Page images
PDF

1812, and 18 slightly. Out of her 468 men and boys,

A... the Constitution, according to captain Hull's stateLoss on ment, 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 guns of any guns at all, no other american account gives o” 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 |. could present 28 carriage-guns in broadside; ut 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

* See p. 141.

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 thall 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 o in size between these frigates 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 1812, british 74: we may therefore consider, that the top‘..." sides of the Constitution were at least equal in thickmess to the topsides of a british 80. on With respect to the advantages of stout scantling, Ämi-we are willing to take the opinion of the Americans

* Brenton, vol. v. p. 49, ,

1812. Aug.

Boys in

eac crew.

Advantage of a superiority In Slze and scantling.

.." themselves. A letter from Mr. Paul Hamilton, the

sent- 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* 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.” Sheet- We have before remarked upon the great car ... and expense bestowed by the Americans in equipping tridges, their few ships of war. As one important instance may be 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 1812. behind, there is no necessity to spunge the gun, and of 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

* Clark's Naval History, vol. ii. pp. 236, 246.

1812. Aug.

purpose of enabling them to cope with the British at sea. Now, then, for the

[merged small][ocr errors]

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 the ineffective state in which the former ship 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 24pounder 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

marks on the action.

* See vol. ii. p. 338.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »