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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December 24, 1798; Letters of Secretary Paul Hamilton, Feb-
ruary 21, 1812; American State Papers, vol. xix., p. 149. See
also The History of the Navy of the United States, by Lieut. G.
E. Emmons, U. S. N. (published in Washington, 1853, under
the authority of the Navy Department) .

6o Naval War of 1812

been transformed into a ship, she was pierced for
20 guns, and in size was of an intermediate grade
between the Wasp and the heavy sloops, built
somewhat later, of 509 tons. Her armament con-
sisted of 32-pound carronades, with the exception
of the two bow-guns, which were long 12's. The
whole broadside was, in nominal weight, just 300
pounds; in actual weight, about 277 pounds. Her
complement of men was 140, but during the war
she generally left port with 150.' The Wasp had
been a ship from the beginning, mounted the
number of guns she rated (of the same calibres
as the Hornefs) and carried some ten men less.
She was about the same length as the British 18-
gun brig-sloop, but, being narrower, measured
nearly 30 tons less. The Argus and Syren were
similar and very fine brigs, the former being the
longer. Each carried two more guns than she
rated; and the Argus, in addition, had a couple
thrust through the bridle-ports. The guns were
24-pound carronades, with two long 12's for bow-
chasers. The proper complement of men was
100, but each sailed usually with about 125. The
four smaller craft were originally schooners, armed
with the same number of light long guns as they

^ In the Hornet's log of October 25, 1812, while in port, it is
mentioned that she had 158 men; four men who were sick
were left behind before she started. (See, in the Navy
Archives, the Log-book, Hornet, Wasp, and Argus, July 20,
1809, to October, 18 13.)

Naval War of 1812 61

rated, and carrying some 70 men apiece; but
they had been very effectually ruined by being
changed into brigs, with crews increased to a
hundred men. Each was armed with 18-pound
carronades, carrying two more than she rated.
The Enterprise, in fact, mounted 16 guns, having
two long 9's thrust through the bridle-ports.
These little brigs were slow, not very seaworthy,
and overcrowded with men and guns; they all
fell into the enemy's hands without doing any
good whatever, with the single exception of the
Enterprise, which escaped capture by sheer good
luck, and in her only battle happened to be pitted
against one of the corresponding and equally bad
class of British gun-brigs. The Adams, after sev-
eral changes of form, finally became a flush-decked
corvette. The Essex had originally mounted
twenty-six long 1 2's on her main-deck, and sixteen
24-pound carronades on her spar-deck ; but official
wisdom changed this, giving her 46 guns, twenty-
four 3 2 -pound carronades, and two long 12's on
the main-deck, and sixteen 3 2 -pound carronades
with four long 12's on the spar-deck. When Cap-
tain Porter had command of her he was deeply
sensible of the disadvantages of an armament
which put him at the mercy of any ordinary antag-
onist who could choose his distance; accordingly,
he petitioned several times, but always without
success, to have his long 12's returned to him.

62 Naval War of 1812

The American 38's were about the size of the
British frigates of the same rate, and armed
almost exactly in the same way, each having
twenty-eight long i8's on the main-deck and
twenty 3 2 -pound carronades on the spar-deck.
The proper complement was 300 men, but each
carried from 40 to 80 more.'

Our three 44-gun ships were the finest frigates
then afloat (although the British possessed some
as heavy, such as the Egyptienne, 44) . They were
beautifully modelled, with very thick scantling,
extremely stout masts, and heavy cannon. Each
carried on her main-deck thirty long 24's, and
on her spar-deck two long bow-chasers, and
twenty or twenty-two carronades— 4 2 -pounders

* The Chesapeake, by some curious mistake, was frequently-
rated as a 44, and this drew in its train a number of attendant
errors. James says that when she was captured, in one of
her lockers was found a letter, dated in February, i8i i, from
Robert Smith, the Secretary of War, to Captain Evans, at
Boston, directing him to open houses of rendezvous for man-
ning the Chesapeake, and enumerating her crew at a total of
443. Naturally, this gave British historians the idea that
such was the ordinary complement of our 38-gun frigates.
But the ordering so large a crew was merely a mistake, as
may be seen by a letter from Captain Bainbridge to the
Secretary of the Navy, which is given in full in the Captains'
Letters, vol. xxv.. No. 19 (Navy Archives) . In it he mentions
the extraordinary number of men ordered for the Chesapeake,
saying: "There is a mistake in the crew ordered for the
Chesapeake, as it equals in number the crews of our 44-gun
frigates, whereas the Chesapeake is of the class of the Congress
and Constellation."

Naval War of 1 812 63

on the President and United States, 32-pounders
on the Constitution. Each sailed with a crew of
about 450 men — 50 in excess of the regular

It may be as well to mention here the only
other class of vessels that we employed during
the war. This was composed of the ship-sloops
built in 1 81 3, which got to sea in 181 4. They
were very fine vessels, measuring 509 tons apiece,'
with very thick scantling and stout masts and
spars. Each carried twenty 3 2 -pound carronades
and two long 12's with a crew nominally of 160
men, but with usually a few supernumeraries.''

* The President, when in action with the Endymion, had 450
men aboard, as sworn by Decatur; the muster-roll of the
Constitution, a few days before her action with the Giierricre,
contains 464 names (including 5 1 marines) ; eight men were
absent in a prize, so she had aboard, in the action, 456. Her
muster-roll just before the action with the Cyane and Levant
shows 461 names.

^ The dimensions were 117 feet 11 inches upon the gun-
deck, 97 feet 6 inches keel for tonnage, measuring from one
foot before the forward perpendicular and along the base
line to the front of the rabbet of the port, deducting three-
f fths of the moulded breadth of the beam, which is 31 feet
6 inches; making sogf^ tons. (See in Navy Archives, (7o«-
tracts, vol. ii., p. 137.)

3 The Peacock had 166 men, as we learn from Com-
mander Warrington's letter of June ist (Letter No. 144 in
Masters-Commandant Letters, 1814, vol. i.). The Frolic took
aboard "10 or 12 men beyond her regular complement"
(see letter of Joseph Bainbridge, No. 51, in same vol.).
Accordingly, when she was captured by the Orpheus, the

64 Naval War of 1812

The British vessels encountered were similar,
but generally inferior, to our own. The only 24^
pounder frigate we encountered was the Endymion,
of about a fifth less force than the President.
Their 3 8 -gun frigates were almost exactly like
ours, but with fewer men in crew as a rule. They
were three times matched against our 44-gun frig-
ates, to which they were inferior about as three
is to four. Their 3 6 -gun frigates were larger than
the Essex, with a more numerous crew, but the
same number of guns ; carrying on the lower deck,
however, long i8's instead of 3 2 -pound carro-
nades, — a much more effective armament. The
3 2 -gun frigates were smaller, with long 12's on
the main-deck. The largest sloops were also
frigate-built, carrying twenty-two 3 2 -pound car-
ronades on the main-deck, and twelve lighter guns
on the quarter-deck and forecastle, with a crew
of 180. The large flush-decked ship-sloops carried
21 or 23 guns, with a crew of 140 men. But our
vessels most often came in contact with the
British 1 8-gun brig-sloop. This was a tubby craft,
heavier than any of our brigs, being about the
size of the Hornet. The crew consisted of from
no to 135 men; ordinarily, each was armed with

commander of the latter, Captain Hugh Pigot, reported the
number of men aboard to be 171. The Wasp left port with
173 men, with which she fought her first action; she had a
much smaller number aboard in her second.

Naval War of 1812 65

sixteen 3 2 -pound carronades, two long 6's, and a
shifting 1 2 -pound carronade; often with a light
long gun as a stem-chaser, making 20 in all. The
Reindeer and Peacock had only 24-pound carro-
nades; the Epervier had but eighteen guns, all

Among the stock accusations against our navy
of 181 2 were, and are, statements that our vessels
were rated at less than their real force, and in
particular that our large frigates were "disguised
line-of-battle ships." As regards the ratings,
most vessels of that time carried more guns than
they rated; the disparity was less in the French
than in either the British or American navies.
Our 38-gun frigates carried 48 guns, the exact
number the British 38's possessed. The worst case
of underrating in our navy was the Essex, which
rated 32, and carried 46 guns, so that her real
was 44 per cent, in excess of her nominal force;
but this was not as bad as the British sloop Cyane,
which was rated a 20 or 22, and carried 34 guns,
so that she had either 55 or 70 per cent, greater
real than nominal force. At the beginning of the

' The Epervier was taken into our service under the same
name and rate. Both Preble and Emmons described her as
of 477 tons. Warrington, her captor, however, says: "The
surveyor of the port has just measured the Epervier and
reports her 467 tons." (In the Navy Archives, Masters'
Commandant Letters, 1814, i., No. 125.)

For a full discussion of tonnage, see Appendix, A.

VOL. I. — s

66 Naval War of 1812

war we owned two i8-gun ship-sloops, one mount-
ing 18 and the other 20 guns; the 18 -gun brig-
sloops they captured mounted each 1 9 guns ; so
the average was the same. Later, we built sloops
that rated 18 and mounted 22 guns, but when one
was captured it was also put down in the British
navy list as an i8-gun ship-sloop. During all
the combats of the war there were but four
vessels that carried as few guns as they rated.
Two were British, the Epervier and Levant, and
two American, the Wasp and Adams. One navy
was certainly as deceptive as another, as far as
underrating went.

The force of the statement that our large frig-
ates were disguised line-of -battle ships, of course,
depends entirely upon what the words "frigate"
and " line-of -battle ship" mean. When on the
loth of August, 1653, De Ruyter saved a great
convoy by beating off Sir George Ayscough's fleet
of 38 sail, the largest of the Dutch admiral's '' t^t,
sail of the line" carried but 30 guns and 150 men,
and his own flag-ship but 28 guns and 134 men.'
The Dutch book from which this statement is
taken speaks indifferently of frigates of 18, 40,

I La Vie et les Actions Memorahles du Sr. Michel de Ruyter
d, Amsterdam, chez Henry et Theodore Boom, mdclxxvii.
The work is by Barthelemy Pielat, a surgeon in De Ruyter 's
fleet, and personally present during many of his battles. It
is written in French, but is in tone more strongly anti-
French than anti-English.

Naval War of 1 812 67

and 58 guns. Toward the end of the eighteenth
century the terms had crystalHzed. Frigate then
meant a so-called single-decked ship ; it in reality
possessed two decks, the main- or gun-deck, and
the upper one, which had no name at all, until
our sailors christened it spar-deck. The gun-deck
possessed a complete battery, and the spar-deck
an interrupted one, mounting guns on the fore-
castle and quarter-deck. At that time all "two-
decked" or '\three-decked" (in reality three- and
four-decked) ships were liners. But in 181 2
this had changed somewhat; as the various
nations built more and more powerful vessels,
the lower rates of the different divisions were
dropped. Thus, the British ship Cyane, captured
by the Constitution, was in reality a small frigate,
with a main-deck battery of 22 guns and 12
guns on the spar-deck; a few years before, she
would have been called a 24-gun frigate, but she
then ranked merely as a 2 2 -gun sloop. Similarly
the 50- and 64-gun ships that had fought in the
line at the Doggerbank, Camperdown, and even
at Aboukir, were now no longer deemed fit for that
purpose, and the 74 was the lowest line-of-battle

The Constitution, President, and United States
must then be compared with the existing European
vessels that were classed as frigates. The French
in 1 81 2 had no 24-pounder frigates, for the very

68 Naval War of 1 812

good reason that they had all fallen victims to
the English i8-pounders; but in July of that
year a Danish frigate, the Nayaden, which carried
long 24's, was destroyed by the English ship
Dictator, 64.

The British frigates were of several rates. The
lowest rated 32, carrying in all 40 guns, twenty-six
long 12's on the main-deck and fourteen 24-pound
carronades on the spar-deck — a broadside of 324
pounds.' The 36-gun frigates, like the Phoebe, car-
ried 46 guns, twenty-six long i8's on the gun-deck
and 3 2 -pound carronades above. The 38-gun
frigates, like the Macedonian, carried 48 or 49 guns,
long i8's below and 32-pound carronades above.
The 3 2 -gun frigates, then, presented in broadside
thirteen long 12's below and seven 24-pound car-
ronades above ; the 38-gun frigates, fourteen long
i8's below and ten 3 2 -pound carronades above ; so
thata44-gun frigate would naturally present fifteen
long 24's below and twelve 42 -pound carronades
above, as the United States did at first. The rate
was perfectly proper, for French, British, and Danes
already possessed 24-pounder frigates; and there
was really less disparity between the force and rate
of a 44 that carried 54 guns, than there was in a
38 that carried 49, or, like the Shannon, 52. Nor
was this all. Two of our three victories were won

' In all these vessels there were generally two long 6's or
9*s substituted for the bow-chase carronades.

Naval War of 1 812 69

by the Constitution, which only carried 32-pound
carronades, and once 54 and once 52 guns; and
as two thirds of the work was thus done by this
vessel, I shall now compare her with the largest
British frigates. Her broadside force consisted
of fifteen long 24's on the main-deck, and on the
spar-deck one long 24, and in one case ten, in the
other eleven, 3 2 -pound carronades — a broadside
of 704 or 736 pounds/ There was then in the
British navy the Acasta, 40, carrying in broad-side
fifteen long i8's and eleven 3 2 -pound carronades;
when the spar-deck batteries are equal, the addi-
tion of 90 pounds to the main-deck broadside
(which is all the superiority of the Constitution
over the Acasta) is certainly not enough to make
the distinction between a frigate and a disguised
74. But not considering the Acasta, there w^ere
in the British navy three 24-pounder frigates, the
Cornwallis, Indefatigable, and Endymion. We only
came in contact with the latter in 181 5, when the
Constitution had but 5 2 guns. The Endymion then
had an armament of twenty-eight long 24's, two
long iS's, and twenty 32-pound carronades, mak-
ing a broadside of 674 pounds,^ or, including a
shifting 24-pound carronade, of 698 pounds-
just six pounds, or one per cent., less than the

'Nominally; in reality about 7 per cent, less on account
of the short weight in the metal.

^According to James, 664 pounds: he omits the chase
guns for no reason.

70 Naval War of 1812

force of that "disguised line-of -battle ship" the
Constitution! As the Endymion only rated as a
40, and the Constitution as a 44, it was in reality
the former and not the latter which was under-
rated. I have taken the Constitution, because
the British had more to do with her than they
did with our other two 44's taken together. The
latter were both of heavier metal than the Con-
stitution, carry ing 42 -pound cavvonades. In 1 81 2,
the United States carried her full 54 guns, throw-
ing a broadside of 846 pounds; when captured,
the President carried 53, having substituted a 24-
pound carronade for two of her 42 's, and her
broadside amounted to 828 pounds, or 16 per
cent, nominal and, on account of the short weight
of her shot, nine per cent, real excess over the
Endymion. If this difference made her a line-of-
battle ship, then the Endymion was doubly a
line-of-battle ship, compared to the Congress or
the Constellation. Moreover, the American com-
manders found their 4 2 -pound carronades too
heavy; as I have said, the Constitution only
mounted 32's, and the United States landed six of
her guns. When, in 1813, she attempted to break
the blockade, she carried but 48 guns, throwing a
broadside of 720 pounds — just three per cent, more
than the Endymion. "■ If our frigates were line-of-

' It was on account of this difference of three per cent, that
Captain Hardy refused to allow the Endymion to meet the

Naval War of 1 812 7^

battle ships, the disguise was certainly marvel-
lously complete, and they had a number of com-
panions equally disguised in the British ranks.

The 44's were thus true frigates, with one com-
plete battery of long guns and one interrupted
one of carronades. That they were better than
any other frigates was highly creditable to our
ingenuity and national skill. We cannot, per-
haps, lay claim to the invention and first use of
the heavy frigate, for 24-pounder frigates were
already in the service of at least three nations,
and the French 36-pound carronade, in use on
their spar-decks, threw a heavier ball than our
42 -pounder. But we had enlarged and perfected
the heavy frigate, and were the first nation that
ever used it effectively. The French Forte and
the Danish Nayaden shared the fate of ships
carrying guns of lighter calibre; and the British
24-pounders, like the Endymion, had never ac-
complished anything. Hitherto, there had been
a strong feeling, especially in England, that an
18-pound gun was as effective as a 24- in arming

United States (James, vi., p. 470) . This was during the course
of some challenges and counter-challenges which ended in
nothing, Decatur in his turn being unwilling to have the Mace-
donian meet the Statira, unless the latter should agree not to
take on a picked crew. He was perfectly right in this; but
he ought never to have sent the challenge at all, as two
ships but an hour or two out of port would be at a frightful
disadvantage in a fight.

72 Naval War of 1812

a frigate; we made a complete revolution in this
respect. England had been building only 18-
pounder vessels when she ought to have been
building 24-pounders. It was greatly to our
credit that our average frigate was superior to
the average British frigate; exactly as it was to
our discredit that the Essex was so ineffectively
armed. Captain Porter owed his defeat chiefly
to his ineffective guns, but also to having lost his
topmast, to the weather being unfavorable, and,
still more, to the admirable skill with which
Hilyar used his superior armament. The Java,
Macedonian, and Giierrihe owed their defeat
partly to their lighter guns, but much more to
the fact that their captains and seamen did not
display either as good seamanship or as good
gunnery as their foes. Inferiority in armament
was a factor to be taken into account in all the
four cases, but it was more marked in that of
the Essex than in the other three; it would have
been fairer for Porter to say that he had been
captured by a line-of-battle ship than for the
captain of the Java to make that assertion. In
this last case, the forces of the two ships compared
almost exactly as their rates. A 44 was matched
against a 38 ; it was not surprising that she should
win, but it was surprising that she should win
with ease and impunity. The long 24's on the
Constitution's gun-deck no more made her a line-

Naval War of 1 812 73

of-battle ship than the 3 2 -pound carronades
mounted on an EngHsh frigate's quarter-deck and
forecastle made her a Hne-of-battle ship when
opposed to a Frenchman with only 8's and 6's
on his spar-deck. When, a few years before, the
English Phoebe had captured the French Neretde,
their broadsides were respectively 407 and 258
pounds, a greater disparity than in any of our
successful fights ; yet no author thought of claim-
ing that the Phcehe was anything but a frigate.
So with the Clyde, throwing 425 pounds, which
took the Vestale, throwing but 246. The facts
were that i8-pounder frigates had captured 12-
pounders, exactly as our 24-pounders in turn
captured the i8-pounders.

Shortly before Great Britain declared war on us,
one of her i8-pounder frigates, the San Florenzo,
throwing 476 pounds in a broadside, captured the
1 2 -pounder French frigate Pysche, whose broad-
side was only 246 pounds. The force of the
former was thus almost double that of the latter,
yet the battle was long and desperate, the English
losing 48 and the French 124 men. This conflict,
then, reflected as much credit on the skill and
seamanship of the defeated as of the victorious
side ; the difference in loss could be fairly ascribed
to the difference in weight of metal. But where,
as in the famous ship-duels of 181 2, the difference
in force is only a fifth, instead of a half, and

74 Naval War of 1812

yet the slaughter, instead of being as five is to
two, is as six to one, then the victory is certainly
to be ascribed as much to superiority in skill as
to superiority in force. But, on the other hand,
it should always be remembered that there was a
very decided superiority in force. It is a very
discreditable feature of many of our naval his-
tories that they utterly ignore this superiority,
seeming ashamed to confess that it existed. In
reality, it was something to be proud of. It was
highly to the credit of the United States that her
frigates were of better make and armament than
any others; it always speaks well for a nation's
energy and capacity that any of her implements
of warfare are of a superior kind. This is a per-
fectly legitimate reason for pride.

It spoke well for the Prussians in 1866 that
they opposed breech-loaders to the muzzle-loaders
of the Austrians; but it would be folly to give
all the credit of the victory to the breech-loaders
and none to Moltke and his lieutenants. Thus, it
must be remembered that two things contributed
to our victories. One was the excellent make
and armament of our ships; the other was the
skilful seamanship, excellent discipline, and superb
gunnery of the men who were in them. British
writers are apt only to speak of the first and
Americans only of the last, whereas both should
be taken into consideration.

Naval War of 1 812 75

To sum up: the xVmerican 44-gun frigate was
a true frigate, in build and armament, properly-
rated, stronger than a 3 8 -gun frigate just about
in the proportion of 44 to 38, and not exceeding
in strength an i8-pounder frigate as much as the
latter exceeded one carrying 12 -pounders. They
were, in no way whatever, line-of-battle ships ; but
they were superior to any other frigates afloat,
and, what is still more important, they were better
manned and commanded than the average frigate
of any other navy. Lord Codrington says (Me-
moirs, {., p. 310): "But I well know the system
of favoritism and borough corruption prevails so
very much that many people are promoted and
kept in command that should be dismissed the
service, and while such is the case the few Ameri-
cans chosen for their merit may be expected to
follow up their successes except where they meet
with our best officers on even terms." ' The
small size of our navy was probably to a certain

' To show that I am not quoting an authority biassed in
our favor I will give Sir Edward Codrington's opinion of our
rural better class (i.,318). " It is curious to observe the animos-
ity which prevails here among what is called the better order
of people, which I think is more a misnomer here than in any
other country where I have ever been. Their whig and tory
are democrat and federalist, and it would seem for the sake
of giving vent to that bitterness of hatred which marks the
Yankee character, every gentleman (God save the term) who
takes possession of a property adopts the opposite political
creed to that of his nearest neighbor."

76 Naval War of 1812

extent effective in keeping it up to a high stand-
ard ; but this is not the only explanation, as can
be seen by Portugal's small and poor navy. On
the other hand, the champions or pick of a large
navy ought to be better than the champions of a
small one.^

* In speaking of tonnage, I wish I could have got better
authority than James for the British side of the question.

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 6 of 42)