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 20 of 42)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

his presence. He kept a close blockade for some
time; but on the 2d of August he disappeared.
Perry at once hurried forward everything; and
on the 4th, at 2 p.m., one brig, the Lawrence, was
towed to that point of the bar where the water was
deepest. Her guns were whipped out and landed
on the beach, and the brig got over the bar by a
hastily improvised "camel."

"Two large scows, prepared for the purpose,
were hauled alongside, and the work of lifting the
brig proceeded as fast as possible. Pieces of mas-
sive timber had been run through the forward and
after ports, and when the scows were sunk to the
water's edge, the ends of the timbers were blocked



3IO Naval War of 1812

up, supported by these floating foundations. The
plugs were now put in the scows, and the water
was pumped out of them. By this process the
brig was Hfted quite two feet, though when she
was got on the bar it was found that she still drew
too much water. It became necessary, in conse-
quence, to cover up everything, sink the scows
anew, and block up the timbers afresh. This duty
occupied the whole night." '

Just as the Lawrence had passed the bar, at 8
A.M. on the 5th, the enemy reappeared, but too
late ; Captain Barclay exchanged a few shots with
the schooners and then drew off. The Niagara
crossed without difficulty. There were still not
enough men to man the vessels, but a draft arrived
from Lake Ontario, and many of the frontiersmen
volunteered, while soldiers also were sent on board.
The squadron sailed on the i8th in pursuit of the
enemy, whose ship was now ready. After cruis-
ing about some time, the Ohio was sent down the
lake, and the other ships went into Put-in Bay.
On the 9th of September, Captain Barclay put out
from Amherstburg, being so short of provisions
that he felt compelled to risk an action with the
superior force opposed. On the loth of Septem-
ber, his squadron was discovered from the mast-
head of the Lawrence in the northwest. Before
going into details of the action we will examine the

' Cooper, ii., 389. Perry's letter of August 5th is very brief.



Naval War of 1 8 1 2 311

force of the two squadrons, as the accounts vary
considerably.

The tonnage of the British ships, as already
stated, we know exactly, they having been all
carefully appraised and measured by the builder,
Mr. Henry Eckford, and two sea-captains. We
also know the dimensions of the American ships.
The Lawrence and Niagara measured 480 tons
apiece. The Caledonia, brig, was about the size
of the Hunter, or 180 tons. The Tigress, Somers,
and Scorpion were subsequently captured by the
foe and were then said to measure, respectively,
96, 94, and 86 tons; in which case they were
larger than similar boats on Lake Ontario. The
Ariel was about the size of the Hamilton; the
Porcupine and Trippe about the size of the Asp
and Pert. As for the guns. Captain Barclay, in
his letter, gives a complete account of those on
board his squadron. He has also given a com-
plete account of the American guns, which is most
accurate, and, if anything, underestimates them.
At least, Emmons, in his History, gives the Trippe
a long 32, while Barclay says she had only a long
24; and Lossing, in his Field-Book, says (but I do
not know on what authority) that the Caledonia
had three long 24's, while Barclay gives her two long
24's and one 32-pound carronade; and that the
Somers had two long 32's, while Barclay gives her
one long 32 and one 24-pound carronade. I shall



312 Naval War of 1812

take Barclay's account, which corresponds with
that of Emmons; the only difference being that
Emmons puts a 24-pounder on the Scorpion and a
32 on the Trippe, while Barclay reverses this. I
shall also follow Emmons in giving the Scorpion a
3 2 -pound carronade instead of a 24.

It is more difficult to give the strength of the
respective crews. James says the Americans had
580, all "picked men." They were just as much
picked men as Barclay's were, and no more; that
is, the ships had "scratch" crews. Lieutenant
Emmons gives Perry 490 men; and Lossing says
he "had upon his muster-roll 490 names." In
vol. xiv., p. 566, of the American State Papers, is
a list of the prize-monies owing to each man (or
to the survivors of the killed), which gives a grand
total of 532 men, including 136 on the Lawrence
and 155 on the Niagara, 45 of whom were volun-
teers — frontiersmen. Deducting these, we get 487
men, which is pretty near Lieutenant Emmons's
490. Possibly, Lieutenant Emmons did not in-
clude these volunteers; and it may be that some
of the men whose names were down on the prize-
list had been so sick that they were left on shore.
Thus, Lieutenant Yamall testified before a Court
of Inquiry, in 181 5, that there were but 131 men
and boys of every description on board the Law-
rence in the action ; and the Niagara was said to
have had but 140. Lieutenant Yamall also said



Naval War of 1 812 313

that " but 103 men on board the Lawrence were fit
for duty"; as Captain Perry, in his letter, said
that 31 were unfit for duty, this would make a
total of 134. So I shall follow the prize-money
list; at any rate, the difTerence in number is
so slight as to be immaterial. Of the 532 men
whose names the list gives, 45 were volunteers, or
landsmen, from among the surrounding inhabi-
tants ; 158 were marines or soldiers (I do not know
which, as the list gives marines, soldiers, and
privates, and it is impossible to tell which of the
two former heads include the last), and 329 were
ofificers, seamen, cooks, pursers, chaplains, and
supernumeraries. Of the total number, there
were on the day of action, according to Perry's
report, 116 men unfit for duty, including 31 on
board the Lawrence, 28 on board the Niagara, and
57 on the small vessels.

All the later American writers put the number
of men in Barclay's fleet precisely at " 502," but I
have not been able to find out the original author-
ity. James (Naval Occurrences, p. 289) says the
British had but 345, consisting of 50 seamen, 85
Canadians, and 210 soldiers. But the letter of
Adjutant-General E. Baynes, November 24, 18 13,
states that there were 250 soldiers aboard Bar-
clay's squadron, of whom 23 were killed, 49
wounded, and the balance (178) captured; and
James himself on a previous page (284) states that



314 Naval War of 1812

there were 102 Canadians on Barclay's vessels, not
counting the Detroit, and we know that Barclay
originally joined the squadron with 19 sailors from
the Ontario fleet, and that subsequently 50 sailors
came up from the Dover. James gives at the end
of his Naval Occurrences some extracts from the
court-martial held on Captain Barclay. Lieuten-
ant Thomas Stokes, of the Queen Charlotte, there
testified that he had on board "between 120 and
130 men, officers and all together," of whom "16
came up from the Dover three days before."
James, on p. 284, says her crew already consisted
of no men; adding these 16 gives us 126 (almost
exactly "between 120 and 130"). Lieutenant
Stokes also testified that the Detroit had more men
on account of being a larger and heavier vessel;
to give her 150 is perfectly safe, as her heavier
guns and larger size would at least need 24 men
more than the Queen Charlotte. James gives the
Lady Prevost 76, Hunter 39, Little Belt 15, and
Chippeway 13 men, Canadians and soldiers, a total
of 143; supposing that the number of British
sailors placed on them was proportional to the
amount placed on board the Queen Charlotte, we
could add 21. This would make a grand total of
440 men, which must certainly be near the truth.
This number is corroborated otherwise: General
Baynes, as already quoted, says that there were
aboard 250 soldiers, of whom 72 were killed or



Naval War of 1 812 315

wounded. Barclay reports a total loss of 135, of
whom 63 must therefore have been sailors or
Canadians, and if the loss suffered by these bore
the same proportion to their whole number as
in the case of the soldiers, there ought to have
been 219 sailors and Canadians, making in all 469
men. It can thus be said with certainty that
there were between 440 and 490 men aboard, and
I shall take the former number, though I have no
doubt that this is too small. But it is not a point
of very much importance, as the battle was fought
largely at long range, where the number of men,
provided there were plenty to handle the sails and
guns, did not much matter. The following state-
ment of the comparative force must therefore be
very nearly accurate :

perry's squadron

Total Crew Broad-
Name Rig Tons Crew fit for side; Armament



Duty lbs.



Lawrence. Brio: 480 1^6 10? ^oo / „ long 12

'^ ^ ^ ^ •' \ r8 short 32

ma,ara... " 480 155 -7 3oo { ^^St 32 .

Caledonia. " 180 53 1 80 | ^ long 24's

^•^ \ I short 32

Ariel Schooner 112 36 48 4 long 12's

Scorpion.. " 86 35 64 i ^ , " 32

( I short 32

Somers.... " 94 30 1 184 =;6 \ i long 24

^^ ^ ^ ^ \ I short 32

Porcupine. " 83 25 32 i long 32

Tigress. . . " 96 27 32 ' "

Trippe.. . .Sloop 60 35J 24

9 vessels 167 1 532 416 936 lbs



32 r " 32

24 I " 24



3i6



Naval War of 1812



During the action, however, the Lawrence and

Niagara each fought a long 12 instead of one of

the carronades on the engaged side, making a

broadside of 896 lbs., 288 lbs. being from long

guns.

Barclay's squadron

Broadside;



Name



Rig



Tons Crew



Detroit Ship



490 150 138 ■



Queen Charlotte.. " 400

Lady Prevost . . . Schooner 230



Hunter Brig



i»o



Chippeway Schooner 70

Little Belt Sloop 90



126
86

45

15
18



lbs. Armament

1 long 18

2 " 24'$
6 " 12's
8 " 9's
I short 24

t I " 18

j I long 12
189 -j 2 " 9's
14 short 24's

1 long 9

2 OS

10 short 12's
4 long 6's
2 " 4's
2 " 2's
2 short 12's
I long 9

1 " 12

2 " 6's



75

30

9
18



6 vessels



1460 440 459 lbs.



These six vessels thus threw at a broadside 459
lbs., of which 195 were from long guns.

The superiority of the Americans in long-gun
metal was therefore nearly as three is to two, and
in carronade metal greater than two to one. The



Naval War of 1 812 317

chief fault to be found in the various American
accounts is that they sedulously conceal the com-
parative weight of metal, while carefully specifying
the number of guns. Thus, Lossing says: " Bar-
clay had 35 long guns to Perry's 15, and possessed
greatly the advantage in action at a distance";
which he certainly did not. The tonnage of the
fleets is not so very important; the above tables
are probably pretty nearly right. It is, I suppose,
impossible to tell exactly the number of men in
the two crews. Barclay almost certainly had
more than the 440 men I have given him, but in
all likelihood some of them were unfit for duty,
and the number of his effectives was most prob-
ably somewhat less than Perry's. As the battle
was fought in such smooth water, and part of the
time at long range, this, as already said, does not
much matter. The Niagara might be considered
a match for the Detroit, and the Lawrence and
Caledonia for the five other British vessels ; so the
Americans were certainly very greatly superior in
force.

At daylight, on September loth, Barclay's squad-
ron was discovered in the N.W., and Perry at once
got under weigh; the wind soon shifted to the
N.E., giving us the weather-gage, the breeze being
very light. Barclay lay to in a close column,
heading to the S.W. in the following order: Chip-
peway. Master's Mate J. Campbell; Detroit, Capt.



3i8 Naval War of 1812

R. H. Barclay; Hunter, Lieut. G. Bignall; Queen
Charlotte, Capt. R. Finnis; Lady Prevost, Lieut.
Edward Buchan; and Little Belt, by whom com-
manded is not said. Perry came down with the
wind on his port beam, and made the attack in
column ahead, obliquely. First in order came the
Ariel, Lieutenant John H. Packet; and Scorpion,
Sailing-master Stephen Champlin, both being on
the weather-bow of the Lawrence, Capt. O. H. Perry ;
next came the Caledonia, Lieutenant Daniel Tut-
ner; Niagara, Captain Jesse D. Elliott; Somers,
Lieut. A. H. M. Conklin; Porcupine, Acting-master
George Serrat ; Tigress, Sailing-master Thomas C.
Almy; and Trippe, Lieutenant Thomas Holdup.'
As, amid light and rather baffling winds, the
American squadron approached the enemy, Perry's
straggling line formed an angle of about fifteen
degrees with the more compact one of his foes.

^ The accounts of the two commanders tally almost exactly.
Barclay's letter is a model of its kind for candor and gener-
osity. Letter of Capt. R. H. Barclay to Sir James Yeo, Sep-
tember 2, 1813; of Lieutenant Inglis to Captain Barclay,
September loth; of Captain Perry to the Secretary of the
Navy, September loth and September 13th, and to General
Harrison, September nth and September 13th. I have re-
lied mainly on Lossing's Field- Book of the War of 18 12 (es-
pecially for the diagrams furnished him by Commodore
Champlin), on Commander Ward's Naval Tactics, p. 76, and
on Cooper's Naval History. Extracts from the court-martial
on Captain Barclay are given in James's Naval Occurrences,
Ixxxiii.



Naval War of 1 812 319

At 11.45, the Detroit opened the action by a shot
from her long 24, which fell short; at 11.50, she
fired a second which went crashing through the
Lawrence, and was replied to by the Scorpion's
long 32. At 11.55, the Lawreyice, having shifted
her port bow-chaser, opened with both the long
12's, and at meridian began with her carronades,
but the shot from the latter all fell short. At the
same time, the action became general on both
sides, though the rearmost American vessels were
almost beyond the range of their own guns, and
quite out of range of the guns of their antagonists.
Meanwhile, the Lawrence was already suffering
considerably as she bore down on the enemy. It
was twenty minutes before she succeeded in get-
ting within good carronade range, and during that
time the action at the head of the line was between
the long guns of the Chippeway and Detroit,
throwing 123 pounds, and those of the Scorpion,
Ariel, and Lawrence, throwing 104 pounds. As
the enemy's fire was directed almost exclusively
at the Lawrence, she suffered a great deal. The
Caledonia, Niagara, and Soniers were meanwhile
engaging, at long range, the Hunter and Queen
Charlotte, opposing from their long guns 96 pounds
to the 39 pounds of their antagonists, while from
a distance the three other American gun vessels
engaged the Prevost and Little Belt. By 1 2 . 20, the
Lawrence had worked down to close quarters, and



320 Naval War of 1 812

at 12.30 the action was going on with great fury
between her and her antagonists, within canister
range. The raw and inexperienced American
crews committed the same fault the British so
often fell into on the ocean, and overloaded their
carronades. In consequence, that of the Scorpion
upset down the hatchway in the middle of the
action, and the sides of the Detroit were dotted
with marks from shot that did not penetrate.
One of the Ariel's long 12's also burst. Barclay
fought the Detroit exceedingly well, her guns being
most excellently aimed, though they actually had
to be discharged by flashing pistols at the touch-
holes, so deficient was the ship's equipment.
Meanwhile, the Caledonia came down, too, but the
Niagara was wretchedly handled, Elliott keeping
at a distance which prevented the use either of his
carronades or of those of the Queen Charlotte, his
antagonist; the latter, however, suffered greatly
from the long guns of the opposing schooners, and
lost her gallant commander, Captain Finnis, and
first lieutenant, Mr. Stokes, who were killed early
in the action; her next in command. Provincial
Lieutenant Irvine, perceiving that he could do no
good, passed the Hunter and joined in the attack
on the Lawrence at close quarters. The Niagara,
the most efficient and best-manned of the Ameri-
can vessels, was thus almost kept out of the action
by her captain's misconduct. At the end of the



Naval War of 1 812 321

line the fight went on at long range between the
Somers, Tigress, Porcupine, and Trippe on one side,
and Little Belt and Lady Prevost on the other ; the
Lady Prevost making a very noble fight, although
her 1 2 -pound carronades rendered her almost help-
less against the long guns of the Americans. She
was greatly cut up, her commander. Lieutenant
Buchan, was dangerously, and her acting first
lieutenant, Mr. Roulette, severely, wounded, and
she began falling gradually to leeward.

The fighting at the head of the line was fierce
and bloody to an extraordinary degree. The
Scorpion, Ariel, Lawrence, and Caledonia, all of
them handled with the most determined courage,
were opposed to the Chippeway, Detroit, Queen
Charlotte, and Hunter, which were fought to the
full as bravely. At such close quarters the two
sides engaged on about equal terms, the Ameri-
cans being superior in weight of metal, and inferior
in number of men. But the Lawrence had re-
ceived such damage in working down as to make
the odds against Perry. On each side, almost the
whole fire was directed at the opposing large ves-
sel or vessels ; in consequence, the Queen Charlotte
was almost disabled, and the Detroit was also
frightfully shattered, especially by the raking fire
of the gunboats, her first lieutenant, Mr. Gar-
land, being mortally wounded, and Captain Bar-
clay so severely injured that he was obliged to



VOL. I. — 21



322 Naval War of 1 8i 2



o



quit the deck, leaving his ship in the command of
Lieutenant George Inghs. But on board the Law-
rence matters had gone even worse, the combined
fire of her adversaries having made the grimmest
carnage on her decks. Of the 103 men who were
fit for duty when she began the action, 83, or over
four fifths, were killed or wounded. The vessel
was shallow, and the ward-room, used as a cock-
pit, to which the wounded were taken, was mostly
above water, and the shot came through it con-
tinually, killing and wounding many men under
the hands of the surgeon.

The first lieutenant, Yamall, was three times
wounded, but kept to the deck through all; the
only other lieutenant on board. Brooks, of the
marines, was mortally wounded. Every brace
and bowline was shot away, and the brig almost
completely dismantled ; her hull was shattered to
pieces, many shot going completely through it,
and the guns on the engaged side were by degrees
all dismounted. Perry kept up the fight with
splendid courage. As the crew fell one by one,
the commodore called down through the skylight
for one of the surgeon's assistants; and this call
was repeated and obeyed till none were left ; then
he asked, " Can any of the wounded pull a rope? "
and three or four of them crawled up on deck to
lend a feeble hand in placing the last guns. Perry
himself fired the last effective heavy gun, assisted



Naval War of 1812 323

only by the purser and chaplain. A man who did
not possess his indomitable spirit would have then
struck. Instead, however, although failing in the
attack so far, Perry merely determined to win by
new methods, and remodelled the line accordingly.
Mr. Turner, in the Caledonia, when ordered to
close, had put his helm up, run down on the oppos-
ing line, and engaged at very short range, though
the brig was absolutely without quarters. The
Niagara had thus become the next in line astern
of the Lawrence, and the sloop Trippe, having
passed the three schooners in front of her, was
next ahead. The Niagara now, having a breeze,
steered for the head of Barclay's line, passing over
a quarter of a mile to windward of the Lawrence,
on her port beam. She was almost uninjured, hav-
ing so far taken very little part in the combat,
and to her Perry shifted his flag. Leaping into a
row-boat, with his brother and four seamen, he
rowed to the fresh brig, where he arrived at 2.30,
and at once sent Elliott astern to hurry up the
three schooners. The Trippe was now very near
the Caledonia. The Lawrence, having but four-
teen sound men left, struck her colors, but could
not be taken possession of before the action re-
commenced. She drifted astern, the Caledonia
passing between her and her foes. At 2.45 the
schooners having closed up, Perry, in his fresh
vessel, bore up to break Barclay's line.



324 Naval War of 1 812

The British ships had fought themselves to a
standstill. The Lady Prevost was crippled and
sagged to leeward, though ahead of the others.
The Detroit and Queen Charlotte were so disabled
that they could not effectually oppose fresh an-
tagonists. There could thus be but little resist-
ance to Perry, as the Niagara stood down and
broke the British line, firing her port guns into the
Chippeway, Little Belt, and Lady Prevost, and the
starboard ones into the Detroit, Queen Charlotte,
and Hunter, raking on both sides. Too disabled
to tack, the Detroit and Charlotte tried to wear, the
latter running up to leeward of the former; and
both vessels having every brace and almost every
stay shot away, they fell foul. The Niagara
luffed athwart their bows, within half pistol-shot,
keeping up a terrific discharge of great guns and
musketry, while on the other side the British ves-
sels were raked by the Caledonia and the schooners
so closely that some of their grape-shot, passing
over the foe, rattled through Perry's spars. Noth-
ing further could be done, and Barclay's flag was
struck at 3 p.m., after three and a quarter hours'
most gallant and desperate fighting. The Chippe-
way and Little Belt tried to escape, but were over-
taken and brought to, respectively, by the Trippe
and Scorpion, the commander of the latter, Mr.
Stephen Champlin, firing the last, as he had the
first, shot of the battle. "Captain Perry has



Naval War of 1 812 325

behaved in the most humane and attentive man-
ner, not only to myself and officers, but to all the
wounded," writes Captain Barclay.

The American squadron had suffered severely,
more than two thirds of the loss falling upon the
Lawrence, which was reduced to the condition of
a perfect wreck, her starboard bulwarks being
completely beaten in. She had, as already stated,
22 men killed, including Lieutenant of Marines
Brooks and Midshipman Lamb; and 61 wounded,
including Lieutenant Yamall, Midshipman (acting
second lieutenant) Forrest, Sailing-master Tay-
lor, Purser Hambleton, and Midshipmen Swart-
out and Claxton. The Niagara lost 2 killed and
25 wounded (almost a fifth of her effectives),
including among the latter the second lieutenant,
Mr. Edwards, and Midshipman Cummings. The
Caledonia had 3, the Somers 2, and Trippe 2, men
wounded. The Ariel had i killed and 3 wounded ;
the Scorpion 2 killed, including Midshipman Lamb.
The total loss was 123; 27 were killed and 96
wounded, of whom 3 died.

The British loss, falling most heavily on the
Detroit and Queen Charlotte, amounted to 41 killed
(including Capt. S. J. Garden, R.N., and Capt.
R. A. Finnis) ; and 94 wounded (including Capt.
Barclay and Lieutenants Stokes, Buchan, Rou-
lette, and Bignall) : in all 135. The first and
second in command on every vessel were killed or



326 Naval War of 1812

wounded, a sufiQcient proof of the desperate nature
of the defence.

The victory of Lake Erie was most important,
both in its material results and in its moral effect.
It gave us complete command of all the upper
lakes, prevented any fears of invasion from that
quarter, increased our prestige with the foe and
our confidence in ourselves, and ensured the con-
quest of Upper Canada; in all these respects
its importance has not been overrated. But the
"glory" acquired by it most certainly has been
estimated at more than its worth. Most Ameri-
cans, even the well educated, if asked which was
the most glorious victory of the war, would point
to this battle. Captain Perry's name is more
widely known than that of any other commander.
Every school-boy reads about him, if of no other
sea-captain; yet he certainly stands on a lower
grade than either Hull or Macdonough, and not a
bit higher than a dozen others. On Lake Erie
our seamen displayed great courage and skill ; but
so did their antagonists. The simple truth is,
that, where on both sides the officers and men
were equally brave and skilful, the side which
possessed the superiority in force, in the propor-
tion of three to two, could not well help winning.
The courage with which the Lawrence was de-
fended has hardly ever been surpassed, and may
fairly be called heroic; but equal praise belongs



Naval War of 1 812



r~1



to the men on board the Detroit, who had to