H. M. (Henry Marie) Brackenridge.

History of the late war between the United States and Great Britain: online

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when full permission was given to the troops to gratify their
worst j)assions and propensities. After enacting the usual
scenes of shameless plunder and devastation, they proceeded to
offer violence to the persons of tliose of the unfortunate inhabi-
tants, whose age, sex or infirmities had prevented them from
escaping. Was there no British officer who, on this occasion,
felt for the honour of his country, and endeavoured, at the risk
of his life, to rescue it from indelible reproach ? It seems there
was not one. An old man of the name of Kirby, unable to rise
from his bed, was set upon and murdered in the arms of his
aged wife, who, on daring to remonstrate, received the contents
of a pistol in her breast! To complete this barbarous act, they
wantonly put to death his faithful dog ! Two sick men were
murdered in the hospital ; the medical stores were destroyed ;
and the wounded who fell into their hands, were not only de-


Correspondence be tween General Taylor and Sir Sydney Beckwith.

nied medical aid, but even common sustenance. During two
days, did the British thus throw aside, not merely the character
of soldiers, but of men ; when, fearing an attack from the
neighbouring militia, they withdrew with such precipitation,
that a considerable quantity of provisions and ammunition, and
some of their men, were left behind.

This picture is by no means overcharged. It is founded on
authentic evidence submitted to a committee of congress. The
feelings of the people of Virginia were, if possible, more ex-
cited by this affair, than were those of the citizens of Kentucky
at the massacre by Proctor. General Taylor, who commanded
the station, addressed a letter to sir Sydney Beckwith, couched
in terms of dignified, thrilling eloquence, such as the feelings
of an honourable man alone can dictate. After stating the
enormities of which the British had been guilty, he desired to
be informed of the nature of the war which they intended to
carry on against the United States; whether the scenes enacted
at Hampton were unauthorised by the British government, or
whether that power had entirely thrown aside the usages
which govern civilized nations when at variance. " Worth-
less," said he, " is the laurel steeped in female tears, and joy-
less the conquests which have inflicted needless woe on the
peaceful and unresisting." Sir Sydney replied, that he was
sorry for the excesses at Hampton; and hoped that, in future,
the war would be carried on with as much regard to humanity
as possible. This evasive answer was not deemed satisfactory ;
and one more explicit was required. He then declared that the
excesses committed were in retaliation, for the conduct of the
Americans at Craney island in shooting at the seamen who
clung to a barge which had overset. General Taylor imme-
diately instituted a court of inquiry, which proved the charge
to be without foundation. On the result of this investigation
being communicated to sir Sydney, he did not think proper to
give a written reply: he promised, verbally, to withdraw his
troops from the neighbourhood ; excusing himself, on the score
of his ignorance of the kind of warfare to which his men
had been accustomed in Spain ; and alleging, that as soon as he
found them engaged in the excesses complained of, he had given
orders for them to re-embark. It is unpleasant to implicate
admiral Warren and sir Sydney Beckwith in this detestable
affair; but there was in the conduct of these two officers a
shameful indifference upon a subject which so deeply regarded
the character of the British government.

The squadron, during the remainder of the summer, fre-
quently threatened the cities of Washington, Annapolis and Bal-


Cockbum plunders the Coast of North Carolina.

timore. Large bodies of militia were on several occasions
drawn out, and the country was in consequence much harassed.
This was fair and justifiable in the enemy, and is no subject of
complaint; and had any of our towns been laid in ashes while
attempting a resistance, it would have been regarded only as a
misfortune of war which the enemy had a right to inflict. Admi-
ral Cockburn was permitted to pursue his own inclination, in
moving to the south with a formidable squadron, to carry on,
in the Carolinas and Georgia, the same species of warfare
which he had so successfully practised in Chesapeake JJay.
In the beginning of July, he appeared off Ocracoke, a village
of North Carolina, and shortly after, crossing the bar with a
number of barges, attacked two private armed vessels, the Ana-
conda and the Atlas, which, after a gallant resistance, he cap-
tured. The revenue cutter, tlicn in port, made her escape to
Newbern, and giving the alarm to ijie citizens, iliey assembled
in such numbers that the admiral's designs upon that town
were frustrated. Landing about three thousand men, he pro-
ceeded to Portsmouth, and treated its inhabitants in his usual
manner. He returned to his barges with a valuable booty,
and a number of slaves, whom he had induced to leave their
masters under a promise of freedom, v/hich he afterwards
redeemed by selling them in the West Indies.

To the north of the Chesapeake, where fortunately these dis-
graceful depredations were not committed, tiie coast was not
exempt from the effects of war. The city of New York was
strictly blockaded. The American frigates United States and
Macedonian, and the sloop Hornet, attempted to sail on a cruise
from that port about the beginning of May ; but finding the
force at the Hook mucli superior to theirs, they put back, and
passed through Hell Gate, with the intention of getting out by
the sound. In this they were also frustrated ; and on the 1st
of June, after anotl'.er attempt, tiiey were chased into New Lon-
don. Six luindred militia were immediately called in from the
surrounding country, for the protection of the squadron ; and
commodore Decatur, landing some of his guns, mounted a bat-
tery on the shore, and at the same time so lightened his vessels,
as to enable them to ascend the river out of the reach of the
enemy. This place was so well fortified, however, that no
attempt was made upon it, although the blockade was strictly
kept up for many months.

It is pleasing to contrast the conduct of commodore Hardy,
who commanded the squatlron north of the Chesapeake, with
that of Cockburn. Although lie frequently landed on different
parts of the coast ; his deportment was such as might be



Blockade of the AiiitTican Sciuadron Torpedo System.

expected from a manly, humane and generous enemy. If the
procedings of Cockbnrn were authorised by his government,
tliey were dictated by a very mistaken policy; for nothing could
more etTectually heal political differences, and render the war a
common cause with every American.

An act of congress had been passed during the winter, which
cannot be mentioned but with feelings of regret. By this act,
a reward of half their value, was offered for the destruc-
tion of ships belonging to the enemy by means other than
those of the armed or commissioned vessels of the United
Slates. This measure was intended to encourage the use of
torpedoes, of which so much at that time was said. There is
something unmanly in this insidious mode of annoyance. It is
not justifiable for defence even against an unsparing foe; and is
but little better than poisoning fountains. Valour can claim
no share in such exploits; and to the noble mind little pleasure
can be derived from tlie recollection of success over an enemy
treacherously vanquished. It had been in the power of general
Sinclair, in the war of the revolu'tion, to have poisoned his
spirituous liquors at them.oment of his defeat, and thus to have
destroyed a cruel enemy ; but shame would have followed the
infliction of such an injury, eveii upon savages.

Several attempts at blowing up ihe enemy's vessels were
made, in consequence of the law. The most remarkable were
those against the Ramillies, the admiral's ship, and the Planta-
genet. The schooner Eagle, having been filled with flour bar-
rels, and a quantity of gunpowder, with the latter of which a
concealed gun lock communicated, was thrown in the way of
the blockading squadron's boats. Fortunately, the seamen,
instead of taking her alongside of the Ramillies, determined first
to unlade some of the cargo : while employed in doing this,
the schooner blew up, and destroyed several of her captors.
The next experiment made with the torpedo, was against the
Plantagenet, then lying below Norfolk. After four or five
attempts, in which the persons engaged could not come sufli-
ciently near the ship without being discovered, the torpedo
was dropped at the distance of a hundred yards, and left to be
swept dow^n by the tide. On touching the vessel, it exploded
in the most awful manner; causing an immense column of
water to be thrown up, which fell with vast weight upon the
deck of the ship; while a yawning gulf seemed to swallow
her up. The crew immediately took to their boats, completely
panic struck. Commodore Hardy was justly indignant at this
dishonourable species of annoyance, and protested against it
in strong terms. It had the etfect, however, of compelling the


Torpedo System Xaval Affairs

enemy to be extremely cautious in tlieir approach to our har-
bours; and although the use of torpedoes was relinquished,
their apprehensions served to keep them at a greater distance.
If any thing could justify this mode of attack, it was the scenes
at Hampton, 'and tlie deportment of Cockburn and his crew ;
but commodore Hardy was a generous enemy, and merited
different treatment.


Naval Affairs— The Hornet captures the Peacock— Humane and generous Conduct
of Captain Lawrence and tlie Crew of the Hornet — Captain Lawrence appointed to
the Chesapeake — Tlie Shannon challenges the Chesapeake — The Shannon captures
the Chesapeake — Death of Captain Lawrence — The Pelican captures the Argus —
Cruise of Commodore Porter in the South Seas— The Enterprize captures the Boxer-
Cruise of Commodore Rodgers— Cruise of the Congress— Conduct of American Pri-
vateers—of the Comet— of the General Armstong— The Privateer Decatur captures
the Dominica.

It is now time to return to the affairs of our navy. Our ves-
sels continued to annoy the enemy, in spite of the thousand ships
with which she pursued them in squadrons through every sea.
Instead of courting an engagement with them, she studiously
avoided coming in contact, except where her force was greatly
superior. The " hr built frigates" of America had suddenly
become ships of the line, and Great Britain cut down her sev-
enty-fours, that her vessels might engage with ours on equal
terms. The government of the United States had become so
sensible of the importance of our marine, that congress, during
the last session, had authorised the building of several additional
vessels; and it was proposed to continue to augment our navy,
by annual appropriations for the purpose. This was undoubt-
edly wise policy; for whatever we may fear from a standing
army, there can be no similar ground of objection to a navy.
i3esides, it is only on that element that we can come in con-
tact with an enemy of consequence. Fortunately for us, our
territory adjoins to that of no power, from which we need ap-
prehend any great danger : while the colonies of England and
of Spain might have reason for apprehension, if the genius of


The Hornet captures the Peacock.

our government were not opposed to conquest. On the ocean,
however, we must unavoidably come in contact with other na-
tions, so long as we pretend to have commerce ; for without
a navy that commerce cannot be protected.

In our last chapter on the naval war, it was nientioned, that
the Hornet, captain Lawrence, was left to blockade the Bonne
Citoyenne, at St Salvador. This latter vessel was formally
challenged by the Hornet : but either from unwillingness to
risk the loss of a quantity of specie which she had on board,
or because she was not inclined to engage in the combat though
of superior force, slie thought proper to pay no attention to the
challenge. Commodore Bainbridge had parted from the Hor-
net at this place ; and it will be recollected how gloriously he
met the Java and captured her a few days afterwards. The
Hornet continued the blockade until the 24th of January,
when the Montague seventy-four hove in sight, and compelled
her to escape into port. She ran out, however, the same
night, and proceeded on a cruise. Her commander first
shaped his course to Pernambuco ; and on the 4th of Febru-
ary, captured the English brig Resolution, of ten guns, with
twenty-three thousand dollars in specie. He then ran down
the coast of Maranham, cruised off there a short time ; and
thence off Surinam, where he also cruised for some time; and
on the 22d stood for Demerara. The next day, he discovered
an English brig of war lying at anchor outside of the bar, and
on beating round the Carabana bank, to come near her, he dis-
covered, at half past three in the afternoon, another sail on his
weather quarter, edging down for him. This proved to be a
large man of war brig, the Peacock, captain Peake, somewhat
superior to the Hornet in force. Captain Lawrence manoeu-
vred some time to gain the weather gage of her; but his efforts
proving fruitless, he hoisted the American ensign, tacked about,
and in passing her, exchanged a broadside at the distance of pis-
tol shot. The Peacock being then discovered in the act of
wearing, Lawrence bore up, received her starboard broadside,
ran her close on board on the starboard quarter, and poured into
her so heavy a fire, that in fifteen minutes she surrendered.
At the moment of her surrender, she hoisted a signal of dis-
tress ; as she was literally cut to pieces, and had already six
feet water in her hold.

Lieutenant Sliubrick, the gallantry of whose conduct in this
affair was not less conspicuous than in the actions with the Guer-
riere and Java, was despatched to bring the officers and crew of
the vanquished vessel on board the Hornet. He found that
her captain had been killed, and the greater part of her crew


}{iiir)Miie <(iii(liict of Captain La%\ renre, and tlie Crew of the Hornet.

either killed or wounded : and that the vessel was sinking fast,
in spite of every effort to keep her above water. Strenuous ex-
ertions were made to take off the crew before the vessel sunk :
her guns were thrown overboard, the shot holes were plugged;
and a partof the Hornet's crew, at the risk of their lives, laboured
incessantly in the removal of the prisoners. The utmost efforts
of these generous men were vain ; she sunk in the midst of them,
carrying down nine of her own crew and three (»f the Ameri-
can. Thus did our gallant countrymen twice risk their lives:
first in the cause of their country, and next in the cause of hu-
manity ; first to conquer their enemies, and then to save them.
These are actions, which it unfortunately falls loo rarely to the
lot of the historian to record. The crew of the Hornet divided
their clothing with the prisoners, who were left destitute by
the sinking of the ship ; and so sensible were the officers of
the generous treatment which they experienced from captain
Lawrence and his men, that, on tlieir arrival at New York, they
expressed their gratitude in a public letter of thanks. " So
much," say they, " was done to alleviate the uncomfortable
and distressing situation in which we were placed, when re-
ceived on board the ship you command, that we cannot better
express our feelings, than by saying, we ceased to consider
ourselves prisoners ; and every thing tliat friendship could dic-
tate, was adopted by you and the officers of the Hornet, to
remedy the inconvenience we otherwise should have experi-
enced, from the unavoidable loss of the whole of our property
and clothes, by the sudden sinking of the Peacock." This
praise is worth more than a victory ; and the conduct which
elicited it is certainly much more deserving to be termed glo-
rious than the destruction of human life, on whatever scale it
may be accomplished.

The number of killed and wounded, on board the Peacock,
could not be exactly ascertained, but was supposed to exceed
fifty; while the Hornet received but little injury. Tiie officers
mentioned as having distinguished themselves on this occasion,
were lieutenants Conner ami Newton, and midshipmen Cooper,
Mayo, Gelz, Smoot, Tippet, Boerum and 'J'itus. Lieutenant
Stewart was unfortunately too ill to take a part in the action.

On the 10th of April, shortly after the return of the Hornet,
the Chesapeake arrived at Boston, after a cruise of four months.
Her commander, captain Evans, having been appointed to the
New York station, she was assigned to captain l^awrence.

The British, whose mortification at their repeated defeats
may be easily imagined, and who regarded the reputation of
their navy as their great bul wark, had become seriously alarmed.


Tlie 8li;uiii.)ii dmlleii'ies tlje Chesapeake.

If the charm of their fancied superiority on this element were
once destroyed, other nations, who now yielded to them the
palm, might conceive the idea of resistance also. In some
recent rencounters, even the French, who had been so unfor-
tunate in their naval combats with the British, had begun
to pluck up courage. Something immediate must be done to
retrieve their character, or all their naval songs must be burnt
and their boastings suddenly terminate. The course was natur-
ally fallen upon of selecting one of their best frigates, manned by
picked seamen, and exercised with all possible pains, for the
special purpose. They deigned to copy every thing which in
reality, or which they fancied, prevailed in the American ships.
An idle rumour was current, that backwoodsmen were placed
in the tops of our vessels, expressly for the purpose of shooting
the British officers. Sharpshooters were now carefully trained
by the British, and directed to aim only at the officers of the
Americans. Thus provided with a chosen ship and crew, cap-
tain Brooke appeared with the Shannon on the American coast.
In April, off Boston harbour, he sent a challenge to the President,
commodore Rodgers, which happened to be there. On the 23d,
this vessel, with the Congress, captain Smith, sailed on a
cruise ; but the Shannon, then in company with the Tenedos,
either intentionally avoided them, or by accident happened to
be out of the way. The Shannon some time afterwards return-
ed, and sent a formal challenge to captain Lawrence, who had
just taken the command of the Chesapeake, w^hich unfortunately
was not received by him.

We are now to relate an occurrenc;e which imparts a melan-
choly tone to our naval chronicle, thus far so brilliaiit. Cap-
tain Lawrence, on arriving to take command of his ship, was
informed that a British frigate was lying before the harbour,
apparently courting a combat with an American. Listening
only to the dictates of his generous nature, he burned with
impatience to meet the enemy, and unfortunately did not suffi-
ciently pause to examine whether the terms were equal. The
greater part of the Chesapeake's crew consisted of men who
had just been enlisted; several of his officers were sick; and
that kind of mutual confidence, which arises from a long know-
ledge of each other, was wanting between liimself and his
men. But he could not brook the thought of being thus de-
fied. On the 1st of June he sailed forth, resolved to try his
fortune. When he came in sight of the Shannon, he made a
short address to his crew^, but found it received with no enthu-
siasm : they murmured, alleging as the cause of complaint that
their prize money had not been paid. He immediately gave


The Shannon captures the Chesapeake Death of Captain Lawrence.

them tickets for it, and supposed they were now conciliated;
but, unfortunately, they were at this moment almost in a state of
mutiny. Several foreigners, who had accidentally found their
way into the crew, had succeeded in poisoning their minds.
The brave Lawrence, consulting his own heart, looked only to
the enemy without, and not to the enemy within.

The Shannon, observing the Chesapeake, put to sea, and
was followed by her. At half past five, the Chesapeake closed
with the enemy, and gave him a broadside ; which was returned.
It proved equally destructive on both sides ; but the Chesapeake
was particularly unfortunate in the loss of officers : the sailing-
master. White, was killed ; lieutenant Ballard, mortally wound-
ed ; and lieutenant Brown of the marines, and Captain Law-
rence himself, were severely wounded. The latter, although in
great pain, still continued to give orders. A second and a third
broadside were exchanged, with evident advantage on the side
of the Chesapeake; but the same misfortune in the loss of offi-
cers continued : the first lieutenant, Ludlow, was carried below
mortally wounded; and three men successively were shot from
the wheel. A ball having struck her foresail, so that she
could no longer answer her helm; and being disabled in her
rigging; the Chesapeake fell with her quarter on the Shannon's
starboard anchor. This accident may be considered as having
decided the contest; an opportunity being thus given to the
enemy to rake the Chesapeake, and, towards the close of the
action, to board her. Captain Lawrence, although severely
wounded, as before mentioned, still persisted in keeping the
deck, and commanded the boarders to be called up: at this mo-
ment a musket ball entering his body, he was carried below,
liaving first uttered those memorable words, which have since
become the motto of the American navy. Don't give up the
Ship. 'J'he officers of the Cliesapeake being now nearly all
killed, the command devolved on lieutenant Budd ; who called
up the men for the purpose of carrying the order of Lawrence
into execution. At this time, captain Ikooke, finding that his
vessel had received so many shots between wind and water that
there was danger of her sinking, and perceiving the confusion
which reigned on board the American ship, threw twenty of his
marines on board of her, and immediately followed them. Lieu-
tenant Budd endeavoured to fihoot his vessel clear of the Shan-
non ; but being soon after wounded, and a part of the crew hav-
ing mutinied, the scheme entirely failed. A number, however,
continued to fight with unalterable resolution. Captain Brooke
received a wound in the head, and was carried on board his own
ship; and lieutenant Watt, who succeeded him in the command,


The Sliiimion captures tlie Chesapeake.

was killed ; but a large reinforcement coming to the assistance
of the enemy, tliey gained possession of the deck, and soon
after lioisted the English flag.

In this sanguinary conflict, twenty-three of the enemy were
killed, and fifty-six wounded: among the killed, her first lieu-
tenant, her clerk and purser; and among the wounded, her
captain. On board the Chesapeake, the captain, the first and
fourth lieutenants, the lieutenant of marines, the master, mid-
shipmen Hopewell, Livingston, Evans, and about seventy
men were killed ; and the second and third lieutenants, midship-
men Weaver, Abbot, NichoUs, Berry, and about eighty men,
wounded. The greater proportion of this loss was sustained
after the enemy had gained llie deck. Tlie British have been
charged with cruel and ungenerous conduct towards the van-
quished ; and we could wish that this charge, if untrue, had
been properly repelled. It is said that, after the Americans
had submitted, the work of destruction was continued ; and
that the treatment of the prisoners was not of that liberal cha-
racter which might have been expected from manly victors.
The generosity of their subsequent conduct leads us to hope
that these complaints were unfounded. The bodies of our
naval heroes, Lawrence and Ludlow, on their arrival at Hali-
fax, were interred with every honour, civil, naval and mili-
tary, which could be bestowed ; and no testimony of respect
that was due to their memories was left unpaid. They were
afterwards brought to the United Stales, by Mr Crowninshield
of Boston, at his own expense, in a vessel manned by twelve
masters of vessels, who volunteered their services for the occa-
sion ; a passport having been readily granted for this purpose

Online LibraryH. M. (Henry Marie) BrackenridgeHistory of the late war between the United States and Great Britain: → online text (page 15 of 32)