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 27 of 42)
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360 lbs.
364 "
33^ "
33^ "
180 "
180 "

j 26 long 24
1 2 " 24
I 2 " 12
(22 short 32

2 long 12
20 short 32

2 long 1 2
20 short 32

2 long 12

4 short 24
j 2 long 12
I 14 short 24


8 vessels

5941 1870 3352 lbs.

228 guns

This is considerably less than James makes it,
as he includes all the schooners, which were
abandoned as cruisers, and only used as gunboats
or transports. Similarly Sir James had a large
number of gunboats, which are not included in
his cruising force. James thus makes Chauncy's
force 2321 men, and a broadside of 4188 lbs.






Crew Metal


Regent . . .



485 872 lbs.

r 32 long 24's
] 4 short 68's
I 22 " 32's




315 604 "

f 26 long 24's
■{ 2 short 68's
I 14 " 32's

Montreal. . .



220 258 "

j 7 long 24's
1 18 " i8's


Naval War of 1 8 1 2

YEO's SQUADRON {continued)

Name Rig Tonnage Crew

Niagara Ship 510 200



CharwelL. . . Brig

Star "

Netly "

Magnet "



1 10




332 lbs. i " l°"g ^^
j 20 short 32

236 "


j 2 long 12

236 '

180 "
156 "

J 2 long 12
j 14 short 32
2 long 12
4 short 32

8 vessels

4756 1620 2874 lbs.

4 short 24

2 long 12

12 short 24's

209 guns

This tallies pretty well with James's statement,
which (on p. 488) is 151 7 men, and a broadside
of 2752 lbs. But there are very probably errors
as regards the armaments of the small brigs,
which were continually changed. At any rate,
the American fleet was certainly the stronger,
about in the proportion of six to five. The dis-
proportion was enough to justify Sir James in his
determination not to hazard a battle, although the
odds were certainly not such as British command-
ers had been previously accustomed to pay much
regard to. Chauncy would have acted exactly
as his opponent did, had he been similarly placed.
The odds against the British commodore
were too great to be overcome, where the com-
batants were otherwise on a par, although the
refusal to do battle against them would certainly

Naval War of 1 812 91

preclude Yeo from advancing any claims to supe^
riority in skill or courage. The Princess Charlotte
and Niagara were just about equal to the Mohawk
and Madison, and so were the Charwell and Netly
to the Oneida and Sylph; but both the Star and
Magnet together could hardly have matched either
the Jones or the Jefferson, while the maindeck 32's
of the Superior gave her a great advantage over
the Prince Regent's 24's, where the crews were so
equal ; and the Pike was certainly too heavy for
the Montreal. A decided superiority in the effec-
tiveness of both crews and captains could alone
have warranted Sir James Lucas Yeo in engaging,
and this superiority he certainly did not possess.
This year, the British architects outstripped ours
in the race for supremacy, and Commodore Yeo
put out of port with his eight vessels long before
the Americans were ready. His first attempt
was a successful attack on Oswego. This town
is situated some sixty miles distant from Sackett's
Harbor, and is the first port on the lake which
the stores, sent from the seaboard to Chauncy,
reached. Accordingly, it was a place of some
little importance, but was very much neglected
by the American authorities. It was insufficiently
garrisoned, and was defended only by an entirely
ruined fort of six guns, two of them dismounted.
Commodore Yeo sailed from Kingston to attack
it on the 3d of May, having on board his ships a

92 Naval War of 1812

detachment of 1080 troops. Oswego was garri-
soned by less than 300 men/ chiefly belonging to
a light artillery regiment, with a score or two of
militia ; they were under the command of Colonel
Mitchell. The recaptured schooner Growler was
in port, with seven guns destined for the harbor;
she was sunk by her commander, but afterward
raised and carried off by the foe.

On the 5th, Yeo appeared off Oswego and sent
in Captain Collier and 13 gunboats to draw the
fort's fire ; after some firing between them and the
four guns mounted in the fort (two long 24's, one
long 12, and one long 6), the gunboats retired.
The next day the attack was seriously made. The
Princess Charlotte, Montreal, and Niagara engaged
the batteries, while the Charwell and Star scoured
the woods with grape to clear them of the militia.''
The debarkation of the troops was superintended
by Captain O'Connor, and until it was accom-
plished the Montreal sustained almost the whole
fire of the fort, being set on fire three times, and
much cut up in hull, masts, and rigging. 3 Under
this fire, 800 British troops were landed, under
Lieutenant-Colonel Fischer, assisted by 200 sea-
men, armed with long pikes, under Captain Mul-

' General order of General Jacob Brown, by R. Jones,
Assistant Adjutant-General, May 12, 18 14.

^ Letter of General Gordon Drummond, May 7, 18 14.
3 Letter of Sir James Lucas Yeo, May 17, 18 14.

Naval War of 1 812 93

caster. They moved gallantly up the hill, under a
heavy fire, and carried the fort by assault ; Mitch-
ell then fell back unmolested to the Falls, about
twelve miles above the town, where there was a
large quantity of stores. But he was not again
attacked. The Americans lost 6 men killed, in-
cluding Lieutenant Blaeny, 38 wounded, and 25
missing, both of these last falHng into the enemy's
hands. The British lost 22 soldiers, marines, and
seamen (including Captain Hollaway) killed, and
73 (including the gallant Captain Mulcaster dan-
gerously, and Captain Popham sHghtly) wounded,'
the total loss being 75 — nearly a third of the
American force engaged. General Drummond, in
his official letter, reports that "the fort being
everywhere almost open, the whole of the garrison
. . . effected their escape, except about 60
men, half of them wounded." No doubt the fort's
being "everywhere almost open" afforded excel-
lent opportunities for retreat ; but it was not much
of a recommendation of it as a structure intended
for defence.

The British destroyed the four guns in the bat-
tery, and raised the Growler and carried her off,
with her valuable cargo of seven long guns. They

' Letter of Lieutenant-Colonel V. Fischer, May 17, 1814.
James says " 18 killed and 64 wounded," why, I do not know;
the official report of Colonel Fischer, as quoted, says: "Of the
army, 19 killed and 62 wounded; of the navy, 3 killed and
II wounded."

94 Naval War of 1812

also carried off a small quantity of ordnance
stores and some flour, and burned the barracks;
otherwise but little damage was done, and the
Americans reoccupied the place at once. It cer-
tainly showed great lack of energy on Commodore
Yeo's part that he did not strike a really impor-
tant blow by sending an expedition up to destroy
the quantity of stores and ordnance collected at
the Falls. But the attack itself was admirably
managed. The ships were well placed, and kept
up so heavy a fire on the fort as to effectually
cover the debarkation of the troops, which was
very cleverly accomplished ; and the soldiers and
seamen behaved with great gallantry and steadi-
ness, their officers leading them, sword in hand, up
a long, steep hill, under a destructive fire. It was
similar to Chauncy's attacks on York and Fort
George, except that in this case the assailants
suffered a much severer loss compared to that in-
flicted on the assailed. Colonel Mitchell managed
the defence with skill, doing all he could with his
insufficient materials.

After returning to Kingston, Yeo sailed with his
squadron for Sackett's Harbor, where he appeared
on May 19th and began a strict blockade. This
was especially troublesome, because most of the
guns and cables for the two frigates had not yet
arrived, and though the lighter pieces and stores
could be carried overland, the heavier ones could

Naval War of 1 812 95

only go by water, which route was now made dan-
gerous by the presence of the blockading squad-
ron. The very important duty of convoying these
great guns was entrusted to Captain Woolsey, an
officer of tried merit. He decided to take them
by water to Stony Creek, whence they might be
carried by land to the Harbor, which was but
three miles distant ; and on the success of his en-
terprise depended Chauncy's chances of regaining
command of the lake. On the 28th of May, at
sunset, Woolsey left Oswego with 19 boats, carry-
ing twenty-one long 32's, ten long 24's, three
4 2 -pound carronades and ten cables — one of the
latter for the Superior, being a huge rope 2 2 inches
in circumference and weighing 9600 pounds. The
boats rowed all through the night, and at sunrise
on the 29th, 18 of them found themselves off the
Big Salmon River, and, as it was unsafe to travel
by daylight, Woolsey ran up into Big Sandy
Creek, eight miles from the Harbor. The other
boat, containing two long 24's and a cable, got
out of line, ran into the British squadron, and was
captured. The news she brought induced Sir
James Yeo at once to send out an expedition to
capture the others. He accordingly despatched
Captains Popham and Spilsbury in two gunboats,
one armed with one 68-pound and one 24-pound
carronade, and the other with a long 32, accom-
panied by three cutters and a gig, mounting be-

96 Naval War of 1812

tween them two long 12's and two brass 6's, with
a total of 180 men.' They rode up to Sandy-
Creek and lay off its mouth all the night, and be-
gan ascending it shortly after daylight on the 30th.
Their force, however, was absurdly inadequate
for the accomplishment of their object. Captain
Woolsey had been reinforced by some Oneida
Indians, a company of light artillery, and some
militia, so that his only care was, not to repulse,
but to capture the British party entire, and even
this did not need any exertion. He accordingly
despatched Major Appling down the river with
120 riflemen and some Indians to lie in ambush.^
When going up the creek the British marines,
under Lieutenant Cox, were landed on the left
bank, and the small-arm men, under Lieutenant
Brown, on the right bank ; while the two captains
rowed up the stream between them, throwing
grape into the bushes to disperse the Indians.
Major Appling waited until the British were close
up, when his riflemen opened with so destructive

'James, vi., 487; while Cooper says 186, James says the
British loss was 18 killed and 50 wounded; Major Appling
says: "14 were killed, 28 wounded, and 27 marines and 106
sailors captured."

2 Letter from Major D. Appling, May 30, 18 14.

3 Letter of Capt. M. T. Woolsey, June i, 18 14. There were
about 60 Indians; in all, the American force amounted to
180 men. James adds 30 riflemen, 140 Indians, and "a
large body of miUtia and cavalry," — none of whom were

Naval War of 1812 97

a volley as to completely demoralize and "stam-
pede" them, and their whole force was captured
with hardly any resistance, the Americans hav-
ing only one man slightly wounded. The British
loss was severe, — 18 killed and 50 dangerously
wounded, according to Captain Popham's report,
as quoted by James ; or "14 killed and 28
wounded," according to Major Appling's letter.
It was a very clever and successful ambush.

On June 6th, Yeo raised the blockade of the
Harbor, but Chauncy's squadron was not in con-
dition to put out till six weeks later, during which
time nothing was done by either fleet, except that
two very gallant cutting-out expeditions were
successfully attempted by Lieutenant Francis H.
Gregory, U. S. N. On June i6th, he left the Har-
bor, accompanied by Sailing-masters Vaughan and
Dixon and 22 seamen, in three gigs, to intercept
some of the enemy's provision schooners ; on the
19th he was discovered by the British gunboat
Black Snake, of one 18-pound carronade and 18
men, commanded by Captain H. Landon. Lieu-
tenant Gregory dashed at the gunboat and carried
it without the loss of a man; he was afterward
obliged to burn it, but he brought the prisoners,
chiefly royal marines, safely into port. On the
ist of July, he again started out, with Messrs.
Vaughan and Dixon and two gigs. The plucky
little party suffered greatly from hunger, but on

VOL. II.— 7

q8 Naval War of 1 812

the 5th, he made a sudden descent on Presque
Isle, and burned a 14-gun schooner just ready
for launching ; he was off before the foe could
assemble and reached the Harbor in safety next

On July 31st, Commodore Chauncy sailed with
his fleet; some days previously the larger British
vessels had retired to Kingston, where a loo-gun
two-decker was building. Chauncy sailed up to
the head of the lake, where he intercepted the
small brig Magnet. The Sylph was sent in to
destroy her, but her crew ran her ashore and
burned her. The Jefferson, Sylph, and Oneida
were left to watch some other small craft in the
Niagara ; the Jones was kept cruising between the
Harbor and Oswego, and with the four larger ves-
sels Chauncy blockaded Yeo's four large vessels
lying in Kingston. The four American vessels
were in the aggregate of 4398 tons, manned by
rather more than 1350 men, and presenting in
broadside 77 guns, throwing 2328 lbs. of shot.
The four British vessels measured in all about
3812 tons, manned by 1220 men, and presenting
in broadside 74 guns, throwing 2066 lbs. of shot.
The former were thus superior by about 15 per
cent., and Sir James Yeo very properly declined to
fight with the odds against him, although it was a
nicer calculation than British commanders had
been accustomed to enter into.

Naval War of 1 812 99

Major-General Brown had written to Commo-
dore Chauncy on July 13th: "I do not doubt
my ability to meet the enemy in the field and to
march in any direction over his country, your fleet
carrying for me the necessary supplies. We can
threaten Forts George and Niagara, and carry
Burlington Heights and York, and proceed direct
to Kingston and carry that place. For God's
sake, let me see you: Sir James will not fight."
To which Chauncy replied : "I shall afford every
assistance in my power to co-operate with the
army whenever it can be done without losing
sight of the great object for the attainment of
which this fleet has been created, — the capture
or destruction of the enemy's fleet. But that I
consider the primary object. . . . We are
intended to seek and fight the enemy's fleet, and
I shall not be diverted from my efforts to effec-
tuate it by any sinister attempt to render us sub-
ordinate to, or an appendage of, the army." That
is, by any "sinister attempt" to make him co-
operate intelligently in a really well-concerted
scheme of invasion. In further support of these
noble and independent sentiments, he writes to the
Secretary of the Navy on August loth': "I told
him [General Brown] that I should not visit the
head of the lake unless the enemy's fleet did so.

' See Niles, vii., 12, and other places (under "Chauncy," in
index) .

loo Naval War of 1812

. . . To deprive the enemy of an apology for
not meeting me, I have sent ashore four guns from
the Superior to reduce her armament in number
to an equaHty with the Prince Regent, yielding
the advantage of their 68-pounders. The Mo-
hawk mounts two guns less than the Princess
Charlotte, and the Montreal and Niagara are
equal to the Pike and Madison." He here. justi-
fies his refusal to co-operate with General Brown
by saying that he was of only equal force with Sir
James, and that he has deprived the latter of "an
apology" for not meeting him. This last was
not at all true. The Mohawk and Madison were
just about equal to the Princess Charlotte and
Niagara; but the Pike was half as strong again
as the Montreal; and Chauncy could very well
afford to "yield the advantage of their 68-pound-
ers," when, in return, Sir James had to yield tho
advantage of Chauncy's long 32's and 42-pound
carronades. The Superior was a 3 2 -pounder frig-
ate, and, even without her four extra guns, was
about a fourth heavier than the Prince Regent
with her 24-pounders. Sir James was not acting
more warily than Chauncy had acted during June
and July, 181 3. Then he had a fleet which
tonned 1701, was manned by 680 men, and threw
at a broadside 1099 lbs. of shot; and he declined
to go out of port or in any way try to check the
operation of Yeo's fleet, which tonned 2091, was

Naval War of 1812 loi

manned by 770 men, and threw at a broadside
1374 lbs. of shot. Chauncy then acted perfectly
proper, no doubt, but he could not afford to sneer
at Yeo for behaving in the same way. Whatever
either commander might write, in reality he well
knew that his officers and crew were, man for man,
just about on a par with those of his antagonists,
and so, after the first brush or two, he was ex-
ceedingly careful to see that the odds were not
against him. Chauncy, in his petulant answers
to Brown's letter, ignored the fact that his supe-
riority of force would prevent his opponent from
giving battle, and would, therefore, prevent any-
thing more important than a blockade occurring.
His ideas of the purpose for which, his com-
mand had been created were erroneous and very
hurtful to the American cause. That purpose
was not, except incidentally, "the destruction
of the enemy's fleet"; and, if it was, he entirely
failed to accomplish it. The real purpose was to
enable Canada to be successfully invaded, or to
assist in repelling an invasion of the United States.
These services could only be efficiently per-
formed by acting in union with the land forces,
for his independent action could evidently have
little effect. The only important services he had
performed had been in attacking Forts George
and York, where he had been rendered ' ' subor-
dinate to, and an appendage of, the army," His

I02 Naval War of 1812

only chance of accomplishing anything lay in
similar acts of co-operation, and he refused to do
these. Had he acted as he ought to have done,
and assisted Brown to the utmost, he would cer-
tainly have accomplished much more than he did,
and might have enabled Brown to assault King-
ston, when Yeo's fleet would, of course, have been
captured. The insubordination, petty stickling for
his own dignity, and lack of appreciation of the
necessity of acting in concert that he showed,
were the very faults which proved most fatal to the
success of our various land commanders in the
early part of the war. Even had Chauncy's as-
sistance availed nothing, he could not have ac-
complished less than he did. He remained off
Kingston blockading Yeo, being once or twice
blown off by gales. He sent Lieutenant Gregory,
accompanied by Midshipman Hart and six men,
in to reconnoitre on August 25th; the lieutenant
ran across two barges containing thirty men, and
was captured after the midshipman had been
killed and the lieutenant and four men wounded.
On September 21st, he transported General Izard
and 3000 men from Sackett's Harbor to the Gen-
esee; and then again blockaded Kingston until
the two-decker was nearly completed, when he
promptly retired to the Harbor.

The equally cautious Yeo did not come out on
the lake till October 15th; he did not indulge in

Naval War of 1 812 103

the empty and useless formality of blockading
his antagonist, but assisted the British army on
the Niagara frontier till navigation closed, about
November 21st. A couple of days before, Mid-
shipman McGowan headed an expedition to blow
up the two-decker (named the St. Lawrence) with
a torpedo, but was discovered by two of the
enemy's boats, which he captured and brought
in; the attempt was abandoned, because the St.
Laivrence was found not to be lying in Kingston.
For this year, the material loss again fell heavi-
est on the British, amounting to one 14-gun brig
burned by her crew, one lo-gun schooner burned
on the stocks, three gunboats, three cutters, and
one gig captured ; while, in return, the Americans
lost one schooner loaded with seven guns, one boat
loaded with two, and a gig captured and four guns
destroyed at Oswego. In men, the British loss
was heavier still, relatively to that of the Ameri-
cans, being in killed, wounded, and prisoners,
about 300 to 80. But in spite of this loss and
damage, which was too trivial to be of any account
to either side, the success of the season was with
the British, inasmuch as they held command
over the lake for more than four months, during
which time they could co-operate with their army ;
while the Americans held it for barely two months
and a half. In fact, the conduct of the two fleets
on Lake Ontario during the latter part of the war

I04 Naval War of 1812

was almost farcical. As soon as one, by building,
acquired the superiority, the foe at once retired
to port, where he waited until he had built another
vessel or two, when he came out, and the other i
went into port in turn. Under such circumstances
it was hopeless ever to finish the contest by a
stand-up sea-fight, each commander calculating
the chances with mathematical exactness. The
only hope of destroying the enemy's fleet was by
co-operating with the land forces in a successful
attack on his main post, when he would be forced
to be either destroyed or to fight- -and this co-
operation Chauncy refused to give. He seems
to have been an excellent organizer, but he did
not use (certainly not in the summer of 18 13)
his materials by any means to the best advan-
tage. He was hardly equal to his opponent,
and the latter seems to have been little more
than an average officer. Yeo blundered several
times, as in the attack on Sackett's Harbor,
in not following up his advantage at Oswego, in
showing so little resource in the action off the
Genesee, etc., and he was not troubled by any
excess of daring ; but during the period when he
was actually cruising against Chauncy on the
lake, he certainly showed to better advantage than
the American did. With an inferior force he won
a partial victory over his opponent off Niagara,
and then kept him in check for six weeks; while

Naval War of 1 812 105

Chauncy, with his superior force, was not only
partially defeated once, but, when he did gain a
partial victory, failed to take advantage of it.

In commenting upon the timid and dilatory
tactics of the two commanders on Ontario, how-
ever, it must be remembered that the indecisive
nature of the results attained had been often
paralleled by the numerous similar encounters
that took place on the ocean during the wars of
the preceding century. In the War of the Amer-
ican Revolution, the English fought some nineteen
fleet actions with the French, Dutch, and Span-
iards; one victory was gained over the French,
and one over the Spaniards, while the seventeen
others were all indecisive, both sides claiming the
victory, and neither winning it. Of course, some
of them, though indecisive as regards loss and
damages, were strategetical victories; thus, Ad-
miral Arbuthnot beat back Admiral Barras off
the Chesapeake, in March of 1781 ; and near the
same place in September of the same year the
French had their revenge in the victory (one at
least in its results) of the Comte de Grasse over Sir
Thomas Graves. In the five desperate and bloody
combats which De Suffrein waged with Sir Ed-
ward Hughes in the East Indies, the laurels were
very evenly divided. These five conflicts were not
rendered indecisive by any overwariness in ma-
noeuvring, for De Suffrein' s attacks were carried

io6 Naval War of 1812

out with as much boldness as skill, and his stub-
born antagonist was never inclined to baulk him
of a fair battle; but the two hardy fighters were
so evenly matched that they would pound one
another till each was helpless to inflict injury.
Very different were the three consecutive battles
that took place in the same waters on the 25 th
of April, 1758, the 3d of August, 1758, and on the
loth of September, 1759, between Pocock and
d'Ache,' where, by skilful manoeuvring, the French
admiral saved his somewhat inferior force from
capture, and the English admiral gained inde-
cisive victories. M. Riviere, after giving a most
just and impartial account of the battles, sums
up with the following excellent criticism ^r

"It is this battle, won by Hawke, the 20th of
November, 1757, and the combats of Pocock and
d'Ache, from which date two distinct schools in
the naval affairs of the eighteenth century: one
of these was all for promptness and audacity,

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 27 of 42)