« ПретходнаНастави »
AN HISTORICAL NAVAL BATTLE.
BY AN EYE-WITNESS.
By Dr. G. Archie Stockwell, F.Z.S.
PROLOGUE.-Some years ago, while
visiting Portsmouth, England, I hunted up an old acquaintance, an ancient pensioner by the name of Butler, who was minus an arm as a result of the last "misunderstanding" between Great Britain and France.
I found "old Geordie " sitting outside his well-known cottage at Mill Lane, Torton (Gosport), and he at once expressed himself as "downright glad" to see me.
A little tact soon made him reminiscent, and I availed myself of a convenient opportunity to turn his thoughts towards the last war between Great Britain and the United States.
"Well, sir, thank God! I am hale and hearty, though I was born March 17th, 1797. I had nineteen years and twelve months' sea servitude,* and all that time I was bringing money home, fighting the Crapoos's and Americans, and looking, after pirates.
"When I entered the Macedonian frigate, I was a little chap going on thirteen years old. This ship was one of the handsomest afloat, commanded by Lord Wm. Fitzroy; and when I joined she lay at Gravesend, but almost immediately was sent around to Spithead to convey a lobster box' † to Lisbon. We then run over to Corunna, only to be ordered back to Portsmouth, where Lord Fitzroy was court-martialed as the result of a quarrel with the ship's master, which caused them both to be broken (de
prived of rank and dismissed the service). Captain Colden took command, but only for a few weeks, when he was promoted to the Royal Sovereign, a line-of-battle ship, making place for Captain Waldegrave; then, after a short cruise on the Spanish coast and back to Lisbon again, Captain John Carden superseded Captain Waldegrave." *
Captain Carden was known as a 'smart officer"; his aim was to possess a crew only of picked, firstrate men, and hence he made it a point to get rid of all shiftless, slovenly sailors at the earliest possible moment. As he could not discharge these from the service, he exchanged where possible into other ships; and when this measure failed he would afford opportunities for the undesirable men to desert, when no efforts were ever made for their recapture-a procedure quite contrary to that when a really good man took it into his head to take "French leave."
About this time it was common talk that there would be war with the States, and we were ordered with despatches to Norfolk, Virginia. While at anchor in Hampton Roads the strictest care was taken to prevent all communication with the shore on the part of the crew, but our officers certainly never enjoyed better cheer. Captain Carden exchanged visits with Commodore Decatur of the frigate United States, and it was rumored these two officers indulged in banter as to the result of a conflict between their respective ships; some said there was a wager laid of a beaver hat.
*The exact verbiage of the old seaman is here abandoned and likewise the narrative condensed, yet the style is retained as far as possible.-AUTHOR.
A quick winter passage took us back to Lisbon, when soon we were ordered to England again. On arrival at Plymouth liberty was given the whole crew, while the old ship underwent certain necessary repairs.
After refitting we spent a couple of months in the Basque Roads, and here were fortunate enough to take a couple of French prizes—one a brandywine and castile-soap laden lugger was fairly cut out from Brest harbour. Then we ran back to Plymouth; and from here were sent to Torbay, to convoy ten East Indian merchantmen "two days' sail beyond Madeira."
Though without any positive information, we were now pretty certain war had been declared with the States. Our Captain appeared more serious than usual, and was constantly on deck. The lookout aloft also was more rigidly observed; and when we parted from the merchantmen this lookout became more active still. The cry of "Masthead there!" could be heard almost every half hour.
"A square rigged vessel, sir."
A few minutes' later another hail se
-the Yankee sailors we had met on different occasions assured us their ships, rated in the same class, were stouter and heavier built, likewise carried guns of greater metal than
cured the response : "A large ship standing toward us, sir;" and after another interval: "A large frigate bearing down, sir."
A whisper at once ran among the crew that the stranger was a Yankee frigate, and this was apparently confirmed by the order, "All hands clear ship," when drum and fife beat to quarters, bulkheads were knocked away, and gun tackles cast loose.
Our crew were in good spirits, though many expressed a wish the stranger might prove a Frenchman rather than a Yankee, for we had a suspicion the latter might prove a little heavy for us
Presently we were able to distinguish the stars and stripes at the gaff of the stranger, which definitely settled the question of her nationality. And now our guns were shotted and run out and matches lighted, for though locks had been introduced, there was some question as to their efficiency, and the former were prepared in case of need.
I was stationed as "monkey" to No. 5 gun on the main deck, my duty being to bring powder from the magazine. A woollen screen hung before the entrance to the latter, and through a hole therein cartridges were passed out, which the boy in waiting received, covered with his jacket, and then hurried away to his gun.
At last we fired three guns from forward on the larboard main deck; then came the order, "Cease firing," quickly followed by "Prepare to wear ship," the purpose being to attack with the starboard batteries. A little later I heard firing which I supposed to be our quarter-deck guns until sounds overhead like the tearing of canvas showed it was the enemy paying her respects to us.
There was another lull of a few minutes, when firing recommenced, this time not by single guns but by batteries, and the roaring of cannon was heard from all parts of the trembling ship, and mingling as it did with that of our foes it made a terrible din. Then the shot began to strike, and the whole scene became indescribably confused and hideous.
I was busy supplying my gun with powder when suddenly blood flew from the arm of the man at the linstock-I saw nothing strike him-but in an instant the third lieutenant had tied up the wound with a handkerchief and then sent him below.
Soon the groans and cries of the injured rang through all parts of the
ship, and the unfortunates were carried to the cockpit as fast as possible, while those killed were immediately thrown overboard. I was stationed but a short distance from the main hatchway and could see those who were carried below, but a mere glance was all I had time for, since the boys serving the guns on either side of mine were wounded at the beginning of the action and I was obliged to supply their places and "spring" with all my might.
A master's mate, of my division, a noble-hearted fellow, by the name of Dan Kivell, fell almost in front of me, having been struck by a grape-shot over the heart. Mr. Hope, our first lieutenant, was also wounded by a grummet, and went below to have his wound dressed, but was back again in a few moments shouting and encouraging the men at the top of his voice. Our crew were continually cheering, though for what I must confess I do not know, except it was to keep up their spirits.
After a while, not only was it discovered several boys and men had been killed and wounded, but that many of our guns were disabled. My gun had a piece of its muzzle knocked out, and with a sudden roll of the ship struck a beam of the upper deck with such force as to become jammed and fixed in that position. A twenty-four pound shot also passed through the screen of the magazine immediately over the orifice through which was passed the powder, and that too at a moment when I was receiving a cartridge from the hands of one of the gunner's mates. Our boatswain, who for some weeks had been ill and came from the sick bay to take his station, received his death wound while fastening a stopper on a back-stay which had been shot away; and it was a peculiar coincidence that the same warrant officer in the American frigate bore the same name, William Brown, and that both were killed under precisely the same circumstances, and almost at the same minute.
Our men fought like tigers; some
A small iron ring, probably torn from a hammock in the nettings by a shot.
pulled off their jackets, some their jackets and waistcoats, and others again even their shirts, tying neckkerchiefs around the waistband of trousers. A"powder monkey" named Cooper, stationed at a gun some distance from the magazine, attracted the attention of the officers by going to and fro at full run, apparently as
'merry as a cricket." He earned the encomium from the third lieutenant, "Well done, my lad, you're worth your weight in gold."
Aside from the twenty-four pound shot, an iron hail of grape and canister poured through our port-holes, carrying death and destruction in their trail. The large shot passed through the ship's side, shaking her to the very keel, and scattered terrific splinters, which did even more appalling work. With splinters, cannon balls, grape and canister incessantly flying, death held carnival in a way to satisfy the king of terrors himself. After a time came a pause in the rattle of shot and iron, when we were ordered to "cease firing;" then a profound silence ensued, broken only by the stifled groans of the brave sufferers below. It was now ascertained that the enemy had shot ahead to repair damages, for she was not so disabled but she could sail without difficulty, while we were so cut up as to lie utterly helpless-our head braces were shot away, fore and main topmasts gone, the mizzen-mast over the stern; in fact, the Macedonian was little better than a wreck.
Our condition was perilous in the extreme, since victory or escape were alike hopeless. Not only was our ship disabled, but a large number of men had been killed outright, or badly wounded. The enemy moreover now had the great advantage of being able to select her position at will, and, of course, could thereby rake us fore and aft; consequently further resistance would be an act of folly. A council was held among the officers, and in spite of the fact our hot-brained first lieutenant, Mr. Hope, urged we should sink alongside, it was determined to
surrender, and our flag ordered struck. Then down came the royal naval ensign at the hands of a quarter-master named Watson, whose cheeks streamed with tears of mingled grief and rage, and His Britannic Majesty's frigate Macedonian lay a prize to the American frigate United States.
And now I went below to see how matters appeared; but the scene will not bear description. The like I had never witnessed before, and hope never to see again, and one would think if the civilized world could but behold the results of battle as they really are, nations would forego forever the barbarism of war. The dining table in the gun room had become the operating board for the surgeon and his assistants, who were busy as possible, and the deck and state rooms were filled with wounded. On arrival of boats from the United States, an American lieutenant, a Mr. Nicholson, descended the hatchway and saluted our surgeon with "How do you do, doctor?" "Enough to do," replied the latter, shaking his head thoughtfully. "You have made wretched work for us.". Remember these gentlemen were not strangers, for when the Macedonian was at Hampton Roads the commanders and officers of the two frigates had exchanged many visits.
Most of our officers and men were taken on board the American frigate, but a few, including myself, were left to assist in caring for the wounded, who kept our surgeons busily employed until late at night.
When the prize crew boarded us the utmost good will prevailed. We took hold and helped cleanse the ship, using hot vinegar to take the blood stains from the planks; also assisted in refitting; and the latter being finished, both ships sailed in company toward the American coast.
All thought of the fact we had so recently been flying at one another's throats, so to speak, was forgotten, and we became fast friends—we ate and drank together, joked, laughed,
ɔld yarns and argued over the fight rom our respective national stand
points. Indeed, our officers and crew alike were treated as if they were honoured guests instead of prisoners of
Commodore Decatur proved himself a gentleman as well as hero in his treatment of the conquered; and when our Captain Carden sought to deliver up his sword, at the same time exclaiming he was an 66 undone man," and the first British naval officer to strike his flag to an American, the Commodore refused to receive, or immediately returned it, replying: "You are mistaken, sir; your Guerriere has been taken by us, and consequently the flag of that frigate struck before yours." This somewhat revived the spirit of our commander, though he was still greatly mortified at the loss of his ship.
While making our way toward port, the Macedonian, in spite of the fact she was now merely a patched-up wreck, proved far superior to her captor in point of sailing, and it was highly evident if we had been disposed to avoid the fight it could have been done with all imaginable ease; but then this would have justly entailed great disgrace while capture did not. Indeed, the American frigate had always been a dull sailer, so much so she was called by her crew the "Old Waggon." Whenever a boat came alongside our frigate and the boatswain's mate piped away, he always ended his K-week, K-week-week-week with "Away, Waggoners, away!"— instead of "Away, United States men, away!" The officers sometimes rebuked him, but when they did it was in a way as to show they enjoyed the joke, and consequently it was repeated on every occasion.
There was every reason why the United States proved the winning ship. She was not only larger in size and more numerous in men, but stronger built than the Macedonian. Another fact in her favour was that our Captain at first mistook her for the Essex, which carried short carronades, hence engaged her first at long range, for as we had the weather-gage we could have taken whatever position we pleased. By this manœuvre, however,
he not only wasted shot, but gave the United States a great advantage, as she actually carried larger metal, and when in close action her shot went through and through the Macedonian, while most of ours only stuck in her sides and fell harmlessly into the water. Her superiority both in men and guns is evidenced by the fact she carried a crew of four hundred and fifty men and fifty-four guns- long twenty-four pounders on the spar deck, and fortytwo-pound carronades on the forecastle and quarter-deck, while we carried but forty-nine guns-long eighteens, on the main deck, and thirty-two-pound carronades on the quarter-deck and forecastle-and our total number of hands, including officers, men and boys, was but three hundred.*
Our voyage was one of considerable excitement since the sea swarmed with our own cruisers, and it was extremely doubtful whether the United States could elude their grasp and reach port with her prize. Nevertheless we arrived in soundings off the Island of Nantucket, and soon were sailing up Long Island Sound toward New London. The United States succeeded in entering the latter port, but, owing to a sudden shift of wind, the Macedonian was obliged to lay off and on for several hours when, had an English frigate found her, recapture would have been a simple and easy matter, to which, moreover, we would not in the least have objected. But after several hours' backing and filling, the prize officer in charge decided to run for Newport, R.I., which harbour we entered, firing a salute as we came to anchor, that was promptly returned from the fort.
Here the wounded were all carried on shore; likewise such of our officers as remained on board were transferred to other quarters. A few days later we were again under way and ran down to New London, off which port a signal gun was fired and answered by the United States, which soon joined us ; then both ships sailed in company to
This statement is fully corroborated by certain American authors, notably Bancroft, and also Lossing.-AUTHOR.
New York. Here after a few weeks we were placed aboard a cartel and forwarded to Halifax for exchange; and glad enough we were to find ourselves under our own flag once more.
NOTE.-The Macedonian is still in possession of the Naval Authorities of the United States, and up to within a few months ago formed an active integral part of the Naval Academy Squadron, another notable ship of the same fleet being the frigate Constitution, better known, perhaps, as "Old Ironsides." At the close of the late American Civil War, when the Naval Academy was returned from Newport, Rhode Island, to its ante bellum station at Annapolis, Maryland, these two survivors of a previous conflict, surprised the naval world by logging, under their own sails, thirteen knots-a rate of sailing that would, at this time, have been deemed excellent for any steam propeller craft of any naval power in the world.
Latterly there has been a talk of breaking up the Macedonian, but this has been sedulously opposed, especially by naval officers who, as cadets, had quarters on this grand old ship.
The following is the official report of the conflict taken verbatim from the Admiralty Records :—
U. S. FRIGATE United STATES, At Sea, October 25th, 1812. To John Wilson Croker, Esq., High Lord of Admiralty.
SIR,-It is with the deepest regret I have to acquaint you, for the information of my Lord's Commission of Admiralty, that His Majesty's late ship Macedonian was captured on the 25th instant by the United States ship United States, Commodore Decatur commander. The details are as follows:
A short time after daylight, steering N.W. by W., with the wind from the southward, in latitude 29° N. and longitude 29°30 W., in the execution of their Lordships' orders, a sail was seen on the lee beam, which I immediately stood for, and made her out to be a large frigate under American colours. At nine o'clock I losed with her, and she commenced the action which we returned; but from the enemy keeping two points off the wind, I was not enabled to get as close to her as I would have wished. After an hour's action, the enemy. backed and came to the wind, and I was thus enabled to bring her to close battle. In this situation I soon found the enemy's force too superior to expect success unless some very fortunate chance occurred in our favour, and with this hope I continued the battle to two hours and ten minutes, when, having the mizzen mast shot away by the board, top-masts shot away by the caps, main yard shot in