Posts tagged ‘Naval War of 1812’

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (January 11-January 17, 1815)

Siege of Fort St. Philip.

January 10-17

HMS Erebus a British bomb vessel similar to the ones used against Fort Saint Philip, Louisiana after the Battle of New Orleans. (via wikipedia)

HMS Erebus a British bomb vessel similar to the ones used against Fort Saint Philip, Louisiana after the Battle of New Orleans.
(via wikipedia)

The small, rugged Fort St. Philip along a bend in the Mississippi River blocks the way for the Royal Navy, preventing a naval bombardment of the city of New Orleans. British Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane (the man who commanded the attacks on Washington and Baltimore in late summer) orders a small squadron of five ships including two bomb vessels, to reduce the fort, move up river and support the British army in an attack on New Orleans.

But more than 400 Army regulars — infantry and artillerymen — black and white Louisiana militia and about 40 sailors — are prepared for attack. All the fort’s wooden buildings, like barracks, have been dismantled as a possible fire hazard. The powder magazine is divided into several smaller magazines around the fort, all buried under several feet of earth and timber.

Starting late on January 9, the Royal Navy — anchored more than two miles downstream — begins shelling the fort. Many of the shells bury themselves in the swampy morass surrounding the fort and fail to explode. Others fall short or sail harmlessly overhead. Frequent attempts to approach the fort in longboats are driven off by the fort’s small arms. So far the shelling has killed only one man and wounded two others. No part of the fort has been severely damaged although several cannon have had their carriages damaged.

Day after day the British bombard the small fort — except for two hour meal breaks at noon and sunset. It rains constantly, turning most of the fort’s interior into a lake. The fort’s tents have been shredded by the British shelling and there is little shelter from the elements. None of the fort’s 34 guns can reach the British ships, except one, a large mortar, but it doesn’t have the right ammunition.

British attack on Fort St. Philip. (National Park Service)

British attack on Fort St. Philip.
(National Park Service)

On January 15, supply ships from New Orleans reach the fort bringing much-needed food and the proper ammunition for the mortar. By January 17, the gun crews have the big mortar all ready and finally return fire on the British. One mortar round strikes one of the bomb ships, doing unknown damage. The British bombardment stops at sunset.

Battle of Fort Peter

January 13-14

Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn  (with Washington, DC afire in background)

An 1817 painting of Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn (with Washington, DC afire in background)

When Admiral Cochrane sailed off to New Orleans in December, he left behind Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn (the man who suggested attacking Washington and Baltimore) to raid around Chesapeake Bay and along the southern U.S. coast to create a diversion and keep the Americans off balance.

On January 10, soldiers of the 2nd West Indian Regiment and Royal Marines under Cockburn land on Cumberland Island off the Georgia coast. They number about 1,000 men. Three days later Cockburn’s ships begin bombarding Fort Peter on the Georgia mainland near the town of St. Mary’s. The St. Mary’s River marks the boundary between British-allied Spanish Florida and the United States. Runaway American slaves flee south into Florida and Native American raiding parties attack  Georgia plantations and settlements from the largely-ungoverned Spanish colony.

Cockburn lands troops at Point Peter, attacks Fort Peter and takes it without suffering any casualties. On their way to sack St. Mary’s the British force encounters a small American force of 160 Army regulars. There’s a brief skirmish. The Americans suffer 1 killed, 4 wounded and 9 missing before withdrawing in the face of a force that outnumbers them almost 7-to-1.

Map of the St. Mary's River area by Karl Musser via Wikipedia

Map of the St. Mary’s River area by Karl Musser via Wikipedia

On January 15 the British capture St. Mary’s even though there is another small fort just outside the town. In addition to burning Fort Peter, the British capture two American gunboats and a dozen merchant vessels. Cockburn’s men occupy the area for about a week before withdrawing back to Cumberland Island. They suffer only 3 dead and 5 wounded. With no one in North America yet aware that a peace treaty has been reached in Belgium, the British begin planning a raid in force on Savannah, Georgia.

January 13, 2015 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO: “Old Ironsides” Last Voyage — for Now

Heading to Dry Dock.

USS Constitution gets underway in Boston Harbor for the ship's 217th birthday cruise. This is Constitution's last scheduled cruise before entering dry dock in 2015 for three years of restoration work.  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Victoria Kinney)

USS Constitution gets underway in Boston Harbor for the ship’s 217th birthday cruise. This is Constitution’s last scheduled cruise before entering dry dock in 2015 for three years of restoration work.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Victoria Kinney)

The oldest commissioned vessel in the U.S. Navy —  USS Constitution, better known as “Old Ironsides  — is heading for dry dock soon for several years of repairs and renovations.

Old Ironsides made a final tour of Boston Harbor on October 17 to commemorate the U.S. Navy 239th birthday and her own 217th birthday, according to the Navy.

The ship received  a 21-gun salute off Fort Independence on Castle Island in South Boston before  the 44-gun frigate returned to her berth at Charlestown Navy Yard.

More than 500 guests — individuals and organizations with long-standing ties to both the ship and the Navy — accompanied Constitution on her fifth and final demonstration voyage of 2014. It was also the historic warship’s final Boston Harbor underway (but not under sail) until 2018. She is scheduled to enter dry dock in March 2015 for a three-year planned restoration period.

Officials have said the effort is intended to more closely align Old Ironsides with its historical shape after decades of repairs that did not follow the original design, according to the Boston Globe.

Among the efforts, the Constitution will get new copper plates for the hull to make the ship more seaworthy. Officials will check the blueprints of the Constitution’s sister ship, the USS President, as they design the repairs. The repair work will include de-rigging and removal of the ship’s upper masts and offloading the ship’s long guns. Constitution will be open for public tours from Thursday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. starting this week. The ship’s captain, Commander Sean Kearns, advises visitors who want to see the tall ship, should come and see her before she goes into dry dock in March.

The first time your 4GWAR editor saw the mighty frigate was back in the mid 1970s and she was in dry dock at Charlestown then.

To see a brief Navy video of The Last Ride, click here.

SHAKOSHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

 

 

October 20, 2014 at 11:37 pm Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (August 31-September 6, 1814)

A Crucial Week.

White House after the 1814 fire by George Munger (White House Historical Association)

White House after the 1814 fire by George Munger
(White House Historical Association)

Official Washington is in ruins. The White House and the Capitol have been torched as have the headquarters of the State, Navy and War departments. The armory at Greenleaf Point has been destroyed. Under orders from Navy Secretary William Jones, sailors and Marines have blown up and torched the Washington Navy Yard to keep its supplies, munition stockpiles and two almost completed new ships out of British hands. The Royal Navy has captured Alexandria, Virginia — just a few miles south of Washington — emptying its storehouse of food, tobacco, cotton, and flour. The U.S. Army and local militia have been humiliated on the battlefield of Bladensburg, Maryland. President Madison and his cabinet are wandering the roads around Washington, trying to reorganize the government and the war effort. It is the most desperate time in the young life of the United States of America — perhaps the most desperate ever.

And yet, the United States fights on this week from the Mississippi River to the English Channel, from the New York Canadian border to the Chesapeake Bay.

August 31

Sir John Sherbrooke with a force of 2,000 sails down from Halifax and attacks the coast of Maine, which is still a part of Massachusetts. By September 3 he has captured Castine, Hampden and Bangor.

September 1

The USS Wasp, a 22-gun sloop-of-war, cruising the western approaches to the English Channel, sinks the 18-gun brig HMS Avon.

The same day, just south of Montreal, Sir George Prevost, the governor general of Canada, starts marching an army of 12,000 to cross the border and attack Plattsburgh, New York. Plattsburgh  on crucial Lake Champlain. Only about 3,000 troops, mostly green militia, defend Plattsburgh under Brigadier Alexander McComb. It is to be a combined arms operation with the Royal Navy taking out American vessels defending Plattsburgh.

USS Wasp in 1814 (via Wikipedia)

USS Wasp in 1814
(via Wikipedia)

On the Potomac

The eight-ship Royal Navy squadron of Captain James Gordon departs Alexandria September 2 with 21 prize vessels, all stuffed with loot. Navy Secretary Jones, furious with the U.S. military’s poor showing against the British, decides to make Gordon’s journey a memorable one — ordering the Navy, assisted by Army regulars and Virginia and Maryland militia, set up cannon batteries on either side of the Potomac on bluffs overlooking the river.

The first, near Belvoir plantation in Virginia, is commanded by Captain Oliver Hazzard Perry, the hero of the Battle of Lake Erie the previous year. The other, by Captain David Porter, another naval hero who harassed the British whaling fleet in the Pacific Ocean before his ship, the USS Essex was defeated off the coast of Chile in late 1813. Neither battery has enough fire power to effectively battle Gordon ‘s little fleet which includes bomb ships and rocket ships as well as the frigate HMS Seahorse. After duking it out with Gordon’s ships for nearly three days, Perry is forced to withdraw when heavy shellfire strikes several of his cannon and wounds his men.  Porter has few cannon (his on big gun arrives just 30 minutes befre the British) and even less ammunition. When his ammunition runs out September 5, Porter breaks off fighting and withdraws. It takes x days, but Gordon sails on and rejoins the main British fleet in Chesapeake Bay on September x.

On to Baltimore

The combined British Army-Navy-Marines force that burned Washington marches out of the city August 25, fearing a counter attack by U.S. troops. At first it looks like thy are headed for Baltimore but its only a feint to confuse the Americans. The plan works and Army Brigadier William Winder musters his scattered troops and heads for Baltimore. The British eventually turn south and return to Benedict on Maryland’s western shore whre the 4,500-man raid-in-force disembarked August 19. The British re-board their transport ships September x, ostensibly to head for Rhode Island where the overall commander, Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane, wants to wait out the “fever season” of the hot, humid, mosquito-ridden conditions of the Chesapeake in late summer. Cochrane plans to attack Baltimore after that.

September 4

Up on the Niagara border between New York State and Canada, the British are still besieging Fort Erie on the Canadian side. Major General Jacob Brown, although not fully recovered from his wounds at Lundy’s Lane, has resumed command of the fort after his successor, Brigadier General Edmund Gaines is wounded.

The Americans launch a raid outside the fort on a British artillery battery. The battle– often hand-to-hand combat — lasts nearly six hours before a severe thunderstorm rakes the battlefield.

Secretary of War John Armstrong by Rembrandt Peale

Secretary of War John Armstrong by Rembrandt Peale

Also on September 4, Secretary of  War John Armstrong resigns. Armstrong refused to call out the militia or build defenses until the last minute when Washington was threatened with invasion. It didn’t take Armstrong long to realize he has lost the confidence of President Madison and annoyed nearly everyone in the cabinet. Secretary of State James Monroe, who screwed up the troop displacement at Bladensburg, is named Secretary of War.

September 5

Two setbacks in the far west. In Michigan, a resourceful Lieutenant Miller Worsley and 77 men in canoes, trick and capture two American warships on Lake Huron: he USS Tigress and the USS Scorpion. In what is known as the Illinois Territory, Major Zachary Taylor heads a small force  of 350 regulars and militia attempting to recapture a fort near what is now Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. The soldiers are defeated and turned back by an alliance of tribes including Sauk, Fox, Kickapoo, Winnebago and Sioux .

September 6

The British army heading down from Montreal stops before reaching Plattsburgh, to await word on the progress made by the Royal Navy on Lake Champlain.

September 5, 2014 at 12:56 am Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (August 24-August 30, 1814) PART 2

PART II

Washington Ablaze.

British burn the Capitol, a mural by Allyn Cox in the U.S. Capitol. (Photo: Architect of the Capitol via Wikipedia)

British burn the Capitol, a mural by Allyn Cox in the U.S. Capitol.
(Photo: Architect of the Capitol via Wikipedia)

Within a few hours after winning the Battle of Bladensburg on August 24, British forces are on the march to Washington. Vice Admiral George Cockburn, commander of the naval forces in the expedition, wants to wreak havoc and vengeance on the Americans by burning their capital city (Pop. 8,000). But the Army commander, Major General Robert Ross, a battle-tested veteran of the Napoleonic Wars is adamant, only public buildings will be burned and personal property will be respected.

That standing order is put to the test almost as soon as Ross and Cockburn enter Washington on horseback, accompanied by less than 200 soldiers, sailors and Marines. Most of the 4,000-plus troops in the raiding expedition are resting from their long, hot marches from Benedict, Maryland on the Western shore of the Chesapeake to Bladensburg and the outskirts of Washington over the past two days in the heat and humidity of a Maryland August.

Gunfire erupts from a three-story private home near Capitol Hill, killing two British soldiers, wounding several others and killing the horse Ross is riding. Luckily for Washington, the general is unhurt. Ross, who initially thought he didn’t have enough men to capture a national capital, now wants to keep most of them out of the city to avoid looting, and worse. Three Americans are captured in the house where the shots came from and they turn about to be some of Commodore Joshua Barney’s flotilla sailors who gave the British a rough time during the Bladensburg scrap. Impressed by the dogged defense Barney’s men put up — when the rest of the Americans ran or were ordered to withdraw — Ross and Cockburn do not order the men hanged, even though others in their party are calling for blood.

Most of Washington’s inhabitants fled in panic when word came down about the defeat at Bladensburg. And the British were confronted by a virtually empty city.

First stop in the chastisement of the U.S. government for declaring war on Britain while it was battling Napoleon is the U.S. Capitol. British troops pile tables, chairs and desks in the House of Representatives chamber and set it alight with torches and gunpowder. They repeat the process over in the Senate but the sheet metal roof defeats their effort to start the blaze with Congreve rockets. So the troops have to ignite the Senate chamber the old fashioned way. At the time, the U.S. Supreme Court and the Library of Congress were house in the Capitol, so they went up in smoke, too.

Major General Robert Ross (National Portrait Gallery Website)

Major General Robert Ross
(National Portrait Gallery Website)

Ross, Cockburn and company head down to the president’s mansion (it wasn’t called the White House back then) which they find empty but with the dining room table set to accommodate a dinner party or 40 — including chilled wine. The British officers make themselves at home, tuck into the food and toast “Jemmy” Madison and his wife, Dolley Madison.  After leaving the battlefield when the outcome seemed certain, Madison stopped off a the White House for a glass of wine, and to re-consider the wisdom of relying on state militias rather than a large, well-trained standing army. President James Madison cleared out about an hour before the British arrived. The First Lady left with the White House silver, china, a few knickknacks accompanied by family friends and some cabinet members an hour or so before the president arrived. Contrary to popular belief, Mrs. Madison did not take the famous Gilbert Stuart oil portrait of George Washington with her. She ordered White House staff to take it with them or destroy it to keep such a symbol out of British hands. Again, luckily the men were able to break the heavy frame and whisk the canvas to safety.

Except for some souvenirs, like Madison’s ceremonial sword, the British burned everything in the executive mansion: furniture, rugs, books, government papers, clothes and linens. Cockburn also  took some time out to wreck a local newspaper, the National Intelligencer, a pro-Madison paper that excoriated Cockburn for raiding and torching several towns up and down the Chesapeake Bay the previous summer. Cockburn wanted to burn the place down but when informed the newspaper was only a tenant, not the building owner, Cockburn — respecting the Irish-born Ross’ no damaging private property edict — settled for dragging all the paper and printing equipment into the street and burning or breaking it.

Under orders, the few sailors and Marines left in the city, torch and blow up the Washington Navy Yard on the Eastern Branch of the Potomac River (Anacostia River today), including two nearly completed new ships, the frigate Essex and the sloop-of-war Argus. The glow from the fire can be seen for miles in either direction.

The next day, August 25, the British send troops to destroy the Greenleaf  Point Arsenal on the Potomac close to where the Eastern Branch flows into it. During the demolition, a well in which full barrels of gunpowder had been dumped is accidentally touched off — blowing the well, the arsenal and many British soldiers to smithereens. A few more British troops are killed when a savage storm — they called it a hurricane at the time — lashes Washington with thunder, lightning, high winds that uproot trees and a torrential downpour that snuffs out some of the fires and knocks down structures on the British. Later, Washington residents say the storm was sent by Divine Providence to save the city.

That night, just a day after entering Washington, Ross — fearing the Americans might reorganize the scattered militia and regular troops to counter-attack — orders a withdrawal, first to Bladensburg to drop off the most seriously wounded, and then back to Benedict, where the British fleet was waiting. There is no risk of an American counter attack. Brigadier General William Winder, who performed so abysmally at Bladensburg, has withdrawn his troops to Montgomery Court House in Maryland and is trying to find enough food and shelter for them. On the morning of August 26, Winder gets word that the British are heading for Baltimore and by late morning is moving out with the militia and regular Army regiments that fought at Bladensburg along with new troops from Western Maryland.

The Washington Post has a wonderful retelling of what happened in Washington after Ross and Cockburn left and Madison and his cabinet returned.

But wait, there’s more …

On August 27, a British naval squadron commanded by Captain James Gordon is sailing up the Potomac River, approaching Fort Washington, a star-shaped structure completed in 1809 on a Maryland  bluff overlooking the river, south of Washington. Gordon’s little fleet of seven ships was sent by Cockburn 10 days earlier as a diversion to draw U.S. forces away from Ross and his troops attacking from the East. The squadron was also supposed to offer an escape route for the British troops if the raid on Washington went awry, but squalls, unfamiliar currents and shoals, stalled Gordon’s ships for days.

Now Gordon faces what is considered the main U.S. defense installation guarding the nation’s capital. But the U.S. commander has only enough men to man five of the fort’s 27 cannon. He is also low on ammunition. He’s also hearing (untrue) rumors that the British force that burned Washington is marching to attack him from the land.

The American commander and his officers decide to spike the guns, withdraw and blow up the fort — without firing a shot.

Gordon’s squadron sails  to Alexandria, Virginia, the port where George Washington brought his tobacco to ship to England before the Revolution. Lacking any defense or useable cannon, the city fathers vote on August 28  to surrender to Gordon to avoid destruction.  On August 29, Gordon demands all of the ships in the city — including those that have been scuttled to avoid capture — be surrendered to the British as well as all the supplies in Alexandria’s warehouses. By September 1, all 21 ships under Gordon’s control are stuffed full of supplies and merchandise like tobacco and he’s ordered to rejoin the fleet in Chesapeake Bay.

British operations in the Washington-Baltimore area 1814. (Map: West Point History Dept.)

British operations in the Washington-Baltimore area 1814.
(Map: West Point History Dept.)

The night before, August 30, a party of about 200 British sailors and Marines launch a raid on Maryland’s Eastern shore, across the Chesapeake near Chestertown, to chase off Americans on the Eastern Shore who might be planning to reinforce Baltimore. The British are commanded by Sir Peter Parker, who has been leading another Royal Navy squadron on a diversionary mission on the Upper Chesapeake. But the Maryland militia, led by Lieutenant Colonel Philip Reed, is waiting for Parker and his men. They open up with cannon and musket fire, killing 14 British — including Parker — and wounding another 27. The Americans withdraw when they run out of ammunition. They suffer only three wounded and none killed.

Sources for this post:

1812: The War that Forged a Nation by Walter R. Borneman, 2004

1812: The Navy’s War by George C. Daughan, 2011

Union 1812: The Americans Who Fought the Second War of Independence by A.J. Langguth, 2007

The Dawn’s Early Light by Walter Lord, 1972

Through the Perilous Flight: Six Weeks That Saved The Nation by Steve Vogel. 2013

Our Flag Was Still There: The Sea History Press Guide to the War of 1812 by William H. White, 2012

 

 

 

August 28, 2014 at 1:24 am Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (Feb. 9-Feb. 15, 1814)

At Sea

The U.S.S. Constitution, a three-masted heavy frigate, has been prowling the Caribbean Sea since New Year’s Eve, looking to intercept British shipping and commerce.

USS Constitution underway (Photo by xxxxxxxxxxxx)

USS Constitution underway
(Photo by Hunter Stires via Wikipedia)

This week, “Old Ironsides,” as the American frigate is known, will take the HMS Pictou a 14-gun schooner on Valentine’s Day 1814, near Barbados.

The Pictou, is escorting the armed merchant the Lovely Ann from Bermuda to Suriname, when it is spotted by the Constitution under the command of Captain Charles Stewart. The American warship captured the Lovely Ann, taking her for a prize and then fired on Pictou.

The 54-gun Constitution stopped Pictou with a shot through her sails, capturing the smaller British vessel. Stewart decides to keep the Lovely Ann but orders the Pictou destroyed. The Pictou was one of five British warships captured or destroyed by the Constitution during the War of 1812. In addition to Pictou, they were HMS Guerriere, Java, Cyane and Levant.

On this Caribbean cruise, Stewart and Constitution captured five British merchant ships and Pictou before problems with the main mast force the captain to take Old Ironsides back to port.

Constitution, one of the six original frigates authorized by Congress in 1794, remains in service today – the oldest, still functioning warship in the world. The other frigates, that formed the backbone of the U.S. Navy were: President, United States, Constellation, Chesapeake and Congress.

February 10, 2014 at 1:53 am Leave a comment

SHAKO: War of 1812, U.S. Successes on Land and Sea

HMS Boxer Captured

Enterprise Vs. Boxer (via Wikipedia)

Enterprise Vs. Boxer (via Wikipedia)

After a sharp fight between two brigs, the British vessel, HMS Boxer, was captured  by the 16-gun USS Enterprise on Sept. 5, 1813.

The 14-gun Boxer, which had only been launched in July 1812, had its mast blown away by a broadside from the Enterprise during the 30-minute battle off the coast of Maine near Portland.

Both the Boxer’s commander, Captain Samuel Blyth, and the skipper of the Enterprise, Lieutenant William Burrows, were both killed in the 30-minute battle and were buried side-by-side in Portland’s Eastern Cemetery.

* * * *

Recapture of Detroit

Plan of Fort Detroit in 1812 (Archives of Ontario)

Plan of Fort Detroit in 1812
(Archives of Ontario)

A little over a year after Detroit was surrendered to a smaller force of British, Canadian and Native American (First Nations) forces Fort Detroit and the nearby village were back in U.S. hands.

The naval victory of Oliver Hazard Perry a month earlier on Lake Erie ensured American control of the lake and cut off British and Canadian forces from their supply base in eastern Canada. They evacuated Detroit, which was retaken by U.S. troops under Maj. Gen. William Henry Harrison on Sept. 29, 1813. British-led forces also abandon Fort Amherstburg across the river in Ontario.

Harrison’s forces pursued the retreating British and Canadians and their Indian allies — led by Tecumseh — into Ontario.

488px-Shako-p1000580SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

 

September 25, 2013 at 5:45 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO: Battle of Lake Erie, 1813

Perry Triumphant

The Battle of Lake Erie (via Wikipedia)

The Battle of Lake Erie by William Henry Powell (via Wikipedia)

We have met the enemy, and they are ours.” With those immortal words, Oliver Hazard Perry summarized his smashing victory over a British-Canadian squadron at Put-In-Bay at the western end of Lake Erie.

On September 10, 1813, Perry — commanding nine U.S. ships — defeated and captured a squadron of six British ships. The painting above, which hangs in the U.S. Capitol, illustrates one of the most dramatic moments in the four-hour-long naval engagement.

Perry’s flag ship, the 20-gun brig, USS Lawrence, was virtually shot to splinters and most of her crew killed or wounded. Perry transferred his command to the Niagara — another 20-gun brig a half mile away — rowing there under heavy gunfire. He took with him his personal pennant, a large blue flag with the motto: “Don’t Give Up the Ship.” Those were the last words of Captain James Lawrence, a friend  who was killed when his frigate, the USS Chesapeake, was taken in battle by the HMS Shannon in June.

Perry took the Niagara on the offensive, firing on the two largest British ships, the 17-gun sloop Queen Charlotte and the 19-gun, Detroit. Most of the senior British officers were killed or wounded leaving less experienced men in command. The two British ships collided and became entangled in each other’s rigging. Perry sailed up and fired broadside after broadside. Even though they had fewer ships, the British squadron had more canons, 63 to the Americans’ 54. But most of the U.S. guns were heavy carronades which were more effective at close range. Shortly after 3 p.m. the four largest British ships surrendered. Two small gunboats tried to flee but they were captured.

Here is the full message that Perry sent to Army Gen. William Henry Harrison after the battle on the lake:

Dear General:

We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop.

Yours with great respect and esteem,
O.H. Perry

With this victory, the United States took control of Lake Erie and threatened Detroit, which the British and their Indian and Canadian were forced to evacuate later in September. The victory on the lake also set events in motion for the decisive Battle of the Thames in Canada a month later.

— — —

488px-Shako-p1000580

 

SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

 

September 11, 2013 at 11:53 pm Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (Dec. 23-Dec. 29)

Old Ironsides vs. the Java

The U.S. frigate Constitution is cruising the South Atlantic off Brazil when she encounters the HMS Java on Dec. 29. The 44-gun Constitution, known as Old Ironsides” after defeating the British frigate HMS Guerriere in August, is one of the six original U.S. frigates built under the Naval Act of 1794.

USS Constitution (right) engages the HMS Java. (credit line)

USS Constitution (right) engages the HMS Java watercolor by Ian Marshall
(American Society of Marine Artists)

The Java, a 38-gun frigate of the same class as the Guerriere, is commaned by Captain Henry Lambert, Royal Navy. Lambert cuts loose with a broadside when William Bainbridge, the Constitution’s commander, hails the British ship. Constitution’s rigging is severely damaged but the U.S. frigate answers Java with a series of her own broadsides.

A cannon ball from Java wrecks the Constitution’s steering wheel — known as the helm — and Bainbridge (twice wounded in the battle) orders the crew to steer Old Ironsides manually using the ship’s tiller.

Java’s bowsprit gets entangled in the Constitution’s rigging allowing Bainbridge to continue raking the British ship with cannon fire. After two and half hours of firing, Bainbridge sails out of range to make emergency repairs, returning an hour later to confront the ruined Java. Unmanageable and with most of the crew wounded, the Java surrenders.

A diagram of the battle between USS Constitution and HMS Java

A diagram of the battle between USS Constitution and HMS Java

Bainbridge determines the Java is too damaged to seize as a prize, so he orders the British ship burned — after transferring her crew to his vessel and ordering Java’s wheel salvaged and put on the Constitution.

Java is the third British frigate to fall to an American frigate, so the British Admiralty orders all its frigates to steer clear of the heavier American ships and not tangle with them one-on-one. Only the massive ships of the line or a squadron of warships are henceforth permitted to attack U.S. frigates.

USS Constitution underway in 2012.(Photo by Hunter Stires via Wikipedia)

USS Constitution underway in 2012.
(Photo by Hunter Stires via Wikipedia)

Still afloat at age 215, the Boston-built USS Constitution today remains the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel.

December 24, 2012 at 12:15 am Leave a comment


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