Among the more notable commanders who did good service on the sea was Capt. Samuel Tucker, who was put in command of the frigate "Boston" in the latter part of the year 1777. Tucker was an old and tried seaman, and is furthermore one of the most picturesque figures in the naval history of the Revolution. He first showed his love for the sea in the way that Yankee boys from time immemorial have shown it,—by running away from home, and shipping as a cabin-boy. The ship which he chose was the British sloop-of-war "Royal George," and the boy found himself face to face with the rigid naval discipline of the British service at that time. But he stuck manfully to the career he had chosen, and gradually mastered not only the details of a seaman's duty, but much of the art of navigation; so that when finally he got his discharge from the "Royal George," he shipped as second mate on a Salem merchantman. It was on his first voyage in this capacity that he first showed the mettle that was in him. Two Algerine corsairs, their decks crowded with men, their long low hulls cleaving the waves like dolphins, had given chase to the merchantman. The captain of the threatened ship grew faint-hearted: he sought courage in liquor, and soon became unable to manage his vessel. Tucker took the helm. He saw that there was no chance of escape in flight, for the corsairs were too fleet. There was no hope of victory in a battle, for the pirates were too strong. But the trim New England schooner minded her helm better than her lanteen-rigged pursuers, and this fact Tucker put to good account.
Putting his helm hard down, he headed the schooner directly for the piratical craft. By skilful manoeuvring, he secured such a position that either pirate, by firing upon him, was in danger of firing into his fellow corsair. This position he managed to maintain until nightfall, when he slipped away, and by daylight was snugly at anchor in the port of Lisbon.
For some time after this episode, the record of Tucker's seafaring life is lost. Certain it is that he served in the British navy as an officer for some time, and was master of a merchantman for several years.
When the Revolution broke out, Samuel Tucker was in London. Being offered by a recruiting officer a commission in either the army or navy, if he would consent to serve "his gracious Majesty," Tucker very rashly responded, "Hang his gracious Majesty! Do you think I would serve against my country?"
Soon a hue and cry was out for Tucker. He was charged with treason, and fled into the country to the house of a tavern-keeper whom he knew, who sheltered him until he could make his escape from England.
Hardly had he arrived in America, when Gen. Washington commissioned him captain of the "Franklin," and instructed him to proceed directly to sea. An express with the commission and instructions was hurried off to Marblehead, then a straggling little city. He was instructed to find the "Hon. Samuel Tucker," and to deliver to him the packets in his charge. When the messenger arrived, Tucker was working in his yard. The messenger saw a rough-looking person, roughly clad, with a tarpaulin hat, and his neck bound with a flaming red bandanna handkerchief. Never once thinking this person could be the man he sought, he leaned from his horse, and shouted out roughly,—
"I say, fellow, I wish you would tell me whether the Hon. Samuel Tucker lives hereabouts."
Tucker looked up with a quizzical smile, and surveyed the speaker from under the wide rim of his tarpaulin, as he answered,—
"Honorable, honorable! There's none of that name in Marblehead. He must be one of the Tuckers in Salem. I'm the only Samuel Tucker here."
"Capt. Glover told me he knew him," responded the messenger, "and described his house, gable-end on the seaside, none near it. Faith, this looks like the very place!"
With a laugh, Tucker then confessed his identity, and asked the messenger his business. Receiving the commission and instructions, he at once began his preparations for leaving home, and at daybreak the next morning was on his way to Beverly, where lay anchored the first ship he was to command in the service of his country.
In the "Franklin" Capt. Tucker did some most efficient work. His name appears constantly in the letters of Gen. Washington, and in the State papers making up the American archives, as having sent in valuable prizes. At one time we read of the capture of "a brigantine from Scotland, worth fifteen thousand pounds sterling;" again, of six gunboats, and of brigs laden with wine and fruit. During the year 1776, he took not less than thirty—and probably a few more—ships, brigs, and smaller vessels. Nor were all these vessels taken without some sharp fighting.
Of one battle Tucker himself speaks in one of his letters. First telling how his wife made the colors for his ship, "the field of which was white, and the union was green, made of cloth of her own purchasing, and at her own expense," he goes on to write of one of his battles:—
"Those colors I wore in honor of the country,—which has so nobly rewarded me for my past services,—and the love of their maker, until I fell in with Col. Archibald Campbell in the ship "George," and brig "Arabella," transports with about two hundred and eighty Highland troops on board, of Gen. Frazer's corps. About ten P.M. a severe conflict ensued, which held about two hours and twenty minutes. I conquered them with great carnage on their side, it being in the night, and my small bark, about seventy tons burden, being very low in the water, I received no damage in loss of men, but lost a complete set of new by the passing of their balls; then the white field and pine-tree union were riddled to atoms. I was then immediately supplied with a new suit of sails, and a new suit of colors, made of canvas and bunting of my own prize-goods."
Another time, during the same year, Tucker took two British ships near Marblehead. So near was the scene of action to the house of Capt. Tucker, that his wife and her sister, hearing the sound of cannonading, ascended a high hill in the vicinity, and from that point viewed the action through a spy-glass.
Capt. Tucker kept the sea in the "Franklin" until late in the winter. When finally the cold weather and high winds forced him to put his ship out of commission, he went to his home at Marblehead. He remained there but a short time; for in March, 1777, he was put in command of the "Boston," a frigate of twenty-four guns. In this vessel he cruised during the year with varying success.
Feb. 10, 1778, Capt. Tucker was ordered to carry the Hon. John Adams to France, as envoy from the United States. The voyage was full of incidents. Feeling impressed with the gravity of the charge laid upon him, Capt. Tucker chose a course which he hoped would enable him to steer clear of the horde of British men-of-war which then infested the American coast. But in so doing he fell in with a natural enemy, which came near proving fatal. A terrific thunderstorm, gradually growing into a tornado, crossed the path of the ship. The ocean was lashed into waves mountain high. The crash of the thunder rent the sky. A stroke of lightning struck the main-mast, and ripped up the deck, narrowly missing the magazine. The ship sprung a leak; and the grewsome sound of the pumps mingled with the roar of the waves, and the shrieking of the winds. For several days the stormy weather continued. Then followed a period of calm, which the captain well employed in repairing the rigging, and exercising the men with the guns and small-arms. Many ships had been sighted, and some, evidently men-of-war, had given chase; but the "Boston" succeeded in showing them all a clean pair of heels.
"What would you do," said Mr. Adams one day, as he stood with the captain watching three ships that were making desperate efforts to overhaul the "Boston," "if you could not escape, and they should attack you?"
"As the first is far in advance of the others, I should carry her by boarding, leading the boarders myself," was the response. "I should take her; for no doubt a majority of her crew, being pressed men, would turn to and join me. Having taken her, I should be matched, and could fight the other two."
Such language as this coming from many men would be considered mere foolhardy boasting. But Tucker was a man not given to brag. Indeed, he was apt to be very laconic in speaking of his exploits. A short time after his escape from the three ships, he fell in with an English armed vessel of no small force, and captured her. His only comment on the action in his journal reads, "I fired a gun, and they returned three; and down went the colors."
John Adams, however, told a more graphic story of this capture. Tucker, as soon as he saw an armed vessel in his path, hastily called his crew to order, and bore down upon her. When the roll of the drum, calling the people to quarters, resounded through the ship, Mr. Adams seized a musket, and took his stand with the marines. Capt. Tucker, seeing him there, requested him to go below, and upon his desire being disregarded, put his hand upon the envoy's shoulder, and in a tone of authority said,—
"Mr. Adams, I am commanded by the Continental Congress to deliver you safe in France, and you must go below."
The envoy smilingly complied, and just at that moment the enemy let fly her broadside. The shot flew through the rigging, doing but little damage. Though the guns of the "Boston" were shotted, and the gunners stood at their posts with smoking match-stocks, Capt. Tucker gave no order to fire, but seemed intent upon the manoeuvres of the ships. The eager blue-jackets begun to murmur, and the chorus of questions and oaths was soon so great that the attention of Tucker was attracted. He looked at the row of eager faces on the gun-deck, and shouted out,—
"Hold on, my men! I wish to save that egg without breaking the shell."
Soon after, Tucker brought his broadside to bear on the stern of the enemy, and she struck without more ado. She proved to be an armed ship, the "Martha."
After this encounter, nothing more of moment occurred on the voyage; and the "Boston" reached Bordeaux, and landed her distinguished passenger in safety. Two months later she left Bordeaux, in company with a fleet of twenty sail, one of which was the "Ranger," formerly commanded by Paul Jones. With these vessels he cruised for a time in European waters, but returned to the American coast in the autumn. His services for the rest of that year, and the early part of 1779, we must pass over hastily, though many were the prizes that fell into his clutches.
Many anecdotes are told of Tucker. His shrewdness, originality, and daring made him a favorite theme for story-tellers. But, unhappily, the anecdotes have generally no proof of their truth. One or two, however, told by Capt. Tucker's biographer, Mr. John H. Sheppard, will not be out of place here.
In one the story is told that Tucker fell in with a British frigate which he knew to be sent in search of him. Showing the English flag, he sailed boldly towards the enemy, and in answer to her hail said he was Capt. Gordon of the English navy, out in search of the "Boston," commanded by the rebel Tucker.
"I'll carry him to New York, dead or alive," said Tucker.
"Have you seen him?" was asked.
"Well, I've heard of him," was the response; "and they say he is a hard customer."
All this time Tucker had been manoeuvring to secure a raking position. Behind the closed ports of the "Boston," the men stood at their guns, ready for the word of command. Just as the American had secured the position desired, a sailor in the tops of the British vessel cried out,—
"That is surely Tucker; we shall have a devil of a smell directly."
Hearing this, Tucker ordered the American flag hoisted, and the ports thrown open. Hailing his astonished foe, he cried,—
"The time I proposed talking with you is ended. This is the 'Boston,' frigate. I am Samuel Tucker, but no rebel. Fire, or strike your flag."
The Englishman saw he had no alternative but to strike. This he did without firing a gun. The vessel, though not named in the anecdote, was probably the "Pole," of the capture of which Tucker frequently speaks in his letters.
Of the part Tucker played in the siege of Charleston, of his capture there by the British, and of his exchange, we shall speak later. At that disaster four American frigates were lost: so many of the best naval officers were thrown out of employment. Among them was Tucker; but ever anxious for active service, he obtained the sloop-of-war "Thorn," which he himself had captured, and went out as a privateer. In this vessel he saw some sharp service. One engagement was thus described to Mr. Sheppard by a marine named Everett who was on board:—
"We had been cruising about three weeks when we fell in with an English packet of twenty-two guns and one hundred men. Not long after she was discovered, the commodore called up his crew, and said, 'She means to fight us; and if we go alongside like men, she is ours in thirty minutes, but if we can't go as men we have no business here.' He then told them he wanted no cowards on deck, and requested those who were willing to fight to go down the starboard, and those who were unwilling the larboard gangway. Every man and boy took the first, signifying his willingness to meet the enemy.
"As Mr. Everett was passing by, the commodore asked him,—
"'Are you willing to go alongside of her?'
"'Yes, sir,' was the reply.
"In mentioning this conversation, however, Mr. Everett candidly confessed, 'I did not tell him the truth, for I would rather have been in my father's cornfield.'
"After the commanders of these two vessels, as they drew near, had hailed each other in the customary way when ships meet at sea, the captain of the English packet cried out roughly from the quarter-deck,—
"'Haul down your colors, or I'll sink you!'
"'Ay, ay, sir; directly,' answered Tucker calmly. And he then ordered the helmsman to steer the 'Thorn' right under the stern of the packet, luff up under her lee quarters, and range alongside of her. The order was promptly executed. The two vessels were laid side by side, within pistol shot of each other. While the 'Thorn' was getting into position, the enemy fired a full broadside at her which did but little damage. As soon as she was brought completely alongside her adversary, Tucker thundered out to his men to fire, and a tremendous discharge followed; and, as good aim had been taken, a dreadful carnage was seen in that ill-fated vessel. It was rapidly succeeded by a fresh volley of artillery, and in twenty-seven minutes a piercing cry was heard from the English vessel: 'Quarters, for God's sake! Our ship is sinking. Our men are dying of their wounds.'
"To this heart-rending appeal Capt. Tucker exclaimed,—
"'How can you expect quarters while that British flag is flying?'
"The sad answer came back, 'Our halliards are shot away.'
"'Then cut away your ensign staff, or ye'll all be dead men.'
"It was done immediately. Down came the colors, the din of cannonading ceased, and only the groans of the wounded and dying were heard.
"Fifteen men, with carpenters, surgeon, and their leader, were quickly on the deck of the prize. Thirty-four of her crew, with her captain, were either killed or wounded. Her decks were besmeared with blood, and in some places it stood in clotted masses to the tops of the sailors' slippers. The gloomy but needful work of amputating limbs, and laying out the dead, was begun; and every effort was made to render the wounded prisoners as comfortable as possible."
Here we must take leave of Commodore Tucker and his exploits. As a privateersman, he continued to do daring work to the end of the war. He fought at least one more bloody action. He was captured once and escaped. But the recountal of his romantic career must now yield to our chronological survey of the lesser naval events of the Revolution.
HOSTILITIES IN 1777. — AMERICAN REVERSES. — THE BRITISH IN PHILADELPHIA. — THE ATTACK UPON FORT MIFFLIN. — CRUISE OF THE "RALEIGH" AND THE "ALFRED." — TORPEDO WARFARE. — THE BATTLE OF THE KEGS.
We have now heard of the exploits of some of the chief naval leaders of the war of the Revolution. But there were many dashing engagements in which the great commanders took no part, and many important captures made by vessels sailing under the flags of the individual colonies, which deserve attention.
The American cause on the water suffered some rather severe reverses in the early part of 1777. In March, the brig "Cabot" fell in with the British frigate "Milford," and was so hard pressed that she was run ashore on the coast of Nova Scotia. The crew had hardly time to get ashore before the British took possession of the stranded craft. The Americans were left helpless, in a wild and little settled country, but finally made their way through the woods to a harbor. Here they found a coasting schooner lying at anchor, upon which they promptly seized, and in which they escaped to Portsmouth. In the mean time, the British had got the "Cabot" afloat again.
Two months later, or in the early part of May, two United States vessels, the "Hancock" thirty-two, Capt. Manly, and the "Boston" twenty-four, Capt. Hector McNeil, sailed in company from Boston. When a few days out, a strange sail was sighted, and proved to be a British frigate. The "Hancock" soon came near enough to her to exchange broadsides, as the two vessels were going on opposite tacks. The enemy, however, seemed anxious to avoid a conflict, and exerted every effort to escape. Manly, having great confidence in the speed of his ship, gave chase. Calling the people from the guns, he bade them make a leisurely breakfast, and get ready for the work before them. The "Hancock" soon overhauled the chase, which began firing her guns as fast as they would bear. The Americans, however, made no response until fairly alongside, when they let fly a broadside with ringing cheers. The action lasted for an hour and a half before the enemy struck. She proved to be the "Fox," twenty-eight. She was badly cut up by the American fire, and had thirty-two dead and wounded men on board. The loss on the "Hancock" amounted to only eight men. In this running fight the "Boston" was hopelessly distanced, coming up just in time to fire a gun as the British ensign came fluttering from the peak.
Putting a prize crew on the "Fox," the three vessels continued their cruise. A week passed, and no sail was seen. Somewhat rashly Capt. Manly turned his ship's prow toward Halifax, then, as now, the chief British naval station on the American coast. When the three ships appeared off the entrance to the harbor of Halifax, the British men-of-war inside quickly spied them, raised anchor, and came crowding out in hot pursuit. There was the "Rainbow" forty-four, the "Flora" thirty-two, and the "Victor" eighteen, besides two others whose names could not be ascertained. The Americans saw that they had stirred up a nest of hornets, and sought safety in flight. The three British vessels whose names are given gave chase. The "Boston," by her swift sailing, easily kept out of the reach of the enemy. The "Fox," however, was quickly overhauled by the "Flora," and struck her flag after exchanging a few broadsides. The "Hancock" for a time seemed likely to escape, but at last the "Rainbow" began gradually to overhaul her. Capt. Manly, finding escape impossible, began manoeuvring with the intention of boarding his powerful adversary; but the light winds made this impossible, and he suddenly found himself under the guns of the "Rainbow," with the "Victor" astern, in a raking position. Seeing no hope for success in so unequal a conflict, Manly struck his flag. In the mean time the "Boston" had calmly proceeded upon her way, leaving her consorts to their fate. For having thus abandoned his superior officer, Capt. McNeil was dismissed the service upon his return to Boston.
These losses were to some degree offset by the good fortune of the "Trumbull," twenty-eight, in command of Capt. Saltonstall. She left New York in April of this year, and had been on the water but a few days when she fell in with two British armed vessels of no inconsiderable force. The Englishmen, confident of their ability to beat off the cruiser, made no effort to avoid a conflict. Capt. Saltonstall, by good seamanship, managed to put his vessel between the two hostile ships, and then worked both batteries with such vigor, that, after half-an-hour's fighting, the enemy was glad to strike. In this action the Americans lost seven men killed, and eight wounded. The loss of the enemy was not reported. This capture was of the greatest importance to the American cause, for the two prizes were loaded with military and naval stores.
During the year 1777, the occupation of Philadelphia by the British army, under Gen. Howe, led to some activity on the part of the American navy. While Philadelphia had been in the possession of the Continentals, it had been a favorite naval rendezvous. Into the broad channel of the Delaware the American cruisers had been accustomed to retreat when the British naval force along the coast became threateningly active. At the broad wharves of Philadelphia, the men-of-war laid up to have necessary repairs made. In the rope-walks of the town, the cordage for the gallant Yankee ships was spun. In the busy shipyards along the Delaware, many of the frigates, provided for by the Act of 1775, were built.
In the summer of 1777 all this was changed. Sir William Howe, at the head of an irresistible army, marched upon Philadelphia; and, defeating the American army at Brandywine, entered the city in triumph. The privateers and men-of-war scattered hastily, to avoid capture. Most of them fled down the Delaware; but a few, chiefly vessels still uncompleted, ascended the river.
To cut off these vessels, the British immediately commenced the erection of batteries to command the channel of the river, and prevent any communication between the American vessels above and below Philadelphia. To check the erection of these batteries, the American vessels "Delaware" twenty-four, and "Andrea Doria" fourteen, together with one or two vessels flying the Pennsylvania flag, took up a position before the incomplete earthworks, and opened a heavy fire upon the soldiers employed in the trenches. So accurate was the aim of the American gunners, that work on the batteries was stopped. But, unluckily, the commander of the "Delaware," Capt. Alexander, had failed to reckon on the swift outflowing of the tide; and just as the sailors on that ship were becoming jubilant over the prospect of a victory, a mighty quiver throughout the ship told that she had been left on a shoal by the ebb tide. The enemy was not long in discovering the helpless condition of the "Delaware;" and field-pieces and siege-guns were brought down to the river-bank, until the luckless Americans saw themselves commanded by a heavy battery. In this unhappy predicament there was no course remaining but to strike their flag.
Though the British had possession of Philadelphia, and virtually controlled the navigation of the river at that point, the Americans still held powerful positions at Red Bank and at Fort Mifflin, lower down the river. Against the former post the British sent an unsuccessful land expedition of Hessians, but against Fort Mifflin a naval expedition was despatched.
Fort Mifflin was built on a low marshy island near the mouth of the Schuylkill. Its very situation, surrounded as it was by mud and water, made it impregnable to any land attack. While the fort itself was a fairly strong earthwork, laid out upon approved principles of engineering, its outer works of defence added greatly to its strength. In the main channels of the river were sunk heavy, sharp-pointed chevaux de frise, or submarine palisades, with sharp points extending just above the surface of the water. In addition to this obstacle, the enemy advancing by water upon the fort would have to meet the American flotilla, which, though composed of small craft only, was large enough to prove very annoying to an enemy. In this flotilla were thirteen galleys, one carrying a thirty-two pounder, and the rest with varying weight of ordnance; twenty-six half-galleys, each carrying a four-pounder; two xebecs, each with two twenty-four-pounders in the bow, two eighteen-pounders in the stern, and four nine-pounders in the waist; two floating batteries, fourteen fire-ships, one schooner-galley, one brig-galley, one provincial ship, and the brig "Andrea Doria." It was no small naval force that the British had to overcome before attacking the mud ramparts and bastions of Fort Mifflin.
Against this armament the British brought a number of vessels, with the "Augusta," sixty-four, in the lead. The battle was begun late in the afternoon of the 22d of October, 1777. The attack of the Hessians upon the American fortifications at Red Bank, and the opening of the action between the British and American fleets, were simultaneous. The Hessians were beaten back with heavy loss, some of the American vessels opening fire upon them from the river. The naval battle lasted but a short time that night, owing to the darkness. When the battle ended for the night, the "Augusta," and the "Merlin," sloop-of-war, were left hard and fast aground.
The next morning the British advanced again to the attack. The skirmish of the night before had shown them that the Yankee flotilla was no mean adversary; and they now brought up re-inforcements, in the shape of the "Roebuck" forty-four, "Isis" thirty-two, "Pearl" thirty-two, and "Liverpool" twenty-eight. No sooner had the British squadron come within range than a heavy fire was opened upon the fort. The American flotilla was prompt to answer the challenge, and soon the action became general. Time and time again the Americans sent huge fire-ships, their well-tarred spars and rigging blazing fiercely, down among the enemy. But the skill and activity of the British sailors warded off this danger. Thereupon the Americans, seeing that they could not rely upon their fire-ships, changed their plan of action. Any one of the British vessels was more than a match for the largest American craft, so the Yankees saw they must rely upon force of numbers. Accordingly their larger vessels were each assigned to attack one of the enemy; while the swift-sailing galleys plied to and fro in the battle, lending aid where needed, and striking a blow wherever the opportunity offered itself. This course of action soon began to tell upon the British. All of their vessels began to show the effects of the American fire. The "Augusta" was in flames, owing to some pressed hay that had been packed upon her quarter having been set on fire. Despite the efforts of her crew, the flames spread rapidly. Seeing no chance to save the vessel, the crew abandoned her, and sought to gain the protection of other vessels of the British fleet. But the other ships, seeing the flames on the "Augusta" drawing closer and closer to the magazine, and knowing that her explosion in that narrow and crowded channel would work dreadful damage among them, determined to abandon the attack upon Fort Mifflin, and withdrew. The "Merlin," which was hard and fast aground, was fired, and the British fled. As they turned their ships' prows down the Delaware, the dull sullen roar of an explosion told that the "Augusta" had met her end. Soon after the "Merlin" blew up, and the defeat of the British was complete.
But, though worsted in this attack upon Fort Mifflin, the British did not wholly abandon their designs upon it. Immediately upon their repulse, they began their preparations for a second attack. This time they did not propose to rely upon men-of-war alone. Batteries were built upon every point of land within range of Fort Mifflin. Floating batteries were built, and towed into position. By the 10th of November all was ready, and upon that day a tremendous cannonade was opened upon the American works. After two days of ceaseless bombardment, the garrison of the fort was forced to surrender. Since the fall of Fort Mifflin gave the control of the Delaware to the British, the Americans immediately put the torch to the "Andrea Doria" fourteen, the "Wasp" eight, and the "Hornet" ten; while the galleys skulked away along the Jersey coast, in search of places of retreat.
While the Yankee tars on river and harbor duty were thus getting their share of fighting, there was plenty of daring work being done on the high seas. One of the most important cruises of the year was that of the "Raleigh" and the "Alfred." The "Raleigh" was one of the twelve-pounder frigates built under the naval Act of 1775. With her consort the "Alfred," she left the American coast in the summer of 1777, bound for France, in search of naval stores that were there awaiting transportation to the United States. Both vessels were short-handed.
On the 2d of September the two vessels overhauled and captured the snow "Nancy," from England, bound for the West Indies. Her captain reported that he had sailed from the West Indies with a fleet of sixty merchantmen, under the convoy of four small men-of-war, the "Camel," the "Druid," the "Weasel," and the "Grasshopper." The poor sailing qualities of the "Nancy" had forced her to drop behind, and the fleet was then about a day in advance of her.
Crowding on all canvas, the two American ships set out in hot pursuit. From the captain of the "Nancy" Capt. Thompson of the "Raleigh" had obtained all the signals in use in the fleet of Indiamen. The next morning the fleet was made out; and the "Raleigh" and the "Alfred" exchanged signals, as though they were part of the convoy. They hung about the outskirts of the fleet until dark, planning, when the night should fall, to make a dash into the enemy's midst, and cut out the chief armed vessel.
But at nightfall the wind changed, so that the plan of the Americans was defeated. At daylight, however, the wind veered round and freshened, so that the "Raleigh," crowding on more sail, was soon in the very centre of the enemy's fleet. The "Alfred," unfortunately, being unable to carry so great a spread of canvas, was left behind; and the "Raleigh" remained to carry out alone her daring adventure.
The "Raleigh" boldly steered straight into the midst of the British merchantmen, exchanging signals with some, and hailing others. Her ports were lowered, and her guns on deck housed, so that there appeared about her nothing to indicate her true character. Having cruised about amid the merchantmen, she drew up alongside the nearest man-of-war, and when within pistol-shot, suddenly ran up her flag, threw open her ports, and commanded the enemy to strike.
All was confusion on board the British vessel. Her officers had never for a moment suspected the "Raleigh" of being other than one of their own fleet. While they stood aghast, not even keeping the vessel on her course, the "Raleigh" poured in a broadside. The British responded faintly with a few guns. Deliberately the Americans let fly another broadside, which did great execution. The enemy were driven from their guns, but doggedly refused to strike, holding out, doubtless, in the hope that the cannonade might draw to their assistance some of the other armed ships accompanying the fleet.
While the unequal combat was raging, a heavy squall came rushing over the water. The driving sheets of rain shut in the combatants, and only by the thunders of the cannonade could the other vessels tell that a battle was being fought in their midst.
When the squall had passed by, the affrighted merchantmen were seen scudding in every direction, like a school of flying-fish into whose midst some rapacious shark or dolphin has intruded himself. But the three men-of-war, with several armed West-Indiamen in their wake, were fast bearing down upon the combatants, with the obvious intention of rescuing their comrade, and punishing the audacious Yankee.
The odds against Thompson were too great; and after staying by his adversary until the last possible moment, and pouring broadside after broadside into her, he abandoned the fight and rejoined the "Alfred." The two ships hung on the flanks of the fleet for some days, in the hopes of enticing two of the men-of-war out to join in battle. But all was to no avail, and the Americans were forced to content themselves with the scant glory won in the incomplete action of the "Raleigh." Her adversary proved to be the "Druid," twenty, which suffered severely from the "Raleigh's" repeated broadsides, having six killed, and twenty-six wounded; of the wounded, five died immediately after the battle.
It was during the year 1777 that occurred the first attempt to use gunpowder in the shape of a submarine torpedo. This device, which to-day threatens to overturn all established ideas of naval organization and architecture, originated with a clever Connecticut mechanic named David Bushnell. His invention covered not only submarine torpedoes, to be launched against a vessel, but a submarine boat in which an adventurous navigator might undertake to go beneath the hull of a man-of-war, and affix the torpedoes, so that failure should be impossible. This boat in shape was not unlike a turtle. A system of valves, air-pumps, and ballast enabled the operator to ascend or descend in the water at will. A screw-propeller afforded means of propulsion, and phosphorescent gauges and compasses enabled him to steer with some accuracy.
Preliminary tests made with this craft were uniformly successful. After a skilled operator had been obtained, the boat perfectly discharged the duties required of her. But, as is so often the case, when the time for action came she proved inadequate to the emergency. Let her inventor tell the story in his own words:—
"After various attempts to find an operator to my wish, I sent one, who appeared to be more expert than the rest, from New York, to a fifty-gun ship, lying not far from Governor's Island. He went under the ship, and attempted to fix the wooden screw to her bottom, but struck, as he supposes, a bar of iron, which passes from the rudder hinge, and is spiked under the ship's quarter. Had he moved a few inches, which he might have done without rowing, I have no doubt he would have found wood where he might have fixed the screw; or, if the ship were sheathed with copper, he might easily have pierced it. But not being well skilled in the management of the vessel, in attempting to move to another place, he lost the ship. After seeking her in vain for some time, he rowed some distance, and rose to the surface of the water, but found daylight had advanced so far that he durst not renew the attempt. He says that he could easily have fastened the magazine under the stern of the ship above water, as he rowed up to the stern and touched it before he descended. Had he fastened it there, the explosion of a hundred and fifty pounds of powder (the quantity contained in the magazine) must have been fatal to the ship. In his return from the ship to New York, he passed near Governor's Island, and thought he was discovered by the enemy on the island. Being in haste to avoid the danger he feared, he cast off the magazine, as he imagined it retarded him in the swell, which was very considerable. After the magazine had been cast off one hour the time the internal apparatus was set to run, it blew up with great violence.
"Afterwards there were two attempts made in Hudson's River, above the city; but they effected nothing. One of them was by the aforementioned person. In going toward the ship, he lost sight of her, and went a great distance beyond her. When he at length found her, the tide ran so strong, that, as he descended under water, for the ship's bottom, it swept him away. Soon after this, the enemy went up the river, and pursued the boat which had the submarine vessel on board, and sunk it with their shot."
So it appears, that, so far as this submarine vessel was concerned, Bushnell's great invention came to naught. And, indeed, it was but the first of a long line of experiments which have been terribly costly in human life, and which as yet have not been brought to a successful end. In every war there comes forward the inventor with the submarine boat, and he always finds a few brave men ready to risk their lives in the floating coffin. Somewhere in Charleston Harbor to-day lies a submarine boat, enclosing the skeletons of eight men, who went out in it to break the blockade of the port during the civil war. And although there are to-day several types of submarine boat, each of which is claimed to make practicable the navigation of the ocean's depths, yet it is doubtful whether any of them are much safer than Bushnell's primitive "turtle."
But Bushnell's experiments in torpedo warfare were not confined to attempts to destroy hostile vessels by means of his submarine vessel. He made several attacks upon the enemy by means of automatic torpedoes, none of which met with complete success. One of these attacks, made at Philadelphia in December, 1777, furnished the incident upon which is founded the well-known ballad of the "Battle of the Kegs."
It was at a time when the Delaware was filled with British shipping, that Bushnell set adrift upon its swift-flowing tide a number of small kegs, filled with gunpowder, and provided with percussion apparatus, so that contact with any object would explode them. The kegs were started on their voyage at night. But Bushnell had miscalculated the distance they had to travel; so that, instead of reaching the British fleet under cover of darkness, they arrived early in the morning. Great was the wonder of the British sentries, on ship and shore, to see the broad bosom of the river dotted with floating kegs. As the author of the satirical ballad describes it,—
"Twas early day, as poets say, Just as the sun was rising; A soldier stood on a log of wood And saw the sun a-rising.
As in amaze he stood to gaze (The truth can't be denied, sir), He spied a score of kegs, or more, Come floating down the tide, sir.
A sailor, too, in jerkin blue, The strange appearance viewing, First d——d his eyes in great surprise, Then said, 'Some mischief's brewing.'
These kegs, I'm told, the rebels hold, Packed up like pickled herring; And they've come down to attack the town In this new way of ferrying."
The curiosity of the British at this inexplicable spectacle gave place to alarm, when one of the kegs, being picked up, blew up a boat, and seriously injured the man whose curiosity had led him to examine it too closely. Half panic-stricken, the British got out their guns, great and small; and all day every small object on the Delaware was the target for a lively fusillade.
"The cannons roar from shore to shore, The small arms loud did rattle. Since wars began, I'm sure no man E'er saw so strange a battle.
The fish below swam to and fro, Attacked from every quarter. 'Why sure' (thought they), 'the devil's to pay, 'Mong folk above the water.'"
But in the end the kegs all floated by the city, and only the ammunition stores of the British suffered from the attack.
Another attempt was made by Bushnell to destroy the British frigate "Cerberus," lying at anchor off the Connecticut coast. A torpedo, with the usual percussion apparatus, was drawn along the side of the frigate by a long line, but fouled with a schooner lying astern. The explosion occurred with frightful force, and the schooner was wholly demolished. Three men who were on board of her were blown to pieces; and a fourth was thrown high into the air, and was picked out of the water in an almost dying condition.
These experiments of the Connecticut mechanic in the Revolutionary war were the forerunner of a movement which took almost a hundred years to become generally accepted. We have been accustomed to say that Ericsson's armor-clad monitor revolutionized naval warfare; but the perfection of the torpedo is forcing the armor-clad ships into disuse, as they in their day thrust aside the old wooden frigates. The wise nation to-day, seeing how irresistible is the power of the torpedo, is abandoning the construction of cumbrous iron-clads, and building light, swift cruisers, that by speed and easy steering can avoid the submarine enemy. And if the torpedo cannot be said to be the ideal weapon of chivalric warfare, it may at least in time be credited with doing away with the custom of cooping men up in wrought-iron boxes, to fight with machine guns. Farragut, who hated iron-clads, liked torpedoes little better; but had he foreseen their effects upon naval tactics, he might have hailed them as the destroyers of the iron-clad ships.
NAVAL EVENTS OF 1778. — RECRUITING FOR THE NAVY. — THE DESCENT UPON NEW PROVIDENCE. — OPERATIONS ON THE DELAWARE. — CAPT. BARRY'S EXPLOITS. — DESTRUCTION OF THE AMERICAN FRIGATES. — AMERICAN REVERSES. — THE CAPTURE OF THE "PIGOT." — FRENCH NAVAL EXPLOITS.
The year 1778 opened with the brightest prospects for the American cause. The notable success of the American arms on land, and particularly the surrender of Burgoyne, had favorably disposed France toward an alliance with the United States; and, in fact, this alliance was soon formed. Furthermore, the evidence of the prowess of the Americans on shore had stirred up the naval authorities to vigorous action, and it was determined to make the year 1778 a notable one upon the ocean.
Much difficulty was found, at the very outset, in getting men to ship for service on the regular cruisers. Privateers were being fitted out in every port; and on them the life was easy, discipline slack, danger to life small, and the prospects for financial reward far greater than on the United States men-of-war. Accordingly, the seafaring men as a rule preferred to ship on the privateers. At no time in the history of the United States has the barbaric British custom of getting sailors for the navy by means of the "press-gang" been followed. American blue-jackets have never been impressed by force. It is unfortunately true that unfair advantages have been taken of their simplicity, and sometimes they have even been shipped while under the influence of liquor; but such cases have been rare. It is safe to say that few men have ever trod the deck of a United States man-of-war, as members of the crew, without being there of their own free will and accord.
But in 1777 it was sometimes hard to fill the ships' rosters. Then the ingenuity of the recruiting officers was called into play. A sailor who served on the "Protector" during the Revolution thus tells the story of his enlistment:—
"All means were resorted to which ingenuity could devise to induce men to enlist. A recruiting officer, bearing a flag, and attended by a band of martial music, paraded the streets, to excite a thirst for glory and a spirit of military ambition. The recruiting officer possessed the qualifications necessary to make the service appear alluring, especially to the young. He was a jovial, good-natured fellow, of ready wit and much broad humor. When he espied any large boys among the idle crowd around him, he would attract their attention by singing in a comical manner the following doggerel,—
'All you that have bad masters, And cannot get your due, Come, come, my brave boys, And join our ship's crew.'
"A shout and a huzza would follow, and some would join in the ranks. My excitable feelings were aroused. I repaired to the rendezvous, signed the ship's papers, mounted a cockade, and was, in my own estimation, already more than half a sailor. Appeals continued to be made to the patriotism of every young man, to lend his aid, by his exertions on sea or land, to free his country from the common enemy. About the last of February the ship was ready to receive her crew, and was hauled off into the channel, that the sailors might have no opportunity to run away after they were got on board. Upward of three hundred and thirty men were carried, dragged, and driven on board, of all kinds, ages, and descriptions, in all the various stages of intoxication, from that of sober tipsiness to beastly drunkenness, with an uproar and clamor that may be more easily imagined than described."
But, whatever the methods adopted to secure recruits for the navy, the men thus obtained did admirable service; and in no year did they win more glory than in 1778.
As usual the year's operations were opened by an exploit of one of the smaller cruisers. This was the United States sloop-of-war "Providence," a trig little vessel, mounting only twelve four-pounders, and carrying a crew of but fifty men. But she was in command of a daring seaman Capt. Rathburne, and she opened the year's hostilities with an exploit worthy of Paul Jones.
Off the south-eastern coast of Florida, in that archipelago or collection of groups of islands known collectively as the West Indies, lies the small island of New Providence. Here in 1778 was a small British colony. The well-protected harbor, and the convenient location of the island, made it a favorite place for the rendezvous of British naval vessels. Indeed, it bid fair to become, what Nassau is to-day, the chief British naval station on the American coast. In 1778 the little seaport had a population of about one thousand people.
With his little vessel, and her puny battery of four-pounders, Capt. Rathburne determined to undertake the capture of New Providence. Only the highest daring, approaching even recklessness, could have conceived such a plan. The harbor was defended by a fort of no mean power. There was always one British armed vessel, and often more, lying at anchor under the guns of the fort. Two hundred of the people of the town were able-bodied men, able to bear arms. How, then, were the Yankees, with their puny force, to hope for success? This query Rathburne answered, "By dash and daring."
It was about eleven o'clock on the night of the 27th of January, 1778, that the "Providence" cast anchor in a sheltered cove near the entrance to the harbor of New Providence. Twenty-five of her crew were put ashore, and being re-enforced by a few American prisoners kept upon the island, made a descent upon Fort Nassau from its landward side. The sentries dozing at their posts were easily overpowered, and the garrison was aroused from its peaceful slumbers by the cheers of the Yankee blue-jackets as they came tumbling in over the ramparts. A rocket sent up from the fort announced the victory to the "Providence," and she came in and cast anchor near the fort.
When morning broke, the Americans saw a large sixteen-gun ship lying at anchor in the harbor, together with five sail that looked suspiciously like captured American merchantmen. The proceedings of the night had been quietly carried on, and the crew of the armed vessel had no reason to suspect that the condition of affairs on shore had been changed in any way during the night. But at daybreak a boat carrying four men put off from the shore, and made for the armed ship; and at the same time a flag was flung out from the flagstaff of the fort,—not the familiar scarlet flag of Great Britain, but the almost unknown stars and stripes of the United States.
The sleepy sailors on the armed vessel rubbed their eyes; and while they were staring at the strange piece of bunting, there came a hail from a boat alongside, and an American officer clambered over the rail. He curtly told the captain of the privateer that the fort was in the hands of the Americans, and called upon him to surrender his vessel forthwith. Resistance was useless; for the heavy guns of Fort Nassau were trained upon the British ship, and could blow her out of the water. The visitor's arguments proved to be unanswerable; and the captain of the privateer surrendered his vessel, which was taken possession of by the Americans; while her crew of forty-five men was ordered into confinement in the dungeons of the fort which had so lately held captive Americans. Other boarding parties were then sent to the other vessels in the harbor, which proved to be American craft, captured by the British sloop-of-war "Grayton."
At sunrise the sleeping town showed signs of reviving life, and a party of the audacious Yankees marched down to the house of the governor. That functionary was found in bed, and in profound ignorance of the events of the night. The Americans broke the news to him none too gently, and demanded the keys of a disused fortress on the opposite side of the harbor from Fort Nassau. For a time the governor was inclined to demur; but the determined attitude of the Americans soon persuaded him that he was a prisoner, though in his own house, and he delivered the keys. Thereupon the Americans marched through the streets of the city, around the harbor's edge to the fort, spiked the guns, and carrying with them the powder and small-arms, marched back to Fort Nassau.
But by this time it was ten o'clock, and the whole town was aroused. The streets were crowded with people eagerly discussing the invasion. The timid ones were busily packing up their goods to fly into the country; while the braver ones were hunting for weapons, and organizing for an attack upon the fort held by the Americans. Fearing an outbreak, Capt. Rathburne sent out a flag of truce, making proclamation to all the inhabitants of New Providence, that the Americans would do no damage to the persons or property of the people of the island unless compelled so to do in self-defence. This pacified the more temperate of the inhabitants; but the hotheads, to the number of about two hundred, assembled before Fort Nassau, and threatened to attack it. But, when they summoned Rathburne to surrender, that officer leaped upon the parapet, and coolly told the assailants to come on.
"We can beat you back easily," said he. "And, by the Eternal, if you fire a gun at us, we'll turn the guns of the fort on your town, and lay it in ruins."
This bold defiance disconcerted the enemy; and, after some consultation among themselves, they dispersed.
About noon that day, the British sloop-of-war "Grayton" made her appearance, and stood boldly into the harbor where lay the "Providence." The United States colors were quickly hauled down from the fort flagstaff, and every means was taken to conceal the true state of affairs from the enemy. But the inhabitants along the water-side, by means of constant signalling and shouting, at last aroused the suspicion of her officers; and she hastily put about, and scudded for the open sea. The guns at Fort Nassau opened on her as she passed, and the aim of the Yankee gunners was accurate enough to make the splinters fly. The exact damage done her has, however, never been ascertained.
All that night the daring band of blue-jackets held the fort unmolested. But on the following morning the townspeople again plucked up courage, and to the number of five hundred marched to the fort, and placing several pieces of artillery in battery, summoned the garrison to surrender. The flag of truce that bore the summons carried also the threat, that, unless the Americans laid down their arms without resistance, the fort would be stormed, and all therein put to the sword without mercy.
For answer to the summons, the Americans nailed their colors to the mast, and swore that while a man of them lived the fort should not be surrendered. By this bold defiance they so awed the enemy that the day passed without the expected assault; and at night the besiegers returned to their homes, without having fired a shot.
All that night the Americans worked busily, transferring to the "Providence" all the ammunition and stores in the fort; and the next morning the prizes were manned, the guns of the fort spiked, and the adventurous Yankees set sail in triumph. For three days they had held possession of the island, though outnumbered tenfold by the inhabitants; they had captured large quantities of ammunition and naval stores; they had freed their captured countrymen; they had retaken from the British five captured American vessels, and in the whole affair they had lost not a single man. It was an achievement of which a force of triple the number might have been proud.
In February, 1778, the Delaware, along the water-front of Philadelphia, was the scene of some dashing work by American sailors, under the command of Capt. John Barry. This officer was in command of the "Effingham," one of the vessels which had been trapped in the Delaware by the unexpected occupation of Philadelphia by the British. The inactivity of the vessels, which had taken refuge at Whitehall, was a sore disappointment to Barry, who longed for the excitement and dangers of actual battle. With the British in force at Philadelphia, it was madness to think of taking the frigates down the stream. But Barry rightly thought that what could not be done with a heavy ship might be done with a few light boats.
Philadelphia was then crowded with British troops. The soldiers were well provided with money, and, finding themselves quartered in a city for the winter, led a life of continual gayety. The great accession to the population of the town made it necessary to draw upon the country far and near for provisions; and boats were continually plying upon the Delaware, carrying provisions to the city. To intercept some of these boats, and to give the merry British officers a taste of starvation, was Barry's plan.
Accordingly four boats were manned with well-armed crews, and with muffled oars set out on a dark night to patrol the river. Philadelphia was reached, and the expedition was almost past the city, when the sentries on one of the British men-of-war gave the alarm. A few scattering shots were fired from the shore; but the jackies bent to their oars, and the boats were soon lost to sight in the darkness. When day broke, Barry was far down the river.
Opposite the little post held by the American army, and called Fort Penn, Barry spied a large schooner, mounting ten guns, and flying the British flag. With her were four transport ships, loaded with forage for the enemy's forces. Though the sun had risen, and it was broad day, Barry succeeded in running his boats alongside the schooner; and before the British suspected the presence of any enemy, the blue-jackets were clambering over the rail, cutlass and pistol in hand. There was no resistance. The astonished Englishmen threw down their arms, and rushed below. The victorious Americans battened down the hatches, ordered the four transports to surrender, on pain of being fired into, and triumphantly carried all five prizes to the piers of Fort Penn. There the hatches were removed; and, the Yankee sailors being drawn up in line, Barry ordered the prisoners to come on deck. When all appeared, it was found that the Yankees had bagged one major, two captains, three lieutenants, ten soldiers, and about a hundred sailors and marines,—a very respectable haul for a party of not more than thirty American sailors.
The next day a British frigate and sloop-of-war appeared down the bay. They were under full sail, and were apparently making for Fort Penn, with the probable intention of recapturing Barry's prizes. Fearing that he might be robbed of the fruits of his victory, Barry put the four transports in charge of Capt. Middleton, with instructions to fire them should the enemy attempt to cut them out. In the mean time, he took the ten-gun schooner, and made for the Christiana River, in the hopes of taking her into shallow waters, whither the heavier British vessels could not follow. But, unluckily for his plans, the wind favored the frigate; and she gained upon him so rapidly, that only by the greatest expedition could he run his craft ashore and escape. Two of the guns were pointed down the main hatch, and a few rounds of round-shot were fired through the schooner's bottom. She sunk quickly; and the Americans pushed off from her side, just as the British frigate swung into position, and let fly her broadside at her escaping foes.
The schooner being thus disposed of, the British turned their attention to the four captured transports at Fort Penn. Capt. Middleton and Capt. McLane, who commanded the American militia on shore, had taken advantage of the delay to build a battery of bales of hay near the piers. The British sloop-of-war opened the attack, but the sharp-shooters in the battery and on the transports gave her so warm a reception that she retired. She soon returned to the attack, but was checked by the American fire, and might have been beaten off, had not Middleton received a mortal wound while standing on the battery and cheering on his men. Dismayed by the fall of their leader, the Americans set fire to the transport and fled to the woods, leaving the British masters of the field.
Barry's conduct in this enterprise won for him the admiration of friend and foe alike. Sir William Howe, then commander-in-chief of the British forces in America, offered the daring American twenty thousand guineas and the command of a British frigate, if he would desert the service of the United States.
"Not the value and command of the whole British fleet," wrote Barry in reply, "can seduce me from the cause of my country."
After this adventure, Barry and his followers made their way through the woods back to Whitehall, where his ship the "Effingham" was lying at anchor. Here he passed the winter in inactivity. At Whitehall, and near that place, were nearly a dozen armed ships, frigates, sloops, and privateers. All had fled thither for safety when the British took possession of Philadelphia, and now found themselves caught in a trap. To run the blockade of British batteries and men-of-war at Philadelphia, was impossible; and there was nothing to do but wait until the enemy should evacuate the city.
But the British were in no haste to leave Philadelphia; and when they did get ready to leave, they determined to destroy the American flotilla before departing. Accordingly on the 4th of May, 1778, the water-front of the Quaker City was alive with soldiers and citizens watching the embarkation of the troops ordered against the American forces at Whitehall. On the placid bosom of the Delaware floated the schooners "Viper" and "Pembroke," the galleys "Hussar," "Cornwallis," "Ferret," and "Philadelphia," four gunboats, and eighteen flat-boats. Between this fleet and the shore, boats were busily plying, carrying off the soldiers of the light infantry, seven hundred of whom were detailed for the expedition. It was a holiday affair. The British expected little fighting; and with flags flying, and bands playing, the vessels started up stream, the cheers of the soldiers on board mingling with those on the shore.
Bristol, the landing-place chosen, was soon reached; and the troops disembarked without meeting with any opposition. Forming in solid column, the soldiers took up the march for Whitehall; but, when within five miles of that place, a ruddy glare in the sky told that the Americans had been warned of their coming, and had set the torch to the shipping. When the head of the British column entered Whitehall, the two new American frigates "Washington" and "Effingham" were wrapped in flames. Both were new vessels, and neither had yet taken on board her battery. Several other vessels were lying at the wharves; and to these the British set the torch, and continued their march, leaving the roaring flames behind them. A little farther up the Delaware, at the point known as Crosswise Creek, the large privateer "Sturdy Beggar" was found, together with several smaller craft. The crews had all fled, and the deserted vessels met the fate of the other craft taken by the invaders. Then the British turned their steps homeward, and reached Philadelphia, after having burned almost a score of vessels, and fired not a single shot.
On the high seas during 1778 occurred several notable naval engagements. Of the more important of these we have spoken in our accounts of the exploits of Tucker, Biddle, and Paul Jones. The less important ones must be dismissed with a hasty word.
It may be said, that, in general, the naval actions of 1778 went against the Americans. In February of that year the "Alfred" was captured by a British frigate, and the "Raleigh" narrowly escaped. In March, the new frigate "Virginia," while beating out of Chesapeake Bay on her very first cruise, ran aground, and was captured by the enemy. In September, the United States frigate "Raleigh," when a few days out from Boston, fell in with two British vessels,—one a frigate, and the other a ship-of-the-line. Capt. Barry, whose daring exploits on the Delaware we have chronicled, was in command of the "Raleigh," and gallantly gave battle to the frigate, which was in the lead. Between these two vessels the conflict raged with great fury for upwards of two hours, when the fore-topmast and mizzen top-gallant-mast of the American having been shot away Barry attempted to close the conflict by boarding. The enemy kept at a safe distance, however; and his consort soon coming up, the Americans determined to seek safety in flight. The enemy pursued, keeping up a rapid fire; and the running conflict continued until midnight. Finally Barry set fire to his ship, and with the greater part of his crew escaped to the nearest land, an island near the mouth of the Penobscot. The British immediately boarded the abandoned ship, extinguished the flames, and carried their prize away in triumph.
To offset these reverses to the American arms, there were one or two victories for the Americans, aside from those won by Paul Jones, and the exploits of privateers and colonial armed vessels, which we shall group together in a later chapter. The first of these victories was won by an army officer, who was later transferred to the navy, and won great honor in the naval service.
In an inlet of Narragansett Bay, near Newport, the British had anchored a powerful floating battery, made of the dismasted hulk of the schooner "Pigot," on which were mounted twelve eight-pounders and ten swivel guns. It was about the time that the fleet sent by France to aid the United States was expected to arrive; and the British had built and placed in position this battery, to close the channel leading to Newport. Major Silas Talbot, an army officer who had won renown earlier in the war by a daring but unsuccessful attempt to destroy two British frigates in the Hudson River, by means of fire-ships, obtained permission to lead an expedition for the capture of the "Pigot." Accordingly, with sixty picked men, he set sail from Providence in the sloop "Hawk," mounting three three-pounders. When within a few miles of the "Pigot," he landed, and, borrowing a horse, rode down and reconnoitred the battery. When the night set in, he returned to the sloop, and at once weighed anchor and made for the enemy. As the "Hawk" drew near the "Pigot," the British sentinels challenged her, and receiving no reply, fired a volley of musketry, which injured no one. On came the "Hawk," under a full spread of canvas. A kedge-anchor had been lashed to the end of her bowsprit; and, before the British could reload, this crashed through the boarding-nettings of the "Pigot," and caught in the shrouds. The two vessels being fast, the Americans, with ringing cheers, ran along the bowsprit, and dropped on the deck of the "Pigot." The surprise was complete. The British captain rushed on deck, clad only in his shirt and drawers, and strove manfully to rally his crew. But as the Americans, cutlass and pistol in hand, swarmed over the taffrail, the surprised British lost heart, and fled to the hold, until at last the captain found himself alone upon the deck. Nothing was left for him but to surrender with the best grace possible; and soon Talbot was on his way back to Providence, with his prize and a shipful of prisoners.
But perhaps the greatest naval event of 1778 in American waters was the arrival of the fleet sent by France to co-operate with the American forces. Not that any thing of importance was ever accomplished by this naval force: the French officers seemed to find their greatest satisfaction in manoeuvring, reconnoitring, and performing in the most exact and admirable manner all the preliminaries to a battle. Having done this, they would sail away, never firing a gun. The Yankees were prone to disregard the nice points of naval tactics. Their plan was to lay their ships alongside the enemy, and pound away until one side or the other had to yield or sink. But the French allies were strong on tactics, and somewhat weak in dash; and, as a result, there is not one actual combat in which they figured to be recorded.
It was a noble fleet that France sent to the aid of the struggling Americans,—twelve ships-of-the-line and three frigates. What dashing Paul Jones would have done, had he ever enjoyed the command of such a fleet, almost passes imagination. Certain it is that he would have wasted little time in formal evolutions. But the fleet was commanded by Count d'Estaing, a French naval officer of honorable reputation. What he accomplished during his first year's cruise in American waters, can be told in a few words. His intention was to trap Lord Howe's fleet in the Delaware, but he arrived too late. He then followed the British to New York, but was baffled there by the fact that his vessels were too heavy to cross the bar. Thence he went to Newport, where the appearance of his fleet frightened the British into burning four of their frigates, and sinking two sloops-of-war. Lord Howe, hearing of this, plucked up courage, and, gathering together all his ships, sailed from New York to Newport, to give battle to the French. The two fleets were about equally matched. On the 10th of August the enemies met in the open sea, off Newport. For two days they kept out of range of each other, manoeuvring for the weather-gage; that is, the French fleet, being to windward of the British, strove to keep that position, while the British endeavored to take it from them. The third day a gale arose; and when it subsided the ships were so crippled, that, after exchanging a few harmless broadsides at long range, they withdrew, and the naval battle was ended.
Such was the record of D'Estaing's magnificent fleet during 1778. Certainly the Americans had little to learn from the representatives of the power that had for years contended with England for the mastery of the seas.
LAST YEARS OF THE WAR. — DISASTROUS EXPEDITION TO THE PENOBSCOT. — WHOLESALE CAPTURES ON THE NEWFOUNDLAND BANKS. — FRENCH SHIPS IN AMERICAN WATERS. — TAKING OF CHARLESTON. — THE "TRUMBULL'S" VICTORY AND DEFEAT. — CAPT. BARRY AND THE "ALLIANCE." — CLOSE OF THE WAR.
The year 1779 is chiefly known in American naval history as the year in which Paul Jones did his most brilliant service in the "Bon Homme Richard." The glory won by the Americans was chiefly gained in European waters. Along the coast of the United States, there were some dashing actions; but the advantage generally remained with the British.
Perhaps the most notable naval event of this year, aside from the battle between the "Bon Homme Richard" and the "Serapis," was the expedition sent by the State of Massachusetts against the British post at Castine, on the banks of the Penobscot River. At this unimportant settlement in the wilds of Maine, the British had established a military post, with a garrison of about a thousand men, together with four armed vessels. Here they might have been permitted to remain in peace, so far as any danger from their presence was to be apprehended by the people of New England. But the sturdy citizens of Massachusetts had boasted, that, since the evacuation of Boston, no British soldier had dared to set foot on Massachusetts soil; and the news of this invasion caused the people of Boston to rise as one man, and demand that the invaders should be expelled.
Accordingly a joint naval and military expedition was fitted out under authority granted by the Legislature of the State. Congress detailed the United States frigate "Warren," and the sloops-of-war "Diligence" and "Providence," to head the expedition. The Massachusetts cruisers "Hazard," "Active," and "Tyrannicide" represented the regular naval forces of the Bay State; and twelve armed vessels belonging to private citizens were hired, to complete the armada. The excitement among seafaring men ran high. Every man who had ever swung a cutlass or sighted a gun was anxious to accompany the expedition. Ordinarily it was difficult to ship enough men for the navy; now it was impossible to take all the applicants. It is even recorded that the list of common sailors on the armed ship "Vengeance" included thirty masters of merchantmen, who waived all considerations of rank, in order that they might join the expedition.
To co-operate with the fleet, a military force was thought necessary; and accordingly orders were issued for fifteen hundred of the militia of the district of Maine to assemble at Townsend. Brig.-Gen. Sullivan was appointed to the command of the land forces, while Capt. Saltonstall of the "Warren" was made commodore of the fleet.
Punctually on the day appointed the white sails of the American ships were seen by the militiamen at the appointed rendezvous. But when the ships dropped anchor, and the commodore went ashore to consult with the officers of the land forces, he found that but nine hundred of the militiamen had responded to the call. Nevertheless, it was determined, after a brief consultation, to proceed with the expedition, despite the sadly diminished strength of the militia battalions.
On the 23d of July, the fleet set sail from the harbor of Townsend. It was an extraordinary and impressive spectacle. The shores of the harbor were covered with unbroken forests, save at the lower end where a little hamlet of scarce five hundred people gave a touch of civilization to the wild scene. But the water looked as though the commerce of a dozen cities had centred there. On the placid bosom of the little bay floated forty-four vessels. The tread of men about the capstans, the hoarse shouts of command, the monotonous songs of the sailors, the creaking of cordage, and the flapping of sails gave an unwonted turbulence to the air which seldom bore a sound other than the voices of birds or the occasional blows of a woodman's axe. Nineteen vessels-of-war and twenty-five transports imparted to the harbor of Townsend an air of life and bustle to which it had been a stranger, and which it has never since experienced.
The weather was clear, and the wind fair; so that two days after leaving Townsend the fleet appeared before the works of the enemy. Standing on the quarter-deck of the "Warren," the commodore and the general eagerly scanned the enemy's defences, and after a careful examination were forced to admit that the works they had to carry were no mean specimens of the art of fortification. The river's banks rose almost perpendicularly from the water-side, and on their crest were perched the enemy's batteries, while on a high and precipitous hill was built a fort or citadel. In the river were anchored the four armed vessels.
Two days were spent by the Americans in reconnoitring the enemy's works; and on the 28th of July the work of disembarking the troops began, under a heavy fire from the enemy's batteries. The "Warren" and one of the sloops-of-war endeavored to cover the landing party by attacking the batteries; and a spirited cannonade followed, in which the American flag-ship suffered seriously. At last all the militia, together with three hundred marines, were put on shore, and at once assaulted the batteries. They were opposed by about an equal number of well-drilled Scotch regulars, and the battle raged fiercely; the men-of-war in the river covering the advance of the troops by a spirited and well-directed fire. More than once the curving line of men rushed against the fiery front of the British ramparts, and recoiled, shattered by the deadly volleys of the Scotch veterans. Here and there, in the grass and weeds, the forms of dead men began to be seen. The pitiable spectacle of the wounded, painfully crawling to the rear, began to make the pulse of the bravest beat quicker. But the men of Massachusetts, responsive to the voices of their officers, re-formed their shattered ranks, and charged again and again, until at last, with a mighty cheer, they swept over the ramparts, driving the British out. Many of the enemy surrendered; more fled for shelter to the fort on the hill. The smoke and din of battle died away. There came a brief respite in the bloody strife. The Americans had won the first trick in the bloody game of war.
Only a short pause followed; then the Americans moved upon the fort. But here they found themselves overmatched. Against the towering bastions of the fortress they might hurl themselves in vain. The enemy, safe behind its heavy parapets, could mow down their advancing ranks with a cool and deliberate fire. The assailants had already sacrificed more than a hundred men. Was it wise now to order an assault that might lead to the loss of twice that number?
The hotheads cried out for the immediate storming of the fort; but cooler counsels prevailed, and a siege was decided upon. Trenches were dug, the guns in the outlying batteries were turned upon the fort, and the New Englanders sat down to wait until the enemy should be starved out or until re-enforcements might be brought from Boston.
So for three weeks the combatants rested on their arms, glaring at each other over the tops of their breastworks, and now and then exchanging a shot or a casual volley, but doing little in the way of actual hostilities. Provisions were failing the British, and they began to feel that they were in a trap from which they could only emerge through a surrender, when suddenly the situation was changed, and the fortunes of war went against the Americans.
One morning the "Tyrannicide," which was stationed on the lookout down the bay, was seen beating up the river, under a full press of sail. Signals flying at her fore indicated that she had important news to tell. Her anchor had not touched the bottom before a boat pushed off from her side, and made straight for the commodore's flag-ship. Reaching the "Warren," a lieutenant clambered over the side, and saluted Commodore Saltonstall on the quarter-deck.
"Capt. Cathcart's compliments, sir," said he, "and five British men-of-war are just entering the bay. The first one appears to be the 'Rainbow,' forty-four."
Here was news indeed. Though superior in numbers, the Americans were far inferior in weight of metal. After a hasty consultation, it was determined to abandon the siege, and retreat with troops and vessels to the shallow waters of the Penobscot, whither the heavy men-of-war of the enemy would be unable to follow them. Accordingly the troops were hastily re-embarked, and a hurried flight began, which was greatly accelerated by the appearance of the enemy coming up the river.
The chase did not continue long before it became evident the enemy would overhaul the retreating ships. Soon he came within range, and opened fire with his bow-guns, in the hopes of crippling one of the American ships. The fire was returned; and for several hours the wooded shores of the Penobscot echoed and re-echoed the thunders of the cannonade, as the warring fleets swept up the river.
At last the conviction forced itself on the minds of the Americans, that for them there was no escape. The British were steadily gaining upon them, and there was no sign of the shoal water in which they had hoped to find a refuge. It would seem that a bold dash might have carried the day for the Americans, so greatly did they outnumber their enemies. But this plan does not appear to have suggested itself to Capt. Saltonstall, who had concentrated all his efforts upon the attempt to escape. When escape proved to be hopeless, his only thought was to destroy his vessels. Accordingly his flag-ship, the "Warren," was run ashore, and set on fire. The action of the commodore was imitated by the rest of the officers, and soon the banks of the river were lined with blazing vessels. The "Hunter," the "Hampden," and one transport fell into the hands of the British. The rest of the forty-nine vessels—men-of-war, privateers, and transports—that made up the fleet were destroyed by flames.
It must indeed have been a stirring spectacle. The shores of the Penobscot River were then a trackless wilderness; the placid bosom of the river itself had seldom been traversed by a heavier craft than the slender birch-bark canoe of the red man; yet here was this river crowded with shipping, the dark forests along its banks lighted up by the glare of twoscore angry fires. Through the thickets and underbrush parties of excited men broke their way, seeking for a common point of meeting, out of range of the cannon of the enemy. The British, meantime, were striving to extinguish the flames, but with little success; and before the day ended, little remained of the great Massachusetts flotilla, except the three captured ships and sundry heaps of smouldering timber.
The hardships of the soldiers and marines who had escaped capture, only to find themselves lost in the desolate forest, were of the severest kind. Separating into parties they plodded along, half-starved, with torn and rain-soaked clothing, until finally, footsore and almost perishing, they reached the border settlements, and were aided on their way to Boston. The disaster was complete, and for months its depressing effect upon American naval enterprise was observable.
In observing the course of naval events in 1779, it is noticeable that the most effective work was done by the cruisers sent out by the individual States, or by privateers. The United States navy, proper, did little except what was done in European waters by Paul Jones. Indeed, along the American coast, a few cruises in which no actions of moment occurred, although several prizes were taken, make up the record of naval activity for the year.
The first of these cruises was that made in April by the ships "Warren," "Queen of France," and "Ranger." They sailed from Boston, and were out but a few days when they captured a British privateer of fourteen guns. From one of the sailors on this craft it was learned that a large fleet of transports and storeships had just sailed from New York, bound for Georgia. Crowding on all sail, the Americans set out in pursuit, and off Cape Henry overhauled the chase. Two fleets were sighted, one to windward numbering nine sail, and one to leeward made up of ten sail. The pursuers chose the fleet to windward for their prey, and by sharp work succeeded in capturing seven vessels in eight hours. Two of the ships were armed cruisers of twenty-nine and sixteen guns respectively, and all the prizes were heavy laden with provisions, ammunition, and cavalry accoutrements. All were safely taken into port.
In June, another fleet of United States vessels left Boston in search of British game. The "Queen of France" and the "Ranger" were again employed; but the "Warren" remained in port, fitting out for her ill-fated expedition to the Penobscot. Her place was taken by the "Providence," thirty-two. For a time the cruisers fell in with nothing of importance. But one day about the middle of July, as the three vessels lay hove to off the banks of Newfoundland, in the region of perpetual fog, the dull booming of a signal gun was heard. Nothing was to be seen on any side. From the quarter-deck, and from the cross-trees alike, the eager eyes of the officers and seamen strove in vain to penetrate the dense curtain of gray fog that shut them in. But again the signal gun sounded, then another; and tone and direction alike told that the two reports had not come from the same cannon. Then a bell was heard telling the hour,—another, still another; then a whole chorus of bells. Clearly a large fleet was shut in the fog.
About eleven o'clock in the morning the fog lifted, and to their intense surprise the crew of the "Queen of France" found themselves close alongside of a large merchant-ship. As the fog cleared away more completely, ships appeared on every side; and the astonished Yankees found themselves in the midst of a fleet of about one hundred and fifty sail under convoy of a British ship-of-the-line, and several frigates and sloops-of-war. Luckily the United States vessels had no colors flying, and nothing about them to betray their nationality: so Capt. Rathburn of the "Queen" determined to try a little masquerading.
Bearing down upon the nearest merchantman, he hailed her; and the following conversation ensued,—
"What fleet is this?"
"British merchantmen from Jamaica, bound for London. Who are you?"
"His Majesty's ship 'Arethusa,'" answered Rathburn boldly, "from Halifax on cruise. Have you seen any Yankee privateers?"
"Ay, ay, sir," was the response. "Several have been driven out of the fleet."
"Come aboard the 'Arethusa,' then. I wish to consult with you."
Soon a boat put off from the side of the merchantman, and a jolly British sea-captain confidently clambered to the deck of the "Queen." Great was his astonishment to be told that he was a prisoner, and to see his boat's crew brought aboard, and their places taken by American jackies. Back went the boat to the British ship; and soon the Americans were in control of the craft, without in the least alarming the other vessels, that lay almost within hail. The "Queen" then made up to another ship, and captured her in the same manner.
But at this juncture Commodore Whipple, in the "Providence," hailed the "Queen," and directed Rathburn to edge out of the fleet before the British men-of-war should discover his true character. Rathburn protested vigorously, pointing out the two vessels he had captured, and urging Whipple to follow his example, and capture as many vessels as he could in the same manner. Finally Whipple overcame his fears, and adopted Rathburn's methods, with such success that shortly after nightfall the Americans left the fleet, taking with them eleven rich prizes. Eight of these they succeeded in taking safe to Boston, where they were sold for more than a million dollars.
In May, 1779, occurred two unimportant engagements,—one off Sandy Hook, in which the United States sloop "Providence," ten guns, captured the British sloop "Diligent," after a brief but spirited engagement; the second action occurred off St. Kitts, where the United States brig "Retaliation" successfully resisted a vigorous attack by a British cutter and a brig. The record of the regular navy for the year closed with the cruise of the United States frigates "Deane" and "Boston," that set sail from the Delaware late in the summer. They kept the seas for nearly three months, but made only a few bloodless captures.
The next year opened with a great disaster to the American cause. The Count d'Estaing, after aimlessly wandering up and down the coast of the United States with the fleet ostensibly sent to aid the Americans, suddenly took himself and his fleet off to the West Indies. Sir Henry Clinton soon learned of the departure of the French, and gathered an expedition for the capture of Charleston. On the 10th of February, Clinton with five thousand troops, and a British fleet under Admiral Arbuthnot, appeared off Edisto Inlet, about thirty miles from Charleston, and began leisurely preparations for an attack upon the city. Had he pushed ahead and made his assault at once, he would have met but little resistance; but his delay of over a month gave the people of Charleston time to prepare for a spirited resistance.
The approach of the British fleet penned up in Charleston harbor several United States men-of-war and armed vessels, among them the "Providence," "Queen of France," "Boston," "Ranger," "Gen. Moultrie," and "Notre Dame." These vessels took an active part in the defence of the harbor against Arbuthnot's fleet, but were beaten back. The "Queen," the "Gen. Moultrie," and the "Notre Dame" were then sunk in the channel to obstruct the progress of the enemy; their guns being taken ashore, and mounted in the batteries on the sea-wall. Then followed days of terror for Charleston. The land forces of the enemy turned siege guns on the unhappy city, and a constant bombardment was kept up from the hostile fleet. Fort Sumter, the batteries along the water front, and the ships remaining to the Americans answered boldly. But the defence was hopeless. The city was hemmed in by an iron cordon. The hot-shot of the enemy's batteries were falling in the streets, and flames were breaking out in all parts of the town. While the defence lasted, the men-of-war took an active part in it; and, indeed, the sailors were the last to consent to a surrender. So noticeable was the activity of the frigate "Boston" in particular, that, when it became evident that the Americans could hold out but a little longer, Admiral Arbuthnot sent her commander a special order to surrender.
"I do not think much of striking my flag to your present force," responded bluff Samuel Tucker, who commanded the "Boston;" "for I have struck more of your flags than are now flying in this harbor."
But, despite this bold defiance, the inevitable capitulation soon followed. Charleston fell into the hands of the British; and with the city went the three men-of-war, "Providence," "Boston," and "Ranger."
It will be noticed that this disaster was the direct result of the disappearance of Count d'Estaing and the French fleet. To the student of history who calmly considers the record of our French naval allies in the Revolution, there appears good reason to believe that their presence did us more harm than good. Under De Grasse, the French fleet did good service in co-operation with the allied armies in the Yorktown campaign; but, with this single exception, no instance can be cited of any material aid rendered by it to the American cause. The United States navy, indeed, suffered on account of the French alliance; for despite the loss of many vessels in 1779 and 1780, Congress refused to increase the navy in any way, trusting to France to care for America's interests on the seas. The result of this policy was a notable falling-off in the number and spirit of naval actions.
The ship "Trumbull," twenty-eight, one of the exploits of which we have already chronicled, saw a good deal of active service during the last two years of the war; and though she finally fell into the hands of the enemy, it was only because the odds against her were not to be overcome by the most spirited resistance. It was on the 2d of June, 1780, that the "Trumbull," while cruising far out in the Atlantic Ocean in the path of British merchantmen bound for the West Indies, sighted a strange sail hull down to windward. The "Trumbull" was then in command of Capt. James Nicholson, an able and plucky officer. Immediately on hearing the report of the lookout, Nicholson ordered all the canvas furled, in order that the stranger might not catch sight of the "Trumbull." It is, of course, obvious that a ship under bare poles is a far less conspicuous object upon the ocean, than is the same ship with her yards hung with vast clouds of snowy canvas. But apparently the stranger sighted the "Trumbull," and had no desire to avoid her; for she bore down upon the American ship rapidly, and showed no desire to avoid a meeting. Seeing this, Nicholson made sail, and was soon close to the stranger. As the two ships drew closer together, the stranger showed her character by firing three guns, and hoisting the British colors.
Seeing an action impending, Nicholson called his crew aft and harangued them, as was the custom before going into battle. It was not a promising outlook for the American ship. She was but recently out of port, and was manned largely by "green hands." The privateers had so thoroughly stripped the decks of able seamen, that the "Trumbull" had to ship men who knew not one rope from another; and it is even said, that, when the drums beat to quarters the day of the battle, many of the sailors were suffering from the landsman's terror, seasickness. But what they lacked in experience, they made up in enthusiasm.
With the British flag at the peak, the "Trumbull" bore down upon the enemy. But the stranger was not to be deceived by so hackneyed a device. He set a private signal, and, as the Americans did not answer it, let fly a broadside at one hundred yards distance. The "Trumbull" responded with spirit, and the stars and stripes went fluttering to the peak in the place of the British ensign. Then the thunder of battle continued undiminished for two hours and a half. The wind was light, and the vessels rode on an even keel nearly abreast of each other, and but fifty yards apart. At times their yard-arms interlocked; and still the heavy broadsides rang out, and the flying shot crashed through beam and stanchion, striking down the men at their guns, and covering the decks with blood. Twice the flying wads of heavy paper from the enemy's guns set the "Trumbull" a-fire, and once the British ship was endangered by the same cause.
At last the fire of the enemy slackened, and the Americans, seeing victory within their grasp, redoubled their efforts; but at this critical moment one of the gun-deck officers came running to Nicholson, with the report that the main-mast had been repeatedly hit by the enemy's shot, and was now tottering. If the main-mast went by the board, the fate of the "Trumbull" was sealed. Crowding sail on the other masts, the "Trumbull" shot ahead, and was soon out of the line of fire, the enemy being apparently too much occupied with his own injuries to molest her. Hardly had she gone the distance of a musket-shot, when her main and mizzen top-masts went by the board; and before the nimble jackies could cut away the wreck the other spars followed, until nothing was left but the foremast. When the crashing and confusion was over, the "Trumbull" lay a pitiable wreck, and an easy prey for her foe.
But the Briton showed a strange disinclination to take advantage of the opportunity. The Yankee sailors worked like mad in cutting away the wreck; then rushed to their guns, ready to make a desperate, if hopeless, resistance in case of an attack. But the attack never came. Without even a parting shot the enemy went off on her course; and before she was out of sight her main topmast was seen to fall, showing that she too had suffered in the action.
Not for months after did the crew of the "Trumbull" learn the name of the vessel they had fought. At last it was learned that she was a heavy letter-of-marque, the "Watt." Her exact weight of metal has never been ascertained, though Capt. Nicholson estimated it at thirty-four or thirty-six guns. The "Trumbull" mounted thirty-six guns. The captain of the "Watt" reported his loss to have been ninety-two in killed and wounded; the loss of the "Trumbull" amounted to thirty-nine, though two of her lieutenants were among the slain. This action, in severity, ranked next to the famous naval duel between the "Bon Homme Richard" and the "Serapis."
As the "Trumbull" fought her last battle under the flag of the United States a year later, and as our consideration of the events of the Revolution is drawing to a close, we may abandon chronological order, and follow Nicholson and his good ship to the end of their career. In August, 1781, the "Trumbull" left the Delaware, convoying twenty-eight merchantmen, and accompanied by one privateer. Again her crew was weakened by the scarcity of good seamen, and this time Nicholson had adopted the dangerous and indefensible expedient of shipping British prisoners-of-war. There were fifty of these renegades in the crew; and naturally, as they were ready to traitorously abandon their own country, they were equally ready for treachery to the flag under which they sailed. There were many instances during the Revolution of United States ships being manned largely by British prisoners. Usually the crews thus obtained were treacherous and insubordinate. Even if it had been otherwise, the custom was a bad one, and repugnant to honorable men.
So with a crew half-trained and half-disaffected, the "Trumbull" set out to convoy a fleet of merchantmen through waters frequented by British men-of-war. Hardly had she passed the capes when three British cruisers were made out astern. One, a frigate, gave chase. Night fell, and in the darkness the "Trumbull" might have escaped with her charges, but that a violent squall struck her, carrying away her fore-topmast and main-top-gallant-mast. Her convoy scattered in all directions, and by ten o'clock the British frigate had caught up with the disabled American.
The night was still squally, with bursts of rain and fitful flashes of lightning, which lighted up the decks of the American ship as she tossed on the waves. The storm had left her in a sadly disabled condition. The shattered top hamper had fallen forward, cumbering up the forecastle, and so tangling the bow tackle that the jibs were useless. The foresail was jammed and torn by the fore-topsail-yard. There was half a day's work necessary to clear away the wreck, and the steadily advancing lights of the British ship told that not half an hour could be had to prepare for the battle.
There was no hope that resistance could be successful, but the brave hearts of Nicholson and his officers recoiled from the thought of tamely striking the flag without firing a shot. So the drummers were ordered to beat the crew to quarters; and soon, by the light of the battle-lanterns, the captains of the guns were calling over the names of the sailors. The roll-call had proceeded but a short time when it became evident that most of the British renegades were absent from their stations. The officers and marines went below to find them. While they were absent, others of the renegades, together with about half of the crew whom they had tainted with their mutinous plottings, put out the battle-lanterns, and hid themselves deep in the hold. At this moment the enemy came up, and opened fire.
Determined to make some defence, Nicholson sent the few faithful jackies to the guns, and the officers worked side by side with the sailors. The few guns that were manned were served splendidly, and the unequal contest was maintained for over an hour, when a second British man-of-war came up, and the "Trumbull" was forced to strike. At no time had more than forty of her people been at the guns. To this fact is due the small loss of life; for, though the ship was terribly cut up, only five of her crew were killed, and eleven wounded.