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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her stern guns.' Finding that if the Presi-
dent ceased yawing she could easily run alongside,
Captain Byron cut away one bower, one stream,
and two sheet anchors, the barge, yawl, gig, and
jolly-boat, and started fourteen tons of water.
The effect of this was at once apparent, and she
began to gain ; meanwhile, the damage the sails of
the combatants had received had enabled the Con-
gress to close, and when abreast of his consort Cap-
tain Smith opened with his bow-chasers, but the
shot fell short. The Belvidera soon altered her
course to east by south, set her starboard stud-
ding-sails, and by midnight was out of danger;
three days afterward she reached Halifax harbor.
Lord Howard Douglass's criticisms on this en-
counter seem very just. He says that the Presi-
dent opened very well with her bow-chasers (in
fact, the Americans seemed to have aimed better
and to have done more execution with these guns
than the British with their stern-chasers), but
that she lost so much ground by yawing and de-
livering harmless broadsides as to enable her an-
tagonist to escape. Certainly, if it had not been
for the time thus lost, to no purpose, the Commo-
dore would have run alongside his opponent and
the fate of the little 36 would have been sealed.
On the other hand, it must be remembered that it

'James, vi., ii8.

Naval War of 1 812 95

was only the bursting of the gun on board the
President, causing such direful confusion and loss,
and especially harmful in disabling her com-
mander, that gave the Belvidera any chance of
escape at all. At any rate, whether the American
frigate does, or does not, deserve blame, Captain
Byron and his crew do most emphatically deserve
praise for the skill with which their guns were
served and repairs made, the coolness with which
measures to escape were adopted, and the courage
with which they resisted so superior a force. On
this occasion Captain Byron showed himself as
good a seaman and as brave a man as he sub-
sequently proved a humane and generous enemy
when engaged in the blockade of the Chesapeake.
This was not a very auspicious opening of hos-
tilities for America. The loss of the Belvidera was
not the only thing to be regretted, for the dis-
tance the chase took the pursuers out of their
course probably saved the plate fleet. When the
Belvidera was first made out, Commodore Rodgers
was in latitude 39° 26' N., and longitude 71° 10'
W., at noon the same day the Thalia and her
convoy were in latitude 39° N., longitude
62° W. Had they not chased the Belvidera, the

^ Even Niles, unscrupulously bitter as he is toward the
British, does justice to the humanity of Captains Byron and
Hardy, which certainly shone in comparison to some of the
rather buccaneering exploits of Cockbum's followers in Chesa-
peake Bay.

96 Naval War of 181 2

Americans would probably have run across the
plate fleet.

The American squadron reached the western
edge of the Newfoundland Banks on June 29th,'
and on July ist, a little to the east of the Banks,
fell in with large quantities of cocoa-nut shells,
orange peels, etc., which filled every one with
great hopes of overtaking the quarry. On July
9th, the Hornet captured a British privateer in lati-
tude 45° 30' N., and longitude 23° W., and her
master reported that he had seen the Jamaica-
men the previous evening; but nothing further
was heard or seen of them, and on July 13th, being
within twenty hours' sail of the English Channel,
Commodore Rodgers reluctantly turned south-
ward, reaching Madeira July 21st. Thence he
cruised toward the Azores and by the Grand Banks
home, there being considerable sickness on the
ships. On August 31st he reached Boston after a
very unfortunate cruise, in which he had made but
seven prizes, all merchantmen, and had recap-
tured one American vessel.

On July 3d, the Essex, 32, Captain David Porter,
put out of New York. As has been already ex-
plained, she was most inefficiently armed, almost
entirely with carronades. This placed her at the
mercy of any frigate with long guns which could
keep at a distance of a few hundred yards; but,

^ Letter of Commodore Rodgers, September i.

Naval War of 1812 97

in spite of Captain Porter's petitions and remon-
strances, he was not allowed to change his arma-
ment. On the nth of July, at 2 a.m., latitude ^;^°
N., longitude 66° W., the Essex fell in with the
Minerva, 32, Captain Richard Hawkins, convoy-
ing seven transports, each containing about 200
troops, bound from Barbadoes to Quebec. The
convoy was sailing in open order, and, there being
a dull moon, the Essex ran in and cut out trans-
port No. 299, with 197 soldiers aboard. Having
taken out the soldiers. Captain Porter stood back
to the convoy, expecting Captain Hawkins to
come out and fight him ; but this the latter would
not do, keeping the convoy in close order around
him. The transports were all armed and still con-
tained in the aggregate 1200 soldiers. As the
Essex could only fight at close quarters these
heavy odds rendered it hopeless for her to try to
cut out the Minerva. Her carronades would have
to be used at short range to be effective, and it
would of course have been folly to run in right
among the convoy and expose herself to the cer-
tainty of being boarded by five times as many men
as she possessed. The Minerva had three less
guns a side, and on her spar-deck carried 24-pound
carronades instead of 32's, and, moreover, had
fifty men less than the Essex, which had about 270
men this cruise ; on the other hand, her main-deck
was armed with long 12's, so that it is hard to say

VOL. !. — 7

qS Naval War of 1 812

whether she did right or not in refusing to fight.
She was of the same force as the Southampton,
whose captain, Sir James Lucas Yeo, subsequently
challenged Porter, but never appointed a meeting-
place. In the event of a meeting, the advantage,
in ships of such radically different armaments,
would have been with that captain who succeeded
in outmanoeuvring the other and in making the
fight come off at the distance best suited to him-
self. At long range either the Minerva or South-
ampton would possess an immense superiority ; but
if Porter could have contrived to run up within a
couple of hundred yards, or still better, to board,
his superiority in weight of metal and number of
men would have enabled him to carry either of
them. Porter's crew was better trained for board-
ing than almost any other American commander's ;
and probably none of the British frigates on
the American station, except the Shannon and
the Tenedos, would have stood a chance with the
Essex in a hand-to-hand struggle. Among her
youngest midshipmen was one, by name David
Glasgow Farragut, then but thirteen years old,
who afterward became the first and greatest ad-
miral of the United States. His own words on
this point will be read with interest.: "Every
day," he says,' "the crew were exercised at the

^ Life of Farragut (embodying his journal and letters), p.
31. By his son, Loyall Farragut, New York, 1879.

Naval War of 1 812 99

great guns, small arms, and single stick. And I
may here mention the fact that I have never been
on a ship where the crew of the old Essex was rep-
resented but that I found them to be the best
swordsmen on board. They had been so thor-
oughly trained as boarders that every man was
prepared for such an emergency, with his cutlass
as sharp as a razor, a dirk made by the ship's
armorer out of a file, and a pistol." '

On August 13th, a sail was made out to wind-
ward, which proved to be the British ship-sloop
Alert, 16, Capt. T. L. O. Laughame, carrying
twenty 18-pound carronades and 100 men.^ As

'James says: "Had Captain Porter really endeavored to
bring the Minerva to action, we do not see what could have
prevented the Essex, with her superiority of sailing, from
coming alongside of her. But no such thought, we are sure,
entered into Captain Porter's head." What "prevented the
Essex" was the Minerva s not venturing out of the convoy.
Farragut, in his journal, writes: "The captured British offi-
cers were very anxious for us to have a fight with the Minerva,
as they considered her a good match for the Essex, and Cap-
tain Porter replied that he should gratify them with pleasure
if his majesty's commander was of their taste. So we stood
toward the convoy and when within gunshot hove to, and
awaited the Minerva, but she tacked and stood in among the
convoy, to the utter amazement of our prisoners, who de-
nounced the commander as a base coward, and expressed
their determination to report him to the Admiralty." An
incident of reported "flinching" Hke this is not worth men-
tioning; I allude to it only to show the value of James's sneers.

2 James {History, vi., p. 128) says "86 men." In the Naval
Archives at Washington, in the Captains' Letters for 1S12 (vol.

loo Naval War of 1812

soon as the Essex discovered the Alert, she put out
drags astern, and led the enemy to beheve she was
trying to escape by sending a few men aloft to
shake out the reefs and make sail. Concluding
the frigate to be a merchantman, the Alert bore
down on her ; while the Americans went to quar-
ters and cleared for action, although the tompions
were left in the guns and the ports kept closed/
The Alert fired a gun and the Essex hove to, when
the former passed under her stern, and when on
her lee quarter poured in a broadside of grape and
canister; but the sloop was so far abaft the frig-
ate's beam that her shot did not enter the ports
and caused no damage. Thereupon Porter put up
his helm and opened as soon as his guns would
bear, tompions and all. The Alert now discov-
ered her error and made off, but too late, for in
eight minutes the Essex was alongside, and the
Alert fired a musket and struck, three men being
wounded and several feet of water in the hold.
She was disarmed and sent as a cartel into St.
John's. It has been the fashion among American
writers to speak of her as if she were " unworthily "
given up, but such an accusation is entirely

ii.. No. 182), can be found enclosed in Porter's letter the
parole of the ofificers and crew of the Alert, signed by Captain
Laughame; it contains either loo or loi names of the crew
of the Alert, besides those of a number of other prisoners sent
back in the same cartel.
' Life of Farragui, p. i6.


Naval War of 1812 loi

groundless. The Essex was four times her force,
and all that could possibly be expected of her
was to do as she did — exchange broadsides and
strike, having suffered some loss and damage.
The Essex returned to New York on September
7th, having made 10 prizes, containing 423 men.^
The Belvidera, as has been stated, carried the
news of the war to Halifax. On July 5th, Vice-
Admiral Sawyer despatched a squadron to cruise
against the United States, commanded by Philip
Yere Broke, of the Shannon, t,8, having under him
the Belvidera, 36, Captain Richard Byron; Africa,
64, Captain John Bastard; and ,Eolus, 32, Captain
Lord James Townsend. On the 9th, while off
Nantucket, they were joined by the Guerriere, 38,
Captain James Richard Dacres. On the i6th, the
squadron fell in with and captured the United
States brig Nautilus, 14, Lieutenant Crane, which,
like all the little brigs, was overloaded with guns
and men. She threw her lee guns overboard and

' Before entering New York, the Essex fell in with a British
force which, in both Porter's and Farragut's works, is said to
have been composed of the Acasia and Shannon, each of fifty
guns, and Ringdove, of twenty. James says it was the Shan-
non, accompanied by a merchant vessel. It is not a point of
much importance, as nothing came of the meeting, and the
Shannon alone, with her immensely superior armament,
ought to have been a match twice over for the Essex; al-
though, if James is right, as seems probable, it gives rather a
comical turn tp Porter's account of his "extraordinary

102 Naval War of 1812

made use of every expedient to escape, but to no
purpose. At 3 p.m. of the following day, when
the British ships were abreast of Bamegat, about
four leagues off shore, a strange sail was seen
and immediately chased, in the south-by-east, or
windward quarter, standing to the northeast.
This was the United States frigate Constitution, 44,
Captain Isaac Hull.' When the war broke out he
was in the Chesapeake River getting a new crew
aboard. Having shipped over 450 men (counting
officers), he put out of harbor on the 12th of July.
His crew was entirely new, drafts of men coming
on board up to the last moment.^ On the 17th,
at 2 P.M., Hull discovered four sail, in the northern
board, heading to the westward. At 3, the wind
being very light, the Constitution made sail and
tacked, in 18^ fathoms. At 4, in the N.E., a
fifth sail appeared, which afterward proved to be
the Guerriere. The first four ships bore N. N. W.,
and were all on the starboard tack; while by 6

' For the ensuing chase I have relied mainly on Cooper; see
also Alenioir of Admiral Broke, p. 240; James, vi., 133; and
Marshall's Naval Biography, ii., 625 (London, 1825).

^ In a letter to the Secretary of the Navy {Captains' Letters,
1812, ii., No. 85), Hull, after speaking of the way his men
were arriving, says; "The crew are as yet unacquainted with
a ship of war, as many have but lately joined and have never
been on an armed ship before. . . . We are doing all
that we can to make them acquainted with their duty, and
in a few days we shall have nothing to fear from any single-
decked ship."

Naval War of 1812 103

o'clock the fifth bore E.N.E. At 6.15, the wind
shifted and blew lightly from the south, bringing
the American ship to windward. She then wore
round with her head to the eastward, set her light
studding-sails and stay-sails, and at 7.30 beat to
action, intending to speak the nearest vessel, the
Guerriere. The two frigates neared one another
gradually, and at 10 the Constitution began mak-
ing signals, which she continued for over an hour.
At 3.30 A.M. on the i8th, the Guerriere, going
gradually toward the Constitution on the port tack,
and but one half-mile distant, discovered on her
lee beam the Belvidera and the other British ves-
sels, and signalled to them. They did not answer
the signals, thinking she must know who they
were, — a circumstance which afterward gave rise
to sharp recriminations among the captains, — and
Dacres, concluding them to be Commodore Rod-
gers's squadron, tacked, and then wore round and
stood away from the Constitution for some time
before discovering his mistake.

At 5 A.M., Hull had just enough steerage way on
to keep his head to the east, on the starboard
tack; on his lee quarter, bearing N.E. by N.,
were the Belvidera and Guerriere, and astern the
Shannon, ALolus, and Africa. At 5.30, it fell en-
tirely calm, and Hull put out his boats to tow the
ship, always going southward. At the same time
he whipped up a 24 from the main-deck, and got

I04 Naval War of 1812

the forecastle-chaser aft, cutting away the taffrail
to give the two guns more freedom to work in, and
also running out, through the cabin windows, two
of the long main-deck 24's. The British boats
were towing also. At 6 a.m., a light breeze sprang
up, and the Constitution set studding-sails and
stay-sails; the Shannon opened at her with her
bow-guns, but ceased when she found she could
not reach her. At 6.30, the wind having died
away, the Shannon began to gain, almost all the
boats of the squadron towing her. Having
sounded in 26 fathoms, Lieutenant Charles Morris
suggested to Hull to try kedging. All the spare
rope was bent on to the cables, payed out into the
cutters, and a kedge run out half a mile ahead and
let go ; then the crew clapped on and walked away
with the ship, overrunning and tripping the kedge
as she came up with the end of the line. Mean-
while, fresh lines and another kedge were carried
ahead, and the frigate glided away from her pur-
suers. At 7,30 A.M., a little breeze sprang up,
when the Constitution set her ensign and fired a
shot at the Shannon. It soon fell calm again and
the Shannon neared. At 9.10 a light air from the
southward struck the ship, bringing her to wind-
ward. As the breeze was seen coming, her sails
were trimmed, and as soon as she obeyed her
helm she was brought close up on the port tack.
The boats dropped in alongside; those that be-

Naval War of 1812 105

longed to the davits were run up, while the others
were just lifted clear of the water, by purchases on
the spare spars, stowed outboard, where they
could be used again at a minute's notice. Mean-
while, on her lee beam the Guerrikre opened fire;
but her shot fell short, and the Americans paid
not the slightest heed to it. Soon it again fell calm
when Hull had 2000 gallons of water started, and
again put out his boats to tow. The Shannon,
with some of the other boats of the squadron help-
ing her, gained on the Constitution, but by severe
exertion was again left behind. Shortly after-
ward, a slight wind springing up, the Belvidera
gained on the other British ships, and when it fell
calm she was nearer to the Constitution than any
of her consorts, their boats being put on to her.'
At 10.30, observing the benefit that the Constitu-
tion had derived from warping. Captain Byron did
the same, bending all his hawsers to one another,
and working two kedge anchors at the same time
by paying the warp out through one hawse-hol^
as it was run in through the other opposite. Hav-
ing men from the other frigates aboard, and a
lighter ship to work. Captain Byron, at 2 p.m. was

' Cooper speaks as if this was the Shannon; but from Mar-
shall's Naval Biography we learn that it was the Belvidera.
At other tiines, he confuses the Belvidera with the Guerriere.
Captain Hull, of course, could not accurately distinguish the
names of his pursuers. My account is drawn from a careful
comparison of Marshall, Cooper, and James.

io6 Naval War of 1812

near enough to exchange bow- and stern-chasers
with the Constitution — out of range, however. Hull
expected to be overtaken, and made every arrange-
ment to try in such case to disable the first frigate
before her consorts could close. But neither the
Belvidera nor the Shannon dared to tow very near
for fear of having their boats sunk by the Amer-
ican's stern-chasers.

The Constitution's crew showed the most ex-
cellent spirit. Officers and men relieved each
other regularly, the former snatching their rest
anywhere on deck, the latter sleeping at the guns.
Gradually, the Constitution drew ahead, but the
situation continued most critical. All through
the afternoon the British frigates kept towing and
kedging, being barely out of gunshot. At 3 p.m., a
light breeze sprung up, and blew fitfully at inter-
vals; every puff was watched closely and taken
advantage of to the utmost. At 7 in the evening
the wind almost died out, and for four more weary
hours the worn-out sailors towed and kedged. At
10.45, a little breeze struck the frigate, when the
boats dropped alongside and were hoisted up, ex-
cepting the first cutter. Throughout the night
the wind continued very light, the Belvidera forg-
ing ahead till she was off the Constitution' s lee
beam; and at 4 a.m. on the morning of the 19th,
she tacked to the eastward, the breeze being light
from the south by east. At 4.20 the Constitution

Naval War of 1 8 1 2 107

tacked also; and at 5.15 the ^olus, which had
drawn ahead, passed on the contrary tack. Soon
afterward the wind freshened so that Captain Hull
took in his cutter. The Africa was now so far to
leeward as to be almost out of the race, while the
five frigates were all running on the starboard
tack with every stitch of canvas set. At 9 a.m., an
American merchantman hove in sight and bore
down toward the squadron. The Belvtdera, by
way of decoy, hoisted American colors, when the-
Constitiition hoisted the British flag, and the mer-
chant vessel hauled off. The breeze continued
light till noon, when Hull found he had dropped
the British frigates well behind; the nearest was
the Belvtdera, exactly in his wake, bearing W.N.
W. 2^ miles distant. The Shannon was on his lee,
bearing N. by W. g- W. distant 3|- miles. The
other two frigates were five miles off on the lee
quarter. Soon afterward the breeze freshened,
and "Old Ironsides" drew slowly ahead from her
foes, her sails being watched and tended with the
most consummate skill. At 4 p.m., the breeze
again lightened, but even the Belvidera was now
four miles astern and to leeward. At 6.45, there
were indications of a heavy rain squall, which
once more permitted Hull to show that in sea-
manship he excelled even the able captains against
whom he was pitted. The crew were stationed
and everything kept fast till the last minute, when

io8 Naval War of i8i2

all was clewed up just before the squall struck the
ship. The light canvas was furled, a second reef
taken in the mizzen-topsail, and the ship almost
instantly brought under short sail. The British
vessels, seeing this, began to let go and haul down
without waiting for the wind, and were steering on
different tacks when the first gust struck them.
But Hull, as soon as he got the weight of the wind
sheeted horne, hoisted his fore- and main-top-
gallantsails, and went off on an easy bowline at the
rate > f 1 1 knots. At 7.40, sight was again obtained
of the enemy, the squall having passed to leeward ;
the Belvidera, the nearest vessel, had altered her
bearings two points to leeward, and was a long
way astern. Next came the Shannon ; the Gner-
riere and /Eolns were hull down, and the Africa
barely visible. The wind now kept light, shifting
occasionally in a very baffling manner, but the
Constitution gained steadily, wetting her sails
from the sky-sails to the courses. At 6 a.m. on
the morning of the 20th, the pursuers were almost
out of sight; and at 8.15 a.m. they abandoned the
chase. Hull at once stopped to investigate the
character of two strange vessels, but found them
to be only Americans; then, at midday, he stood
toward the east, and went into Boston on July

In this chase. Captain Isaac Hull was matched
against five British captains, two of whom, Broke

Naval War of 1 812 109

and Byron, were fully equal to any in their navy;
and while the latter showed great perseverance,
good seamanship, and ready imitation, there can
be no doubt that the palm in every way belongs
to the cool old Yankee. Every daring expedient
known to the most perfect seamanship was tried,
and tried with success; and no victorious fight
could reflect more credit on the conqueror than
this three-days' chase did on Hull. Later, on
two occasions, the Constitution proved herself
far superior in gunnery to the average British
frigate; this time, her officers and men showed
that they could handle the sails as well as they
could the guns. Hull out-manoeuvred Broke
and Byron as cleverly as a month later he out-
fought Dacres. His successful escape and victori-
ous fight were both performed in a way that place
him above any single ship-captain of the war.

On August 2d, the Constitution made sail from
Boston ' and stood to the eastward, in hopes of
falling in with some of the British cruisers. She
was unsuccessful, however, and met nothing.
Then she ran down to the Bay of Fundy, steered
along the coast of Nova Scotia, and thence toward
Newfoundland, and finally took her station off
Cape Race in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where she
took and burned two brigs of little value. On
the 15th she recaptured an American brig from

' Letter of Captain Isaac Hull, August 28, 1812.

I lo Naval War of 1 8 1 2

the British ship-sloop Avenger, though the latter
escaped ; Captain Hull manned his prize and sent
her in. He then sailed southward, and on the
night of the i8th spoke a Salem privateer which
gave him news of a British frigate to the south;
thither he stood, and at 2 p.m. on the 19th, in lat.
41° 30 ' N. and 55° W., made out a large sail bear-
ing E.S.E. and to leeward, ^ which proved to be
his old acquaintance, the frigate Guerrihe, Captain
Dacres. It was a cloudy day, and the wind was
blowing fresh from the northwest. The Guer-
rihe was standing by the wind on the starboard
tack, under easy canvas^ ; she hauled up her
courses, took in her topgallantsails, and at 4.30
backed her main-topsail. Hull then very delib-
erately began to shorten sail, taking in topgallant-
sails, stay-sails, and flying-jib, sending down the
royal yards and putting another reef in the top-

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 8 of 42)