H. M. (Henry Marie) Brackenridge.

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

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Online LibraryH. M. (Henry Marie) BrackenridgeHistory of the late war between the United States and Great Britain: → online text (page 5 of 32)
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who were out on duty, which would make his force upwards
of sixteen hundred. Tliis force was much superior to that
of the Britisli, which consisted of about seven hundred regu-
lars, one half of which was notliing more than militia dressed
in uniform, for the purpose of deception, and about six hundred
Indians. Every other part of his statement was proved, by
the officers under his command, to have been incorrect or ex-
aggerated. The most ordinary exertion would have sufficed,
to have completely destroyed the British force. He declared,
that he was actuated by a desire to spare the effusion of hu-
jnan blood ! If he had designedly intended the destruction of
his fellow-citizens, he could not have fallen upon a more un-
fortunate measure ; for by thus opening the frontier to the
tomahawk of the savage, and giving reasons to our enemy for
representing us as contemptible in arms, he invited those very
savages, which he so much dreaded, to throw off every re-


Surrender of Hull.

straint, and declare themselves our foes. He might have fore-
seen, that a considerable force would be sent by the British,
for the purpose of retaining this province, and that our country-
would be compelled to suffer an immense expense of blood and
treasure, before our possessions here could be regained. Al-
though this afterwards became the theatre of war, where many
of our countrymen gained military renown, yet the effect of
this lamentable occurrence was visible in every subsequent
transaction on the borders of Canada.

The sensations produced by this occurrence, throughout the
United States, and particularly in the Western country, can
scarcely be described. At first no one could believe an event
so extraordinary and unexpected ; the public mind was so en-
tirely unprepared for it, that universal astonishment was occa-
sioned. Whatever doubts might have been entertained, of his
being able to subdue the country which he had invaded, there
were none of his being able to defend himself. Never was any
people more deeply and universally chagrined. This event,
in a country where every man has a personal feeling for the
honour and welfare of the nation, naturally awakened the strong-
est sympathy with the friends and families of the brave sol-
diers who had been thus wretchedly surrendered by their com-

The general was afterwards exchanged for thirty British
prisoners. Neither the government nor the people were satis-
fied with his defence. The affair was solemnly investigated
by a court martial. He was charged with treason, cowardice,
and unofficer-like conduct. On the first charge, the court de-
clined giving an opinion; on the two last he was sentenced to
death ; but was recommended to mercy in consequence of his
revolutionary services, and his advanced age. The sentence
was remitted by the President; but his name was ordered to
be struck from the rolls of the army. The general afterwards
published an elaborate, but hopeless vindication.


Naval Events Cruise of Commodore Rodgers.


Naval Events— Cruise of Commodore Rodgers — The President captures the Belvi-
dera — Cruise of Captain Hull — The Constitution captures the Guerriere — Commo-
dore Porter captures tlie Alert — Cruise of the President and the Congress — of the
Argus — The United States captures the Macedonian — The Wasp captures the Frolic
— Exploitsof American Privateers — Results of the Naval Warfare — Sensations excited
in England.

The common observation, that evils do not come alone, but
with others linked in their train, was happily not verified, at
the period of the misfortunes of our arms in the west. The
nation, overspread with gloom in consequence of this unex-
pected disaster, was suddenly consoled in the most pleasing
manner. A new and glorious era burst upon our country.
The historian will record the fact, that the same year which
saw prostrated the despot of the land, also beheld the pride
of the tyrant of the ocean completely humbled. A series of the
most brilliant exploits, on that element, raised our naval re-
nown, to a height which excited the surprise and admiration
of Europe.

At the moment of the declaration of war, a squadron under
commodore Rodgers, had rendezvoused under the orders of the
government, oflf Sandy Hook. The squadron consisted of the
frigates President, Congress, United States, and the brig Hor-
net. On the 21st of June they put to sea, in pursuit of a Bri-
tish squadron, which had sailed as the convoy of the West
India fleet, the preceding month. While thus engaged, the
British frigate Belvidera was discovered, to which they instantly
gave chase. The chase was continued from early in the morn-
ing until past four in the afternoon, when the President, out-
sailing the other vessels, had come within gun shot. She opened
a fire with her bow guns, intending to cripple the Belvidera,
which returned it with her stern chasers. The firing was kept
up for ten minutes, when one of the guns of the President
burst, killed and wounded sixteen men, and fractured the leg of
the commodore. By this accident, and the explosion of the


The President captures the Belvidera Cruise of Captain Hull.

passing-box, the decks were so much shattered, as to render
the guns on that side useless. The ship was then put about,
and a broadside fired, but without the desired effect, though
considerable injury was done the Belvidera. This vessel, hav-
ing thrown overboard every thing she could spare, now gained
ground. The chase was continued until eleven o'clock at
night, before it was deemed hopeless. The squadron then
continued its pursuit of the convoy, \vhich it did not give over
until within sight of the British channel ; then stood for the
Island of Madeira ; and thence, passing the Azores, stood for
Newfoundland, and thence, by Cape Sable, arrived at Boston
the 30lh of August, having made prize of several British ves-
sels ; but, owing to the haziness of the weather, they were less
successful than might have been expected.

The frigate Essex went to sea from New York, on the
3d of July ; the Constitution sailed from the Chesapeake on
the 12th ; the brigs Nautilus, Viper, and Vixen, were at the
same time cruising ofFtlie coast; the sloop of war Wasp was at
sea on her return from France.

The Constitution, captain Hull, had sailed from Annapolis on
the 5th of July. On the morning of the 17lh, off Egg Harbour,
she was chased by a ship of the line, the Africa, and the fri-
gates Shannon, Guerriere, Belvidera, and iEolus. These ves-
sels were approaching rapidly with a fine breeze, while it was
nearly a calm about the Constitution. At sunrise the next
morning, escape from the enemy was almost hopeless, as they
\vere then within five miles. The Constitution was therefore
cleared for action, determined to make a desperate resistance.
The enemy still drawing near, captain Hull resolved to make
another eflbrt to escape. Boats were sent ahead, with anchors
for the purpose of warping, there prevailing almost a calm.
The others finding the Constitution gaining upon them, resor-
ted to the same expedient. The chase continued in this man-
ner for two days, partly sailing with light breezes, and partly
warping, until the 20th, when the squadron was left entirely
out of sight. This escape from so great a disparity of force,
was considered as deserving a high rank in naval exploits, and
was much admired at the time, as evincing superior nautical
skill. The advantage to the British in this chase was consi-
derable, when we reflect that their foremost vessel had the as-
sistance of all the boats of the squadron, for the purpose of
towing. The superiority of captain Hull, was that of seaman-
ship alone. This superiority was sometimes afterwards proved
in a most remarkable manner : while naval history lasts it will
not be forgotten.


The Constitution captures the Guerriere.

The Constitution again put to sea. on the 2(1 of September.
On the 19th, a vessel hove in sight, and a chase instantly
commenced. It was soon discovered to be the Guerriere, one
of the best frigates in the British navy; and which seemed not
averse from the rencontre, as she backed her main topsail, wait-
ing for the Constitution to come down. This was a most
desirable occurrence to our brave tars, as this frigate had for
some time been in search of an American frigate, liaving given
a formal challenge to all our vessels of the same class. She
had at one of her mast heads a flag, on which her name was
inscribed in large characters, by way of gasconade, and on ano-
ther, the words, " Not the Little Belt," in allusion to the broad-
sides which the President had given that vessel, before the
war. The Guerriere had looked into several of our ports, and
affected to be exceedingly anxious to earn the first laurel from
the new enemy. 'J'he Constitution being made ready for
action, now bore down, her crew giving three cheers. At
first it was the intention of captain Hull, to bring her to close
action immediately ; but on coming within gun-shot, she gave
a broadside and filled away, then wore, giving a broadside on
the other tack, but without eflfect. They now continued wear-
ing, and manoeuvring, on both sides, for three quarters of an hour,
the Guerriere attempting to take a raking position ; but failing
in this, she bore up, and ran with her topsail and jib on the quar-
ter. The Constitution, perceiving this, made sail to come up
with her. Captain Hull, with admirable coolness, received the
enemy's fire, without returning it. The enemy, mistaking
this conduct on the part of the American commander, continued
to pour out his broadsides with a view to cripple his antagonist.
From the Constitution, not a gun had been fired. Already had
an officer twice come on deck, with information that several of
the men had been killed at their guns. The gallant crew,
though burning with impatience, silently awaited the orders of
their commander. The moment so long looked for, at last
arrived. Sailing-master Aylwin having seconded the views
of the captain, with admirable skill, in bringing the vessel ex-
actly to the station intended, orders were given at five minutes
before five P. M. to fire broadside after broadside, in quick
succession. The crew instantly discovered the whole plan,
and entered into it with all the spirit the circumstance was cal-
culated to inspire. Never was any firing so dreadful. For
fifteen minutes the vivid lightning of the Constitution's guns
continued one blaze, and their thunder roared with scarce an
intermission. The enemy's mizen-mast had gone by the board,
and he stood exposed to a raking fire, which swept his decks.


The Constitution captures the Guerriere.

'J'lie Guerriere had now become unmanageable ; her liull, rig-
ging and sails dreadfully torn ; when the Constitution attempted
to lay her on board. At this moment lieutenant Bush, in at-
tempting to throw his marines on board, was killed by a mus-
ket ball, and the enemy shot ahead, but could not be brought
before the wind. A raking fire now continued for fifteen min-
utes longer, when his mainmast and foremast went, taking with
them every spar, excepting the bowsprit. On seeing this, the
firing ceased, and at twenty-five minutes past five she surren-
dered. " In thirty minutes," says captain Hull, " after we
got fairly alongside of the enemy, she surrendered, and had
not a spar standing, and her hull, above and below water, so
shattered, that a few more broadsides must have carried her
down." The Guerriere was so much damaged, as to render
it impossible to bring her in ; she was therefore set fire to the
next day, and blown up. The damage sustained by the Con-
stitution was coniparalively of so little consequence, that she
actually made ready for action, when a vessel appeared in sight
the next day. The loss on board the Guerriere was fifteen
killed, and sixty-three wounded : on the side of the Constitution,
seven killed and seven wounded. It is pleasing to observe,
that even the British commander, on this occasion, bore testi-
mony to the humanity and generosity with which he was
treated by the victors. The American frigate was somewhat
superior in force, by a few guns ; but this difference bore no
comparison to the disparity of the conflict. The Guerriere
was thought to be a match for any vessel of her class, and had
been ranked amongst the largest in the British navy. The
Constitution arrived at Boston on the 28th of August, having
captured several merchant vessels.

Never did any event spread such universal joy over the
whole country. The gallant Hull, and his equally gallant
officers, M^ere received with enthusiastic demonstrations of
gratitude, wherever they appeared. He was presented with
the freedom of all the cities through which he passed on his
way to the seat of government, and with many valuable dona-
tions. Congress voted fifty thousand dollars to the crew, as a
recompense for the loss of the prize, and the executive promo-
ted several of the officers. Sailing-master Aylwin, who had
been severely wounded, was promoted to tlie rank of lieuten-
ant, and lieutenant Morris, who had been also wounded, was
promoted to the rank of post-captain. This aflfair was not less
mortifying to Great Britain, who for thirty years had in no
instance lost a frigate in any thing like an equal conflict.

The public mind was now continually excited by some new


Commodore Porter captures the Alert.

series of naval exploits. There was scarcely lime Ibr one vic-
tory to become familiar, before another was announced. On
the 7th of September, commodore Porter of the Essex, entered
the Delaware after a most active and successful cruise. He had
sailed from New York on the 3d of July, and shortly after fell
in with a fleet of merchantmen under convoy of a frigate.
Having- kept at a distance until night, she cut oflf a brig, with
a hundred and fifty soldiers on board, which was ransomed for
fourteen thousand dollars ; the men were disarmed and re-
leased, on taking an oath not to serve against us during the
war. The commodore regretted, in his letter to the secre-
tary of the navy, tliat he had not had with him a sloop
of war, as in this case lie could have engaged the frigate, while
the convoy were kept employed ; and he could then have cap-
tured the whole fleet, consisting of several sail, and having two
thousand men on board, including the crew and transports. On
the 13th of August, the Essex fell in with the Alert sloop of war,
and captured her, after an action of eight minutes : the Alert had
mistaken this frigate for the Hornet, of which she was in pur-
suit, and actually commenced the engagement, by running
down and pouring a broadside into the Essex. AVhen she
struck her colours but tliree men were wounded, but she had
seven feet of water in her hold. The frigate did not sufler the
slightest injury. Commodore Porter, being embarrassed with
his prisoners, who exceeded five hundred in number, concluded
to convert the Alert into a cartel, for the purpose of eflecting an
exchange. Her guns were throv/n overboard, and she was
ordered to proceed to St Joiin's, under the command of a lieu-
tenant of the Essex. The British commander at that place
protested strongly against the practice of converting captured
vessels into cartels; but in this instance was willing, in conse-
quence of the attention which commodore Porter had uniformly
shown to British prisoners, to consent to the proposed exchange.
On the afternoon of the 30th of August, a British frigate was
seen standing towards the Essex; preparation was immediately
made for action, and she stood towards the enemy. Night in-
tervening, the Essex hoisted lights to prevent a separation,
which were answered ; but at daylight, to the mortification of
the crew, who were anxious to support the cause of " Free
trade and sailor's rights," the enemy had disappeared. On the
4th of September, near St George's banks, two shipsof war were
been to the southward, and a brig to the northward, to which
the Essex gave chase, but the winds being light, she made her
escape. The Essex was afterwards chased by the two ship


Cruise of the President and the Congress — of the Argus.

seen to tlie soulhward, but escaped in the night by skilful man-

On the 8th of October, a squadron, consisting of the Presi-
dent, the United States, Congress and the Argus, sailed from
Boston on a cruise. On the 13th, the United Stales and.
Argus parted from the rest in a gale of wind. A few days
afterwards, the President and Congress had the good fortune
to capture the British packet Swallow, with two hundred thou-
sand dollars on board, and on the 30th of December arrived at
Boston, after a very successful cruise.

The Argus was not less fortunate ; after parting from the
squadron, she cruised in every direction, between the continent
and the West Indies, and after being out ninety-six days, she
returned to New York, with prizes to the amount of two hun-
dred thousand dollars. She made various hairbreadth escapes :
at one lime she w^as chased by a British squadron for three
days, and several times almost surrounded ; she was one mo-
ment within pistol shot of a seventy-four, and yet, in the midst
of all this peril, she actually captured and manned one of her

The United States, commanded by that distinguished officer
commodore Decatur, soon after her separation from the squad-
ron, had the good fortune to add another victory to our naval
chronicle, not less glorious than that of the Constitution. On
the 25th of October, off the Western Islands, she fell in with
the Macedonian, captain Garden, a frigate of the largest class,
carrying forty-nine guns and three hundred men. The Mace-
donian, being to windward, had it in her power to choose
her distance, and at no time were they nearer than musket
shot; from this circumstance, and the prevalence of a heavy-
sea, the action lasted nearly two hours. The superiority of
the American gunnery, in this action, was very remarkable,
both for its greater rapidity and effect. From the continued
blaze of her guns, the United States was, at one momeiit,
thought by her antagonist to be on fire ; a mistake of very thort
duration. On board the Macedonian there were tliirly-six
killed and sixty-eight wounded. She lost her mainmast, and
main topmast and mainyard, and was much cut up in her hull.
The United States suffered so little, that a return to port was
not necessary: she had only five killed, and seven wounded.
Among the killed were lieutenant Funk, of whom the commo-
dore spoke in the highest terms. Lieutenant Allen was on
this occasion highly applauded. The commodore arrived at
New York on the 4th of December, with his prize. Decatur,
already a universal favourite, experienced the same demonstra-

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The United States captures the Macedonian The Wasp captures the Frolic.

tions of gratitude, as were made to captain Hull : nor was
there denied him that new species of praise, which the gene-
rous conduct of our heroic seamen has uniformly drawn forth,
the praise of the enemy. All the private property belonging to
the men and officers on board the Macedonian, was restored to
the captured with the most rigid exactitude ; and their treatment
was the most polite and humane.

The feelings of the nation had scarcely time to subside, when
the welcome news of another victory was received ; a victory
over an enemy most decidedly superior in force, and under cir-
cumstances the most favourable to him. This was the capture
of the brig Frolic, of twenty-two guns, by the sloop of war
Wasp. Captain Jones had returned from France, two weeks
after the declaration of war, and on the 13lh of October again
put to sea. On the 16th he experienced a heavy gale, in
which the Wasp lost her jib-boom and two men. On the
evening of the following day, the Wasp found herself near five
strange sail, and as two of them appeared to be ships of war,
it was thought proper to keep at a distance. At daylight on
Sunday morning, they were discovered to be six merchant
ships, from Honduras to England, under a strong convoy of a
brig and two ships, armed with sixteen guns each. The brig,
which proved to be the Frolic, captain Whinyates, dropped be-
hind, while the others made sail. The Wasp, being prepared
for action, at thirty-two minutes past eleven o'clock, came down
to windward in handsome style, when the action was beffun by
the enemy's cannon and musketry. This was returned, and
approaching still nearer the enemy, brought her to close action.
In five minutes the main topmast of the Wasp was shot away,
and falling down with the main topsail yard, across the larboard
fore and foretopsail, rendered her head yards unmanageable
during the rest of the action. In two minutes more her gaft
and mizen top-gallant mast were shot away. The sea being
exceedingly rough, the muzzles of the Wasp's guns were some-
times under water. The English fired as their vessel rose, so
that their shot was either thrown away, or touched the rigging
of the Americans ; the Wasp, on the contrary, fired as she sunk,
and every time struck the hull of her antagonist. The Wasp
now shot ahead, raked her, and then resumed her position.
The Frolic's fire had evidently slackened, and the Wasp, grad-
ually neared her, until in the last broadside, they touched her
side with their rammers. It was now determined to lay her by
the board. The jib-boom of the Frolic came in between the
main and mizen mast of the Wasp, and after giving a raking
fire, which swept the whole deck, they resolved to board.



The Wasp captures tlie Frolic.

Lieutenant Biddle sprang on the rigging of the enemy's bow-
sprit, where lie was at first somewhat entangled, and midship-
man Barker, in his impatience to be on board, caught hold of
Biddle's coat, and fell back on the deck, but in a moment
sprang up and leaped on the bowsprit, where he found one Lang
and another seaman. His surprise can scarcely be imagined,
when he found no person on deck, except three officers and
the seaman at the wheel. The deck was slippery with blood,
and presented a scene of havockand ruin, such as has been sel-
dom witnessed. Ashe advanced, the officers threw down their
swords in submission. The colours were still flying, there
being no seamen left to pull them down. Lieutenant Biddle
leaped into the rigging, and hauled them down with his own
hands. Thus, in forty-three minutes, complete possession was
taken of the FroHc, after one of the most bloody conflicts any
where recorded in naval history. The condition of this unfor-
tunate vessel was inexpressibly shocking. The birth deck
was crowded with the dead, the dying and the wounded ; and
the masts, which soon after fell, covering the dead and every
thing on deck, left her a most melancholy wreck. Cap-
tain Jones sent on board his surgeon, and humanely exerted
himself in their relief, to the utmost of his power. The loss
on board the Frolic was thirty killed and fifty wounded ; on
board the Wasp, five killed, and five slightly wounded. This
was certainly the most decisive action fought during the war.
The Wasp and Frolic were both captured that very day by a
British seventy-four, the Poictiers, captain Beresford.

Captain Jones spoke of all his officers and men in handsome
terms ; but the noble part which he bore in this celebrated
combat, was touched upon with all that modesty for which our
naval heroes have been so justly admired. Lieutenant Booth,
Mr Rapp, and midshipmen Grant and Baker, were particularly
distinguished. Lieutenant Claxton, although too unwell to
render any assistance, crawled out of bed, and came on deck,
that he might witness the courage of his comrades. A seaman
of the name of Jack Lang, from Chester county, Pennsylvania,
a brave fellow, who had been twice impressed by the British,
behaved, on this occasion, with unusual bravery. Captain
Jones reached New York towards the latter end of November.
The legislatures of Massachusetts, New York, and Delaware,
of which latter state he was a native, presented him with their
thanks, and several elegant swords and pieces of plate; and the
congress of the United States voted him, his officers, and crew,
twenty-five thousand dollars, as a recompense for their loss, in not
being able to bring in the Frolic. He was soon after promoted to

Online LibraryH. M. (Henry Marie) BrackenridgeHistory of the late war between the United States and Great Britain: → online text (page 5 of 32)