20 février 1815: La frégate américaine USS Constitution(Charles Stewart) capture la frégate anglaise HMS Cyane, 34 (Gordon Falcon) et le HMS Levant, 18 (George Douglas) au large de Madère.



 Minutes of Action between the U.S. Frigate Constitution and H.M. Ships Cyane and Levant, 20 February 1815

           Commences with light breezes from the E and cloudy weather. At 1 discovered a sail two points on the larboard bow--hauled up and made sail in chace--At 1/2 past 1 made the Sail to be a Ship's at 3/4 past 1 discovered another Sail ahead--made them out at 2p.m. to be both Ships, standing closehauled, with their their Starboard tacks on board. At 4 p.m. the weathermost ship made signals and bore up for her consort, then about ten miles to the leeward. --We bore up after her, and set lower topmast, top gallant, and royal studding sails in chace--At 1/2 past 4 carried away our main royal mast--took in the Sails and got another prepared.

At 5 p.m. commenced firing on the chace from our larboard bow guns--our shot falling short, ceased firing--At 1/2 past 5, finding it impossible to prevent their junction, cleared ship for action, then about 4 miles from the two ships--At 40 minutes after 5, they passed within hail of each other, and hauled by the wind on the starboard tack, hauled up their courses and prepared to receive us--

At 45 minutes past 5, they made all sail close hauled by the wind, in hopes of getting to windward of us.--At 55 minutes past 5, finding themselves disappointed in their object, and we were closing with them fast, they shortened sail and formed on a line of wind, about half a cableslength from each other. At 6 p.m. having them under the command of our battery, hoisted our colours, which was answered by both ships hoisting English Ensigns. At 5 minutes past 6, ranged up on the Starboard side of the Sternmost Ship, about 200 yards distant, and commenced action by broadsides, both ships returning fire with great spirit for about 12 minutes, then the fire of the enemy beginning to slacken, and the great column of smoke collected under our lee, induced us to cease our fire to ascertain their positions and conditions. --in about 3 minutes, the smoke clearing away, we found ourselves abreast of their headmost ship, the sternmost ship luffing up for our larboard quarter--we poured a broadside into the headmost ship, and then braced aback our Main and Mizen Topsails, and backed astern under the cover of smoke, abreast the stern most ship, when action was continued with spirit and considerable effect until 35 minutes past 6, when the enemy's fire again slackened, and we discovered the headmost bearing up-filled our topsails-shot ahead, and gave her two stern rakes--we then discovered the sternmost ship nearing also-- wore ship immediately after her, and gave her a stern rake, she luffing too on our Starboard bows, and giving us her larboard broadside. We ranged up on the larboard quarter, within hail, and was about to give her our starboard broadside when she struck her colours, fired a lee gun, and yielded. At 20 minutes past 6, took possession of H.M. Ship Cyane, Captain Gordon Falcon, mounting 34 guns At 8 p.m. filled away after her consort, which was still in sight to leeward -- at 1/2 past 8 found her standing towards us, with her Starboard tacks closehauled, with top-gallant set, and colours flying-- at 20 minutes past 8, ranged close along to windward of her, on opposite tacks, and exchanged broadsides--wore immediately under her stern and raked her with a broadside, she then crowded all sail and endeavoured to escape by running--hauled on board our Tacks, Let Spanker and Flying jib in chace--and 1/2 past 9 commenced firing on her from our starboard bow chaser. --gave her several shot which cut her spars and rigging considerably--at 10 p.m. finding they could not escape, fired a gun, struck her colours and yielded. We immediately took possession of H.M. Ship Levant, Honorable Captain George Douglas, mounting 21 guns. At 1 a.m. the damages of our rigging was repaired, sails and the ship in fighting condition.



Source: Enclosure in Captain Stephen Decatur to Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Crowninshield, dated May 1814, National Archives, Record Group 45, Captain's Letters Sent, 1815, Vol. 3, No. 93.

Excerpts from the journal of A.Y. Humphreys, Chaplain, USS Constitution,
describing the encounter with H.M. Ships Cyane and Levant, 20 February 1815

           Throughout the night standing to the northward and westward under short sail on the starboard tack continuing on this tack without seeing any thing untill 1h 10m. p.m. on Monday when a sail was cried from the mast head as being on the weather bow: hauled up for her under all sail, shortly after another sail was descried on the lee bow and word from aloft that the ship to windward had bore up for us. As we were now in the direct track for craft bound from the Mediterranean to Madeira &c felt assured that none but men of war would manoeuvre in this way and were not mistaken. At 2:30 p.m. the ship standing for us displayed signals which not being answered she squared away to the westward to join her consort setting all studding sails and making a great display of bunting, which she enforced with a number of guns. Set every rag in chase, the wind rather lulling. At a few minutes before three commenced firing from the forward guns on gun deck, the shot falling short ceased firing; at 3:15 opened again from the forward guns the shot just reaching. At 3:45 carried away the main royal mast which enabled the chase to distance our fire. Set Carpenters to work to make a new royal mast which they completed about 5. At 5:30 the breeze freshening a little. The ship to leeward tacking to the Southward under all sail. At 6 the weather ship passed under the stern of the other and spoke with her took in light sails and both of them hauled up their mainsails and hauled too on the starboard tack in line. At 6:10 ranged ahead of the sternmost which we found to be a frigate built ship, bringing her on the quarter and her consort on the bow distant about two hundred yards, and opened our broadsides which was returned with great quickness and spirit and some degree of precision; continued exchanging broadsides until the whole were enveloped in smoke upon the clearing away of which perceived we had got abreast of the headmost ship, manned both sides in case it should be necessary to wareship, and backed the main and mizen topsails and dropped into our first station, the ship on the bow backing her topsails also; broke the men off from the starboard battery and renewed the action from the larboard; after a few broadsides the ship on the bow perceived the error she had committed in getting stern board, & filled away with the intention of tacking athwart our bow, the ship on the quarter at the same moment falling off perfectly unmanageable; filled away in pursuit of the former and compelled him to put his helm up at about one hundred yards distant pouring several raking broadsides into him. He made all sail before the wind which we did not think proper to reduce knowing his crippled situation would enable us to overhaul him after securing his consort, wore sound and ranged alongside the latter when she hoisted a light and fired a gun to leeward and upon being hailed to that effect replied she had surrendered. Sent a boat on board and took possession of His Majesty's Ship Cyane Capt Gordon Falcon mounting 34 guns 32 pound carronades -- having received her Commander and officers on board with the greater part of her crew ordered her to keep company and filled away in chase of the other gentleman and in short time discovered him on the weather bow standing for us. In a few minutes he luffed to and fired his broadsides which was duly repaid, he then tacked ship and made all sail by the wind receiving a rake from our starboard broadside; set the Royals and soon gained his wake and opened upon him from the gun deck chase guns with great effect and in a few minutes after she hoisted a light and hove too. Ranged alongside, sent a boat on board and took possession of His Majesty's Ship Levant Capt. Douglass, of 18 32 pound carronades and 2 long 12 pounders. The whole of this business occupied about three hours, only forty-five minutes of which were taken up in compelling both ships to yield to our superior gunnery. The Cyane when she struck had five feet water in the hold and otherwise very much cut up, her masts tottering and nothing but the smoothness of the sea preventing them from going over the side. The Levant in a condition somewhat better, her spars having generally escaped, but her hull pretty well drilled and her deck a perfect slaughter house, in fact so hardly had she been dealt with on deck that her men by the acknowledgement of their Officers twice went below from their quarters. The Constitution lost not a spar but the fore top gallant yard, and was in better order if possible to have fought a similar action than when the late one commenced. The loss on the part of the two ships was upwards of forty killed and nearly double that number wounded, the Constitution had four killed and eleven wounded. Two or three hours sufficed to place the three ships in a condition to make sail and by four o'clock on the morning of Sunday Feby. 21st they were standing to the Westward.

 Source: Indiana University, Lily Library, A.Y. Humphreys journal, Humphreys Manuscripts.



Le 29 décembre 1812, la frégate américaine USS Constitution, attaque et détruit la frégate britannique HMS Java, près des côtes brésiliennes. Les deux navires étaient armés de 44 canons respectivement.



Tuesday 29th December 1812     

At 9 AM, discovered two Strange Sails on the weather bow, at 10. AM. discovered the strange sails to be Ships, one of them stood in for the land, and the other steered off shore in a direction  towards us. At 10.45. We tacked ship to the Nd & Wd and stood for the sail standing towards us,-At 11 tacked to the Sd & Ed hauld up the mainsail and took in the Royals. At 11.30 AM made the private signal for the day, which was not answered, & then set the mainsail and royals to draw the strange sail off from the neutral Coast.          

Wednesday 30th December 1812, (Nautical Time) Commences with Clear weather and moderate breezes from E.N.E. Hoisted our Ensign and Pendant. At 15 minutes past meridian, The ship hoisted her colours, an English Ensign, --having a signal flying at her Main Red Yellow-Red At 1.26 being sufficiently from the land, and finding the ship to be an English Frigate, took in the Main Sail and Royals, tacked Ship and stood for the enemy

          At 1 .50. P.M, The Enemy bore down with an intention of rakeing us, which we avoided by wearing. At 2, P.M, the enemy being within half a mile, of us, and to wind ward, & having hawled down his colours to dip his Gafft, and not hoisting them again except an Union Jack at the Mizen Mast head, (we having hoisted on board the Constitution an American Jack forward Broad Pendant at Main, American Ensign at Mizen Top Gallant Mast head and at the end of The Gafft) induced me to give orders to the officer of the 3rd Division to fire one Gun ahead of the enemy to make him show his Colours, which being done brought on afire from us of the whole broadside, on which he hoisted an English Ensign at the Peak, and another in his weather Main Rigging, besides his Pendant and then immediately returned our fire, which brought on a general action with round and grape.

          The enemy Kept at a much greater distance than I wished, but Could not bring him to closer action without exposing ourselves to several rakes.-Considerable Manoeuvers were made by both Vessels to rake and avoid being raked.

The following Minutes Were Taken during the Action


 At 2.10. P.M,

Commenced The Action within good grape and Canister distance. The enemy to windward (but much farther than I wished).

 At 2,30. P.M,

our wheel was shot entirely away

 At 2.40.

determined to close with the Enemy, notwithstanding her rakeing, set the Fore sail & Luff'd up close to him.

 At 2,50,

The Enemies Jib boom got foul of our Mizen Rigging

 At 3

The Head of the enemies Bowsprit & Jib boom shot away by us

 At 3.5

Shot away the enemies foremast by the board

 At 3.15

Shot away The enemies Main Top mast just above the Cap

 At 3.40

Shot away Gafft and Spunker boom

 At 3.55

Shot his mizen mast nearly by the board

 At 4.5

Having silenced the fire of the enemy completely and his colours in main Rigging being [down] Supposed he had Struck, Then hawl'd about the Courses to shoot ahead to repair our rigging, which was extremely cut, leaving the enemy a complete wreck, soon after discovered that The enemies flag was still flying hove too to repair Some of our damages.

 At 4.20.

The Enemies Main Mast went by the board.

 At 4.50

[Wore] ship and stood for the Enemy

 At 5.25

Got very close to the enemy in a very [effective] rakeing position, athwart his bows & was at the very instance of rakeing him, when he most prudently Struck his Flag.


Had The Enemy Suffered the broadside to have raked him previously to strikeing, his additional loss must have been extremely great laying like a log upon the water, perfectly unmanageable, I could have continued rakeing him without being exposed to more than two of his Guns, (if even Them)

          After The Enemy had struck, wore Ship and reefed the Top Sails, hoisted out one of the only two remaining boats we had left out of 8 & sent Lieut [George] Parker 1st of the Constitution on board to take possession of her, which was done about 6. P.M, The Action continued from the commencement to the end of the Fire, 1 H 55 m our sails and Rigging were shot very much, and some of our spars injured-had 9 men Killed and 26 wounded. At 7 PM. The boat returned from the Prize with Lieut. [Henry D.] Chads the 1st of the enemies Frigate (which I then learnt was the Java rated 38 - had 49 Guns mounted--)-and Lieut Genl [Thomas] Hislop-appointed to Command in the East Indies,-Major Walker and Capt Wood, belonging to his Staff. -Capt [Henry] Lambert of the Java was too dangerously wounded to be removed immediately.

          The Cutter returned on board the Prize for Prisoners, and brought Capt [John] Marshall, Master & Commander of The British Navy, who was passenger on board, as also Several other Naval officers destined for ships in the East Indies. The Java had her whole number complete and nearly an hundred supernumeraries. The number she had on board at the commencement of the Action, The officers have not candour to say; from the different papers we collected, such as a muster book, Watch List and quarter Bills, she must have had upwards of 400 souls, she had one more man stationed at each of her Guns on both Decks than what we had The Enemy had 83 wounded & 57 Kill'd.

          The Java was an important ship fitted out in the compleatest manner to [carry out] the Lieut. Genl & dispatches. She had Copper &c. on board for a 74 building at Bombay, and, I suspect a great many other valuables, but every thing was blown up, except the officers baggage when we set her on fire on the 1st of January 1813 at 3 P.M. Nautical Time.


Extract from Commodore Bainbridge's Journal Kept on board the U.S. Frigate Constitution


United States Frigate Constitution off St Salvador Decr 31st 1812


          It is with deep regret that I write you for the information of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty that His Majesty's Ship Java is no more, after sustaining an action on the 29th Inst for several hours with the American Frigate Constitution which resulted in the Capture and ultimate destruction of His Majestys Ship. Captain Lambert being dangerously wounded in the height of the Action, the melancholy task of writing the detail devolves on me.

          On the morning of the 29th inst at 8 AM off St Salvador (Coast of Brazil) the wind at NE. we perceived a strange sail, made all sail in chace and soon made her out to be a large Frigate; at noon prepared for action the chace not answering our private Signals and backing towards us under easy sail; when about four miles distant she made a signal and immediately tacked and made all sail away upon the wind, we soon found we had the advantage of her in sailing and came up with her fast when she hoisted American Colours. she then bore about three Points on our lee bow at 1:50 PM the Enemy shortened Sail upon which we bore down upon her, at 2:10 when about half a mile distant she opened her fire giving us her larboard broad-side which was not returned till we we were close on her weather bow; both Ships now manoeuvered to obtain advantageous positions; our opponent evidently avoiding close action and firing high to disable our masts in which he succeeded too well having shot away the head of our bowsprit with the Jib boom and our running rigging so much cut as to prevent our preserving the weather gage At 3:5 finding the Enemys raking fire extreemly heavy Captain Lambert ordered the Ship to be laid on board, in which we should have succeeded had not our foremast been shot away at this moment, the remains of our bowsprit passing over his taffrail, shortly after this the main topmast went leaving the Ship totally unmanageable with most of our Starboard Guns rendered useless from the wreck laying over them At 3:30 our Gallant Captain received a dangerous wound in the breast and was carried below, from this time we could not fire more than two or three guns until 4:15 when our Mizen mast was shot away the Ship then fell off a little and brought many of our Starboard Guns to bear, the Enemy's rigging was so much cut that he could not now avoid shooting ahead which brought us fairly Broadside and Broadside. Our Main yard now went in the slings both ships continued engaged in this manner till 4:35 we frequently on fire in consequence of the wreck laying on the side engaged. Our opponent now made sail ahead out of Gun shot where he remained an hour repairing his damages leaving us an unmanageable wreck with only the mainmast left, and that toterring; Every exertion was made by us during his interval to place this Ship in a state to renew the action. We succeeded in clearing the wreck of our Masts from our Guns. a Sail was set on the stumps of the Foremast & Bowsprit the weather half of the Main Yard remaining aloft, the main tack was got forward in the hope of getting the Ship before the Wind, our helm being still perfect. the effort unfortunately proved ineffectual from the Main mast falling over the side from the heavy rolling of the Ship, which nearly covered the whole of our Starboard Guns. We still waited the attack of the Enemy, he now standing toward us for that purpose. on his coming nearly within hail of us & from his manouvre perceiving he intended a position a head where he could rake us without a possibility of our returning a shot. I then consulted the Officers who agreed with myself that on having a great part of our Crew killed & wounded our Bowsprit and three masts gone, several guns useless, we should not be justified in waisting the lives of more of those remaining whom I hope their Lordships & Country will think have bravely defended His Majestys Ship. Under these circumstances, however reluctantly at 5:50 our Colours were lowered from the Stump of the Mizen Mast and we were taken possession a little after 6. by the American Frigate Constitution commanded by Commodore Bainbridge who immediately after ascertaining the state of the Ship resolved on burning her which we had the satisfaction of seeing done as soon as the Wounded were removed. Annexed I send you a return of a killed and wounded and it is with pain I perceive it so numerous also a statement of the comparative force of the two Ships when I hope their Lordships will not think the British Flag tarnished although success has not attended us. It would be presumptive in me to speak of Captain Lamberts merit, who, though still in danger from his wound we still entertain the greatest hopes of his being restored to the service & his Country. It is most gratifying to my feelings to notice the general gallantry of every Officer, Seaman & Marine on board. in justice to the Officers I beg leave to mention them individually. I can never speak too highly of the able exertions of Lieuts. [William A.] Herringham & Buchanan and also Mr. [Batty] Robinson Master who was severely wounded and Lieuts Mercer and Davis [David Davies] of the Royal Marines the latter of whom was also severly wounded. To Capt Jno Marshall RN who was a passenger I am particular]y obliged to for his exertions and advice throughout the action. To Lieutt Aplin who was on the Main Deck and Lieutt Sanders who commanded on the Forecastle, I also return my thanks. I cannot but notice the good conduct of the Mates, & Midshipmen. many of whom are killed & the greater part wounded. To Mr T. C. [Thomas Cooke] Jones Surgeon and his Assistants every praise is due for their unwearied assiduity in the care of the wounded. Lieutt General [Thomas] Hislop, Major Walker and Captain [J. T.] Wood of his Staff the latter of whom was severly wounded were solicitous to assist & remain on the quarter Deck I cannot conclude this letter without expressing my grateful acknowledgement thus publicly for the generous treatment Captain Lambert and his Officers have experienced from our Gallant Enemy Commodore Bainbridge and his Officers. I have the honor to be [&c.]


W [H] D Chads, 1st Lieut of His Majestys late Ship Java

To John Wilson Croker Esquire

PS. The Constitution has also suffered severly, both in her rigging and men having her Fore and Mizen masts, main topmast, both main topsailyards, Spanker boom, Gaff & trysail mast badly shot, and the greatest part of the standing rigging very much damaged with ten men killed. The Commodore, 5 Lieuts and 46 men wounded four of whom are since dead.

Source: British Public Record Office, Admiralty 1/5435.


Source: National Archives, Record Group 45, Captain's Letters, 1813, Vol.1, No.8 1/2.

Naval History of Great Britain
William James

VOL. VI , published 1837






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


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



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


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


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.


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


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





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


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



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







Broadside-guns         No. 






Crew (men only) No



Size tons



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


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, "


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. 

Naval History of Great Britain
William James

VOL. VI , published 1837


Aware of the injury that would accrue to British commerce by the presence of an enemy's squadron in the South Seas, the American government ordered Commodore William Bainbridge, in the absence of Captain Hull, who wished to attend to his private affairs, to proceed thither with the Constitution, and the Hornet, Captain James Lawrence ; calling off St.-Salvador, on the coast of Brazil, for the Essex, Captain Porter, who had been directed to join them at that rendezvous. On the 27th of October the Essex sailed from the Delaware ; and on the 30th the Constitution and Hornet sailed from Boston. Towards the latter end of December Commodore Bainbridge arrived off St.-Salvador ; and, not finding the Essex at the rendezvous, sent the Hornet into the port to make inquiries respecting her. On the 29th of December, at 2 P. M., latitude 13° 6' south, longitude 30° west, while lying to about 10 leagues off the coast, waiting to be joined by the Hornet, then seen approaching from the coast, the Constitution descried in the offing the British 38-gun

frigate Java, Captain Henry Lambert, having in tow the American merchant ship William, which she had recently captured.A little of the previous history of the Java may render more intelligible the details that are to follow. On the 17th of August, in the present year, the late French frigate Renommée , * under the name of Java, was commissioned at Portsmouth by Captain Lambert, in order to carry out to Bombay the newly appointed governor, Lieutenant-general Hislop, and suite, together with a supply of stores, particularly of copper, for the Cornwallis 74, and Chameleon and Icarus 10-gun sloops, building at Bombay. There was no difficulty in commissioning the ship, in talking her sides and decks, in fitting up her accommodations, in putting

1812     JAVA AND CONSTITUTION     127

on board her 46 guns, or her stores for the voyage, or for the new ships building ; but there was a difficulty in providing her with a crew. Officers, and a few petty-officers, were soon obtained. The ship's 50 marines also came on board ; and, although 18 of the number were raw recruits, they were upon the whole a good set of men Then came about 60 Irishmen who had never smelt salt water, except in crossing from their own shores to England. As a fine addition to a crew that, in less than a month after the ship sailed, might have to fight an American frigate similar to that which had taken the Guerrière, a draught of 50 disaffected wretches came on board from the 18-gun ship-sloop Coquette, lying at Spithead. Pressgangs and the prison-ships furnished others not much better. As to boys, the established number, 23, was easily filled up ; and, at length, 292, out of a complement of 300, men and boys were got together.

Feeling as every brave officer must feel, Captain Lambert remonstrated about the inefficiency of his ship's company but he was told that a voyage to the East Indies and back would make a good crew. It was in vain to urge the matter further ; and, as some slight amendment to the Java's crew, eight seamen were allowed to volunteer from the Rodney 74. Thus, out of a complement of 300 men and boys, the whole number of petty-officers and men, exclusively of those of the former that walked the quarterdeck, who had never been present in an action, amounted to fewer than 50. Here was a ship's company ! As several officers and men were to come on board as passengers, some hopes were entertained that these might compensate for the worthlessness of the crew ; but of the 86 supernumeraries, a very large proportion turned out to be marine-society boys.

Manned in this way, with a total of 397 persons of every description, the Java, on the 12th of November, set sail from Spithead, having in charge two outward-bound Indiamen. On the 12th of December the Java captured the American ship William, and placed on board a master's mate and 19 men, (the latter of some experience, undoubtedly, or they would have been of no use there,) with orders to keep company. On the 4th, being rather short of water, and being unable, without much difficulty, to get at what remained in the hold, on account of some articles of stores that lay over the casks, Captain Lambert determined to put into St.-Salvador. With this object in view, the Java altered her course; but the two Bombay ships, not wishing to go so far out of their way, parted company, and proceeded alone on their voyage.

Hitherto, owing to the necessity, in a newly fitted ship, of setting up the rigging, to the length of time, that a crew so inexperienced as the Java's would expend in the operation, to the number of other extra duties required on board a fighting ship so loaded and lumbered as the Java, and, particularly, to a succession of gales of wind since the day of departure, the men had


only been exercised occasionally at training the guns. But, as the ship was now approaching a coast, where there was a probability of falling in with an enemy's frigate, French or American, Captain Lambert, on the 28th, ordered the crew to be exercised at firing the guns. Accordingly, for the first time since she had become a British frigate, the Java, on that evening, discharged six broadsides of blank cartridges. With the majority of the crew, of course, those six broadsides were the first they had ever assisted in firing. What a crew to go into action, not with an American frigate a third superior, but with a French frigate barely their equal ! Previously to his departure from Portsmouth, Captain Lambert had actually declared to some of his friends, that, owing solely to the ineffective state of his crew, he did not consider himself equal to any French frigate he might meet.

Having no private brass guns, like the Macedonian, and no pair of long 18-pounders forward to bring down her heads like the Guerrière, the Java mounted no more, including 16 carronades, 32-pounders, and two long nines, than her 46 guns and a boat-carronade. Since her action with the Guerrière, either because the ship was beginning to hog, or for some unexplained reason, the Constitution had disarmed herself of two of her 32-pounder carronades, and taken on board one 18-ponder carronade fitted on a travelling carriage; and for which, as has already been shown, she had more than one pair of spare ports.

Casting off the William, with directions to her to proceed to St.-Salvador, the Java, soon after 8 A. M., with the wind blowing moderately from the north-east, bore up in chase of the Constitution, then in the south-south-west, standing on the larboard tack. At 10 A. M. the Java made the private signals, English, Spanish, and Portuguese, in succession; none of which were answered. At 10 h. 45 m, the Constitution tacked to the northward and westward, and stood for the Java ; whom Captain Commodore took for his expected consort the Essex. At noon, when about four miles distant, the Constitution hoisted the private signal. Having kept it flying 10 minutes, and finding it not answered, the Constitution wore from the Java, as the American account states, to avoid being raked ; and, again setting her mainsail and royals, kept away about two points free, in order, as Commodore Bainbridge says, to draw the Java from her consort the William merchantman, then standing in for the land, and supposed probably to be another ship of war.

Hauling up, the Java steered a course, parallel to that of the Constitution, and gained upon her considerably ; but, the breeze freshening, the Java, who was then going ten knots, lay over so much, that she was obliged to take in her royals. At about 1 h. 30 m. P. M. the Constitution, who found no inconvenience from carrying her royals, hoisted a commodore's pendant at the main, one American ensign at the mizen peak and another at

1812     JAVA AND CONSTITUTION     129

the main topgallantmast-head, also an American jack at the fore. At 1 h. 40 m., by which time the Java had closed her within two miles, the American frigate shortened sail to top and topgallant sails, jib, and spanker, and luffed up to the wind. The British frigate now hoisted her colours, consisting of an ensign at the mizen peak, one union jack at the mizen topgallantmast-head, and another lashed to the main rigging ; and, putting herself under top and topgallant sails, jib, and spanker, the Java stood for the Constitution, then bearing about three points on her lee bow.

At 2 h. 10 m. P. M., when by her slanting course the Java had approached within half a mile of the Constitution, the latter opened a fire from her larboard guns ; the shot from which, as a proof of their good direction, splashed the water against the Java's starboard side. Not being so close as he wished, Captain Lambert stood on until within pistol-shot on the Constitution's weather or larboard bow ; when, at 2 h. 20 m. P. M., having received a second broadside, which, because the guns were now elevated too much, as before they had been too little, passed over her, the Java discharged a broadside in return. Almost every shot of this broadside took effect. The Constitution had her wheel knocked away, besides receiving other damage, and lost four men killed and several wounded.

Dreading a repetition of this warm salute, the American frigate, having fired her third broadside without much effect, wore in the smoke to get further to leeward. As soon as she discovered that her wary antagonist was running before the wind, the Java made sail after her; and at 2 h. 25 m. P. M., * the Constitution, and then the Java, having come round on the starboard tack, the two frigates again exchanged broadsides. Again the Constitution wore to get away. The Java wore also ; and at 2 h. 35 m., passing slowly under the latter's stern, with her larboard main yard-arm over the Constitution's taffrail, which, owing to the height of her lower battery from the water and her being nearly eight feet between decks, was nearly as high as that of the 74-gun ship Plantagenet, † the British frigate might have raked the American frigate in a most destructive manner . ‡ But, either panic-struck at the sight of so large and formidable a ship, or unable, from sheer ignorance, to appreciate the value of the opportunity thus afforded them of reducing the strength of their antagonist, the Java's crew did not fire a gun, except the 9-pounder on the forecastle ; and that was pointed and discharged by Lieutenant James Saunders, one of the supernumerary officers. The Constitution had now the weathergage ; but this did not suit her long-shot tactics: the American frigate therefore made sail free on the larboard tack, followed by


the British frigate; who, at 2 h. 40 m. luffing up, crossed again, but in an oblique manner, the Constitution's stern, and fired, this time, two or three of her foremost starboard guns.

At 2 h. 43 m. P. M., feeling ashamed of thus avoiding an antagonist so much inferior in size and force to himself, or impelled by his officers, some of whom, perhaps, hinted at the powerless state of the Java's battery, as recently witnessed, Commodore Bainbridge, as he tells us in his journal, "determined to close with the enemy notwithstanding his raking. " The Constitution accordingly hauled on board her fore and main tacks, and luffed up for her opponent. On arriving abreast of the Java, who had stood on upon the larboard tack, and now lay close to windward, the Constitution shortened sail and engaged her. At 2 h. 52 m. P. M., having shot away the head of the Java's bowsprit, * the American frigate repeated her favourite manoeuvre of wearing ; and, owing to the smoke, was not perceived until nearly round on the starboard tack. Having now neither jib nor foretopmast staysail, the Java, as the quickest mode to get round in pursuit, hove in stays, hoping to do so is time to avoid being raked ; but, from the operation of the same cause that had brought her so readily to the wind, the want of head-sail, the ship paid off very slowly. At 2h. 55 m. ‡ luffing sharp up, the Constitution set the Java's 'men a good example, by discharging, within the distance of about 400 yards, a heavy, but, as it happened, not a very destructive, fire into the British frigate's stern. This salute the Java, as she fell off, returned with her larboard guns. Immediately on receiving their fire, the Constitution wore round on the larboard tack, and was followed by the Java ; who, as quickly as she could, ranged up alongside to windward, as yet, not much the worse for her 40 minutes' engagement with an antagonist, that ought, in the time, to have knocked her to pieces.

At 2 h. 58 m. P. M., being again abreast of each other, and within pistol-shot distance, the two frigates mutually engaged so much, however, to the disadvantage of the Java, that, in the course of 10 minutes, her rigging was cut to pieces, and her fore and main masts badly wounded, her master carried below wounded, and several other officers and men killed or wounded. In this state, Captain Lambert determined on boarding, as the only chance of success left. With such intent, the Java, at 3 h. 8 m. P. M., bore up, and would have laid the Constitution on board at her larboard main chains, had not the foremast at that instant fallen, and which, by its weight and the direction of its fall, crushed the forecastle, and encumbered the principal part of the main deck. The remains of the Java's bowsprit, passing

  • The American account says the jib-boom had just before got foul of the Constitution's mizen rigging, but this fact does not. appear in the English account.

1812     JAVA AND CONSTITUTION     131

over the Constitution's stern, caught in her starboard mizen rigging, and brought the ship up in the wind, whereby the opportunity to rake, as well as to board, was lost.

The Java now lay at the mercy of her antagonist ; who, at 3 h. 15 m. P. M., * wearing across her bows, raked her with a very heavy fire, and shot away her main topmast ; the wreck of which and of the foremast rendered useless the greater part of the starboard guns. Running past her unmanageable, and now nearly defenceless, opponent to leeward, the Constitution, at 3 h. 20 m. P. M., luffed up and raked her on the starboard quarter ; then wore round on the larboard tack, and, resuming her position, fired her larboard broadside with most destructive effect. At 3 h. 30 m. P. M., † Captain Lambert fell, mortally wounded in the left breast by a musket-ball from the Constitution's main top, and was carried below. The command of the Java then devolved upon Lieutenant Henry Ducie Chads ; who, although he had been painfully, but not dangerously, wounded since the commencement of the action, still remained on deck, animating the surviving officers and crew by his noble example.

At 3 h. 50 m. P. M. the Java had her gaff and spanker-boom shot away, and at 4 h. 5 m. her mizenmast. All this while, the Constitution lay on the Java's starboard quarter, pouring in a tremendous fire of round, grape, and musketry. The Constitution, from the damaged state of her rigging, ranging ahead, and the Java, from the fall of her mizenmast, falling off a little, the two frigates again became opposed broadside to broadside. Whether inspirited by the intrepid conduct of the Rodney's eight seamen and a few others (who almost fought the main deck), or recovered from their panic by knowing that the chief of the slaughter had hitherto fallen among their comrades on the deck above, the men at the Java's 18-pounders began blazing away with the utmost animation ; blazing, indeed, for, the wreck lying over the guns on that side, almost every discharge set the ship on fire. Having effectually done her work, the Constitution, at 4 h. 25 m. P. M., ‡ made sail ahead out of gun-shot, to repair her damages; leaving the Java a perfect wreck, with her mainmast only standing, and that tottering, her main yard gone in the slings, and the muzzles of her guns dipping in the water from the heavy rolling of the ship in consequence of her dismasted state. Mistaking the cause of the Constitution's running from them, or becoming more attached to their new occupation by the few hours' practice which they had had, the tyro ship's company of the Java cheered the American frigate, and called to her to come back.

While, with far more care than appeared to be requisite, considering that the loss of her maintopsail yard, with some cut egging, was the only visible injury she had sustained, the


Constitution lay at a distance on the Java's weather and larboard bow, getting ready to give the finishing blow to this, by her means chiefly, protracted contest, the Java, with one union jack lashed to the stump of her mizenmast, and another, where, notwithstanding the assertion of Commodore Bainbridge, that it was down when he shot ahead, it had remained during all the action, in her main rigging, was busied in clearing away the wreck of her masts and putting herself in a state to renew the action, as soon as her antagonist, with whom the option lay, should re-advance to the attack. The Java's first endeavours were to get before the wind : with this view, a sail was set from the stump of the foremast to the bowsprit ; and, as the weather main yardarm still remained aloft, the main tack was got forward. A topgallantmast was also got from the booms, and begun to be rigged as a jury foremast, with a lower studding-sail for a jury foresail ; when, owing to the continued heavy rolling of the ship, the mainmast was obliged to be cut away, to prevent its falling in-board. This was at 4 h. 40 m. P. M. ; and in half an hour after that service had been executed, the Constitution wore and stood for the hulk of the Java ; whose crew, with very creditable alacrity, had reloaded their guns with round and grape, and seemed, notwithstanding their almost hopeless state, far from dispirited.

At 5 h. 45 m. P. M., full three hours and a half from the commencement of the action, the Constitution placed herself in a very effectual raking position, close athwart the bows of her defenceless antagonist. Having, besides the loss of her masts and bowsprit as already mentioned, had six of her quarterdeck, four of her forecastle, and several of her maindeck, guns disabled, the latter chiefly from the wreck lying over them, all her boats shot to pieces, her hull shattered, and one pump shot away, and having also much water in the hold, the British frigate, as a measure that could now no longer be delayed, lowered her colours from the stump of the mizenmast ; and at 6 P. M. the Java was taken possession of by the Constitution.

The following diagram is meant to illustrate the numerous evolutions in this action, from 15 minutes after its commencement at 2 h. 10 m., to the Java's surrender at 5 h. 45 m. P. M. Some of the dates will be found slightly to disagree with those specified either in the British or the American official accounts. This has been done to bring the two accounts nearer together, but great care has been taken in marking the relative time, which is by far the more material consideration. The remarks formerly made respecting the impracticability of giving the proper elongation to the tracks, or dotted lines, apply to this diagram, to the second or lower compartment of it especially.

1812     JAVA AND CONSTITUTION     133

Out of her crew, supernumeraries included, of 354 men and 23 boys, the Java had three master's mates (Charles Jones, Thomas Hammond, and William Gascoigne), two midshipmen (William Salmond and Edward Keele), one supernumerary clerk (Thomas Joseph Matthias), 12 seamen, and four marines killed, her captain (mortally), first lieutenant (already named), master (Batty Robinson), second lieutenant of marines (David Davies), boatswain (James Humble, severely), four of her midshipmen, 55 seamen (one mortally), four boys and 21 marines (with the killed, just half the number on board) wounded ; and, of her supernumeraries, one commander (John Marshall), one lieutenant (James Saunders), Captain Wood, aide-de-camp to General Hislop, one master's mate (William Brown), and nine seamen also wounded : total, 22 killed and 102 wounded ; two mortally, five dangerously, 52 severely, and 43 slightly.


      Le 19 août 1812, au Sud de Terre Neuve, la frégate américaine à 44 canons, "Constitution", commandée par le capitaine Isaac Hull, attaque et détruit la frégate britannique de 38 canons "HMS Guerriere"commandée par le capitaine James Dacres.




  Captain Isaac Hull to Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton


U S Frigate Constitution off Boston Light     August 28th 1812


          I have the Honour to inform you that on the 19th inst. at 2 PM being in Lattitude 41° 42° Longitude 55° 48° with the wind from the Northward, and the Constitution under my command Steering to the S.SW. a sail was discovered from the Mast head bearing E by S. or E.SE. but at such a distance that we could not make Out what she was. All sail was immediately made in chace, and we soon found we came fast up with the chace, so that at 3 PM. we could make her Out to be a Ship on the Starboard tack close by the wind under easy sail. At 1/2 past 3 PM. closing very fast with the chace could see that she was a large Frigate, At 3/4 past 3 the chace backed her Maintopsail, and lay by on the Starboard tack; I immediately ordered the light sails taken in, and the Royal Yards sent down, took two reefs in the topsails, hauled up the foresail, and mainsail and see all clear for action, after all was clear the Ship was ordered to be kept away for the Enemy, on hearing of which the Gallant crew gave three cheers, and requested to be laid close alongside the chace. As we bore up she hoisted an English Ensign at the Mizen Gaff, another in the Mizen Shrouds, and a Jack at the Fore, and MizentopGallant mast heads. At 5 minutes past 5 PM. as we were running down on her weather quarter She fired a Broadside, but without effect the Shot all falling short, she then wore and gave us a broadside from Larboard Guns, two of which Shot Struck us but without doing any injury. At this time finding we were within gunshot, I ordered the Ensign hoisted at the Mizen Peak, and a Jack at the Fore and MizentopGallant mast head, and a Jack bent ready for hoisting at the Main, the Enemy continued wearing, and manoeuvering for about 3/4 of an hour, to get the wind of us. At length finding that she could not, she bore up to bring the wind, on the quarter, and run under her Topsails, and Gib, finding that we came up very slow, and were receiving her shot without being able to return them with effect, I ordered the MaintopGallant sail set, to run up alongside of her.         At 5 minutes past 6 PM being alongside, and within less than Pistol Shot, we commenced a very heavy fire from all of our Guns, loaded with round, and grape, which done great Execution, so much so that in less than fifteen minutes from the time, we got alongside, his Mizen Mast went by the board, and his Main Yard in the Slings, and the Hull, and Sails very much injured, which made it very difficult for them to manage her. At this time the Constitution had received but little damage, and having more sail set than the Enemy she shot ahead, on seeing this I determined to put the Helm to Port, and oblige him to do the same, or suffer himself to be raked, by our getting across his Bows, on our Helm being put to Port the Ship came too, and gave us an opportunity of pouring in upon his Larboard Bow several Broadsides, which made great havock amongst his men on the forecastle and did great injury to his forerigging, and sails, The Enemy put his helm to Port, at the time we did, but his MizenMast being over the quarter, prevented her coming too, which brought us across his Bows, with his Bowsprit over our Stern. At this moment I determined to board him, but the instant the Boarders were called, for that purpose, his Foremast, and Mainmast went by the board, and took with them the Gib-boom, and every other Spar except the Bowsprit. On seeing the Enemy totally disabled, and the Constitution received but little injury I ordered the Sails filled, to hawl off, and repair our damages and return again to renew the action, not knowing whither the Enemy had struck, or not, we stood off for about half an hour, to repair our Braces, and such other rigging, as had been shot away, and wore around to return to the Enemy, it being now dark, we could not see whether she had any colours, flying or not, but could discover that she had raised a small flag Staff or Jurymast forward. I ordered a Boat hoisted out, and sent Lieutenant Reed on board as a flag to see whether she had surrendered or not, and if she had to see what assistance she wanted, as I believed she was sinking.
Lieutenant Reed returned in about twenty minutes, and brought with him, James Richard Dacres Esqr. Commander of his Britannic Majesty's Frigate the Guerriere, which ship had surrendered, to the United States Frigate Constitution, our Boats were immediately hoisted out and sent for the Prisoners, and were kept at work bringing them and their Baggage on board, all night.
At daylight we found the Enemy's Ship a perfect Wreck, having many Shot holes between wind, and water, and above Six feet of the Plank below the Bends taken out by our round Shot, and her upperwork[s so] shattered to pieces, that I determined to take out the sick and wounded as fast as possible, and set her on fire, as it would be impossible to get her into Port.

          At 3 PM. all the Prisoners being out, Mr Reed was ordered to set fire to her in the Store Rooms, which he did and in a very short time she blew up. I want words to convey to you the Bravery, and Gallant conduct, of the Officers, and the crew under my command during the action. I can therefore only assure you, that so well directed was the fire of the Constitution, and so closely kept up, that in less than thirty minutes, from the time we got alongside of the Enemy (One of their finest Frigates) She was left without a Spar Standing, and the Hull cut to pieces, in such a manner as to make it difficult to keep her above water, and the Constitution in a State to be brought into action in two hours. Actions like these speak for themselves which makes it unnecessary for me to say any thing to Establish the Bravery and Gallant conduct of those that were engaged in it, Yet I cannot but make you acquainted with the very great assistance I received from that valuable officer Lieutenant Morris in bringing the Ship into action, and in working her whilst alongside the Enemy, and I am extremely sorry to state that he is badly wounded, being shot through the Body. we have yet hopes of his recovery, when I am sure, he will receive the thanks, and gratitude of his Country, for this and the many Gallant acts he has done in its Service. Were I to name any particular Officer as having been more useful than the rest, I should do them great Injustice, they all fought bravely, and gave me every possible assistance, that I could wish. I am extremely sorry to state to you the loss of Lieutenant [William S.] Bush of Marines. He fell at the head of his men in getting ready to board the Enemy. In him our Country has lost a Valuable and Brave Officer. After the fall of Mr Bush, Mr [Lieutenant John] Contee took command of the Marines, and I have pleasure in saying that his conduct was that of a Brave good Officer, and the Marines behaved with great coolness, and courage during the action, and annoyed the Enemy very much whilst she was under our Stern.

          Enclosed I have the Honour to forward you a list of Killed, and Wounded, on board the Constitution, and a list of Killed, and Wounded, on board the Enemy, with a List of her crew and a Copy of her quarter Bill, also a report of the damage the Constitution received in the Action. I have the honour to be [&c.]



Isaac Hull

 Source: National Archives, Record Group 45, Captain's Letters, 1812, Vol. 2, No. 207.




Captain James R. Dacres, Royal Navy, to Vice Admiral Herbert Sawyer, Royal Navy


Boston 7th September 1812


          I am sorry to inform you of the Capture of His Majesty's late Ship Guerriere by the American Frigate Constitution after a severe action on the 19th of August in Latitude 40.20 N and Longitude 55.00 West At 2 PM being by the Wind on the starboard Tack, we saw a Sail on our Weather Beam, bearing down on us. At 3 made her out to be a Man of War, beat to Quarters and prepar'd for Action. At 4, She closing fast wore to prevent her raking us. At 4.10 hoisted our Colours and fir'd several shot at her. At 4.20 She hoisted her Colours and return'd our fire. Wore several times, to avoid being raked, Exchanging broadsides. At 5 She clos'd on our Starboard Beam, both keeping up a heavy fire and steering free, his intention being evidently to cross our bow. At 5.20, our Mizen Mast went over the starboard quarter and brought the Ship up in the Wind. The Enemy then plac'd himself on our larboard Bow, raking us, a few only of our bow Guns bearing and his Grape and Riflemen sweeping our Deck. At 5.40 the Ship not answering her helm, he attempted to lay up on board at this time. Mr [Samuel] Grant who commanded the Forecastle was carried below badly wounded. I immediately order'd the Marines and Boarders from the Main Deck; the Master was at this time shot thro the knee, and I receiv'd a severe wound in the back. Lieutenant [Bartholomew] Kent was leading on the Boarders, when the Ship coming too, we brought some of our bow guns to bear on her and had got clear of our opponent when at 6.20 our Fore and Main Masts went over the side, leaving the Ship a perfect unmanageable Wreck. The Enemy shooting ahead, I was in hopes to clear the Wreck and get the Ship under Command to renew the Action but just as we had clear'd the Wreck our Spritsail yard went and the Enemy having rove new Braces &c, wore round within Pistol Shot to rake us, The Ship laying in the trough of the Sea and rolling her Main Deck Guns under Water and all attempts to get her before the Wind being fruitless, when calling my few remaining officers together, they were all of opinion that any further resistance would be a needless waste of lives, I order'd, though reluctantly, the Colours to be struck.

          The loss of the Ship is to be ascribed to the early fall of the Mizen Mast which enabled our opponent to choose his position. I am sorry to say we suffered severely in killed and wounded and mostly whilst she lay on our Bow from her Grape and Musketry, in all 15 kill'd and 63 wounded, many of them severely; none of the wounded Officers quitted the Deck till the firing ceased.

          The Frigate prov'd to be the United States Ship Constitution, of thirty 24 Pounders on her Main Deck and twenty four 32 Pounders and two 18 Pounders on her Upper Deck and 476 Men-her loss in comparison with ours was triffling, about twenty, the first Lieutenant of Marines and eight killed and first Lieutenant and Master of the Ship and eleven Men wounded, her lower Masts badly wounded; and stern much shattered and very much cut up about the Rigging.

          The Guerriere was so cut up, that all attempts to get her in would have been useless. As soon as the wounded were got out of her, they set her on fire, and I feel it my duty to state that the conduct of Captain Hull and his Officers to our Men has been that of a brave Enemy, the greatest care being taken to prevent our Men losing the smallest trifle, and the greatest attention being paid to the wounded who through the attention and skill of Mr [John] Irvine, Surgeon, I hope will do well.
I hope though success has not crown'd our efforts, you will not think it presumptuous in me to say the greatest Credit is due to the Officers and Ship's Company for their exertions, particularly when exposed to the heavy raking fire of the Enemy. I feel particularly obliged for the exertions of Lieutenant Kent who though wounded early by a Splinter continued to assist me; in the second Lieutenant the Service has suffered a severe loss; Mr [Robert] Scott, the Master, though wounded was particularly attentive and used every exertion in clearing the Wreck as did the Warrant Officers. Lieutenant [William] Nicoll of the Royal Marines and his party supported the honorable Character of their Corps, and they suffer'd severely. I must particularly recommend Mr [William] Snow, Masters Mate, who commanded the foremost Main Deck guns in the absence of Lieutenant [John] Pullman and the whole after the fall of Lieutenant [Henry] Ready, to your protection, he having serv'd his time and received a severe contusion from a Splinter. I must point out Mr [John] Garby, Acting Purser, to your notice, who volunteer'd his Services on Deck, and commanded the after quarter Deck Guns and was particularly active as well as Mr [John W.] Bannister, Midshipman who has passed.

          I hope, in considering the circumstances, you will think the Ship entrusted to my charge was properly defended; the unfortunate loss of our Masts, the absence of the third lieutenant, second Lieutenant of Marines, three Midshipmen, and twenty four Men considerably weakened our Crew, and we only muster'd at Quarters 244 Men and 19 Boys, on coming into action; the Enemy had such an advantage from his Marines and Riflemen, when close and his superior sailing enabled him to choose his distance.

          I enclose herewith a List of killed and wounded on board the Guerriere and have the Honor to be Sir, Your most obedient &c.


Signed J R Dacres

Vice Admiral Sawyer
Commander in Chief
&c &c &c Halifax

Source: British Public Record Office, Admiralty 1/502, Part 4, 541-45.