It was on the 10th of September, 1814, that the two squadrons met at the western end of Lake Erie. When a mile apart, the Detroit, the British flagship, fired a shot to test the distance. It ricochetted past the Lawrence. A few minutes later she fired a second shot, which smashed into the starboard bulwarks of the Lawrence and sent a cloud of splinters flying. The reply to these was a 32-pounder from the Scorpion. Then the firing became more rapid, the enemy possessing the advantage at long range.
Most of the shots from the British vessels were directed against Perry's flagship, which suffered considerably. He therefore made sail to get to close quarters. His ship and the Scorpion and Ariel drew considerably ahead of the rest of the fleet. As a consequence they received the main fire of the enemy, which soon became concentrated on the Lawrence, that was gallantly fighting against overwhelming odds. Moreover, she was at a hopeless disadvantage with her short guns, and soon became a wreck, with a large number of her men killed or wounded.
Gradually the boats drifted nearer and the Americans were able to make use of their short guns and small arms. Perry's clothing was torn by splinters and two musket balls passed through his hat. The battle continued for more than two hours with the utmost desperation, during which the scenes on the Lawrence were too frightful to be described. Finally the wrecked flagship began drifting helplessly out of action, when Perry determined to transfer his flag to the Niagara.
With his broad pennant folded over his arm, and accompanied by a younger brother and four seamen, he stepped into the small boat, which began pulling in the direction of the Niagara. The thick smoke concealed them for a time, but it soon lifted, and Barclay aimed a shot at the boat. He said in his official report that he saw the shot strike the boat, whereupon Perry took off his coat and plugged the hole with it. But for the temporary veil the American commander could not have made half the brief distance between the Lawrence and the Niagara. As it was, however, he reached the latter without a scratch. He hoisted his pennant and the flag bearing the immortal words of the gallant Lawrence. Then an officer was sent in a boat to communicate the orders of the Commodore to the other vessels. This was hardly done when Perry saw with the keenest distress the surrender of the Lawrence. Such submission was inevitable, for almost every man on board was either killed or wounded and every gun on the engaged side was disabled. The English crews broke into cheers, believing the battle won, but they could not take possession of the Lawrence, which drifted out of range.
Captain Barclay now made an attempt to change his line of battle with a view of bringing his other broadsides into action. The line became broken and entangled, observing which, Perry took instant advantage of it. The Niagara, passing through the disorganized squadron, raked the vessels fore and aft, while the other American vessels promptly followed, and added to the confusion of the enemy and the dreadful destruction on board. The Americans were now at close quarters and able to do their best work, and so dreadful was it that fifteen minutes later a white handkerchief was waved at the end of a boarding-pike on one of the boats as a signal of surrender.
Firing ceased, and in the smoke and confusion two of the enemy's boats darted away in an attempt to escape; but they were followed and brought back. Determined to honor the Lawrence, Perry now had himself rowed to the wreck, drifting some distance away in charge of the few that had survived the awful conflict. Perry took his position aft and with calm dignity received the surrender. As the defeated officers approached and presented their swords in turn, he told each to retain the weapon, accompanying the remark with words of compliment for the bravery he had displayed.
The loss of the Americans was 27 killed and 96 wounded, and that of the British 41 killed and 94 wounded. Perry showed every possible kindness to the suffering prisoners, who expressed their gratitude. Commander Barclay displayed conspicuous bravery throughout the battle and was twice wounded, one of his injuries depriving him of the use of his single remaining arm.
From what was stated at the beginning of this chapter, it will be seen that this battle was one of the most important of the war. Not only was it a glorious victory of itself, the occasion being the first time in England's history that she surrendered a whole squadron, but it settled a much more momentous matter. The British General Proctor was waiting with his army on the Canadian shore ready to be carried across the lake by the English fleet, in the event of their being successful, and pressing his invasion of Ohio, which would have been an almost fatal blow to our country.
On the Ohio shore General Harrison was waiting with an American force to invade Canada, if Perry gained a victory. Hardly had the surrender been made when the commandant, using his cap for a desk and the back of an old letter for paper, pencilled the despatch which has become famous: "We have met the enemy and they are ours—two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop," which he sent by messenger to General Harrison.
In the following month Harrison invaded Canada, with Proctor retreating before him, and accompanied by the famous Indian, Tecumseh, and several hundred of his warriors. Proctor halted near the Moravian Towns, where a battle was fought October 5, in which the British and Indians were decisively defeated. The Indian confederacy was destroyed and all danger of the invasion of Ohio ended.
Master-Commandant Perry's victory caused his promotion to the rank of captain, and Congress awarded him a gold medal, besides suitably rewarding his officers and men. After the war he was sent into southern waters to help suppress piracy, which had become very troublesome. While engaged on this duty he was seized with yellow fever, and died August 24, 1819, just as his ship reached Port of Spain, Trinidad.
A Hero of the Olden Days—Cruise of the Constitution—Her Capture of the Cyane and Levant—Reminiscences of Admiral Stewart—His Last Days.
During the early days of President Lincoln's administration, before the firing upon Fort Sumter by the Confederates, the all-absorbing question was as to whether or not the fort should be reinforced by the Government. A good many opposed, because it was known that the attempt would bring on a conflict, and, if war was to come, each was anxious that the other side should strike the first blow.
It was amid those times of excitement, doubt and trouble that Commodore Charles Stewart left his modest home near Bordentown, N.J., and went by train to Washington. From the station he made his way straight to the White House and sent in his name to President Lincoln. As usual, the Executive had a swarm of visitors, but he directed the distinguished caller to be admitted at once. As the tall, sad-faced man rose from his chair he towered fully two feet above the diminutive form of the naval officer in his blue swallow-tail, who took the proffered hand, and, after a few conventional words, looked up and said in his brisk manner:
"Mr. President, I'll reinforce Fort Sumter."
"You, Commodore! We are just discussing the question."
"There's no need of discussing it; it must be done! Give me the men and ships—there won't be many required—and I'll do it."
The President saw that his caller was in earnest, and he respected him too highly to indulge in anything like jesting.
"I am inclined to think as you do, Commodore, but—"
"But what?" impatiently interrupted the veteran.
"You have already done so much for your country that it seems only fair that we should give the younger men a chance."
"Younger men! What's the matter with me? I'm not old enough yet to need a cane."
"I observe that; you are wonderfully spry for one of your years. Let me see, what is your age?"
"Not quite eighty-four."
"Why, you are still a young man; but the trouble is, Commodore, we have so many that are still younger, that they are plaguing the life out of me; I don't see how I can refuse them, but I shall be grateful to have the benefit of your counsel any time you are willing to give it."
"Counsel be hanged! We have had too much talk; it's time for actions, and I demand that you give me a chance with the rest."
With that inimitable tact for which President Lincoln was noted, he succeeded in soothing the ruffled feelings of the Commodore (soon afterward made an admiral), but the old gentleman was not quite satisfied, when he bade the President good-by, without having obtained the opportunity to re-enter the active service of his country.
This little anecdote, which is authentic, may serve to introduce my last references to one of the most remarkable naval heroes of our country. If his fire, vigor and patriotism burned so brightly in 1861, little need be said in way of explanation of its nature when he was less than forty years of age.
Captain Stewart came back from a cruise in the West Indies in the spring of 1814, and found the Constitution, "Old Ironsides," closely blockaded by a powerful British squadron. That remarkable frigate had already won such a reputation that the enemy were determined she should not get to sea again. They held her locked in the port for months, but despite their unceasing vigilance, Captain Stewart, who was a consummate seaman, slipped out in December and sailed away.
He made several captures, and the frigates of the enemy began an industrious search for him, while all the lesser craft strained every nerve to keep out of his way. On the 20th of February, 1815, when off the coast of South America, he gave chase to two of the enemy's vessels, one of which proved to be the Cyane and the other the Levant. The two together carried 55 guns and 313 men, while the Constitution had 51 guns and a crew of 456 men. The Cyane was properly a frigate, and she being at the rear, Stewart opened fire from the long guns of his port battery. The response from the starboard guns of the enemy was prompt, and for a time the cannonade was deafening. The Constitution gave most of her attention to the rear ship. The smoke around the American becoming so dense as to cloud the vision, Stewart slipped forward and quickly delivered a double-shotted broadside. Before it could be repeated the other ship attempted to gain a raking position across the stern of the Constitution. By a splendid manoeuvre, Stewart defeated the purpose, and, placing himself abreast the rear ship, delivered another destructive broadside before the more sluggish enemy comprehended their danger. He maintained his tremendous fire for a time, when he observed the other ship luffing across his course to secure a raking position, whereupon, with the same unsurpassable seamanship that he had shown from the first, he crossed the wake of the foremost ship and obtained a raking position himself. Before the vessel could extricate itself Stewart raked her twice. Then the second ship repeated the attempt of its consort, but Stewart not only defeated her, but again laid the Constitution so as to rake her.
In the manoeuvring the two ships drew up side by side, and, the enemy opening with the port battery, Stewart replied with his starboard guns. The fire of the American was so amazingly accurate and effective that in a short time the enemy hoisted a light and fired a gun in token of surrender. The battle occurred in the early hours of evening.
Upon sending an officer to take possession, it was found that the captured vessel was the English 32-gun frigate Cyane. It took an hour to transfer and secure the prisoners, when the Constitution started after the other ship, which was some distance away, engaged in repairing her rigging. Seeing the American approaching, and not knowing what fate had befallen her consort, the Englishman gallantly bore down to meet his formidable enemy. The two vessels passed each other and exchanged broadsides, but with another display of masterly seamanship Stewart, before the other was aware of her danger, crossed her wake and raked her.
This startling experience convinced the Englishman that he had met his master and he crowded on all sail in the desperate effort to escape. The Constitution was immediately after her, and by ten o'clock secured a position from which to deliver another of her terrible broadsides, seeing which the enemy surrendered. She proved to be the British sloop of war Levant, of 21 guns.
In this battle the Constitution had 4 killed and 10 wounded, while on the Cyane and Levant 35 were killed and 42 wounded. Of all the battles in which this famous ship was engaged, there was none more remarkable than this. When Stewart advanced to the attack he believed both his enemies were frigates. The manner in which he baffled every effort of the two to rake him, while he repeatedly raked them, was one of the many proofs that the American navy contained no finer seaman than he. The grand old Constitution seemed to anticipate every wish of her commander and responded with a promptness that could not have been surpassed. The discipline of the crew was perfect, and, after all, therefore, it is little wonder that one of the last acts of the famous ship was the most brilliant of them all.
It is stated by Richard Watson Gilder that when Captain Stewart was talking with the respective captains of the Cyane and Levant in his own cabin, the two fell into a dispute, each charging the other with failing to do the right thing during the engagement, and insisting that if it had been done they would not have been defeated. Stewart sat amused and interested until he saw they were becoming angry, when he interfered.
"Now, gentlemen," said he, "there's no need of your growing warm over this affair; no matter what evolutions you made, or what you did, the end would have been the same. If you don't believe it, I will put each of you back on your ship with the same crews and we'll fight it all over again."
Neither of the gentlemen was prepared to accept this proposal, and there can be no doubt that Captain Stewart was warranted in his declaration, and his prisoners knew it.
Stewart started for home with his prizes, and early in March anchored in Port Praya. While there, three powerful British frigates approached, which, through a series of singular coincidences, were blockading Boston at the time the Constitution made her escape some months before. They were anxious, above everything else, to capture the most dreaded ship in the American navy. Stewart knew that his only chance was to get away before they shut him in, for the experience of the Essex at Valparaiso proved that the neutrality of no port would protect an American cruiser.
Accordingly, he lost no time in getting to sea, leaving with the utmost haste and signalling to the Cyane and Levant to follow. They obeyed, and were handled with such skill that all got to sea, with the squadron in hot pursuit. The chase was continued for a long time, with the remarkable result that both the Constitution and Cyane safely reached Boston, while the Levant was recaptured—a small reward for the exertions of the British squadron.
Maclay says: "In this brilliant cruise Captain Stewart proved himself an officer of rare ability. His action with the Cyane and Levant, and his masterly escape from the British squadron, called for all the qualities of a great commander, while his unhesitating attack on what appeared, in the heavy weather, to be two frigates, the beautiful style in which the Constitution was put through the most difficult manoeuvres, and the neatness with which he captured a superior force, have ranked him as one of the most remarkable naval officers of his day. Congress awarded him a sword and gold medal."
It happened one day, when I was talking with Admiral Stewart at his home, that he showed me a Toledo sword which had been presented to him by the King of Spain, because of his rescue of a Spanish ship, drifting helplessly in mid ocean, with the captain and all the crew dead or prostrated by yellow fever.
The blade of the weapon, although quite plain and ordinary looking, of course was very valuable, but the hilt was so rough and crude that I expressed my surprise.
"I supposed that when a king makes a present of a sword," I said, "that the hilt is generally of a more costly pattern than that."
"So it is," replied Stewart, accepting it from me and playfully making a few lightning-like passes in the air just to show that he had not forgotten how to handle the weapon; "that was a very handsome sword when it came to me, and I could not accept it until authorized by Congress. During my fight with the Cyane and Levant I was walking back and forth with this sword under my arm, the hilt slightly projecting in front of my chest, when a grapeshot slipped it off, as it grazed me. The hilt which it now has was put there by my gunner."
"Were you ever wounded in battle?" I asked. "I was struck only once, and it amounted to nothing. It was in the same battle. A pigeon became so frightened by the smoke and racket that it flew hither and thither, and finally perched on my shoulder. While there a musket ball struck its claw at the junction of the toes with the leg, and entered my shoulder. The resistance it met was so tough that it saved my shoulder from being shattered; except for that, the hurt must have proved serious, but it did not bother me at all."
The Admiral, still loosely holding the weapon in his hand, turned his faded eyes toward the window and gazed out over the snow. Those eyes seemed to look backward over the vista of forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty years, and must have recalled the many stirring scenes in which he had taken part, as well as the faces of the brave fellows, like himself, who had gone from earth long ago, leaving him alone. Then the old veteran, still erect and with the fires of patriotism glowing in his brave heart, softly murmured:
"I have been more fortunate than I deserve; strange that I should be the only one left, but it cannot be for long."
And yet he lived for seven more years. Then, when a scirrhus cancer appeared on his tongue, a skilful surgeon told him it could be easily removed and need cause him no trouble.
"Oh," said the Admiral, who was then past ninety, "I've lived long enough; let it alone."
He died a few months later, and, as has been stated, was in his ninety-second year.
Captures Made After the Signing of the Treaty of Peace—The Privateers—Exploit of the General Armstrong—Its Far-Reaching Result.
The treaty of peace between Great Britain and the United States was signed December 24, 1814, at the city of Ghent, in Belgium. Had the submarine telegraph been known at that time, or had we possessed our ocean greyhounds, a good deal of blood-shed would have been saved, and the most important victory of the whole war would not have been gained. General Jackson won his famous triumph at New Orleans—still celebrated in all parts of the country—January 8, 1815; the President was captured by a British fleet, January 15; Captain Stewart captured the Cyane and Levant, February 20; the Hornet took the Penguin, March 23, and the Peacock captured the Nautilus, in a distant part of the world, June 30. That was the last of hostilities between the two countries, and let us pray that it will be the last for all time to come.
In the account of the naval exploits of the War of 1812, I have confined myself to those of the regular cruisers of the United States, but in no other war in which we were engaged did the privateers play so prominent a part. These vessels were usually schooners or brigs of 200 or 300 tons, with crews varying from 75 to 100 men. They left all of our principal ports, many of the swiftest and most effective going from Baltimore, but twenty-six were fitted out in New York alone in the summer of 1812. Probably the whole number engaged was about six hundred. Of the four hundred British prizes captured in the second year of the war, four-fifths were taken by privateers. A favorite cruising ground was the West Indies, but some of the vessels ventured across the ocean and displayed a degree of boldness that recalled the days of Paul Jones. Among the most famous were the Reindeer, Avon and Blakeley, built in a few weeks, near Boston, in 1814. They were so large and well equipped that more than once they attacked and defeated British warships.
Some of the privateers which left Charleston, Bristol and Plymouth were nothing but pilot boats, carrying twenty or thirty men each, who gave their attention to the West Indies. They were often obliged to deplete their crews to that extent in order to man their prizes that barely enough were left to manage their own ships. In those days all, of course, were sailing vessels, and they carried nothing in the shape of armor. Their guns were cannon, loading at the muzzle and firing solid shot. The most effective of these was the "Long Tom," which was generally mounted on a pivot forward, and used in firing upon a fleeing vessel.
(Afterward President of the United States.)
The most famous achievement was that of the privateer General Armstrong, which carried nine long guns, the largest being 24-pounders, or "long nines." She sailed with a large crew, which was depleted to ninety on account of the number in charge of the prizes captured. Her commander was Captain Samuel C. Reid, born in Connecticut in 1783, and died in 1861. It was he who designed the accepted pattern of the United States flag, with its thirteen stripes and one star for each State. The fifteen-striped flag, which it has been stated was carried through the War of 1812, remained the pattern until 1818, when the change referred to was made.
While engaged upon one of his successful cruises, Captain Reid put into the harbor of Fayal, one of the Azores, to provision his ship. He was thus employed when Admiral Sir Thomas Cochrane, of England, reached the same port and on the same errand. He had with him three vessels: the flagship Plantagenet, 74 guns; the frigate Rotan, 38 guns, and the brig Carnation, 18 guns. This powerful squadron was manned by 2,000 men, and was on the way to New Orleans with the purpose of occupying the city.
When the British admiral discovered the American privateer within the harbor, he placed his own vessels so as to prevent its escape. Captain Reid did not think the enemy would attack him, since the harbor was neutral, but the previous experience of his countrymen warned him that it was not safe to count upon the British respecting the laws of war when there was an opportunity to destroy one of the pests of the ocean. He cleared his decks and made every preparation against attack, and it was well he did so.
It was not long before he observed several boats, crowded with men, leave the Plantagenet and row toward him. This was on the 26th of September. There being no doubt of their hostile purpose, Captain Reid several times warned them off, but they paid no attention to him. He then fired upon the boats, and a number of the crews were killed and wounded. This was a sort of reception they had not counted upon, and the boats turned about and hastily rowed back to the flagship.
"We have got to fight," said Captain Reid to his men; "they will attack us again to-night, and things will be lively."
There was no thought of surrender on the part of the Americans, though, as will be noted, they were threatened by a force more than twenty times as numerous as their own. They sent their valuables ashore and disposed of everything, as if not a man expected to emerge from the fight alive. All were cool and confident, and the dauntless courage of the commander inspired every one around him.
Night settled over the harbor, and by and by the sounds of oars showed the enemy were approaching again. Through the gloom seven boats, containing two hundred men, loomed into view, coming straight for the General Armstrong. Each carried a carronade, with which they opened fire on the privateer. The reply of the latter was so well directed and effective that three of the boats were sunk and their crews left struggling in the water. The cries that sounded across the harbor left no doubt of the effect of the fire of the American.
The four remaining boats were not frightened off, but, rowing with might and main, reached the side of the vessel and began clambering on board. They were enraged, and as their heads rose above the gunwales they shouted, "No quarter!"
"No quarter!" replied the Americans, discharging their pistols in their faces and pressing them back into the water with their pikes. The assailants displayed great bravery and made desperate efforts to board the privateer; but the Americans needed not the incentive of the warning that no quarter would be given to fight with all the vigor and skill at their command. The struggle was a furious one, but in the end the British were so decisively defeated that only two of the boats returned to the ships. The others, filled with dead and wounded, drifted ashore.
(Our Last Naval Engagement with England.)
In this brief but terrific struggle there were only two Americans killed and seven wounded, while the enemy acknowledged a loss of thirty-four killed and eighty-six wounded, the former including the leader of the expedition.
Admiral Cochrane was so incensed by the rough treatment his men had received that he determined to throw neutrality to the winds and destroy the defiant privateer. Nothing more was attempted that evening, but in the morning the Carnation advanced to the attack of the General Armstrong. This gave the latter a chance to bring its Long Tom into play, and it was served with such unerring accuracy that not a shot missed. Before the brig could come to close quarters she was so crippled that she was obliged to withdraw.
The three ships now closed in. It would have been folly to fight them. So Captain Reid scuttled his ship, lowered his boats and rowed ashore. The enemy were disposed to follow him thither, but he and his men took refuge in an old stone fortress and dared the Englishmen to do so. Upon second thought they decided to leave the Americans to themselves.
This wonderful exploit was celebrated in song, one stanza of which ended thus:
"From set of sun till rise of morn, through the long September night, Ninety men against two thousand, and the ninety won the fight;
In the harbor of Fayal the Azore."
While the victory of itself was one of the most remarkable of which there is any record, it resembled that of Perry on Lake Erie in its far-reaching consequences. Admiral Cochrane found his ships so crippled that he returned to England to refit. He then sailed for New Orleans, which he reached a few days after it had been occupied by General Jackson. But for the delay caused by his fight with Captain Reid he would have shut out General Jackson from the city and prevented his winning the most glorious land victory of the whole war.
Resentment of the Barbary States—The War with Algiers—Captain Decatur's Vigorous Course—His Astonishing Success as a Diplomat.
It was not alone in our wars with the leading nations that the American navy won glory. Wherever there arose a demand for its work, its patriotism, skill and bravery were instant to respond.
England had its hands full during the early years of the nineteenth century in combating Napoleon Bonaparte and other nations with which she became embroiled. Had she been wise and treated the United States with justice, she would have saved herself the many humiliations received at our hands. She is another nation to-day, but it was wholly her fault that her "children" on this side of the ocean were forced to strike for the defence of their rights in the Revolution and the War of 1812.
In the account of our war with Tripoli it has been shown that the young American navy performed brilliant service. The Barbary States took naturally to piracy, and Great Britain, by securing immunity for her vessels through the payment of tribute, also secured a virtual monopoly of the commerce of the Mediterranean. Her policy was a selfish one, for she believed the United States was too weak to send any effective warships into that part of the world. The story of Tripoli convinced her of the mistake of this belief.
The Barbary States were sour over their defeat, and, when the War of 1812 broke out, they eagerly seized the occasion to pick a quarrel with us. The Dey of Algiers opened the ball by insisting that $27,000 should be paid him, the same being past due (under the old treaty providing for tribute from the United States), owing to the difference in the methods of computing time by the two countries. Since our war with England prevented the sending of any force to the Mediterranean at that time, the consul complied and the blackmail was handed to the Dey.
This concession only whetted the barbarian's appetite, and his next step was to order the consul to leave the country, since he was not honest enough to make his residence in the Dey's dominions congenial to the latter. About that time the Dey received a present of valuable naval stores from England, and he lost no time in sending out his corsairs to prey upon American commerce.
Tripoli and Tunis were not so active, but believing the British boast that they would sweep the American navy from the seas, they allowed the warships of that nation to recapture several prizes that the American privateers had sent into their ports. Their sympathies were wholly with England and against the United States, which they hated with an intensity natural to their savage nature.
The United States bided its time. No sooner had the War of 1812 closed than our Government decided to give its attention to Algiers, whose defiant Dey had not only refused to allow his American prisoners to be ransomed, but had insolently declared that he meant to add a good many more to them.
Hardly had the treaty with England been proclaimed when two squadrons were ordered into Algerian waters. The first was under the command of Captain William Bainbridge and assembled at Boston, and the second, under Captain Stephen Decatur, was organized at New York. Decatur was the first to get under way, sailing on May 20 with a squadron consisting of ten vessels, mounting 210 guns. He had under his direct command nearly all the seamen who had served under him and survived the last war.
It may seem that Decatur had an easy task before him, but Maclay shows that the force against which he sailed was really the stronger. It consisted of 5 frigates, 6 sloops of war and 1 schooner—all carrying 360 guns, which exceeded those of the American squadron by 50 per cent. The Algerian admiral was the terror of the Mediterranean. He had risen from the lowest to the highest rank by his indomitable valor and skill. He once captured by boarding in broad daylight a Portuguese frigate within sight of Gibraltar. He had performed other valiant exploits; his ships were well equipped and manned, and the crews trained in modern warfare.
In addition, the city of Algiers was so strongly fortified that Lord Nelson declared that twenty-five ships of the line would not be more than enough to capture it. As Decatur drew near the Portugal coast he made guarded inquiries as to the whereabouts of the Algerian squadron. He used the utmost care to prevent his presence from becoming known to the enemy, and finally heard that which led him to believe the Moorish admiral had passed through the Straits of Gibraltar and entered the Mediterranean. At Gibraltar Decatur saw several boats hurrying off to Algiers to warn his enemy of his danger. He made sail up the Mediterranean, hoping to beat the despatch boats. The admiral's flagship was descried, and, still striving to avert suspicion, the American ships worked gradually toward him. Before they could get within range the Moorish admiral took the alarm, and, crowding on every stitch of canvas, made a resolute effort to escape. He handled his ship with great skill, and Decatur feared he would succeed in reaching some neutral port or elude him in the night, which was near at hand.
A hot chase followed, and the Turks soon opened on the American flagship and wounded several men, but Decatur reserved his fire until able to deliver one of his fearful broadsides. A shot literally cut the Moorish admiral in two. A few minutes later a second broadside was fired, but no signal of surrender was made, and the men in the tops continued firing until the American marines picked them off. Seeing there was no escape for the enemy, and wishing to save the unnecessary shedding of blood, Decatur took a position off the frigate's bow, whereupon she made a vigorous effort to escape.
In doing this, she headed directly for the 18-gun brig Epervier, which was in danger of being run down; but the plucky master-commandant, John Downes, backed and filled away with wonderful skill, chased the flying frigate, delivered nine diminutive broadsides and compelled the Turk to strike his colors.
Upon taking possession of the prize it was found that 30 had been killed and there were 406 prisoners. On the Guerriere 3 had fallen and 11 were wounded by the fire of the enemy.
Believing that the rest of the Algerian squadron would make haste to their home port, Decatur hastened thither with the view of cutting them off. If the Dey refused to come to terms, he intended to blockade the squadron and bombard the city. It was on the 28th of June, 1815, that the American fleet appeared off Algiers, and the commander signalled a request for the Swedish consul to come aboard. He came out a few hours later, accompanied by the Algerian captain of the port. When Decatur proved by the testimony of one of the native prisoners that their admiral had been killed and his ship and a second one captured, the officer was astounded, and so alarmed that he asked the American commander on what terms he would make peace.
Decatur was prepared for this question, and produced a letter to the Dey from the President of the United States, in which it was declared that the only conditions upon which peace could be made was the full and final relinquishment by Algiers of all claim to tribute in the future, and the guarantee that American commerce would not be molested. The captain, like all Orientals, began to quibble to gain time, asking that the commissioners should land and conduct the negotiations on shore. Decatur replied that they must be negotiated on board the Guerriere and nowhere else.
The next day the Moorish captain returned with full powers to negotiate. Decatur now notified him that, in addition to the terms already named, every American prisoner must be given up without ransom, and the value, to the last penny, of their stolen property restored. Other minor demands were added, all of which were within the province of Decatur, who had been clothed with full authority to make peace. The captain asked for a truce that he might lay the terms before the Dey. This was denied. Then he asked for a delay of three hours.
"Not three minutes," replied Decatur; "if the remaining ships of your squadron appear before the treaty is signed, or before every American prisoner is on board this ship, I will capture every one of them."
The Moor was thoroughly cowed by the aggressive American, and, promising to do all he could to secure the consent of the Dey, he was hastily rowed ashore. It was understood that if the Dey agreed to the terms the captain would return in the boat with a white flag displayed at the bow.
He had been gone but a short time when an Algerian ship of war was discovered, crowded with soldiers and approaching. Decatur instantly cleared for action, and had started to meet the enemy, when the port captain was observed approaching as rapidly in his boat as his men could row, and with the white signal fluttering from the bow. All the Americans, including Decatur, were disappointed, but as he had promised, he waited until the boat was within hail. Then he called out to know whether the treaty was signed. He was told that it was, and in a short time the prisoners were brought alongside and delivered to their rescuers. Wan, emaciated and hollow-eyed from their long and bitter imprisonment, they wept tears of joy and kissed the American flag that, coming so many thousand miles, had brought them deliverance.
Thus in two weeks after the arrival of the American squadron in Algerian waters, every demand of its Government was complied with, and a treaty of peace made on terms dictated by its gallant and faithful representative. It will be admitted that Stephen Decatur proved himself one of the most successful diplomats as well as intrepid and skilful of commanders.
He now proceeded to Tunis and notified the Dey that he would give him twelve hours in which to pay $46,000 for allowing the seizure of American prizes in his port during the late war. The Dey paid it. The next call of the American commander was on the Bashaw of Tripoli, who, although he blustered a good deal, was compelled to hand over $25,000 for a similar breach of the law.
Among the vessels of the American squadron were three—the Guerriere, Macedonian, and the Peacock—which had been captured from Great Britain during the late war. This fact gave peculiar point to the reproof of the Dey's prime minister to the British consul: "You told us that the Americans should be swept from the seas in six months by your navy, and now they make war upon us with some of your own vessels which they took from you."
Piracy in the West Indies—Its Cause—Means by Which It Was Wiped Out—Piracy in the Mediterranean.
We hear little of pirates in these days, but for ten years or more after the close of the War of 1812 the West Indies were infested by them. Our Government saw that in self-defense they must be wiped out, for they grew bolder with every month and made it unsafe for our commerce in those waters.
Where did they come from and what gave rise to the ocean nuisances? About the time named Spain was the mistress of most of the South American countries. When she discovered America through Columbus, and for a long period afterward, she was one of the greatest maritime nations in the world. Like England at the present time, she had colonies in all parts of the globe, and had she not been so cruel and unwise in the treatment of her dependencies, would still have retained a great deal of her former greatness and power; but she is one of the few nations that never learn from experience, and a short time after our second war with Great Britain her South American colonies began revolting against her, and one by one they gained their independence.
Among the most powerful of the rebelling provinces were Buenos Ayres and Venezuela; and, taking lesson from the success of our privateers, they sent out many swift sailing, well-armed vessels to prey upon Spanish commerce. They did their work so effectively that by and by they extended their attacks to the vessels of all nations. Nothing being done for a time to check them, they grew rapidly in numbers and audacity, until, as has been stated, the West Indies swarmed with the pests. The men living along the coast found buccaneering so profitable that they gave up their peaceful pursuits and became free-booters of the sea. Like the Spaniards themselves, they were ferocious, and generally murdered the crews of the captured vessels and then divided the plunder among themselves.
Seeing that something must be done to check these intolerable outrages, our Government gave the task, in 1819, to Oliver Hazard Perry, the hero of Lake Erie. His work was more difficult than would be supposed, for, in addition to destroying the pirates, he had to avoid offending the countries named, with whom we wished to maintain friendly relations. They sent out regular cruisers that had the same right to prey upon Spanish commerce that our privateers had to attack English ships when we were at war with their country. Some of these cruisers secretly engaged in piracy; many that flew the black flag, in the presence of those who could not defend themselves, claimed to be authorized privateers at other times and carried forged commissions. They were treacherous, cruel and merciless to the last degree.
It will be seen, therefore, that the task assigned to Captain Perry required quick decision, courage and discretion. He possessed all those qualities in a high degree, and, in the performance of his duty, reached the mouth of the Orinoco in July, 1815, in command of three powerful ships. The following extract from his journal will give a vivid idea of the discomforts which he and his men underwent in the performance of their work:
"The sun, as soon as it shows itself in the morning, strikes almost through you. Mosquitoes, sand flies and gnats cover you, and as the sun gets up higher it becomes entirely calm and the rays pour down a heat that is insufferable. The fever that it creates, together with the irritation caused by the insects, produces a thirst which is insatiable, to quench which we drink water at a temperature of eighty-two degrees. About four o'clock in the afternoon a rain squall, accompanied by a little wind, generally takes place. It might be supposed that this would cool the air, but not so, for the steam which arises as soon as the sun comes out makes the heat still more intolerable. At length night approaches and we go close inshore and anchor. Myriads of mosquitoes and gnats come off to the vessel and compel us to sit over strong smoke created by burning oakum and tar, rather than endure their terrible stings, until, wearied and exhausted, we go to bed to endure new torments. Shut up in the berth of a small cabin, if there is any air stirring, not a breath of it can reach us. The mosquitoes, more persevering, follow us and annoy us the whole night by their noise and bites until, almost mad with heat and pain, we rise to go through the same trouble the next day."
Perry sailed three hundred miles up the Orinoco and was undaunted by the fact that the dreaded yellow fever soon appeared among his men. He was seized with the terrible disease and died on the 24th of August. He was buried with the highest civic and military honors at Trinidad, many British officers who had fought against him on Lake Erie showing their respect for his bravery and an appreciation of his kindness to them when they were prisoners of war. His remains were afterward removed to Newport, Rhode Island, where a magnificent monument was erected to his memory.
The untimely death of this naval hero before he had time to complete his work encouraged the West Indian pirates and they became more audacious than before. In the autumn of 1821 several naval vessels were sent thither by our Government. They did vigorous work, capturing and destroying a number of piratical vessels, but there were too many of them, and they were spread over too extended a space to be wiped out by a few captures. In the following year a still more powerful squadron went to the West Indies under the command of Captain James Biddle, who did such valiant service in the War of 1812. A good many buccaneers were destroyed, including several leaders of the buccaneers whose atrocious deeds had long made their names a terror. In one of these attacks Lieutenant William H. Allen, of the schooner Alligator, was killed by a musket ball. His gallantry in the fight between the Argus and Pelican in the war with Great Britain sent a thrill of admiration through the country and brought him well-merited promotion.
You have not forgotten the wonderful cruise of Captain David Porter in the Essex, when he entered the Pacific Ocean and caused such havoc among the British shipping. He was appointed commander of the West India forces and arrived off Porto Rico in March, 1823. He was provided, in addition to his warships, with a number of barges, furnished with twenty oars apiece, and which were indispensable in following the pirates up the shallow creeks and into the shoal waters where the vessels could not go.
Captain Porter was discreet but impatient with injustice. When one of his schooners was fired into by the Porto Rican authorities he promptly demanded an explanation, which was given. The most important incident of his service occurred in the autumn of 1824 and is known as the "Foxardo Affair."
In October of that year the storehouse of the American consul at St. Thomas was broken into and robbed of much valuable property which there was reason to believe had been carried to the small port at the eastern end of Porto Rico known as Foxardo. Lieutenant Platt, of the Beagle, anchored off the town and asked the help of the authorities in capturing the criminals and recovering the property. The officer was treated with the grossest discourtesy. Having landed in civilian clothes, the authorities accused him of being an impostor and ordered him to show his commission. The Lieutenant produced it, whereupon they declared it a forgery and arrested him on the charge of being a pirate. After he and a midshipman who accompanied him had been insulted repeatedly they were allowed to leave.
When Captain Porter learned of this outrage he entered the harbor with several of his vessels and sent a letter to the alcalde or governor, notifying him that he had one hour in which to send an explanation of his action. While waiting for the return of the flag of truce Captain Porter saw one of the shore batteries getting ready to fire upon him. Instantly, he sent a detachment, which captured the battery and spiked the guns. Then Captain Porter landed, and, after spiking another battery, made his way to the town. By and by the alcalde and captain of the port appeared and made such profuse and humble apologies that the officer could not refuse to accept them, and returned to his ship.
Such is a truthful account of the incident as it occurred. It would seem that there was nothing in the course of the gallant naval officer that deserved censure. One of his officers had been insulted and he compelled the offenders to make a suitable apology. Fearing with good reason a treacherous attack from the batteries on shore, he spiked their guns. But when the news reached our Government Captain Porter was ordered home, tried by court martial and sentenced to be suspended from the service for six months. Feeling himself unjustly treated, Captain Porter resigned and entered the Mexican navy, where he remained until 1829. In that year Andrew Jackson became President of the United States. He had been through trying and stormy times himself and would never submit to insult from any man or nation. He appointed Porter consul general at Algiers. He afterward became minister to Turkey and died March 28, 1843.
Captain Lewis Warrington succeeded Porter in the West Indies and followed out his aggressive policy. The buccaneers were hunted down without cessation and nest after nest broken up until, at the close of 1825, piracy in those waters was practically suppressed. For several years, however, a squadron was maintained there and more than once its services were needed, but the work was completed and since then no trouble in that quarter of the world of the nature described has plagued either ourselves or any other nation.
Even in the Mediterranean our navy had similar work to do. While little Greece was making so gallant a struggle for freedom against Turkey a number of her vessels played the role of pirate and attacked ships of other nations. Among others, an English brig had been seized, but Lieutenant Lewis M. Goldsborough, after a furious fight, recaptured the vessel. Lieutenant John A. Carr singled out the Greek captain and in the fierce hand-to-hand conflict killed him. Lieutenant Goldsborough—who afterward became rear-admiral—received the thanks of several of the Mediterranean powers for his assistance in ridding the waters of the pirates who, though few in number, became exceedingly troublesome.
It was by such prompt, vigorous and brave measures that the American navy compelled the respect not only of civilized but of barbarous peoples in all parts of the world. This fact is proven by a remarkable occurrence, not often mentioned in history, the particulars of which are given in the next chapter.
The Qualla Battoo Incident.
Qualla Battoo is the name of a small Malay town, which stood on the northwestern coast of Sumatra. In the month of February, 1831, the Friendship, a trading vessel from Salem, Mass., lay at anchor off the town, taking on board a cargo of pepper. Her captain, Mr. Endicott, and crew numbered fifteen men. There being no harbor, the vessel was about half a mile from shore. The day was oppressively hot and no one on the Friendship put forth more exertion than was absolutely necessary. Even the swarthy natives seemed to languish in the flaming heat and displayed less vigor in bringing out the pepper in their boats than they did when the sun beat down upon them with its usual rigor.
Captain Endicott understood the treacherous nature of the Malays, and he and his crew kept sharp watch of those who were given the management of the vessel's boats, owing to the difficult character of the coast which made such a course necessary.
The trade in pepper was almost the only one in which Qualla Battoo engaged. Captain Endicott, his second mate and four seamen were on shore at the trading station, a little way up the river, superintending the weighing of the pepper. The first mate and the rest of the crew waited on the vessel to receive and stow away the cargo. The work had hardly begun when a suspicious proceeding caught the eye of Captain Endicott.
The first boat, after receiving its load, passed the short distance necessary down the river to the sea, where, instead of rowing directly out to the ship, it turned up the coast and took on board more men. The Captain concluded the crew needed this additional help to work their way through the heavy surf. But, not wholly satisfied, he told two of his men to go nearer the shore, keep their eyes on the boat and report to him anything that looked wrong.
Captain Endicott, from his position, was unable to catch the full significance of the first action of the natives in charge of the outgoing boat, for, instead of taking on board more help, the whole unarmed party stepped ashore and twice as many fully armed warriors took their places. They carefully concealed their weapons and the Americans on the vessel made the same mistake as their captain in believing they were merely the additions necessary to help work the craft through the surf.
They tied fast to the gangway and most of them climbed over the side with their daggers hidden in their clothing. The mate would have stopped them, but they pretended not to understand his words and acted as if interested in the appearance of the guns and rigging. Their conduct was so natural that the mate and his men gave their whole attention to taking the pepper on board and stowing it away. The mate was absorbed in his work, when suddenly several Malays sprang with lightning-like quickness at him and buried their daggers in his back. He turned and attempted to defend himself, but was quickly despatched. Five men rushed to the help of the mate, but they were unarmed and outnumbered four to one. Two were quickly killed and three made prisoners. The other four seamen sprang overboard and swam for land. They saw that the beach was lined with warriors waiting for them. Accordingly they turned to one side and swam several miles to a promontory, where they were safe for the time.
Seeing that their friends had gained possession of the ship, several boatloads of natives rowed out to it, took possession, plundered and then tried to run it ashore, that they might break out the metal work at their leisure.
Meanwhile the two seamen stationed near shore by the captain saw what had taken place and ran back to him with the alarming news. He instantly ordered all into the second boat and hurried down the river, hoping to reach the vessel in time to recapture it. The boat was pursued by the natives along the bank, but it managed to reach the mouth of the river, where it would have perished in the surf but for the help of a friendly member of an adjoining tribe, who sprang from his armed coasting schooner and swam to their assistance. He helped them through the surf, and, when confronted by the native armed boats, made such threats and flourishes with his sword (none of the Americans being armed) that he kept the miscreants at bay and the white men succeeded in reaching the open sea.
Seeing that it would be sure death to go to the vessel, the boat was rowed to a small town about twenty miles distant, where the occupants found three American merchant vessels. The officers and crews were enraged upon learning what had taken place, and, although it was night, they made sail at once for Qualla Battoo, reaching it next day. In reply to the demand that the Friendship should be returned, the insolent Rajah told them to take her if they could. The three ships moved as close to shore as was safe and opened fire with such guns as they had. All merchant vessels carried some kind of armament against pirates in that part of the world. Impatient with the delay involved in recapturing the Friendship, by attacking at long range, as it may be called, three boats were filled with armed men who rowed straight for the vessel. It was swarming with armed natives, who kept up a vicious but ill directed fire, the result of which was the sailors rowed the faster, eager to get close enough to punish the miscreants for their murderous work.
When they were almost to the ship the Malays sprang overboard and swam frantically for land. Captain Endicott regained possession of his vessel, and, upon examination, found it had been rifled from stem to stern. Among the plunder taken away was $12,000 in specie. Altogether the loss was $40,000 to the owners of the ship and the captain was compelled to give up his voyage and return home.
It took a long time for news to travel in those days, but it finally reached the United States, where Andrew Jackson happened to be President. He immediately ordered the 44-gun frigate Potomac to that out of the way corner of the world, with instructions to punish the guilty parties concerned in the outrage. Captain Downes lost no time in getting under way and arrived off Qualla Battoo in February, 1832, just a year after the treacherous attack upon the Friendship.
Anxious to prevent his errand becoming known so that he might surprise the Malays, Captain Downes disguised his ship as a merchantman, closing his ports and taking every precaution possible. He displayed the Danish colors, still maintaining the guise of a merchantman, and sent a boat's crew to take soundings along shore. The natives on the beach displayed so hostile a disposition that no landing was made, and, having gained the necessary information, the boat returned to the frigate. Captain Downes then informed them that the expedition would leave the ship at midnight.
A strong armed force in several boats secretly rowed to land at the time named, but day was approaching when they reached the beach, where the men landed under the guidance of the former second mate of the Friendship and started inland. One division turned to the left to attack the fort at the northern end of the town. The Malays received them with a brisk discharge of cannon, muskets, javelins and arrows. But, returning the fire, the Americans burst open the gate of the stockade, fought hand to hand with the fierce Malays and drove them out of the open space into the citadel. There they were attacked with the same impetuosity, but they fought like tigers, and it was not until twelve had been killed and a great many wounded that they were overcome. The Rajah in command, after a desperate defence in which he wounded several Americans, was finally despatched.
In the meantime the fort in the middle of the town had been attacked by the other division and carried after a bloody fight in which a marine was killed and a number wounded. But the strongest fort of all stood on the bank of the river near the beach. There the Rajah of Qualla Battoo, who was the real author of the attack on the Friendship, had gathered a large force of his best warriors and announced that he would fight to the death.
The strength of the force which marched against the fort was eighty-five men. One of the officers who took part in this attack said: "The natives were brave and fought with a fierceness bordering on desperation. They would not yield while a drop of their savage blood warmed their bosoms or while they had strength to wield a weapon, fighting with that undaunted firmness which is the characteristic of bold and determined spirits and displaying such an utter carelessness of life as would have been honored in a better cause. Instances of the bravery of these people were numerous, so much so that were I to give the detail of each event my description would probably become tiresome."
The barricades stoutly resisted the fire. Leaving a force to engage the fort in front, Lieutenant Shubrick led a body of sailors through the woods to the rear with the 6-pounder which had been brought from the frigate. When they reached their position they came upon three heavily armed schooners, swarming with warriors, awaiting a chance to take part in the fight. Shubrick promptly opened upon them with his cannon, followed by a destructive fire of musketry, which sent the Malays leaping overboard and into the woods. They succeeded, however, in warping one of the schooners beyond range.
The Americans now being at the front and rear of the fort, a simultaneous attack was made. The gate was wrenched from its fastenings, but the first American who tried to enter was killed and three others badly wounded. Undaunted the remainder of the assailants rushed through and drove the defenders to a high platform, where they made their final stand. The other stockade was in flames, which were burning so fast that the Americans themselves were in danger from them. The little cannon was brought into play from a neighboring elevation and poured canister and grape into the Malays. Meanwhile the Americans, who had performed their part so well, came up and joined in the attack on the main fort. The Malays, still fighting, shrieked out their defiant cries. In the ardor of the assault the little cannon was too heavily loaded and dismounted. Amid the wild confusion the flames of the second fort reached the magazine and the whole structure blew up with a tremendous explosion.
The cannon being useless, Lieutenant Shubrick ordered a general assault upon the citadel, and it was made with a resistless rush. The men scrambled upon the platform, in the face of the swarthy wild cats, and despatched them in a whirlwind fashion. The work being apparently completed, the bugle was sounded for retreat and the Americans returned to the beach. On the way they were fired upon by another fort for which they had searched without being able to find it. Returning the fire, the Americans charged through the jungle and after another desperate fight it was captured, most of the garrison slain and the remainder sent scurrying through the woods.
The roll call revealed that two Americans had been killed and eleven wounded. All were gently lifted into the boats and carried to the ship. A moderate estimate made 100 of the Malays killed and fully double the number wounded.
Captain Downes now brought his long 32-pounders to bear and opened a bombardment of Qualla Battoo which spread destruction and death among the natives. Many were killed and others sent scurrying in terror to the jungle. Toward the close of the day white flags were displayed and the firing ceased. Immediately after a boat was sent out by the remaining rajahs, with a white flag fluttering at the bow. On coming aboard the messengers were presented to Captain Downes and they humbly prayed that he would stop the firing of his big guns, which were killing all their people. He promised to do so on their pledge never again to molest an American. He assured them that if they ever did his country would send larger and more terrible ships across the ocean that would lay their towns in ashes and slay hundreds of their men. The subsequent history of that quarter of the world leaves no doubt that the impressive warning of Captain Downes produced the best of results, for Sumatra has never required any further attention from our navy.
Wilkes's Exploring Expedition.
Perhaps my young readers have wondered over the same fact that used to puzzle me when a boy. While the civilized world was interested, as it has been for hundreds of years, in trying to reach the Pole, and the nations were constantly sending expeditions to search for it, to be followed by others to hunt for the expeditions and then by others to look up those that were hunting for the others and so on, all these efforts were confined to the North Pole. Everybody seemed to have forgotten that there is also a South Pole, which is not a mile further from the equator than the North Pole.
Of course there was good reason for all this. There is a great deal of land in the north, while the unbroken ocean seas stretch away from the South Pole for hundreds and thousands of miles in every direction and the prodigious masses and mountains of ice make it impossible to get anywhere near it. Our daring explorers are continually edging further north, and doubtless within a few years the Pole will be reached, but there appears no prospect of the South Pole being seen for many a year to come.
Lieutenant Charles Wilkes was born in 1798 and died in 1877. He entered the American navy at an early age and in 1838 was made commander of the squadron which spent four years in sailing through the Pacific, along its American coasts and in the Antarctic regions.
Before giving an account of this memorable scientific expedition, let me add a little more information concerning this distinguished naval officer, since this is the only chapter which contains any reference to him. He was made a captain in 1855. In the month of November, 1861, while in command of the steamer San Jacinto, he stopped the British ship Trent and forcibly took off the two Confederate commissioners, Mason and Slidell, who were on their way respectively to England and France to secure their aid for the Southern Confederacy.
Captain Wilkes was highly applauded for his act by his countrymen, but England was very indignant. It was an illegal proceeding on his part, since the deck of a ship is the same as the soil of the country whose flag she flies. Our Government was compelled to disavow his action and restore the commissioners to English custody.
In the War for the Union Captain Wilkes commanded the James River squadron, was made commodore in 1862 and was retired in 1864 and made rear-admiral on the retired list.
The scientific expedition of which Lieutenant Wilkes was given command was intended, to quote the words of Congress, "for the purpose of exploring and surveying the southern ocean, as well to determine the existence of all doubtful islands and shoals as to discover and accurately fix the position of those which lie in or near the track of our vessels in that quarter and may have escaped the observation of scientific navigators."
Lieutenant Wilkes sailed from Hampton Roads on the 19th of August, 1838, his flagship being the 18-gun sloop-of-war Vincennes, the 18-gun sloop-of-war Peacock, the 12-gun brig-of-war Porpoise, the storeship Relief, the tender Sea Gull and the tender Flying Fish. Since one of the main objects was scientific research, the expedition was provided with a philologist, naturalists, conchologists, mineralogist, botanist, draughtsmen and a horticulturist.
A halt for a week was made at the Madeira Islands, when the ships headed southward, reaching Rio Janeiro late in November. In January, 1839, they halted at Orange Harbor, Terra del Fuego, and made it their base of operations. On the 25th of February Lieutenant Wilkes, in the Porpoise, accompanied by the Sea Gull, started for the South Pole. On the 1st of March considerable ice and snow were encountered and an island sighted, but the men could not land because of the surf. The next day the Ashland Islands were discovered and soon after the two vessels reached Palmersland. The following is the account of Lieutenant Wilkes:
"It was a day of great excitement to all, for we had ice of all kinds to encounter, from the iceberg of huge quadrangular shape, with its stratified appearance, to the sunken and deceptive masses that were difficult to perceive before they were under the bow. I have rarely seen a finer sight. The sea was literally studded with these beautiful masses, some of pure white, others showing all shades of the opal, others emerald green and occasionally, here and there, some of deep black. Our situation was critical, but the weather favored us for a few hours. On clearing these dangers we kept off to the south and west under all sail, and at 9 P.M. we counted eight large islands. Afterward the weather became so thick with mist and fog as to render it necessary to lie to till daylight, before which time we had a heavy snowstorm. A strong gale now set in from the southwest; the deck of the brig was covered with ice and snow and the weather became exceedingly damp and cold. The men were suffering not only from want of sufficient room but from the inadequacy of the clothing."
Naturally the further south they penetrated the greater became their danger from the increasing fields of ice and icebergs. The Peacock and Flying Fish left Orange Harbor on the same day with the Porpoise and Sea Gull. They were separated by a gale and the Peacock was continually beset by icebergs. Every rope and the deck, spars and rigging were thickly coated with ice. Some days later the Flying Fish was met and she reported that she had penetrated to the parallel of 70 degrees. There was imminent danger of being frozen in, and, as they were short of provisions, they sailed northward. The Flying Fish reached Orange Harbor in April, while the Peacock continued on to Valparaiso, where the storeship Relief was found. In May the other members of the squadron arrived at the port, with the exception of the Sea Gull, which was never heard of again.
The squadron now crossed the Pacific, reaching Sydney, New South Wales, in the latter part of November. There, after consulting with his officers, Lieutenant Wilkes decided to make another Antarctic cruise. The Flying Fish proved so unseaworthy that, after passing through a violent storm, she was obliged to return to port and took no further part in the enterprise.
Once more among the ice fields, the ships were menaced by danger from every side. Some of the escapes were of the most thrilling nature. One of the ships barely missed being crushed by hundreds of tons of ice which fell from the top of an overhanging iceberg. The weather was intensely cold and the snow and fine sleet which were whirled horizontally through the air cut the face like bird shot.
The Vincennes prowled along the edge of the Antarctic Continent as far as 97 degrees east, when Lieutenant Wilkes headed northward and arrived at Sydney in March, 1840, and found the Peacock at anchor. The Porpoise reached 100 degrees east and 64 degrees 65 minutes south when she turned her prow away from the inhospitable solitude and in March arrived at Auckland Isle.
The following summer was spent in exploring the islands of the Southern Archipelago. A party was engaged in a launch and cutter, when a tempest compelled them to run into a bay of the Fiji group for shelter. While working its way back the cutter ran upon a reef and was attacked by the natives. The ammunition of the Americans was wet and they abandoned the cutter and returned to the Vincennes.
Since these natives needed a lesson, Lieutenant Wilkes landed a force and burned the native village. A few days later an exploring party was again attacked while trying to trade with the natives. The men were forced to retreat to their boats, under a hot fire, many of the savages using muskets with no little skill. Reinforcements were landed and the savages put to flight, but in the fighting Midshipman Underwood and Henry Wilkes were mortally hurt and a seaman dangerously wounded.
Matters had now assumed so serious a shape that a detachment of seventy officers and men landed at another point on the island and marched upon the nearest village, laying waste the crops as they advanced. When the village was reached it was found to be defended by a strong stockade, with a trench inside, from which the crouching natives could fire through loopholes, while outside of the stockade was a deep ditch of water. Feeling their position impregnable, the savages flourished their weapons and uttered tantalizing whoops at the white men. The whoops quickly changed when the cabins within the stockade were set on fire by a rocket. The natives fled, leaving the village to be burned to ashes. The Americans pushed hostilities so aggressively that on the following day the islanders sued for peace.
The squadron next sailed to the Hawaiian Islands, where several months were spent in exploration. Then the coast of Oregon was visited and the Peacock suffered wreck at the mouth of the Columbia. Doubling the Cape of Good Hope, the expedition reached New York in June, 1842, having been gone nearly four years and having sailed more than 30,000 miles.
THE WAR FOR THE UNION.
A New Era for the United States Navy—Opening of the Great Civil War—John Lorimer Worden—Battle Between the Monitor and Merrimac—Death of Worden.
The War for the Union ushered in a new era for the American navy. Steam navigation had been fully established some years before. As all my readers no doubt know, the first successful steamboat in this country was the Clermont, made by Robert Fulton, which ascended the Hudson in the summer of 1807. The average speed of the pioneer boat was about five miles an hour, so that the trip occupied more than thirty hours. This great invention was a novelty, and, like many others of a similar nature, it required considerable time for it to come into use. The first western steamboat was built at Pittsburg in 1811. It gave an impetus to river navigation by steam, and before long the boats were ploughing the principal streams of the country. The first steamer to cross the Atlantic was the Savannah, which made the voyage in 1819, but ocean navigation was not fairly begun until 1838, when the Sirius and Great Western made the voyage from England to the United States. It is a noteworthy fact that one of the greatest of English scientists, after demonstrating that ocean navigation by steam was impossible, was a passenger on the Great Western on her first trip across the Atlantic.
When the great Civil War burst upon the country the National Government not only failed to comprehend the gigantic nature of the struggle, but was almost wholly unprepared for it. The navy consisted of 90 vessels, of which only 42 were in commission, while 21 were unfit for service, and of those in commission there were but 11, carrying 134 guns, that were in American waters. The remainder were scattered over the waters of the globe, such being the policy of President Buchanan's Secretary of the Navy, who, like the Secretary of War and other members of the Presidential Cabinet, were secessionists who did all they could to pave the way for the establishment of the Southern Confederacy.
On the authority of Maclay, the total number of officers of all grades in the navy on August 1, 1861, was 1,457, in addition to whom an immense volunteer force was called for and 7,500 volunteer officers were enrolled before the close of the war. Three hundred and twenty-two officers resigned from the United States navy and entered that of the seceding States, of which 243 were officers of the line. The 7,600 sailors in the navy at the opening of the war was increased to 51,500 before the close of hostilities.
In a work of this nature the difficulty is to select the most striking and interesting incidents from the scores that formed a part of the War for the Union. One of the many heroes who was brought into prominence was John Lorimer Worden, who was born in Dutchess County, N.Y., March 12, 1818. He entered the navy when sixteen years old and became a lieutenant in 1840. His services in the Mexican War were unimportant and he was a first lieutenant of the Brooklyn Navy Yard when the Civil War broke out.
In the month of April, 1861, when a conflict was inevitable, the Government was anxious to send dispatches to Captain Adams commanding the fleet at Pensacola, who was waiting for orders to reinforce with two companies of artillery, that post being in danger of capture by the Confederates. The dispatches intrusted to Lieutenant Worden were orders for such reinforcements to be made.
It was so delicate and dangerous a duty, since Worden was compelled to make his way through the South which was aflame with secession excitement, that he committed the dispatches to memory and then destroyed them. He applied to General Bragg in command of the Confederate forces in that neighborhood for permission to make a verbal communication from the Secretary of War to Captain Adams. Permission was given, and, going on board, Worden delivered his message like a boy reciting his piece at school. Captain Adams gave him a written acknowledgment of the receipt of the dispatches, adding that the orders of the Government would be carried out.
Having thus cleverly eluded the suspicious watchfulness of the authorities, Lieutenant Worden started for home, but when near Montgomery, Ala., then the capital of the Confederacy, he was arrested, taken from the train and thrown into prison. This was on the order of General Bragg, who discovered how he had been outwitted, and the prompt reinforcement prevented the capture of Fort Pickens, for which Bragg had made every preparation. The post was held by the Unionists throughout the war and was the only one south of Mason and Dixon's line so held.
Lieutenant Worden was kept a prisoner until the 13th of the following November, when, his health having broken down, he was exchanged and sent North. There he remained, slowly regaining his strength until March, 1862, when it fell to his lot to become a leading actor in one of the most famous naval engagements in all history.
When war had fully begun the Union forces in charge of the Norfolk Navy Yard saw they were not strong enough to prevent its capture by the Confederates, who were arming for that purpose. They therefore set fire to the numerous and valuable shipping there. Among the vessels scuttled and sunk was the steam frigate Merrimac, at that time the finest vessel in the service. In truth, she went down so quickly that very little damage was done to her. The Confederates raised her, fastened a huge iron snout or prow at the front, cut down her deck and encased her with railroad iron, which sloped at an angle of forty-five degrees, and was smeared on the outside with grease and tallow. Her enormous weight made her draw more than twenty feet of water and when she was moving slowly through the bay or river her appearance suggested the mansard roof of a vast house. From what has been said it will be noted that the Merrimac was a genuine ironclad, something which had never been heard of before.
Regular news of the building of the Merrimac (called the Virginia by the Confederates) was telegraphed to Washington by friends of the Government. The authorities felt some uneasiness, but were far from suspecting the terrible power for destructiveness possessed by the monster. Captain Ericsson, the famous Swedish inventor, was constructing on Long Island an ironclad about one-fourth the size of the Merrimac, and he was urged to all possible speed in its completion. He kept his men busy night and day and had it finished a day or two before the completion of the Merrimac.
The Merrimac carried ten guns, which fired shells and had a crew of 300 men, under the command of Commodore Franklin Buchanan, a former officer of the United States navy. Late in the forenoon of March 8, 1862, a column of black smoke rising over the Norfolk Navy Yard gave notice that the Merrimac had started out at last on her mission of destruction and death. As the enormous craft forged into sight it was seen that she was accompanied by three gunboats ready to give what help they could.
Five Union vessels were awaiting her in Hampton Roads. They were the steam frigates Minnesota and Roanoke and the sailing frigates Congress, Cumberland and St. Lawrence, all of which immediately cleared for action. Turning her frightful front toward the Cumberland, the Merrimac swept down upon her in grim and awful majesty. The Cumberland let fly with her terrific broadsides, which were powerful enough to sink the largest ship afloat, but the tons of metal hurled with inconceivable force skipped off the greased sides of the iron roof and scooted away for hundreds of yards through the startled air.
The prodigious broadsides were launched again and again, but produced no more effect than so many paper wads from a popgun. The iron prow of the Merrimac crashed through the wooden walls of the Cumberland as if they were cardboard, and, while her crew were still heroically working their guns, the Cumberland went down, with the red flag, meaning "no surrender," flying from her peak. Lieutenant Morris succeeded in saving himself, but 121 were lost out of the crew of 376.
Having destroyed the Cumberland, the Merrimac now made for the Congress, which had been vainly pelting her with her broadsides. The Congress was aground and so completely at the mercy of the Merrimac, which raked her fore and aft, that every man would have been killed had not the sign of surrender been displayed. As it was, her commander and 100 of the crew were slain by the irresistible fire of the tremendous ironclad.
By this time the fearful spring afternoon was drawing to a close and the Merrimac labored heavily back to Sewall's Point, intending to return on the morrow and continue her work of destruction.
The news of what the Merrimac had done was telegraphed throughout the South and North. In the former it caused wild rejoicing and raised hope that before the resistless might of the new ironclad the North would be compelled to make terms and save her leading seacoast cities from annihilation by acknowledging the Southern Confederacy. The national authorities were thrown into consternation. At a special meeting of the President's Cabinet Secretary of War Stanton expressed his belief that the Merrimac would appear in front of Washington and compel the authorities to choose between surrender and destruction, and that the principal seaports would be laid under contribution.
But at that very time the hastily completed Monitor was speeding southward under the command of Lieutenant Worden, who had risen from a sick bed to assume the duty which no one else was willing to undertake. Her crew numbered 16 officers and 42 men, with Lieutenant S. Dana Green as executive officer. Her voyage to Hampton Roads was difficult and of the most trying nature to the officers and crew, who were nearly smothered by gas. The boat would have foundered had not the weather been unusually favorable, but she reached Hampton Roads on the night of March 8 and took a position beside the Minnesota, ready and eager for the terrific fray of the morrow. The Monitor carried two 11-inch Dahlgren guns and fired solid shot.
When the Merrimac steamed back the Monitor moved out from her position and boldly advanced to meet her. The huge monster and smaller craft, whose appearance suggested the apt comparison of a cheese box on a raft, silently drew near each other until within a hundred yards, when the smaller opened with a shot to which the larger replied. The battle was now between two ironclads. If the shots of the Monitor glanced harmlessly off of the Merrimac those of the latter were equally ineffective against the Monitor. The latter had the advantage of being so much smaller that many of the shells of the Merrimac missed her altogether. Those which impinged against the pilot house or turret did no harm, while the lesser boat was able to dart here and there at will, dodging the Merrimac and ramming her when she chose, though such tactics accomplished nothing. All attempts to run down the Monitor were vain. The novel battle continued for four hours, when the Merrimac, unable to defeat her nimble antagonist, steamed back to Norfolk and the strange contest—the first between ironclads—was over.
The Monitor had proven her inestimable value and was held in reserve by the Government for future emergencies. But the first battle between the two proved the last. Some months later, when the Union troops advanced upon Norfolk, the Merrimac was blown up to prevent her falling into the hands of the Federals, while at the close of the year the Monitor foundered in a gale off Cape Hatteras.
This fight marked an era in the history of naval warfare. The days of wooden vessels were numbered. All nations saw that their warships to be effective must be ironclad, and the reader does not need to be reminded that such is the fact to-day respecting the navy of every civilized nation.
During this memorable fight a shell from the Merrimac lifted the iron plate of the pilot house of the Monitor and disabled Lieutenant Worden by driving the fragments into his face, while he was peering out of the peep-hole. He was compelled to give way to Lieutenant Green, who handled the little ironclad throughout the remainder of the fight.
Lieutenant Worden never fully recovered from the injuries received in his fight with the Merrimac. As soon as he was able to take an active command he asked the privilege of doing so. In charge of the Montauk, of the South Atlantic blockading squadron, he destroyed, while under a heavy fire, the Confederate steamer Nashville and participated in the unsuccessful attack upon Charleston. He received the thanks of Congress and was promoted to be a commander for his services with the Monitor. From 1870 to 1874 he was superintendent of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, becoming commodore in 1868, rear admiral in 1872 and was retired in 1886. It was said that he never was without pain from the injuries received in the battle with the Merrimac until his death, October 18, 1897.
Two Worthy Sons—William D. Porter—The Career of Admiral David Dixon Porter.
The reader will not forget the exploits of Captain David Porter, in command of the Essex in the War of 1812. Contrary to the rule that great men never have great sons, Captain Porter left two boys who possessed the same remarkable qualities as himself and one of whom became more famous than his gallant father.
The eldest of his sons was William D., who was born in New Orleans in 1809, but was educated in the North and was appointed to the navy when fourteen years old. He was placed in command of a cumbrous ironclad constructed from a ferryboat at the beginning of the war and named the Essex, in honor of the famous cruiser with which his father played havoc with the shipping of Great Britain in the Pacific. In the attack on Fort Henry, in February, 1862, the Essex, while doing effective service, had her boiler pierced by a shot from the enemy, with appalling consequences. Porter was scalded and knocked senseless and twenty-nine officers and men were disabled or killed by the escaping steam.
Later, when he had fully recovered, he was placed in command of the Essex, which was repaired and greatly improved. The Confederates had completed a more terrible ironclad than the Merrimac, which they named the Arkansas. Manned by brave officers and crew, it came down the Yazoo into the Mississippi, and, secure in her fancied invulnerability, challenged the whole Union fleet which was assisting in the siege of Vicksburg. In the furious engagement that followed Captain Porter, with the Essex, succeeded in destroying the ironclad. He rendered his country other valuable service, but his health gave way, and, while in the East for medical attendance, he died in the City of New York at the age of fifty-three.
The more famous son of Captain Porter was David Dixon, who was born in Chester, Pa., in 1813. He entered Columbia College, Washington, when only eleven years old, but left it in 1824 to accompany his father on his cruise in the West Indies to break up piracy in those waters. When, two years later, Captain Porter entered the Mexican navy he appointed his son a midshipman. He acquitted himself gallantly in more than one fight with the Spanish cruisers. While still a mere boy he was made a midshipman in the United States navy. As a lieutenant he saw plenty of active service in the war with Mexico, and, at the beginning of the Civil War, was one of our most trusted officers. In command of the Powhatan he covered the landing of the reinforcements for Fort Pickens just in time to save its capture by Confederates.
One of the most important captures of the war was that of New Orleans, in the spring of 1862. The naval forces were under the command of Admiral Farragut, while Commander Porter had charge of the mortar fleet. The principal defences below the city were Forts Jackson and St. Philip. In approaching them Porter had his ships dressed out with leaves and branches of trees, the clever disguise proving an effectual protection from a very destructive fire.
The furious bombardment lasted for several days and nights. The river was spanned by a boom of logs, which it was necessary to break through that the vessels might reach the city above. This was done, Porter protecting the expedition which effected it. When the situation of the forts became hopeless his demand for their surrender was accepted and an officer came on board under a flag of truce to complete the negotiations.
While Porter and his visitor were conversing an officer came forward with the information that the immense floating battery Louisiana, of four thousand tons burden and carrying sixteen heavy guns, had been set on fire, as Admiral Cervera did with his ships a generation later, when his escape was cut off from Santiago.
"Such an act is anything but creditable to you," remarked Porter, addressing the Confederate commander.
"I am not responsible for the acts of the naval officers," replied the visitor.
The explanation was reasonable, and without any excitement, Commander Porter renewed the conversation respecting the surrender, but a few minutes later the officer again approached.
"The ropes which held the floating battery to the bank have been burned and she is drifting down stream toward us."
"Are her guns loaded and is there much ammunition aboard?" asked Porter of the Confederate commander.
"I suppose the guns are loaded, but I know nothing about naval matters here," was the reply.
Just then the heated cannon began firing their huge charges, which, though without aim, were likely to do injury to the Union vessels toward which the battery was floating. Besides, the magazine was stored with powder and the impending explosion could not fail to be disastrous.
"If you do not mind it," said Porter, addressing the visitor, "we will continue our negotiations."
In referring to this incident, the Admiral said:
"A good Providence, which directs the most important events, sent the battery off toward Fort St. Philip, and, as it came abreast of that formidable fort, it blew up with a force which scattered the fragments in all directions, killing one of their own men in the fort, and when the smoke cleared off it was nowhere to be seen, having sunk immediately in the deep water of the Mississippi. The explosion was terrific and was seen and heard for many miles up and down the river. Had it occurred near the vessels, it would have destroyed every one of them."
After the fall of New Orleans Porter was sent to Ship Island to await the attack that was in contemplation upon New Orleans. He was recalled by Admiral Farragut to aid him in the siege of Vicksburg. In passing the batteries Porter had three of his vessels disabled and twenty-nine men killed and wounded. The capture of that last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi was a severe and tedious task, but General Grant, with that bulldog tenacity for which he was famous, held on until the 4th of July, 1863, when General Pemberton, the Confederate commander, surrendered his whole garrison of more than 20,000 men. In thus opening the Mississippi all the way to the Gulf the navy rendered invaluable assistance. Porter's aid was so important and his conduct so gallant that he received the thanks of Congress and was created a full rear admiral, his commission dating from July 4, 1863. In a public dispatch the Secretary of the Navy said, addressing Admiral Porter: "To yourself, your officers and the brave and gallant sailors who have been so fertile in resources, so persistent and so daring under all circumstances, I tender, in the name of the President, the thanks and congratulations of the whole country on the fall of Vicksburg."