshore. Erecting a small battery in a good position to command
the small harbor, Lieutenant Gamble, of the marines, and twenty-one men
were left with orders to proceed to Valparaiso after a certain period.
Two of the captures were given up to the prisoners and sent to England.
Three had been sent to America, and some were already anchored in the
neutral port of Valparaiso. It was December 12th when Porter set sail
from Madison Island for the coast of Chili. The _Essex Junior_ followed
in his wake.

He arrived safely in the harbor, and had been there but a short time,
overhauling his spars and running-gear, when two sail came in from the
westward; they were the _Phoebe_, under the command of Captain Hillyar,
and the _Cherub_, sloop of war--both strongly armed and manned with
picked crews--the very ships that had been sent out to look for the

No sooner had they come into sight of the long headland than they found
the frigate they were so eager to meet, within a short distance of
them. Then it was plain that they were not going to allow her to escape.

The British vessels, as they came down the harbor upon their first
entrance, sailed quite close to the American--so close, indeed, that,
in endeavoring to come about, the _Phoebe_ missed stays and fell afoul
of the _Essex_, presenting herself in position to be raked fore and
aft; but Porter respected the neutrality of the port and restrained his

Had he known what was going to happen within the next few weeks, there
probably would have been a different termination to the _Essex’s_
glorious cruise.

The divisions were all at quarters, matches burning, and it was with
difficulty that the feverish seamen could be held in check.

So close were the ships that the men standing at the guns on the
British vessels could be easily seen, even taunts were exchanged and
grimaces were made over the bulwarks and through the open ports.

Sailing across to the other side of the harbor, and tacking again, the
British vessels anchored near the entrance.

Now for some time ensued a remarkable condition of affairs. The
commanders met on shore and exchanged gravely the courtesies which
navy men extended to one another in those days, belligerents though
they were. The shore parties of both forces meeting in town, under
strict orders, for a wonder, managed to keep from fighting, but they
were itching to be at it.

Porter had long flown a flag of his own with the motto, “Free Trade and
Sailors’ Rights.”

But, as if not to be outdone, the British commander threw to the air
his strips of bunting with a motto of his own: “God and Country.
British Sailors’ Best Rights. Traitors Offend Both.” (It was a fallacy
of the British that our ships were manned by deserters from the royal

The sail-maker and his assistant were soon at work on board the
American, and from the mizzen-mast of the _Essex_ appeared the next

“God, Our Country, and Liberty. Tyrants Offend Them.”

Many times had Porter tried to get a challenge from Captain Hillyar (as
the _Essex_ was the weaker vessel, he was not in a position to offer
the challenge himself), and he let it be well understood that he would
meet the _Phoebe_, in open combat, and would agree that the _Essex
Junior_ should take no hand, on the condition that the _Cherub_ also
should remain inactive.

The prudence of Captain Hillyar cannot but be commended. He was under
strict orders not to run any risks; he knew his enemy was at his
mercy; but the _Essex_ had been put down, as most of our cruisers were
in those days, as “a dangerous nondescript,” to quote from the British
press of the time. In fact, many British frigates in the Atlantic
waters, where the _Constitution_ had gained her laurels, kept near to
the great towering battle-ships--guard-ships, they were called.

It was all arranged that if the _Essex_ should show a tendency to
make her way to sea, the _Phoebe_ and _Cherub_ would attack her
simultaneously. That was their idea in sailing in each other’s company.

Fearing that Porter might take advantage of a favorable wind to slip
past them if they remained at anchor, Captain Hillyar left the harbor,
and with the _Phoebe_ proceeded to sea, where both ships patrolled up
and down like sentries at a prison gate.

The united force of the English vessels amounted to eighty-one guns and
five hundred men, in addition to which they had taken on board for the
nonce the crew of an English letter-of-marque that was then lying in

The force of the _Essex_ consisted of 46 guns, all of which, except six
long twelves, were 32-pound carronades, and useless except in close
fighting. Her crew, much reduced by the manning of her many prizes,
consisted of but two hundred and fifty men. The armament of the _Essex
Junior_ we have named before.

It was evident that as long as the British vessels remained where they
were, the _Essex_ was as good as captured. Something must be done,
and with such a commander as Porter the boldest plan was the most

Many incidents had occurred to break the monotony of the blockade. Many
times had he left his anchorage, spread his sails, and made a feint of
leaving the harbor, and in all these trials he had found that his ship
could give the others points and beat them, so far as sailing went.

On one occasion the British ships stood boldly in before the wind and
bore down upon the _Essex_, part of whose crew had been given shore
leave; but before the tars had gone far into the town they saw the
approaching sails, and some crowded into the little native boats that
were hauled up along the shore; many even started to swim back to their

The drum rolled and flags went up to the _Essex’s_ mast-heads; but
Hillyar at that moment respected the international law, hauled his
wind, and went back to his blockading.

After a consultation with Lieutenant Downs, it was decided by Porter
that the period of inaction must be broken. A rendezvous was appointed,
and it was agreed that the _Essex_ should allow the British ships to
chase her offshore, and give the _Essex Junior_ a chance to make her

The very next day after arriving at this decision the wind came on to
blow fresh from the southward, and then followed a chapter of accidents
as disastrous as ever happened to any one unlucky vessel.

Even in yacht-racing the best boat does not always win; no allowances
are made for accidents, hard luck is an element that cannot be
forestalled, and thus it will always be in naval warfare. It must be
confessed that the fates were against America on this day, the 28th of

The wind, which had started with a fresh breeze, grew stronger and
stronger, and, the anchorage being hard ground, the _Essex_ began to
drag her anchors seaward. Suddenly her larboard cable parted, and
she went, stern foremost, at a good rate of speed towards the harbor
entrance. The adventure could be put off no longer. Trusting in the
superior sailing of the _Essex_ to be able to work to windward, Porter
hoisted his topgallant-sails, braced around his yards, and came close
upon the wind.

The British vessels, off to leeward, crowded on all sail. In the
white-caps there was very little sea, for the fitful wind was new and
off the land.

It looked as if the _Essex_ were going to escape; but just as she
rounded the point, the muzzles of her guns almost in the water, another
link in the chain of unfortunate circumstances was forged; there was a
crash, and the main-topmast went by the board, broken short above the
top. The men who were then lying out upon the yards went down with the
great spar over the side, and all were drowned. The _Essex_ brought up
as if she had struck a shoal.

The English ships were now coming fast. Porter had no alternative but
to endeavor to get back to the protection of the port; but he could
not reach his former anchorage, hampered as he was by the wreckage at
his side. Therefore he made secure all sail upon his foremast and ran
for shore, anchoring there about a pistol-shot distance from the beach,
and three-quarters of a mile to leeward of the battery on the east side
of the harbor. Here he worked industriously to clear his decks and cut
away the tangled wreckage, but in the midst of this the crew of the
_Essex_ saw that they were not to be unmolested.

Hillyar had determined to take advantage of the moment the _Phoebe_ and
_Cherub_ came down before the breeze, which was now dying away, and,
breaking all precedent of neutrality, they opened up their broadsides
upon their almost helpless antagonist. It was nearly four o’clock when
the first gun was fired.

Porter, seeing that the action was going to begin, endeavored to get a
spring upon his cable, and bring a broadside to bear upon the British
ships. He hoisted every flag he had, at every point where he could
reeve a halyard, awaiting quietly the nearer onslaught, and praying for
close quarters.

The _Phoebe_ placed herself under the stern, and the _Cherub_ on his
starboard bow; but so hot was the _Essex’s_ answer to the latter
that she bore up and ran under his stern also; and now followed such
slaughter as has hardly been equalled in naval warfare. From their
positions they raked the hull of the _Essex_ through and through,
cutting long gashes in her sides, and aiming with precision, as
if they were firing for practice at a helpless hull. Against all
this destructive cannonade Porter could only bring to bear three
long 12-pounders, which he had run out of the stern ports and the
cabin-windows, and well were they manned and served.

Two or three times did he manage to get a spring upon his cable, and
had half turned his broadside towards the enemy, but every time was
the hawser shot away, and the poor ship drifted back to her almost
defenceless position. Some of the round shot and whole charges of grape
from the _Phoebe’s_ guns swept the _Essex’s_ decks from stern-post to
the heel of her bowsprit. Whole crews were slaughtered as they worked
the few guns able to be brought to bear; but as fast as the men were
shot or blown away their places were filled by others. At one gun
fifteen men were killed, and as many wounded and carried below.

At this point in the combat Hillyar signalled the _Cherub_, and they
both drew off to repair their damages, that were far from slight.

Again in a few minutes they came down before the wind, and took a new
position athwart the _Essex’s_ bows. To this fire Porter could not
bring a single gun to answer. Again the decks of the _Essex_ were red
with blood; there had been no time to move the wounded, and the dead
lay huddled about in all directions. Now the shots even entered the
cockpit, and the men were killed as they lay on the operating-tables
under the doctor’s knife. To add to the horror, the _Essex_ had caught
on fire forward and aft.

Still undismayed, Porter determined to close with the enemy. The only
sail that could be hoisted, owing to the mangled condition of the
rigging, was the flying-jib. He raised this, cut his cable, and ran
down on both ships, with the intention of boarding the _Phoebe_ if

At the prospect of being able to fight back, his men revived again, and
a cheer ran along the shattered decks.

As the running-gear of the enemy was still intact, they easily kept
out of the _Essex’s_ way, the _Phoebe_ edged off, and, choosing her
distance, kept up her tremendous firing. Putting his helm hard down,
Captain Porter, finding the wind had shifted slightly, determined to
run his ship on shore, land the crew, and blow her up. He approached
once more within musket-shot of the sandy beach, when, in an instant,
the wind shifted from the land, as if the British had bribed the
elements, and once more the _Essex_ was driving down upon the _Phoebe_.
But her tiller-ropes were shot away, and the poor hulk was totally

At this moment one of the strangest incidents of the whole affair

Lieutenant Downes of the _Essex Junior_, which still lay at her old
anchorage under the guns at the battery, loaded one of his boats and
rowed through the fierce fusillade down to his superior officer. He
came on board through a port, but his services could be of no avail.
After a consultation, Porter ordered him to return to his own ship, and
be prepared for defending her or destroying her in case of an attack.
So Downes loaded his boat with wounded, and, leaving some of his crew
on board the _Essex_ to make room for them, he started to make his way
back to his own little vessel. The enemy did not respect his cargo or
his gallant action, but opened a hot fire upon him as he returned.
Luckily, however, the small cutter escaped swamping, and the men at the
long oars jumped her through the water at a rapid rate, despite the
plashing of the bullets all around them.

Horrible now was the position of the American frigate. Her commander,
in his desperation, persisted in the almost hopeless conflict, and
succeeded, by bending a hawser to the sheet-anchor, in bringing his
ship’s head around; the few remaining guns of his broadside opened once
more, and, strange to say, the _Phoebe_, which received this last and
almost expiring effort, was beaten off; but the hawser parted, and with
it failed the last hope of the _Essex_.

The flames that had started on her gun-deck and in her hold were
bursting up the hatchways; a bundle of cartridges exploded, killing two
men; and word was given out that the fire was near the magazine! Every
boat was cut to pieces; it was three-quarters of a mile from shore.

Thinking that the ship might blow up at any moment, Porter gave orders
to those who could swim to jump overboard and make for land.

The few remaining on board with the commander extinguished the fire.
Porter immediately summoned a consultation of his officers, and was
surprised to find that only one responded--Acting Lieutenant Stephen
Decatur McKnight; the others were killed, or below, disabled by their

The late Admiral Farragut, who was a midshipman on board the _Essex_,
had displayed wonderful courage throughout the engagement. He was one
of the few midshipmen who were able to keep the deck.

Nothing could be done. The enemy in the smooth water had chosen their
distance, and were firing by divisions in a deliberate, careful way,
with coolness and accuracy. Almost every shot struck, and at twenty
minutes past six Captain Porter, almost weeping from the excess of
his grief, gave orders to strike the colors. It is probable that the
enemy did not perceive his action; for ten minutes longer the terrible
destruction continued; and once more, thinking that Hillyar was going
to show no quarter, the brave American was about to hoist his flag
again and fight until he sank, when the fire of the enemy suddenly


Thus ended one of the most bloody and obstinately contested actions in
naval record. Out of the 255 men composing her crew, the _Essex_ had
but 151, including some of the wounded, able to stand on her decks; 58
were killed outright, 50 wounded, and 31 had been drowned.

The inhabitants of the city during the action had crowded to the shore.
Their sympathies had been all with the American. When they had seen
the various times when the _Essex_ appeared to gain a slight advantage
their cheers could be heard coming across the water. So close had the
action been fought that many of the round shot from the _Phoebe’s_ guns
had struck the land, and some of the spectators had been wounded.

When the first British officer boarded the captured vessel, so shocking
was the sight that met his eyes that, used to scenes of carnage though
he was, he staggered back and almost fainted, struck with the sickening

The loss on the _Phoebe_ and _Cherub_ has never been ascertained, but
it must have been severe. The former had received eighteen 12-pound
shot below her water-line; her first lieutenant was killed, and her
spars were badly wounded. It was with some difficulty that she had been
kept afloat, but it was with more difficulty still that the _Essex_
could be prevented from going to the bottom.

Captain Porter and his crew were paroled, and permitted to return to
the United States in the _Essex Junior_, her armament having previously
been taken out. When off New York Harbor they were overhauled by
a razee frigate, the _Saturn_, of His Majesty’s service, and the
authority of the commander of the _Phoebe_ to grant a passport to his
prisoners was questioned.

All night the _Saturn_ held the unarmed _Essex Junior_ under her lee;
but the next morning, taking advantage of a slight gray fog, Porter put
off in his boat and rowed thirty miles to the shore, landing safely on
Long Island.

To quote from the contemporaries again:

“His reception in the United States has been such as great service
and distinguished valor deserve. The various interesting and romantic
rumors that had reached this country concerning him during his cruise
in the Pacific had excited the curiosity of the public to see this
modern Sindbad; and, arriving in New York, his carriage was surrounded
by the populace, who took out the horses and dragged him, with shouts
and acclamations, to his lodgings.”

The American commander’s own account of the affair, which appears in
a little volume entitled _Porter’s Narrative_, shows well the spirit
of this doughty old seaman, who, to use the expression applied to him,
“had rather have fought than ate.”

So virulent, however, were his tirades against the conduct of Captain
Hillyar that it is only just to take into consideration that the latter
commander, by refusing to take advantage of the many circumstances,
would have missed entirely the object of his sailing from England; and
his conduct has found many defenders among the writers of history on
the other side of the water.

The honor rolls of the United States navy show the records of many
a family history, and the name Porter has been associated with the
service from the Revolution to the present day. The late Admiral David
D. Porter was the younger son of the David Porter of _Essex_ fame, and
he had been named after his father, who was a doughty old sea-captain
of the Revolution.

The second David Porter was born at Boston on the 1st of February,
1780. Thus he was but thirty-two years of age at the outbreak of the
war with Great Britain, and his school of training had been the same as
that of all the younger officers who now found themselves for the first
time in command. He was with Bainbridge in the _Philadelphia_ when
that frigate was captured by the Tripolitans in 1803, and he suffered
imprisonment with the rest of the officers during the time that Preble
was endeavoring to liberate them. He had the honor of making the first
capture of a regular navy vessel of the war, when, in July, the _Essex_
compelled the _Alert_, of 20 guns, to lower her flag.



[April 29th, 1814]


“Captain L. Warrington, of Virginia, has been given the command of the
_Peacock_, sloop of war of 18 guns. He expects soon to set sail and
cruise to the southward in search of the enemy.”

Such is the personal note appearing in that enterprising newspaper _The
Register_, published in March, 1814.

The Captain Warrington referred to was but little known to the country
at large, but those in a position of influence in the Navy Department
must have discerned his worth and well estimated his valor, for they
had given him command of the gallant little _Peacock_, of 18 guns
(really mounting 22) and a crew of one hundred and sixty men.

In the middle of March he sailed from New York Harbor, and cruised,
without events of much importance, along the Florida shore as far as
Cape Canaveral. On the 29th of April, in latitude 27° 47´ north and 80°
9´ west longitude, the lookout spied three sails off to the windward.
From the cut of the third, a brig, it was easy to mark her as a

Upon the appearance of the _Peacock_ the merchant men hauled their
wind, and the brig bore away for the American. She gallantly commenced
the action, and at no time showed a disposition to take advantage of
being to windward and escaping with her consorts.

Neither vessel hailed, and there was little manoeuvring. They began
to fire at each other as soon as they were within range. In the
beginning of the action the _Peacock_ received two 32-pound shot in her
fore-yard, and her head-sails were rendered almost useless. She was
compelled to run at large; and again was proved, what no authority on
the other side could ever deny, the infinitely superior gunnery that
existed under the system in vogue in the American navy.

For a long time after the war there was much controversy concerning the
weights of armament of the vessels engaged in single actions between
this country and Great Britain. In this affair it is only just to say
that the _Peacock_ carried thirty-two more in her crew; the number of
guns was exactly the same, but the _Peacock’s_ broadside was about one
and one-quarter pounds heavier to the gun.

The action was continued for some time at close quarters, and once
Captain Warrington drew off and hailed to ascertain whether his
antagonist had struck, as her flag had been shot away.


On renewing the engagement the uselessness of continuing to fight was
soon made apparent to the commander of the _Epervier_. She had received
no less than forty-five shot in her hull, and had twenty-two men
killed and wounded; the main-topmast was over her side. In fact, all
her standing rigging and spars were injured, and five feet of water was
already in her hold.

In hauling off to count up his injuries, Warrington discovered, to his
delight, that not one round shot had reached his hull, that not one of
his crew was killed, and only two were wounded. The effect of this news
and the easy victory stimulated the Americans to tremendous exertion in
trying to save the prize.

Upon boarding her it was discovered that she carried $118,000 in
specie, and must have been a fine vessel when she commenced the action.
With great difficulty the Americans succeeded in stopping some of the
shot-holes beneath water, and turned all attention to caring for the
prisoners and wounded, reeving new rigging and staying the tottering

The prize had struck at 11 A.M. At sunset she was in a comparatively
safe position, and sail could be made. To his sorrow, the American
commander had found upon boarding the _Epervier_ that three impressed
American seamen by the names of Johnson, Peters, and Roberts had been
killed. Often and often had it occurred that the impressed sailors
for whom the United States had gone to war had been compelled to take
up arms and serve the guns directed against the vessels of their own
country. The anger at the news of these outrages must have done much
to animate the seamen who sought to revenge them.

A contemporary speaks of the _Epervier_ in this fashion: “She is one of
the finest vessels of her class belonging to the enemy, built in 1812.
She appears to have been one of their ‘bragging vessels,’ for it is
said that when she left London bets were made that she would take an
American sloop of war or small frigate.” The odds must have been laid
against events of that character thereafter.

Warrington determined to save the prize if possible, and placed her in
command of Lieutenant J. B. Nicholson, with orders to proceed at once
to Savannah. Knowing, however, that British vessels thronged the waters
along the coast, Warrington determined to convoy his prize to port.
He had hardly come within sight of land when two large frigates were
discovered to the northward and leeward.

The _Peacock_ spoke the _Epervier_, and, after some conversation,
a plan was agreed on. They were abreast of Amelia Island, and the
frigates were fast approaching and crowding on all sail.

Lieutenant Nicholson shouted to Captain Warrington to take off the crew
from the _Epervier_ and leave him and his sixteen men to handle her.
Warrington complied, and endeavored to draw off the on-comers, it being
his intention to try to slip into St. Mary’s. Only one frigate fell to
the ruse, and came about upon the _Peacock’s_ trail. The _Epervier_,
which drew little water, kept well inshore, and under a light breeze
made good headway. The wind, however, soon died to almost a calm,
and the big vessel outside in the deeper water lowered her boats and
manned them all, intending to cut out and retake the prize inshore.
Fitful gusts of wind swept the captured vessel along, but during every
pause the steady rowing of the British sailors brought the armed boats
nearer. Suddenly they stopped all exertion, for Nicholson was shouting
orders through his speaking-trumpet as if in command of one hundred
men, instead of scarcely enough to haul his sheets and tacks. The ports
dropped with a clatter and the boatswain’s whistle rang out shrilly.
The Englishmen were astounded; fearing that they had been drawn into a
trap, turning tail, they scuttled out of range as quickly as possible
and returned to the frigate. A breeze sprang up at this moment, and
Nicholson was able to keep the _Epervier_ on her course, and on the
1st of May the brig arrived safely in Savannah. Three days later the
_Peacock_ came in also.

Warrington’s delight on seeing that his prize was safe was great, and
he reported the _Epervier_ in the following words: “She is one of their
finest sloops of war, and is well calculated for our service. She sails
extremely fast, and will require but little to send her to sea, as her
armament and stores are complete.”

In his letter to the Secretary of the Navy, when at sea, on the
night of the action, he speaks of his crew in this manly fashion:
“Every officer, seaman, and marine did his duty, which is the highest
compliment I can pay them.”

The _Peacock_ did not remain long inactive, but sailed for the Bay of
Biscay and cruised along the coast of Portugal and among the islands.
Time and again she was chased by English vessels, and was kept dodging
from one position to another to avoid the many squadrons. It was not
her luck to come across another vessel of war of anything like her
size, but she captured handily fourteen sail of merchantmen.

The “commerce-destroyers” of those days were not spoken of in that
term, but the trade of Great Britain was crippled severely by the
swift-sailing privateers and our handy little sloops of war.





In a very amusing cartoon, printed in the latter part of the year
1814 in an American paper, our cousin Johnnie Bull was represented
flourishing a cutlass above his head and vainly endeavoring to defend
himself from the attack of a nondescript-looking animal that had
succeeded in running him through the body with its sting.

As was the custom in drawing cartoons at that time, the legend issued
from the lips in a cloud, and Johnnie Bull appeared to be smoking out
the words, “Save me, oh, save me from this vicious insect!”

The insect was supposed to be the United States sloop of war _Wasp_, of
18 guns, then on a most remarkable cruise in European waters. Under the
command of Captain Johnston Blakeley her career had been smiled upon by
good fortune.

In a cruise of under four months she had captured thirteen British
merchantmen, and had engaged and caused to surrender two of the finest
brigs in the service of Great Britain.

The value of her prizes was reckoned at not less than two hundred
thousand pounds sterling.

On the 1st of May, 1814, the little sloop had set sail from
Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She was manned by a crew of one hundred and
seventy-three men, the majority of them being green hands, and many of
them mere boys, for they averaged but twenty-three years in age.

Meeting with some severe weather when only a few days out, it is on
record that one-third of her crew were sea-sick for a week. This fact,
however, did not prevent them from becoming great fighters afterwards.

On the 28th of June, in latitude 48° 36´, longitude 11° 15´, she fell
in with the _Reindeer_, sloop of war in His Majesty’s service, mounting
19 guns--sixteen 24-pound carronades, two long 9-pounders, and a
shifting 12-pounder. She had on board a complement of one hundred and
eighteen men.

In an action that lasted but nineteen minutes from the first broadside,
the _Reindeer_ was destroyed, her ports having been blown into one
gaping streak of splintered wood. Not a boat was left, and her foremast
fell the day after the action.

As it was found impossible to take her into port, the prisoners were
removed from the _Reindeer_ and she was set on fire. That she had
been gallantly defended is evident from the reports of the action.
William Manners, her commander, a brave, fearless man, was killed, and
twenty-three officers and seamen with him. The first lieutenant and the
master were severely wounded, and forty seamen were on the list also.

The _Wasp_ lost five killed and twenty-one wounded. She was but
slightly hurt, and within a few hours of the action could have
commenced another.

Wishing to get rid of his prisoners as soon as possible, Captain
Blakeley overhauled a Portuguese brig, placed them on board of her, and
sent them to England.

No doubt the _Wasp_ was one of the finest sailing craft of her day. Her
lines are spoken of as being remarkably fine; and one of her officers
writes, in a private letter, as follows:

“The _Wasp_ is a beautiful ship, and the finest sea boat, I believe, in
the world. Our officers and crew are young and ambitious. They fight
with more cheerfulness than they do any other duty. Captain Blakeley
is a brave and discreet officer, as cool and collected in action as at

In those old days of sailing, given the weather-gage and the breeze
that suited her best qualities, a handy vessel could boldly sail into
view of a powerful fleet of the enemy, and she could actually present
the tableau of an agile wolf following at the heels of a very angry
herd of bulls, any one of which could toss her into the air or grind
her under foot. So spry a sailer was the _Wasp_ that she could slip
away from even a towering seventy-four, given her best weather.

After a protracted and tedious stay in L’Orient, the little sloop
made her way to sea on the 27th of August. On the 30th she captured
the British brig _Lettice_, and on the next day the British brig _Bon

The morning of the 1st of September dawned bright and clear. There was
just the breeze that enabled the _Wasp_ to show her finest form. Very
early the lookout discovered a fleet of ten sail to the windward, away
in advance. Plunging up and down lazily, scarcely moving in the light
breeze, was a huge line-of-battle ship, and close to her was a bomb

The Yankee captain audaciously came down before the wind. In full sight
of H. M. S. _Armada_, the seventy-four, and the other armed consort,
Blakeley cut out the brig _Mary_. She was laden with brass and iron
cannon and military stores from Gibraltar to England. As she was a slow
sailer she was set on fire, after the prisoners had been removed.

Endeavor was made to take another of the convoy. The consternation and
rage of the commander of the ship of line can well be imagined. There
was not breeze enough for his great vessel to make headway by tacking,
but the wind, changing a few points, enabled him to creep down towards
the American, whereupon Blakeley swung about leisurely, and soon left
the ponderous Englishman hull down.

When he had shaken off his pursuer he resumed his course, and at
half-past six in the evening sighted four vessels at almost the same
moment; two were to starboard and two off the larboard bow, the latter
being farthest to windward. He picked out the nearest, a brig, and set
all sail to come within gunshot of her.

At seven the chase commenced making signals with flags, and soon after
with lanterns and rockets. It was past nine o’clock and quite dark when
the _Wasp_ came up within hailing distance.

To quote from a British account of the affair, dated Cork, September
7th: “The Englishman spoke first, and demanded to know who the silent
on-comer was. The ‘Yankee,’ in reply,” says the account, “called
through his trumpet, ‘Heave to, and I’ll let you know who I am.’ At the
same time a gun was fired by the _Avon_, and the most sanguinary action
commenced, which continued until eleven o’clock, when the American
sheared off and said, ‘This is the _Wasp_.’” Then the British account,
for some reason, adds: “She appeared to be in a sinking state and glad
to get away.”

In Captain Blakeley’s letter to the Secretary of the Navy he mentions
circumstances which may throw some light upon the actual happenings.
After an hour’s sharp interchange of broadsides it was imagined that
the _Avon_ had struck, and orders were given to cease firing. Blakeley
hailed, but received no answer. Suddenly the Britisher opened up with
his guns again. It was twelve minutes past ten when he was hailed the
second time. The enemy had suffered greatly, and had made no return
to his last two broadsides. A cutter was lowered away, and as it was
leaving the side of the _Wasp_ to board the prize a second brig was
discovered a little distance astern standing down before the freshening
breeze. The crew were again sent to quarters, and everything was made
ready for another action. A few minutes later the two other sail which
had been off to windward were discovered also coming down towards
the _Wasp_. The braces of the latter had been shot away, and it was
necessary to keep off the wind until others might be rove. Blakeley did
not endeavor to hasten. It was his intention to draw the second and
foremost brig away from her companions and engage her as soon as they
had reached a good distance from the others. To his surprise, however,
the brig, which, from the English account, we make out to be the
_Castilian_, hauled her wind as soon as she came within range, fired
one broadside, and retraced her course to join her consorts, who were
gathered about the _Avon_.

To Blakeley’s disappointment, he had to give up taking the prize,
whose name and forces he did not know, as it had been impossible to
distinguish the answer to his first hail.

The _Wasp_ was struck by four shot in the hull, each of which shot was
thirty-two pounds in weight, being one and three-quarter pounds heavier
than any the American carried.

For a long time the fate of the vessel which she had been fighting was
not known, but she sank a few hours after the action. The loss on board
the _Wasp_ was two killed and one wounded. From the English account,
the loss on board the _Avon_ was nine killed and thirty-three wounded.
As she was sinking, the _Tartarus_, a sloop of war, came up and took
on board forty of her crew.

[Illustration: THE “WASP’S” FIGHT WITH THE “AVON”]

In the list of the vessels of the American navy in commission during
the war of 1812 the name of the _Wasp_ is starred, with one or two
others bearing the same mark, and, looking at the bottom of the page,
we see this short comment, “Lost at sea.” This was the sad fate of the
gallant little craft which caused John Bull so much trouble in her
short career. It was never known what became of her. Some authorities
on the British side stated that she had sunk from the injuries received
in her action with the _Avon_; but of course we have the report of
Captain Blakeley sent by a vessel spoken off the Western Isles.

In speaking of the disappearance a contemporary writes: “The most
general impression is that she [the _Wasp_] was lost by one of those
casualties incident to the great deep which have destroyed so many
gallant vessels in a manner no one knows how.”

A strange circumstance, however, gives rise to a supposition. A British
frigate put into Lisbon in a shattered condition. She reported having
fallen in with a vessel and having engaged her through the better part
of the night. She had made out that her antagonist was much smaller
than herself, and evidently an American. She had not surrendered, and
had disappeared suddenly, “as if the sea had swallowed her.” This may
have been the _Wasp_.

The fact remains, however, that no trace of her or any of her crew was
ever found after she spoke the vessel at the Western Isles. The first
_Wasp_, captured with her prize (the British sloop _Frolic_) by an
English ship of the line, was also lost at sea, after being refitted
and commissioned in the English service.

Johnston Blakeley was an Irish-American. He was born in Ireland (in
the village of Seaford, in the county of Down). When he was but two
years old his father, John Blakeley, emigrated to America and took
up his residence in Philadelphia, from whence he moved to the South.
He had the misfortune to lose all of his children with the exception
of Johnston, whom he sent to New York for his education. This was in
the year 1790; but the young man, although he studied law with the
intention of becoming a member of the bar, gave up all idea of it
shortly after his father’s death. He left the University of North
Carolina, at which he was a student, and succeeded in getting a
midshipman’s warrant when he was nineteen years of age, much older than
the average run of reefers.

Blakeley was a favorite with all who knew him, and his loss was mourned
by all his countrymen.



[September 11th, 1814]


The first Thomas Macdonough was a major in the Continental army,
and his three sons also possessed desires for entering the service
of their country. The oldest had been a midshipman under Commodore
Truxton, but being wounded in the action between the _Constellation_
and _L’Insurgent_, he had to retire from the navy owing to the
amputation of his leg. But his younger brother, Thomas Macdonough, Jr.,
succeeded him, and he has rendered his name and that of Lake Champlain
inseparable; but his fearlessness and bravery were shown on many
occasions long before he was ordered to the lakes.

In 1806 he was first lieutenant of the _Siren_, a little sloop of war
in the Mediterranean service. On one occasion when Captain Smith,
the commander of the _Siren_, had gone on shore, young Lieutenant
Macdonough saw a boat from a British frigate lying in the harbor row
up to an American brig a short distance off, and afterwards put out
again with one more man in her than she had originally. This looked
suspicious, and Macdonough sent to the brig to ascertain the reason,
with the result that he found that an American had been impressed by
the English captain’s orders. Macdonough quietly lowered his own boat,
and put after the heavy cutter, which he soon overhauled. Although
he had but four men with him, he took the man out of the cutter and
brought him on board the _Siren_. When the English captain heard,
or rather saw, what had occurred--it was right under the bow of his
frigate that the affair took place--he waxed wroth, and, calling away
his gig, he rowed to the _Siren_ to demand an explanation.

The following account of the incident is quoted from the life of
Macdonough in Frost’s _Naval Biography_:

“The Englishman desired to know how Macdonough dared to take a man from
one of His Majesty’s boats. The lieutenant, with great politeness,
asked him down into the cabin; this he refused, at the same time
repeating the same demand, with abundance of threats. The Englishman
threw out some threats that he would take the man by force, and said he
would haul the frigate alongside the _Siren_ for that purpose. To this
Macdonough replied that he supposed his ship could sink the _Siren_,
but as long as she could swim he should keep the man. The English
captain said to Macdonough:

“‘You are a very young man, and a very indiscreet young man. Suppose I
had been in the boat--what would you have done?’

“‘I would have taken the man or lost my life.’

“‘What, sir! would you attempt to stop me, if I were now to attempt to
impress men from that brig?’

“‘I would; and to convince yourself I would, you have only to make the

“On this the Englishman went on board his ship, and shortly afterwards
was seen bearing down in her in the direction of the American vessel.
Macdonough ordered his boat manned and armed, got into her himself, and
was in readiness for pursuit. The Englishman took a circuit around the
American brig, and returned again to the frigate. When Captain Smith
came on board he justified the conduct of Macdonough, and declared his
intention to protect the American seaman.”

Although Macdonough was very young, and his rank but that of a
lieutenant, people who knew him were not surprised to hear that he
had been appointed to take command of the little squadron on Lake
Champlain. These vessels were built of green pine, and almost without
exception constructed in a hurried fashion. They had to be of light
draught, and yet, odd to relate, their general model was the same as
that of ships that were expected to meet storms and high seas.

Macdonough was just the man for the place; as in the case of Perry, he
had a superb self-reliance and was eager to meet the enemy.

Lake Champlain and the country that surrounds it were considered
of great importance by the English, and, descending from Canada,
large bodies of troops poured into New York State. But the American
government had, long before the war was fairly started, recognized the
advantage of keeping the water communications on the northern frontier.
The English began to build vessels on the upper part of the lake, and
the small force of ships belonging to the Americans was increased as
fast as possible. It was a race to see which could prepare the better
fleet in the shorter space of time.

In the fall of the year 1814 the English had one fairly sized frigate,
the _Confiance_, mounting 39 guns; a brig, the _Linnet_; a sloop,
_Chubb_, and the sloop _Finch_; besides which they possessed thirteen
large galleys, aggregating 18 guns. In all, therefore, the English
fleet mounted 95 guns. The Americans had the _Saratoga_, sloop of war,
26 guns; the _Eagle_, 20; the _Ticonderoga_, 17; the _Preble_, 7; and
ten galleys carrying 16; their total armament was nine guns less than
the British.

By the first week in September, Sir George Prevost had organized
his forces, and started at the head of fourteen thousand men to the
southward. It was his intention to dislodge General Macomb, who was
stationed at Plattsburg, where considerable fortifications had been
erected. A great deal of the militia force had been drawn down the
State to the city of New York, owing to the fears then entertained
that the British intended making an attack upon the city from their
fleet. It was Sir George’s plan to destroy forever the power of the
Americans upon the lake, and for that reason it was necessary to
capture the naval force which had been for some time under the command
of Macdonough. The English leader arranged a plan with Captain Downie,
who was at the head of the squadron, that simultaneous attacks should
be made by water and land. At eight o’clock on the morning of September
11th news was brought to Lieutenant Macdonough that the enemy was
approaching. As his own vessels were in a good position to repel an
attack, he decided to remain at anchor, and await the onslaught in a
line formation. In about an hour the enemy had come within gunshot
distance, and formed a line of his own parallel with that of the
Americans. There was little or no breeze, and consequently small
chance for manoeuvring. The _Confiance_ evidently claimed the honor
of exchanging broadsides with the _Saratoga_. The _Linnet_ stopped
opposite the _Eagle_, and the galleys rowed in and began to fire at the
_Ticonderoga_ and the _Preble_.

Macdonough wrote such a clear and concise account of the action that it
is best to quote from it:

“... The whole force on both sides became engaged, the _Saratoga_
suffering much from the heavy fire of the _Confiance_. I could perceive
at the same time, however, that our fire was very destructive to her.
The _Ticonderoga_, Lieutenant-Commandant Cassin, gallantly sustained
her full share of the action. At half-past ten the _Eagle_, not being
able to bring her guns to bear, cut her cable, and anchored in a more
eligible position, between my ship and the _Ticonderoga_, where she
very much annoyed the enemy, but unfortunately leaving me exposed to a
galling fire from the enemy’s brig.

“Our guns on the starboard side being nearly all dismounted or
unmanageable, a stern-anchor was let go, the bower-cable cut, and the
ship winded with a fresh broadside on the enemy’s ship, which soon
after surrendered. Our broadside was then sprung to bear on the brig,
which struck about fifteen minutes afterwards. The sloop which was
opposed to the _Eagle_ had struck some time before, and drifted down
the line. The sloop which was with their galleys had also struck.
Three of their galleys are said to be sunk; the others pulled off. Our
galleys were about obeying with alacrity the signal to follow them,
when all the vessels were reported to me to be in a sinking state. It
then became necessary to annul the signal to the galleys, and order
their men to the pumps. I could only look at the enemy’s galleys going
off in a shattered condition; for there was not a mast in either
squadron that could stand to make sail on. The lower rigging, being
nearly all shot away, hung down as though it had just been placed over
the mast-heads.

“The _Saratoga_ had fifty-nine round shot in her hull; the _Confiance_
one hundred and five. The enemy’s shot passed principally just over our
heads, as there were not twenty whole hammocks in the nettings at the
close of the action, which lasted, without intermission, two hours and
twenty minutes.

“The absence and sickness of Lieutenant Raymond Perry left me without
the assistance of that able officer. Much ought fairly to be attributed
to him for his great care and attention in disciplining the ship’s
crew, as her first lieutenant. His place was filled by a gallant young
officer, Lieutenant Peter Gamble, who, I regret to inform you, was
killed early in the action.”

The English had begun the action as if they never doubted the result
being to their advantage, and before taking up their positions in the
line parallel to Macdonough’s, Downie had sailed upon the waiting
fleet bows on; thus most of his vessels had been severely raked before
they were able to return the fire. As soon as Sir George Prevost saw
the results of the action out on the water, he gave up all idea of
conquest, and began the retreat that left New York free to breathe
again. The frontier was saved. The hills and the shores of the lake had
been crowded with multitudes of farmers, and the two armies encamped on
shore had stopped their own preparations and fighting to watch.

Sir George Prevost had bombarded the American forts from the opposite
side of the River Saranac, and a brigade endeavored to ford the river
with the intention of attacking the rear of General Macomb’s position.
However, they got lost in the woods, and were recalled by a mounted
messenger just in time to hear the cheers and shouts of victory arise
from all about them.

In the battle the _Saratoga_ had twenty-eight men killed and
twenty-nine wounded, more than a quarter of her entire crew; the
_Eagle_ lost thirteen killed and twenty wounded; the _Ticonderoga_,
six killed and six wounded; the _Preble_, two killed; and the galleys,
three killed and three wounded. The _Saratoga_ was hulled fifty-five
times, and had caught on fire twice from the hot shot fired by the
_Confiance_. The latter vessel was reported to have lost forty-one
killed outright and eighty-three wounded. In all, the British loss was
eighty-four killed and one hundred and ten wounded.

Macdonough received substantial testimonials of gratitude from the
country at large, the Legislature of New York giving him one thousand
acres of land and the State of Vermont two hundred. Besides this, the
corporations of Albany and New York City made him the present of a
valuable lot, and from his old command in the Mediterranean he received
a handsome presentation sword.



[January 15th, 1815]

In recording the actions of the war of 1812 that gave lustre to our
navy and added to the records of its heroes, we have already included
two in which the results were defeat and capture of American ships. The
_Essex_ and the _Chesapeake_ are here referred to, the latter being the
only case in which the opposing forces approached an equality. There is
one other action still to be touched upon, which, though disastrous,
cannot but reflect honor upon those connected with it.

Stephen Decatur, the idol of the American service, had been given the
command of the frigate _President_, which had been refitting in the
harbor of New York.

On the evening of the 14th of January, 1815, he sailed into the lower
bay, intending to make his way to sea under cover of the night, as it
was known that a heavy squadron of the English had been hovering along
the coasts of New Jersey and Long Island.

In leaving the harbor near Sandy Hook, owing to some mistake of the
pilot, the _President_ grounded heavily on a sand-bar, and for an hour
and a half she struck continually in her efforts to escape, breaking
several of her rudder-braces and straining her seams so badly that
she commenced to leak very fast. Decatur determined to return to the
harbor, as he suspected, what was afterwards proved to be true, that
the _President_ had carried away part of her false keel, and was badly
hogged (_i. e._, broken and bent near her keelson). Owing to a strong
wind rising, it was found impossible to put the _President_ about, and
the tide being at the flood, it became necessary to force her over the
bar at all hazards. By ten o’clock that night she had succeeded in
freeing herself, and shaped her course along the shore of Long Island,
steering southeast by east.

Shortly after daybreak three ships were discovered ahead. The
_President_ hauled her wind and passed two miles to the northward of
them. As the morning mist disappeared, it was discovered that four
ships were in chase--one on each quarter and two astern. The leading
ship, from the height of her towering masts, was made out to be a
razee. She commenced firing, but at such a distance that the shot fell

At twelve the steady breeze which had been blowing became light and
baffling. The _President_, despite her crippled condition, had left the
large vessel far behind, but the next ship astern was proving herself a
faster sailer, and was gradually gaining--creeping up with every puff
of wind. The _President_ sat deep in the water, and plunged downward
into the sea as if she had been waterlogged. Immediately all hands were
occupied in lightening the ship, starting the water in the butts,
cutting away the anchors, throwing overboard provisions, cables, spare
boats, and every article to be gotten at, while the men aloft were
hoisting buckets and keeping the sails wet from the royals down.

At three o’clock the large ship, which had been joined by a brig,
came up rapidly. It was the _Endymion_, mounting 50 guns, and she
commenced to fire as she neared with her forward battery, while Decatur
replied with his stern-chasers. Thus it continued for two hours, when
the Englishman obtained a position on the starboard quarter at less
than point-blank range, and maintained it so cleverly that neither
the _President’s_ stern nor quarter guns would bear. For half an
hour the vessels sailed on, firing occasional guns, and keeping back
their broadsides, the Englishman wishing, no doubt, to capture the
_President_ without crippling her, while Decatur hoped to be able to
close, as he had had his boarders waiting for some time. It became
evident, however, that the Englishman did not wish close quarters;
and as it was growing dusk, Decatur made up his mind to alter his
course farther to the south, for the purpose of bringing the enemy
abeam. Meanwhile the ships astern were approaching, and would soon be
within range. For two hours and a half longer the Englishman and the
_President_ sailed side by side, and the action gave cause for some
pretty writing and press controversy afterwards, as all unfinished
international contests will.

However, there is no question whatever that the _President_ during the
running fight completely disabled her antagonist, and at last left her
drifting round and round helplessly before eight o’clock had passed.

It was growing dark, but the other ships of the squadron could be made
out by their signal-lights, and to lower a boat to take possession of
the _Endymion_ was impossible. One more attempt Decatur made to avoid
capture, and to accomplish this he sailed close to the _Endymion_ and
exposed himself to a raking fire, being within range for over half an
hour, but not a shot was heard. The Englishman had been placed entirely
out of the combat.

At eleven it had lightened considerably, and two fresh ships of the
enemy had crawled up within gunshot. They were the _Pomone_ and the
_Tenedos_, heavy frigates. When within musket-shot the _Pomone_
opened fire on the larboard bow, and the _Tenedos_ swung across the
_President’s_ wake, taking a raking position on her quarter.

With a breaking heart the gallant Decatur saw that there was nothing
for it but surrender. One-fifth of his crew had been killed or wounded,
the ship was crippled aloft and leaking badly, and he hauled down his

The joy of the English officers when they found who it was that had
yielded to them was great, and it must be recorded that they did
everything in their power to make it comfortable for the wounded,
and that their treatment of the officers was courteous and kindly. For
twenty-four hours after the action it fell a dead calm, and the crews
of the squadron were kept occupied in repairing the crippled ships. As
if to enforce the idea that the _Endymion_ had not surrendered, Decatur
was placed on board of her, a cabin prisoner.


On the 17th a tremendous gale came from the eastward, which played
havoc with the late combatants, the _President’s_ masts going by the
board, and the _Endymion_ losing her bowsprit, fore and main mast, and
mizzen-topmast, being compelled to throw overboard all her upper-deck
guns. It had been impossible for Decatur to ascertain the exact number
of the killed and wounded, but he speaks of his great sorrow at the
loss of three of his most trusted lieutenants--Babbit, Howell, and
Hamilton, the last being the son of the late Secretary of the Navy.
It was he who had had the honor of conveying the news of the capture
of the _Macedonian_ to Washington, and who had appeared, as we have
recorded, at the ball given by Dolly Madison wrapped in the colors of
the captured ship.

Decatur and his officers were given the freedom of the island of
Bermuda, and crowds swarmed to visit the captured _President_ as she
lay decked with British flags in the harbor.

Captain Hays of the _Majestic_, to whom Decatur had surrendered his
sword, returned it at once, and proved to be a friend who was worth the

Upon the investigation of the action Decatur was honorably exonerated,
and Alexander Murray, the President of the Court of Inquiry, expressed
himself in the following words:

“We consider the management of the _President_ from the time the
chase commenced until her surrender as the highest evidence of the
experience, skill, and resources of her commander, and of the ability
and seamanship of her officers and crew. We fear that we cannot express
in a manner that will do justice to our feelings our admiration of the
conduct of Commodore Decatur and of all under his command.... In this
unequal conflict the enemy gained a ship, but the victory was ours.”

Referring to the press comments at the time, a very interesting
circumstance occurred, which may prove to be well worth the reading,
especially as showing that contemporaneous press notices taking only
one view of a question are untrustworthy recorders of history. A
Bermuda paper, the _Royal Gazette_, published on the 2d of April a
scurrilous and unwarrantable attack, false in its every statement,
that impugned the character of Decatur and cast a slur on the name of
each one of his officers. The article, in giving the reports of the
capture, stated that the _President_ had _struck_ to the _Endymion_,
and that after she had done so Commodore Decatur concealed sixty-eight
men in the hold of the _President_ for the purpose of rising on the
prize crew and recapturing her. On the appearance of this account
Captain Hope of the _Endymion_ immediately sent an officer to Commodore
Decatur, disclaiming any participation in the article, and the governor
of the island demanded of the editor of the _Royal Gazette_ that he
should immediately retract the statement. This the editor, much against
his will, did, but inserted a foot-note in large print stating that
the retraction was inserted “merely as an act of generosity and a
palliative for the irritated feelings of prisoners of war.” He asserted
that what he had said at first was correct, and declared that the
deception he had referred to was planned and authorized by Commodore
Decatur. It is of interest to quote an extract from an official letter
sent by the Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Bermuda to the editor of
the _Royal Gazette_ upon the appearance of this second article.

The governor’s secretary writes for his chief as follows:

  “_The Editor of the Royal Gazette_:

  “Your publication of Thursday imposes it upon His Excellency the
  Governor, as a duty to himself, to Captain Hope, and to the British
  nation, and in common justice to Commodore Decatur, who is not
  present to defend himself from the aspersions that you have cast
  upon him, not to admit of such a document standing uncontradicted
  in a paper published under the immediate authority of His Majesty’s
  government. His Excellency is thoroughly aware of the great
  importance of preserving to the utmost extent perfect freedom of
  discussion and the fullest liberty of the press in every part of
  the British dominions. Undoubtedly, therefore, nothing could be
  further from his intentions than the most distant desire to compel
  a British editor to retract a statement founded on truth; but when
  a statement is founded on falsehood, His Excellency conceives it
  to be incumbent on him equally, in duty to the British public and
  in support of the true character of the British press, to demand
  that that falsehood, whether directed against friend or foe, should
  be instantly retracted, or that the paper which thinks fit to
  disgrace its columns by persevering in error should no longer be
  distinguished by royal protection.”

Some weeks later, in an issue of March 2d, the following extract
attracts attention in a Bermuda journal:

  “On Wednesday evening last Mr. Randolph, of the United States
  Navy, late of the _President_ frigate, in company with some other
  officers of the ship, attacked the editor of the _Royal Gazette_
  in a most violent and unprovoked manner with a stick, while he
  was walking unarmed. The timely arrival of some British officers
  prevented his proceeding to further acts of violence, and, the
  guard shortly after coming up, the officer decamped, and the next
  morning, we understand, he was hoisted into a boat at the crane
  from the Market Wharf and absconded. An honorable way, truly, for
  an officer to quit a place where he had been treated with civility
  and politeness.”

However, it will not do to leave the subject without quoting from a
letter which the Mr. Randolph referred to wrote over his own signature
and sent to the editors of the _Commercial Advertiser_, after his
return to New York, in which he observes, after reference to the
Bermuda _Royal Gazette_, the affair of the stick, and the “acts of
violence,” as follows:

  “As soon as I read the scurrilous remarks in the _Royal Gazette_
  of the fifteenth ult., in relation to the capture of the late U.
  S. frigate _President_, I walked to the King’s Square with the
  determination to chastise the editor. I soon fell in with him, and
  executed my purpose in the most ample and satisfactory manner.
  There was no American officer in the company except Midshipman
  Emmett, and Mr. Ward, the editor, was accompanied by Lieutenant
  Sammon, of the Royal Navy, but by neither of these officers was I
  interrupted or assisted in the operation.

  “Having previously obtained my passports, and being advised that
  the editor of the _Royal Gazette_ was taking measures to employ the
  civil authority against me, I left the island the next day for the
  United States.

            “I am, Gentlemen, etc., etc.,”
                “R. B. RANDOLPH, Midshipman,
                    “Late of the U. S. frigate _President_”

Upon Decatur’s return to the United States he was treated as a hero,
and received the usual ovation given to victors when they return to
their native land. The _President_ was spoken of by her captors as a
model of naval architecture, and her method of construction recommended
to British ship-builders.



[February 20th, 1815]


Charles Stewart was a Philadelphian. He was born on the 28th day of
July, 1778, shortly after the evacuation of the city by the British.
His mother was left a widow when he was but two years old. Overcoming
many hardships, Mrs. Stewart managed to support herself and her large
family of eight children during the troublous times of the Revolution.
At the age of thirteen Charles entered the merchant service as a
cabin-boy, and speedily began to show that he had in him the material
for making an officer.

At the age of twenty he was in command of a vessel in the Indian trade,
but shortly after he attained this rank he accepted a commission as
lieutenant in the navy of the United States. Stewart’s able handling
of the little schooner _Experiment_, of 12 guns, on several occasions
brought him to the attention of the country, and his conduct in
the Mediterranean won for him the praise of his superiors and the
admiration of the service. He was a fine-looking, energetic man, who
possessed a manner that is said to have been most fascinating; but,
like all of his school, he was above everything else a fighting man.

In the fall of the year 1814, after the repulse of the British at
Norfolk, Captain Stewart, who at the beginning of the war had been in
command of the 36-gun frigate _Constellation_, was given the post then
most desired above all others in our navy--that of commander of “Old

After undergoing some repairs in the navy-yard, the _Constitution_,
with a veteran crew, sailed from the port of Boston and proceeded
southward. For some time she hung about the Bermudas, waiting in vain
for an encounter; thence she sailed away for the coasts of Surinam,
Berbice, and Demerara; cruised to windward of the island of Barbadoes,
St. Vincent, Martinique, off St. Kitt’s, St. Eustatius, Porto Rico, and
Santa Cruz, and succeeded in capturing and destroying the _Picton_, of
16 guns; a merchant ship of 10 guns; the brig _Catherine_, 10 guns; and
an armed schooner, the _Phoenix_. But no foe was seen that was worthy
of her mettle, and it appeared that bad luck was in the breezes.

At this time the _Constitution_ must have presented a peculiar
appearance while under way; her sails were the same she had carried in
her cruises under Hull and Bainbridge, and the shot-holes made by the
_Guerrière_ and the _Java_ were plain to view, like the honorable scars
of a veteran. Patched and thread bare, her canvas was in no condition
to stand a blow or to hold the wind. In those days the _Constitution_
was a marked vessel in many senses. In view of the reputation she had
earned, there were no frigates of her class that appeared to seek her
out, and it was not considered a disgrace to avoid a meeting with
“the dangerous nondescript,” as the British press had labelled her.
If the fact was once ascertained what vessel it was that carried that
high freeboard and those brown patched sails, His Majesty’s commanders
generally showed a tenderness that their reputations would hardly lead
one to expect. In the Mona Passage, for instance, Captain Stewart
chased, but failed to come up with, the British frigate _La Pique_, and
on two separate occasions he tried to entice the enemy to meet him by
unfurling at first sight the enormous flag that also distinguished the
_Constitution_ above the other frigates in our service, but all to no
purpose; and in March Stewart determined to return to the United States
in order to refit completely. But he was not to reach home without an

Probably no vessel in the world had so many narrow escapes from capture
as had the _Constitution_; only masterly seamanship had kept her from
being taken.

From 1813 to the close of the war the English frigates generally
cruised in pairs; and off the New England coast, on her return voyage,
the _Constitution_ ran across the _Junon_ and _La Nymphe_, each of
50 guns. She managed to outsail them by a narrow margin, and arrived
safely at Marblehead in the latter part of April. She rested in
Massachusetts Bay for seven months, completely refitting under the eye
of Captain Stewart himself; and in December she again proceeded to
sea, and was then, beyond doubt, the best equipped and best ordered
vessel of her class that ever answered helm.

Stewart shaped his course for his favorite cruising-ground, the high
seas to the eastward of the Bermudas, and on the 24th of the month he
captured the English brig _Lord Nelson_, and took the ship _Susan_ with
a valuable cargo, sending the latter to New York. Then he bore away
east, with the intention of reaching the waters in the neighborhood of
the Madeira Islands.

The morning of the 20th of February began with light breezes from the
east and cloudy weather. At 1 P.M. a sail was discovered two points off
the larboard and three leagues or more away. The _Constitution_ bore
up at once, and made all sail in chase. In half an hour the stranger
was seen to be a ship, and in a few minutes another vessel was made
out ahead; both were close-hauled, and about ten miles apart. At four
o’clock it was seen that the weather-most ship was signalling her
consort, who immediately shortened sail and waited for her.

For an hour the three vessels sailed on. The two strangers, that were
closing on each other gradually, displayed no flags; and although at
too great a distance to reach the nearer vessel, Stewart commenced
to fire with his bow guns, in the hope that they would display their
colors; but to no purpose. It was not doubted, however, that they were
English, and the _Constitution_ cleared for action. Soon they passed
within hail of one another, and, hauling by the wind on the starboard
tack, showed that they were prepared to fight.

Now commenced the usual struggle for the advantage of the weather-gage;
but, finding that the _Constitution_ could outpoint them, the British
vessels gave up the attempt, and, forming in line about half a cable’s
length apart, awaited her on-coming, shortening sail, and evidently
preparing some concerted method of attack. At six Stewart shook out
his tremendous flag, and the British ensigns climbed up in answer;
at the same moment both vessels gave three rousing cheers. But in
grim silence the _Constitution_ bore down upon them, ranged up on the
starboard side of the sternmost, and let go her broadside at a distance
of only three hundred yards. The English replied with spirit, and the
cannonading became furious. There being little wind, a great bank of
sulphurous smoke, impenetrable as any fog, settled over the water on
the _Constitution’s_ lee, and completely hid her antagonists. For
three minutes the _Constitution_ ceased her fire altogether (the enemy
having slackened also), and then Stewart descried the topmasts of the
leader stretching above the rolling clouds abreast of him. He fired his
broadside, and again the smoke swallowed her from sight, just as it
was seen that the ship astern had luffed to take up a raking position
on the larboard quarter. The superior seamanship of the American tars
and the quality of the vessel they manned could not be shown better
than by the manoeuvre which followed. Stewart braced aback his main
and mizzen topsails, and immediately the _Constitution_ gathered
sternway and slid backwards through the smoke. What must have been the
astonishment of Captain Gordon Falcon, the British commander, when he
saw alongside of him the enemy that he had hoped, a few minutes before,
to take at such a disadvantage! The foremost vessel, that had received
the previous broadside of the _Constitution_, kept pegging away at a
spectre in the sulphurous cloud.


At thirty-five minutes past six the enemy’s fire again slackened, and
the headmost ship was discovered bearing up. Now the _Constitution_
reversed her tactics, shot ahead, crossed the first vessel’s stern
and raked her fearfully, sailed about the stern most and raked her
also; then, ranging up within hail on the larboard quarter, she
prepared for another broadside, when the last ship fired a lee gun
and remained silent. At ten minutes of seven Stewart lowered his boat
and took possession of His Majesty’s ship _Cyane_, mounting 34 guns,
commanded by Captain Gordon Falcon. The moon had risen by this time;
the smoke had cleared away, and it was seen that the other ship was
trying her best to get away to a place of safety. Seeing this, at
once the _Constitution_ spread all sail in chase, and gallantly the
smaller vessel, finding escape impossible, stood back close-hauled to
meet her. They crossed on opposite tacks, and the _Constitution_ wore
immediately under the enemy’s stern and raked her with a broadside.

Again the Englishman spread all sail, and endeavored to escape by
running free. The _Constitution_ broke out her lighter sail in chase,
firing well-directed shots from her starboard bowchaser. At ten, seeing
she could not escape, the English vessel fired a gun, struck her
colors, and yielded.

She proved to be His Majesty’s ship the _Levant_, mounting 21 guns,
Captain George Douglass.

Before midnight Stewart had manned both his prizes, repaired his
rigging, shifted his sails, and had his vessel in as good condition as
before the encounter.

The _Cyane_ was a ship that had made a reputation for herself in the
war with France. She was one of the crack sloops of war in the English
service. Only a year before she had engaged a French 44-gun frigate,
and kept her at bay until help came in the shape of a seventy-four. Her
commander was so crestfallen at having to surrender that when he came
aboard a prisoner he hardly recognized Stewart’s courteous greetings
and compliments.

Down in the cabin of the _Constitution_ a little scene was enacted
that must have been dramatic. Captain Douglass and Captain Falcon were
treated as honored guests by Captain Stewart, and over their wine
at dinner the day after the capture the two Englishmen indulged in
a dispute, each placing the responsibility for the defeat upon the
other’s shoulders.

Stewart listened without comment for some minutes, and then rising,
gravely said, “Gentlemen, there is only one way that I see to decide
this question--to put you both on your ships again, give you back your
crews, and try it over.”

Either the humor or the force of this remark must have struck each one
of his late antagonists, for they ceased their bickering at once.

An anecdote is related showing the spirit of the men on board the
_Constitution_ at the time. As she forged down upon the waiting English
vessels grog was issued, as was customary, to the crews standing at the
guns. An old quartermaster, noting with anger the eagerness of the men
to claim a double share, as there were two vessels to fight, walked
down the deck and kicked over two buckets of the spirits into the
scuppers, exclaiming, “Shame, messmates; we need no Dutch courage on
board this ship!”

This little incident, while it might not have dampened the crew’s
ardor, may have accounted for the lack of cheers.

It is to be noticed that the weight of shot fired by the British
vessels was heavier than the _Constitution’s_ by ninety pounds.

In the action with the _Guerrière_ the _Constitution_ had been hulled
three times, and in that with the _Java_ four times. In this engagement
thirteen shots reached her hull.

Only one of the prizes was destined to reach the United States--the
_Cyane_--and the reason for this makes a separate story in itself.

After the action the vessels set sail for the island St. Jago, and
entered the harbor of Porto Praya, having previously touched at one of
the Cape Verd Islands.

On the 12th of March, as they lay at anchor under the guns of the
neutral battery, three ships were discovered in the offing. Soon they
were made out to be frigates, and the _Constitution_ gave signal to
get under way. No sooner had this happened than the forts on the shore
commenced firing upon the Americans, and the British vessels hoisted
the English colors. The _Constitution_ and the _Levant_ were standing
on the wind to the southward and eastward, with all three of the enemy
in chase. The _Cyane_ bore up to the north, and shaped her course
towards the United States. The _Levant_, a much slower sailer than the
_Constitution_, kept falling behind, and Stewart saw that it would be
foolishness to attempt to close with a force so much superior.

He signalled Lieutenant Ballard, the prize commander of the _Levant_,
to make back to the harbor; she came about, made the entrance safely,
and anchored in so close to the shore as to run her jib boom over the
Portuguese battery; and the latter, as if to show her “neutrality” to
the satisfaction of the English, cowardly fired upon her as she lay
there, and, despite the fact that Ballard did not reply, but hauled
down his flag, the _Acasta_ and the _Newcastle_, two of the pursuers,
came in and also fired at her a number of times. But, as if in poetic
justice for the action of the Portuguese, they did more harm to the
town than to the ship.

When the officer from the British squadron came on board the _Levant_,
he advanced briskly to the quarter-deck, and, with no attempt to
conceal his eagerness, exclaimed to Lieutenant Ballard, who there
awaited him:

“Sir, I believe I have the honor of taking the sword of Captain
Blakeley, commander of the American sloop of war the _Wasp_.”

“No, sir,” was the reply; “if you have an excess of pride in this case,
you have the honor of receiving the sword of Captain Ballard, prize
commander of His British Majesty’s ship the _Levant_.”

It was evident from the crestfallen appearance of the Britisher that he
had expected a different reply. To receive the sword of Blakeley would
have been a feather in his cap.

A strange state of things existed on board the _Constitution_ as she
sailed off to the west. She had on board no fewer than 240 prisoners,
and the number of English officers who were unwilling guests was double
that of her own. As this was the last cruise of the grand old ship in
the second war with Great Britain, a short _résumé_ of her career will
be of interest:

Exclusive of the merchant vessels that had been sent back to the
United States, in her actions with armed vessels of the English navy
she had taken 154 guns, made upwards of 900 prisoners, killed or
wounded 298 of the enemy, and the value of the property captured could
not be estimated at less than one and a half millions of dollars.

The strange discrepancy which existed between the loss of life on
board of her and her antagonists is to be noted. In her action with
the _Cyane_ and the _Levant_ she lost 3 killed and 13 wounded, while
the killed and wounded on board her opponents, so far as could be
ascertained, were 77.

Another interesting fact is that she has been in commission within
the last twelve years, and only a few years ago she again breasted
the waves, and was towed from the capes of the Delaware to her final
resting-place in Massachusetts Bay.



[March 23d, 1815]


Lieutenant James Biddle had distinguished himself in the Mediterranean
in the war with the Barbary pirates, having been one of the officers
captured with Captain Bainbridge on board the _Philadelphia_, and
being, with Bainbridge, held prisoner during those historic months of
captivity in Tripoli. Biddle was a young man of much determination, and
his career as a junior officer was full of adventure and the successful
overcoming of hardships. On the outbreak of the war of 1812 he sought
every opportunity to be in the thick of it, neglecting no chance to
distinguish himself or to add lustre to his name.

In the action between the _Wasp_ and His British Majesty’s sloop of
war the _Frolic_, Biddle proved himself to have the proper spirit of a
leader, and both he and Captain Jones were honored by Congress and the
country after their short sojourn in an English prison; for it must be
remembered that the _Wasp_ and her prize were taken, within a few hours
after their engagement, by a British seventy-four, the _Poictiers_.

Upon his return to the United States Biddle was promoted to the rank
of captain, and at this time Captain James Lawrence, in consequence of
his own promotion, had just left the sloop of war _Hornet_, which,
under him, had fought so bravely and so fortunately in the southern
seas. Captain Biddle asked for the command of the _Hornet_ immediately
upon Lawrence’s leaving her--she was then lying in New York Harbor. His
request was granted, and orders were given him to join his vessel with
the frigate _Chesapeake_, then at Boston nearly ready for a cruise. But
he and the brave Lawrence were never to make a voyage in company. News
travelled slowly in those days, and young Captain Biddle went on with
his preparations, sailing at last without hearing of the sad fate of
his superior.

By the capture of the _Chesapeake_, however, all the signals and orders
had fallen into the hands of the enemy. Immediately a frigate and
several smaller vessels were sent out by the British to intercept the

Captain Biddle had weighed anchor not alone, however, but in company
with the frigates _United States_ and _Macedonian_, going from New York
through the Sound, as there was then a large British blockading force
off Sandy Hook. The little American squadron was under the command of
Commodore Decatur.

On the first day of June, within sight of Montauk Point, the three
Yankee vessels were met by a larger and heavier force of the enemy.
Decatur put back into the Sound and entered New London Harbor, closely
pursued by the British, a ship of the line leading. In this chase the
_Hornet_, being deep laden and consequently slow, was nearly overtaken,
being fired at by the two headmost ships at quite near range. The
American vessels, going through Fisher’s Island Sound, proceeded up the
river Thames, and were moored across it, stem to stern, in order the
better to defend themselves.

A long and tedious blockade now began, and Biddle’s anxious spirit
and courageous disposition fretted under the confinement. It was his
first command; he was extremely anxious to measure his strength with an
enemy whose force was equal to his own, and he tried again and again
to obtain permission to make an attempt to elude the British squadron
at the mouth of the river; but in this he failed, Decatur, his senior,
forbidding him to risk the venture. For six long months no move was
made by either side, although alarms were frequent.

Early in January, 1814, the blockading forces at New London were the
_Ramillies_ (74), Commodore Sir Thomas Hardy; the _Endymion_, Captain
Hope; and the _Statira_, frigate, Captain Stackpole. There were also
one or two smaller armed vessels within call. Upon one occasion an
American prisoner of war, who was about to be landed at New London in
exchange, was present during a conversation among the English officers,
who, tired of acting as jailers, were anxious for a conflict. Upon
landing he reported what he had heard to the Americans, and Captain
Biddle, under a flag of truce, obtained an interview with Sir Thomas
Hardy on board the _Ramillies_. He did his best to secure a meeting
between the two frigates _United States_ and the _Macedonian_ on one
side, and the _Endymion_ and the _Statira_ on the other.

Sir Thomas, after thinking the matter over, declined the meeting
between the _Endymion_ and the _United States_ on account of the
difference in force; the captain of the _Statira_ did not wish to try
it alone, and so the meeting fell through. And what a strange comment
upon the pomp and circumstance of war! Biddle was so anxious himself to
fight, and so trusted in the honor of the enemy, that, hearing that a
British corvette was shortly to join the station, he would have sailed
out through the hostile fleet in the _Hornet_ to meet her all alone. It
was the _Loup-Cervier_ that was soon expected to arrive; this vessel
had once been the tidy American sloop of war the _Wasp_, and Biddle had
been second in command of her. Now, however, she was under a Captain
Mends, and flew, instead of the “sailors’ rights,” the cross of St.
George. However, after some correspondence, the meeting was given up,
much to Biddle’s chagrin, and the rechristened _Loup-Cervier_ sailed
out to sea after delivering despatches.

All through the winter a close blockade of New London was kept up, and
it was found impossible to make any escape. At last the government
ordered the two American frigates to be moved up the Thames as far
as possible, and there they were dismantled. The officers and crew
were transferred to other cities, while Captain Biddle was ordered to
continue at New London for the protection of the shipping. In vain he
protested against this hopeless and mortifying situation. The enemy
made no serious preparations for trying to take the force up the
river, and at last Biddle succeeded in obtaining permission to try to
sail through the British fleet. Leaving the _United States_ and the
_Macedonian_ protected by land batteries, he placed the _Hornet_ in the
best of trim, and on the night of the 18th of November, undiscovered,
he drifted past the guard-ships and arrived safely at New York. It was
seventeen months since he had been free.

Biddle was immediately attached, with his ship, to the command of
Commodore Decatur again, and was ordered for a cruise to the East
Indies. The frigate _President_, the flagship of the little squadron,
went to sea on the 14th of January, 1815, and from the outset was
pursued by the worst of misfortunes, that included shipwreck and
final capture. On the 23d of January--not knowing of the loss of the
_President_--the _Peacock_, the _Hornet_, and a store-vessel went
out to sea in a gale of wind. Three days afterwards they separated,
and, hearing of the _President’s_ fate from a merchantman, set out
for themselves. Late in March, Biddle anchored near the headlands of
Tristan d’Acunha, and on the 23d of the month, off the island, a sail
was discovered to the southward and eastward. The _Hornet_, ever on
the alert, raised anchor and bore up before the wind. When within five
miles Biddle shortened sail and waited for the stranger to come down
to him. It is quite amusing to think that the idea that was uppermost
in the mind of the British commander (for it was H. M. S. _Penguin_, a
heavily armed brig, that the _Hornet_ had sighted) was this: that if
the American saw who it was and how formidable was his ship, he would
escape. So the Englishman concealed his identity as much as possible
by clumsily taking in his sail to encourage Biddle to wait for him,
carefully keeping bow on to the _Hornet_ to hide his strength. Biddle,
not understanding his intention, and the idea of running away being the
last thing in the world for him to think about, was puzzled. He wore
ship three times, trying to get the other to haul by the wind and to
show his broadside, but without success. As the enemy approached nearly
within musket-shot, the Englishman at last hauled on the starboard tack
and hoisted his colors, firing a challenging gun. Biddle immediately
luffed, flew his ensign, and gave the enemy a broadside. It was then
about forty minutes past one. The action became brisk, and in fifteen
minutes the Englishman came down again, bow foremost, as if he would
fall on board the _Hornet_. Orders were given to prepare to repel
the expected boarders, but the men could scarcely be restrained from
tumbling over the bow of the _Penguin_ as her jib-boom crossed the
_Hornet’s_ taffrail.

There was a considerable swell, the sea lifted the _Hornet_ ahead,
and the bowsprit of the enemy (her men had displayed no intention of
boarding) carried away the mizzen-shrouds and swept the side. Just then
an officer bravely stood upon the bulwarks of the English brig, and
at the risk of his life shouted out that he had surrendered. He was
Lieutenant McDonald, the _Penguin’s_ first lieutenant. At this moment
the enemy was swinging clear, Biddle was prepared to give him another
broadside, and with difficulty could he restrain his crew, as the
_Penguin_ certainly had fired after Lieutenant McDonald had said he had
surrendered. One of the last shots had struck Captain Biddle, wounding
him severely in the neck. In fact, throughout the action he was almost
unrecognizable, because of wounds which he had received from splinters
in his face. Several times his men had asked him to go below.

It was exactly twenty-two minutes from the beginning of the action to
the time when the _Penguin_ was boarded by a boat from the _Hornet_.
The former vessel proved to be one of the strongest vessels of her
class, mounting 16 32-pound carronades, 2 long sixes, and a 12-pound
carronade on her topgallant forecastle, with swivels on the capstan
and in the tops; she had a spare port forward so as to fire both of
her long guns on a side. When she had sailed from England on the 1st
of September she was manned by a picked crew, that was afterwards
reinforced by marines taken from the _Medway_, a seventy-four. Out
of one hundred and thirty-two persons that formed her crew she lost
fourteen killed and twenty-eight wounded, among the latter number
being her commander, Captain Dickinson. Not a single round shot struck
the hull of the _Hornet_, but her sides were filled with grape and
her sails and rigging much cut. She had but one man killed and eleven
wounded. The _Penguin_ was so badly riddled that she sank, it not
being worth the while to attempt to save her. But the _Hornet_, after
obtaining a new set of sails, was ready for service without going
home for repairs or refitting. The English journals, in commenting on
this fact, advocated strongly the adoption of the American system of
gunnery instruction, to which a Baltimore paper replied that the only
thing they (the British) needed to be taught was “to _shoot_ Yankee
fashion--viz., straighter and more often.”




[April 29th, 1815]

Although the treaty of peace between England and the United States was
concluded at Ghent on November 24th, in the year 1814, hostilities
continued even after the _signing_ of the document that took place a
month later to a day.

This can be well understood when we stop to think that at the best
rates of travelling it would take in the neighborhood of three weeks,
or possibly four, for the news to reach the United States.

The battle of New Orleans, so disastrous to the English arms, would
never have taken place if there had been such a thing as a cable in
those days. Nor would there have occurred several smart actions at sea,
including, sad to relate, the capture of the U. S. S. _President_ by a
British squadron.

There is no excuse, however, for the long detention of American
prisoners in the hands of the British, when there was no longer any
chance of their serving against her.

On February 17th President Madison ratified the Treaty of Ghent, and
hostilities practically ceased, although, of course, not knowing this
fact, Captain Stewart, in command of the _Constitution_, captured the
_Cyane_ and the _Levant_, two British sloops of war. And on the 23d of
March, on a foreign station, the gallant Captain Biddle, in command of
the _Hornet_, captured and sank the _Penguin_.

But even so long past the time when the news might have been expected
to be about the world, on April 27th, 1815, off the Island of San
Salvador, the sloop of war _Hornet_ had the last hostile experience
with the English of that eventful period. The little sloop was
sailing in company with the _Peacock_, and together they made a pair
of fighters that were not afraid of anything that carried in the
neighborhood of their weight of metal.

In a letter from Biddle, the senior captain, to Stephen Decatur appears
the following: “The _Peacock_ and this ship, having continued off
Tristan d’Acunha the number of days directed by you in your letter
of instruction, proceeded in company to the eastward on the twelfth
day of April, bound to the second place of rendezvous. Nothing of any
importance occurred until the twenty-second day of April at 7 A.M., in
latitude 38° 30´ and longitude 33´ east. The wind was from northeast
by north and light through the day, and by sundown we had neared the
chase considerably. It was calm during the day, and at daylight on
the 28th he [Warrington of the _Peacock_] was not in sight. A breeze
springing from the northwest, we crowded steering sails on both sides,
and the chase was made out standing to the northward upon a wind. At
2.45 P.M. the _Peacock_ was about six miles ahead of this ship, and,
observing that she appeared to be suspicious of the chase, I took in
starboard steering-sails and hauled up for the _Peacock_. I was still,
however, of opinion that the chase was an Indiaman, though, indeed,
the atmosphere was quite smoky and indistinct, and I concluded she was
very large. Captain Warrington was waiting for me to join him, that we
might get together alongside of her. At 3.22 P.M. the _Peacock_ made
the signal that the chase was a ship of the line and an enemy. I took
in immediately all steering-sails and hauled upon the wind, the enemy
being then upon our lee quarter, distant about eight miles. By sundown
I had perceived that the enemy sailed remarkably fast and was very

This letter was dated from San Salvador, June 10th, 1815.

It had been very calm on the morning of the 28th when the great ship
had been sighted which, as Biddle has recorded, every one took to be
a large East-Indiaman. As the _Peacock_ was in advance and to the
windward of the stranger, it was feared by the crew of the _Hornet_
that she would be first to place herself alongside and secure the rich
prize. According to the private journal of one of the officers on the
_Hornet_, they had already begun in their imagination to divide the
contents of the vessel they expected to capture among them. If she
came from the Indies, the sailors declared that they would carpet the
berth-deck with costly rugs; while if she hailed from England and was
on an outward voyage, the officers revelled in the idea of what her
larder might contain; the probable value of her cargo was estimated

The _Hornet_ was crowding on all sail in order to draw up before the
_Peacock_ should have had the best of the picking. Captain Biddle was
on deck with his glass in hand watching the _Peacock_, when suddenly
he saw her swing about (she was well to windward), and fly a signal
telling that the big vessel was a ship of the line. The _Peacock_ was a
faster sailer than the _Hornet_, as the latter sat deep in the water,
and, owing to the weight of metal she carried, was slow in stays.
But it was evident, by six o’clock in the evening, three hours after
Warrington had signalled Biddle to beware of approaching nearer, that
the big fellow had turned the tables and was evidently the pursuer,
with the intention of running down the _Hornet_. Every minute the sails
rose higher and higher above the horizon until the great hull was in
plain view. She weathered the little _Hornet_, and it was seen that
at the rate of progress the two were making the seventy-four would be
within gunshot sometime during the night.

Immediately the wedges of the lower masts were loosened, and at nine
o’clock orders were given to lighten ship as much as possible. The
sheet-anchor was cut away and hove overboard, and all of the cable
followed it. Then the spare rigging and spars were put over the side,
and before ten o’clock they scuttled the wardroom-deck and hove
overboard about fifty tons of the kentledge.

It was a bright night, with all the stars shining, and there was no
use disguising the matter: the _Hornet_ was continually dropping
back. The seventy-four fired a gun and signalled, but Biddle did not
respond. Like Hull, who brought the _Constitution_ successfully away
from a superior force, by pluck and attention to duty, knowledge and
seamanship, he determined to leave nothing untried that would tend to
increase the rate of his vessel’s sailing.

At two in the morning the _Hornet_ tacked to the southward and
westward, and immediately the enemy astern did likewise. At daylight
the line-of-battle ship was within gunshot on the _Hornet’s_ lee
quarter. At seven in the morning the English colors were displayed at
the peak of the Britisher, and a rear-admiral’s flag was flown at his
mizzen-topgallant mast-head. At the same time he began firing from
his bow guns--it must be assumed more as an imperious order for the
_Hornet_ to show her colors and heave to than with an idea of crippling
her, for the shot overreached her about a mile.

Biddle paid no attention at all, but having ascertained that the
lightening of his ship made her much faster, he went at it again,
cutting away the remaining anchors, and letting every foot of cable go
overboard. Then he broke up the launch and left the débris in the wake.
Even the provisions were broken into, and barrels of salt-horse and
bread thrown out upon the waters. Then more kentledge followed, and,
tapping the magazines, he threw over all but a dozen or so of round
shot. Then over went the capstan, which was no easy job, and they began
on the guns; one after another they plashed overboard. All this time
the _Cornwallis_, the great seventy-four, kept up a continual firing,
to which no reply was made. In fact, for four hours the English gunners
displayed the worst marksmanship on record, for their shot continually
went ahead of and all around the _Hornet_ without once striking her,
although several passed between her masts.

At eleven the breeze began to freshen, and the seventy-four commenced
to creep up slowly, and then gain all at once in a manner which caused
Biddle to believe that the Englishman had made alterations in his
trim. By noon the wind had shifted slightly, and was squally, with
fresh breezes from the westward. It was Sunday, the 30th, but there
was no service held. Gloom was everywhere throughout the American
vessel: staring them in the face were apparently inevitable capture and
the frightful confinement in an English prison. Many of the crew had
already been impressed and had served in the English navy, escaping
from time to time, and the idea of being held as deserters--deserters
to a country that was not theirs--gave cause for much unhappiness. At
1 P.M. the _Cornwallis_ was so close that her commander began to fire
by divisions, and once let go his entire broadside loaded with round
and grape. But, as is recorded in the journal, “the former passed
between our masts and the latter fell all around us. The enemy fired
shells, but they were so ill directed as to be perfectly harmless.”
And now began what looked to be a work of destruction, and which was
intended as such, no doubt. Biddle determined that if he were taken
there would be very little for the enemy to show as trophy. Overboard
went all the muskets, cutlasses, and ironwork. The bell was broken up,
and the topgallant forecastle was chopped to pieces. All this time only
three-quarters of a mile on the lee quarter was the great ship of the
line pouring in a constant storm of shot and shell. The Yankee tars
trimmed ship by massing themselves against the rail, after the fashion
of a yacht’s crew.

At four o’clock a shot from the enemy struck the jib-boom, and another
caught the starboard bulwark just forward of the gangway. A third
smashed on the deck forward of the main-hatch, and, glancing up, passed
through the foresail. It struck immediately over the head of a wounded
Yankee sailor who had been hurt in the action with the _Penguin_; the
splinters were scattered all around the invalid, and a small paper
flag, the American ensign, that he had hoisted over his cot, was struck
down. But immediately he lifted it up and waved it about his head. In
fact, to quote again from the entry in the journal, “Destruction stared
us in the face if we did not surrender, yet no officer, no man in the
ship, showed any disposition to let the enemy have the poor little

Captain Biddle mustered the crew, and told them that, as they might
soon be captured, he hoped to perceive that propriety of conduct
that had distinguished them, and that he was pleased at being their
commander. But now, as if by a miracle, the _Hornet_ began to gain. The
wind blew more aft, and by five the enemy’s shot fell short. Biddle had
not replied even with his stern-chaser to all this cannonading, for he
had noticed that the other’s firing hampered her sailing. At half-past
five the crew broke out into a cheer, for the _Cornwallis_ was dropping
behind, slowly, but surely. Now Biddle showed his colors, and so fast
did the _Hornet_ pick up, with the wind in her favorite quarter for
good going, that a few minutes after six the enemy was hull down. All
night long the distance between the two increased, and at daylight the
_Cornwallis_ was fifteen miles behind. At nine o’clock she shortened
sail, hauled upon the wind to the eastward, and gave up, after a chase
of forty-two hours.

A remarkable circumstance of this affair is that, owing to the
variableness of the wind, the _Hornet_ had made a perfect circle around
the battle-ship.

The relief occasioned to all by the escape was vented in cheering, and,
extra grog being passed, the men were in extremely good temper, despite
the fact of their precarious condition, for they were on the high seas
with no guns, no boats, no anchors, and short of provisions. They had
packed up all their things, thinking that they would soon have to go on
board the enemy as prisoners, but now, joyfully, they returned them to
their places.

In the fine writing of the period that every person who touched pen and
ink seemed prone to, the author of the journal says: “This was truly a
glorious victory over the horrors of banishment and the terrors of a
British floating dungeon. Quick as thought, every face was changed from
the gloom of despair to the highest smile of delight, and we began once
more to breathe the sweets of liberty. The bitter sighs of regret were
now changed.”

Biddle asked and obtained a court of inquiry to investigate the matter
of his throwing overboard almost everything but the skin of his vessel,
and on the 23d of August, 1815, by order of the Secretary of the Navy,
court was convened on board the _Hornet_, and the following opinion
was pronounced: “The court, after mature deliberation on the testimony
adduced, are of opinion that no blame is imputable to Captain Biddle on
account of the return of the _Hornet_ into port with the loss of her
armament, stores, etc., and that the greatest applause is due to him
for his persevering gallantry and nautical skill, evinced in escaping,
under the most disadvantageous circumstance, after a long and arduous
chase by a British line-of-battle ship.”

The _Cornwallis_ fired the last gunshot of the war of 1812.

Transcriber Notes

Obvious punctuation and spelling errors repaired.

Italic text is denoted by _underscores_.

In ambiguous cases, the text has been left as it appears in the
original book. In particular, many mismatched quotation marks, endquote
missing puctuation, wrongspaced quotes, ect., have not been changed.

Inconsistent hyphenation has been repaired.

quasiwar changed to quasi-war.

Seacoast changed to sea-coast.

mid-shipman’s changed to midshipman’s.

mid-day changed to midday.

bow-chaser changed to bowchaser.

mizzenmast changed to mizzen-mast.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Naval Actions of the War of 1812" ***

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