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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wounded; the Finch, 2 wounded: in all, 57 killed and 72
wounded. But he adds "that no opportunity has offered to
muster . . . this is the whole as yet ascertained to be
killed or wounded." The Americans took out 180 dead and
wounded from the Confiance, 50 from the Linnet, and 40
from the Chubb and Finch; in all, 270. James (Naval Occur-
rences, p. 412) says the Confiance had 83 wounded. As
Captain Pring wrote his letter in Plattsburg Bay the day
after the action, he of course could not give the loss aboard
the British gunboats; so James at once assumed that they
suffered none. As well as could be found out, they had be-
tween 50 and 100 killed and wounded. The total British
loss was between 300 and 400, as nearly as can be ascertained.
For this action, as already shown, James is of no use whatever.
Compare his statements, for example, with those of Mid-
shipman Lee, in the Naval Chronicle. The comparative loss,
as a means of testing the competitive prowess of the com-
batants, is not of much consequence in this case, as the
weaker party in point of force conquered.

142 Naval War of 1812

of the victory were immediate and of the highest
importance. Sir George Prevost and his army at
once fled in great haste and confusion back to
Canada, leaving our northern frontier clear for
the remainder of the war ; while the victory had a
very great effect on the negotiations for peace.

In this battle the crews on both sides behaved
with equal bravery, and left nothing to be de-
sired in this respect ; but from their rawness they
of course showed far less skill than the crews of
most of the American and some of the British
ocean cruisers, such as the Constitution, United
States, or Shannon, the Hornet, Wasp, or Reindeer.
Lieutenant Cassin handled the Ticonderoga, and
Captain Pring the Linnet, with the utmost gal-
lantry and skill, and, after Macdonough, they
divided the honors of the day. But Macdonough
in this battle won a higher fame than any other
commander of the war, British or American. He
had a decidedly superior force to contend against,
the officers and men of the two sides being about
on a par in every respect ; and it was solely owing
to his foresight and resource that w^e won the vic-
tory. He forced the British to engage at a dis-
advantage by his excellent choice of position;
and he prepared beforehand for every possible
contingency. His personal prowess had already
been shown at the cost of the rovers of Tripoli, and
in this action he helped fight the guns as ably as

Naval War of 1812


the best sailor. His skill, seamanship, quick eye,
readiness of resource, and indomitable pluck, are
beyond all praise. Down to the time of the Civil
War, he is the greatest figure in our naval history.
A thoroughly religious man, he was as generous
and humane as he was skilful and brave; one of
the greatest of our sea-captains, he has left a
stainless name behind him.


Name Tons Guns

Brig 100 10

Magnet 187 12

Black Snake 30 i

Gunboat 50 2

50 3

Confiance 1200 37

Linnet 350 16

Chubb 112 II

Finch 1 10 II

9 vessels 2189 103


Name Tons Guns

Growler 81 7

Boat 50 2

Tigress 96 i

Scorpion 86 2

Ohio 94 I

Somers 98 2

6 vessels 505 15


j Burnt by

I Lieut. Gregory.

Burnt by her crew.







President captured by Captain Hayes's squadron — Success-
ful cutting-out expeditions of the Americans — Privateer brig
Chasseur captures St. Lawrence schooner — Constitution cap-
tures Cyane and Levant — Escapes from a British squadron —
The Hornet captures the Penguin, and escapes from a 74 —
The Peacock and the Nautilus — Summary — Remarks on the
war — Tables of comparative loss, etc. — Compared with re-
sults of Anglo-French struggle.

THE treaty of peace between the United
States and Great Britain was signed at
Ghent, December 24, 18 14, and ratified
at Washington, February 18, 181 5. But during
these first two months of 181 5, and until the
news reached the cruisers on the ocean, the war-
fare went on with much the same characteristics
as before. The blockading squadrons continued
standing on and off before the ports containing
warships with the same unwearying vigilance ; but
the ice and cold prevented any attempts at harry-
ing the coast except by the few frigates scattered
along the shores of the Carolinas and Georgia.
There was no longer any formidable British fleet


Naval War of 1 812 145

in the Chesapeake or Delaware, while at New
Orleans the only available naval force of the
Americans consisted of a few small row-boats,
with which they harassed the rear of the retreating
British. The Constitution, Captain Stewart, was
already at sea, having put out from Boston on the
1 7th of December, while the blockading squadron
(composed of the same three frigates she subse-
quently encountered) was temporarily absent.

The Hornet, Captain Biddle, had left the port
of New London, running in heavy weather through
the blockading squadron, and had gone into New
York, where the President, Commodore Decatur,
and Peacock, Captain Warrington, with the Tom
Bowline, brig, were already assembled, intending
to start on a cruise for the East Indies. The
blockading squadron off the port consisted of
the 56-gun razee Majestic, Captain Hayes;
24-pounder frigate Endymion, Captain Hope;
1 8 -pounder frigate Pomone, Captain Lumly; and
i8-pounder frigate Tenedos, Captain Parker.' On
the 14th of January, a severe snow-storm came on
and blew the squadron off the coast. Next day
it moderated, and the ships stood off to the north-
west to get into the track which they supposed the
Americans would take if they attempted to put
out in the storm. Singularly enough, at the in-
stant of arriving at the intended point, an hour

' Letter of Rear-Admiral Hotham, January 23, 1815.

VOL. 11—10

146 Naval War of 181 2

before daylight on the 15th, Sandy Hook bearing
W.N.W. 15 leagues, a ship was made out on
the Majestic' s weather-bow, standing S.E/ This
ship was the unlucky President. On the evening
of the 14th she had left her consorts at anchor,
and put out to sea in a gale. But by a mistake
of the pilots, who were to place boats to beacon
the passage, the frigate struck on the bar, where
she beat heavily for an hour and a half,^ spring-
ing her masts and becoming very much hogged
and twisted.^ Owing to the severity of her in-
juries, the President would have put back to port,
but was prevented by the westerly gale."* Ac-
cordingly, Decatur steered at first along Long
Island then shaped his course to the S.E., and in
the dark ran into the British squadron, which,
but for his unfortunate accident, he would have
escaped. At daylight, the President, which had
hauled up and passed to the northward of her
opponents, 5 found herself with the Majestic and
Endymion astern, the Pomone on the port, and
the Tenedos on the starboard quarter.^ The chase
now became very interesting.^ During the early
part of the day, while the wind was still strong,
the Majestic led the Endymion and fired occasion-

' Letter of Captain Hayes, January 17, 181 5.
^ Letter of Commodore Decatur, January 18, 181 5.
3 Report of Court-martial, Alex. Murray presiding, April
20,1815. 4 Decatur's letter, January 1 8th. ^ Ibid.

6 James, vi., 529. 7 Letter of Captain Hayes.

Naval War of 1812 147

ally at the President, but without effect.' The
Pomone gained faster than the others, but by-
Captain Hayes's orders was signalled to go in
chase of the Tenedos, whose character the captain
could not make out ^ ; and this delayed her
several hours in the chase.-' In the afternoon, the
wind coming out light and baffling, the Endymion
left the Majestic behind, '^ and, owing to the Presi-
dent's disabled state and the amount of water she
made in consequence of the injuries received while
on the bar, gained rapidly on her, 5 although she
lightened ship and did everything else that was
possible to improve her sailing.^ But a shift of
wind helped the EndynnonJ and the latter was
able, at about 2.30, to begin skirmishing with her
bow-chasers, answered by the stern-chasers of the
President.^ At 5.30, the Endymion began close
action, "^ within half point-blank shot on the Presi-
dent's starboard quarter,'" where not a gun of the
latter could bear." The President continued in
the same course, steering east by north, the wind
being northwest, expecting the Endymion soon to
come up abeam; but the latter warily kept her

'Letter of Commodore Decatur. * James, vi., 529.

3 Log oi Pomone, published at Bermuda, January 29th, and
quoted in full in the Naval Chronicle, xxxiii., 370.

4 Letter of Captain Hayes. s Letter of Decatur.
^ Ibid. 7 Cooper, ii., 466. ^ hog oi Pomone.

' Letter of Captain Hayes. '° James, vi., 5.30.

" Letter of Decatur.

1 48 Naval War of 1 812

position by yawing, so as not to close.' So
things continued for half an hour, during which
the President suffered more than during all the
remainder of the combat/ At 6.00, the Presi-
dent kept off, heading to the south, and the two
adversaries ran abreast, the Americans using the
starboard and the British the port batteries.^
Decatur tried to close with his antagonist, but
whenever he hauled nearer to the latter she
hauled off "* and, being the swiftest ship, could of
course evade him; so he was reduced to the
necessity of trying to throw her out of the com-
bat ^ by dismantling her. He was completely suc-
cessful in this, and after two hours' fighting the
Endymion s sails were all cut from her yards ^ and
she dropped astern, the last shot being fired from
the President.'^ The Endymion was now com-
pletely silent,^ and Commodore Decatur did not
board her merely because her consorts were too
close astern ^ ; accordingly, the President hauled up
again to try her chances at running, having even
her royal studding-sails set,'° and exposed her
stern to the broadside of the Endymion,^^hvil the
latter did not fire a single gun.'^ Three hours

' Letter of Decatur. ^ Cooper, 470.

3 Log of Pomone. •* Report of Court-martial,

s Letter of Commodore Decatur.
6 Letter of Captain Hayes. 7 Log of Pomone.
8 Ibid. ^ Report of Court-martial. '° James, vi., 538.

" Letter of Commodore Decatur. '^ Log of Pomone.

Naval War of 1 812 149

afterward, at 11/ the Pomone caught up with the
President, and, luffing to port, gave her the star-
board broadside '' ; the Tenedos being two cable
lengths' distance astern, taking up a raking
position.-' The Pomone poured in another broad-
side, within musket-shot,'* when the President sur-
rendered and was taken possession of by Captain
Parker, of the Tenedos.^ A considerable num-
ber of the President's people were killed by these
last two broadsides/ The Endymion was at this
time out of sight astern. 7 She did not come
up, according to one account, for an hour and
three quarters,^ and according to another, for
three hours ^ ; and as she was a faster ship than
the President, this means that she was at least
two hours motionless, repairing damages. Com-
modore Decatur delivered his sword to Captain
Hayes, of the Majestic, who returned it, stating
in his letter that both sides had fought with great
gallantry. '° The President having been taken by
an entire squadron," the prize-money was divided

' Letter of Captain Hayes. ^ Log of Pomone.
3 Decatur's letter. * Log of Pomone.

s James, vi., 531.

6 Letter of Commodore Decatur, March 6, 18 15; deposi-
tion of Chaplain Henry Robinson before Admiralty Court at
St. George's, Bermuda, January, 1815.

7 Letter of Decatur, January 18th. 8 Log of Pomone.
^ Letter of Decatur, March 6th.

'° Letter of Captain Hayes.

'' Admiral Hotham's letter, January 23d.

150 Naval War of 1 812

equally among the ships.' The President's crew,
all told, consisted of 450 men,= none of whom were
British. 3 She had thus a hundred more men than
her antagonist and threw about 100 pounds more
shot at a broadside; but these advantages were
more than counterbalanced by the injuries re-
ceived on the bar, and by the fact that her powder
was so bad that while some of the British shot
went through both her sides, such a thing did not
once happen to the Endymion,'^ when fairly hulled.
The President lost 24 killed and 55 wounded s;
the Endymion, 11 killed and 14 wounded.^ Two
days afterward, on their way to the Bermudas, a
violent easterly gale came on, during which both
ships were dismasted, and the Endymion in addi-
tion had to throw over all her spar-deck guns.^

As can be seen, almost every sentence of this
account is taken (very nearly word for word) from
the various official reports, relying especially on
the log of the British frigate Pomone. I have been
thus careful to have every point of the narrative
established by unimpeachable reference : first, be-
cause there have been quite a number of British

' Bermuda Royal Gazette, March 8, 1815.

2 Depositions of Lieutenant Gallagher and the other officers.

3 Deposition of Commodore Decatur.

4 Bermuda Royal Gazette, January 6, 18 18.

5 Decatur's letter.

6 Letter of Captain Hope, January 15, 1815.

7 James, vi., 534.

Naval War of 1 812 151

historians who have treated the conflict as if it
were a victory and not a defeat for the Endymion;
and in the second place, because I regret to say
that I do not think that the facts bear out the
assertions, on the part of most American authors,
that Commodore Decatur "covered himself with
glory" and showed the "utmost heroism." As
regards the first point, Captain Hope himself, in
his singularly short official letter, does little be-
yond detail his own loss, and makes no claim to
having vanquished his opponent. Almost all the
talk about its being a "victory" comes from
James; and in recounting this, as well as all the
other battles, nearly every subsequent British
historian simply gives James's statements over
again, occasionally amplifying, but more often
altering or omitting, the vituperation. The point
at issue is simply this: Could a frigate which,
according to James himself, went out of action
with every sail set, take another frigate which, for
two hours, according to the log of the Pomone,
lay motionless and unmanageable on the waters,
without a sail? To prove that it could not, of
course, needs some not overscrupulous manipu-
lation of the facts. The intention with which
James sets about his work can be gathered from
the triumphant conclusion he comes to, that
Decatur's name has been "sunk quite as low as
that of Bainbridge or Porter," which, comparing

152 Naval War of 1812

small things to great, is somewhat like saying that
Napoleon's defeat by Wellington and Blucher
"sunk" him to the level of Hannibal. For the
account of the American crew and loss, James
relies on the statements made in the Bermuda
papers, of whose subsequent forced retraction he
takes no notice, and of course largely overesti-
mates both. On the same authority, he states
that the President's fire was "silenced," Commo-
dore Decatur stating the exact reverse. The point
is fortunately settled by the log of the Pomone,
which distinctly says that the last shot was fired
by the President. His last resort is to state that
the loss of the President was fourfold (in reality
threefold) that of the Endymion. Now we have
seen that the President lost "a considerable num-
ber" of men from the fire of the Pomone. Esti-
mating these at only nineteen, we have a loss of
sixty caused by the Endymion, and as most of
this was caused during the first half hour, when
the President was not firing, it follows that while
the two vessels were both fighting, broadside and
broadside, the loss inflicted was about equal; or,
the President, aiming at her adversary's rigging,
succeeded in completely disabling her, and inci-
dentally killed twenty-five men, while the En-
dymion did not hurt the President's rigging at
all, and, aiming at her hull, where, of course, the
slaughter ought to have been far greater than

Naval War of 1 812 153

when the fire was directed aloft, only killed about
the same number of men. Had there been no
other vessels in chase, Commodore Decatur, his
adversary having been thus rendered perfectly
helpless, could have simply taken any position he
chose and compelled the latter to strike, without
suffering any material additional loss himself. As
in such a case he would neither have endured the
unanswered fire of the Endymion on his quarter
for the first half hour, nor the subsequent broad-
sides of the Pomone, the Prestdoit's loss would
probably have been no greater than that of the
Constitution in taking the Java. It is difficult to
see how any outsider with an ounce of common
sense and fair-mindedness can help awarding the
palm to Decatur, as regards the action with the
Endymion. But I regret to say that I must
agree with James that he acted rather tamely,
certainly not heroically, in striking to the Pomone.
There was, of course, not much chance of success
in doing battle with two fresh frigates ; but then
they only mounted eighteen-pounders, and, judg-
ing from the slight results of the cannonading
from the Endymion and the first two (usually the
most fatal) broadsides of the Pomone, it would
have been rather a long time before they would
have caused much damage. Meanwhile, the Presi-
dent was pretty nearly as well off as ever as far
as fighting and sailing went. A lucky shot might

154 Naval War of 1812

have disabled one of her opponents, and then the
other would, in all probability, have undergone
the same fate as the Endymion. At least it was
well worth trying, and though Decatur could not
be said to be disgraced, yet it is excusable to wish
that Porter or Perry had been in his place. It is
not very pleasant to criticise the actions of an
American whose name is better known than that
of almost any other single-ship captain of his time ;
but if a man is as much to be praised for doing
fairly, or even badly, as for doing excellently,
then there is no use in bestowing praise at all.

This is perhaps as good a place as any other to
notice one or two of James's most common mis-
statements ; they really would not need refutation
were it not that they had been re-echoed, as usual,
by almost every British historian of the war for
the last sixty years. In the first place, James
puts the number of the President's men at 475;
she had 450. An exactly parallel reduction must
often be made when he speaks of the force of an
American ship. Then he says there were many
British among them, which is denied under oath
by the American officers; this holds good, also,
for the other American frigates. He says there
were but four boys ; there were nearly thirty ; and
on p. 120 he says the youngest was fourteen,
whereas we incidentally learn from the Life of De-
catur that several were under twelve. A favorite

Naval War of 1812 155

accusation is that the American midshipmen were
chiefly masters and mates of merchantmen; but
this was hardly ever the case. Many of the mid-
shipmen of the war afterward became celebrated
'commanders, and most of these (a notable in-
stance being Farragut, the greatest admiral since
Nelson) were entirely too young in 181 2 to have
had vessels under them, and, moreover, came
largely from the so-called "best families."

Again, in the first two frigate actions of 18 12,
the proportion of killed to wounded happened to
be unusually large on board the American frigates ;
accordingly, James states (p. 146) that the returns
of the wounded had been garbled, underestimated,
and made "subservient to the views of the com-
manders and their government." To support his
position that Captain Hull, who reported seven
killed and seven wounded, had not given the list
of the latter in full, he says that " an equal num-
ber of killed and wounded, as given in the Ameri-
can account, hardly ever occurs, except in cases
of explosion"; and yet, on p. 519, he gives the
loss of the British Hermes as 25 killed and 24
wounded, disregarding the incongruity involved.
On p. 169, in noticing the loss of the United States,
five killed and seven wounded, he says that " the
slightly wounded as in all other American cases,
are omitted." This is untrue, and the propor-
tion on the United States, 5 to 7, is just about

156 Naval War of 181 2

the same as that given by James himself on the
Endymion, 11 to 14, and Nautilus, 6 to 8. In
supporting this theory, James brings up ah the
instances where the American wounded bore a
larger proportion to their dead than on board
the British ships, but passes over the actions with
the Reindeer, Epervier, Penguin, Endymion, and
Boxer, where the reverse was the case. One of
James's most common methods of attempting to
throw discredit on the much vilified " Yankees" is
by quoting newspaper accounts of their wounded.
Thus he says (p. 562) of the Hornet, that several
of her men told some of the Penguin's sailors that
she lost 10 men killed, 16 wounded, etc. Utterly
false rumors of this kind were as often indulged
in by the Americans as the British. After the
capture of the President, articles occasionally ap-
peared in the papers to the effect that some
American sailor had counted "23 dead" on board
the Endymion, that "more than 50" of her men
were wounded, etc. Such statements were as
commonly made and with as little foundation by
one side as by the other, and it is absurd for a
historian to take any notice of them. James does
no worse than many of our own writers of the same
date; but while their writings have passed into
oblivion, his work is still often accepted as a
standard. This must be my apology for devoting
so much time to it. The severest criticism to

Naval War of 1 8i 2 157

which it can possibly be subjected is to compare
it with the truth. Whenever deahng with purely
American affairs, James's history is as utterly un-
trustworthy as its contemporary, Niles's Register,
is in matters purely British, while both are in-
valuable in dealing with things relating strictly
to their own nation ; they supplement each other.

On January 8th, General Packenham was de-
feated and killed by General Jackson at New-
Orleans, the Louisiana and the seamen of the Caro-
lina having their full share in the glory of the day,
and Captain Henly being among the very few
American wounded. On the same day. Sailing-
master Johnson, with 28 men in two boats, cut
out the British armed transport brig Cyprus, con-
taining provisions and munitions of war, and
manned by ten men.' On the i8th, the British
abandoned the enterprise and retreated to their
ships ; and Mr. Thomas Shields, a purser, formerly
a sea-officer, set off to harass them while em-
barking. At sunset, on the 20th, he left with
five boats and a gig, manned in all with 53 men,
and having under him Sailing-master Daily and
Master's-mate Boyd.^ At 10 o'clock p.m., a large
barge, containing 14 seamen and 40 officers and

' Letter of Sailing-master Johnson, January 9, 181 5.
^ Letter of Thomas Shields to Com. Patterson, January
25. 1815.

158 Naval War of 181 2

men of the 14th Light Dragoons, was surprised
and carried by boarding, after a slight struggle.
The prisoners outnumbering their captors, the
latter returned to shore, left them in a place of
safety, and again started at 2 a.m. on the morn-
ing of the 2 2d. Numerous transports and barges
of the enemy could be seen, observing very little
order and apparently taking no precautions against
attack, which they probably did not apprehend.
One of the American boats captured a transport
and five men; another, containing Mr. Shields
himself and eight men, carried by boarding, after
a short resistance, a schooner carrying ten men.
The flotilla then reunited and captured, in suc-
cession, with no resistance, five barges containing
70 men. By this time the alarm had spread and
they were attacked by six boats, but these were
repelled with some loss. Seven of the prisoners
(who were now half as many again as their cap-
tors) succeeded in escaping in the smallest prize.
Mr. Shields returned with the others, 78 in num-
ber. During the entire expedition he had lost
but three men, wounded; he had taken 132 pris-
oners, and destroyed eight craft, whose aggregate
tonnage about equalled that of the five gunves-
sels taken on Lake Borgne.

On January 30, 181 5, information was received
by Captain Dent, commanding at North Edisto,
Ga., that a party of British officers and men, in

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 30 of 42)