Theodore Roosevelt.

The naval war of 1812; or, The history of the United States navy during the last war with Great Britain, to which is appended an account of the battle of New Orleans; online

. (page 10 of 42)
Online LibraryTheodore RooseveltThe naval war of 1812; or, The history of the United States navy during the last war with Great Britain, to which is appended an account of the battle of New Orleans; → online text (page 10 of 42)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the deck, covered with dead and dying, but one
brave man, who had not left the wheel, and three
officers, all wounded, who threw down their
swords at the feet of the victors." Admiral de la
Graviere's criticisms are especially valuable, be-
cause they are those of an expert, who only refers
to the War of 181 2 in order to apply to the French
navy the lessons which it teaches, and who is per-
fectly unprejudiced. He cares for the lesson
taught, not the teacher, and is quite as willing to

^Guerres Maritimes, ii., 287. Septieme Edition, Paris,
1 88 1,

VOL. I.— 9



no Naval War of 1812



learn from the defeat of the Chesapeake as from
the victories of the Constitution — while most Amer
ican critics only pay heed to the latter.

The characteristics of the action are tne
practical equality of the contestants in point of
force and the enormous disparity in the damage
each suffered; numerically, the Wasp was su-
perior by 5 per cent., and inflicted a ninefold
greater loss.

Captain Jones was not destined to bring his
prize into port, for a few hours afterward the
Poictiers, a British 74, Captain John Poer Beres-
ford, hove in sight. Now appeared the value of
the Frolic's desperate defence; if she could not
prevent herself from being captured, she had at
least ensured her own recapture, and also the cap-
ture of the foe. When the Wasp shook out her
sails they were found to be cut into ribbons aloft,
and she could not make off with sufficient speed.
As the Poictiers passed the Frolic, rolling like a
log in the water, she threw a shot over her, and
soon overtook the Wasp. Both vessels were car-
ried into Bermuda. Captain Whinyates was again
put in command of the Frolic . Captain Jones
and his men were soon exchanged; 25,000 dol-
lars prize-money was voted them by Congress,
and the Captain and Lieutenant Biddle were both
promoted, the former receiving the captured ship
Macedonian. Unluckily, the blockade was too



Naval War of 1812 131

close for him to succeed in getting out during the
remainder of the war.

On October 8th, Commodore Rodgers left Boston
on his second cruise, with the President, United
States, Congress, ahd Argus, ^ leaving the Hornet
in port. Four days out, the United States and
Argns separated, while the remaining two frigates
continued their cruise together. The Argus, ^
Captain Sinclair, cruised to the eastward, making
prizes of six valuable merchantmen, and returned
to port on January 3d. During the cruise she was
chased for three days and three nights (the latter
being moonlight) by a British squadron, and was
obliged to cut away her boats and anchors and
start some of her water. But she saved her guns,
and was so cleverly handled that during the chase
she actually succeeded in taking and manning a
prize, though the enemy got near enough to open
fire as the vessels separated. Before relating
what befell the United States, we shall bring Com-
modore Rodgers' s cruise to an end.

On October loth, the Commodore chased, but
failed to overtake, the British frigate Nymphe, 38,
Captain Epworth. On the i8th, off the great
Bank of Newfoundland, he captured the Jamaica
packet Swallow, homeward bound, with 200,000
dollars in specie aboard. On the 31st, at 9 a.m.,

* Letter of Commodore Rodgers, Januar}^ i, 1813.
' Letter of Captain Arthur Sinclair, January 4, 18 13.



132 Naval War of 1812

lat. ^s° N., long. 32° W., his two frigates fell in
with the British frigate Galatea, 36, Captain
Woodley Losack, convoying two South Sea ships,
to windward. The Galatea ran down to recon-
noitre, and at 10 a.m., recognizing her foes, hauled
up on the starboard tack to escape. The Amer-
ican frigates made all sail in chase, and continued
beating to windward, tacking several times, for
about three hours. Seeing that she was being
overhauled, the Galatea now edged away to get on
her best point of sailing ; at the same moment one
of her convoy, the Argo, bore up to cross the hawse
of her foes, but was intercepted by the Congress,
who lay to to secure her. Meanwhile, the Presi-
dent kept after the Galatea ; she set her topmast,
topgallantmast and lower studding-sails, and
when it was dusk had gained greatly upon her.
But the night was very dark, the President lost
sight of the chase, and, toward midnight, hauled
to the wind to rejoin her consort. The two
frigates cruised to the east as far as 22° W., and
then ran down to 17° N. ; but during the month
of November they did not see a sail. They had
but slightly better luck on their return toward
home. Passing 120 miles north of Bermuda,
and cruising a little while toward the Virginia
capes, they re-entered Boston on December 31st,
having made nine prizes, most of them of little
value.



Naval War of 1 812 133

When four days out, on October 12th, Com-
modore Decatur had separated from the rest of
Rodgers's squadron and cruised east ; on the 25th,
in lat. 29° N., and long. 29° 30', W., while going
close-hauled on the port tack, with the wind fresh
from the S.S.E., a sail was descried on the
weather beam, about twelve miles distant.' This
was the British 38-gun frigate Macedonian, Cap-
tain John Surnam Garden. She was not, like the
Gnerriere, an old ship captured from the French,
but newly built of oak, and larger than any
American i8-pounder frigate; she was reputed
(very wrongfully) to be a " crack ship." According
to Lieutenant David Hope, " the state of discipline
on board was excellent; in no British ship was
more attention paid to gunnery. Before this
cruise, the ship had been engaged almost every day
with the enemy; and in time of peace the crew
were constantly exercised at the great guns." ^
How they could have practised so much and
learned so little, is certainly marvellous.

The Macedonian set her fore-topmast and top-
gallant studding-sails and bore away in chase, ^ edg-
ing down with the wind a little aft the starboard
beam. Her first lieutenant wished to continue on
this course and pass down ahead of the United

'Official letter of Commodore Decatur, October 30, 1812.

* Marshall's Naval Biography, iv., p. 1018.

3 Captain Carden to Mr. Croker, October 28, i8ia.



134 Naval War of 1 812

States,' but Captain Garden's over-anxiety to keep
the weather-gage lost him this opportunity of
closing.^ Accordingly he hauled by the wind and
passed way to windward of the American. As
Commodore Decatur got within range, he eased
off and fired a broadside, most of which fell short ^ ;
he then kept his luff, and, the next time he fired,
his long 24's told heavily, while he received very
little injury himself.'* The fire from his main- .
deck (for he did not use his carronades at all for
the first half -hour) s was so very rapid that it
seemed as if the ship was on fire; his broadsides
were delivered with almost twice the rapidity of
those of the Englishman.'^ The latter soon found
he could not play at long bowls with any chance of
success; and, having already erred either from
timidity or bad judgment. Captain Carden de-
cided to add rashness to the catalogue of his vir-
tues. Accordingly, he bore up, and came down
end on toward his adversary, with the wind on his
port quarter. The States now (10.15) l^-id. her
main-topsail aback and made heavy play with
her long guns, and, as her adversary came nearer,
with her carronades also. The British ship would



^James, vi., 166.

^ Sentence of court-martial held on the San Domingo, 74,
at the Bermudas, May 27, 18 12.

3 Marshall, iv., 1080. s Letter of Commodore Decatur.
4 Cooper, ii., 178. 6 James, vi., 169.



Naval War of 1 812 135

reply with her starboard guns, hauHng up to do
so; as she came down, the American would ease
off, run a little way and again come to, keeping up
a terrific fire. As the Macedonian bore down to
close, the chocks of all her forecastle guns (which
were mounted on the outside) were cut away ' ;
her fire caused some damage to the American's
rigging, but hardly touched her hull, while she
herself suffered so heavily both alow and aloft that
she gradually dropped to leeward, while the Amer-
ican forereached on her. Finding herself ahead
and to windward, the States tacked and ranged up
under her adversary's lee, when the latter struck
her colors at 11. 15, just an hour and a half after
the beginning of the action.^

The United States had suffered surprisingly little ;
what damage had been done was aloft. Her miz-
zen-topgallantmast was cut away, some of the
spars were wounded, and the rigging a good deal
cut ; the hull was only struck two or three times.
The ships were never close enough to be within
fair range of grape and musketry,^ and the wounds
were mostly inflicted by round shot and were thus
apt to be fatal. Hence the loss of the Americans
amounted to Lieutenant John Messer Funk (5th
of the ship) and six seamen killed or mortally

^ Letter of Captain Garden.

^ Letter of Commodore Decatur.

^Ibid.



136 Naval War of 181 2

wounded, and only five severely and slightly
wounded.

The Macedonian, on the other hand, had re-
ceived over a hundred shot in her hull, several be-
tween wind and water; her mizzen-mast had
gone by the board ; her fore- and main-topmasts
had been shot away by the caps, and her main-
yard in the slings ; almost all her rigging was cut
away (only the foresail being left) ; on the engaged
side all of her carronades but two, and two of her
main-deck guns, were dismounted. Of her crew
43 were killed and mortally wounded, and 61 (in-
cluding her first and third lieutenants) severely
and slightly wounded.' Among her crew were
eight Americans (as shown by her muster-roll) ;
these asked permission to go below before the
battle, but it was refused by Captain Garden, and
three were killed during the action. James says
that they were allowed to go below, but this is un-
true; for if they had the three would not have
been slain. The others testified that they had
been forced to fight, and they afterward entered
the American service — the only ones of the Mace-
donian's crew who did, or who were asked to.

The Macedonian had her full complement of
301 men; the States had, by her muster-roll of
October 20th, 428 officers, petty officers, seamen,
and boys, and 50 officers and privates of marines,

1 Letter of Captain Garden.




\



•i



!3V



I \



137



138 Naval War of 1812

a total of 478 (instead of 509 as Marshall in his
Naval Biography makes it).

COMPARATIVE FORCE

Broadside Weight
Size Guns Metal Men Loss

United States 1576 27 786 478 12

Macedonian 1325 25 547 301 104

Comparative Comparative Loss

Force Inflicted

United States 100 100

Macedonian 66 11

That is, the relative force being about as three
is to two,' the damage done was as nine to one!

Of course, it would have been almost impossible
for the Macedonian to conquer with one third less
force; but the disparity was by no means suffi-
cient to account for the ninefold greater loss suf-
fered, and the ease and impunity with which the

' I have considered the United States as mounting her full
allowance of 54 guns; but it is possible that she had no more
than 49. In Decatur's letter of challenge of January 17,
18 14 (which challenge, by the way, was a most blustering
affair, reflecting credit neither on Decatur nor his opponent.
Captain Hope, nor on any one else, excepting Captain Stack-
pole of H. M. S. Statira) , she is said to have. had that number;
her broadside would then be 15 long 24's below, i long 24, one
12-pound, and eight 42-poimd carronades above. Her real
broadside weight of metal would thus be about 680 lbs., and
she would be superior to the Macedonian in the proportion of
5 to 4. But it is possible that Decatur had landed some of
his guns in 18 13, as James asserts; and though I am not at all
sure of this, I have thought it best to be on the safe side in
describing his force.



Naval War of 1 812 139

victory was won. The British sailors fought with
their accustomed courage, but their gunnery was
exceedingly poor; and it must be remembered
that though the ship was bravely fought, still the
defence was by no means so desperate as that
made by the Essex or even the Chesapeake, as wit-
nessed by their respective losses. The Mace-
donian, moreover, was surrendered when she had
suffered less damage than either the Giierriere or
Java. The chief cause of her loss lay in the fact
that Captain Garden was a poor commander. The
gunnery of the Java, Guerriere, and Macedonian
was equally bad; but while Captain Lambert
proved himself to be as able as he was gallant, and
Captain Dacres did nearly as well, Captain Carden,
on the other hand, was first too timid, and then
too rash, and showed bad judgment at all times.
By continuing his original course he could have
closed at once; but he lost his chance by over-
anxiety to keep the weather-gage, and was cen-
sured by the court-martial accordingly. Then he
tried to remedy one error by another, and made a
foolishly rash approach. A very able and fair-
minded English writer says of this action: "As a
display of courage the character of the service was
nobly upheld, but we would be deceiving our-
selves were we to admit that the comparative
expertness of the crews in gunnery was equally sat-
isfactory. Now, taking the difference of effect as



I40 Naval War of 1812

given by Captain Garden, we must draw this con-
clusion — that the comparative loss in killed and
wounded (104 to 12), together with the dreadful
account he gives of the condition of his own ship,
while he admits that the enemy's vessel was in
comparatively good order, must have arisen from
inferiority in gunnery as well as in force." '

On the other hand, the American crew, even
according to James, were as fine a set of men as
ever were seen on shipboard. Though not one
fourth were British by birth, yet many of them
had served on board British ships of war, in some
cases voluntarily, but much more often because
they had been impressed. They had been trained
at the guns with the greatest care by Lieutenant
Allen. And, finally, Commodore Decatur handled
his ship with absolute faultlessness. To sum up:
a brave and skilful crew, ably commanded, was
matched against an equally brave but unskilful
one, with an incompetent leader ; and this accounts
for the disparity of loss being so much greater than
the disparity in force.

At the outset of this battle, the position of the
parties was just the reverse of that in the case of
the Constitution and Guerriere; the Englishman
had the advantage of the wind, but he used it in a
very different manner from that in which Captain
Hull had done. The latter at once ran down to

'Lord Howard Douglass, Naval Gunnery, p. 525.



Naval War of 1 812 141

close, but manoeuvred so cautiously that no dam-
age could be done him till he was within pistol-
shot. Captain Garden did not try to close till
after fatal indecision, and then made the attempt
so heedlessly that he was cut to pieces before he
got to close quarters. Commodore Decatur, also,
manoeuvred more skilfully than Captain Dacres,
although the difference was less marked between
these two. The combat was a plain cannonade;
the States derived no advantage from the superior
number of her men, for they were not needed.
The marines in particular had nothing whatever
to do, while they had been of the greatest service
against the Guerriere. The advanta,ge was simply
in metal, as 10 is to 7. Lord Howard Douglass's
criticisms on these actions seem to me only ap-
plicable in part. He says (p. 524): "The Amer-
icans would neither approach nor permit us to
join in close battle until they had gained some ex-
traordinary advantage from the superior faculties
of their long guns in distant cannonade, and from
the intrepid, uncircumspect, and often very ex-
posed approach of assailants who had long been
accustomed to contemn all manoeuvring. Our
vessels were crippled in distant cannonade from
encountering rashly the serious disadvantage of
making direct attacks; the uncircumspect gal-
lantry of our commanders led our ships unguarded-
ly into the snares which wary caution had spread."



1 4- Naval War of 1812

These criticisms are very just as regards the
Macedonian, and I fully agree with them (pos-
sibly reserving the right to doubt Captain Car-
den's gallantry, though readily admitting his
uncircumspection). But the case of the Guerriere
differed widely. There the American ship made
the attack, while the British at first avoided close
combat; and, so far from trying to cripple her
adversary by a distant cannonade, the Constitution
hardly fired a dozen times until within pistol-shot.
This last point is worth mentioning, because in a
work on Heavy Ordnance, by Capt. T. F. Sim-
mons, R.A. (London, 1837), it is stated that the
Guerriere received her injuries before the closing,
mentioning especially the "thirty shot below the
water-line"; whereas, by the official accounts of
both commanders, the reverse was the case. Cap-
tain Hull, in his letter, and Lieutenant Morris, in
his autobiography, say they only fired a few guns
before closing; and Captain Dacres, in his letter,
and Captain Brenton, in his History, say that not
much injury was received by the Guerriere until
about the time the mizzen-mast fell, which was
three or four minutes after close action began.

Lieutenant Allen was put aboard the Mace-
donian as prize-master; he secured the fore- and,
main-masts and rigged a jury mizzen-mast, con-
verting the vessel into a bark. Commodore De-
catur discontinued his cruise to convoy his prize



Naval War of 1 812 143

back to America; they reached New London
December 4th. Had it not been for the necessity
of convoying the Macedonian, the States would
have continued her cruise, for the damage she
suffered was of the most trifling character.

Captain Garden stated (in Marshall's Naval
Biography) that the States measured 1670 tons,
was manned by 509 men, suffered so from shot
under water that she had to be pumped out every
watch, and that two 18 -pound shot passed in a
horizontal line through her mainmasts; all of
which statements were highly creditable to the
vividness of his imagination. The States measured
but 1576 tons (and by English measurement very
much less), had 478 men aboard, had not been
touched by a shot under water-line and her lower
masts were unwounded. James states that most
of her crew were British, which assertion I have
already discussed; and that she had but one boy
aboard, and that he was seventeen years old, — in
which case 29 others, some of whom (as we learn
from the Life of Decatur) were only twelve, must
have grown with truly startling rapidity during
the hour and a half that the combat lasted.

During the twenty years. preceding 181 2, there
had been almost incessant warfare on the ocean,
and although there had been innumerable single
conflicts between French and English frigates,
there had been but one case in which the French



144 Naval War of 1812

frigate, single-handed, was victorious. This was
in the year 1805, when the Milan captured
the Cleopatra. According to Troude, the former
threw at a broadside 574 pounds (actual), the lat-
ter but 334; and the former lost 35 men out of her
crew of 350; the latter 58 out of 200. Or, the
forces being as 100 to 58, the loss inflicted was as
100 to 60 ; while the States' force, compared to the
Macedonian's, being as 100 to 66, the loss she in-
flicted was as 100 to 11.

British ships, moreover, had often conquered
against odds as great ; as, for instance, when the
Sea Horse captured the great Turkish frigate
Badere-Zaffer; when the Astrea captured the
French frigate Gloire, which threw at a broadside
286 pounds of shot, while she threw but 174; and
when, most glorious of all, Lord Dundonald, in the
gallant little Speedy, actually captured the Spanish
xebec Game, of over five times her own force!
Similarly, the corvette Comus captured the Danish
frigate Fredrickscoarn, the brig Onyx captured the
Dutch sloop Manly, the little cutter Thorn cap-
tured the French Courier-National, and the Pasley
the Spanish Virgin; while there had been many
instances of drawn battles between English 12-
pound frigates and French or Spanish i8-pounders.

Captain Hull having resigned the command of
the Constitution, she was given to Captain Bain-
bridge, of the Constellation, who was also entrusted



Naval War of 1 812 145

with the command of the Essex and Hornet. The
latter ship was in the port of Boston with the Con-
stitution, under the command of Captain Lawrence.
The Essex was in the Delaware, and accordingly
orders were sent to Captain Porter to rendezvous
at the Island of San Jago ; if that failed, several
other places were appointed, and if, after a certain
time, he did not fall in with his commodore, he was
to act at his own discretion.

On October 26th, the Constitution and Hornet
sailed,, touched at the different rendezvous, and,
on December 13th, arrived off San Salvador, where
Captain Lawrence found the Bonne Citoyenne, 18,
Captain Pitt Bamaby Greene. The Bonne Cito-
yenne was armed with eighteen 32-pound carron-
ades and two long 9's, and her crew of 1 50 men was
exactly equal in number to that of the Hornet ; the
latter's short weight in metal made her antagonist
superior to her in about the same proportion that
she herself was subsequently superior to the Pen-
guin, or, in other words, the ships were practically
equal. Captain Lawrence now challenged Captain
Greene to single fight, giving the usual pledges that
the Constitution should not interfere. The chal-
lenge was not accepted for a variety of reasons:
among others, the Bonne Citoyenne was carrying
home half a million pounds in specie.' Leaving

' Brenton and James both deny that Captain Greene was
blockaded by the Hornet, and claim that he feared the Con-

VOL. I.— lO.



146 Naval War of 181 2

the Hornet to blockade her, Commodore Bainbridge
ran off to the southward, keeping the land in view.
At 9 A.M., December 29, 181 2, while the Con-
stitution was running along the coast of Brazil,
about thirty miles off shore in latitude 13° 6' S.,
and longitude 31° W., two strange sail were made,^
inshore and to windward. These were H.B.M. frig-
ate Java, Captain Lambert, forty-eight days out of
Spithead, England, with the captured ship William

stitution. James says (p. 275) that the occurrence was one
which "the characteristic cunning of Americans turned
greatly to their advantage"; and adds that Lawrence only
sent the challenge because "it could not be accepted," and so
he would "suffer no personal risk." He states that the
reason it was sent, as well as the reason that it was refused,
was because the Constitution was going to remain in the ofhng
and capture the British ship if she proved conqueror. It is
somewhat surprising that even James should have had the
temerity to advance such arguments. According to his own
account (p. 277), the Constitution left for Boston on January
6th, and the Hornet remained blockading the Bonne Citoyenne
till the 24th, when the Montagu, 74, arrived. During these
eighteen days there could have been no possible chance of the
Constitution or any other ship interfering, and it is ridiculous
to suppose that any such fear kept Captain Greene from sail-
ing out to attack his foe. No doubt Captain Greene's cotirse
was perfectly justifiable, but it is curious that with all the
assertions made by James as to the cowardice of the Ameri-
cans, this is the only instance throughout the war in which a
ship of either party declined a contest with an antagonist of
equal force (the cases of Commodore Rodgers and Sir George
Collier being evidently due simply to an overestimate of the
opposing ships) .

' Official letter of Commodore Bainbridge, January 3, 1813



Naval War of 1 812 147

in company. Directing the latter to make for
San Salvador, the Java bore down in chase of the
Constitution.'- The wind was blowing light from
the N.N.E., and there was very little sea on. At
10 the Java made the private signals, English,
Spanish, and Portuguese in succession, none being
answered ; meanwhile, the Constitution was stand-
ing up toward the Java on the starboard tack ; a
little after 1 1 she hoisted her private signal, and
then, being satisfied that the strange sail was an
enemy, she wore and stood off toward the S.E.,
to draw her antagonist away from the land,^
which was plainly visible. The Java hauled up,
and made sail in a parallel course, the Constitution
bearing about three points on her lee bow. The



Online LibraryTheodore RooseveltThe naval war of 1812; or, The history of the United States navy during the last war with Great Britain, to which is appended an account of the battle of New Orleans; → online text (page 10 of 42)