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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steady, pouring in quite a destructive fire, until
the regulars had come up close to them, when
they also fled. The British regulars were too
heavily loaded to pursue, and, owing to their
mode of attack, and the rapidity with which their

XX Preface to Third Edition

opponents ran away, the loss of the latter was in
each case very slight. At North Point, however,
the militia, being more experienced, behaved
better than at Bladensburg. In neither case
were the British put to any trouble to win their

The above is a brief sketch of the campaigns
of the war. It is not cheerful reading for an
American, nor yet of interest to a military student ;
and its lessons have been taught so often by
similar occurrences in other lands under like cir-
cumstances, and, moreover, teach such self-evident
truths, that they scarcely need to be brought to
the notice of an historian. But the crowning
event of the war was the battle of New Orleans ;
remarkable in its military aspect, and a source
of pride to every American. It is well worth a
more careful studv, and to it I have devoted the
last chapter of this work.

New York City, 1883.


THE history of the naval events of the War of
1812 has been repeatedly presented both
to the American and the English reader.
Historical writers have treated it either in con-
nection with a general account of the contest on
land and sea, or as forming a part of the complete
record of the navies of the two nations. A few
monographs, which confine themselves strictly to
the naval occurrences, have also appeared. But
none of these works can be regarded as giving
a satisfactorily full or impartial account of the
war, some of them being of the "popular " and
loosely constructed order, while others treat it
from a purely partisan standpoint. No single
book can be quoted which would be accepted by
the modern reader as doing justice to both sides,
or, indeed, as telling the whole story. Any one
specially interested in the subject must read all;
and then it will seem almost a hopeless task to
reconcile the many and widely contradictory
statements he will meet with.

There appear to be three works which, taken
in combination, give the best satisfaction on the




subject. First, in James's Naval History of Great
Britain (which suppHes both the material and
the opinions of almost every subsequent English
or Canadian historian) can be found the British
view of the case. It is an invaluable work, written
with fulness and care; on the other hand, it is also
a piece of special pleading by a bitter and not
over-scrupulous partisan. This, in the second
place, can be partially supplemented by Fenimore
Cooper's Naval History of the United States. The
latter gives the American view of the cruises and
battles; but it is much less of an authority than
James's, both because it is written without great
regard for exactness, and because all figures for
the American side need to be supplied from Lieu-
tenant (now Admiral) George E. Emmons's Statis-
tical History of the United States Navy, which is
the third of the works in question.

But even after comparing these three authors,
many contradictions remain unexplained, and the
truth can only be reached in such cases by a care-
ful examination of the navy Records, the London
Naval Chronicle, Niles's Register, and other similar
documentary publications. Almost the only good
criticisms on the actions are those incidentally
given in standard works on other subjects, such
as Lord Howard Douglass's Naval Gunnery, and
Admiral Jurien de la Graviere's Giterres Maritinies.
Much of the material in our Navy Department



has never been touched at all. In short, no full,
accurate, and unprejudiced history of the war has
ever been written.

The subject merits a closer scrutiny than it has
received. At present people are beginning to
realize that it is folly for the great English-speak-
ing Republic to rely for defence upon a navy com-
posed partly of antiquated hulks, and partly of
new vessels rather more worthless than the old.
It is worth while to study with some care that
period of our history during which our navy stood
at the highest pitch of its fame ; and, to learn any-
thing from the past, it is necessary' to know, as
near as may be, the exact truth. Accordingly,
the work should be written impartially, if only
from the narrowest motives. Without abating a
jot from one's devotion to his country and flag,
I think a history can be made just enough to
W3 Tant its being received as an authority equally
among Americans and Englishmen. I have
endeavored to supply such a work. It is im-
possible that errors, both of fact and opinion,
should not have crept into it; and although I
have sought to make it in character as non-parti-
san as possible, these errors will probably be in
favor of the American side.

As my only object is to give an accurate narra-
tive of e^^ents, I shall esteem it a particular favor
if an^ one will furnish me with the means of

>^xlv Preface

rectifying such mistakes; and if I have done in-
justice to any commander, or officer of any grade,
whether American or British, I shall consider
myself under great obligations to those who will
set me right.

I have been unable to get access to the original
reports of the British commanders, the logs of
the British ships, or their muster-rolls, and so
have been obliged to take them at second hand
from the Gazette, or Naval Chronicle, or some
standard history. The American official letters,
log-books, original contracts, muster-rolls, etc.,
however, being preserved in the Archives at
Washington, I have been able, thanks to the
courtesy of the Hon. Wm. H. Hunt, Secretary
of the Navy, to look them over. The set of letters
from the officers is very complete, in three series,
— Captains' Letters, Masters-Commandant Letters,
and Officers' Letters, — there being several volumes
for each year. The books of contracts contain
valuable information as to the size and build of
some of the vessels. The log-books are rather
exasperating, often being very incomplete. Thus,
when I turned from Decatur's extremely vague
official letter describing the capture of the Mace-
donian to the log-book of the Frigate United
States, not a fact about the fight could be gleaned.
The last entry in the log on the day of the fight is
** strange sail discovered to be a frigate under Eng-



lish colors," and the next entry (on the following
day) relates to the removal of the prisoners. The
log of the Enterprise is very full indeed, for most
of the time, but is a perfect blank for the period
during which she was commanded by Lieutenant
Burrows, and in which she fought the Boxer. I
have not been able to find the Peacock's log at all,
though there is a very full set of letters from her
commander. Probably the fire of 1837 destroyed
a great deal of valuable material. Whenever it
was possible I have referred to printed matter in
preference to manuscript, and my authorities can
thus, in most cases, be easily consulted.

In conclusion, I desire to express my sincerest
thanks to Captain James D. Bulloch, formerly of
the United States Navy, and Commander Adolf
]\Iensing, formerly of the German Navy, without
whose advice and sympathy this work would
probably never have been written or even begun.

New York City, 1882.


(see also in alphabetical place in index)

American Slaic Papers.

Brenton, E. P. Naval History of Great Britain, lySj to
l8j6. 2 vols., octavo. London, 1837.

Broke, Adm., Memoir of, by Rev. J. G. Brighton. Octavo.
London, 1866.

Captains' Letters, in Archives at Washington.

Codrington, Adm. Sir E. Memoirs. Edited by his daugh-
ter. 2 vols., octavo. London, 1873.

Coggeshall, George. H istory of American Privateers . New
York, 1876,

Cooper, J. F. Naval History of the United States. New
York, i85(f

Douglass, Lord Howard. Naval Gunnery. Octavo. Lon-
don, i860.

Dundonald, Earl. Autobiography of a Seaman. London,

Emmons, Lieut. G. E. Statistical History of United States
Navy. 18 S3-

Farragut, Adm. D. G., Life of, by his son, Loyall Farragut.
Octavo. New York, 1878.

Graviere, Adm.. J. de la. Guerres Maritimes. 2 vols.,
octavo. Paris, 1881.

James, "William. Naval History of Great Britain. 6 vols.,
octavo. London, 1837.

James, William. Naval Occurrences with the Americans.
Octavo. London, 1817.

London Naval Chronicle.


Principal Authorities Referred To

Lossing, Benson J. Ficld-bookoftheWar of 1812. Octavo.
New York, 1869.

Low, C. R. History of the Indian Navy, 161 j to i86j. 2
vols., octavo. London, 1877.

Marshall. Royal Naval Biography. 12 vols., octavo.
London, 1825.

AI aster s-Commandant Letters, in Archives at Washington.

Morris, Com. Charles. Autobiograpliy. Annapolis, 1880.

Naval Archives, at Washington.

Niles. Weekly Register.

Pielat, B. La Vie ci les Actions Memorables dii St. Michel
de Ruyter. Amsterdam, 1677.

Riviere, Lieut. H. La Marine Frangaisc sous le Regime de
Louis XV. Paris, 1859.

Tatnall, Com., Life, by C. C. Jones, Jr. Savannah, 1878.

Toussard, L. de. American Artillerists' Companion.
Phila. 181 1.

Troude, O. Batailles Navales dc la France. Paris, 1868

Ward, Com. J. H. Manual of Naval Tactics. 1859.

Yonge, Charles Duke. History of the British Navy. ?,
vols., octavo. London, 1866.





Causes of the War of 1812 — Conflicting views of America
and Britain as regards neutral rights — Those of the former
power right — Impossibility of avoiding hostilities — Declara-
tion of war June 18, 181 2 — Slight preparations made —
General features of the contest — The treaty of peace nomin-
ally leaves the situation unchanged — But practically settles
the dispute in our favor in respect to maritime rights — The
British navy and its reputation prior to 1812 — Comparison
with other European navies — British and American author-
ities consulted in the present work 1-26


Overwhelming naval supremacy of England when America
declared war against her — Race identity of the combatants
— American navy at the beginning of the war — Officers well
trained — Catises tending to make our seamen especially
efficient — Close similarity between British and American
sailors — Our ships manned chiefly by native Americans,
many of whom had formerly been impressed into the British
navy — Quotas of seamen contributed by the different States
— Navy yards — Lists of officers and men — Lists of vessels —
Tonnage — Different ways of estimating it in Britain and
America — Ratings — ■ American ships properly rated — Ar-
maments of the frigates and corvettes — Three styles of guns
used — Difterence between long guns and carronades — Short


XXX Contents

weight of American shot — Comparison of British frigates
rating 38 and American frigates rating 44 guns — Compared
with a 74 27-88




Commodore Rodgers's crnisc and unsuccessful chase of the
Belvidera — Engagement between Bclvidera and President —
Hornet captures a privateer — Cruise of the Essex — Captain
Hull's cruise and escape from the squadron of Commodore
Broke — Constitution captures Giierriere — Marked superiority
shown by the Americans — Wasp captures Frolic — Dispro-
portionate loss on the British side — Both afterward captured
by Poictiers — Second unsuccessful cruise of Commodore
Rodgcrs — United States captures Macedonian — Constitution
captures Jai'ti— Cruise of Essex — -Summary 89-169




Preliminary. — The combatants starting nearly on an
equality — Difficulties of creating a naval force — Difficulty of
comparing the force of the rival squadrons — Meagreness of
the published accounts — Unreliability of authorities, espe-
cially James. — Ontario — Extraordinary nature of the Ameri-
can squadron — Canadian squadron a kind of water militia —
Sackett's Harbor feebly attacked by Commodore Earle^
Commodore Chauncy attacks the Royal George — And bom-
bards York. — Erie — Lieutenant Elliot captures the Detroit
and Caledonia — Lieutenant Angus's unsuccessful attack on
Red House barracks 170-194

Contents xxxi


1 813


Blockade of the American coast — Commodore Porter's
campaign with the Essex in the South Pacific — Hornet block-
ades Bonne Citoyenne — Hornet captures Resolution — Hor}ict
captures Peacock — Generous treatment shown to the con-
quered — Viper captvired by Narcissus — American privateers
cut out by British boats — Third cruise of Commodore Rodgers
— United States, Macedonian, and Wasp blockaded in New
London — Broke's challenge to Lawrence — The Chesapeake
captured by the Shannon — Comments and criticisms by
various authorities — Surveyor captured by boats of Narcissus
— Futile gunboat actions — British attack on Craney Island
repulsed— Cutting-out expeditions — The Argus captured by
the Pelican — ^The Enterprise captures the Boxer — Ocean war-
fare of 18 1 3 in favor of British — Summary 195-267




Ontario — Comparison of the rival squadrons — -Chauncy's
superiority in strength — Chauncy takes York and Fort George
— -Yeo is repulsed at Sackett's Harbor, but keeps command
of the lake — The Lady of the Lake captures Lady Murray —
Hatnilton and Scourge founder in a squall — Yeo's partial
victory off Niagara — Indecisive action off the Genesee —
Chauncy's partial victory off Burlington, which gives him
the command of the lake — Yeo and Chauncy compared —
Reasons for American success. — Erie — Perry's success in
creating a fleet — His victory^" Glory " of it overestimated —
Cause of his success. — Champlain — The Growler and Eagle
captured by gunboats — Summary of year's campaign,





Causes of the War of 1S12 — Conflicting views of America
and Britain as regards neutral rights — Those of the former
power right — ImpossibiHty of avoiding hostihties — Declara-
tion of war — General features of the contest — The treaty of
peace nominallj' leaves the situation unchanged — But practi-
cally settles the dispute in our favor in respect to maritime
rights — The British navy and its reputation prior to 1812—
Comparison with other European navies — British and Ameri-
can authorities consulted in the present work.

THE view professed by Great Britain in 181 2
respecting the rights of belligerents and
neutrals was diametrically opposite to that
held by the United States. " Between England
and the United States of America," writes a
British author, "a spirit of animosity, caused
chiefly by the impressment of British seamen, or
of seamen asserted to be such, from on board of
American merchant vessels, had unhappily sub-
sisted for a long time" prior to the war. " It is,
we believe," he continues, "an acknowledged

VOL* I.— I.


2 Naval War of 1812

maxim of public law, as well that no nation but
the one he belongs to can release a subject from
his natural allegiance, as that, provided the juris-
diction of another independent state be not in-
fringed, every nation has a right to enforce the
services of her subjects wherever they may be
found. Nor has any neutral nation such a juris-
diction over her merchant vessels upon the high
seas as to exclude a belligerent nation from the
right of searching them for contraband of war or
for the property or persons of her enemies. And
if, in the exercise of that right, the belligerent
should discover on board of the neutral vessel a
subject who has withdrawn himself from his law-
ful allegiance, the neutral can have no fair ground
for refusing to deliver him up ; more especially if
that subject is proved to be a deserter from the
sea or land service of the former." '

Great Britain's doctrine was, "once a subject
always a subject." On the other hand, the United
States maintained that any foreigner, after five
years' residence within her territory, and after
having complied with certain forms, became one
of her citizens as completely as if he was native
bom. Great Britain contended that her war ships
possessed the right of searching all neutral vessels

* The Naval History of Great Britain, by William James,
vol. iv., p. 324. (New edition by Captain Chamier, R. N.,
London, 1837.)

Naval War of 1 812 3

for the property and persons of her foes. The
United States resisted this claim, asserting that
"free bottoms made free goods," and that conse-
quently her ships when on the high seas should
not be molested on any pretext whatever. Finally,
Great Britain's system of impressment,' by which
men could be forcibly seized and made to serve
in her navy, no matter at what cost to themselves,
was repugnant to every American idea.

Such wide differences in the views of the two
nations produced endless difhculties. To escape
the , press-gang, or for other reasons, many British
seamen took service under the American flag;
and if they were demanded back, it is not likely
that they or their American shipmates had much
hesitation in swearing either that they were not
British at all, or else that they had been natural-
ized as Americans. Equally probable is it that
the American blockade-runners were guilty of a
great deal of fraud and more or less thinly veiled
perjury. But the wrongs done by the Americans
were insignificant compared with those they re-
ceived. Any innocent merchant vessel was liable
to seizure at any moment ; and when overhauled
by a British cruiser short of men was sure to be
stripped of most of her crew. The British officers
were themselves the judges as to whether a

» The best idea of which can be gained by reading Marryat's

4 Naval War of 1812

seaman should be pronounced a native of Amer-
ica or of Britain, and there was no appeal from
their judgment. If a captain lacked his full com-
plement there was little doubt as to the view he
would take of any man's nationality. The
wrongs inflicted on our seafaring countrymen by
their impressment into foreign ships formed the
main cause of the war.

There were still other grievances which are thus
presented by the British Admiral Cochrane.' " Our
treatment of its (x\merica's) citizens was scarcely
in accordance with the national privileges to
which the young Republic had become entitled.
There were, no doubt, many individuals among
the American people who, caring little for the Fede-
ral Government, considered it more profitable to
break than to keep the laws of nations by aiding
and supporting our enemy (France), and it was
against such that the efforts of the squadron had
chiefly been directed; but the way the object was
carried out was scarcely less an infraction of those
national laws which we were professedly enfor-
cing. The practice of taking English (and Ameri-
can) seamen out of American ships, without regard
to the safety of navigating them when thus de-
prived of their hands, has been already mentioned.

' Autobiography of a Seaman, by Thomas, tenth Earl of
Dundonald, Admiral of the Red; Rear- Admiral of the Fleet.
London, i860, vol. i., p. 24.

Naval War of 1 8 1 2 5

To this may be added the detention of vessels
against which nothing contrary to international
neutrality could be established, whereby their
cargoes became damaged; the compelling them,
on suspicion only, to proceed to ports other than
those to which they were destined ; and generally
treating them as though they were engaged in
contraband trade. , . . American ships wei'e
not permitted to quit English ports without giving
security for the discharge of their cargoes in some
other British or neutral port." On the same sub-
ject, James' writes: "When, by the maritime su-
premacy of England, France could no longer trade
for herself, America proffered her services, as a
neutral, to trade for her ; and American merchants
and their agents, in the gains that flowed in, soon
found a compensation for all the perjury and
fraud necessary to cheat the former out of her
belligerent rights. The high commercial im-
portance of the United States thus obtained,
coupled with a similarity of language and, to a
superficial observer, a resemblance in person be-
tween the natives of America and Great Britain,
has caused the former to be the chief, if not the
only sufferers by the exercise of the right of
search. Chiefly indebted for their growth and
prosperity to emigration from Europe, the United
States hold out every allurement to foreigners,

'L. c, iv., 325.

6 Naval War of 1 812

particularly to British seamen, whom, by a pro-
cess peculiarly their own, they can naturalize as
quickly as a dollar can exchange masters and a
blank form, ready signed and sworn to, can be
filled up.' It is the knowledge of this fact that
makes British naval officers, when searching for
deserters from their service, so harsh in their
scrutiny, and so sceptical of American oaths and

The last sentence of the foregoing from James
is an euphemistic way of saying that whenever a
British commander short of men came across an
American vessel he impressed all of her crew that
he wanted, whether they were citizens of the
United States or not. It must be remembered
however, that the only reason why Great Britain
did us more injury than any other power was be-
cause she was better able to do so. None of her
acts were more offensive than Napoleon's Milan
decree, by which xit was declared that any neutral
vessel which permitted itself to be searched by a
British cruiser should be considered as British,
and as the lawful prize of any French vessel.
French frigates and privateers were very apt to
snap up any American vessel they came across,
and were only withheld at all by the memory of
the sharp dressing they had received in the West
Indies during the quasi- war of 1799-18 00. What

I This is an exaggeration.

Naval War of 1812 7

we undoubtedly ought to have done was to have
adopted the measure actually proposed in Con-
gress, and declared war on both France and Eng-
land. As it was, we chose as a foe the one that
had done, and could still do, us the greatest

The principles for which the United States con-
tended in 181 2 are now universally accepted, and
those so tenaciously maintained by Great Britain
find no advocates in the civilized world. That
England herself was afterwards completely recon-
ciled to our views, was amply shown by her intense
indignation when Commodore Wilkes, in the ex-
ercise of the right of search for the persons of the
foes of his country, stopped the neutral British
ship Trent; while the applause with which the
act was greeted in America proves pretty clearly
another fact — that we had warred for the right,
not because it was the right, but because it agreed
with our self-interest to do so. We were con-
tending for "Free Trade and Sailors' Rights":
meaning by the former expression, freedom to
trade wherever we chose without hindrance save
from the power with whom we were trading;
and by the latter, that a man who happened to
be on the sea should have the same protection ac-
corded to a man who remained on land. Nom-
inally, neither of these questions was settled by, or
even alluded to, in the treaty of peace : but the

8 Naval War of 1 8 1 2

immense increase in reputation that the navy ac-
quired during the war practically decided both
points in our favor. Our sailors had gained too
great a name for any one to molest them with
impunity again.

Holding views on these maritime subjects so
radically different from each other, the two nations
could not but be continually dealing with causes
of quarrel. Not only did British cruisers molest
our merchantmen, but at length one of them,
the 50-gun ship Leopard attacked an American
frigate, the Chesapeake, when the latter was so
lumbered up that she could not return a shot,
killed or disabled some twenty of her men, and
took away four others, one Briton and three
Americans, who were claimed as deserters. For
this act an apology was offered, but it failed to
restore harmony between the two nations. Soon
afterward another action was fought. The Ameri-
can frigate President, Commodore Rodgers, at-
tacked the British sloop Little Belt, Captain
Bingham, and exchanged one or two broadsides

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 2 of 42)