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Naval Battles Of The United States






The depredations committed on American commerce in the Mediterranean,
by the piratical corsairs of the Barbary powers, induced Congress, in
1794, to authorize the formation of a naval force for its protection.
Four ships of forty-four guns each and two of thirty-six were ordered
to be built.--Captain Thomas Truxton was one of the first six captains
appointed by the President, at the organization of the naval
establishment, in 1794. He was appointed to the command of the
Constellation of thirty-six guns, and ordered to protect the commerce
of the United States in the West Indies, from the ravages of the
French. On the ninth of February, 1799, he captured the French frigate
Insurgente, of which twenty-nine of the crew were killed and
forty-four wounded. The Constellation had but one man killed and two
wounded.

In 1800, the Constellation engaged with the French frigate Vengeance
of fifty-four guns, near Guadaloupe; but owing to the darkness of the
night the latter escaped, after having thrice struck her colors and
lost one hundred and sixty men in the engagement.

The same year, the United States frigate Boston captured the French
national corvette Le Berceau.

In the month of August, 1801, Captain Sterrett of the United States
schooner Enterprize, of twelve guns and ninety men, fell in, off
Malta, with a Tripolitan cruiser of fourteen guns and eighty-five men.
In this action the Tripolitans thrice hauled down her colors, and
thrice perfidiously renewed the conflict. Fifty of her men were killed
and wounded. The Enterprize did not lose a man.

Captain Sterrett's instructions not permitting him to make a prize of
the cruiser, he ordered her crew to throw overboard all their guns and
powder, and to go and tell their countrymen the treatment they might
expect from a nation, determined to pay tribute only in powder and
ball. On her arrival at Tripoli, so great was the terror produced,
that the sailors abandoned the cruisers then fitting out, and not a
man could be procured to navigate them.

The Tripolitan cruisers continuing to harass the vessels of the United
States, Congress determined in 1803, to fit out a fleet that should
chastise their insolence. The squadron consisted of the Constitution,
44 guns; the Philadelphia, 44; the Argus, 18; the Siren, 16; the
Nautilus, 16; the Vixen, 16; and the Enterprize, 14. Commodore Preble
was appointed to the command of this squadron, in May 1803, and on the
13th of August, sailed in the Constitution for the Mediterranean.
Having adjusted the difficulties which had sprung up with the emperor
of Morocco, he turned his whole attention to Tripoli. The season was,
however, too far advanced for active operations.

On the 31st of October, the Philadelphia, being, at nine o'clock in
the morning, about five leagues to the westward of Tripoli, discovered
a sail in shore, standing before the wind to the eastward. The
Philadelphia immediately gave chase. The sail hoisted Tripolitan
colors, and continued her course near the shore. The Philadelphia
opened a fire upon her, and continued it, till half past eleven;
when, being in seven fathoms water, and finding her fire could not
prevent the vessel entering Tripoli, she gave up the pursuit. In
beating off, she ran on a rock, not laid down in any chart, distant
four and a half miles from the town. A boat was immediately lowered to
sound. The greatest depth of water was found to be astern. In order to
back her off, all sails were laid aback; the top-gallant-sails
loosened; three anchors thrown away from the bows; the water in the
hold started; and all the guns thrown overboard, excepting a few abaft
to defend the ship against the attacks of the Tripolitan gun-boats,
then firing at her. All this, however, proved ineffectual; as did also
the attempt to lighten her forward by cutting away her foremast. The
Philadelphia had already withstood the attack of the numerous
gun-boats for four hours, when a large reinforcement coming out of
Tripoli, and being herself deprived of every means of resistance and
defence she was forced to strike, about sunset. The Tripolitans
immediately took possession of her, and made prisoners of the officers
and men, in number, three hundred. Forty-eight hours afterwards, the
wind blowing in shore, the Tripolitans got the frigate off, and towed
her into the harbor.

On the 14th of December, Commodore Preble sailed from Malta, in
company with the Enterprize, commanded by Lieutenant Stephen Decater.
When the latter was informed of the loss of the Philadelphia, he
immediately formed a plan of recapturing and destroying her, which he
proposed to Commodore Preble. At first the commodore thought the
projected enterprize too hazardous: but at length granted his consent.
Lieutenant Decater then selected for the enterprise the ketch
Intrepid, lately captured by him. This vessel he manned with seventy
volunteers, chiefly of his own crew; and on the 3d of February sailed
from Syracuse, accompanied by the brig Siren, lieutenant Stewart.

After a tempestuous passage of fifteen days, the two vessels arrived
off the harbor of Tripoli, towards the close of day.--It was
determined that at ten o'clock in the evening the Intrepid should
enter the harbor, accompanied by the boats of the Siren. But a change
of wind had separated the two vessels six or eight miles. As delay
might prove fatal, Lieutenant Decater entered the harbor alone about
eight o'clock. The Philadelphia lay within half gun shot of the
Bashaw's castle and principal battery. On her starboard quarter lay
two Tripolitan cruisers within two cables length; and on the
starboard bow a number of gun-boats within half gun shot. All her
guns were mounted and loaded. Three hours were, in consequence of the
lightness of the wind, consumed in passing three miles, when being
within two hundred yards of the Philadelphia, they were hailed from
her, and ordered to anchor on peril of being fired into. The pilot on
board the Intrepid was ordered to reply, that all their anchors were
lost. The Americans had advanced within fifty yards of the frigate,
when the wind died away into a calm. Lieutenant Decater ordered a rope
to be taken out and fastened to the fore-chains of the frigate, which
was done, and the Intrepid warped alongside. It was not till then the
Tripolitans suspected them to be an enemy; and their confusion in
consequence was great. As soon as the vessels were sufficiently near,
Lieutenant Decater sprang on board the frigate, and was followed by
midshipman Morris. It was a minute before the remainder of the crew
succeeded in mounting after them. But the Turks, crowded together on
the quarter deck, were in too great consternation to take advantage of
this delay. As soon as a sufficient number of Americans gained the
deck they rushed upon the Tripolitans, who were soon overpowered; and
about twenty of them were killed.

After taking possession of the ship, a firing commenced from the
Tripolitan batteries and castle, and from two cruisers near the ship;
a number of launches were also seen rowing about in the harbor;
whereupon Lieutenant Decater resolved to remain in the frigate, for
there he would be enabled to make the best defence. But perceiving
that the launches kept at a distance, he ordered the frigate to be set
on fire, which was immediately done, and so effectually, that with
difficulty was the Intrepid preserved. A favorable breeze at this
moment sprung up, which soon carried them out of the harbor. None of
the Americans were killed, and only four wounded. For this heroic
achievement Lieutenant Decater was promoted to the rank of post
captain. His commission was dated on the day he destroyed the
Philadelphia.

After the destruction of the Philadelphia frigate, commodore Preble
was, during the spring and early part of the summer, employed in
keeping up the blockade of the harbor of Tripoli, in preparing for an
attack upon the town and in cruising. A prize that had been taken was
put in commission, and called the Scourge. A loan of six gun-boats and
two bomb-vessels, completely fitted for service, was obtained from the
king of Naples. Permission was also given to take twelve or fifteen
Neapolitans on board each boat, to serve under the American flag.

With this addition to his force, the commodore on the 21st of July,
joined the vessels off Tripoli. The number of men engaged in the
service amounted to one thousand and sixty.

On the Tripolitan castle and batteries, one hundred and fifteen guns
were mounted, fifty-five of which were pieces of heavy ordnance, the
others long eighteen and twelve pounders. In the harbor were nineteen
gun-boats carrying each a long brass eighteen or twenty-four pounder
in the bow, and two howitzers abaft; also two schooners of eight guns
each, a brig of ten and two galleys of four guns each. In addition to
the ordinary Turkish garrison, and the crews of the armed vessels,
estimated at three thousand, upwards of twenty thousand Arabs had been
assembled for the defence of the city.

The weather prevented the squadron from approaching the city until the
twenty-eighth, when it anchored within two miles and a half of the
fortifications; but the wind suddenly shifting, and increasing to a
gale, the commodore was compelled to return. On the 3d of August, he
again approached to within two or three miles of the batteries. Having
observed that several of the enemy's boats were stationed without the
reef of rocks, covering the entrance, he made signal for the squadron
to come within speaking distance, to communicate to the several
commanders his intention of attacking the shipping and batteries. The
gun-boats and bomb-ketches were immediately manned and prepared for
action. The former were arranged in two divisions of three each. At
half past one the squadron stood in for the batteries. At two, the
gun-boats were cast off. At half past two, signal was made for the
bomb-ketches and gun-boats to advance and attack.--At three quarters
past two, the signal was given for a general action. It commenced by
the bomb-ketches throwing shells into the town. A tremendous fire
immediately commenced from the enemy's batteries and vessels, of at
least two hundred guns. It was immediately returned by the American
squadron, now within musket shot of the principal batteries.

At this moment, Captain Decater, with the three gun-boats under his
command, attacked the enemy's eastern division, consisting of nine
gun-boats. He was soon in the midst of them. The fire of the cannon
and musketry was immediately changed to a desperate attack with
bayonet, spear and sabre. Captain Decater having grappled a Tripolitan
boat, and boarded her with only fifteen Americans, in ten minutes her
decks were cleared and she was captured. Three Americans were wounded.
At this moment captain Decater was informed that the gun-boat
commanded by his brother, had engaged and captured a boat belonging to
the enemy; but that his brother, as he stepped on board was
treacherously shot by the Tripolitan commander, who made off with his
boat. Captain Decater immediately pursued the murderer, who was
retreating within the lines; having succeeded in coming alongside, he
boarded with only eleven men. A doubtful contest of twenty minutes
ensued. Decater immediately attacked the Tripolitan commander, who was
armed with a spear and cutlass. In parrying the Turk's spear, Decater
broke his sword close to the hilt, and received a slight wound in the
right arm and breast; but having seized the spear he closed; and,
after a violent struggle, both fell, Decater uppermost. The Turk then
drew a dagger from his belt, but Decater caught his arm, drew a pistol
from his pocket and shot him. While they were struggling, the crew of
both vessels rushed to the assistance of their commanders. And so
desperate had the contest around them been, that it was with
difficulty that Decater extricated himself from the killed and wounded
that had fallen around him.

In this affair an American manifested the most heroic courage and
attachment to his commander. Decater, in the struggle, was attacked in
the rear by a Tripolitan, who had aimed a blow at his head, which must
have proved fatal, had not this generous minded tar, then dangerously
wounded and deprived of the use of both his hands, rushed between him
and the sabre, the stroke of which he received in his head whereby the
scull was fractured. This hero, however, survived, and afterwards
received a pension from his grateful country. All the Americans but
four were wounded. Captain Decater brought both of his prizes safe to
the American squadron.

Two successive attacks were afterwards made upon Tripoli; and the
batteries effectually silenced. The humiliation of this barbarous
power was of advantage to all nations.--The Pope made a public
declaration, that, "the United States, though in their infancy, had,
in this affair, done more to humble the anti-christian barbarians on
that coast, than all the European States had done for a long series of
time." Sir Alexander Ball, a distinguished commander in the British
navy, addressed his congratulations to Commodore Preble.

After the junction of the two squadrons, Commodore Preble obtained
leave to return home. This he did with the greater pleasure, as it
would give the command of a frigate to Captain Decater.

On his return to the United States, he was received and treated every
where with that distinguished attention, which he had so fully
merited. Congress voted him their thanks, and requested the President
to present him with an emblematical medal.

Our limits will only allow us to glance briefly at a few of the
remaining victories of the American navy. A formal declaration of war
against Great Britain was passed by Congress on the 18th of June,
1812. On the 19th of August, the memorable capture of the British
frigate Guerriere by the Constitution under Captain Hull, took place.
On the 19th of October the British sloop of war Frolic was taken by
the Wasp, commanded by Captain Jacob Jones; before the latter could
escape, however, with her prize, being in a very disabled state, she
was captured by the British seventy-four, Poictiers. On the 25th of
October, the United States under Commodore Decater, fell in with and
captured, off the Western Isles, the British frigate Macedonian,
mounting forty-nine guns and carrying three hundred and six men. The
Macedonian had one hundred and six men killed and wounded. The United
States five killed and seven wounded. The Victory of the Constitution
over the Java, followed next, and was succeeded by that of the Hornet,
commanded by Captain Lawrence, over the Peacock. The loss of this
brave officer in the subsequent engagement between the Chesapeake and
Shannon, was generally lamented by his countrymen.

On the first of September, 1813, the British brig Boxer of 14 guns,
was captured by the United States brig Enterprise, commanded by
Lieutenant William Burrows, who fell in the engagement. We must close
our notice of American naval history, by a brief sketch of some of the
most interesting cruises and engagements.


CRUISE OF THE WASP.

On the first of May, 1814, the United States sloop of war Wasp, of
eighteen guns and one hundred and seventy-four men, Captain Blakely,
commander, sailed from Portsmouth, N. H. on a cruise, and on the 28th
of June, in latitude 48 36 longitude 11 15, after having made several
captures, she fell in with, engaged, and after an action of nineteen
minutes, captured his Britanic Majesty's sloop of war Reindeer,
William Manners, Esq. commander. The Reindeer mounted sixteen
twenty-four pound carronades, two long six or nine pounders, and a
shifting twelve pound carronade, with a complement on board of one
hundred and eighteen men. She was literally cut to pieces in a line
with her ports; her upper works, boats and spare spars were one
complete wreck, and a breeze springing up the next day after the
action, her fore-mast went by the board; when the prisoners having
been taken on board the Wasp, she was set on fire and soon blew up.

The loss on board the Reindeer was twenty-three killed and forty-two
wounded, her captain being among the former. On board the Wasp five
were killed and twenty-one wounded.--More than one half of the wounded
enemy were, in consequence of the severity and extent of their wounds,
put on board a Portuguese brig and sent to England. The loss of the
Americans, although not so severe as that of the British, was owing,
in a degree, to the proximity of the two vessels during the action,
and the extreme smoothness of the sea, but chiefly in repelling
boarders.

On the 8th of July, the Wasp put into L'Orient, France, after
capturing an additional number of prizes, where she remained until the
27th of August, when she again sailed on a cruise. On the 1st of
September she fell in with the British sloop of war Avon, of twenty
guns, commanded by Captain Abuthnot, and after an action of forty-five
minutes, compelled her to surrender, her crew being nearly all killed
and wounded. The guns were then ordered to be secured, and a boat
lowered from the Wasp in order to take possession of the prize. In the
act of lowering the boat, a second enemy's vessel was discovered
astern and standing towards the Wasp.--Captain Blakely immediately
ordered his crew to their quarters, prepared every thing for action,
and awaited her coming up. In a few minutes after, two additional
sails were discovered bearing down upon the Wasp. Captain Blakely
stood off with the expectation of drawing the first from its
companions; but in this he was disappointed. She continued to approach
until she came close to the stern of the Wasp, when she hauled by the
wind, fired her broadside, (which injured the Wasp but trifling,) and
retraced her steps to join her consorts--Captain Blakely was now
necessitated to abandon the Avon, which had by this time become a
total wreck, and which soon after sunk, the surviving part of her crew
having barely time to escape to the other vessels.

On board of the Avon forty were killed and sixty wounded The loss
sustained by the Wasp was two killed and one wounded.

The Wasp afterwards continued her cruise, making great havoc among the
English merchant vessels and privateers, destroying an immense amount
of the enemies property.--From the 1st of May until the 20th of
September, she had captured fifteen vessels, most of which she
destroyed.


HORNET AND PENGUIN.

On the 23d of March, 1815, as the Hornet, commanded by Captain Biddle,
was about to anchor off the north end of the island of Tristan
d'Acuna, a sail was seen to the southward; which, at forty minutes
past one, hoisted English colors, and fired a gun. The Hornet
immediately luffed to, hoisted an ensign, and gave the enemy a
broadside. A quick and well directed fire was kept up from the Hornet,
the enemy gradually drifting nearer, with an intention, as Captain
Biddle supposed, to board. The enemy's bowsprit came in between the
main and mizen rigging on the starboard side of the Hornet, giving him
an opportunity to board, if he had wished but no attempt was made.
There was a considerable swell, and as the sea lifted the Hornet
ahead, the enemy's bowsprit carried away her mizen shrouds, stern
davits, and spanker boom, and hung upon her larboard quarter. At this
moment an officer called out that they had surrendered. Captain Biddle
directed the marines to stop firing and, while asking if they had
surrendered, received a wound in the neck. The enemy just then got
clear of the Hornet; and his foremast and bowsprit being both gone,
and perceiving preparations to give him another broadside, he again
called out that he had surrendered. It was with great difficulty that
Captain Biddle could restrain his crew from firing into him again, as
it was certain that he had fired into the Hornet after having
surrendered.

From the firing of the first gun to the last time the enemy cried out
that he had surrendered, was exactly twenty-two minutes. The vessel
proved to be the British brig Penguin, of twenty guns, a remarkable
fine vessel of her class, and one hundred and thirty-two men, twelve
of them supernumeraries from the Medway seventy-four, received on
board in consequence of their being ordered to cruise for the
privateer Young Wasp.

The Penguin had fourteen killed and twenty-eight wounded. Among the
killed was Captain Dickenson, who fell at the close of the action. As
she was completely riddled, and so crippled as to be incapable of
being secured, and being at a great distance from the United States,
Captain Biddle ordered her to be scuttled and sunk.

The Hornet did not receive a single round shot in her hull, and though
much cut in her sails and rigging was soon made ready for further
service. Her loss was one killed and eleven wounded.


ALGERINE WAR.

Immediately after the ratification of peace with Great Britain, in
February 1815, Congress, in consequence of the hostile conduct of the
regency of Algiers, declared war against that power. A squadron was
immediately fitted out, under the command of Commodore Decater,
consisting of the Guerriere, Constellation and Macedonian frigates,
the Ontario and Epervier sloops of war, and the schooners Spark,
Spitfire, Torch and Flambeau. Another squadron, under Commodore
Bainbridge, was soon to follow this armament, on the arrival of which,
it was understood, Commodore Decater would return to the United States
in a single vessel, leaving the command of the whole combined force to
Commodore Bainbridge.

The force under Commodore Decater rendezvoused at New York, from which
port they sailed the 20th day of May, 1815, and arrived in the Bay of
Gibraltar in twenty-five days, after having previously communicated
with Cadiz and Tangier. In the passage, the Spitfire, Torch, Firefly
and Ontario, separated different times from the squadron in gales, but
all joined again at Gibraltar, with the exception of the Firefly,
which sprung her masts, and put back to New York to refit. Having
learned at Gibraltar that the Algerine squadron, which had been out
into the Atlantic, had undoubtedly passed up the straits, and that
information of the arrival of the American force had been sent to
Algiers by persons in Gibraltar, Commodore Decater determined to
proceed without delay up the Mediterranean, in the hope of
intercepting the enemy before he could return to Algiers, or gain a
neutral port.

On the 17th of June, off Cape de Gatt, he fell in with and captured
the Algerine frigate Mazouda, in a running fight of twenty-five
minutes. After two broadsides the Algerines ran below. The Guerriere
had four men wounded by musketry, the Algerines had about thirty
killed, according to the statement of the prisoners, who amounted to
four hundred and six. In this affair, the famous Algerine admiral or
Rais, Hammida, who had long been the terror of this sea, was cut in
two by a cannon shot.

On the 19th of June, off Cape Palos, the squadron fell in with and
captured an Algerine brig of twenty-two guns. The brig was chased
close to the shore, where she was followed by the Epervier, Spark,
Torch and Spitfire, to whom she surrendered, after losing twenty-three
men. No Americans were either killed or wounded. The captured brig,
with most of the prisoners on board, was sent into Carthagena. From
Cape Palos, the American squadron proceeded to Algiers, where it
arrived the 28th of June.

The treaty which Commodore Decater finally succeeded in negotiating
with the Dey, was highly favorable. The principal articles were, that
no tribute under any pretext or in any form whatever, should ever be
required by Algiers from the United States of America, that all
Americans in slavery should be given up without ransom, that
compensation should be made for American vessels captured, or property
seized or detained at Algiers, that the persons and property of
American citizens found on board an enemy's vessel should be sacred,
that vessels of either party putting into port should be supplied with
provisions at market price, and if necessary to be repaired, should
land their cargoes without paying duty, that if a vessel belonging to
either party should be cast on shore, she should not be given up to
plunder, or if attacked by an enemy within cannon shot of a fort,
should be protected, and no enemy be permitted to follow her when she
went to sea within twenty-four hours. In general, the rights of
Americans on the ocean and land, were fully provided for in every
instance, and it was particularly stipulated that all citizens of the
United States taken in war, should be treated as prisoners of war are
treated by other nations, and not as slaves, but held subject to an
exchange without ransom. After concluding this treaty, so highly
honorable and advantageous to this country, the commissioners gave up
the captured frigate and brig, to their former owners.

Commodore Decater despatched Captain Lewis in the Epervier, bearing
the treaty to the United States, and leaving Mr. Shaler at Algiers, as
consul-general to the Barbary states, proceeded with the rest of the
squadron to Tunis, with the exception of two schooners under Captain
Gamble, sent to convoy the Algerine vessels home from Carthagena.
Having obtained from the bashaw of Tunis a full restoration in money
for certain outrages which had been sustained by American citizens,
the squadron proceeded to Tripoli, where Commodore Decater made a
similar demand for a similar violation of the treaty subsisting
between the United States and the bashaw, who had permitted two
American vessels to be taken from under the guns of his castle by a
British sloop of war, and refused protection to an American cruiser
lying within his jurisdiction. Restitution of the full value of these
vessels was demanded, and the money, amounting to twenty-five thousand
dollars, paid by the bashaw into the hands of the American consul.
After the conclusion of this affair, the American consular flag, which
Mr. Jones, the consul, had struck, in consequence of the violation of
neutrality above mentioned, was hoisted in the presence of the foreign
agents, and saluted from the castle with thirty-one guns. In addition
to the satisfaction thus obtained, for unprovoked aggressions, the
commodore had the pleasure of obtaining the release of ten captives,
two Danes and eight Neapolitans, the latter of whom he landed at
Messina.

After touching at Messina and Naples, the squadron sailed for
Carthagena on the 31st of August, where Commodore Decater was in
expectation of meeting the relief squadron, under Commodore
Bainbridge. On joining that officer at Gibraltar, he relinquished his
command, and sailed in the Guerriere for the United States, where he
arrived on the 12th of November, 1815.

Every thing being done previous to the arrival of the second division
of the squadron, under Commodore Bainbridge, that gallant officer had
no opportunity of distinguishing himself. Pursuant to his instructions
he exhibited this additional force before Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli,
where they were somewhat surprised at the appearance of the
Independence seventy-four. Commodore Bainbridge sailed from Gibraltar
thirty-six hours before the Guerriere, and arrived at Boston the 15th
of November.





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