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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He is so bitter that it involuntarily gives one a distrust of
his judgment. Thus in speaking of the Penguin's capture,
he, in endeavoring to show that the Hornet's loss was greater
than she acknowledged, says, "several of the dangerously
wounded were thrown overboard because the surgeon was
afraid to amputate, owing to his want of experience" (Naval
Occiirrences, 492). Now, what could persuade a writer to
make such a foolish accusation ? No matter how utterly
depraved and brutal Captain Biddle might be, he would
certainly not throw his wounded over alive because he feared
they might die. Again, in vol. vi., p. 546, he says: "Captain
Stewart had caused the Cyane to be painted to resemble a
36-gun frigate. The object of this was to aggrandize his
exploit in the eyes of the gaping citizens of Boston." No
matter how skilful an artist Captain Stewart was, and no
matter how great the gaping capacities of the Bostonians,
the Cyane (which by the way went to New York and not to
Boston) could no more be painted to look like a 36-gun
frigate than a schooner could be painted to look like a brig.
Instances of rancor like these two occur constantly in his
work, and make it very difficult to separate what is matter of
fact from what is matter of opinion. I always rely on the
British official accounts when they can be reached, except in
the case of the Java, which seem garbled. That such was
sometimes the case with British officials is testified to by
both James (vol. iv., p. 17) and Brenton (vol. ii., p. 454, note).
From the Memoir of Admiral Broke, we learn that his public

Naval War of 1 812 "j^

Again, the armaments of the American as well
as of the British ships were composed of three
very different styles of guns. The first, or long
gun, was enormously long and thick-barrelled in
comparison to its bore, and in consequence very
heavy ; it possessed a very long range, and varied
in calibre from two to forty-two pounds. The
ordinary calibres in our navy were 6, 9, 12, 18, and
24. The second style was the carronade — a short,
light gun of large bore ; compared to a long gun of
the same weight, it carried a much heavier ball for
a much shorter distance. The chief calibres were
9, 12, 18, 24, 32, 42, and 68 pounders, the first and
the last being hardly in use in our navy. The

letter was wrong in a number of particulars. See also any
one of the numerous biographies of Lord Dundonald, the
hero of the little Speedy' s fight. It is very unfortunate that
the British stopped publishing official accounts of their de-
feats; it could not well help giving rise to unpleasant sus-

It may be as well to mention here, again, that James's
accusations do not really detract from the interest attaching
to the war and its value for purposes of study. If, as he says,
the American commanders were cowards, and their """ews
renegades, it is well worth while to learn the lesson that
good training will make such men able to beat brave officers
with loyal crews. And why did the British have such bad
average crews as he makes out? He says, for instance, that
the Java's was unusually bad; yet Brenton says (vol. ii., p.
461) it was like " the generality of our crews." It is worth
while explaining the reason why such a crew was generally
better than a French and worse than an American one.

78 Naval War of 1 8i 2

third style was the columbiad, of an intermediate
grade between the first two. Thus it is seen that
a gun of one style by no means corresponds to a
gun of another style of the same calibre. As a
rough example, a long 12, a columbiad 18, and
a 3 2 -pound carronade would be about equivalent
to one another. These guns were mounted on
two different types of vessel. The first was flush-
decked ; that is, it had a single straight open deck
on which all the guns were mounted. This class
included one heavy corvette (the Adams), the
ship-sloops, and the brig-sloops. Through the
bow-chase port, on each side, each of these
mounted a long gun ; the rest of their guns were
carronades, except in the case of the Adams,
which had all long guns. Above these came the
frigates, whose gun-deck was covered above by
another deck ; on the fore and aft parts (forecastle
and quarterdeck) of this upper, open deck were
also mounted guns. The main-deck guns were all
long, except on the Essex, which had carronades ;
on ' the quarter-deck were mounted carronades,
and on the forecastle also carronades, with two
long bow-chasers.

Where two ships of similar armament fought
one another, it is easy to get the comparative
force by simply comparing the weight in broad-
sides, each side presenting very nearly the same
proportion of long guns to carronades. For such

Naval War of 1 812 79

a broadside we take half the guns mounted in the
ordinary way, and all guns mounted on pivots, or
shifting. Thus Perry's force in guns was 54 to
Barclay's 63 ; yet each presented 34 in broadside.
Again, each of the British brig-sloops mounted 19
guns, presenting 10 in broadside. Besides these,
some ships mounted bow-chasers run through the
bridle-ports, or stern-chasers, neither of which
could be used in broadsides. Nevertheless, I in-
clude them, both because it works in about an
equal number of cases against each navy, and be-
cause they were sometimes terribly effective.
James excludes the Guerrieres bow-chaser; in
reality, he ought to have included both it and its
fellow, as they worked more damage than all the
broadside guns put together. Again, he excludes
the Endymion's bow-chasers, though in her action
they proved invaluable. Yet he includes those of
the Enterprise and Argus, though the former's
were probably not fired. So I shall take the half
of the fixed, plus all the movable, guns aboard, in
comparing broadside force.

But the chief difficulty appears when guns of
one style are matched against those of another.
If a ship armed with long 12's meets one armed
with 3 2 -pound carronades, which is superior in
force? At long range the first, and at short range
the second; and of course each captain is pretty
sure to insist that "circumstances" forced him to

So Naval War of 1812

fight at a disadvantage. The result would depend
largely on the skill or luck of each commander in
choosing position.

One thing is certain: long guns are more for-
midable than carronades of the same calibre.
There are exemplifications of this rule on both
sides; of course, American writers, as a rule, only
pay attention to one set of cases and British to
the others. The Cyane and Levant threw a heav-
ier broadside than the Constitution, but were
certainly less formidably armed; and the Essex
threw a heavier broadside than the Phcehe, yet was
also less formidable. On Lake Ontario the Ameri-
can ship. General Pike, threw less metal at a broad-
side than either of her two chief antagonists, but
neither could be called her equal ; while on Lake
Champlain a parallel case is afforded by the Brit-
ish ship Confiance. Supposing that two ships
throw the same broadside weight of metal, one
from long guns, the other from carronades, at
short range they are equal ; at long, one has it all
her own way. Her captain thus certainly has a
great superiority of force, and if he does not take
advantage of it it is owing to his adversary's skill
or his own mismanagement. As a mere approxi-
mation, it may be assumed, in comparing the
broadsides of two vessels or squadrons, that long
guns count for at least twice as much as car-
ronades of the same calibre. Thus on Lake

Naval War of 1812 81

Champlain Captain Downie possessed an immense
advantage in his long guns, which Commodore
Macdonough's exceedingly good arrangements nul-
lified. Sometimes part of the advantage may be
willingly foregone so as to acquire some other.
Had the Constitution kept at long bowls with the
Cyane and Levant she could have probably cap-
tured one without any loss to herself, while the
other would have escaped; she preferred to run
down close so as to insure the capture of both,
knowing that even at close quarters long guns are
somewhat better than short ones (not to mention
her other advantages in thick scantling, speed,
etc.). The British carronades often upset in ac-
tion; this was either owing to their having been
insufficiently secured, and to this remaining un-
discovered because the men were not exercised at
the guns, or else it was because the unpractised
sailors would greatly overcharge them. Our bet-
ter-trained sailors on the ocean rarely committed
these blunders, but our less-skilled on the lakes
did so as often as their antagonists.

But while the Americans thus, as a rule, had
heavier and better-fitted guns, they labored under
one or two disadvantages. Our foundries were
generally not as good as those of the British, and
our guns, in consequence, more likely to burst ; it
was an accident of this nature which saved the
British Belvidera; and the General Pike, under

VOL, I. — 6,

82 Naval War of 1 812

Commodore Chauncy, and the new American frig-
ate Guerriere suffered in the same way ; while often
the muzzles of the guns would crack. A more
universal disadvantage was in the short weight of
our shot. When Captain Blakely sunk the Avon
he officially reported that her four shot which came
aboard weighed just 3 2 pounds apiece, a pound and
three-quarters more than his heaviest ; this would
make his average shot about 2^ pounds less, or
rather over 7 per cent. Exactly similar statements
were made by the officers of the Constitution in her
three engagements. Thus, when she fought the
Java, she threw at a broadside, as already stated,
704 pounds; the Java mounted twenty -eight long
i8's, eighteen 32-pound carronades, two long 12's,
and one shifting 24-pound carronade, — a broad-
side of 576 pounds. Yet, by the actual weighing
of all the different shot on both sides, it was found
that the difference in broadside force was only
about 77 pounds, or the Constitution's shot were
about 7 per cent, short weight. The long 24's of
the United States each threw a shot but 4I pounds
heavier than the long i8's of the Macedonian;
here again the -difference was about 7 per cent.
The same difference existed in favor of the Pen-
guin and Epervier compared with the Wasp and
Hornet. Mr. Fenimore Cooper ' weighed a great
number of shot some time after the war. The

' See Naval Histoty, i., 380.

Naval War of 1 812 83

later castings, even, weighed nearly 5 per cent, less
than the British shot, and some of the older ones
about 9 per cent. The average is safe to take at
7 per cent, less, and I shall throughout make this
allowance for ocean cruisers. The deficit was
sometimes owing to windage, but more often the
shot was of full size, but defective in density. The
effect of this can be gathered from the following
quotation from the work of a British artillerist:
"The greater the density of shot of like calibres,
projected with equal velocity and elevation, the
greater the range, accuracy, and penetration." '
This defectiveness in density might be a serious
injury in a contest at a long distance, but would
make but little difference at close quarters (al-
though it may have been partly owing to their
short weight that so many of the CJiesapeakes shot
failed to penetrate the Shannon'' s hull). Thus, in
the actions with the Macedoniayi and Java, the
American frigates showed excellent practice when
the contest was carried on within fair distance,
while their first broadsides at long range went very
wild; but in the case of the Guerriere the Con-
stitution reserved her fire for close quarters, and

^ Heavy Ordnance, Capt. T. F. Simmons, R. A., London,
1837. James supposes that the "Yankee captains" have in
each case hunted round till they could get particularly small
American shot to weigh; and also denies that short weight is
a disadvantage. The last proposition, carried out logically,
would lead to some rather astonishing results.

84 Naval War of 1 812

was probably not at all affected by the short
weight of her shot.

As to the officers and crew of a 44-gun frigate,
the following was the regular complement estab-
lished by law ' :

1 captain i coxswain
4 lieutenants i sailniaker

2 lieutenants of marines i cooper
2 sailing-masters i steward
2 master's mates i armorer

7 midshipmen i master of arms

I purser i cook

I surgeon i chaplain

2 surgeon's mates

I clerk 50

1 carpenter 120 able seamen

2 carpenter's mates 150 ordinary seamen

1 boatswain 30 boys

2 boatswain's mates 50 marines
I yeoman of gun-room

I gunner 400 in all.
1 1 quarter gunners

An i8-gun ship had 32 officers and petty officers,
30 able seamen, 46 ordinary seamen, 12 boys, and
20 marines — 140 in all. Sometimes ships put to
sea without their full complements (as in the case
of the first Wasp), but more often with super-
numeraries aboard. The weapons for close quar-
ters were pikes, cutlasses, and a few axes; while
the marines and some of the topmen had muskets
and occasionally rifles.

' See State Papers, vol. xvi., p. 159, Washington, 1834.

Naval War of 1 812 85

In comparing the forces of the contestants, I
have always given the number of men in crew;
but this in most cases was unnecessary. When
there were plenty of men to handle the guns, trim
the sails, make repairs, act as marines, etc., any
additional number simply served to increase the
slaughter on board. The Guerriere undoubtedly
suffered from being short-handed, but neither the
Macedonian nor Java would have been benefited
by the presence of a hundred additional men,
Barclay possessed about as many men as Perry,
but this did not give him an equality of force.
The Penguin and Frolic would have been taken
just as surely had the Hornet and Wasp had a
dozen men less apiece than they did. The prin-
cipal case where numbers would help would be in
a hand-to-hand fight. Thus, the Chesapeake, hav-
ing fifty more men than the Shannon, ought to
have been successful ; but she was not, because the
superiority of her crew in numbers was more than
counterbalanced by the superiority of the Shan-
non's crew in other respects. The result of the
battle of Lake Champlain, which was fought at
anchor, with the fleets too far apart for musketry
to reach, was not in the slightest degree affected
by the number of men on either side, as both com-
batants had amply enough to manage the guns
and perform every other service.

In all these conflicts the courage of both parties

86 Naval War of 1 812

is taken for granted ; it was not so much a factor
in gaining the victory as one which, if lacking, was
fatal to all chances of success. In the engage-
ments between regular cruisers, not a single one
was gained by superiority in courage. The crews
of both the Argus and Epervier certainly flinched ;
but had they fought never so bravely they were
too unskilful to win. The Chesapeake's crew
could hardly be said to lack courage ; it was more
that they were inferior to their opponents in dis-
cipline as well as in skill.

There was but one conflict during the war
where the victory could be said to be owing to
superiority in pluck. This was when the Neuf-
chdtel privateer beat off the boats of the Endy-
mion. The privateersmen suffered a heavier
proportional loss than their assailants, and they
gained the victory by sheer ability to stand pun-

For convenience in comparing them, I give in
tabulated form the force of the three British 38's
taken by American 44's (allowing for short weight
of metal of latter) ;

Constitution Giieni^re
30 long 24's 30 long i8's
2 long 24's 2 long 12's
22 short 32's 16 short 32's
I short 18

Broadside, nominal, 736 lbs.

real, 684 lbs. Broadside, 556 lbs.

Naval War of 1 812 87

United States Macedonian

30 long 24's 28 long i8's

2 long 24's 2 long 12's

22 short 42 's 2 long 9's

— 16 short 32's

Broadside, nominal, 846 lbs. i short i8

real, 786 lbs.

Broadside, 547 lbs.

Constitution Java

30 long 24's 28 long i8's

2 long 24's 2 long 12's

20 short 32's 18 short 32's

I short 24

Broadside, nominal, 704 lbs.

real, 654 lbs. Broadside, 576 lbs.

The smallest line-of-battle ship, the 74, with
only long i8's on the second deck, was armed as
follows :

28 long 32's
28 long i8's

6 long 12's
14 short 32's

7 short i8's,

or a broadside of 1032 lbs., 736 from long guns,
296 from carronades; while the Constitution
threw (in reality) 684 lbs., 356 from long guns,
and 328 from her carronades, and the United
States 102 lbs. more from her carronades. Re-
membering the difference between long guns and
carronades, and considering sixteen of the 74's
long i8's as being replaced by 4 2 -pound carro-

88 Naval War of 1812

nades ' (so as to get the metal on the ships distrib-
uted in similar proportions between the two styles
of cannon), we get as the 74's broadside 592 lbs.
from long guns and 632 from carronades. The
United States threw nominally 360 and 486, and
the Constitution nominally 360 and 352; so the
74 was superior even to the former nominally
about as three is to two; while the Constitution,
if "a line-of-battle ship," was disguised to such a
degree that she was in reality of but little more
than one half the force of one of the smallest true
liners England possessed!

* That this change would leave the force about as it was,
can be gathered from the fact that the Adams and John
Adams, both of which had been armed with 42-pound carro-
nades (which were sent to Sackett's Harbor), had them
replaced by long and medium i8-pounders, these being con-
sidered to be more formidable; so that the substitution of
42-pound carronades would, if anything, reduce the force of
the 74.




Commodore Rodgers's cruise and unsuccessful chase of the
Belvidera — Cruise of the Essex — Captain Hull's cruise and
escape from the squadron of Commodore Broke — Constitu-
tion captures Giierriere — Wasp captures Frolic — Second un-
successful cruise of Commodore Rodgers — United States
captures Macedonian — Constitution captures Java — Essex
starts on a cruise — Summary.

AT the time of the declaration of war, June 18,
1 8 1 2 , the American navy was but partially
prepared for effective service. TheWasp,
18, was still at sea, on her return voyage from
France; the Constellation, 38, was lying in the
Chesapeake River, unable to receive a crew for
several months to come; the Chesapeake, 38, was
lying in a similar condition in Boston harbor ; the
Adams, 28, was at Washington, being cut down
and lengthened from a frigate into a corvette.
These three cruisers were none of them fit to go to
sea till after the end of the year. The Essex, 32,
was in New York harbor, but, having some repairs
to make, was not yet ready to put out. The Con-
stitution, 44, was at Annapolis, without all of her


90 Naval War of 1812

stores, and engaged in shipping a new crew, the
time of the old one being up. The Nautilus, 14,
was cruising off New Jersey, and the other small
brigs were also off the coast. The only vessels
immediately available were those under the com-
mand of Commodore Rodgers at New York, con-
sisting of his own ship, the President, 44, and of
the United States, 44, Commodore Decatur;
Congress, 38, Captain Smith; Hornet, 18, Captain
Lawrence; and A r^^t.j, 16, Lieutenant Sinclair. It
seems marvellous that any nation should have
permitted its ships to be so scattered, and many
of them in such an unfit condition, at the begin-
ning of hostilities. The British vessels cruising off
the coast were not at that time very numerous or
formidable, consisting of the Africa, 64, Acasta,
40, Shannon, 38, Guerriere, 38, Belvidera, 36,
jEoIus, 32, Southampton, 32, and Minerva, 32, with
a number of corvettes and sloops ; their force was,
however, strong enough to render it impossible for
Commodore Rodgers to make any attempt on the
coast towns of Canada or the West Indies. But
the homeward bound plate fleet had sailed from
Jamaica on May 20th, and was only protected by
the Thalia, 36, Captain Vashon, and Reindeer, 18,
Captain Manners. Its capture or destruction
would have been a serious blow, and one which
there seemed a good chance of striking, as the fleet
would have to pass along the American coast, run-

Naval War of 1 812 91

ning with the Gulf Stream. Commodore Rodgers
had made every preparation in expectation of war
being declared, and an hour after official intelli-
gence of it, together with his instructions, had
been received, his squadron put to sea on June
2ist, and ran off toward the southeast ' to get at
the Jamaica ships. Having learned from an
American brig that she had passed the plate fleet
four days before in lat. 36° N., long. 67° W., the
Commodore made all sail in that direction. At 6
A.M. on June 23d a sail was made out in the N. E.,
which proved to be the British frigate Belvidera, 36,
Captain Richard Byron. ^ The latter had sighted
some of Commodore Rodgers' s squadron some
time before and stood toward them, till at 6.30
she made out the three largest ships to be frigates.
Having been informed of the likelihood of war by
a New York pilot boat, the Belvidera now stood
away, going N. E. by E., the wind being fresh from
the west. The Americans made all sail in chase,
the President, a very fast ship off the wind, lead-
ing, and the Congress coming next. At noon the
President bore S.W., distant 2f miles from the
Belvidera, Nantucket shoals bearing 100 miles N.
and 48 miles E.^ The wind grew lighter, shifting

' Letter of Commodore John Rodgers to the Secretary of
the Navy, September i, 1812.

^ Brenton, v., 46. ,

3 Log of Belvidera, June 23, 18 12.

92 Naval War of 1812

more toward the southwest, while the ships con-
tinued steadily in their course, going N. E. by E.
As the President kept gaining, Captain Byron
cleared his ship for action, and shifted to the stern
ports two long 1 8-pounders on the main-deck and
two 3 2 -pound carronades on the quarter-deck.

At 4.30 ' the President's starboard forecastle
bow-gun was fired by Commodore Rodgers him-
self; the corresponding main-deck gun was next
discharged, and then Commodore Rodgers fired
again. These three shots all struck the stern of
the Belvidera, killing and wounding nine men,— ~
one of them went through the rudder coat into the
after gun-room, the other two into the captain's
cabin. A few more shots would have rendered
the Belvidera s capture certain, but when the
President's main-deck gun was discharged for the
second time it burst, blowing up the forecastle
deck and killing and wounding sixteen men, among
them the Commodore himself, whose leg was
broken. This saved the British frigate. Such an
explosion always causes a half panic, every gun
being at once suspected. In the midst of the con-
fusion. Captain Byron's stern-chasers opened with
spirit and effect, killing or wounding six men more.
Had the President still pushed steadily on, only

^ Cooper, ii., 151. According to James, vi., 117, the Presi-
dent was then 600 yards distant from the Belvidera half a
point on her weather or port quarter

Naval War of 1 812 93

using her bow-chasers until she closed abreast,
which she could probably have done, the Belvidera
could still have been taken; but, instead, the
former now bore up and fired her port broadside,
cutting her antagonist's rigging slightly, but doing
no other damage, while the Belvidera kept up a
brisk and galling fire, although the long bolts,
breeching-hooks, and breechings of the guns now
broke continually, wounding several of the men,
including Captain Byron. The President had lost
ground by yawing, but she soon regained it, and,
coming up closer than before, again opened from
her bow-chasers a well-directed fire, which se-
verely wounded her opponent's main -topmast,
crossjack yard, and one or two other spars '; but
shortly afterward she repeated her former tactics
and again lost ground by yawing to discharge
another broadside, even more ineffectual than the
first. Once more she came up closer than ever,
and once more yawed; the single shots from her
bow-chasers doing considerable damage, but her
raking broadsides none.^ Meanwhile, the active
crew of the Belvidera repaired everything as fast
as it was damaged, while, under the superintend-
ence of Lieutenants Sykes, Bruce, and Campbell,

'James, vi., 119. He says the President was within 400

^ Lord Howard Douglass, Naval Gunnery, p. 419 (third
edition) .

94 Naval War of 1812

no less than three hundred shot were fired from

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 7 of 42)