USS Wasp - Lake Champlain Victory

By: Cyrus Townsend Brady

The USS Wasp takes the HMS Avon

On September 1st, 1814, the ship-rigged sloop of war USS Wasp commanded by Johnston Blakeley forced the cruizer class brig-sloop HMS Avon to surrender. The USS Wasp did not take possession of the of the HMS Avon as other British brig-sloops appeared and prepared to engage. The HMS Avon, commanded by James Arbuthnot, sank shortly after the battle with 10 killed and 29 wounded sailors.  The USS Wasp's causalities were limited to three wounded sailors.

Johnston Blakeley was born at Seaford, County Down, Ireland, October, 1781. He was brought, when very young, to North Carolina, where his parents settled, and where they died while he was still a child. He entered the navy as a midshipman, February 5, 1800, and served under Commodore Preble in the Tripolitan campaign. In 1813, when a lieutenant, he commanded the Enterprize, and in the same year became master-commandant of the sloop-of-war Wasp, with which, on June 28, 1814 prior to the sinking of the HMS Avon, he took the British sloop-of-war Reindeer, Commander William Manners. For this memorable action Congress gave him a vote of thanks and a gold medal. He afterward cruised off the coast of France, and was lost at sea in the Wasp, of which no news has ever been received. 

Captain Blakely sprang on the mizzen sheer poles to hail, but before he had opened his mouth a voice from the brig called out:  "What ship is that?"

Instead of giving the desired information, Blakely hollowed his hand and shouted back: "What brig is that?"

"His Britannic Majesty's Brig Avon" was the answer, but the noise made by the strong wind singing through the rigging prevented the American from catching the name. Again the chase hailed.

"What ship is that?"

"Heave to !" yelled Blakely through the trumpet which the sailing-master handed to him. "And we'll soon let you know who we are!"

But his words were not understood apparently, for the question was again repeated. At that Blakely directed Sailing-Master Carr to go forward on the forecastle, which would bring him considerably, nearer the brig, and order her to heave to or he would sink her.

The course of the brig had been one of singular vacillation. She had first started to escape in one direction, then she had endeavored to join her consort, then she had come by the wind as if to wait for her antagonist. Now the captain evidently intended another change. The Wasp would have been certain to overhaul her sooner or later, but if she had continued to windward the Avon would have run off before the wind and it might have been later. At any rate, when the final demand was made from the Wasp, instead of complying, the English captain suddenly set his port fore topmast stunsail, which was a risky thing to do in the high wind then blowing.

The famous twelve-pound carronade which had done such damage to the Wasp at the beginning of her action with the Reindeer had been taken out of the latter ship before she was destroyed and mounted on the forecastle as a shifting gun. Seeing the effort of the chase to escape, Blakely at 9.22 opened fire from this carronade, which was mounted as a chase-gun and had a range practically dead ahead. The brig instantly returned the fire from her after-guns. Then she put her helm up to run before the wind.

In order to frustrate this attempt to escape, Blakely also put his helm up to bear under her lee. As the Wasp was much quicker than the other vessel she fell off more rapidly, and as her broadside bore she poured a close-range raking fire into the enemy.

The American captain had loaded his guns with star, bar, and chain shot, and, contrary to his ordinary practice, had directed the gun-captains to aim at the rigging of the chase.

His wisdom was apparent. The brig's spankergaff was shot away, her topsail-sheet parted, and the stuns'l-boom was shot away. Having drawn swiftly past her stern, the Wasp now luffed up once more and ranged along the lee-side of the chase. There was no escape for her now. Blakely had her just where he wanted her; she had to fight, and if she were disabled she would drift down into his arms.

It was pitch dark, but the men on the Wasp could distinguish the black hulk of the English brig close to windward, although she showed no lights in her efforts to escape. The guns had been quickly reloaded with solid shot, and at close range the two vessels exchanged fierce broadsides. The gunners had nothing definite at which to aim but the intermittent flashes of the other ship's cannon, until Blakely detected a faint white line of foam where the black mass of waves swept along the side of his enemy at the water-line. He directed his men to make that gray line a target for their next shot.

His wisdom may be judged from this. If a shot struck the brig at, or just above, the water-line, it went smashing into her vitals. If it struck the water just before it touched the brig, it ricocheted upward and played havoc among the crew. The gun practice of the American crew was, as usual, superb; that of the British very bad. One of the only three men hit on the Wasp in this engagement was actually struck by the remains of a gun-wad, so near were they. The two ships were so close in contact during the latter part of the action that the failure of the English to hit the Wasp was a mystery.

At any rate, a few moments before ten o'clock, Blakely, perceiving that the English fire had died away, ordered his men to hold their own fire. When silence supervened he hailed the enemy and asked if they had struck. Receiving an affirmative answer, he was about to call away the boats to take possession, when, through some unexplained mistake, the enemy reopened the battle with a volley of musketry from her tops, and a few straggling shot from her battery. The Wasp immediately returned two or three broadsides, which entirely silenced the English ship, when Blakely, unwilling to make a choppingblock out of her any longer, again hailed and asked if she had struck.

"Ay, ay, sir," cried a voice out of the darkness, fraught with anguish and humiliation, "we've struck! We've struck! The ship is sinking! Send us boats, for God's sake! We've none left!"

Directing Mr. Tillinghast to take charge, Blakely called away the second cutter, shouting at the same time that he would stand by the sinking brig to succor her men.

The Americans, cheering frantically in their delight at the result of the action, came tumbling aft to get the boat into the water. Before they could do it, however, Mr. Reilly, who had come up on the poop, happened to glance aft . There, out in the darkness, he saw the gray loom of the topsail of a ship. Instantly a line of light lanced out of the darkness and a shot screamed over the Wasp.

"Sail ho !" he cried.

It was the second ship of the enemy!

"Keep fast the boat!" thundered Blakely,instantly alive to the situation. "Man the lee braces! Man the starboard battery! Up with the helm!"

It was Blakely's plan to wear ship and run down toward the second vessel, but alas, when the braces were manned and the attempt made to swing the yards, it was found that so many of the braces had been cut that the evolution could not be performed. The second English ship had drawn nearer now, and she put her helm up and poured a harmless broadside into the Wasp, which Blakely answered as well as he could from his after-guns.

Meanwhile a third ship, the Tartarus, which appeared from heaven knows where and which was made out to be a larger ship-of-war than the Wasp, hove in sight on the other quarter. A sudden, sharp broadside hurled at her at close range caused her to pause, and Blakely, seeing that he was now hopelessly outnumbered, and, indeed, being unable from the loss of his braces to do anything else, reluctantly ran off before the wind, being urged to this decision by the knowledge that the two ships which had been far to leeward would also soon be at the scene of action.

He was pursued by the third ship for a short time, but soon dropped her behind and made his escape. Although Blakely never learned it, the English ship that he had beaten to a standstill and which had surrendered to him, but of which he had been unable to take possession, was the brig-of-war A von, of the same size and armament as the Reindeer. Her first lieutenant and nine men had been killed, her commander, second lieutenant, sailing master, and twenty-nine seamen were wounded. The brig which first came to the succor of the Avon, and exchanged shots with the Wasp, was the Castilian, of the same size.

As the Wasp bore away, the men of the Avon hailed the Castilian and informed her that they were sinking. Thereupon the Castilian's boats were called in service, and by hard, desperate work they succeeded in getting all the survivors aboard of her by 1 A.m., when, just as the last boat drew off, the Avon went down headforemost, carrying with her into the depths the bodies of those who had perished on her decks.

So fierce had been the gun-fire of the Wasp that in thirty-one minutes she had dismasted the brig, killed and wounded over forty per cent, of her crew, and reduced her to a sinking condition, and this at the expense of two men killed and one wounded on the Wasp, a few round shot in her hull and some damage to sails and rigging and running gear, which she could easily repair at sea. No wonder that the men of the Wasp, from the smallest ship's boy to the young captain, carried themselves like cocks of the walk. They would hardly have hesitated to engage a frigate.

They had done exceedingly well that day. It is doubted if any single ship had ever been maneuvred and fought more effectively under such circumstances. They had cut out, burned, and destroyed the most valuable ship from a fleet convoyed by a seventy-four, and they had done it right under the nose of the great line-of-battle ship. They had boldly ventured into a circle of their enemies that evening, selected one of them, sunk her, and had partially engaged with two others, one of which they had beaten off, and had escaped in safety with so little damage as to be scarcely worth considering in both actions.

No wonder that those who had the midwatch in turned into their hammocks and slept the sleep of the hard-worked and well-doing. When morning broke, they had escaped all pursuit and were alone upon the ocean.  

Macdonough's Victory on Lake Champlain
By John Randolph Spears

Notes To The Diagrams
1. The British fleet arrived off Cumberland Head, and for a moment hung in the wind in line, in the position shown, off the head. They then sailed up abreast the American fleet and opened the battle, but the sloop Finch (d) was almost instantly driven away by the fire of the American schooner Ticonderoga (No. 3) and drifted toward Crab Island.

2. The British sloop Finch (d) having been wrecked, she grounded on Crab Island. A little later the British sloop Chubb (a), being disabled by the fire of the Yankee Eagle (No. 1), drifted down between the lines, hauled down her flag, and was carried to the beach by an American midshipman. About the same time the British gun-boats drove the Yankee sloop Preble away, and she sought safety a* the beach.

3. This is about the position of the squadrons when the battle was going hard against the Americans. The Eagle (No. 1) had been driven from the head of the line to a place between the Saratoga (No. 2) and the Ticonderoga. The British brig Linnet (b) was raking the Saratoga, dismounting the Saratoga's guns, while the gun-boats swarmed around the Ticonderoga (No. 3). It was then that Macdonough winded the ship, brought a fresh battery into play, and won the victory.

4. The British, when trying to wind the Confiance (c) around, as Macdonough had done with the Saratoga (No. 2), got her stern toward the Saratoga, and there she hung, exposed to the raking fire of the Saratoga's fresh battery, and flesh and blood could not stand that. Meantime, the Ticonderoga had driven away the British gun-boats. When the flag of the Confiance came down, the Saratoga was turned just enough to bring her broadside to bear on the Linnet (b), and then the battle ended.

Sunday morning, September 11, 1814, was a most beautiful day in the most delightful season of the year in the Adirondack region. The warmth of the sun was tempered by a northerly breeze that lifted and swayed the forest foliage which was just beginning to show the gorgeous hues of autumn. The water of the lake rippled and danced and sparkled. It was a day when the people of the countryside would naturally leave their houses, to wander over the hills, and without exception, save the sick and their nurses, every non-combatant in all the region overlooking Plattsburg Bay, did go out to the hill-tops on that day. But it was not through the love of nature that they gathered this time on the heights. For Sir George Prevost, with his veterans from Badajos had already camped in Plattsburg village on the north shore of the Saranac River, and the northerly breeze was sure to bring the British squadron to Plattsburg Bay. Never in the history of the Adirondacks—not even in the days of Algonquin and Iroquois and Tory raids—was there a day of more intense anxiety than this beautiful Sunday morning. For while the seamen on the ships thought most of the honor of the gridiron flag and the glory of hauling down the red cross of St. George, the militia, crouching behind the forts and within the walls of the old stone mill on the bank of Saranac River, were to fight for home and their wives and daughters. "They well knew that the men they were to face were very brave in battle, and very cruel in victory. They feared not for themselves; but in the hearts of the bravest and most careless there lurked a dull terror of what that day might bring upon those they loved."

Out on the lake, off the point of Cumberland Head, lay a ship's cutter, well manned and in charge of a Yankee midshipman. As it lay with its bow pointing into the bay and its crew resting on their oars, the eyes of the thousands on the hill-tops turned from it to the British troops camped on the north side of the Saranac and then back again, for the boat was a lookout, watching for the British squadron, and it was plain that the British troops would not move till their squadron came.

As the early morning passed and 8 o'clock drew nigh, the idle seamen in the lookout boat suddenly bent to their oars and drove the swift cutter, with signals fluttering in the air, into the bay. The long roll of the drums beating to quarters on the Yankee ships followed. The white new royals of the British frigate, with fluttering flags and pennants above them, appeared over the lower stretches of Cumberland Head, and then, led by the little sloop Chubb, followed by the brig Linnet, with the huge frigate Confiance third and the little sloop Finch and the flock of gun-boats last of all, the whole squadron of the enemy rounded the point. With "rattle of block and sheet," the squadron came up into the wind and with flapping canvas drifted, while Captain Downie looked the American squadron over. And then in the order already named they filled away, with the wind coming into their sails over the starboard (right hand) bows, and headed up toward the north end of the American line. The wind and the space favored the British this far, that they could choose whether they would fight at long range or run in, yard-arm to yard-arm, where valor and muscle would determine, and Downie, knowing the superiority of his long guns, wisely chose to fight at long range.

As the British sails fell asleep under the influence of the breeze, and their bows came ploughing up the bay, "Macdonough, who feared his foes not at all, and his God a great deal, knelt for a moment, with his officers, on the quarter-deck." And thereafter, in perfect silence the men of the whole American squadron stood at their posts and waited for the coming enemy— stood in silence while the British sailors cheered again and again in anticipation of victory.

Finally, however, when the British brig Linnet, that, next to the British sloop Chubb, was in advance, had arrived within a mile of the Yankee brig Eagle at the north end of the Yankee line, the hot blood of her commander could stand inaction no longer and his long eighteen began to bark. It was a waste of effort, for his shot fell short and the firing ceased.

A little later the British brig Linnet, on arriving abreast of the Yankee Saratoga, opened fire with her long twelves, but all these shots too, fell short, save one, and that one was, in a way, the most notable shot of the whole battle, for it knocked to pieces a chicken-coop belonging to a sailor who, being a man of sporting blood, "had obtained, by hook or by crook," a fighting cock of great repute in Plattsburg. Instead of showing fear at the destruction of its coop, this cock flew to a commanding place above the rail, and there, after flapping its wings vigorously, it crowed loud and long in the manner of its race; whereat the Yankee sailors all laughed and whooped and cheered vociferously.

A moment later, and while yet the men were grinning at their bird, Macdonough stooped over a long twenty-four on the quarterdeck of the Saratoga until he could see the bow of the coming Confiance through the sights, when he stepped back and fired the gun. And then his men cheered again for the shot struck the Confiance near the port hawse-pipe and raked her the full length of her gun-deck, killing and wounding several men and smashing her steering-wheel at the last.

At that the long guns of the whole American squadron began to talk. The British sloop Chubb and the British brig Linnet had now arrived near the Yankee brig Eagle, and the British frigate Confiance was soon abreast of the American Saratoga. The Chubb strove to take a position for raking the Yankee Eagle, but the Eagle was swung to give her one broadside and that was enough. Wholly disabled, she drifted down wind along the American line. More than half of her crew were killed and wounded, and one shot more having been fired into her as she approached the Saratoga, she hauled down her flag, when midshipman Charles F. Pratt boarded her and took her over toward Plattsburg, clear of the line of battle. But five of her crew were able to stand up when she arrived.

But before this was done the British Captain Downie had brought his flagship to anchor abreast of the Yankee flagship Saratoga at a distance of three hundred or four hundred yards. Not a shot had been fired so far from this ship, but when she had been moored with a spring to her cable, and her guns had been carefully aimed the sixteen long twenty-fours, double shotted, were discharged as one. Every shot struck the Yankee flagship, and that was the most frightful blast received by any Yankee ship in all this war. The Saratoga reeled and shivered as the iron ploughed through her planks and timbers. More than one hundred men were thrown to the deck by the shock, and forty of them failed to get up, for they were killed or wounded, First Lieutenant Peter Gamble being among the slain.

This was done not far from 9 o'clock, and from that time on the Yankee Saratoga and the Eagle were the targets for the British Confiance and Linnet that together carried a weight of long gun metal exactly equal to that of the whole American squadron. It was a terribly unequal fight. There were eight long twelves and sixteen long twenty-fours driving their solid shot into the two Yankees that could reply with only four long twenty-fours and four long eighteens. And the British flagship threw some red-hot shot.

Because some of the long twenty-fours on the British Confiance were after the first broadside turned toward the Yankee Eagle, which already was in a fierce fight with the British Linnet, the Eagle was obliged to cut her cable and run. Passing down wind behind the Saratoga, she took a new position where her long eighteens would bear on the British flagship, and there she opened an effective fire once more.

But this move had left the British Linnet free to devote her whole broadside to raking the Yankee flagship, and although the Eagle was of some help the chances of victory seemed at this time very much in favor of the British.

But in spite of odds, Macdonough, was fighting his ship desperately and yet with a perfect mental grasp of the whole situation. Like Perry on Lake Erie, he set an example to his men by working a long gun with his own hands, and every shot he fired told with deadly effect. But as he bent over his gun at one moment a British shot cut the spanker-boom of the Saratoga in two and one of the pieces fell on him, knocking him senseless, so that the cry "The Commodore is killed" was passed along the deck. This cry was not true, for Macdonough was soon on his feet again, only to be once more knocked senseless and with a ghastly missile. The head of a captain of a gun was shot off and hurled with tremendous force against Macdonough's head. But he soon recovered from this blow also—recovered only to find that, although he had steadily cut down the fire of the British flagship, the battle was persistently going against him.

The raking fire of the British brig Linnet was so effective that gun after gun was knocked out of the battle on the Saratoga. The British gun-boats had swarmed about the little sloop Preble and driven it away entirely. The Yankee schooner Ticonderoga had, indeed, at about the middle of the battle disabled the British sloop Finch, at the tail of the British line, so that she drifted ashore on Crab Island; but the British gunboats, in spite of the Yankee gunboats, were driving with the aid of oars right under the guns of the Ticonderoga, and she was compelled to give her whole attention to them and leave the Saratoga to fight it out with the British frigate and the British brig with such aid as the Eagle could render. And at the last Macdonough found that he had not one of the guns left on the fighting side of his ship with which to meet the enemy. Worse yet the Saratoga had been twice set on fire by the hot shot of the British frigate, and hot shot were still coming.

The supreme moment of the battle had now come. Calling his men from their useless guns, Macdonough ordered them to drop the anchor that had been provided at the stern and then to clap on the spring that led in at the forecastle. In a moment the ship, impelled by the breeze and drawn by the spring hawser, began to swing as if on a pivot. Her stern was soon pointed at the enemy's frigate. A raking shot from the enemy struck the Saratoga's bulwarks near Sailing-master Peter Blum as he directed the winding work, and the splinters literally tore all his clothes off of him. But he gathered up enough of the debris to wrap around his loins and so, dressed like a Cannibal islander, he continued his work. The British worked their guns furiously but, because of their fury, ineffectually, and the guns of the fresh Yankee battery were soon to come into play.

At that the British seamen on the Confiance were called from their guns and set to work on spring and cable to wind her around and bring a fresh battery to bear also, for while she had suffered less than the Saratoga had, the Confiance had lost perhaps two-thirds of her battery by the accurate shooting of Macdonough'slong guns.

No sooner did the British try to wind their ship than the superiority of Yankee forethought and seamanship became manifest. For while the Yankee Saratoga swung into position with scarce a break or stop, the British Confiance got so far around as to point her stern to the Yankees, where not one of her guns could bear, and there she stuck. Wriggle and twist, haul and curse, as they might (and did) the end was at hand, with triumph for the gridiron flag.

With a verve that made the side tackles rattle, the Yankees brought their fresh guns to bear on the unprotected stern of the British frigate, and thereafter their shot ripped up her deck from stern to anchor bits. They filled the air with splinters. They splashed the guns and beams with blood. They drove the men from the guns and left her a wreck.

Their commander, Captain Downie, was long since dead, killed by a gun that was knocked over by a Yankee shot to fall on him. Lieutenant John Robertson, who succeeded, was both brave and capable, but no one could stand up in such a fight, and two hours after firing her first broadside the British frigate struck her flag to the Yankee corvette.

And then the Yankees once more hauled in on their hawser until their guns would bear on the irritating British brig Linnet that had been bravely battering away at them. The Linnet was commanded by Captain Pring, of the Royal Navy, and he was spurred on by the fact that he had been beaten at the mouth of Otter Creek and had been reprimanded by Sir George Prevost. The odds were now as much against him as they had previously been against the Yankee Saratoga, but he held on bravely, hoping that relief would come from the gunboats, while he sent a lieutenant in a boat over to the British flagship to learn the real condition of affairs. The lieutenant brought back the news that not only was the British frigate out of it, and her captain dead, but the Finch as well as the Chubb had surrendered, and the British gunboats had been driven off when they swarmed at the Ticonderoga.

And then Captain Pring turned to look at his own vessel only to find that her masts were shot to pieces, her rigging gone, her sides full of shot holes and the water in her hold above the berth deck and rapidly rising. He had fought his ship to the last gasp. He had earned the right to haul down his flag with never a tinge of shame. Two hours and fifteen minutes after the dreadful broadside of the Confiance, the last British flag afloat fluttered to the deck, and the firing died out with two wide apart shots at the retreating gun-boats.

For a few moments the hill-top spectators gazed in anxious silence while the smoke of battle drifted from around the ships, revealing by degrees the spars that were still standing. And then some patriot, standing with straining eyes on Cumberland Head, saw that it was the gridiron flag only that fluttered in the smokeladen breeze, and with a voice that swelled on the air, shouted the news of the Yankee triumph. A hundred throats about him took up the cry. It was echoed by a thousand voices from the hills beyond the bay, and then travelled away across the lake to other thousands on the slopes of the Vermont hills. The troops down in the valley of the Saranac—the Yankee regulars under Macomb, the New York militia under Mooers and Wright and the Green Mountain boys under Strong, took up the shout with such savage cries as were not to be misunderstood by the enemy. They had withstood the onslaught there and now victory was also assured them. Sir George Prevost—the weak and worthless titled commander of the British forces ashore—heard with "extreme mortification" the "shout of victory from the American works." To his mind the "farther prosecution of the service was become impracticable;" worse yet, though his veteran troops outnumbered the Americans, regulars and militia, by two to one, he grew fearful of his personal safety, and when night came down, dark and thick with an Adirondack storm, he sneaked away, glad to escape.

The pillows of the men from Badajos were wet that night with the rainfall of a northeast gale, instead of woman's tears.
As the last flag came down on the British fleet, Macdonough ordered his gun-boats to pursue the British boats that, without an ensign flying, were pulling away around Cumberland Head. "Our galleys were about obeying with alacrity when all the vessels were reported to me to be in a sinking state; it then became necessary to annul the signal to the galleys and order their men to the pumps." So a number of British galleys escaped—all in fact, but three that were sunk; but the American crews were engaged in the humane work of keeping the ships afloat to save the wounded on both sides, and it did not matter.

When we came to count the killed and wounded we are unable to learn the whole loss on the British side. James, for instance, assumes that none was hurt in the British gunboats, because none was mentioned in Captain Pring's report. Pring, being a prisoner, wrote his report on the day after the battle in Plattsburg, and so could have no knowledge of the losses on the gun-boats that escaped, and no complete list of those in the captured ships.

He says in his report that no muster of the British crews was taken. However, the Americans "took out one hundred and eighty dead and wounded from the Confiance, fifty from the Linnet, and forty from the Chubb and Finch." This aggregates two hundred and seventy, but does not include the dead thrown overboard from the British ships during the action, nor does it include British gun-boat casualties. When it is recalled that the gun-boats that gathered around the Yankee schooner Ticonderoga were driven off by firing bags of musket-balls at them —musket-balls that simply dusted the entire decks of every one in reach—and that these decks were unprotected by bulwarks while each carried a crew of not less than twenty-six (one good authority says an average of fifty each)— when all this is considered, it is fair to add one hundred to the two hundred and seventy killed and wounded of which we are certain. The British unquestionably lost a third of their force afloat.

Macdonough's list of killed and wounded probably includes only the wounded sent to the hospital. It is as follows: Saratoga, twenty-eight killed and twenty-nine wounded; Eagle, thirteen killed and twenty wounded; Ticonderoga, six killed and six wounded; Preble, two killed; Boxer (gun-boat), three killed and one wounded; Centipede and Wilmer, one wounded on each. In all fifty-two were killed and fifty-eight wounded. Roosevelt thinks ninety more were slightly wounded, but if we go into the slightly wounded list, we find that almost every man on both the flagships was thumped or scratched in some way.

But we can determine the relative efficiency of the two crews much more readily by an examination of the hulls of the flagships. Keeping in mind that the two leading British ships had as great a weight of metal in long guns as the whole Yankee squadron, gun-boats and all, and that these two British ships were relentlessly firing at the American flagship during almost the entire time of the battle, a counting of the round-shot holes in the two flagships gives a measure of British and American marksmanship, which, though less to the credit of the Americans than in some other battles, is unmistakable. The Saratoga was struck by fifty-five round shot; the British Confiance by one hundred and five. And yet it was pointblank range, for long guns, over water that lay dead, while the first broadside from the Confiance was accurate. When the Yankees came to examine into this matter they learned how they had escaped. Having set their guns at the right range for the first broadside the British did not thereafter trouble themselves to look after the range. They loaded and fired " with fury "—with a whoop and a huzza! But each discharge pinched the wedge-shaped quoin a trifle from under the breech of their guns— lowered the breech and elevated the muzzle— so that very soon their shots were flying high over the Yankee hull. But the cooler Yankee gunners kept the quoins in place and the range good. Worse yet, on examining the British guns some were found with shot under the powder instead of on top, and some with wads at the bottom of the bore and some crammed to the muzzle—the veritable method of the tenderfoot on a runway, but not at all what is expected of an experienced naval tar. And yet the Confiance was manned by picked seamen.

Gold Medal - Thomas Macdonough was born in Newcastle County, Delaware, December 23, 1783. He entered the navy as a midshipman in 1800; served in the Tripolitan campaign, and was with Decatur in the Intrepid, when the latter blew up the Philadelphia. He was made a lieutenant in February, 1807, and a master-commandant in July, 1813. He defeated the British squadron, commanded by Commodore George Downie, on Lake Champlain, September 11, 1814, for which victory he received the thanks of Congress and a gold medal, and was promoted to the rank of captain. He commanded the Mediterranean squadron for several years, and died at sea, November 18, 1825, of consumption, on his homeward voyage to the United States.
When the fight was over Macdonough wrote the following letter to Secretary of the Navy William Jones:
"The Almighty has been pleased to grant us a signal victory on Lake Champlain, in the capture of one frigate, one brig, and two sloops of war of the enemy."
This letter and his prayer on the quarterdeck have been often used in religious discourses— and very properly so. But for the sake of the honor of the flag, and with no desire whatever to lessen the reader's reverence for sacred matters, one who has lived with sailors in both ends of the ship is impelled to declare that, for the purpose of rousing seamen to do their best when going into battle, one rooster in the rigging is worth a dozen prayers on the quarterdeck.

Because the Battle of Lake Champlain and that on Lake Erie were the only squadron battles of this war, it is worth while comparing the disposition of the forces made by the two youthful commanders who won.

Both Perry and Macdonough were very young for such responsible posts as they held —Perry was twenty-seven, and Macdonough was twenty-eight. Neither had ever had an independent command in battle before being called on to handle a squadron against an experienced enemy.

Gold Medal Captain Thomas Macdonough Bust of Captain Macdonough, in uniform, facing the right. FÜRST. Fecit.UNO LATERE PERCUSSO. ALTERUM IMPAVIDE VERTIT. (Beaten on one side, he fearlessly turns the other.) Naval action on Lake Champlain, between the United States fleet, carrying eighty-six guns, under Captain Macdonough, and the British fleet, with ninety-five guns, commanded by Commodore Downie. To the right, the city of Plattsburgh in flames. Exergue: INTER CLASS. AMERI. ET BRIT. DIE XI SEPT. MDCCCXIIII. (Inter classim Americanam et Britannicam, die 11 Septembris, 1814: Between the American and British fleets, September 11, 1814.) On the platform, FÜRST. Fecit.
On Lake Erie Perry had the moral advantage, such as it was, of making the attack; he had also the physical advantage of a somewhat superior force. But these advantages were more than neutralized by the advantage which the enemy held in being able to concentrate his force to receive the attack and by the very light wind, which was still further deadened by the concussion of great guns after firing began. The lack of wind kept a great part of Perry's fleet so far in the rear that the flagship near the head of the line had to stand the brunt of the battle—the concentrated fire of about all of the enemy's squadron. Perry was also handicapped by the unexplained failure of Elliott to close in on the enemy. Commander Ward, in his "Naval Tactics," written for the instruction of naval cadets, speaks of Perry's oblique attack as " that which gallantry counselled rather than the more circuitous, perhaps more prudent, course" which would have taken Perry's ship abreast of the British before running within gunshot. But when through gallantry he had lost his ship, practically, "and a less determined officer might have despaired of the day," he "quit his own disabled ship for another " and "with consummate judgment and celerity, reformed the van of his squadron, composed of the heaviest ships . . . and not only retrieved his loss, but in a few minutes secured victory." "This combination was most masterly," says Ward, referring to what may be called Perry's renewed attack. It was his gallantry combined with his splendid judgment and celerity of action that gave Perry enduring fame. The Battle of Lake Erie appealed to the sentiment as well as to the cold judgment of Perry's countrymen, whether afloat or ashore, and now that more than eighty years have passed, his handling of the squadron, taking the battle as a whole, meets as hearty approval from naval officers as it did in the fall of 1813.

Quite different were the conditions under which Macdonough had to fight. The force of the enemy was superior, and he rightly chose to receive rather than make the attack. As Barclay, the British commander on Lake Erie, concentrated his power as much as possible, so did Macdonough when awaiting the enemy. His choice of positions in Plattsburg Bay far outweighed the moral advantage which the British had in making an attack. And the rare judgment which Macdonough showed in preparing for the emergencies of battle far outweighed in the end the superior force—the very greatly superior force which the British possessed in the concentration of their long guns on a frigate and a brig.

Like Perry, Macdonough fought his own ship, giving no attention during a long period to the others of his squadron, after the battle began; with his own hands he worked a gun, and with perfect skill. His ship, like Perry's, received the concentrated fire of the enemy and bore the greatest part of the loss. The winding of his ship at the supreme moment of the battle was a move like, in a way, that of Perry in going to the Niagara, and it was a move that, like Perry's, won the day that had thereto-fore been disastrous to the Yankee fleet.
In short with a tremendous responsibility thrust suddenly upon them, these two young men did so well, each in his own circumstances, that their actions have ever since been held up for the admiration as well as instruction of the officers that have come after them.

The Battles of Lake Erie and Champlain were fought when the nation's navy was young and ambitious, but let not even the most optimistic patriot abate one jot of his confidence in the men who now stand erect and uncover their heads whenever they see the old flag hoisted to the peak. For in every class that graduates at Annapolis there are Macdonoughs and Perrys and Hulls and Bainbridges and Porters and Nicholas Biddles and John Paul Joneses.

One history of the War of 1812 says that Macdonough hoisted, just as the British squadron appeared, a signal reading, "Impressed seamen call on every man to do his duty." Whether this was done or not, the adventure of Macdonough in protecting an American seaman from impressment at Gibraltar, in 1806, must be told to show still further the character of the man.

Macdonough was first lieutenant (though but twenty years old) of the Yankee brig Siren. One day while the Sirens captain was on shore, a Yankee merchantman came into the port and anchored near the Siren. Scarcely was her anchor down when a boat put off from a British frigate near by, went directly to the Yankee merchantman, and in a few minutes pulled away again, having one more man in it than when it left the frigate. Macdonough noted this fact, and sent Lieutenant Page to the merchantman to see what had happened. Page returned with the information that the British had impressed one of the crew of the Yankee merchantman.

On hearing that Macdonough instantly ordered the Siren's gig away, manned with armed men, and getting into it himself, he pulled after the frigate's boat, overtook it right alongside the frigate, and although the frigate's boat had eight oars to Macdonough's four, he took out of it by force the impressed seaman and carried him to the Siren.

A little later the captain of the frigate came on board the Siren in a great rage. He had plainly tried to impress the Yankee, not because one man would be of any consequence as an addition to his crew, but to show his contempt for the little Yankee war-ship, and to be baulked so was a terrible affront. He wanted to know how Macdonough "dared to take a man from one of His Majesty's boats." Macdonough, in no way flustrated, invited the captain into the Sirens cabin. The captain refused to go and "with abundance of threats " repeated his question. He was determined, he said, that he would haul his frigate alongside the Siren and take the man by force. To this Macdonough replied:
"I suppose your ship can sink the Siren, but as long as she can swim I shall keep the man."
"You are a very young man and a very indiscreet young man," said the bully. "Suppose I had been in the boat—what would you have done?"
"I would have taken the man or lost my life," replied Macdonough. 
"What, sir! Would you attempt to stop me if I were now to try to impress men from that brig?" thundered the captain.
"I would," replied the calm Macdonough, "and to convince yourself that I would, you have only to make the attempt."

At that the British captain got into his boat, rowed away to his frigate and then turned and rowed toward the Yankee merchantman. Macdonough at once called away his boat with an armed crew, and rowed out to protect the brig, whereat the bold Englishman rowed around the merchantman without boarding her, and with his rudder tucked well under his stern, so to speak, put back to his frigate.

The victory on Lake Champlain stirred the American people so that bonfires and illuminations were seen everywhere. An undue share of praise was awarded to the land forces; it was because there was a fight on land at the time of the battle afloat that the people as a whole failed to sing the praises of Macdonough as loudly as they had sung those of Perry. It is the work of the historian to show that Champlain was entirely a naval victory. But Macdonough did not lack appreciation. The Legislature of New York, understanding very well that it was the wooden wall afloat that prevented the desecration of the homes of northern New York, gave him 2,000 acres of land, while that of Vermont, actuated by the same feelings, bought a farm on Cumberland Head (two hundred acres) overlooking the scene of his victory, and gave it to him. 

Gold Medal -  Captain Robert Henley was born in James City County, Virginia, January 5, 1783. He entered the navy as a midshipman in 1799, and was on board of the Constellation, under Captain Truxtun, during her combat with La Vengeance; he was a lieutenant in 1807; a commander August 12, 1814; obtained the Eagle, and was second in command to Macdonough in his victory on lake Champlain, September 11, 1814, receiving for his conduct on that occasion the thanks of Congress and a gold medal. He was appointed captain, March 3, 1825; served in the home squadron and in the West Indies, and died on Sullivan's Island, South Carolina, October 7, 1828.
 The Congress voted thanks to all the force; gave gold medals to Macdonough, to Robert Henley, commanding the Eagle, and to Stephen Cassin, commanding the Ticonderoga, with silver medals to all other commissioned officers. 

Gold Medal -  Captain Robert Henley Bust, in uniform, facing the right. FÜRST Fecit. UNO LATERE PERCUSSO. ALTERUM IMPAVIDE VERTIT. (Beaten on one side, he fearlessly turns the other.) Naval action on Lake Champlain, between the United States fleet, carrying eighty-six guns, under Captain Macdonough, and the British fleet, with ninety-five guns, commanded by Commodore Downie. To the right the city of Plattsburgh in flames. Exergue: INTER CLASS. AMERI. ET BRIT. DIE XI SEPT. MDCCCXIIII. (Inter classim Americanam et Britannicam, die 11 Septembris, 1814: Between the American and British fleets, September 11, 1814.) On the platform, FÜRST Fecit.
The nearest male relatives of Lieutenant Peter Gamble and of Lieutenant John Stansbury each received a silver medal. The captured vessels were purchased by the Government for a round sum, which was distributed as prize-money, while the petty officers and seamen got three months' extra pay. Macdonough was promoted to the rank of post-captain.

Gold Medal - Stephen Cassin was born in Philadelphia, February 16, 1783. He entered the navy as a midshipman in 1800, served in the Tripolitan campaign, and became a lieutenant in 1807. He commanded the Ticonderoga in Macdonough's victory on Lake Champlain, September 11, 1814, and for his conduct on that occasion was promoted to the rank of master, and received a vote of thanks and a gold medal from Congress. He was made captain, March 3, 1825, commanded for some time the navy yard at Washington, District of Columbia, and died there, April 29, 1857.
It is a curious fact that the captured British ships were ballasted with cannon and shot instead of the broken rock commonly used in those days. They were confident of victory, and these supplies were for use in the conquest of northern New York and Vermont. And when Prevost fled he left immense quantities of military stores behind him.

Gold Medal - LIEUTENANT STEPHEN CASSIN Bust, in uniform, facing the right. FÜRST fecit.UNO LATERE PERCUSSO. ALTERUM IMPAVIDE VERTIT. (Beaten on one side, he fearlessly turns the other.) Naval action on Lake Champlain, between the United States fleet, carrying eighty-six guns, under the command of Captain Macdonough, and the British fleet, with ninety-five guns, commanded by Commodore Downie. To the right the city of Plattsburgh in flames. Exergue: INTER CLASS. AMERI. ET BRIT. DIE XI SEPT. MDCCCXIIII. (Inter classim Americanam et Britannicam, die 11 Septembris, 1814: Between the American and British fleets, September 11, 1814.) On the platform, FÜRST Fecit

The result of the battle was very mortifying to the enemy, and Sir George Prevost is said to have died of the chagrin. And in the discussions over a proposed treaty of peace, then in progress, the influence of this American victory was most important. The American commissioners had demanded that territorial limits remain as before the war. The British Government was clutching at the northeast corner of Maine when, to quote Schouler, the news of the British disaster at Plattsburg "made it doubtful whether the rule of utipossidetis might prove a positive disadvantage to England." And that is to say that in an exchange of conquered territories the Americans might gain more than they would lose. The Duke of Wellington wrote to Lord Castlereagh that "you have gained nothing yet in the American war which gives you the right to demand on principle a territorial concession." So Castlereagh, with evident chagrin, yielded the point to the American commissioners. The victory of Macdonough served materially to bring the war to a close.


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