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 28 of 42)
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which were regarded as the indispensable con-
ditions for victory; the other, on the contrary,
praised skilful delays and able evolutions, and
created success by science united to prudence.

^ La Marine Frangaise sous le R^gne de Louis XV., par
Henri Riviere, Lieutenant de Vaisseau, Chevalier de la
Legion d'Honneur. (Paris et Toulon, 1859). Pp. 385 and


^ Ibid., p. 425. I pay more attention to the sense than to
the letter in my translation.

Naval War of 1 8i 2 107

, . . But these two schools were true only-
according to circumstances, not absolutely. When
two fleets of equal worth are facing one another,
as in the War of the American Revolution, then
tactics should come into play, and audacity-
would often be mere foolhardiness. If it happens,
on the other hand, as in the Republic, or during
the last years of Louis XV., that an irresolute
fleet, without organization, has to contend with
a fleet prepared in every way, then, on the part of
this last, audacity is wisdom and prudence would
be cowardice, for it would give an enemy who
distrusts himself time to become more hardy.
The only school always true is that one which,
freed from all routine, produces men whose genius
will unite in one, in knowing how to apply them
appropriately, the audacity which will carry off
victory, and the prudence which knows how to ob-
tain it in preparing for it."

These generalizations are drawn from the results
of mighty battles, but they apply just as well to
the campaigns carried on on a small scale, or even
to single-ship actions. Chauncy, as already said,
does not deserve the praise which most American
historians, and especially Cooper, have lavished
on him, as well as on all our other officers of that
period. Such indiscriminate eulogy entirely de-
tracts from the worth of the writer's favorable
criticisms. Our average commander was, I firmly

io8 Naval War of 1812

believe, at that time superior to the average com-
mander of any other nation; but to get at this
average we must include Chauncy, Rodgers, and
Angus, as well as Hull, Macdonough, Perry,
Porter, Bainbridge, Biddle, Lawrence, and War-

Sir James Yeo did to the full as well as his op-
ponent, and like him was a good organizer; but
he did little enough. His campaigns must be con-
sidered as being conducted well or ill, according as
he is believed to have commanded better men than
his opponent, or not. If, as many British writers
contend, his crews were an overmatch for the
Americans, man for man, even to a slight degree,
then Yeo's conduct was very cowardly; if, on the
contrary, the officers and men of the two fleets
were on a par, then he acted properly and out-
generalled his opponent. It is to be regretted
that most of the histories written on the subject,
on either side of the Atlantic, should be of the
"hurrah" order of literature, with no attempt
whatever to get at the truth, but merely to explain
away the defeats or immensely exaggerate the
victories suffered or gained by their own side.


Hitherto the vessels on these lakes (as well as on
Ontario) had been under the command of Com-
modore Chauncy; but they were now formed

Naval War of 1 812 109

into a separate department, under Captain Arthur
Sinclair. The Americans had, of course, com-
plete supremacy, and no attempt was seriously
made to contest it with them ; but they received
a couple of stinging, if not very important
defeats. It is rather singular that here the
British, who began with a large force, while there
was none whatever to oppose it, should have had
it by degrees completely annihilated ; and should
have then, and not till then, when apparently
rendered harmless, have turned round and par-
tially revenged themselves by two cutting-out
expeditions which were as boldly executed as
they were skilfully planned.

Captain Sinclair sailed into Lake Huron with
the Niagara, Caledonia, Ariel, Scorpion, and
Tigress, and on July 20th burned the fort and
barracks' of St. Joseph, which were abandoned by
their garrison. On August 4th, he arrived off the
fort of Machilimacinac (Mackinaw), which was
situated on such an eminence that the guns of
the vessels could not reach it. Accordingly, the
troops under Colonel Croghan were landed, cov-
ered by the fire of the schooners, very successfully ;
but when they tried to carry the fort they were
driven back with the loss of seventy men. Thence
Sinclair sailed to the Nattagawassa Creek, at-
tacked and destroyed a block-house three miles
up it, which mounted three light guns and also a

no Naval War of 1 8i 2

schooner called the Nancy; but the commander
of the schooner, Lieutenant Worsley, with his
crew, escaped up the river. Captain Sinclair then
departed for Lake Erie, leaving the Scorpion,
Lieutenant Turner, and Tigress, Sailing-master
Champlin, to blockade the Nattagawassa. News
was received by the British from a party of Indians
that the two American vessels were five leagues
apart, and it was at once resolved to attempt
their capture. On the first of September, in the
evening, four boats started out, one manned by
20 seamen, under Lieutenant Worsley, the three
others by 72 soldiers under Lieutenants Bulger,
Armstrong, and Raderhurst of the army — in all
92 men and two guns, a 6- and a 3 -pounder. A
number of Indians accompanied the expedition but
took no part in the fighting. At sunset on the
2d, the boats arrived at St. Mary's Strait, and
spent twenty-four hours in finding out where the
American schooners were. At 6 p.m., on the
3d, the nearest vessel, the Tigress, was made
out, six miles off, and they pulled for her. It
was very dark, and they were not discovered till
they had come within fifty yards, when Champlin
at once fired his long 24 at them; before it could
be reloaded the four boats had dashed up, those
of Lieutenants Worsley and Armstrong placing
themselves on the starboard, and those of Lieu-
tenants Bulger and Raderhurst on the port side.

Naval War of 1 8 1 2 1 1 1

There was a short, sharp struggle, and the
schooner was carried. Of her crew of 28 men, 3
were killed and 5, including Mr. Champlin, dan-
gerously wounded. The assailants lost three sea-
men killed, Lieutenant Bulger, seven soldiers and
several seamen wounded.' "The defence of this
vessel," writes Lieutenant Bulger, "did credit to
her officers, who were all severely wounded."
Next day, the prisoners were sent on shore, and
on the 5th, the Scorpion was discovered working
up to join her consort, entirely ignorant of what
had happened. She anchored about two miles
from the Tigress; and next morning at 6 o'clock
the latter slipped her cable and ran down under
the jib and foresail, the American ensign and
pendant still flying. When within ten yards of
the Scorpion, the concealed soldiers jumped up,
poured a volley into her which killed two and
wounded two men, and the next moment carried
her, her surprised crew of thirty men making no
resistance. The whole affair reflected great credit
on the enterprise and pluck of the British, without
being discreditable to the Americans. It was like
Lieutenant Elliott's capture of the Detroit and

Meanwhile, a still more daring cutting-out expe-

^ Letter of Lieut. A. H. Bulger, September 7, 1814. James
says only 3 killed and 8 wounded; but Lieutenant Bulger
distinctly says, in addition, "and several seamen wounded."

112 Naval War of 1 8i 2

dition had taken place at the foot of Lake Erie.
The three American schooners, OJiio, Somers, and
Porcupine, each with thirty men, under Lieuten-
ant ConkHng, were anchored just at the outlet of
the lake, to cover the flank of the works at Fort
Erie. On the night of August 12, Captain Dobbs,
of the Charwell, and Lieutenant Radcliffe, of the
Netly, with seventy-five seamen and marines
from their two vessels, which were lying off Fort
Erie, resolved to attempt the capture of the
schooners. The seamen carried the captain's gig
upon their shoulders from Queenstown to French-
man's Creek, a distance of twenty miles; thence,
by the aid of some militia, five batteaux as well as
the gig were carried eight miles across the woods
to Lake Erie, and the party (whether with or
without the militia, I do not know) embarked in
them. , Between 1 1 and 1 2 the boats were dis-
covered a short distance ahead of the Somers and
hailed. They answered " Provision boats," which
deceived the officer on deck, as such boats had
been in the habit of passing and repassing con-
tinually during the night. Before he discovered
his mistake the boats drifted across his hawse,
cut his cables, and ran him aboard with a volley
of musketry, which wounded two of his men,
and before the others could get on deck the
schooner was captured. In another moment, the
British boats were alongside the Ohio, Lieutenant

Naval War of 1812 113

Conkling's vessel. Here the people had hurried on
deck, and there was a moment's sharp struggle,
in which the assailants lost Lieutenant Radcliffe
and one seaman killed and six seamen and marines
wounded; but on board the Ohio Lieutenant
Conkling and Sailing-master M. Cally were shot
down, one seaman killed, and four wounded, and
Captain Dobbs carried her, sword in hand. The
Porcupine was not molested, and made no effort
to interfere with the British in their retreat; so
they drifted down the rapids with their two prizes
and secured them below. The boldness of this
enterprise will be appreciated when it is remem-
bered that but 75 British seamen (unless there
were some militia along), with no artillery, at-
tacked and captured two out of three fine
schooners, armed each with a long 32 or 24, and
an aggregate of 90 men; and that this had been
done in waters where the gig and five batteaux of
the victors were the only British vessels afloat.


This lake, which had hitherto played but an
inconspicuous part, was now to become the scene
of the greatest naval battle of the war. A British
army of 11,000 men, under Sir George Prevost,
undertook the invasion of New York by advancing
up the western bank of Lake Champlain. This

Vt)L. II.— 8

114 Naval War of 1 812

advance was impracticable unless there was a
sufficiently strong British naval force to drive
back the American squadron at the same time.
Accordingly, the British began to construct a
frigate, the Confiance, to be added to their already
existing force, which consisted of a brig, two
sloops, and twelve or fourteen gunboats. The
Americans already possessed a heavy corvette, a
schooner, a small sloop, and ten gunboats or row-
gallies ; they now began to build a large brig, the
Eagle, which was launched about the i6th of
August. Nine days later, on the 25th, the Con-
fiance was launched. The two squadrons were
equally deficient in stores, etc. ; the Confiance
having lo(?ks to her guns, some of which could not
be used, while the American schooner Ticonderoga
had to fire her guns by means of pistols flashed
at the touch-holes (like Barclay on Lake Erie).
Macdonough and Downie were hurried into action
before they had time to prepare themselves thor-
oughly; but it was a disadvantage common to
both, and arose from the nature of the case, which
called for immediate action. The British army
advanced slowly toward Plattsburg, which was
held by General Macomb with less than 2000 effec-
tive American troops. Captain Thomas Mac-
donough, the American commodore, took the lake
a day or two before his antagonist, and came to
anchor in Plattsburg Harbor. The British fleet,

Naval War of 1 8 1 2 115

under Captain George Downie, moved from Isle
aux Noix, on September 8th, and on the morning
of the nth sailed into Plattsburg Harbor.

The American force consisted of the ship Sara-
toga, Captain T. Macdonough, of about 734 tons,'
carrying eight long 24-pounders, six 4 2 -pound and
twelve 3 2 -pound carronades; the brig Eagle, Cap-
tain Robert Henly, of about 500 tons, carrying
eight long i8's and twelve 3 2 -pound carronades;
schooner Ticonderoga, Lieutenant - Commander
Stephen Cassin, of about 350 tons, carrying eight
long i2-pounders, four long i8-pounders, and five
32-pound carronades; sloop Preble, Lieutenant
Charles Budd, of about 80 tons, mounting seven
long 9's; the row-gallies Borer, Centipede, Nettle,
Allen, Viper, and Burrows, each of about 70 tons,
and mounting one long 24- and one short 18-
pounder; and the row-gallies Wilmer, Ludlow,
Aylwin, and Ballard, each of about 40 tons, and
mounting one long 12. James puts down the

* In the Naval Archives {Masters-Commandant Letters,
1814, i., No. 134) is a letter from Macdonough in which he
states that the Saratoga is intermediate in size between the
Pike, of 875, and the Madisoji, of 593 tons, this would make
her 734. The Eagle was very nearly the size of the Lawrence
or Niagara, on Lake Erie. The Ticonderoga was originally
a small steamer, but Commodore Macdonough had her
schooner- rigged because he found that her machinery got out
of order on almost every trip that she took. Her tonnage is
only approximately known, but she was of the same size as
the Linnet.

ii6 Naval War of 1 8i 2

number of men on board the squadron as 950, —
merely a guess, as he gives no authority. Cooper
says "about 850 men, including officers, and a
small detachment of soldiers to act as marines."
Lossing (p. 866, note i) says 882 in all. Vol.
xiv. of the American State Papers contains on
page 572 the prize-money list presented by the
purser, George Beale, Jr. This numbers the men
(the dead being represented by their heirs or ex-
ecutors) up to 915, including soldiers and seamen,
but many of the numbers are omitted, probably
owing to the fact that their owners, though belong-
ing on board, happened to be absent on shore or
in the hospital ; so that the actual number of names
tallies very closely with that given by Lossing;
and, accordingly, I shall take that.' The total
number of men in the gallies (including a number
of soldiers, as there were not enough sailors) was

' In the Naval Archives are numerous letters from Mac-
donough, in which he states continually that, as fast as they
arrive, he substitutes sailors for the soldiers with which the
vessels were originally manned. Men were continvially being
sent ashore on account of sickness. In the Bureau of Navi-
gation is the log-book of "sloop of war Surprise, Captain
Robert Henly " {Surprise was the name the Eagle originally
went by). It mentions from time to time that men were
buried and sent ashore to the hospital (five being sent ashore
on September 2d) ; and finally mentions that the places of
the absent were partially filled by a draft of twenty-one
soldiers, to act as marines. The notes on the day of battle
are verv brief.

Naval War of 1812


350. The exact proportions in which this force
was distributed among the gunboats cannot be
told, but it may be roughly said to be 41 in each
large galley, and 26 in each small one. The com-
plement of the Saratoga was 2 10 ; of the Eagle 130,
of the Ticonderoga, 100, and of the Preble, 30 ; but
the first three had also a few solc^iers distributed
between them. The following list is probably
pretty accurate as to the aggregate; but there
may have been a score or two fewer men on the
gunboats, or more on the larger vessels.

macdonough's force

Metal, from long
Name Tons Crew Broadside or short guns

Saratoga 734 240 414 lbs. i '°"S' ^6

I short, 318

Eagle 500 150 264" i ^°"S- 72

\ short, 192

Ticonderoga 350 112 180 " j l°"g' 84

I short, 96
Preble 80 30 36 " long, 36

Six gunboats 420 246 252 " \ ^44

( short, 108

Four gunboats 160 104 48 " long, 48

In all, fourteen vessels of 2244 tons and 882
men, with 86 guns throwing at a broadside 1194
lbs. of shot — 480 from long, and 714 from short

The force of the British squadron in guns and
ships is known accurately, as most of it was cap-

ii8 Naval War of 1 8i 2

tured. The Confiance rated for years in our lists as
a frigate of the class of the Constellation, Congress,
and Macedonian; she was thus of over 1200 tons.
(Cooper says more, "nearly double the tonnage
of the Saratoga.") She carried on her main-deck
thirty long 24's, fifteen in each broadside. She
did not have a complete spar-deck; on her poop
which came forward to the mizzen-mast, were
two 3 2 -pound (or possibly 42 -pound) carronades,
and on her spacious topgallant forecastle were
four 32- (or 42-) pound carronades, and a long 24
on a pivot.' She had aboard her a furnace for
heating shot; eight or ten of which heated shot
were found with the furnace.^ This was, of
course, a perfectly legitimate advantage. The
Linnet, Captain Daniel Pring, was a brig of the
same size as the Ticonderoga, mounting sixteen
long 12's. The Chubb and Finch, Lieutenants
James McGhie and WilHam Hicks, were formerly
the American sloops Groivler and Eagle, of 112
and no tons, respectively. The former mounted

' This is her armament as given by Cooper, on the authority
of Lieut. E. A. F. Lavallette, who was in charge of her for
three months, and went aboard her ten minutes after the
Linnet struck.

* James stigmatizes the statement of Commodore Mac-
donough about the furnace as "as gross a falsehood as ever
was uttered"; but he gives no authority for the denial, and
it appears to have been merely an ebullition of spleen on his
part. Every American officer who went aboard the Confiance
saw the furnace and the hot shot.

Naval War of 1 8i 2 119

ten 1 8-pound carronades and one long 6 ; the
latter six 18-pound carronades, four long 6's, and
one short 18. There were twelve gunboats. '
Five of these were large, of about 70 tons each;
three mounted a long 24 and a 3 2 -pound carronade
each; one mounted a long 18 and a 3 2 -pound
carronade; one a long 18 and a short 18. Seven
were smaller, of about 40 tons each ; three of these
carried each a long 18, and four carried each a
3 2 -pound carronade. There is greater difficulty
in finding out the number of men in the Brit-
ish fleet. American historians are unanimous in
stating it at from 1000 to 1 100 ; British historians
never do anything but copy James blindly. Mid-
shipman Lee of the Confiance, in a letter (already
quoted) published in the London Naval Chronicle,
vol. xxxii., p. 292, gives her crew as 300; but
more than this amount of dead and prisoners
were taken out of her. The number given her
by Commander Ward, in his Naval Tactics, is
probably nearest right — 325.^ The Linnet had
about 125 men, and the Chubb and Finch
about 50 men each. According to Admiral

* Letter of General George Prevost, September ii, 1814.
All the American accounts say 13 ; the British official account
had best be taken. James says only ten, but gives no author-
ity; he appears to have been entirely ignorant of all things
connected with this action.

^ James gives her but 270 men, without stating his au-

I20 Naval War of 1812

Paulding (given by Lossing, in his Field-Book of
the War of 1812, p. 868) their gunboats averaged
50 men each. This is probably true, as they were
manned largely by soldiers, any number of whom
could be spared from Sir George Prevost's great
army; but it may be best to consider the large
ones as having 41, and the small 26 men, which
were the complements of the American gunboats
of the same sizes.

The following, then, is the force of

downie's squadron

From what guns.
Name Tonnage Crew Broadside long or short

Confiance 1200 325 480 lbs. \ , ^' ^ j"

( short, 96

Linnet 350

Chubb 112

Finch no

Five gunboats 350

Seven gunboats.. . . 280











long, 96

short, 90

long, 1 2

short, 72

long, 12

short, 72

long, 54

short, 128

In all, 16 vessels, of about 2402 tons, with 937
men,^ and a total of 92 guns, throwing at a broad-
side 1 192 lbs., 660 from long and 532 from short

These are widely different from the figures that

' About; there were probably more rather than less.

Naval War of 1 812 121

appear in the pages of most British historians,
from Sir Archibald AHson down and up. Thus,
in the History of the British Navy, by C. D. Yonge
(already quoted), it is said that on Lake Cham-
plain "our (the British) force was manifestly and
vastly inferior, . . . their (the American)
broadside outweighing ours in more than the pro-
portion of three to two, while the difference in
their tonnage and in the number of their crews
was still more in their favor." None of these
historians, or quasi-historians, have made the
faintest effort to find out the facts for themselves,
following James's figures with blind reliance, and,
accordingly, it is only necessary to discuss the
latter. This reputable gentleman ends his ac-
count (Naval Occurrences, p. 424) by remarking
that Macdonough wrote as he did because "he
knew that nothing would stamp a falsehood with
currency equal to a pious expression, , , .
his falsehoods equalling in number the lines of
his letter." These remarks are interesting as
showing the unbiassed and truthful character of
the author, rather than for any particular weight
they will have in influencing any one's judgment
on Commodore Macdonough. James gives the
engaged force of the British as "eight vessels, of
1426 tons, with 537 men, and throwing 765 lbs.
of shot." To reduce the force down to this, he
first excludes the Finch, because she "grounded

122 Naval War of 1812

opposite an American battery before the engage-
ment commenced," which reads especially well
in connection with Captain Pring's official letter:
"Lieutenant Hicks, of the Finch, had the morti-
fication to strike on a reef of rocks to the east-
ward of Crab Island about the middle of the
engagement.'' ' What James means cannot be im-
agined ; no stretch of language will convert " about
the middle of" into "before." The Finch struck
on the reef in consequence of having been disabled
and rendered helpless by the fire from the Ticon-
deroga. Adding her force to James's statement
(counting her crew only as he gives it) , we get nine
vessels, 1536 tons, 577 men, 849 lbs. of shot.
James also excludes five gunboats, because they
ran away almost as soon as the action com-
menced (vol. vi., p. 501). This assertion is by
no means equivalent to the statement in Captain
Pring's letter "that the flotilla of gunboats had
abandoned the object assigned to them," and, if
it was, it would not warrant his excluding the
five gunboats. Their flight may have been dis-
graceful, but they formed part of the attacking
force, nevertheless ; almost any general could say
that he had won against superior numbers if he
refused to count in any of his own men whom he
suspected of behaving badly. James gives his ten

' The italics are mine. The letter is given in full in the
Naval Chronicle.

Naval War of 1 812 123

gunboats 294 men and 13 guns (two long 24's, five
long i8's, six 3 2 -pound carronades), and makes
them average 45 tons; adding on the five he
leaves out, we get 14 vessels of 1761 tons, with
714 men, throwing at a broadside 1025 lbs. of shot
(591 from long guns, 434 from carronades). But
Sir George Prevost, in the letter already quoted,
says there were 12 gunboats, and the American
accounts say more. Supposing the two gunboats
James did not include at all to be equal, respec-
tively to one of the largest and one of the smallest
of the gunboats, as he gives them {Naval Occur-
rences, p. 417) — that is, one to have had 35 men,
a long 24, and a 3 2 -pound carronade, the other,
25 men and a 3 2 -pound carronade — we get for
Downie's force 16 vessels, of 1851 tons, with 774
men, throwing at a broadside 11 13 lbs. of shot
(615 from long guns, 498 from carronades). It
must be remembered that so far I have merely
corrected James by means of the authorities from
which he draws his account — the official letters of
the British commanders. I have not brought up
a single American authority against him, but
have only made such alterations as a writer could
with nothing whatever but the accounts of Sir
George Prevost and Captain Pring before him to
compare with James. Thus it is seen that, accord-
ing to James himself, Downie really had 774 men
to Macdonough's 882, and threw at a broadside

124 Naval War of 1812

1 1 13 lbs. of shot to Macdonough's 11 94 lbs.
James says {Naval Occurrences, pp. 410, 413):
" Let it be recollected, no musketry was employed
on either side," and "The marines were of no
use, as the action was fought out of the range of
musketry"; the 106 additional men on the part

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 28 of 42)