PICTORIAL FIELD-BOOK OF THE WAR OF 1812.
BY BENSON J. LOSSING
NAVAL WARFARE ON THE OCEAN IN 1814 - AMERICAN PRIVATEERS.
New Vessels for the American Navy. – The Adams runs the Blockade. – Her Escape from Danger. – Destruction of the Adams. – Cruise of the Wasp. – She captures the Reindeer. – Combat between the Wasp and Avon. – Loss of the Wasp and all on board. – Blakely and Warrington. – Fight between the Peacock and Epervier. – Capture of the latter. – Her Escape from Recapture. – Barney’s Flotilla in Chesapeake Bay. – It is blockaded. – Fight with the Blockaders. – Reappearance of the Constitution. – She is chased into Marblehead Harbor. – Again puts to Sea. – Battle between the Constitution and British Vessels Cyane and Levant. – The Constitution captures both. – The Constitution escapes from three British Frigates. – Fate of her Prizes. – Honors to Commodore Stewart. – Admiral Stewart. – His Home in New Jersey. – Biographical Sketch. – Decatur’s Squadron. – He puts to Sea in the President. – The President chased. – Battle between the President and Endymion. – Capture of the President. – The rest of Decatur’s Squadron puts to Sea. – Biographical Sketch of Decatur. – Battle between the Hornet and Penguin. – Honors to Captain Biddle. – Biographical Sketch. – Cruise of the Hornet and Peacock. – The War over. – The American Navy at the close of the War. – Privateers commissioned. – The first Cruisers of that Class. – Privateering approved. – Effects of American Privateering. – Cruise of the Rossie. – First Prize in Baltimore. – Cruise of the Globe. – Cruises of the Highflyer, Yankee, and Shadow. – Salem and Baltimore Privateers. – Privateering to the close of 1812. – Captain Shaler’s Letter. – The Comet, of Baltimore. – Cruise of the Comet. – Her wonderful Career. – The Chasseur. – Boyle’s Proclamation of Blockade. – Cruises of the Dolphin, Saratoga, Lottery, and Yankee. – Cruises of the General Armstrong, Ned, and Scourge. – Valuable Prizes taken by the Yankee. – Destruction of the Teaser. – Capture of the Eagle. – Cruise of the Decatur. – Cruise of the David Porter, Globe, and Harpy. – The Career of the General Armstrong. – How New Orleans was saved. – Honors to Captain Reid. – The American Flag. – Cruise of the Prince de Neufchâtel. – Effect of American Privateering on British Commerce. – Cruise of the Saucy Jack, and Kemp. – Cruise of the Macdonough and Amelia. – Close of the War. – The American Privateers and their Doings.
"We had sailed out a letter of marque,
Our story of the operations of the American Navy during the year 1813 closed with the cruise of the President, under Commodore Rodgers, and her bold dash through the British blockading squadron off Sandy Hook into the harbor of New York, at the middle of February, 1814, when the broad pennant of Commodore Decatur was unfurled over her deck.
The Guerriere, 44, the first frigate built by the United States government on the sea-board since 1804, was launched at Philadelphia on the 20th of June, 1814, in the presence of fifty thousand persons, and was placed under the command of Commodore Rodgers. On the 20th of July, the Independence, 74, was launched at Charlestown, amid the roar of cannon and the shouts of a great multitude. She was placed in charge of Commodore Bainbridge. The Independence was a two-decker, the first that had ever been built for the service of the United States.2 The keels of two others were laid, but they were not put afloat until the war had ceased. The Java, 44, was launched at Baltimore on the 1st of August, while twenty thousand people were looking on. She was placed under the command of Commodore Perry. Several new sloops of war were made ready for sea during the summer of 1814; and the Adams, 28, had been cut down to a sloop and lengthened the previous autumn at Washington, and armed with the same number of guns, but on a single deck.
On the night of the 18th of January, 1814, the Adams, Captain Charles Morris, passed the blockading squadron in Lynnhaven Bay, put to sea, and ran off to the northeast to cross the track of the British West India merchantmen. She made a few prizes. On the 25th of March she captured the Indiaman Woodbridge, and, while taking possession of her, observed twenty-five merchant vessels, with two ships of war, bearing down upon her with a fair wind. Morris abandoned his prize, and gave the Adams wings for flight from danger. She escaped, sailed down the coast, and entered the harbor of Savannah for supplies in the month of April. On the 5th of May she sailed for the Manilla Reef to watch for the Jamaica convoy. The fleet passed her in the night. She gave chase in the morning, gained upon the fugitives, but was kept at bay by two vessels of war.
The Adams now stood to the northward, and on the 3d of July was off the Irish coast, where she was chased by British frigates at different times, but always escaped. The weather was cold, damp, and foggy for nearly two months, because the ocean was dotted with icebergs floating down from circumpolar waters. Her crew sickened, and Captain Morris determined to go into port. He entered the Penobscot River, in a somewhat disabled condition, on the afternoon of the 17th of August, and made his way with the Adams to Hampden, far up the river, where he was soon afterward compelled to destroy his vessel to prevent its falling into the hands of the British, as we have already observed.3
Captain Johnston Blakeley left the harbor of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on the 1st of May, 1814, in command of the new sloop-of-war Wasp, 18, and soon appeared in the chops of the British Channel. There he spread terror among the merchant ships and the people of the seaport towns, and revived painful recollections of the exploits of the Argus4 On the morning of the 28th of June, while some distance at sea, the Wasp was chased by two vessels. These were joined by a third at ten o’clock, when the foremost one showed English colors. After a good deal of manœuvring until a little past three o’clock in the afternoon, when the foe was within sixty yards of the Wasp and on her weather-quarter, the former opened fire with a 12-pound carronade, and gave four heavy discharges of round and grape shot before her antagonist could bring one of her guns to bear. At about half past three the Wasp opened fire, and in a few minutes the action became very severe. Several times the men of the stranger attempted to board the Wasp, but were repulsed. Her crew finally boarded the stranger, and at the end of twenty-eight minutes after the combat commenced the latter was a prize to the Wasp. The vanquished vessel was the British sloop-of-war Reindeer, Captain William Manners. She was terribly shattered. Her people had fought bravely, and her captain and purser (Barton), and twenty-three others, were killed, and forty-two were wounded. The Wasp was hulled six times, but was not very seriously damaged. Her loss was five men killed and twenty-two wounded. She was every way the superior of the Reindeer. She was new, mounted twenty 32-pound carronades and two long guns, and her complement was one hundred and seventy-three men. That of the Reindeer was only one hundred and eighteen. Blakeley put some of his wounded prisoners on a neutral vessel, and with the remainder sailed for L’Orient, where he arrived on the 8th of July. He had burned the wrecked Reindeer. For his gallant conduct on this occasion Congress voted him a gold medal. 5
Blakeley left L’Orient on another cruise in the Wasp on the 27th of August. On the evening of the 1st of September he discovered four sail ahead, two on the larboard and two on the starboard bow of the Wasp. He bore down upon them, and at almost half past nine in the evening he was so near one of them that he opened fire upon her with a 12-pound carronade. The shot was promptly returned. The night was intensely dark, the wind was blowing freshly, and the vessels were running at the rate of ten knots an hour. After the exchange of shots, the commanders of both vessels hailed; and soon afterward the Wasp opened a broadside upon her antagonist. A severe engagement ensued. Thirty minutes later the fire of the stranger ceased. "Have you surrendered?" inquired Blakeley. He was answered by a few shots, when he gave his foe another broadside, followed by the same question. It was answered in the affirmative, when a boat was lowered from the Wasp, with an officer to take possession of the prize. Just then another vessel appeared astern, rapidly approaching; then another, and another. Blakeley felt compelled to abandon his prize, so nearly in his possession. He could not ascertain the name or power of his antagonist, but believed her to be one of the largest brigs in the British Navy. It was afterward ascertained that it was the Avon, 18, Captain Arbuthnot, and that the vessel that first came to her aid was the Castilian, 18. The Avon was so much shattered in the conflict that she sunk almost immediately. The survivors of her people were rescued by their friends in the other vessels.
The Wasp continued her cruise, capturing several prizes. Among others, she took the Atlanta, near the Azores, on the 21st of September. The prize was so valuable that Blakeley sent her home in command of Midshipman (late Commodore) David Geisinger.6 She arrived safely at Savannah on the 4th of November. On the 9th of October the Wasp was spoken by the Swedish bark Adonis, making her way toward the Spanish Main. On that occasion two officers of the Essex (Acting Lieutenant M‘Knight and Master’s-mate Lyman), who were passengers in the Adonis, left her for the Wasp. This was the last that was ever heard of that vessel and of those on board of her at that time. She and all her people perished in some unknown way in the solitudes of the sea. 7
In March, 1814, the Peacock, 18, Captain Warrington,8 sailed on a cruise from New York. She went down the coast, and was off the shores of Florida for some time without encountering any conspicuous adventures. Finally, on the 29th of April, Warrington discovered three sail to the windward, under convoy of an armed brig of large dimensions. The merchantmen were an English brig, and a Russian and a Spanish ship. The two war vessels made for each other, and very soon a close and severe battle commenced. The Peacock was so badly wounded in the rigging by a broadside from her antagonist, which proved to be the Epervier, 18, Captain Wales, that she was compelled to fight "running large," as the phrase is. She could not manœuvre much, and the contest became one of gunnery. The Peacock won the game at the end of forty minutes after it began, when the Epervier struck her colors. She was extensively injured. No less than forty-five round shot had struck her hull, and twenty-two of her men were slain or disabled. The hull of the Peacock was scarcely bruised, and within an hour after the conclusion of the combat she was in perfect fighting order. Not a round shot had touched her hull, and not a man on board of her was killed. Only two men were wounded.
The Peacock was the heavier of the two vessels, fully manned, and in stanch order. The Epervier was also fully manned. She was a valuable prize. The vessel sold for fifty-five thousand dollars, and on board of her were found one hundred and eighteen thousand dollars in specie. She was so rich, and the waters of the Southern coast was then so much infested by British cruisers, that Warrington determined to convoy her into Savannah. He placed J. B. Nicholson, his first lieutenant, on board of her, and on the evening of the day of the capture started for port. On the following day, when abreast Amelia Island, on the coast of Florida, they encountered two British frigates. Arrangements were at once made to send the prize into St. Mary’s, and to haul to the southward with the Peacock. By this means the frigates were separated, and the one in chase of the Peacock was led off the coast, and lost sight of her intended victim on the 1st of September. The Epervier, while veering along the coast toward Savannah, fell in with the other frigate. The water was shoal in which the prize vessel ran. The boats of the frigate were lowered, filled with armed men, and sent in chase of the Epervier, which moved slowly before a very light wind. The boats gained upon her, and her position became critical, for Nicholson had only sixteen officers and men with him. He employed a stratagem successfully. Using the trumpet, as if his vessel was full of men, he summoned them, in a loud voice, to prepare to fire a broadside. The men in the boats heard the order, and fled. Had they known the real state of affairs, they might have captured the Epervier in less than five minutes with little loss. She escaped, and reached Savannah on the 1st of May. The Peacock entered the same port on the 4th.
The capture of the Epervier produced much exultation throughout the country. The name of Warrington was upon every lip in phrases of honor, and the Congress of the United States ordered a gold medal to be struck and presented to him because of this exploit.9
Soon after her return to Savannah the Peacock went on another cruise, and entered the Bay of Biscay and the waters on the coast of Portugal. She captured fourteen merchantmen, but had no engagement with a ship of war. She returned to New York at the end of October.
We have alluded to Barney’s operations with a flotilla in the Chesapeake in the summer of 1814. The brave and active veteran left the Patuxent on the 1st of June, with the Scorpion as his flag-ship, two gun-boats, and several large barges, in chase of two British schooners. By the vigorous use of sweeps he was fast overhauling the fugitives, when a large ship was seen at the southward. The wind commenced blowing freshly, and the great vessel, being to windward, was seen bearing down upon the flotilla. Barney signaled the return of his boats, and all fled back to the Patuxent, followed for a while by the huge enemy, a two-decker, which anchored at the mouth of the river. On the 6th of June this ship was joined by two others, and Barney’s flotilla was thoroughly blockaded. On the 8th, the ship of the line, a brig, two schooners, and fifteen barges sailed up the Patuxent with a fair wind, and Barney moved to St. Leonard’s Creek, two miles farther up, and there, in battle order, awaited their approach. The heavier British vessels anchored at the mouth of the creek, and the barges advanced, led by a rocket-boat. Barney, with thirteen barges, advanced to meet them, when they retreated. The movement was repeated in the afternoon. Twenty-four hours afterward [June 9, 1814.] the enemy sent twenty barges up the creek, which, after a sharp skirmish, fled back to the protection of the large armed vessels. On the 11th, twenty-one barges, and two schooners in tow, renewed the attack, when, after receiving a more severe punishment than at any time before, they were again compelled to fly, with considerable loss.
Barney now caused some small earth-works to be thrown up on the shore to protect his flotilla. These were placed in the command of Captain Miller, of the Marine Corps, and a considerable force of militia, under Colonel Decius Wadsworth, of the Ordnance Corps. The combined force attempted to end the blockade on the 26th. A raking shot ripped a plank from the bottom of the large British ship, 10 and she was compelled to run on a sand-bank to avoid sinking. The engagement continued about two hours, during which time Barney lost thirteen men in killed and wounded. The blockade was effectually raised, for the enemy prudently dropped down the Patuxent. Barney and his flotilla remained in that river until about the middle of August, when the British commenced those operations which resulted in the destruction of his vessels by order of its commander, 11 and the capture of Washington City, as recorded in a preceding chapter.
Now the gallant Constitution, 44, again appears on the scene of strife. When Bainbridge relinquished the command of her in 1813 she was thoroughly repaired. A greater portion of her crew were sent to the Lakes, and when she was ready for sea a new one was entered, and she was placed under the command of Captain Charles Stewart. She left Boston harbor for a cruise on the 30th of December, 1813, and for seventeen days did not see a sail. She was on the coast of Surinam at the beginning of February, and on the 14th of that month she captured the British war schooner Picton, 16, together with a letter-of-marque which was under her convoy. Returning northward through the West India Islands, she chased [February 18, 1814.] the British frigate La Pique, 36, Captain Maitland, off Porto Rico. Night coming on, that vessel escaped through the Mona Channel. The Constitution continued her way homeward, and early in the morning of Sunday, the 3d of April, when off Cape Anne, discovered two large sail to the southeast standing for her, and nearing her rapidly with a fair breeze. They were two British frigates of great weight, the Junon and La Nymphe. Boston Harbor was her destination, but she was compelled to seek safety in that of Marblehead. By great exertions, superior skill in management, and lightening her of much of her burden, Stewart succeeded in reaching the harbor of Marblehead in safety. The situation of the Constitution was still one of great peril. An express was immediately sent to Commodore Bainbridge, at Boston, who proceeded with all the force at his command to her relief. Several companies of militia, artillery, and infantry hastened to Marblehead. The pursuers kept at a respectful distance, and the Constitution was soon afterward safely anchored in the harbor of Salem, from whence she sailed in due time to Boston, where she remained until near the close of the year.
At the close of December [1814.], the Constitution, still commanded by Captain Stewart, put to sea. She went to the Bay of Biscay by way of Bermuda and Madeira, and then cruised some time farther southward off Lisbon. While in sight of the Portuguese capital, Stewart observed a large ship seaward, and immediately gave chase. Stopping to capture and secure a prize, he lost sight of her. She was the Elizabeth, 74, on her way to the port of Lisbon. On her arrival there her commander was informed of the presence of the Constitution on the coast, and he went out at once in search of her. He was unsuccessful.
Stewart sailed farther southward toward Cape St. Vincent, and on the 20th of February, 1815, he discovered a strange sail and made chase. At about two o’clock in the afternoon a second vessel appeared farther to the leeward. Both were ships, and evidently in company. Toward evening one signaled the other, and they drew together. The Constitution still kept up the chase, and crowded all sail to get the nearest of the two under her guns before night should set in. At near sunset she fired a few shots, but they fell short. Stewart found he was slowly gaining on the fugitives, and cleared the Constitution for action. At six, being within range, he showed his colors, when the two strangers flung out the British flag.
The position of the three vessels now became very interesting. The Constitution shot by, and the three ships were so ranged that they formed the points of an equilateral triangle, Stewart’s vessel to windward of the other two. In this advantageous position the Constitution commenced the action, the three vessels keeping up an unceasing and terrific fire for about fifteen minutes, when that of the enemy slackened. An immense volume of heavy smoke hung over the combatants, admitting only an occasional gleam of moonlight. The Constitution also became silent; and as the cloud of smoke rolled sullenly away as a very light breeze sprung up, Stewart perceived the leading ship of the enemy to be under the lee-beam of his own vessel, while the sternmost was luffing up as if with the intention of tacking, and crossing the stern of the Constitution. The latter delivered a broadside into the ship abreast of her, and then, by a skillful management of the sails, backed swiftly astern, compelling the foe to fill again to avoid being raked.
The leading ship now attempted to tack so as to cross the bow of the Constitution. For some time both vessels manœuvred admirably, pouring heavy shot into each other whenever opportunity offered, when, at a quarter before seven, the British vessel fired a gun to leeward and struck her flag. Lieutenant Hoffman was sent to take possession of her. She was the frigate Cyane, 36, Captain Falcoln, manned by a crew of one hundred and eighty men.
Stewart now looked after the Cyane’s consort, which had been forced out of the combat by the crippled condition of her running gear, and to avoid damage from the Constitution’s heavy cannonading. She was ignorant of the fate of her consort. About an hour after the action had ceased, having repaired damages, she bore up, and met the Constitution coming down in search of her. They crossed on opposite tacks, each delivering a broadside as they did so. For a time there was a brisk running fight, the Constitution chasing, and her bow guns sending shot that ripped up the planks of her antagonist. The latter was soon overpowered, and at ten o’clock at night she fired a gun to leeward and surrendered. Lieutenant (now Admiral) W. B. Shubrick was sent to take possession of her. She was found to be the Levant, 18, Captain Douglass.
The Constitution at this time was equipped with fifty-two guns, and her complement of men and boys was about four hundred and seventy. The Cyane was a frigate-built ship, mounting twenty 32-pound carronades on her gun-deck, and ten 18-pound carronades, with two chase-guns, on her quarter-deck and forecastle, making thirty-four in all. Her complement of men was one hundred and eighty-five. The Levant was a new ship, mounting eighteen 32-pound carronades, a shifting 18 on her top-gallant forecastle, and two chase-guns, making twenty-one in all. Her regular complement was one hundred and thirty souls. Both vessels had additional numbers on board, going to the Western Islands to bring away a ship that was being built there. The loss of the Constitution in this gallant action was three killed and twelve wounded. That of the enemy, in the two vessels, was estimated at seventy-seven killed and wounded.
The Constitution was so little damaged that in three hours after her last conflict she was again ready for action. She had been engaged for three hours with her antagonists, but the actual fighting had not occupied more than forty-five minutes. She had not a single officer hurt. It was a most gallant fight in that moonlit sea by the three vessels; and the commanders of all received, as they deserved to, the highest praise.
Placing Lieutenant Hoffman on the Cyane, and Lieutenant Ballard on the Levant, as commanders, Captain Stewart proceeded with the Constitution and her prizes to Porto Praya, the capital of Santiago, one of the Cape de Verde Islands, where he arrived on the 10th of March, 1815. On the following day, while Lieutenant Shubrick was walking the quarter-deck, he heard one of the prisoners, a midshipman, exclaim, "There’s a large ship in the offing!" One of the English captains severely reprimanded him in a low tone. Shubrick’s vigilance was aroused. The ocean was covered with a thick fog resting low on the water. Above it, in thick luminous mist, he saw the sails of a large ship, set portward. He immediately reported to Stewart, who was below. That officer coolly replied that it was probably an English frigate, and directed Shubrick to return to the deck, call all hands, and get ready to go out and attack her. Shubrick did so, when he discovered the sails of two other vessels above the fog-bank, and they were evidently those of men-of-war. Again he reported to Captain Stewart, when that officer, perfectly unmoved by what he knew to be imminent peril to his vessel, immediately ordered the cables of the Constitution to be cut and signals made for the prizes to follow. He well knew that the English would have no respect for the neutrality of that port, and that he was too feeble to cope with three heavy men of war; and within fifteen minutes after the first ship had been seen, the Constitution was making her way out of the roads of Porto Praya, followed by the two prizes. They were chased by the strangers, which were the British frigates Leander, 50, Sir George Collier; Newcastle, 50, Lord George Stuart; and Acasta, 40, Captain Kerr. They pressed hard upon the fugitives. The Cyane was falling astern, and must soon become a prey to her pursuers. Stewart signaled for her to tack. Hoffman promptly obeyed, and she was soon lost to view in the fog, under cover of which she escaped, and reached New York on the 10th of April. 12
The three ships continued to chase the Constitution, and finally the Newcastle began to fire her chase-guns, but without effect. Meanwhile the Levant had fallen far in the rear, and Stewart signaled for her commander to tack. Ballard obeyed, when the three British ships, abandoning the chase of the Constitution, pursued him. He ran the Levant back to port, and at four o’clock in the afternoon anchored her within one hundred and fifty yards of the shore, under the shelter of what he supposed to be at least a neutral battery of thirty or forty guns. He was mistaken. The English prisoners, one hundred and twenty in number, whom Stewart had landed there on parole before the British squadron hove in sight, regardless of the neutral character of the port (Portuguese), took possession of the battery and opened it upon the Levant. She received the fire of her pursuers at the same time, and was compelled to strike her colors. She was sent to Barbadoes in charge of Lieutenant Jellicoe, formerly of the Cyane.
With these exploits, performed after peace had been proclaimed in the United States, ended the career of "Old Ironsides," as the Constitution was called, in the War of 1812. Stewart landed many of his prisoners at Maranham, in Brazil; and at Porto Rico he heard of the proclamation of peace. He immediately sailed homeward, and arrived in New York at the middle of May, bringing with him the intelligence of the capture of the Cyane and Levant. The arrival of the Constitution was hailed with delight. The Common Council of New York gave him the freedom of the city in a gold box,13 and tendered to him and his officers the hospitalities of the city at a public dinner. The Legislature of Pennsylvania gave him thanks in the name of the state, and voted him a gold-hilted sword; and the Congress of the United States voted him and his brave men the thanks of the nation, and directed a gold medal, commemorative of the capture of the Cyane and Levant, to be struck and presented to him.
His exploits and that of his ship became the theme for oratory and song, and from that day to this the people of the United States have held that vessel in peculiar reverence. She was always fortunate in having skillful commanders, and brave and intelligent men. Her crews were principally men of New England. From the time of the Tripolitan War until she left off cruising and became a school-ship, she always ranked as a "lucky vessel."
The gallant commander of the Constitution at the close of the war, who was then a veteran in the service, still (1867) survives, and is often called affectionately by the name given to his vessel – "Old Ironsides." He lives in retirement, with a sufficiency of this world’s goods, in an unostentatious dwelling on the banks of the Delaware, at Bordentown, New Jersey, around which are delightful grounds attached to the mansion.15
COMMODORE STEWART’S RESIDENCE.
In the summer of 1814, Commodore Decatur, who had been enduring inaction for a long time on account of the blockade of his vessels in the Thames above New London, was transferred to the command of the President, 44, which Rodgers had left for the new ship Guerriere. Captain Biddle, commander of the Hornet, which had been long engaged in protecting the United States and the Macedonian in the Thames, was finally ordered to join Decatur, and, with joyous alacrity, he obeyed. He soon found an opportunity to avoid the blockading squadron, and in November he joined Decatur with his ship at New York, when that commander’s squadron, assembled there, consisted of the President (the flag-ship); Peacock, 18, Captain Warrington; Hornet, 18, Captain Biddle; and Tom Bowline, store-ship.
Decatur had been engaged all the summer and autumn in the vicinity of New York, watching for the approach of the enemy, who were ravaging the country in the vicinity of the Chesapeake Bay. Ignorant of the real destination of the British when they left those waters, the government detained Decatur so long as there were any apprehensions of an attack on New York. He finally received an order to prepare for a cruise in the East Indies, to spread havoc among the British shipping in that remote quarter of the world. He was ready at the middle of January[1815.], and on the night of the 14th [January.] the President dropped down to Sandy Hook, leaving the other vessels at their anchorage near Staten Island. She grounded on the bar in the darkness of the night, but was floated off by the rising tide in time to clear the coast and the British blockading squadron before morning.
There had been a heavy gale on the 14th, and Decatur, believing that the blockaders had been driven by it to the leeward, kept the President close along the Long Island shore for about five hours, when he sailed boldly out to sea in a southeasterly by easterly direction. Two hours after changing his course he discovered by the starlight a strange sail ahead, and within gun-shot distance. Two others soon made their appearance, and at dawn the President was chased by four ships of war, two on her quarters and two astern. These were the Endymion, 40; Pomone, 38; Tenedos, 38; and Majestic, razee, of the blockading squadron, which had been blown off the coast by the gale, and were now returning to the cruising-ground off Sandy Hook.
The chase continued during the morning, with a light and baffling wind, and the President, deeply laden with stores for a long cruise, soon found the Endymion, Captain Hope, the nearest vessel, rapidly overtaking her. Decatur at once gave orders for lightening his own ship for the purpose of increasing her speed. It availed but little. At three o’clock in the afternoon the Endymion came down with a fresh breeze, which the President did not feel, and opened her bow-guns upon the fugitive. The President promptly returned the fire in an effort to damage the spars and rigging of her pursuer, but without effect. Her shot moved feebly and fell short, as if propelled by weak powder. On came the Endymion, and at five o’clock she gained a position in which she terribly annoyed her antagonist.
The President could not bring a gun to bear upon the foe, and was lacerated by every shot of her pursuer. It was evident that the Endymion was endeavoring to secure a victory by gradually crippling the President, and reducing her to an unmanageable wreck.
Decatur quickly penetrated the design of his enemy, and prepared to frustrate it by boldly running down upon the Endymion, carrying her by a hand-to-hand fight, and, abandoning his own vessel, seize his antagonist as a prize, and in her run away from the other pursuers. But the commander of the Endymion was as wary as he was skillful, and was not to be caught in that manner. He accommodated the movements of his own ship to those of his antagonist, until at length they were brought abeam of each other, and both opened tremendous broadsides. Every attempt of Decatur to lay the President alongside the Endymion was foiled by Captain Hope, who adroitly kept his ship a quarter of a mile from his antagonist.
Decatur now determined to dismantle the Endymion. The two frigates kept running dead before the wind, head and head, each discharging heavy broadsides upon the other for two hours and a half when the Endymion, having most of her sails cut from the yards, fell astern. The President, no doubt, could have compelled her adversary to strike her colors in a few minutes, but just at that moment the other vessels in chase were seen by the dim starlight to be approaching. They had been joined by the Dispatch. The President therefore kept on her course in efforts to escape. In this she failed. The pursuers closed upon her. At 11 o’clock the Pomone got on the weather-bow of the President, and gave her a damaging broadside. The Tenedos was coming up and closing on her quarter, and the Majestic and Dispatch were within gun-shot distance astern. They all fell upon her with energy. Farther resistance would have been useless. The President struck her colors, and Decatur surrendered his sword to Captain Hayes, of the Majestic, which was the first vessel that came alongside of the vanquished frigate.
In the chase and running fight the President lost twenty-four men killed and fifty-six wounded. Among the slain were her first, fourth, and fifth lieutenants, Messrs. Babbitt, Hamilton, and Howell. The Endymion had eleven killed and fourteen wounded. It was found that her hull had been struck by many balls which did not penetrate, and this fact confirmed the impressions of Decatur at the beginning of the contest that the powder was inferior.
After the action, the President, accompanied by the Endymion, sailed for Bermuda. Both vessels were dismasted in a gale before reaching port. Decatur wrote an official account for the Secretary of War on board of the Endymion on the 18th. He was soon after paroled, and returned to New York at the beginning of March. A court of inquiry was convened, and he and all of his officers, tried for losing their ship, were honorably acquitted. It was proven, and was admitted by the English, that the President was captured by the squadron, and not by a single vessel.16 And when the details of the combat became known, the heroism of Decatur and his men produced the most profound sensation. Language was too feeble to express the admiration of the American people. 17
On the 22d of January[1815.] the Peacock, Hornet, and Tom Bowline followed the President to sea. Their commanders were ignorant of her fate. They passed the bar at daylight, regardless of the blockading squadron, and passed out upon the broad ocean unmolested. Each made its way, sometimes alone and sometimes consorting with another, for the port of Tristan d’Acunha, the principal of a group of islands in the South Atlantic, in latitude 37° S., and longitude 12° W. from Washington. That was the place of rendezvous designated by Decatur.
The Peacock and Tom Bowline arrived there together at the middle of March, and were driven away by a storm. The Hornet, Captain Biddle, entered the port on the 23d, and was about to cast her anchor, when a strange sail was discovered to the windward. Captain Biddle immediately spread the sails of the Hornet, and went seaward to reconnoitre. The stranger soon came running down before the wind, and at a quarter before two o’clock in the afternoon approached the Hornet within musket-shot distance, displayed English colors, and fired a gun. The Hornet accepted the challenge, and for about fifteen minutes a sharp cannonade was kept up. The fire of the Hornet was so severe that her antagonist ran down for the purpose of boarding her. The vessels became entangled, and a good opportunity was offered to the stranger to accomplish her purpose. But her first lieutenant could not induce his men to follow him. Biddle’s men, on the contrary, were eager to rush into the British ship for a hand-to-hand fight. His advantage lay with his guns, and he would not allow his people to leave the ship. His broadsides raked the foe terribly, and very soon an officer on board the stranger called out that she had surrendered. Firing ceased, and Captain Biddle sprang upon the taffrail to inquire whether his antagonist had actually surrendered, when two British marines fired at him. One bullet wounded him severely in the neck. The assassins were instantly slain by bullets fired from the Hornet. She immediately wore round, after being disentangled from her foe by a lurch given by the sea, and was preparing to fire another broadside, when at least twenty men appeared on her antagonist throwing up their hands and asking for quarter. It was difficult to restrain the indignant Americans, who wanted to avenge the injury done to their commander. It was done, however. The vanquished vessel, after a contest of twenty-three minutes, struck her colors. She was the brig Penguin, 18, Captain Dickenson, which had been fitted and manned expressly to encounter the privateer Young Wasp, a more powerful vessel than herself. She mounted nineteen carriage-guns, besides guns on her tops, and her size and weight of metal was the same as that of the Hornet. Her complement of men was one hundred and thirty-two.
The Hornet lost one man killed and ten wounded. Among the latter were Captain Biddle, Lieutenant (afterward Commodore) Conner, and eight men. Not a round shot marred the hull of the Hornet, but her rigging was much cut, while the Penguin was terribly riddled. Her foremast and bowsprit were shot away, and her mainmast was so much shattered that it could not be secured for farther use. Among her slain were her commander and boatswain. After taking from her all that was valuable, Captain Biddle scuttled her on the morning of the 25th, and she went to the bottom of the deep South Atlantic Ocean.
The conflict between the Hornet and Penguin was regarded by naval men as one of the most creditable actions of the war, and the American people testified their appreciation of the services of Captain Biddle by the bestowal of special honors upon him.18 When he arrived in New York a public dinner was given him in that city. Citizens of his native town, Philadelphia, presented to him a beautiful service of silver plate; 19 and the Congress of the United States, in the name of the Republic, gave him thanks, and ordered a gold medal to be struck in commemoration of the victory, and presented to him.
On the same day[March 28, 1815.], and a few hours after the action with the Penguin, Captain Biddle discovered another sail in sight. It proved to be the Peacock, having the Tom Bowline in company. He converted the latter into a cartel ship, and sent her to Rio de Janeiro with his prisoners. They then continued on their course, after remaining in Tristan d’Acunha the length of time appointed by Decatur (until the 13th of April), and, in the mean time, they had intelligence that the President was probably captured.
While sailing onward toward the Indian Seas on the morning of the 27th of April, Captain Warrington, of the Peacock, signaled to Captain Biddle that a strange vessel was seen in the distance. Both sloops started in chase with a light wind, and before evening they had rapidly gained on the stranger. She was yet in sight in the morning. The Peacock was two leagues ahead of the Hornet between two and three o’clock in the afternoon,[April 28.] and at that time began to show some caution in her movements. It was soon discovered that the stranger was a heavy line-of-battle ship and an enemy, and that she was about to give chase. The Peacock and the Hornet spread their sails for flight. The latter was more particularly in peril, as she was a slower sailer than her consort. The huge Englishman was gaining upon her, Biddle began to lighten her, and the chase became intensely interesting during the entire night of the 28th and early morning of the 29th. At dawn the enemy was within gun-shot distance of the Hornet on her lee quarter. At seven o’clock English colors and a rear admiral’s flag was displayed by the stranger, and she commenced firing. On sped the Hornet, casting overboard shot, anchors, cables, spars, boats, many heavy articles on deck and below, and all of her guns but one. At noon the pursuer was within a mile of her, and again commenced firing, three of the balls striking the Hornet. Still on she sped, her gallant commander having resolved to save his ship at all hazards. He did so. By consummate seamanship and prudence, he soon took the Hornet out of harm’s way, and with her single gun, and without boat or anchor, she made her way to New York, where she arrived on the 9th of June. Biddle’s skill in saving his vessel elicited the unbounded praise of his countrymen. It was afterward ascertained that the pursuer of the Hornet was the Cornwallis, 74, on her way to the East Indies, and bearing the flag of an officer in that service.
Warrington continued his cruise in the Peacock, and on the 30th of June[1815.], when off Anjer, in the Straits of Sunda, between Borneo and Sumatra, he fell in with the East India Company’s cruiser Nautilus, 14, Lieutenant Charles Boyce. Broadsides were exchanged, when the Nautilus struck her colors. She had lost six men killed and eight wounded. The Peacock lost none. This event occurred a few days after the period set by the treaty of peace for the cessation of hostilities. Warrington was ignorant of any such treaty, but, being informed of its ratification on the next day, he gave up the Nautilus, and did every thing in his power to alleviate the sufferings of her wounded people. He then returned home, bearing the honor of having fired the last shot in the Second War for Independence. The combat between the Hornet and Penguin was the last regular naval battle, the affair between the Peacock and Nautilus being only a rencounter.
When the Peacock reached America, every cruiser, public and private, that had been out against the British had returned to port, and the war was over. "The navy," says Cooper, "came out of this struggle with a vast increase of reputation. The brilliant style in which the ships had been carried into action, the steadiness and rapidity with which they had been handled, and the fatal accuracy of their fire on nearly every occasion, produced a new era in naval warfare. Most of the frigate actions had been as soon decided as circumstances would at all allow; and in no instance was it found necessary to keep up the fire of a sloop of war an hour when singly engaged. Most of the combats of the latter, indeed, were decided in about half that time. The execution done in these short conflicts was often equal to that made by the largest vessels of Europe in general actions, and in some of them the slain and wounded comprised a very large proportion of the crews. It is not easy to say in which nation this unlooked-for result created the most surprise. . . . . The ablest and bravest captains of the English fleet were ready to admit that a new power was about to appear on the ocean, and that it was not improbable the battle for the mastery of the seas would have to be fought over again."21
It now remains for us only to consider the principal exploits of the American privateers, whose services appear in most admirable conspicuousness at every period of the war, from the month after it was proclaimed until some time after peace was assured by solemn treaty. Although privateering is nothing less than legalized piracy, it has ever been sanctioned by the laws of nations since such codes were first established, and the foremost of the American statesmen at the period we are considering advocated it as a just and expedient measure for a nation so feeble as ours in maritime strength when contending with one so powerful as Great Britain.22 So regarding it, Congress, in the act declaring war, sanctioned it, by authorizing the President to "issue to private-armed vessels of the United States commissions, or letters of marque and reprisal," as they were termed, in such manner as he should think proper. The President was not tardy in issuing such commissions under a specific act of Congress passed on the 26th of June [1812.], and very soon swift-sailing brigs and schooners, and armed pilot-boats, were out upon the high seas in search of plunder from the common enemy.
CLIPPER-BUILT PRIVATEER SCHOONER.
Of these the clipper-built schooner represented inthe engraving was the favorite. The most noted of these were built at Baltimore. They generally carried from six to ten guns, with a single long gun, called "Long Tom," mounted on a swivel in the centre. They were usually manned with fifty persons, besides officers, all armed with muskets, cutlasses, and boarding-pikes, commanded to "burn, sink, and destroy" the property of an enemy wherever it might be found, either on the high seas or in British ports.
Into the port of Salem, Massachusetts, which became famous as the home of privateers during the contest, the first prize captured on the ocean after the declaration of war was taken. On the 10th of July the private-armed schooner Fame, Captain Webb, took into that harbor two British ships, one laden with timber and the other with tar. On the same day the privateer Dash, Captain Carroway, of Baltimore, entered Hampton Roads and captured the British government schooner Whiting, Lieutenant Maxey, who was bearing dispatches from London to Washington.
On the 14th of July, a stanch privateer of Gloucester, Massachusetts, named the Madison, fell in with a British transport ship from Halifax bound to St. John’s. She had been under convoy of the Indian, a British sloop of war, which had just given chase to the Polly and Dolphin, two American privateers. The Madison pounced on and captured the transport, which, with the cargo, was valued at $50,000. She was sent into Gloucester. On the following day the Indian, after chasing the Polly for some time, manned her launch and several boats, and sent them to capture the fugitive. The Polly turned, and resisted so gallantly that she caused the launch to strike her colors. By this time the Indian was almost within gun-shot, when the Polly took to her sweeps and escaped. The Madison soon afterward captured a British ship of twelve guns, name not given, and the brig Eliza, of six guns.
On the 18th of July the letter of marque schooner Falcon, of Baltimore, armed with four guns and sixteen men, fought the British cutter Hero, five guns and fifty-five men, on the coast of France, for two hours and a half, and drove her off. On the following day the Falcon was attacked by a British privateer of six guns and forty men. She resisted for an hour and a half; when, her captain having been killed and several of her crew wounded, she struck her colors, and was taken into a Guernsey port. The first prize that arrived at Baltimore was a British schooner laden with a cargo of sugar, valued at $18,000. She was captured by the Dolphin. This was on the 26th of July. A little more than a month had elapsed since the declaration of war, yet within that time such displays of American valor had been made on the sea that the British began to feel some respect for their new foe on that element. During the month of July more than fifty vessels were taken from the British by American privateers, and taken into the harbors of the United States.
Toward the middle of July seven privateers sailed from Baltimore on a cruise. One of them was the swift clipper-built schooner Rossie, fourteen guns and one hundred and twenty men, commanded by the veteran Commodore Barney. His manuscript journal of that and a second cruise lies before me, and bears evidence that it was one of the most exciting voyages on record. He sailed from Baltimore on the 12th of July[1812.], and cruised along the eastern coast of the United States for forty-five days without entering port. He was almost daily capturing English vessels, chasing and being chased, and informing all American vessels that fell in his way of the beginning of war.
Nine days after he left Baltimore[July 22.] Barney fell in with the brig Nymph, of Newburyport, and seized her for violating the Non-importation Act. On the following day the Rossie was chased by a British frigate, which hurled twenty-five shots after her, but without effect. The Rossie outsailed the frigate, and escaped. Six days afterward [July 30.] she was chased by another frigate, and again outsailed the pursuer. On the following day Barney took and burned the ship Princess Royal, and the day following [August 1.] took and manned the ship Kitty. On the 2d of August he took and burned the brigs Fame and Devonshire, and schooner Squid; and on the same day he captured the brig Two Brothers, put on board of her sixty of his prisoners, and ordered her as a cartel to St. John’s, New Brunswick, to effect an exchange for as many American prisoners.
Barney sent his compliments to Admiral Sawyer, the British commander on the Halifax station, desired him to treat the prisoners well, and assured him, very coolly, that he should soon send him another shipload of captives for exchange. On the next day he took and sunk the brig Henry, and schooners Race-horse and Halifax, captured and manned the brig William, and added forty prisoners to the number on board the Two Brothers. On the 9th of August he captured the ship Jenny, of twelve guns, after a brief action; and on the following day he seized the brig Rebecca, of Saco, from London, for a breach of the non-importation law. On the 28th he seized the Euphrates, of New Bedford, for the same reason; and on the 30th he ran into Narraganset Bay, and anchored off Newport. During his cruise of forty-five days he seized and captured fourteen vessels, nine of which he destroyed. Their aggregate capacity amounted to two thousand nine hundred and fourteen tons, and they were manned by one hundred and sixty-six men The estimated value of his prizes was $1,289,000.
Barney remained in Newport until the 7th of September[1812.], when the Rossie started on another cruise. On the 9th she was chased by three British ships of war, but by superior speed she soon left them out of sight. On the 12th she was chased by an English frigate for six hours, when she, too, was left so far behind that she gave up the pursuit. Four days afterward [September 16.] she fell in with and captured the British armed packet Princess Amelia. They had a severe engagement for almost an hour, at pistol-shot distance most of the time. Mr. Long, Barney’s first lieutenant, was severely wounded; and six of the crew were injured, but not so badly. The Princess Amelia lost her captain, sailing-master, and one seaman killed; and the master’s mate and six seamen were wounded. The Rossie suffered in her rigging and sails, but not in her hull, while the Princess Amelia was terribly cut up in all.
Barney had just secured his prize when he fell in, on the same day[September 12, 1812.], with three ships and an armed brig. From the latter the Rossie received an eighteen-pound shot through her quarter, which wounded a man and lodged in the pump. She dogged the three vessels for four days in hopes of seeing them separated, and thus affording an opportunity to pounce on one of them. They kept together, and he gave up the game. On the 23d he spoke the privateer Globe, Captain Murphy, of Baltimore, and the two went in search of the three ships, but could not find them. On the 8th of October, while they were sailing together, they captured the British schooner Jubilee, and sent her into port. On the 22d Barney seized the ship Merrimack for a violation of law. She was laden with a valuable cargo. On the 10th of November [1812.] he returned to Baltimore. The result of his two cruises in the Rossie since he left that city was 3698 tons of shipping, valued at $1,500,000, and two hundred and seventeen prisoners. as we have observed on the opposite page; and other ports received her captives. She entered Salem, Massachusetts, on the 23d of July, after a cruise of twenty days, during which time she had taken six vessels without receiving the least injury. She was repeatedly chased by British cruisers, but always outsailed them. Captain Stafford was remarkable for kindness of manner toward his prisoners. Such was its power, that on several occasions, when he was compelled to use sweeps to escape from the English men-of-war, they volunteered to man them.
The privateer Globe, of Baltimore, Captain Murphy, carrying eight guns and about eighty men, went to sea on the 24th of July in company with the letter of marque Cora. On the 31st of that month she chased a vessel about three hours, when she was within gun-shot, and commenced firing. The fugitive hoisted British colors, and returned the shots from her stern-chasers, consisting of two long 9-pounders. The Globe could only bring a long nine amidships to bear during an action of about forty minutes, for it was blowing very fresh, and the enemy crowded all sail. The Globe finally gained on her, and commenced firing broadsides. Her antagonist returned broadside for broadside, until the Globe, getting within musket-shot distance, fired deadly volleys of bullets. After a brisk engagement of an hour and a half at close quarters, the British vessel struck her colors. She proved to be the English letter of marque Boyd, from New Providence for Liverpool, mounting ten guns. No person was injured on either ship. The Boyd’s boats were destroyed, and she suffered much in hull and rigging. The Globe suffered in sails and rigging, but was able, after sending her prize to Philadelphia, to proceed on her cruise. On the 14th of August she captured a British schooner of four guns, laden with mahogany; and, a few days afterward, she arrived at Hampton Roads, accompanied by a large British ship carrying twenty-two guns, richly laden, and bound for Glasgow, which she captured not far from the Bermudas. Having secured her prize in port, the Globe started immediately on another cruise.23
The Highflyer, Captain Gavit, of Baltimore, was another successful cruiser on private account. She was armed with eight guns, and manned by one hundred men. She left Baltimore early in July, and on the 26th captured the British schooner Harriet, in ballast, but with $8000 in specie on board. On the 19th of August, while in the Gulf of Mexico, Captain Gavit discovered the Jamaica fleet of merchantmen, and gave chase. He soon observed that they were convoyed by a British frigate. That vessel gave chase to the Highflyer. The latter outsailed her, and on the 21st pounced upon the Diana, one of the fleet, and captured her. She was of three hundred and fifty tons burden, and laden with a valuable cargo of rum, sugar, coffee, etc. Gavit took out her crew, and sent her as a prize to the United States. On the following day the Highflyer fell in with and engaged two other British vessels at half gun-shot distance, giving them about sixty shot. The breeze was too stiff to allow safety in boarding them, and so he hauled off and left them. These were the Jamaica, of Liverpool, and the Mary Ann, of London, the former carrying seven guns and twenty-one men, and the latter twelve guns and eighteen men. On the 23d the Highflyer fell upon the vessels again, the wind having moderated. Her people, after a severe cannonading and musket firing from both sides, boarded the Jamaica, and captured her. The Mary Ann struck her colors at the same time. During the action Captain Gavit was shot through his right arm by a musket-ball, and one of his seamen was wounded in the cheek. These were the only casualties, excepting the damage (which was considerable) done to the sails and rigging of the Highflyer. Her antagonists were severely bruised. Several of their seamen were wounded. Both ships were richly laden with the products of the West Indies.
On the 1st of August, the privateer Yankee, carrying ten guns, while cruising off the coast of Nova Scotia, fell in with the letter of marque Royal Bounty, also carrying ten guns. She was a fine vessel of six hundred and fifty-eight tons, and manned by twenty-five men. The Yankee had the advantage of wind, and, bearing down upon the weather quarter of the Royal Bounty, gave her a division broadside, which made her quake in every fibre. Making a quick movement, she gave her an entire broadside, which was returned with spirit. The mariners of the Yankee were mostly sharp-shooters, and their execution was terribly galling. At the same time the ship was well managed, and her great guns were making havoc with her enemy’s sails and rigging. The Royal Bounty’s helmsman was killed, and she became so unmanageable that, after fighting an hour, she was compelled to surrender. She was terribly wounded. All her boats were stove, and no less than one hundred and fifty round shot of various kinds went through her rigging and sails, or lodged in her hull and spars.
The schooner Shadow, Captain Taylor, of Philadelphia, had a severe encounter with the British letter of marque May, Captain Affleck, from Liverpool bound to St. Lucia, carrying fourteen guns and fifty men. At noon on the 4th of August the Shadow discovered the May, and gave chase. It continued until almost sunset, when an action was fought. At six o’clock, when the vessels were within gun-shot of each other, the May commenced firing from her stern guns. The action commenced at seven, and at half past seven the May hoisted a light in her mizzen rigging. The Shadow then hailed her, and Captain Taylor ordered her to send her papers on board of his vessel that he might examine them. This was only partially complied with. Taylor immediately sent a boat’s crew to the May with a demand for the instant surrender of all her papers. The British captain refused. He sent a note to this effect to Captain Taylor, stated the character and force of his vessel, and informed him that a change of ministry had taken place in England, and that the Orders in Council had been rescinded. Again Captain Taylor demanded Affleck’s papers, and again they were refused. At half past eight o’clock the action was renewed. The night was squally and dark. The vessels kept near each other, occasionally exchanging shots, and in the morning early they commenced a severe fight. Captain Taylor was shot through the head and instantly killed, and the Shadow was so much damaged that she withdrew, and by superior sailing escaped, and returned to Philadelphia.
On the 3d of August, the schooner Atlas, Captain David Maffit, attacked two British armed ships at the same time. After an engagement of about an hour the smaller vessel of the foe surrendered, and the fire of the Atlas was wholly directed upon the larger one. Suddenly the smaller one, notwithstanding her colors were down, again opened her fire; but the Atlas soon silenced her, and in less than an hour and a half from the time of the attack both vessels were captured. They proved to be the ship Pursuit, sixteen guns and a complement of thirty-five men, and the ship Planter, twelve guns and fifteen men. They were both stored with valuable cargoes from Surinam, and bound to London. They were sent to the United States. The Atlas was badly damaged in the contest.
At about this time the privateer John, Captain Benjamin Crowninshield, of Salem, returned to that port after a cruise of three weeks, during which time she made eleven captures. All along the coasts of the United States and the West Indies the American privateers were now exceedingly active. None were more so than the Paul Jones, Captain Hazard, of New York. Within a very short space of time she captured fourteen vessels near the island of Porto Rico, some of them of considerable value; and she obtained a crowning glory by the capture, early in August, of the British ship Hassan, fourteen guns and twenty men, sailing from Gibraltar for Havana with wines and dry goods valued at $200,000. This was accomplished after a contest of only half an hour.
One of the boldest of the privateersmen was Captain Thomas Boyle, of Baltimore, who sailed the Comet, of fourteen guns and one hundred and twenty men. One of his earliest exploits in the Comet was the capture, in August, 1812, of the British ship Hopewell, carrying fourteen guns and twenty-five men. She was bound from Surinam for London with a cargo valued, with the ship, at $150,000. The two vessels had an obstinate combat, but the Comet was the victor. The prize was sent into Baltimore. Of the Comet and her captainwe shall have more to say hereafter.
Another active and successful Baltimore privateer was the Nonsuch, Captain Leveley, armed with twelve guns, and carrying about one hundred men. She was one of the famous "Baltimore clippers." On the 27th of September, when cruising near the island of Martinique, she fell in with a British ship mounting sixteen guns, with about two hundred troops on board, and a schooner mounting six 4-pounders, and manned with a crew of about fifty or sixty men. The Nonsuch ran in between the two vessels, within pistol-shot of each, and commenced a hot contest which lasted three hours and twenty minutes. It was a fierce fight. The guns of the Nonsuch (carronades) became much heated by continual firing. Their bolts and breachings were carried away, and they were all dismounted. Captain Leveley now determined to board his antagonists; but the damage done to the rigging of the Nonsuch so disabled her that he was not able to bring her alongside for the purpose. In consequence of this disability the two vessels escaped, but not without severe punishment. The larger ship was much damaged in hull and rigging, and lost twenty-three of her men killed and wounded. The schooner was also much damaged.24 The performance of the Nonsuch was called, by the journals of the day, "gallant, but unprofitable conduct." The British spoke of the attack upon them as "exceedingly brave." Several persons of distinction in these ships were injured.
The privateer Saratoga, of New York, Captain Riker, armed with eighteen guns and one hundred and forty men, was a successful cruiser. In the autumn of 1812 she captured the ship Quebec, sixteen guns, from Jamaica, with a cargo valued at $300,000. In December following she had a desperate fight off Laguira, Venezuela. It was on the 11th of that month, and she was then in command of Captain Charles W. Wooster. She entered the port of Laguira the 10th, but was warned off, the authorities being neutrals. Going out of the bay, she captured a vessel with goods worth $20,000, and at nine in the morning on the following day[December 11, 1812.], after the clearing up of the fog, she fell in with the brig Rachel, from Greenock, Scotland, which mounted twelve guns and carried sixty men. They were in sight of the town, and almost the entire population, from the beggar to the commander, turned out to see the conflict from the house-tops. The combat was quick and furious. It resulted in victory for the Saratoga, whose loss was only one man slightly wounded. The Rachel suffered much. The second mate was the only officer alive after the action. 25
Such is a brief record of some of the most prominent events in the history of American privateering, from the declaration of war in June, 1812, until the close of the year. The record is of a small portion of the swarm of private-armed vessels which were out at the beginning of 1813. These were harassing British commerce in all directions, and affording powerful and timely aid to the little navy of the republic. The business was recognized as legitimate, useful, and practically patriotic. Merchants and other citizens of the highest respectability engaged in it,26 and Congress passed laws to encourage it by the allowance of liberal privileges, making provisions for pensions for those engaged in the service, and for the families of those who might be lost on board private-armed vessels, etc.
The history of American privateering in 1813 opens with a letter from Captain Shaler,27 of the schooner Governor Tompkins, which was armed with fourteen carronades and one "Long Tom," and manned by about a hundred and forty men. She was built in New York, and was first commanded by Captain Skinner. Shaler wrote on the 1st of January that on the 25th of December he chased three British vessels, which appeared to be two ships and a brig. The larger he took to be a transport, and ran down to attack her, when he found himself within a quarter of a mile of a large frigate, which had been completely masked. He boldly opened fire upon her, and received a terrible response. Of course he could not sustain a contest with such overwhelming odds, so he spread his sails to fly. He was successful. "Thanks to her heels," he said, "and the exertions of my brave officers and crew, I still have the command of her." He got out all his sweeps, threw overboard all the lumber on his decks, and about two thousand pounds of shot from the after-hold, and at half past five o’clock in the evening had the pleasure of seeing his pursuer far behind, heaving about. The Tompkins lost two men killed and six wounded. One of the former, a black man named Johnson, "ought to be registered on the book of fame," Captain Shaler wrote, "and remembered with reverence as long as bravery is considered a virtue. A 24-pound shot struck him in the hip, and took away all the lower part of his body. In this state the poor brave fellow lay on the deck, and several times exclaimed to his shipmates, "Fire away, boys; neber haul de color down!" The other man killed was also colored, and was wounded in a similar manner. "Several times," says Shaler, "he requested to be thrown overboard, saying he was only in the way of the others. While America has such sailors she has little to fear from the tyrants of the ocean."
We have already spoken of the Comet, of Baltimore, and her brave commander, Captain Boyle. She sailed from that port late in December, 1812, passed through the British blockading squadron on a dark night, and went on a cruise toward the coast of Brazil. On the 9th of January, 1813, she was off the harbor of Pernambuco, and Boyle was informed by a coaster that some British vessels were about to sail from that port. The Comet watched until the 14th, when, at a little past noon, four sail appeared. Boyle waited until they were well clear of the land, and then gave chase. The Comet was a swift clipper, and soon overhauled them; and at seven in the evening, having prepared for action, she hoisted her colors, and made for the larger of the four vessels, which proved to be a Portuguese brig, mounting twenty heavy guns (32-pounders), and manned by one hundred and sixty-five men. She was convoying three English merchant ships laden with wheat, and warned Captain Boyle not to molest them. To this injunction Boyle replied that his commission authorized him to capture them if he could, and that the Portuguese warrior had no right to interfere.
All the vessels were now crowding sail with a stiffening breeze. The Comet shot past the others, when Boyle summoned the Englishmen to heave to, with a threat that if they did not he would open a broadside upon them. The Portuguese gave chase to the Comet. The latter tacked, came alongside of the merchantmen at half past eight o’clock in the evening, and so distributed a heavy fire that she wounded all three. The Portuguese suffered severely in the contest which followed, for the quick movements of the clipper gave the latter great advantages of position. The combat continued until an hour past midnight, when the moon went down, and the night became dark and squally. In the mean time the merchantmen had surrendered, and one of them was taken possession of by Boyle. At dawn, the Portuguese brig, with the other two English vessels, fled for Pernambuco, while the Comet and her prize, the Bowes, proceeded homeward. Boyle soon afterward captured the Scotch ship Adelphi, and outsailed the famous British frigate Surprise, that gave chase.
On the 6th of February the Comet captured, first, the brig Alexis, of Greenock, and soon afterward an armed brig which formed part of a convoy for nine merchantmen from Demerara. At the same time another man-of-war, called the Swaggerer, appeared. Boyle was anxious to get his prizes off and he amused the brig until that desired end was accomplished. In the mean time he added the Dominica, a Liverpool packet, to his list of prizes. When these were fairly on their way he turned his heels upon the Swaggerer, and soon outsailed his pursuer. At three o’clock in the afternoon he captured the schooner Jane, and before sunset he lost sight of the Swaggerer entirely.
Soon after this encounter Boyle turned his face homeward, and on the way met and fought a terrible battle for eight hours with the British ship Hibernia, eight hundred tons, twenty-two guns, and a full complement of men, The Comet lost three killed and sixteen wounded. The Hibernia lost eight killed and thirteen wounded. The Comet put into Porto Rico for repairs, and the Hibernia into St. Thomas. Both were much injured. The Comet arrived at Baltimore on the 17th of March.
Boyle was not long on land. His next cruise was in the beautiful Chasseur, a privateer brig, elegant in model, and formidable in men and arms. She was the fleetest of all vessels, and the story of her cruises is a tale of romance of the most exciting kind. She seemed as ubiquitous as the "Phantom Ship." Sometimes she was in the West Indies; then on the coasts of Spain, Portugal, and France; and then in the Irish and British Channels, spreading the wildest alarm among England’s commercial marine. So much was she feared in the West Indies and the islands of the Caribbean Sea, that the merchants there implored Admiral Dunham to send them "at least a heavy sloop of war" to protect their property. The admiral immediately sent them the frigate Barrossa, which the fleet Chasseur delighted to tease.
The Chasseur captured eighty vessels, of which thirty-two were of equal force with herself and eighteen her superior. Many of the prizes were of great value. Three of them alone were valued at $400,000. She seemed to sweep over the seas with impunity, and was as impudent as he was bold. On one occasion, while in the British Channel, he issued a proclamation, as a burlesque on those of Admirals Warren and Cochrane concerning the blockade of the ports of the United States, in which he declared "all the ports, harbors, bays, creeks, rivers, inlets, outlets, islands, and sea-coast of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in a state of rigorous blockade." He assured the world that he possessed a sufficient force (the Chasseur) to compel obedience. This proclamation he caused to be sent in a cartel to London, with a request to have it posted up at Lloyd’s Coffee-house!
We have already noticed some of the earlier operations of the Dolphin, Captain Stafford. On the 25th of January, 1813, she fell in with a large ship and a brig off Cape St. Vincent, and, as was common with the more daring American privateers, engaged them both. After a severe fight they were captured, and sent to the United States. They were richly laden, and were valuable prizes. The wounded Captain Brigham, of the British ship (Hebe, 16), thought his capture "extronary." He did "not expect to find a damned Yankee privateer in that part of the world!" and when assured by Stafford that they would appear in the Thames by-and-by, his eyes dilated with mute wonder. Stafford’s kind good-nature won Brigham’s heart; and in a card, published on his arrival in Boston in February, he thanked the commander of the Dolphin and his associates for their attentions, saying, "Should the fortune of war ever throw Captain Stafford or any of his crew into the hands of the British, it is sincerely hoped he will meet a similar treatment." 28
We again findthe Saratoga, Captain Woolsey, on her destructive errand in February, 1813. On the 9th of that month she captured the Lord Nelson, of six hundred tons, and one of the finest vessels in the British merchant service. She was sent into New Orleans. At about the same time the Saratoga captured the British packet Morgiana, eighteen guns. The Saratoga had just been chased by a British frigate, and had been compelled, in order to lighten her to increase her speed, to throw overboard twelve of her guns. She had only four to attack the Morgiana with. Her armory was replenished with several of the fine brass pieces of the captive, and the prize was sent to Newport with her captain. The kindness of the prize-master was so conspicuous that the captain of the Morgiana thanked him in the Newport newspapers.
On the 15th of February[1813.] the letter of marque Lottery, of Baltimore, armed with six guns and manned by thirty-five men, had a desperate fight in Chesapeake Bay with nine British barges containing two hundred and forty men. She fought them an hour and a half, during which time it was believed that more of the foe were killed than the number of the whole crew of the letter of marque. At length Captain Southcote, commander of the schooner, was severely wounded, and the enemy, in overwhelming numbers, boarded the vessel, hauled down the colors, and made her a prize. whose exploits we have already observed, entering the harbor of Newport after a cruise of one hundred and fifty days, during which time she had scoured the whole western coast of Africa, taken eight prizes, made one hundred and ninety-six prisoners, and secured as trophies sixty-two cannon, five hundred muskets, and property worth almost $300,000.
The merchants of New York fitted out no less than twenty-six fast-sailing privateers and letters of marque within a hundred and twenty days after the declaration of war, carrying almost two hundred pieces of artillery, and manned by over two thousand seamen. Among the most noted of these privateers was a moderate-sized schooner, mounting a Long Tom 42-pounder, and eighteen carronades.29 Her complement was one hundred and forty men, and her first commander was Captain Barnard.
Early in March, 1813, the General Armstrong was in command of Guy R. Champlin, and cruising off the Surinam River, on the coast of South America. Early in the morning of the 11th she gave chase to the Coquette, a British sloop of war mounting twenty-seven guns, and manned by one hundred and twenty-one men and boys. Between nine and ten o’clock the vessels were within gun-shot, and commenced a brisk engagement. Convinced by observation that his antagonist was a British letter of marque, Champlin and his men agreed to board her, and for this purpose they ran the Armstrong down upon her, when, too late to retreat, they discovered her to be a much heavier vessel than they imagined. The two vessels poured heavy shot into each other, and for a while the fight was fierce and obstinate, within pistol-shot distance for almost an hour. The Armstrong was severely injured, and her captain received a ball in his shoulder, but continued some time on duty after the wound was dressed, and from the cabin gave orders until his vessel was fairly out of the clutches of the enemy. By the vigorous use of sweeps the Armstrong escaped, under a heavy fire from the Coquette. For his gallant conduct on this occasion, and his skill in saving his vessel, the stockholders, at a meeting held at Tammany Hall on the 14th of April, presented Captain Champlin an elegant sword, and voted thanks to his companions in the combat. We shall meet the Armstrong hereafter.
The Ned, Captain Dawson, a New York letter of marque, arrived at that port ten days after the sword-presentation to Champlin, and brought with her the British letter of marque Malvina, of Aberdeen, mounting ten guns. The Ned captured her after an action of almost an hour. Her captain was killed, and in the combat the Ned had seven men badly wounded. The Malvina was laden with wine from the Mediterranean, and was a valuable prize.
Another successful privateer, owned in New York, was the Scourge, Captain Nicoll. She mounted fifteen guns, and sailed from port in April, 1813, for a long cruise in European waters, and was frequently in consort with the Rattlesnake, of Philadelphia, Captain David Maffit. This commander went into the business at the beginning of the war, with the Atlas, and continued its pursuit until the close of the contest in 1815. The Rattlesnake was a fast-sailing brig of fourteen guns.
Captain Nicoll was often absent from the Scourge while on the coast of Norway, because he found it more profitable to remain on shore and attend to the sale of prizes brought or sent in, while his first officer skillfully commanded her in cruises. The Scourge made a large number of captures on the coast of Norway, and these were nearly all sent into Drontheim and disposed of there. The aggregate tonnage of prizes then and there disposed of captured by the Scourge and Rattlesnake, was 4500. The trophies were sixty guns. On her homeward passage from Norway the Scourge made several captures. She arrived at Cape Cod in May, 1814, having been absent little more than a year. During her cruise she had made four hundred and twenty prisoners. Her deeds made her name an appropriate one, for she scourged British commerce most severely.
The Yankee,already mentioned, left Newport on a cruise on the 23d of May, 1813. A month afterward, when off the coast of Ireland, she captured the British cutter sloop Earl Camden, valued at $10,000. Eight days afterward [June 30.] she captured the brig Elizabeth, valued at $40,000, and the brig Watson, laden with cotton, valued at $70,000. On the 2d of July she took the brig Mariner, with a cargo valued at $70,000. All of these prizes, worth in the aggregate about $200,000, were sent to French ports for adjudication and sale. The work was accomplished in the space of about six weeks. The Yankee returned to Providence, Rhode Island, on the 19th of August, without having lost a man during the cruise either killed or wounded.
The records of privateering during the summer of 1813 present one dark chapter in the deed of a desperate wretch named Johnson, who commanded the Teaser, a little two-gun vessel, that went out from New York with fifty men. When that vessel was captured by one of Admiral Warren’s fleet, Johnson was released on his parole Soon afterward, without waiting to be exchanged, he entered as first lieutenant on board another privateer named the Young Teaser, Captain Dawson. In June, 1813, she was closely pursued by an English man-of-war. She was likely to be overtaken, and Johnson knew that death would be his fate should he be caught. Dawson called his officers aft in consultation, and while they were deliberating on the subject one of the sailors called out to the captain that Lieutenant Johnson had just gone into the cabin with a blazing fire-brand. The next instant the Teaser was blown into fragments. Only six of all her people escaped destruction. The captain, Johnson, and all the others, had perished in a moment.
Toward midsummer, 1813, an affair occurred off Sandy Hook, New York, which created a great sensation. It properly belongs to the history of privateering. Commodore Lewis was then in command of a flotilla of gun-boats on that station, and the British man-of-war Poictiers, 74, was cruising in those waters. She had for tender the sloop Eagle, and on the 5th of July Lewis sent out a little fishing-smack named Yankee, which he borrowed at Fly Market, in New York, to capture this tender by stratagem. With a calf, a sheep, and a goose secured on deck, and between thirty and forty well-armed men below, the smack stood out for sea with only three men in sight, in fishermen’s garb, as if going to the fishing-banks. The Eagle gave chase, overhauled her, and, seeing live-stock on board, ordered her to go to the commodore. The watchword "Lawrence" was then given, when the armed men rushed to the deck, and delivered a volley of musketry which sent the crew of the Eagle below in dismay. Sailing-master Percival, who commanded the expedition, ordered the firing to cease, when one of the Eagle’s company came up and struck her colors. The surprise was so complete that her heavy brass howitzer, loaded with canister-shot, remained undischarged. Her crew consisted of her commander, a midshipman, and eleven seamen. The two former and a marine were slain. The Eagle and prisoners were taken to the city in view of thousands of the inhabitants, who were on the Battery celebrating the anniversary of the National Independence.30 They were received with shouts, salvos of artillery, the waving of hats and handkerchiefs, and the ringing of bells.
A month after the capture of the Eagle, the privateer schooner Commodore Decatur, Captain Diron, of Charleston, South Carolina, carrying seven guns and a little over a hundred men, had a desperate encounter with the British war schooner Dominica, Lieutenant Barrette, carrying sixteen guns and eighty-eight men. The Decatur was cruising in the track of the West India traders on their return to England, and on the morning of the 5th of August[1813.] gave chase to a ship and a schooner. At about one o’clock in the afternoon they were so near each other that the schooner fired a shot at the Decatur. The latter was immediately prepared for action, not with heavy guns alone, but with implements for boarding. Diron intended to run down near his adversary, discharge all his guns, great and small, and then board her under cover of the smoke. This was not immediately accomplished, for the Dominica was on the alert, and manœuvred so as to give the Decatur some damaging broadsides. Twice her crew attempted to board her antagonist, but failed, and the contest was kept up with cannon and musketry. Finally, at about half past three o’clock, the Decatur forced her bowsprit over the stern of the Dominica, and her jib-boom penetrated the Englishman’s mainsail. In face of a murderous fire of musketry, the Decatur’s men, led by First Prize-master Safifth and Quartermaster Wasborn, rushed from her bow along the bowsprit, boarded the enemy, and engaged in a most sanguinary fight, hand-to-hand, with swords, pistols, and small-arms. Both parties fought with the greatest courage and determination. The decks were covered with the dead and wounded. The colors of the Dominica were hauled down by the boarders, and she became the Decatur’s prize. The Dominica lost sixty-five killed and wounded. Among the former were the captain, sailing-master, and purser. The Decatur lost twenty killed and wounded. Diron started with his prize for Charleston, and on the following day captured the London Trader, bound from Surinam to London with a valuable cargo. She reached Charleston in safety with both prizes. 31
In the autumn of 1813, Captain George Coggeshall, whose History of the American Privateers has been alluded to, commanded the letter of marque schooner David Porter, of New York. Late in October she was lying at Providence, Rhode Island, where the President, Commodore Rodgers, was blockaded. In a thick snow-storm on the 14th of November, and under the cover of night, the Porter passed the blockading squadron and put to sea. She reached Charleston, her destined port, in safety, where she was freighted for France with Sea Island cotton, and sailed for "Bordeaux, or a port in France," on the 20th of December. In the Bay of Biscay she encountered a terrible and damaging gale, but weathered it, and on the 20th of January entered the port of La Teste. Coggeshall sent his vessel home in charge of his first officer, and remained in France some time. The Porter captured several prizes on her way to the United States.
We have noticed the arrival at Hampton Roads, with a large British ship as a prize, the privateer Globe, of Baltimore, and her departure on another cruise.32 She was successful in the capture of prizes, but did not meet with any fair tests of her sailing qualities, or the valor and skill of her men, until November, 1813. On the 1st of that month, while cruising off the coast of Madeira, she fell in and exchanged shots with a large armed brig, but considered it prudent to keep at a respectful distance from her. She then proceeded to the offing of Funchal, where, on the 2d, she chased two vessels in vain, for night came on dark and squally, and she lost sight of them. On the 3d the Globe again chased two vessels, and at eleven o’clock were so near that the larger of the fugitives opened her stern guns on her pursuer. A severe action ensued, when, at noon, the crew of the Globe attempted to board her adversary. They failed. Their vessel was much damaged, and while in this condition the other vessel came up and gave the Globe a terrible raking fire, which almost disabled her. Yet they fought on at close quarters, and at half past three o’clock the larger vessel was compelled to strike her colors. The other one poured in broadside after broadside within half pistol-shot distance. The Globe was reduced to an almost sinking condition, yet she managed to give her second antagonist such blows that she, too, struck her colors. She then hauled to windward to take possession of the first prize, when that vessel hoisted her colors and gave the Globe a tremendous broadside. She was compelled to haul off for repairs, and the two vessels, believed to be severely injured, sailed slowly away. They were packet brigs, one mounting eighteen and the other sixteen cannon, mostly brass. The Globe lost eight men killed and fifteen wounded in this desperate encounter.
During the first eight or nine months of the year 1814, although the American private-armed ships were active and successful, there seems not to have been any performance by them that deserves the name of a naval action. This monotony of quiet business was broken in September, when the privateer Harpy fell in with the British packet Princess Elizabeth, and captured her after a short but sharp conflict. The Elizabeth was armed with ten guns, and manned by thirty-eight men. She had on board a Turkish embassador for England, an aid-de-camp to a British general, a lieutenant of a 74 line of battle ship, and $10,000 in specie. This specie, with several pipes of wine and some of the cannon, were transferred to the Harpy. The remainder of her armament was thrown overboard, and the ship was ransomed for $2000, when she was allowed to proceed on her voyage.
The most desperate and famous combat recorded in the history of privateering during the war was that maintained by the General Armstrong, of New York, Captain Samuel C. Reid(whose earlier exploits we have already noticed), in the harbor of Fayal, one of the Azores islands of that name belonging to Portugal. It occurred on the 26th of September, 1814. While she lay there at anchor, in a neutral port, she was attacked by a large British squadron under the command of Commodore Lloyd. The attacking vessels consisted of the flag-ship Plantagenet, 74; the frigate Rota, 44, Captain Somerville; and the brig Carnation, 18, Captain Bentham, each with a full complement of men. The Armstrong carried only seven guns and ninety men, including her officers.
In flagrant violation of the laws and usages of neutrality, Lloyd sent in, at eight o’clock in the evening[September 26, 1814.], four large and well-armed launches, manned by about forty men each. At that time Reid, suspecting danger, was warping his vessel under the guns of the castle. The moon was shining brightly. These and the privateer opened fire almost simultaneously, and the launches were driven off with heavy loss. The first lieutenant of the Armstrong was wounded, and one man was killed.
Another attack was made at midnight with fourteen launches and about five hundred men. A terrible conflict ensued, which lasted forty minutes. The enemy were repulsed with a loss of one hundred and twenty killed, and one hundred and thirty wounded. At daybreak a third attack was made by the brig of war Carnation. She opened heavily, but was very soon so cut up by the rapidly-delivered and well-directed shots of the Armstrong that she hastily withdrew. The privateer was also much damaged. It was evident that she could not maintain another assault of equal severity, so Captain Reid, who had coolly given orders from his quarter-deck during the attacks, directed her to be scuttled, to prevent her falling into the hands of the enemy. She was then abandoned, when the British boarded her and set her on fire. It is a curious fact that, while the British lost over three hundred in killed and wounded during ten hours, the Americans lost but two killed and seven wounded.33
In addition to the glory won by the bravery of this resistance to the British squadron, Captain Reid and his gallant men deserve the just credit of having thereby saved the city of New Orleans from capture. This squadron was part of the expedition then gathering at Jamaica for the purpose of seizing New Orleans, and the object of their attack on the Armstrong was to capture her, and make her a useful auxiliary in the work. She so crippled her assailants that they did not reach Jamaica until full ten days later than the expedition expected to sail from there. That expedition waited for Commodore Lloyd; and when it finally approached New Orleans[December 6, 1814.], General Jackson was hastening to make competent arrangements for its defense. Had the fleet arrived ten days sooner, that city would have been an easy prey to the British, for it was utterly defenseless until that general’s arrival with his troops.
The defense made by the Armstrong, and the circumstances of the attack, produced a great sensation throughout the United States. Captain Reid was justly praised as one of the most daring of American naval commanders, and he received various honors in abundance. The State of New York gave him thanks and a sword, and he was every where received with the greatest enthusiasm on his return to the United States.34
The New Yorkers sent out a splendid vessel of seventeen guns and one hundred and fifty men, called the Prince de Neufchâtel, in command of Captain Ordronaux. She was a very fortunate privateer. During a single cruise she was chased by no less than seventeen armed British vessels, and escaped them all; and she brought to the United States goods valued at $300,000, with much specie. On the 11th of October, 1814, she encountered five armed boats from the British frigate Endymion off Nantucket. The Neufchâtel was then very light handed, having, when the fierce battle that ensued commenced, only thirty-six men at quarters. Early in the forenoon the engagement began. The boats were arranged for the assault one on each side, one on each bow, and one under the stern. Within the space of twenty minutes the assailants cried for quarter. It was granted. One of the boats had gone to the bottom with forty-one out of forty-three of her crew. The whole number of men in the five boats was one hundred and eleven, a larger portion of whom were killed, wounded, or made prisoners. The privateer lost seven killed and twenty-four wounded. She returned to Boston on the 15th of October. The Neufchâtel was afterward captured and sent to England.
At this time the terror inspired by the doings of the American privateers was intense. The British began to seriously contemplate the probabilities of the complete destruction of their commerce. Fear magnified the numbers, powers, and exploits of the privateers. Meetings of merchants were held to remonstrate against their depredations. It was asserted that one of these "sea-devils" was rarely captured, and that they impudently bid defiance alike to English privateers and stately seventy-fours. Insurance was refused on most vessels, and on some the premium was as high as thirty-three per cent. "Thirteen guineas for one hundred pounds," said a London journal, "was paid to insure vessels across the Irish Channel! Such a thing never happened, we believe, before." The Board of Admiralty and the Prince Regent were petitioned for aid in checking these depredations; and the government was compelled, because of the state of public feeling, to give assurances (which they had no power to support) that ample measures should be taken for the protection of British commerce.
We have referred to the impudence, as well as boldness, of the American privateers. A small one belonging to Charleston, mounting six carriage guns and a Long Tom, appropriately named Saucy Jack, affords an illustration. She was every where, and, being clipper-built and skillfully managed, was too fleet for the English cruisers. On one occasion, when cruising off the west end of St. Domingo, she chased two vessels, It was on the 31st of October, 1814, at midnight; and when near enough, at one in the morning, she fired upon them. On coming up, it was ascertained that one of them carried sixteen, and the other eighteen guns. Nothing daunted by this discovery, she boarded one of them at seven in the morning, when it was found that she was full of men, and a war vessel. The boarders fled back to the Saucy Jack, and the little privateer made haste to get away. The two ships chased her, pouring grape and musket-balls upon her, but within an hour she was out of reach of even their great guns. She lost eight men killed and fifteen wounded. Her chief antagonist was the British bomb-ship Volcano, with the transport Golden Fleece. One of the lieutenants and two of the men of the Volcano were killed and two were wounded. On Sunday, the 1st of May, the Saucy Jack captured the fine English ship Pelham, carrying ten guns and thirty-eight men. She was bound from London for a West India port, and had a cargo valued at $80,000.
The schooner Kemp, of Baltimore, was a very successful privateer. She was commanded by Captain Jacobs. At the close of November, 1814, she sailed on a cruise in the West Indies from Wilmington, North Carolina. On the 1st of December she chased a squadron of eight merchant ships in the Gulf Stream under convoy of a frigate. The frigate, in turn, gave chase, but the Kemp dodged her in the darkness of the ensuing night, and the next morning again gave chase to the merchantmen. At noon the following day[December 3.] she found them drawn up in battle line, and at two o’clock they bore down upon the privateer, each giving her some shots as they passed. She reserved her fire until, by a skillful movement, she broke through the line, and discharged her whole armament into the enemy. This produced the greatest confusion, and within an hour and a half four of the eight vessels were the prizes of the Kemp. She would have taken the whole of them, but she had not men enough to man them. The other four proceeded on their voyage. The convoy frigate all this time was absent, vainly looking for the saucy privateer! These prizes, which gave an aggregate of forty-six cannon and one hundred and thirty-four men, were all sent into Charleston. It was a profitable cruise of only six days. The Monmouth privateer, of Baltimore, at about the same time was dealing destruction to British commerce off Newfoundland. She had a desperate encounter with an English transport ship with over three hundred troops on board. Her superior speed saved her from capture. Another successful Baltimore privateer was the Lawrence, of eighteen guns and one hundred and eleven men. During a single cruise, which terminated at New York on the 25th of January, 1815, a month before the proclamation of peace, she captured thirteen vessels. She took one hundred and six prisoners, and the aggregate amount of tonnage seized by her was over three thousand tons. One of the original crew of the Lawrence was a colored man named Henry Van Meter, mentioned on page 912.
The Macdonough, of Rhode Island, had a severe fight with a British ship, whose name is not recorded, on the 31st of January, 1815. The action commenced at musket-shot distance at half past two o’clock in the afternoon. The tremendous musket-fire of the enemy caused the people of the Macdonough to suspect her of being a troop-ship. Such proved to be the case. She had at least three hundred soldiers on board besides her crew. The Macdonough suffered terribly in sails, and rigging, and loss of men, for her antagonist, in addition to the overwhelming number of men, carried eighteen 9-pounders. She succeeded in escaping from the British vessel, and reached Savannah on the 7th of March.
The war ended early in 1815, but it was some time after the proclamation of peace had been promulgated before all of the fifty privateers then at sea were apprised of it, and many captures were made after the joyful event had occurred. One of the latest arrivals of successful privateers was that of the Amelia, of Baltimore, in April, 1815. She had a full cargo of valuable goods. During her cruise she had captured ten British vessels. Some she destroyed, others she sent into port, and one she gave up as a cartel for her prisoners. She carried only six guns and seventy-five men. The vessels she captured amounted in the aggregate to about two thousand three hundred tons, and her prisoners numbered one hundred and twelve. Her trophies in arms were thirty-two cannon and many muskets. She was frequently chased by English cruisers, but her fleetness allowed her to escape.
In this outline sketch of American privateering35 during the Second War for Independence, notice has been taken of only the most prominent of the vessels which actually sustained a conflict of arms on the ocean of sufficient importance to entitle the act to the name of a naval engagement. The record shows the wonderful boldness and skill of American seamen, mostly untaught in the art of naval warfare, and the general character of the privateering service. Nothing more has been attempted. The full history of the service as it lies, much of it ungarnished, in the newspapers of the day and the manuscript log-books of the commanders, exhibits marvelous actions and results.
After the first six months of the war the bulk of naval conflicts was carried on upon the ocean, on the part of the Americans, by private-armed vessels, which "took, burned, and destroyed" about sixteen hundred British merchantmen, of all classes, in the space of three years and nine months, while the number of American merchant vessels destroyed during the same period did not vary much from five hundred. The American merchant marine was much smaller than that of the British, and, owing to embargo acts and apprehensions of war several months before it was actually declared, a large proportion of it was in port. When war was declared many vessels were taken far up navigable rivers for security against British cruisers and marauding soldiers, while others were dismantled in safe places.
The American private-armed vessels which caused such disasters to British commerce numbered two hundred and fifty.36 Of these, forty-six were letters of marque, and the remainder were privateers. Of the whole number, one hundred and eighty-four were sent out from the four ports of Baltimore, New York, Salem, and Boston alone. The aggregate number sent out from Philadelphia, Portsmouth (N. H.), and Charleston was thirty-five. Large fortunes were secured by many of the owners, and some of them are enjoyed by their descendants at the present day.
1 From a spirited poem, in manuscript, written by Miss Orne, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, entitled "The Letter of Marque."
2 The America, of the same class, was presented to the French government while she was yet on the stocks.See page 899. See page 715.
5 On one side of the medal is a bust of Captain Blakeley in profile, with the words around it "JOHNSTON BLAKELEY REIP. FÆD. AM. NAV. WASP DUX." On the other side is represented a naval action, with the legend "EHEU! BIS VICTOR. PATRIA TUA TE LUGET PLAUDITO." Below, "INTER WASP NAV. AMERI. ET REINDEER NAV. ANG. DIE XXVIII. JUNIUS MDCCCXIV."
6 Commodore Geisinger died at his residence in Philadelphia on Saturday, the 10th of March, 1860, at the age of about seventy years. He was among the oldest officers of the navy. His commission as captain was dated May 24, 1838. For several years he was stationed at the Naval Asylum in Philadelphia.
7 Johnston Blakeley was a native of Ireland, where he was born in the month of October, 1781. His father emigrated to the United States with his family in 1783, and settled in Charleston, South Carolina, and afterward made Wilmington, in North Carolina, his home. He sent Johnston, his only surviving son, to New York to be educated. He finished his education at Chapel Hill, in North Carolina. He entered the navy as a midshipman in the year 1800. He served with faithfulness, and rose to the rank of captain. In 1814 he was appointed to the command of the Wasp, in which,as we have observed in the text, he perished toward the close of that year, when he was only thirty-three years of age.
8 Lewis Warrington was born at Williamsburg, in Virginia, on the 3d of November, 1782. He was educated at William and Mary College in that state. He entered the naval service as midshipman in January, 1800, and made his first cruise with Captain Barron in the Chesapeake. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1807, and to master commandant on the 24th of July, 1813. This was the office which he held, by commission, when he started on the cruise in the Peacock. Because of his success, he was promoted to captain in November, 1814. He had served with distinction under Decatur and others. He was a very active and useful officer during the whole of the second War for Independence, and subsequently performed much important service afloat and ashore. For many years he was a member of the Board of Navy Commissioners; and in September, 1842, he was appointed chief of the Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrography, which office he held at the time of his death. That event occurred at Washington City on the 12th of October, 1851.
9 On one side of the medal is a bust in profile of Captain Warrington, and the words "LUDOVICUS WARRINGTON DUX NAVALIS AMRI." On the other side is a representation of a naval battle, and around it the legend "PRO PATRIA PARATUS AUT VINCERE AUT MORI." Below, "INTER PEACOCK NAV. AMRI. ET EPERVIER NAV. ANG. DIE XXIX MARCH MDCCCXIV."
10 This was either the Severn or the Loire.See page 921.
12 The billet-head of the Cyane, finely carved, is preserved at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. It is about three feet six inches in height, and has the representation of a dragon carved upon it.See note 3, page 841. The above picture represents the medal, full size. On one side is a bust of Stewart, with the words around It "CAROLUS STEWART NAVIS AMER. CONSTITUTION DUX." On the other side a representation of the capture of the Cyane and Levant, and the words "UNA VICTORIAM ERIPUIT RATIBUS BINIS." Below, "INTER CONSTITU. NAV. AMERI. ET LEVANT ET CYANE NAV. ANG. DIE XX FEBR. MDCCCXV."
15 The writer visited Admiral Stewart at his pleasant home, near Bordentown, in the summer of 1863, in company with Dr. Peterson, his neighbor and friend. I was then on my return from the then fresh battle-field at Gettysburg. At that time he was eighty-six years of age, a firm and compactly-knit man, about five feet nine inches in height, and possessed of great bodily and mental vigor. His narrative of adventures on sea and land in the service of his country for more than sixty years were full of romance of the most stirring character.
He showed us a plain sword, the blade of which was presented to him by the King of Spain in 1804 because of his services, while in command of the Experiment, in the West Indies, in saving from destruction about sixty persons, many of them women, who were flying from insurgent blacks of St. Domingo. He could not constitutionally receive a sword from a foreign potentate, but he might a blade for his defense. He had it plainly mounted, and wore it on the occasion of the combat with the Cyane and Levant. During that contest the guard was carried away by a cannon-ball that grazed the commander’s side. The blacksmith of the Constitution constructed a rude guard, and it still remains. He also showed us a dirk, a foot long, with a handle made of a rhinoceros tooth, which was in the hands of the Turk with whom Decatur engaged in mortal struggle on the deck of the Philadelphia in the harbor of Tripoli,mentioned on page 122.
Charles Stewart was born in Philadelphia on the 22d of July, 1776. His parents were natives of Ireland. His father, who was a mariner in the merchant service, came to America at an early age. Charles was the youngest of eight children, and lost his father before he was two years of age. He entered the merchant service on the ocean at the age of thirteen years as a cabin-boy, and rose gradually to the office of captain. In March, 1798, he was commissioned a lieutenant in the Navy of the United States, and made his first cruise under Commodore Barney. In 1800 he was appointed to the command of the armed schooner Experiment. At the beginning of the autumn of that year he fought and captured the French schooner Two Friends, after an action of ten minutes, without incurring loss on his part. From that time the career of Lieutenant Stewart was a most honorable one to himself and the navy of his country. He was conspicuous in the war with Tripoli, and was greatly beloved by the brave Decatur for his services there, and his generous friendship ever afterward. In the month of May, 1804, he was promoted to the rank of master commandant, and to that of captain in 1806. During that and the following year he was employed in superintending the construction of gun-boats. In 1812 he was appointed to the command of the frigate Constitution. He was with her in Hampton Roads in February, 1813, where, by skillful management, he eluded the enemy, and took his ship safely to Norfolk. In June following he was appointed to the command of the Constitution, and in her performed the gallant services recorded in the text. After the war he was placed in command (1816) of the Franklin, 74, and conveyed the Hon. Richard Rush, American minister, to England. Until very recently he has been employed, afloat or ashore, in the naval service of his country, and on all occasions evincing eminent executive ability and statesmanlike views.The annexed portrait of the venerable admiral is from a photograph taken in 1864.
Admiral Stewart is the only surviving officer in the civil or military service of the United States who holds a commission dated in the last century. He is a most interesting link between the fathers of the Revolution and the patriots and heroes of our day. Our visit with him in his pleasant home was far too short for our own inclination, and we reluctantly parted with one so famous in our annals, and so fluent in speech in the recital of the events of his wonderful experience. We bade the hale old admiral farewell with feelings coincident with those of an anonymous poet, who wrote,
"Oh, oft may you meet with brave Stewart,
The tar with the free and the true heart;
A bright welcome smile, and a soul free from guile,
You’ll find in the hero, Charles Stewart.
A commander both generous and brave, too,
Who risked his life others to save, too;
And thousands that roam by his neat Jersey home
Bless the kind heart of gallant Charles Stewart."
16 The force of the President was thirty-two long 24-pounders, one 24-pound howitzer, twenty 42-pound carronades, and five small pieces in her tops. The Endymion mounted twenty-six long 24-pounders, twenty-two 32-pounders, one 12-pound carronade, and one long 18. The Majestic rated 56 guns; the Tenedos, 38; the Pomone, 38. That of the Dispatch is unknown.
17 We have noticed onpages 457 and 458 the honors showered upon Decatur on another occasion, when Congress voted him a gold medal. Stephen Decatur was born in Worcester County, Maryland, on the 5th of January, 1779. He entered the navy as a midshipman in the frigate United States, Commodore Barry. In 1801 he was promoted to lieutenant, and sailed in the Essex, then of Commodore Dale’s squadron, to the Mediterranean Sea. On account of an affray with a British officer at Malta, he was suspended, and returned home. An investigation proved him to have been blameless, and he was appointed to the command of the Argus, of Preble’s squadron, then lying before Tripoli. His services in that field of duty have been noticed in the text. On his return to America he was appointed to superintend the building of gun-boats, and finally succeeded Barron in command of the frigate Chesapeake. His services during the Second War for Independence have been recorded in the text. After the peace with England he was sent to the Mediterranean with a squadron to chastise the Algerines, and his vigorous action there caused the discontinuance of the practice of paying tribute to the Barbary powers, not only by the United States, but by the powers of Western Europe. On his return home he was appointed one of the Board of Naval Commissioners, and resided at Kalorama, near Georgetown (see page 942), until his death in March, 1820. He was mortally wounded in a duel with Commodore Barron, fought near Bladensburg (see page 928) on the 20th of that month, and died at Kalorama the same evening. His remains were laid in the family vault of Joel Barlow, where they remained until 1846, when they were reinterred, with appropriate ceremonies, in the burial-ground of St. Peter’s Church, Philadelphia, by the side of those of his father and family, and over them a beautiful monument, depicted in the annexed engraving, was erected, bearing the following inscriptions:
North Side: "Stephen Decatur, born January 5, 1779. Entered the navy of the United States as midshipman April 30, 1793. Became lieutenant June 3, 1799. Made captain for distinguished merit, passing over the rank of commander, February 16, 1804. Died March 22, 1820." East Side: "Devoted to his country by a patriot father, he cherished in his heart, and sustained by his intrepid actions, the inspiring sentiment, ‘Our country, right or wrong.’ A nation gave him in return its applause and gratitude." South Side: "The gallant officer whose prompt and active valor, always on the watch, was guided by a Wisdom and supported by a Firmness which never tired. Whose exploits in arms reflected the daring features of Romance and Chivalry." West Side: "A name brilliant from a series of heroic deeds on the coast of Barbary, and illustrious by achievements against more disciplined enemies; the pride of the Navy, the glory of the Republic."
18 James Biddle was born in Philadelphia on the 18th of February, 1783. He was educated at the University of Pennsylvania. He and his brother Edward entered the navy in 1800 as midshipmen in the frigate President. James made a cruise in the Mediterranean under Captain Murray, and afterward under Bainbridge. His conduct while in those waters, and especially at Tripoli, was distinguished by great courage and nautical skill. He was a prisoner among the semi-barbarians of that region for nineteen months. On his return in 1805 he was promoted to a lieutenancy, and was in active service most of the time until the war broke out in 1812, when he sailed in the Wasp, Captain Jones, in which he acquired special honor in the fight of that vessel with the Frolic. Soon after that affair Lieutenant Biddle was promoted to master commandant, and assigned to the command of the Hornet. With her he gained new laurels, as recorded in the text. On his return to the United States in the summer of 1815 he was promoted to post captain. He continued in active service until his death. His special services were important. In 1817 he took possession of Oregon Territory; in 1826 he signed a commercial treaty with Turkey; from 1838 to 1842 he was Governor of the Naval Asylum, Philadelphia; and in 1845, while in command of a squadron in the East Indies, he exchanged the ratifications of the first American treaty with China. He was at Japan, and, crossing the Pacific, he engaged in some of the scenes in the war with Mexico on the coast of California. He returned here in March, 1848, and died at Philadelphia on the 1st of October following.The portrait of Commodore Biddle on the opposite page was copied from one in the possession of the Navy Department at Washington.
19 He had already received from his townsmen and friends a beautiful testimonial of their esteem the previous year.See page 453. The above picture represents the medal, the exact size. On one side is a bust of Captain Biddle, and the words "THE CONGRESS OF THE U. S. TO CAPT. JAMES BIDDLE FOR HIS GALLANTRY, GOOD CONDUCT, AND SERVICES." On the other side is represented a naval action, with the Peak of Tristan d’Acunha in sight beyond the smoke. Around this are the words "CAPTURE OF THE BRITISH BRIG PENGUIN BY THE U. S. SHIP HORNET. Below, "OFF TRISTAN D’ACUNHA, MARCH XXIII. MDCCCXV."
21 Naval History of the United States, ii., 479.
22 Immediately after the declaration of war, Thomas Jefferson wrote on the subject (July 4, 1812), and after asking "What is war?" answered, "It is simply a contest between nations of trying which can do the other the most harm." Again he asked and answered as follows: "Who carries on the war? Armies are formed and navies manned by individuals. What produces peace? The distress of individuals. What difference to the sufferer is it that his property is taken by a national or private-armed vessel? Did our merchants, who have lost 917 vessels by British captures, feel any gratification that most of them were taken by his majesty’s men-of-war? Were the spoils less rigidly enforced by a 74-gun ship than by a privateer of four guns, and were not all equally condemned? . . . . In the United States every possible encouragement should be given to privateering in time of war with a commercial nation. We have tens of thousands of seamen that without it would be destitute of the means of support, and useless to their country. Our national ships are too few in number to give employment to one twentieth part of them, or retaliate the acts of the enemy. By licensing private-armed vessels, the whole naval force of the nation is truly brought to bear on the foe; and while the contest lasts, that it may have the speedier termination, let every individual contribute his mite, in the best way he can, to distress and harass the enemy, and compel him to peace." So argued Mr. Jefferson, the founder of the Democratic party, then administering the national government, and which was a unit in favor of war with Great Britain.
23 While cruising off the coast of Portugal, the Globe had a severe engagement with an Algerine sloop of war, which lasted three hours, at half gun-shot distance. The Algerine shot high. The Globe received no less than eighty-two shot through her sails, but had not a man killed, and only two wounded. It was a drawn battle.
24 Log-book of the Nonsuch, quoted in The War, i., 92; and Niles’s Register, iii., 172.
25 Letter from Laguira, quoted in Coggeshall’s History of the American Privateers, etc., page 70.
26 Washington and other patriots were speculators in the profits of privateering during the Revolution. In a letter before me, written to John Parke Custis, and dated at Whitemarsh, November 14, 1777, in answer to one from that gentleman on the subject of a sale of a portion of a privateer ship, Washington said: "It is perfectly agreeable, too, that Colonel Baylor should share part of the privateer. I have spoken to him on the subject. I shall therefore consider myself as possessing one fourth of your full share, and that yourself, Baylor, Lund Washington, and I are equally concerned in the share you at first held." – MS. Letter.
27 Quoted by Coggeshall in his History of the American Privateers, page 140.
28 History of American Privateers and Letters of Marque, by George Coggeshall, page 129.
29 See table of New York privateers in Niles’s Register, iii., 120.
30 It fell on Sunday in 1813, and the event was celebrated on Monday, the 5th.
31 Coggeshall’s History of American Privateers, page 172.See page 995.
33 For a detailed account of this affair, see American State Papers, xiv., Naval Affairs, page 493, and Coggeshall’s History of the American Privateers, page 370. The Portuguese government demanded and received from that of England an apology for this violation of neutrality; also restitution for the destruction of Portuguese property at Fayal during the action. That government also demanded satisfaction and indemnification for the destruction of the American vessel in their neutral port. This England refused, and from that day to this the owners of the privateer and their heirs have never been able to procure indemnification for their losses either from England or Portugal, or from their own government.
34 On his return to the United States Captain Reid landed at Savannah, and made his way north by land. At Richmond he was invited to a public dinner by members of the Virginia Legislature, at which were seated the governor, members of his council, judges of the Supreme Court, and other distinguished men. It was the first opportunity the Virginians had enjoyed of paying their personal respects to a hero of the war, and they did it with enthusiasm. The speaker of the House of Burgesses presided, and William Wirt was vice-president. When Captain Reid retired, the chairman gave as a sentiment, "Captain Reid – his valor has shed a blaze of renown upon the character of our seamen, and won for himself a laurel of eternal bloom."
On the 7th of April, 1815, the Legislature of New York voted the thanks of the state and a sword to Captain Reid. At Tammany Hall, in New York, he was presented, in the name of the citizens, with a handsome service of plate.
Samuel Chester Reid was born at Norwich, Connecticut, on the 25th of August, 1783. He went to sea at the age of eleven years, and was captured by a French privateer and taken to Guadaloupe. He was a midshipman with Commodore Truxtun. The occasion in his public life which gave him most fame was this defense of the General Armstrong at Fayal. After the war of 1812 Captain Reid was appointed a sailing-master in the United States Navy, and held that office until his death. He was port-warden at New York for some time, and a weigher of customs. He was about being made collector of the customs there, in place of Swartwout, by Secretary Duane, when that officer was removed by President Jackson. He invented and erected the signal telegraphs at the Battery and the Narrows, and is also distinguished as the designer of the present arrangement of the stripes and stars on our national standard.* Captain Reid was simple in his habits and manners, upright in conduct, and honest in all his ways. He was the chosen social companion of many of the best and most distinguished American citizens, and his memory is sweetest to those who knew him best. He died in the city of New York on the 28th of January, 1861. His funeral took place at Trinity Church, and was largely attended. His remains were escorted to their last resting-place in Greenwood Cemetery by the marines of the navy yard at Brooklyn.
* Our flag originally bore thirteen stars and thirteen stripes. As new states came in, the number of the stars and stripes was correspondingly increased, pursuant to an act of Congress passed in 1794. This was found to be impracticable; for, as the states increased, the width of the stripes had to be lessened. Besides, there was nothing in the device to recall the original confederacy of thirteen states. To return to the use of only thirteen stars and stripes would be inappropriate, because the device would give no hint of the growth of the republic. Captain Reid proposed to retain the original thirteen stripes as a memento of the original Union, and to add a new star whenever a new state was admitted, as indicative of the growth of the states. This suggestion was adopted. A flag with this new arrangement was first raised over the Hall of Representatives at Washington on the 4th of April, 1818, at two o’clock in the afternoon. At that time the Senate Chamber and Hall of Representatives of the Capitol were separated, the centre of the building not being completed. Resolutions of thanks to Captain Reid "for having designed and formed the present flag of the United States" were offered in Congress.
35 The materials for this sketch have been gathered from official documents, the newspapers of the day, Coggeshall’s History of American Privateers, and personal and written communications to the author.
36 This was 115 less than were commissioned while there were difficulties with France in the years 1798 and 1799. The number of private-armed vessels then commissioned was 365. Their tonnage was 66,991. Number of guns, 2723; and of men, 6847.
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