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

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Java gained rapidly, being much the swifter.

At 1.30 the Constitution luffed up, shortened
her canvas to topsails, topgallantsails, jib, and
spanker, and ran easily off on the port tack, head-
ing toward the southeast; she carried her com-
modore's pennant at the main, national ensigns at
the mizzen-peak and main-topgallant mast-head,
and a jack at the fore. The Java also had taken
in the mainsail and royals, and came down in a
lasking course on her adversary's weather-quarter,^

' Official letter of Lieutenant Chads, December 31, 1812.

, ^ Log of the Constitution.

^ Lieutenant Chads 's address to the court-naartial, Aoril 23,

148 Naval War of 181 2

hoisting her ensign at the mizzen-peak, a union-
jack at the mizzen- topgallant mast-head, and
another lashed to the main-rigging. At 2 p.m.,
the Constitution fired a shot ahead of her, following
it quickly by a broadside,' and the two ships began
at long bowls, the English , firing the lee or star-
board battery while the Americans replied with
their port guns. The cannonade was very spirited
on both sides, the ships suffering about equally.
The first broadside of the Java was very destruc-
tive, killing and wounding several of the Constitu-
tion s crew. The Java kept edging down, and the
action continued, with grape and musketry in
addition; the swifter British ship soon fore-
reached and kept away, intending to wear across
her slower antagonist's bow and rake her; but the
latter wore in the smoke, and the two combatants
ran off to the westward, the Englishman still
a-weather and steering freer than the Constitution,
which had luffed to close.' The action went on
at pistol-shot distance. In a few minutes, how-
ever, the Java again forged ahead, out of the
weight of her adversary's fire, and then kept off,
as before, to cross her bows; and, as before, the
Constitution avoided this by wearing, both ships
again coming round with their heads to the east,
the American still to leeward. The Java kept the
weather-gage tenaciously, forereaching a little,

I Commodore Bainbridge's letter ^ Log of the Constitution.

Naval War of 1 812 149

and whenever the Constitution luffed up to close/
the former tried to rake her. But her gunnery
was now poor, little damage being done by it;
most of the loss the Americans suffered was early
in the action. By setting her foresail and main-
sail, the Constitution got up close on the enemy's
lee beam, her fire being very heavy and carrying
away the end of the Java's bowsprit and her jib-
boom.^ The Constitution forged ahead and re-
peated her former manoeuvre, wearing in the
smoke. The Java at once hove in stays, but
owing to the loss of headsail fell off very slowly,
and the American frigate poured a heavy raking
broadside into her stern, at about two cables'
length distance. The Java replied with her port
guns as she fell off.3 Both vessels then bore up
and ran off free, with the wind on the port quarter;
the Java being abreast and to windward of her an-
tagonist, both with their heads a little east of
south. The ships were less than a cable's length
apart, and the Constitution inflicted great damage,
while suffering very little herself. The British
lost many men by the musketry of the American
topmen, and suffered still more from the round
and grape, especially on the forecastle,"^ many

' Log of the Constitution. ^ Lieutenant Chads's letter.

3 Ibid.

4 Testimony of Christopher Speedy, in minutes of the
court-martial on board H.M.S. Gladiator, at Portsmouth,
April 23, 1813.

150 Naval War of 181 2

marked instances of valor being shown on both
sides. The Java's masts were wounded and her
rigging cut to pieces, and Captain Lambert then
ordered her to be laid aboard the enemy, who was
on her lee beam. The helm was put a-weather,
and the Java came down for the Constitution' s
main-chains. The boarders and marines gathered
in the gangways and on the forecastle, the boat-
swain having been ordered to cheer them up with
his pipe that they might make a clean spring.'
The Americans, however, raked the British with
terrible effect, cutting off their main- topmast
above the cap, and their foremast near the cat
harpings.- The stump of the Java's bowsprit
got caught in the Constitution's mizzen-rigging,
and before it got clear the British suffered still

Finally, the ships separated, the Java's bowsprit
passing over the taffrail of the Constitution; the
latter at once kept away to avoid being raked..
The ships again got nearly abreast, but the Con-
stitution, in her turn, forereached; whereupon
Commodore Bainbridge wore, passed his antag-
onist, luffed up under his quarter, raked him with
the starboard guns, then wore, and recommenced

' Testimony of James Humble, in minutes of the court-
martial on board H.M.S. Gladiator, at Portsmouth, April 23,

^ Log of Constitution

Naval War of 1 812 151

the action with his port broadside at about 3.10.
Again the vessels were abreast, and the action went
on as furiously as ever. The wreck of the top ham-
per on the Java lay over her starboard side, so
that every discharge of her guns set her on fire,' and
in a few minutes her able and gallant commander
was mortally wounded by a ball fired by one of the
American main-topmen.^ The command then de-
volved on the first lieutenant. Chads, himself pain-
fully wounded. The slaughter had been terrible,
yet the British fought on with stubborn resolu-
tion, cheering lustily. But success was now hope-
less, for nothing could stand against the cool
precision of the Yankee fire. The stump of the
Java's foremast was carried away by a double-
headed shot, the mizzen-mast fell, the gaff and
spanker boom were shot away, also the main-yard,
and finally the ensign was cut down by a shot, and
all her guns absolutely silenced; when at 4.05 the
Constitution, thinking her adversary had struck,^
ceased firing, hauled aboard her tacks, and passed
across her adversary's bows to windward, with her.
topsails, jib, and spanker set. A few minutes
afterward the Java's mainmast fell, leaving her a
sheer hulk. The Constitution assumed a weatherly
position, and spent an hour in repairing damages

^ Lieutenant Chads's address.
^ Surgeon J. C. Jones's report.
3 Log of the Constitution (as given in Bainbridge's letter).

152 Naval War of 1812

and securing her masts ; then she wore and stood
toward her enemy, whose flag was again flying,
but only for bravado, for as soon as the Constitu-
tion stood across her forefoot she struck. At 5.25
she was taken possession of by Lieutenant Parker,
ist of the Constitution, in one of the latter's only
two remaining boats.

The American ship had suffered comparatively
little. But a few round shot had struck her hull,
one of which carried away the wheel; one 18-
pounder went through the mizzen-mast ; the fore-
mast, main-topmast, and a few other spars were
slightly wounded, and the running rigging and
shrouds were a good deal cut; but in an hour
she was again in good fighting trim. Her loss
amounted to 8 seamen and i marine killed; the
5th lieutenant, John C. Alwyn, and 2 seamen,
mortally. Commodore Bainbridge and 12 seamen,
severely, and 7 seamen and 2 marines, slightly
wounded ; in all 1 2 killed and mortally wounded,
and 22 wounded severely and slightly.'
. " The Java sustained unequalled injuries beyond
the Constitution," says the British account.^
These have already been given in detail ; she was
a riddled and entirely dismasted hulk. Her loss
(for discussion of which see farther on) was 48
killed (including Captain Henry Lambert, who

' Report of Surgeon Amos A. Evans.
' Naval Chronicle, xxix.. 452.



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154 Naval War of 1812

died soon after the close of the action, and five
midshipmen), and 102 wounded, among them
Lieutenant Henry Ducie Chads, Lieutenant of
Marines David Davies, Commander John Mar-
shall, Lieutenant James Saunders, the boatswain,
James Humble, master. Batty Robinson, and four

In this action both ships displayed equal gal-
lantry and seamanship. "The Java,'' says Com-
modore Bainbridge, " was exceedingly well handled
and bravely fought. Poor Captain Lambert was
a distinguished and gallant officer, and a most
worthy man, whose death I sincerely regret."
The manoeuvring on both sides was excellent;
Captain Lambert used the advantage which his
ship possessed in her superior speed most skilfully,
always endeavoring to run across his adversary's
bows and rake him when he had forereached, and
it was only owing to the equal skill which his an-
tagonist displayed that he was foiled, the length
of the combat being due to the number of evolu-
tions. The great superiority of the Americans
was in their gunnery. The fire of the Java was
both less rapid and less well-directed than that of
her antagonist ; the difference of force against her
was not heavy, being about as ten is to nine, and
was by no means enough to account for the almost
fivefold greater loss she suffered.

On page 153 is a diagram of the battle. It

Naval War of 1 812 155

differs from both of the official accounts, as these
conflict greatly, both as to time and as regards
some of the evolutions. I generally take the
mean in cases of difference; for example, Com-
modore Bainbridge's report makes the fight en-
dure but I hour and 55 minutes, Lieutenant
Chads 's 2 hours and 25 minutes; I have made it
2 hours and 10 minutes, etc.

The tonnage and weight of metal of the com-
batants have already been stated ; I will give the
complements shortly. The following is the


Tons Weight Metal No. Men Loss

Consiitiiiion 1576 654 475 34

Java 1340 576 426 150

Relative Force Relative Loss Inflicted

Constitution 100 100

Java 89 23

In hardly another action of the war do the ac-
counts of the respective forces differ so widely;
the official British letter makes their total of men
at the beginning of the action 377, of whom Com-
modore Bainbridge officially reports that he
paroled 378 ! The British state their loss in killed
and mortally wounded at 24; Commodore Bain-
bridge reports that the dead alone amounted to
nearly 60! Usually I have taken each com-
mander's account of his own force and loss, and I
should do so now if it were not that the British
accounts differ among themselves, and whenever

156 Naval War of 181 2

they relate to the Americans are flatly con-
tradicted by the affidavits of the latter' s officers.
The British first handicap themselves by the
statement that the surgeon of the Constitution was
an Irishman and lately an assistant surgeon in the
British navy {Naval Chronicle, xxix., 452) ; which
draws from Surgeon Amos A. Evans a solemn
statement in the Boston Gazette that he was bom
in Maryland and was never in the British naVy in
his life. Then Surgeon Jones of the Java, in his
official report, after giving his own killed and
mortally wounded at 24, says that the Americans
lost in all about 60, and that 4 of their amputa-
tions perished under his own eyes; whereupon
Surgeon Evans makes the statement (Niles's Reg-
ister, vi., p. 35), backed up by affidavits of his
brother officers, that in all he had but five ampu-
tations, of whom only one died, and that one, a
month after Surgeon Jones had left the ship. To
meet the assertions of Lieutenant Chads that he
began action with but 377 men, the Constitution's
officers produced the Javas muster-roll, dated
November 17th, or five days after she had sailed,
which showed 446 persons, of whom 20 had been
put on board a prize. The presence of this large
number of supernumeraries on board is explained
by the fact that the Java was carrying out Lieu-
tenant-General Hislop, the newly-appointed Gov-
ernor of Bombay, and his suite, together with part

Naval War of 1 812 157

of the crews for the Cornwallis, 74, and gun-sloops
Chameleon and Icarus; she also contained stores
for those two ships.

Besides conflicting with the American reports,
the British statements contradict one another.
The official published report gives but two mid-
shipmen as killed ; while one of the volumes of the
Naval Chronicle (vol. xxix., p. 452) contains a let-
ter from one of the Java's lieutenants, in which
he states that there were five. Finally, Commo-
dore Bainbridge found on board the Constitution,
after the prisoners had left, a letter from Lieu-
tenant H. D. Comick, dated January i, 181 3, and
addressed to Lieutenant Peter V. Wood, 2 2d
Regiment, foot, in which he states that 65 of their
men were killed. James {Naval Occurrences) gets
around this by stating that it was probably a
forgery ; but, aside from the improbability of Com-
modore Bainbridge being a forger, this could not
be so, for nothing would have been easier than for
the British lieutenant to have denied having
written it, which he never did. On the other hand,
it would be very likely that in the heat of the ac-
tion. Commodore Bainbridge and the Java's own
officers should overestimate the latter' s loss.^

* For an account of the shameless corruption then existing
in the Naval Administration of Great Britain, see Lord Dun-
donald's Autobiography of a Seaman. The letters of the com-
manders were often garbled, as is mentioned by Brenton.

158 Naval War of 181 2

Taking all these facts into consideration, we
find 446 men on board the Java by her own muster-
list; 378 of these were paroled by Commodore
Bainbridge at San Salvador; 24 men were ac-
knowledged by the enemy to be killed or mortally
wounded; 20 were absent in a prize, leaving 24
unaccounted for, who were undoubtedly slain.

The British loss was thus 48 men killed and
mortally wounded, and 102 wounded severely and
slightly. The Java was better handled and more
desperately defended than the Macedonian or even
the Guerriere, and the odds against her were much
smaller; so she caused her opponent greater loss,
though her gunnery was no better than theirs.

Lieutenant Parker, prize-master of the Java,
removed all the prisoners and baggage to the Con-
stitution, and reported the prize to be in a very
disabled state; owing partly to this, but more to
the long distance from home and the great danger
there was of recapture. Commodore Bainbridge
destroyed her on the 31st, and then made sail for
San Salvador. "Our gallant enemy," reports
Lieutenant Chads, "has treated us most gener-
ously"; and Lieutenant-General Hislop pre-
sented the Commodore with a very handsome

Among numerous cases that he giv^es may be mentioned the
cutting out of the Chevrette, where he distinctly says, "our
loss was much greater than was ever acknowledged " (voL i.,
p. 505, edition of 1S37).

Naval War of 1 812 159

sword as a token of gratitude for the kindness
with which he had treated the prisoners.

Partly in consequence of his frigate's injuries,
but especially because of her decayed condition,
Commodore Bainbridge sailed from San Salvador
on January 6, 181 3, reaching Boston February
27th, after his four months' cruise. At San Sal-
vador he left the Hornet still blockading the
Bonne Citoyenne.

In order "to see ourselves as others see us," I
shall again quote from Admiral Jurien de la Gra-
viere, ^ as his opinions are certainly well worthy
of attention, both as to these first three battles
and as to the lessons they teach. " When the
American Congress declared war on England in
181 2," he says, "it seemed as if this unequal con-
flict would crush her navy in the act of being bom ;
instead, it but fertilized the germ. It is only since
that epoch that the United States has taken rank
among maritime powers. Some combats of frig-
ates, corvettes, and brigs, insignificant without
doubt as regards material results, sufficed to break
the charm which protected the standard of St.
George, and taught Europe what she could have
already learned from some of our combats, if the
louder noise of our defeats had not drowned the
glory, that the only invincibles on the sea are good
seamen and good artillerists.

^Guerres Maritime s,{\., 284 (Paris, 1881).

i6o Naval War of 1812

"The English covered the ocean with their
cruisers when this unknown navy, composed of
six frigates and a few small craft hitherto hardly
numbered, dared to establish its cruisers at the
mouth of the Channel, in the very centre of the
British power. But already the Constitution had
captured the Guerriere and Java, the United States
had made a prize of the Macedonian, the Wasp of
the Frolic, and the Hornet of the Peacock. The
honor of the new flag was established. England,
humiliated, tried to attribute her multiplied re-
verses to the unusual size of the vessels which
Congress had had constructed in 1799, and which
did the fighting in 1 8 1 2 . She wished to refuse them
the name of frigates, and called them, not without
some appearance of reason, disguised line-of-
battle ships. Since then all maritime powers have
copied these gigantic models, as the result of the
War of 181 2 obliged England herself to change
her naval material ; but if they had employed, in-
stead of frigates, cut-down 74's {vaisseaux rases),
it would still be difficult to explain the prodigious
success of the Americans. . . .

"In an engagement which terminated in less
than half an hour, the English frigate Giierrihre,
completely dismasted, had fifteen men killed,
sixty-three wounded, and more than thirty shot
below the water-line. She sank twelve hours
after the combat. The Constitution, on the con-

Naval War of 1 812 161

trary, had but seven men killed and seven
wounded, and did not lose a mast. As soon as
she had replaced a few cut ropes and changed a
few sails, she was in condition, even by the testi-
mony of the British historian, to take another
Guerriere. The United States took an hour and a
half to capture the Macedonian, and the same
difference made itself felt in the damage suffered
by the two ships. The Macedonian had her masts
shattered, two of her main-deck and all her spar-
deck guns disabled; more than a hundred shot
had penetrated the hull, and over a third of the
crew had suffered by the hostile fire. The Amer-
ican frigate, on the contrary, had to regret but
five men killed and seven wounded ; her guns had
been fired each sixty-six times to the Macedonian's
thirty-six. The combat of the Constitution and
the jfava lasted two hours, and was the most
bloody of these three engagements. The Java
only struck when she had been razed like a sheer
hulk; she had twenty-two men killed and one
hundred and two wounded.

"This war should be studied with unceasing
diligence ; the pride of two peoples to whom naval
affairs are so generally familiar has cleared all the
details and laid bare all the episodes, and through
the sneers which the victors should have spared,
merely out of care for their own glory, at everv

VOL, I. — II.

1 62 Naval War of 1 812

step can be seen that great truth, that there is only
success for those who know how to prepare for it.

"It belongs to us to judge impartially these
marine events, too much exalted perhaps by a na-
tional vanity one is tempted to excuse. The
Americans showed, in the War of 18 12, a great
deal of skill and resolution. But if, as they have
asserted, the chances had always been perfectly
equal between them and their adversaries, if they
had only owed their triumphs to the intrepidity of
Hull, Decatur, and Bainbridge, there would be for
us but little interest in recalling the struggles. We
need not seek lessons in courage outside of our own
history. On the contrary, what is to be well con-
sidered is that the ships of the United States con-
stantly fought with the chances in their favor, and
it is on this that the American government should
found its true title to glory. . . . The Ameri-
cans in 1 8 1 2 had secured to themselves the advan-
tage of a better organization [than the English]."

The fight between the Constitution and the Java
illustrates best the proposition, "that there is only
success for those who know how to prepare for it.''
Here the odds in men and metal were only about
as 10 to 9 in favor of the victors, and it is safe to
say that they might have been reversed without
vitally affecting the result. In the fight Lambert
handled his ship as skilfully as Bainbridge did his ;

Naval War of 1 812 163

and the Java's men proved by their Indomitable
courage that they were excellent material. The
Java's crew was new shipped for the voyage, and
had been at sea but six weeks; in the Constitu-
tion's first fight her crew had been aboard of her
but iive weeks. So the chances should have been
nearly equal, and the difference in fighting capa-
city that was shown by the enormous disparity in
the loss, and still more in the damage inflicted,
was due to the fact that the officers of one ship
had, and the officers of the other had not, trained
their raw crews. The Constitution'' s men were not
" picked," but simply average American sailors,
as the Java's were average British sailors. The
essential difference was in the training.

During the six weeks the Java was at sea, her
men had fired but six broadsides, of blank cart-
ridges; during the first five weeks the Constitution
cruised, her crew were incessantly practised at
firing with blank cartridge, and also at a target.'
The Java's crew had only been exercised occasion-
ally, even in pointing the guns, and when the
captain of a gun was killed the effectiveness of
the piece was temporarily ruined, and, moreover,
the men did not work together. The Constitution' s

^ In looking through the logs of the Constitution, Hornet,
etc., we continually find such entries as "beat to quarters,
exercised the men at the great guns," "exercised with
musketry," "exercised the boarders," "exercised the great
guns, blank cartridges, and afterward firing at mark."

1 64 Naval War of 1 812

crew were exercised till they worked like machines,
and yet with enough individuality to render it im-
possible to cripple a gun by kiUing one man. The
unpractised British sailors fired at random; the
trained Americans took aim. The British mar-
ines had not been taught anything approxi-
mating to skirmishing or sharpshooting ; the
Americans had. The British sailors had not
even been trained enough in the ordinary duties
of seamen ; while the Americans in five weeks had
been rendered almost perfect. The former were
at a loss what to do in an emergency at all out of
their own line of work; they were helpless when
the wreck fell over their guns, when the Americans
would have cut it away in a jiffy. As we learn
from Commodore Morris's Autobiography, each
Yankee sailor could, at need, do a little carpenter-
ing or sail-mending, and so was more self-reliant.
The crew had been trained to acf as if guided by
one mind, yet each man retained his own indi-
viduality. The petty officers were better paid
than in Great Britain, and so were of a better class
of men, thoroughly self-respecting ; the Americans
soon got their subordinates in order, while the
British did not. To sum up: one ship's crew had
been trained practically and thoroughly, while
the other crew was not much better off than the
day it sailed ; and, as far as it goes, this is a good
test of the efficiency of the two navies.

Naval War of 1 812 165

The U. S. brig Vixen, 12, Lieutenant George U.
Read, had been cruising off the southern coast ; on
November 2 2d she fell in with the Southampton,
32, Captain Sir James Lucas Yeo, and was cap-
tured after a short but severe trial of speed. Both
vessels were wrecked soon afterward.

The Essex, 32, Captain David Porter, left the
Delaware on October 28th, two days after Com-
modore Bainbridge had left Boston. She ex-
pected to make a very long cruise and so carried
with her an unusual quantity of stores and sixty
more men than ordinarily, so that her muster-roll
contained 319 names. Being deep in the water,
she reached San lago after Bainbridge had left.
Nothing was met with until after the Essex had
crossed the equator in latitude 30° W. on Decem-
ber nth. On the afternoon of the next day a
sail was made out to windward, and chased. At
nine in the evening it was overtaken, and struck
after receiving a volley of musketry which killed
one man. The prize proved to be the British
packet Nocton, of 10 guns and 31 men, with $55,-
000 in specie aboard. The latter was taken out,
and the Nocton sent home with Lieutenant Finch

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 11 of 42)