Naval History of Great Britain
VOL. VI , published 1837
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On the 19th of August, at 2 a.m., latitude, by her reckoning, 40° 20' north, longitude 55° west, standing by the wind on the starboard tack under easy sail, with her head about west-southwest, the Guerrière discovered a sail on her weather beam. This was the Constitution ; who, after her escape from the Guerrière and her consorts on the morning of the 19th of July, finding herself cut off from New-York, had proceeded to Boston ; where she arrived on the 26th. On the 2d of August Captain Hull again set sail, and stood to the eastward, in the hope of falling in with the British 38-gun frigate Spartan,- Captain Edward Pelham Brenton, reported to be cruising in that direction.
Having run along the coast as far as the bay of Fundy without discovering the object of her pursuit, the Constitution proceeded off Halifax and Cape Sable, and then steered to the eastward in the direction of Newfoundland. Passing close to the isle of Sable, the American frigate took a station off the gulf of St.-Lawrence, near Cape Race, for the purpose of intercepting vessels bound to, or from Quebec and New-Brunswick. On the 15th Captain Hull captured, and on account of their small value burnt, two merchant brigs and a bark ; and on the 17th recaptured from the British ship-sloop Avenger, the American brig Adeline, on board of which he placed a prize-master and six or seven men, to take her to Boston. Having received intelligence that the squadron which, by a display of so much skill and perseverance, the Constitution had already once evaded, was off the Grand Bank, Captain Hull changed his cruising ground, and stood to the southward. On the 18th, at midnight, an American privateer gave information, that she had the day before seen a British ship of war to the southward. The Constitution immediately made sail in that direction ; and, in the course of a few hours, Captain Hull found he had not been misinformed.
The Guerrière, when she arrived on the North-American station, was armed the same as the other frigates of her class, with 46 guns, including 16 carronades, 32-pounders, and two long nines on her quarterdeck and forecastle. Like most French ships, the Guerrière sailed very much by the head ; and, to assist in giving her that trim, as well as to obviate the inconvenience of a round-house which intervened between the foremost and bridle ports on each side, and prevented the gun stationed at the former port from being shifted to the latter when required to be used in chase, two additional 18-pounders, as standing bow-chase guns, were taken on board at Halifax ; thus giving the Guerrière 48 guns, including 30 long 18-pounders on the main deck. The mere fact, that, for any use they could be in either broadside, these bow guns might as well have been in the hold, is not the principal point cleared up by the explanation. Those who are aware, that no frigate in the British navy, except the Acasta and
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Lavinia, and none at all belonging to the French navy, mounts as her establishment 30 long 18-pounders on the main deck, would have a right to consider the Guerrière as a frigate of a superior class and description; and so, for that very reason, is she still generally considered, as well on this as on the opposite side of the Atlantic. We are surprised that neither of our contemporaries, both of whom have given proofs that the first edition of this work has been occasionally consulted by them, has thought it worth his while to point out so important a peculiarity in the Guerrière's armament. *
We have already, at some length, shown how particular the Americans were in manning their ships ; and how easy, having so few ships to man, it was to supply them with picked crews. For many years previous to the war, America had been decoying the men from British ships, by every artful stratagem. No ship, that anchored in her water, could send a boat on shore, without having the crew assailed by a recruiting party from some American frigate fitting in the vicinity. Many British seamen had also entered on board American merchant vessels; and the numerous non-intercourse and embargo bills, in existence at different periods during the four years preceding the war, threw many merchant sailors out of employment. So that the captains of the American frigates, when preparing for active warfare, had to pick their complements from a numerous body of seamen. Highly to the credit of the naval administration of the United States, the crews of their ships were taught the practical rules of gunnery; and 10 shot, with the necessary powder, were allowed to be expended in play, to make one hit in earnest.
Very distinct from the American seaman, so called, were the American marines. They were chiefly made up of natives of the country ; and a deserter from the British would here have been no acquisition. In the United States, every man may hunt or shoot among the wild animals of the forest. The young peasant, or back-woodman, carries a rifled-barrel gun, the moment he can lift one to his shoulder; and woe to the duck or deer that attempts to pass him, within fair range of his piece. To collect these expert marksmen, when of a proper age, officers were sent into the western parts of the Union ; and, to imbody and finish drilling them, a marine-barrack was established near Washington : from which depot the American ships were regularly supplied.
With respect to a British ship of war, her case was widely different. Although the captain was eased of much of his trouble, having, in proportion to the size and mounted force of his ship, a considerably smaller crew to collect, by having about one twentieth part of that crew to form of boys and widows' men, or
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men of straw, and by being permitted to enter a large proportion of landsmen a rating unknown on board an American ship of war ; still was the small remainder most difficult to be procured, even with all the latitude allowed in respect to age, size, and nautical experience. Sometimes when a captain, by dint of extraordinary exertions, had provided himself with a crew, such as a man of war's crew ought to be, the admiral on the station to which he belonged would pronounce the ship " too-well manned, " and order a proportion of her best men to be draughted on board the flag-ship at her moorings, to learn to be idle and worthless sending, in lieu of them, a parcel of jail-birds and raw hands, to make those among whom they were going nearly as bad as themselves.
There was another point in which the generality of British crews, as compared with any one American crew, were miserably deficient ; skill in the art of gunnery. While the American seamen were constantly firing at marks, the British seamen, except in particular cases, scarcely did so once in a year ; and some ships could be named, on board of which not a shot had been fired in this way for upwards of three years. Nor was the fault wholly the captain's : the instructions, under which he was bound to act, forbade him to use, during the first six months after the ship had received her armament, more shots per month than amounted to a third in number of her upper-deck guns ; and, after those six months had expired, he was to use only half the quantity. Considering by this, either that the lords of the admiralty discouraged firing at marks as a lavish expenditure of powder and shot, or that the limits they had thus set to the exercise of that branch of naval discipline destroyed its practical utility, many captains never put a shot in the guns until an enemy appeared : they employed the leisure time of the men in handling the sails, and in decorating the ship. Others, again, caring little about an order that placed their professional characters in jeopardy, exercised the crew repeatedly in firing at marks ; leaving the gunner to account, in the best manner he could, for the deficiency in his stores. As the generality of French crews were equally inexperienced with their British opponents, the unskilfulness of the latter in gunnery was not felt or remarked : we shall now have to adduce some instances, in quick succession, that will clearly show, how much the British navy at length suffered, by having relaxed in its attention to that most essential point in the business of war, the proper use of the weapons by which it was to be waged.
That our opinion on this subject is in perfect accordance with what was the opinion of a British officer of the first rank and distinction, will appear by the following quotation from the work of a contemporary : " The Earl of St: Vincent," says Captain Brenton, "in a letter to the author in 1813, thus expresses himself, ' I hear the exercise of the great gun is laid aside, and is
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succeeded by a foolish frippery and useless ornament. ' How far this may have been the case," proceeds Captain B., " in the Mediterranean, or East or West Indies, with ships of the line, we shall not say ; but certainly on the coast of North America it was not so, the ships on that station being kept constantly in exercise under the dally expectation of a war. " Notwithstanding this to us wholly unexpected dissent on the part of Captain Brenton from an opinion given by Earl St.-Vincent, we shall consider the latter to be the highest authority on the subject ; especially as the former, in including the Mediterranean among the stations on which ships of the line were neglected to be exercised, has overlooked the very strict and commendable attention paid to that important branch of discipline by Vice-admiral Sir Edward Pellew.
We have already given the best account, which the imperfect state of the American records has enabled us to give, of the construction, size, and established armament of the three American 44-gun frigates. We have now to notice a slight alteration, that was afterwards made in the armament of the Constitution. In the summer of 1811, when that frigate was fitting for sea at Norfolk, Virginia, Captain Hull considered that her upper-works would not strain so much as they had been found to do, if her 42-pounder carronades were exchanged for 32s. This he got effected ; and on or about the 31st of July the Constitution sailed for Cherbourg, with those guns and a reduced crew of 380 men on board. On the 6th or 7th of September the Constitution reached her destination, and in a month or two afterwards returned to her anchorage at Norfolk.
Having discovered that 380 men, even in peaceable times, were not enough for so large and heavily rigged a ship as the Constitution, Captain Hull, during his stay in the Chesapeake, enlisted as many more as restored his complement to 476. But, finding probably that the removal of six tons from the Constitution's upper battery afforded the ship great relief in a heavy sea, Captain Hull did not take back his 42-pounders. He contrived, however, to reduce the inequality of force, by opening a port in the centre of the gangway for one of the two 24-pounders on the upper deck ; or rather, as to be precise we should designate them, the two English long 18-pounders (battery-guns, we believe), bored to carry a 24-pound shot. We formerly noticed the extraordinary size and weight of the Constitution's maindeck 24-pounders. It appears that the guns were mounted on very high carriages, which the height of the deck, represented to be nearly eight feet, rendered no inconvenience. The height of the President's midship maindeck port-sill from the water's edge was eight feet eight inches, and she is described as the lowest ship of the three. This goes far to reconcile the statement we
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have often heard made, that the Constitution's maindeck battery was upwards of 10 feet from the water; a height which, at a long distance, gave her a decided advantage in the range.
It is a remarkable fact, that no one act of the little navy of the United States had been at all calculated to gain the respect of the British. First, was seen the Chesapeake allowing herself to be beaten, with impunity, by a British ship only nominally superior to her. Then the huge frigate President attacks, and fights for upwards of half an hour, the British sloop Little-Belt. And, even since the war, the same President, at the head of a squadron, makes a bungling business of chasing the Belvidera. While, therefore, a feeling towards America, bordering on contempt, had unhappily possessed the mind of the British naval officer, rendering him more than usually careless and opiniative, the American naval officer, having been taught to regard his new foe with a portion of dread, sailed forth to meet him, with the whole of his energies roused. A moment's reflection taught him, that the honour of his country was now in his hands ; and what, in the breast of man, could be a stronger incitement to extraordinary exertions ? Thus situated were the navies of the two countries, when, with damaged masts, a reduced complement, and in absolute need of that thorough refit, for which she was then, after a very long cruise, speeding to Halifax, the Guerrière encountered the Constitution, 17 days only from port, manned with a full complement, and in all respects fitted for war.
It was, as we have already stated, about 2 p.m. that the Guerrière, standing by the wind on the starboard tack, under topsails, foresail, jib, and spanker, with the wind blowing fresh from the north-west, discovered the Constitution bearing down towards her. At 3 p.m. each ship made out the other to be an enemy's man of war ; and at 3 h. 30 m. each discovered, with tolerable precision, the force that was about to be opposed to her. At 4 h. 30 m. p.m. the Guerrière laid her main topsail to the mast, to enable the Constitution the more quickly to close. The latter, then about three miles distant, shortened sail to double-reefed topsails, and went to quarters. At 4 h. 45 m. p.m. the Guerrière hoisted one English ensign at the peak, another at the mizen topgallantmast-head, and a union jack at the fore; and, at 4 h. 50 m. p.m., * opened her starboard broadside at the Constitution. The Guerrière then filled, wore, and, on coming round on the larboard tack, fired her larboard guns, " her shot," says Captain Hull, " falling shot ; " a proof, either that the Guerrière people knew not the range of their guns, or that the powder they were using was of an inferior quality : both causes, indeed, might have co-operated in producing the discreditable result.
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At 5 h. 5 m. p.m., having run up one American ensign at the peak, lashed another to the larboard mizen, rigging, and hoisted a third flag at the fore topgallantmast-head, the Constitution opened her fire ; and, it is believed, none of her shot fell short. To avoid being raked, the Guerrière wore three or four times ; and continued discharging her alternate broadsides, with about as little effect, owing to her constant change of position and the necessary alteration in the level of her guns, as when her shot fell short. After the Constitution had amused herself in this way for half an hour, she set her main topgallantsail, and in five minutes, or at about 5 h. 45 m. p.m., * brought the Guerrière to close action on the larboard † beam ; both ships steering with the wind on the larboard quarter. At 6 h. 5 m. p.m. a 24-pound shot struck the Guerrière's mizenmast and carried it away by the board. It fell over the starboard quarter, knocked a large hole in the counter, and, by dragging in the water, brought the ship up in the wind, although her helm was kept hard a-port. By this accident to her opponent, who had then sustained only a very slight loss, the Constitution would have ranged ahead ; but, bearing up, she quickly placed herself in an admirable position on the Guerrière's larboard bow. Now the American riflemen in the Constitution's tops had an opportunity of cooperating with their friends on deck ; and a sweeping and most destructive fire of great guns and small-arms was opened upon the British frigate, whose bow guns were all she could bring to bear in return.
At 6 h. 15 m. p.m. the two ships fell on board each other, the Guerrière's bowsprit getting foul of the Constitution's starboard mizen rigging. The crew of the latter now prepared to board the Guerrière ; but, in addition to the impracticability of the attempt owing to the motion of the ships, a slight pause was created by the fall of some of the American leader's : a shot from a British marine brought down the first lieutenant of marines while leading forward his party ; another well-directed musket shot passed through the body of the first lieutenant of the ship while at the head of the boarding seamen ; and a third shot entered the shoulder of the master, as he was standing near Lieutenant Morris. The riflemen in the Constitution's tops, in the mean time, continued their unerring fire. Among those who suffered on the occasion was Captain Dacres himself, by a ball fired from the enemy's mizen top, which inflicted a severe wound in his back, while he was standing on the starboard forecastle hammocks animating his crew. Although suffering greatly, he would not quit the deck. At about the same moment the master was shot through the knee, and a master's mate, Samuel
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Grant, was wounded very severely. In a few minutes the two ships got clear. Having disentangled her bowsprit from her opponent's mizen rigging, the Guerrière now came to a little, and was enabled to bring a few of her foremost guns on the starboard side to bear. Some of the wads from these set fire to the Constitution's cabin, but the flames were soon extinguished. The Guerrière's bowsprit, at that moment striking the taffrail of the Constitution, slacked the fore stay of the Guerrière, and, the fore shrouds on the larboard or weather side being mostly shot away, the mast fell over on the starboard side, crossing the main stay : the sudden jerk carried the mainmast along with it, leaving the Guerrière a defenceless wreck ; rolling her maindeck guns in the water." *
At about 6 h. 23 m. † the Constitution ranged ahead ; and the Guerrière soon began clearing away the wreck of her masts, to be ready to renew the action. Just, however, as she had succeeded in doing so, her spritsail yard, upon which she had set a sail to endeavour to get before the wind, was carried away. The Guerrière now lay an unmanageable hulk in the trough of the sea, rolling her maindeck guns under water : to secure which required increased efforts, the rotten state of the breechings, as well as of the timber-heads through which the long-bolts passed, having caused many of them to break loose. While the British frigate was in this state, the Constitution, at 6 h. 45 m. p.m., having rove new braces, wore round and took a position, within pistol-shot on her starboard quarter. It being utterly in vain to contend any longer; the Guerrière fired a lee gun, and hauled down the union jack from the stump of her mizenmast. The following diagram will show the progress of this action, from the two ships closed to the moment of the Guerrière's surrender.
Much to his credit, the moment the Constitution hoisted her colour, Captain Dacres ordered seven Americans, that belonged to his reduced crew, to go below: one accidentally remained at
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his gun, the remainder went where they had been ordered. This just left 244 men and 19 boys. Out of this number, the Guerrière had her second lieutenant (Henry Ready), 11 seamen, and three marines killed, her captain (severely), first lieutenant (Bartholomew Kent, slightly), master (Robert Scott), two master's mates (Samuel Grant and William John Snow), one midshipman (James Enslie), 43 seamen, 13 marines, and one boy wounded ; total, 15 killed and 63 wounded, six of the latter mortally, 39 severely, and 18 slightly. Out of her 468 men and boys, the Constitution, according to Captain Hull's statement, had one lieutenant of marines (William S. Bush) and six seamen killed, her first lieutenant (Charles Morris, dangerously), master (John C. Alwyn, slightly), four seamen (three of them dangerously), and one marine wounded ; total, seven killed and seven wounded. But several of the Guerrière's officers counted 13 wounded ; of whom three died after amputation. An equal number of killed and wounded, as stated in the American return, scarcely ever occurs, except in cases of explosion. In the British service, every wounded man, although merely scratched, reports himself to the surgeon, that he may get his smart-money, a pecuniary allowance so named. No such regulation exists in the American service ; consequently, the return of loss sustained in action by an American ship, as far as respects the wounded at least, is made subservient to the views of the commander and his government.
Although Captain Hull does not give his prize any guns at all, no other American account gives the Guerrière less than 49 guns. It is true that, besides the 48 guns already specified, the ship had an 18-pounder launch carronade, mounted upon the usual elevating carriage for firing at the tops ; but the priming iron, when put into the touch-hole just before the action commenced, broke short off and spiked the gun. In this state it was found by the captors. Consequently, as the two bow 18-pounders were equally useless, the Guerrière, out of her 49 guns, could employ in broadside only 23. We have already shown that the American 44-gun frigate, without making any use of her concealed gangway ports, could present 28 carriage-guns in broadside ; but the Constitution could, and did, as we now verily believe, present one gun more.* Of the fact of one of her two upperdeck 24-pounders being stationed on the forecastle and the other on the quarterdeck, we have not a doubt, from the following entry in the log of the Constitution when she was pursued by the British off New York, and was about to open a fire from her stern-chasers. " Got the forecastle gun aft." But the disparity in her action with the Guerrière is sufficiently great without adding this gun to the Constitution's broadside
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we shall therefore, as in common cases, take no more than half the mounted number.
As it would be not only unjust, but absurd, to compare together the totals of two crews of men and boys, in a case where each opponent uses the latter in so very different a proportion as the British and the Americans, we shall, making an ample allowance for those in the American crew, exclude the boys altogether from the estimate.
This action affords a strong practical proof of the advantages possessed by a large and lofty ship. While the main deck of the Guerrière was all afloat with the roughness of the sea, the Constitution's main deck was perfectly dry. If that was the case before the fall of the Guerrière's masts had destroyed her stability, what must it have been afterwards ? It is this consideration that renders the tonnage so important an item in any statement of comparative force. The relative scantling is another essential point, for which the one-third disparity in size between these figures will partly allow. By an unfortunate typographical (as we take it) error, Captain Brenton represents the Constitution as " an American frigate of the same force as the President, though inferior (superior) as to scantling. " * Now, the extraordinary thickness and solidity of the Constitution's sides had long obtained her, among the people who best knew her, the name of " Old Ironsides." We have already shown that the President, an acknowledged lighter ship, possessed stouter sides than a British 74 : we may therefore consider, that the top-sides of the Constitution were at least equal in thickness to the topsides of a British 80.
With respect to the advantages of stout scantling, we are willing to take the opinion of the Americans themselves. A letter from Mr. Paul Hamilton, the secretary of the American navy, written a few months after the Guerrière's capture, and addressed to the " Chairman of the naval committee of the house of representatives, " contains the following paragraph : " A 76 is built of heavier timber, is intrinsically much stronger than a frigate in all her works, and can sustain battering much longer, and with less injury. A shot, which would sink a frigate, might be received by a 76 with but little injury : it might pass between wind and water through a frigate, when it would stick in the frame of a 76. " Nor is this merely the opinion of Mr. Secretary Hamilton : it is the result of " a very valuable communication received from Charles Stewart, Esquire, a captain in the navy of the United States, an officer of great observation, distinguished talents, and very extensive professional experience ; in whose opinion," adds Mr. H., " I believe all the most enlightened officers in our service concur. " By a singular coincidence too, subjoined to this highly complimented officer's
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communication to Mr. Hamilton, are the signatures of Captain Hull and his first lieutenant to a brief but comprehensive sentence of approval: " We agree with Captain Stewart in the above statement, in all its parts. '' *
We have before remarked upon the great care and expense bestowed by the Americans in equipping their few ships of war. As one important instance may he adduced, the substitution of fine sheet-lead for cartridges, instead of flannel or paper. This gives a decided advantage in action, an advantage almost equal to one gun in three ; for, as a sheet-lead cartridge will hardly ever leave a particle of itself behind, there is no necessity to spunge the gun, and very seldom any to worm it : operations that, with paper or flannel cartridges, must be attended to every time the gun is fired. The advantage of quick firing, no one can dispute ; any more than, from the explanation just given, the facility with which it can be practised by means of the sheet-lead cartridge. The principal objection against the use of this kind of cartridge in the British navy is its expense: another may be, that it causes the powder to get damp. The last objection is obviated by filling no more cartridges than will serve for present use ; and, should more be wanted, the Americans have always spare hands enough to fill them.
Although, in the American accounts of actions, no other description of cannon-shot is ever named as used on board their ships, than " round and grape, " it is now so well known as scarcely to need repetition, that the Americans were greatly indebted, for their success over the British, to a practice of discharging, in the first two or three broadsides, chain, bar, and every other species of dismantling shot, in order to cut away the enemy's rigging, and facilitate the fall of his masts. As an additional means of clearing the decks of British ships of the (seldom over numerous) men upon them, the carronades when close action commenced, were filled with jagged pieces of iron and copper, rusty nails, and other " langridge " of that description. Of the riflemen in the tops we have already spoken ; but even the remaining musketry-men of the crew were provided in a novel and murderous manner : every cartridge they fired contained three or four buck-shot, it being rightly judged, that a buck-shot, well placed, would send a man from his quarters as well as the heaviest ball in use. We mention these circumstances, not to dwell, for a moment, upon their unfairness, but merely to show the extraordinary means to which the Americans resorted, for the purpose of enabling them to cope with the British at sea. Now, then, for the
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COMPARATIVE FORCE OF THE COMBATANTS
|Crew (men only)||No||
Even this statement, with the one-third disparity in guns, and nearly two-fold disparity in men, which it exhibits, will not convey a clear idea of the real inequality of force that existed between the Guerrière and Constitution, without allowance is made for !he ineffective state in which the former commenced the action. There is one circumstance, also, which has greatly contributed to mislead the judgment of the public in deciding upon the merits of this and its succeeding fellow-actions : a belief, grounded on the official accounts, that British frigates, of the Guerrière's class, had frequently captured French frigates, carrying 24-pounders on the main deck. But, in truth, the Forte is the only 24-pounder French frigate captured by a British 38-gun frigate ; and the Forte, in point of force and readiness for action, was not to be compared with the Constitution. * That even French 18-pounder frigates were not, in common cases, captured by British frigates of the same class, without some hard fighting, and a good deal of blood spilt on both sides, these pages afford many proofs. Upon the whole, therefore, no reasonable man can now be surprised at the result of the action between the Guerrière and Constitution. Nor was there in the conduct of the Guerrière, throughout the engagement, any thing that could militate, in the slightest degree, against the long maintained character of British seamen. With respect to Captain Dacres, he evinced a great share of personal bravery on the trying occasion ; and we confess ourselves to have been among the number of those who did not recollect that, although the Guerrière had made herself very obnoxious to the Americans, it was before Captain Dacres was appointed to her.
The chief cause of quarrel between the Americans and the Guerrière undoubtedly arose while Captain Pechell commanded her ; but still it was the same ship, or, to those who doubted that fact, a ship of the same name, which Captain Hull had captured. Most desirable, therefore, would the Guerrière have been as a trophy ; but the shattered state of her hull precluded the possibility of getting the ship into port. At daylight, on the day succeeding the action, the American prize-master hailed the Constitution, to say that the Guerrière had four feet water in the hold, and was in a sinking condition. Quickly the prisoners were removed out of her ; and at 3 h. 30 m. p.m. having been set on fire by Captain Hull's order, the Guerrière blew up
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Having by the evening repaired her principal damages, including a few wounds in each of her three masts, the Constitution made sail from the spot of her achievement, and on the 30th anchored in the harbour of Boston. As may well be conceived, Captain Hull and his officers and crew were greeted with applause by them native and adopted countrymen. He and they also received, at a subsequent day, the thanks of the government, accompanied by a present of 50,000 dollars.
It is a singular fact, that in the letter published in the " National Intelligencer," as that transmitted by Captain Hull to his government, not a word appears respecting the force of the ship which the Constitution had captured. Captain Hull's letter is in this respect an anomaly of the kind. Perhaps, as the American newspapers had frequently stated, that the Constitution mounted 56 guns, and as dead ships, like dead men, " tell no tales," Captain Hull thought it better to leave his friends and countrymen to form their opinion, relative to the force and size of his prize, out of the following sentence : " So fine a ship as the Guerrière, commanded by an able and experienced officer." If Captain Hull did practise this ruse (and the men of Connecticut are proverbially shrewd), the effect, as we shall presently see, must almost have exceeded his hopes.
When the British says to an American officer, " Our frigates and yours are not a match, " the latter very properly replies " You did not think so once. " But what does this amount to ? Admitting that the force of the American 44-gun frigate was fully known before the Guerrière's action, but which was only partially the case ; and admitting that the British 38-gun frigate was considered able to fight her, all that can be said is, that many, who once thought otherwise, are now convinced, that an American and a British ship, in relative force as three to two, are not equally matched. The facts are the same : it is the opinion only that has changed. Man the Constitution with 470 Turks or Algerines ; and even then she would hardly be pronounced, now that her force is known, a match for the Guerrière. The truth is, the name " frigate " had imposed upon the public ; and to that, and that only, must be attributed the angry repinings of many of the British journalists at the capture of the Guerrière. They, sitting safe at their desks, would have sent her and every soul on board to the bottom, with colours flying, because her antagonist was " a frigate ; " whereas, had the Constitution been called " a 50-gun ship, " a defence only half as honourable as the Guerrière's would have gained for her officers and crew universal applause.
Captain Hull, and the officers and men of the Constitution, deserve much credit for what they did do ; first, for attacking a British frigate at all, and next, for conquering one a third inferior in force. It was not for them to reject the reward presented by the " Senate and house of representatives of the United States, "
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because it expressed to be, for capturing a frigate (now for the effect of Captain Hull's " fine ship Guerrière "), " mounting 54 carriage-guns, " instead of, with two standing bow-chasers and a boat-carronade included, 49. Smiling in their sleeves at the credulity of the donors, the captain and his people, without disputing the terms, pocketed the dollars. But is a writer, who stands pledged to deal impartially between nation and nation, to forbear exposing this trickery, because it may suit the Americans to invent any falsehoods, no matter how barefaced, to foist a valiant character upon themselves ?
The Author of the American " Naval history," Mr. Clark, remarks thus upon the Guerrière's capture : " It has manifested the genuine worth of the American tar, and that the vigorous cooperation of the country is all he requires, to enable him to meet, even under disadvantageous circumstances, and to derive glory from the encounter, with the naval heroes of a nation which has so long ruled the waves." * But was it really " American tars " that conquered the Guerrière ? Let us investigate, as far as we are able, this loudly-asserted claim. Our contemporary says, " It appeared in evidence on the court-martial, that there were many Englishmen on board the Constitution, and these were leading men, or captains of guns. The officers of the Guerrière knew some of them personally, and one man in particular, who had been captain of the forecastle in the Eurydice, a British frigate, then recently come from England. Another was in the Achille at Trafalgar ; and the third lieutenant of the Constitution, whose name was Reed, was an Irishman. It was said, and we have no reason to doubt the fact, that there were 200 British seamen on board the Constitution when she began the action. " One fellow, who after the action was sitting under the half-deck busily employed in making buck-shot cartridges to mangle his honourable countrymen, had served under Mr. Kent the first lieutenant. He now went by a new name ; but, on seeing his old commanding officer standing before him, a glow of shame overspread his countenance.