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THE WINTER OF 1812-1813 BAINBRIDGE’S SQUADRON: ACTIONS BETWEEN “CONSTITUTION” AND “JAVA,” “HORNET” AND “PEACOCK” INCREASING PRESSURE ON ATLANTIC COAST

The squadron under Commodore William Bainbridge, the third which sailed from the United States in October, 1812, started nearly three weeks after the joint departure of Rodgers and Decatur. It consisted of the “Constitution” and sloop of war “Hornet,” then in Boston, and of the “Essex,” the only 32-gun frigate in the navy, fitting for sea in the Delaware. The original armament of the latter, from which she derived her rate, had been changed to forty 32-pounder carronades and six long twelves; total, forty-six guns. It is noticeable that this battery, which ultimately contributed not merely to her capture, but to her almost helplessness under the fire of an enemy able to maintain his distance out of carronade range, was strongly objected to by Captain Porter. On October 14 he applied to be transferred to the “Adams,” giving as reasons “my insuperable dislike to carronades, and the bad sailing of the “Essex,” which render her, in my opinion, the worst frigate in the service." The request was not granted, and Porter sailed in command of the ship on October 28, the two other vessels having left Boston on the 26th.

In order to facilitate a junction, Bainbridge had sent Porter full details of his intended movements. A summary of these will show his views as to a well-planned commerce-destroying cruise. Starting about October 25, he would steer first a course not differing greatly from the general direction taken by Rodgers and Decatur, to the Cape Verde Islands, where he would fill with water, and by November 27 sail for the island Fernando de Noronha, two hundred and fifty miles south of the Equator, and two hundred miles from the mainland of Brazil, then a Portuguese colony, of which the island was a dependency. The trade winds being fair for this passage, he hoped to leave there by December 15, and to cruise south along the Brazilian coast as far as Rio de Janeiro, until January 15. In the outcome the meeting of the “Constitution” with the “Java” cut short her proceedings at this point; but Bainbridge had purposed to stay yet another month along the Brazilian coast, between Rio and St. Catherine’s, three hundred miles south. Thence he would cross the South Atlantic to the neighborhood of St. Helena, remaining just beyond sight of it, to intercept returning British Indiamen, which frequently stopped there. Porter failed to overtake the other vessels, on account of the bad sailing of the “Essex.” He arrived at Fernando de Noronha December 14, one day before that fixed by Bainbridge as his last there; but the “Constitution” and “Hornet” had already gone on to Bahia, on the Brazilian mainland, seven hundred miles to the southwest, leaving a letter for him to proceed off Cape Frio, sixty miles from the entrance of Rio. He reached this rendezvous on the 25th, but saw nothing of Bainbridge, who had been detained off Bahia by conditions there. The result was that the “Essex” never found her consorts, and finally struck out a career for herself, which belongs rather to a subsequent period of the war. We therefore leave her spending her Christmas off Cape Frio.

The two other vessels had arrived off Bahia on December 13. Here was lying a British sloop of war, the “Bonne Citoyenne,” understood to have on board a very large amount of specie for England. The American vessels blockaded her for some days, and then Captain Lawrence challenged her to single combat; Bainbridge acquiescing, and pledging his honor that the “Constitution” should remain out of the way, or at least not interfere. The British captain, properly enough, declined. That his ship and her reported value were detaining two American vessels from wider depredations was a reason more important than any fighting-cock glory to be had from an arranged encounter on equal terms, and should have sufficed him without expressing the doubt he did as to Bainbridge’s good faith. On the 26th the Commodore, leaving Lawrence alone to watch the British sloop, stood out to sea with the “Constitution,” cruising well off shore; and thus on the 29th, at 9 A.M., being then five miles south of the port and some miles from land, discovered two strange sail, which were the British frigate “Java,” Captain Henry Lambert, going to Bahia for water, with an American ship, prize to her.

Upon seeing the “Constitution” in the south-southwest, the British captain shaped his course for her, directing the prize to enter the harbor. Bainbridge, watching these movements, now tacked his ship, and at 11.30 A.M. steered away southeast under all plain sail, to draw the enemy well away from neutral waters; the Portuguese authorities having shown some sensitiveness on that score. The “Java” followed, running full ten miles an hour, a great speed in those days, and gaining rapidly. At 1.30, being now as far off shore as desired, Bainbridge went about and stood toward the enemy, who kept away with a view to rake, which the “Constitution” avoided by the usual means of wearing, resuming her course southeast, but under canvas much reduced. At 2.10 the “Java,” having closed to a half mile, the “Constitution” fired one gun ahead of her; whereupon the British ship hoisted her colors, and the American then fired two broadsides. The “Java” now took up a position to windward of the “Constitution,” on her port side, a little forward (2.10); “within pistol-shot,” according to the minutes submitted by the officer who succeeded to the command; “much further than I wished,” by Bainbridge’s journal. It is not possible entirely to reconcile the pretty full details of further movements given by each; but it may be said, generally, that this battle was not mainly an artillery duel, like those of the “Constitution” and “Guerrière,” the “Wasp” and “Frolic,” nor yet one in which a principal manoeuvre, by its decisive effect upon the use of artillery, played the determining part, as was the case with the “United States” and “Macedonian.” Here it was a combination of the two factors, a succession of evolutions resembling the changes of position, the retreats and advances, of a fencing or boxing match, in which the opponents work round the ring; accompanied by a continual play of the guns, answering to the thrusts and blows of individual encounter. In this game of manoeuvres the “Constitution” was somewhat handicapped by her wheel being shot away at 2.30. The rudder remained unharmed; but working a ship by relieving tackles, the substitute for the wheel, is for several reasons neither as quick nor as accurate.

Certain salient incidents stand out in both accounts, marking the progress of the engagement. Shortly before three o’clock the head of the “Java’s” bowsprit was shot away, and with it went the jib-boom. At this time, the fore and main masts of the British frigate being badly wounded, with all the rigging cut to pieces, Captain Lambert looked upon the day as lost unless he could board. The sailing master having been sent below wounded, the first lieutenant, whose account is here followed, was directed to run the ship alongside the enemy; but the helm was hardly put up when the foremast went overboard, at five minutes past three, a time in which both accounts agree. The British narrative states that the stump of their bowsprit caught in the mizzen rigging of the “Constitution” (3.35). This Bainbridge does not mention; but, if correct, the contact did not last long, for the “Constitution” immediately wore across the “Java’s” bow, and the latter’s maintopmast followed the foremast. The British frigate was now beaten beyond recovery; nevertheless the flag was kept flying, and it was after this that Captain Lambert fell, mortally wounded. Resistance was continued until 4.05, by the American accounts; by the British, till 4.35. Then, the enemy’s mizzenmast having fallen, and nothing left standing but the main lower mast, the “Constitution” shot ahead to repair damages. There was no more firing, but the “Java’s” colors remained up till 5.25, 5.50 by the British times, when they were hauled down as the “Constitution” returned. The American loss was nine killed and twenty-five wounded; that of the British, by their official accounts, twenty-two killed, one hundred and two wounded.

The superiority in broadside weight of fire of the “Constitution” over the “Java” was about the same as over the “Guerrière.” The “Java’s” crew was stronger in number than that of the “Guerrière,” mustering about four hundred, owing to having on board a hundred supernumeraries for the East India station, to which the ship was ultimately destined. On the other hand, the material of the ship’s company is credibly stated to have been extremely inferior, a condition frequently complained of by British officers at this late period of the Napoleonic wars. It has also been said, in apparent extenuation of her defeat, that although six weeks out from England, having sailed November 12, and greater part of that time necessarily in the trade winds, with their usual good weather, the men had not been exercised in firing the guns until December 28, the day before meeting the “Constitution,” when six broadsides of blank cartridges were discharged. Whatever excuse may exist in the individual instance for such neglect, it is scarcely receivable in bar of judgment when disaster follows. No particular reason is given, except “the many services of a newly fitted ship, lumbered with stores;” for in such latitudes the other allegation, “a succession of gales of wind since the day of departure," is incredible. On broad general grounds the “Java” needed no apology for being beaten by a ship so much heavier; and the “Constitution’s” loss in killed and wounded was over double that suffered from the “Guerrière” four months before, when the American ship had substantially the same crew. Further, Bainbridge reported to his Government that “the damage received in the action, but more especially the decayed state of the “Constitution,” made it necessary to return to the United States for repairs.” Although Lieutenant Chads, who succeeded Lambert, was mistaken in supposing the American ship bound to the East Indies, he was evidently justified in claiming that the stout resistance of the “Java” had broken up the enemy’s cruise, thus contributing to the protection of the British commerce.

The “Java” was considered by Bainbridge too much injured to be worth taking to the United States. She was therefore set on fire December 31, and the “Constitution” went back to Bahia, where the prisoners were landed under parole. Thence she sailed for home January 6, 1813, reaching Boston February 27. Before his departure the Commodore directed Lawrence to blockade Bahia as long as seemed advisable, but to beware of a British seventy-four, said to be on the coast. When it became expedient, he was to quit the position and move northward; first off Pernambuco, and thence to the coast of Cayenne, Surinam, and Demerara, a favorite cruising ground for American commerce-destroyers. The “Hornet” was to be in Boston in the first fortnight of April.

In pursuance of these discretionary orders Lawrence remained off Bahia for eighteen days, till January 24, when the expected seventy-four, the “Montagu,” appeared, forcing him into the harbor; but the same night he came out, gave her the slip, and proceeded on his cruise. On February 24, off the Demarara River, he encountered the British brig of war “Peacock,” a vessel of the same class as the “Frolic,” which was captured a few months before by the “Wasp,” sister ship to the “Hornet.” There was no substantial difference in size between these two approaching antagonists; but, unfortunately for the equality of the contest, the “Peacock” carried 24-pounder carronades, instead of the 32’s which were her proper armament. Her battery power was therefore but two thirds that of the “Hornet.” The vessels crossed on opposite tacks, exchanging broadsides within half pistol-shot, the “Hornet” to windward(1). The “Peacock” then wore; observing which, Lawrence kept off at once for her and ran on board her starboard quarter (2). In this position the engagement was hot for about fifteen minutes, when the “Peacock” surrendered, hoisting a flag union down, in signal of distress. She had already six feet of water in the hold. Being on soundings, in less than six fathoms, both anchored, and every effort was made to save the British vessel; but she sank, carrying down nine of her own crew and three of the “Hornet’s.” Her loss in action was her commander and four men killed, and twenty-nine wounded, of whom three died; that of the American vessel, one killed and two wounded. The inequality in armament detracts inevitably from glory in achievement; but the credit of readiness and efficiency is established for Lawrence and his crew by prompt action and decisive results. So, also, defeat is not inglorious under such odds; but it remains to the discredit of the British commander that his ship did no more execution, when well within the most effective range of her guns. In commenting upon this engagement, after noticing the dandy neatness of the “Peacock,” James says, “Neglect to exercise the ship’s company at the guns prevailed then over two thirds of the British navy; to which the Admiralty, by their sparing allowance of powder and shot for practice, were in some degree instrumental.”

With the survivors of the “Peacock,” and prisoners from other prizes, Captain Lawrence found himself now with two hundred and seventy-seven souls on board and only thirty-four hundred gallons of water. There was at hand no friendly port where to deposit his captives, and provisions were running short. He therefore steered for the United States, and arrived at Holmes’ Hole on March 19.

The capture of the “Peacock” was the last of five naval duels, three between frigates and two between sloops, all favorable in issue to the United States, which took place in what may justly be considered the first of the three periods into which the War of 1812 obviously divides. Great Britain, long reluctant to accept the fact of war as irreversible, did not begin to put forth her strength, or to exercise the measures of repression open to her, until the winter of 1812-13 was drawing to a close. On October 13, convinced that the mere news of the revocation of the Orders in Council would not induce any change in the American determination, the hitherto deferred authority for general reprisals was given; but accompanying them was an express provision that they were not to be understood as recalling the declaration which Warren had been commissioned to make, in order to effect a suspension of hostilities. On November 27, however, hopes from this source having apparently disappeared, directions were sent the admiral to institute a rigorous commercial blockade of Delaware and Chesapeake bays, the usual public notification of the fact to neutral Powers, for the information of their shipping affected by it, being issued December 26, three days before the action between the “Constitution” and “Java.” On February 21, three days before the “Hornet” sank the “Peacock,” Warren wrote that in compliance with the orders of November 27 this blockade had been put in force. The ship “Emily,” from Baltimore for Lisbon, under a British license, with a cargo of flour, was turned back when attempting to go to sea from the Chesapeake, about February 5; Warren indorsing on her papers that the bay had been placed under rigorous blockade the day before. Captain Stewart, the senior United States officer at Norfolk, notified his Government of these facts on February 10. Soon after, by an Order in Council dated March 30, the measure was extended to New York, Charleston, Port Royal, Savannah, and the Mississippi River. Later in the year Warren, by a sweeping proclamation, dated November 16, widened its scope to cover Long Island Sound, inside of Montauk and Black Point; the latter being on the Connecticut shore, eight miles west of New London. From thence it applied not only to the ports named, but to all inlets whatsoever, southward, as far as the Florida boundary. Narragansett Bay and the rest of New England remained still exempt.

These restrictions, together with the increase of Warren’s force and the operations of 1813 in the Chesapeake, may be considered as initiating the second stage of the war, when Great Britain no longer cherished hopes of any other solution than by the sword, but still was restrained in the exercise of her power by the conflict with Napoleon. With the downfall of the latter, in April, 1814, began the third and final act, when she was more at liberty to let loose her strength, to terminate a conflict at once weakening and exasperating. It is not without significance that the treaty of peace with the restored Bourbon government of France was signed May 30, 1814, and that on May 31 was issued a proclamation placing under strict and rigorous blockade, not merely specified places, but “all the ports, harbors, bays, creeks, rivers, inlets, outlets, islands, and sea-coasts of the United States,” from the border of New Brunswick to that of Florida. In form, this was only the public notification of a measure already instituted by Warren’s successor, Cochrane, embracing Newport, Boston, and the East under restrictions heretofore limited to New York including Long Island Sound and the coast southward; but it was not merely the assertion of a stringent resolution. It was a clear defiance, in the assurance of conscious power, of a principal contention of the United States, that the measure of blockades against neutrals was not legitimately applicable to whole coasts, but only to specified ports closely watched by a naval force competent to its avowed purpose.

Despite the gathering of the storm, the full force of which was to be expected in the spring, the United States ships of war that reached port in the early and middle winter of 1812-13 remained. There is, perhaps, an unrecognized element of “hindsight” in the surprise felt at this fact by a seaman of to-day, knowing the views and wishes of the prominent officers of the navy at that period. Decatur, with the “United States,” reached New York in December, accompanied by the “Macedonian.” Neither of these vessels got to sea again during the war. By the time they were ready, both outlets to the port were effectually blocked. Rodgers, with the “President” and “Congress,” entered Boston December 31, but did not sail again until April 23. The “Constellation,” Captain Stewart, was reported, perhaps erroneously, as nearly ready for sea at Washington, November 26, waiting only for a few additional hands. Later in the winter she went to Annapolis, to examine her powder, leaving there for Hampton Roads February 1, on account of the ice. On the 4th, approaching her destination, she discovered two ships of the line, three frigates, and two smaller British vessels, working up from the Capes for the Roads. In the face of such a force there was nothing to do but to escape to Norfolk, where she remained effectually shut up for the rest of the war. Bainbridge, as already known, brought the “Constitution” back for repairs in February. Even from Boston she was unable to escape till the following December.

That there were satisfactory reasons for this seeming dilatoriness is assured by the character of the officers. Probably the difficulty of keeping up the ship’s companies, in competition with the superior attractions of privateering and the very high wages offered by the merchants for their hazardous but remunerative commercial voyages accounted for much. Hull wrote from New York, October 29, 1812, that the merchants fitting out their vessels gave such high wages that it was difficult to get either seamen or workmen. Where no system of forced enrolment conscription or impressment is permitted, privateering has always tended to injure the regular naval service. Though unquestionably capable of being put by owners on a business basis, as a commercial undertaking, with the individual seaman the appeal of privateering has always been to the stimulants of chance and gain, which prove so attractive in the lottery. Stewart, an officer of great intelligence and experience in his profession, found a further cause in the heavy ships of the enemy. In the hostilities with France in 1798-1800, he said, “We had nearly four thousand able seamen in the navy. We could frequently man a frigate in a week. One reason was because the enemy we were then contending with had not afloat (with very few exceptions) vessels superior in rate to frigates. The enemy we are fighting now have ships of the line, and our sailors know the great difference between them and frigates, and cannot but feel a degree of reluctance at entering the service from the disparity of force." The reason seems to prove too much; pressed to an extreme, no navy would be able to use light vessels, because the enemy had heavier which might or might not be encountered. Certain it is, however, that when the government in the following winter, in order to stop the license trade with the enemy, embargoed all vessels in home ports, much less difficulty was experienced in getting seamen for the navy.

Whatever the reasons, the only frigates at sea during the first four months of 1813 were the “Essex” and the “Chesapeake.” The former, after failing to meet Bainbridge, struck off boldly for the Pacific Ocean on Porter’s own motion; and on March 15, 1813, anchored at Valparaiso, preparatory to entering on a very successful career of a year’s duration in those seas. The “Chesapeake” had sailed from Boston December 17, making for the Cape Verde Islands. In their neighborhood she captured two of a British convoy, which, thinking itself beyond danger, had dispersed for South American destinations. The frigate then proceeded to her cruising ground near the equator, between longitudes 24 deg. and 30 deg. west, where she remained for about a month, taking only one other merchantman. Leaving this position, she was off the coast of Surinam from March 2 to 6, when she returned to the United States; passing sixty miles east of the Caribbean Islands and thence north of Porto Rico and Santo Domingo, as far west as longitude 75 deg., whence she ran parallel to the American coast, reaching Boston April 9. Having seen nothing between February 5 and March 19, she then began to meet sails, speaking eight between the latter date and her arrival. Most of these were Americans, homeward bound from the Spanish peninsula; the others neutrals. The conclusion is evident, that the British were keeping their trade well shepherded in convoys. If a ship like the “Chesapeake” struck one of them, she would probably have to fight the escorting vessel, as the “Wasp” did the “Frolic,” while the merchantmen escaped; but the chances were against her seeing anything. Another evident conclusion, corresponding to the export returns already quoted, is that the enemy had not yet shut down upon the access of American merchant ships to their own coast.

This process was gradual, but steady. It is necessary to keep in mind the distinction between a blockade, in the loose use of the term, which closes a port only to the ships of the hostile nation, and the commercial blockade which forbids neutrals as well. The former may be intermittent, for the mere fact of war authorizes the capture of the belligerent’s shipping, wherever found; hence to intercept them at the mouths of their own harbors is merely a more effectual method of carrying out the measure. A blockade against neutrals requires the permanent presence, before the blockaded port, of a force adequate to make the attempt to enter or leave dangerous. For this many more ships are needed. The British ministry, desirous chiefly to compel the United States to peace, and embarrassed by the gigantic continental strife in which it was engaged, sought at the outset to inflict such harassment on the American coast as would cost the least diversion of strength from the European contest. An ordinary blockade might be tightened or relaxed as convenience demanded; and, moreover, there were as yet, in comparison with American vessels, few neutrals to be restrained. Normally, American shipping was adequate to American commerce. The first move, therefore, was to gather upon the coast of the United States all cruisers that could be spared from the Halifax and West India stations, and to dispose along the approaches to the principal ports those that were not needed to repress the privateers in the Bay of Fundy and the waters of Nova Scotia. The action of these privateers, strictly offensive in character, and the course of Commodore Rodgers in sailing with a large squadron, before explained, illustrate exactly how offensive operations promote defensive security. With numbers scanty for their work, and obliged to concentrate instead of scattering, the British, prior to Warren’s arrival, had not disposable the cruisers with which greatly to harass even the hostile shipping, still less to institute a commercial blockade. The wish to stock the Spanish peninsula and the West Indies with provisions contributed further to mitigate the pressure.

These restraining considerations gradually disappeared. Re-enforcements arrived. Rodgers’ squadron returned and could be watched, its position being known. The license trade filled up Lisbon, Cadiz, and the West Indies. Hopes of a change of mind in the American Government lessened. Napoleon’s disaster in Russia reversed the outlook in European politics. Step by step the altered conditions were reflected in the measures of the British ministry and navy. For months, only the maritime centres of the Middle States were molested. The senior naval officer at Charleston, South Carolina, wrote on October 14, four months after war was declared, “Till to-day this coast has been clear of enemy’s cruisers; now Charleston is blockaded by three brigs, two very large, and they have captured nine sail within three miles of the bar." The number was increased shortly; and two months later he expressed surprise that the inland navigation behind the sea islands had not been destroyed, in consequence of its defenceless state. In January, 1813, the mouth of the Chesapeake was watched by a ship of the line, two frigates, and a sloop; the commercial blockade not having been yet established. The hostile divisions still remained outside, and American vessels continued to go out and in with comparative facility, both there and at Charleston. A lively trade had sprung up with France by letters-of-marque; that is, by vessels whose primary object is commerce, and which therefore carry cargoes, but have also guns, and a commission from the Government to make prizes. Without such authorization capture is piracy. By February 12 conditions grow worse. The blockaders have entered the Chesapeake, the commercial blockade has been proclaimed, vessels under neutral flags, Spanish and Swedish, are being turned away, and two fine letter-of-marque schooners have been captured inside, one of them after a gallant struggle in which her captain was killed. Nautical misadventures of that kind became frequent. On April 3 three letters-of-marque and a privateer, which had entered the Rappahannock, were attacked at anchor by boats from Warren’s fleet. The letters-of-marque, with smaller crews, offered little resistance to boarding; but the privateer, having near a hundred men, made a sharp resistance. The Americans lost six killed and ten wounded; the enemy, two killed and eleven wounded.

In like manner the lower Delaware was occupied by one or more ships of the line. Supported thus by a heavy squadron, hostile operations were pushed to the upper waters of both bays, and in various directions; the extensive water communications of the region offering great facilities for depredation. Dismay and incessant disquietude spread through all quarters of the waterside. Light cruisers make their way above Reedy Island, fifty miles from the Capes of the Delaware; coasting vessels are chased into the Severn River, over a hundred miles above Hampton Roads; and a detachment appears even at the mouth of the Patapsco, twelve miles from Baltimore. The destruction of bay craft, and interruption of water traffic, show their effects in the rise of marketing and fuel to double their usual prices. By May 1, all intercourse by water was stopped, and Philadelphia was also cut off from the lower Delaware. Both Philadelphia and Baltimore were now severed from the sea, and their commerce destroyed, not to revive till after the peace; while alarms, which the near future was to justify, were felt for the land road which connected the two cities. As this crossed the head waters of the Chesapeake, it was open to attack from ships, which was further invited by deposits of goods in transit at Elkton and Frenchtown. Fears for the safety of Norfolk were felt by Captain Stewart, senior naval officer there. “When the means and force of the enemy are considered, and the state of this place for defence, it presents but a gloomy prospect for security." Commodore Murray from Philadelphia reports serious apprehensions, consternation among the citizens, a situation daily more critical, and inadequate provision for resistance. There, as everywhere, the impotence of the General Government has to be supplemented by local subscription and local energy.

At the same time, both northward and southward of these two great estuaries, the approach of spring brought ever increasing enemies, big and little, vexing the coasting trade; upon which, then as now, depended largely the exchange of products between different sections of the country. What it meant at that day to be reduced to communication by land may be realized from a contemporary quotation: “Four wagons loaded with dry goods passed to-day through Georgetown, South Carolina, for Charleston, forty-six days from Philadelphia." Under the heading “New Carrying Trade” a Boston paper announces on April 28 the arrival of “a large number of teams from New Bedford with West India produce, and four Pennsylvania wagons, seventeen days from Philadelphia." “The enemy has commenced his depredations on the coasting trade of the Eastern States on a very extensive scale, by several ships and sloops-of-war, and five or six active privateers. The United States brig “Argus” cruises at the entrance of Long Island Sound for the protection of trade, latterly jeopardized;" a position from which she was soon driven by an overwhelming force. Hull, now commanding at Portsmouth, reports April 9, “several privateers on the Eastern coast, which have been successful in cutting coasters out of several harbors east.” May 7: “A small force is indeed needed here; the enemy appear off the harbor nearly every day. A few days since, a little east of this, they burnt twelve coasters and chased several into this port." The town is defenceless. The Governor of Rhode Island laments to the Legislature “the critical and exposed situation of our fellow-citizens in Newport, who are frequently menaced by the ships and vessels about Point Judith”; mentioning beside, “the burning of vessels in Narragansett Bay, and the destruction of our coasting trade, which deprives us of the usual and very necessary supplies of bread stuffs from other States." The ship “Maddox,” blockaded for two or three months in the Chesapeake, escaped in May, and reached Newport with five thousand barrels of flour. This is said to have reduced the price by $2.50 in Boston, where it was ranging at $17 to $18; while at Cadiz and Lisbon, thanks to British licenses and heavy stocking in anticipation of war, it stood at $12 to $13. The arrival at Machias of a captured British vessel, laden with wheat, was hailed “as a seasonable supply for the starving inhabitants of the eastward."

Ships returning from abroad necessarily had to pass through the cruisers which interrupted the coasting trade. “Many valuable vessels arrive, making at times hairbreadth escapes.” The trade of Baltimore and Philadelphia is thrown back upon New York and Boston; but both of these, and the eastern entrance of Long Island Sound, have hostile squadrons before them. The letter-of-marque schooner “Ned” has transmitted an experience doubtless undergone by many. Bound to Baltimore, she arrived off the Chesapeake April 18, and was chased away; tried to get into the Delaware on the 19th, but was headed off; made for Sandy Hook, and was again chased. Finally, she tried the east end of the Sound, and there made her way through four or five ships of war, reaching New York April 24. Of course, under such circumstances trade rapidly dwindled. Only very fast and weatherly vessels could hope to cope with the difficulties. Of these the conspicuous type was the Baltimore schooner, which also had not too many eggs in one basket. In the general deprivation of commerce a lucky voyage was proportionately remunerative; but the high prices of the successful venture were but the complement and reflection of suffering in the community. The harbors, even of New York, became crowded with unemployed shipping.

This condition of things coastwise, supplemented by the activity of American privateers, induced abnormal conditions of navigation in the western Atlantic. The scanty success of Rodgers, Bainbridge, and the “Chesapeake” have been noted; and it may be observed that there was a great similarity in the directions taken by these and others. The Cape Verdes, the equator between 24 deg. and 30 deg. west, the Guiana coast, the eastern West Indies, Bermuda to Halifax, indicate a general line of cruising; with which coincides substantially a project submitted by Stewart, March 2, 1813, for a cruise by the “Constellation.” These plans were conceived with intelligent reference to known British trade-routes; but, being met by the enemy with a rigid convoy system, it was often hard to find a sail. The scattered American traders were rapidly diminishing in numbers, retained in port as they arrived; and it is noted that a British division of four vessels, returning to Halifax after a four months’ cruise between the Banks of Newfoundland and Bermuda, have captured only one American. An American privateer, arriving at Providence after an absence of nearly four months, “vexing the whole Atlantic,” reports not seeing a single enemy’s merchant ship. Niles’ return of prizes to American cruisers, national as well as privateers, gives three hundred and five as the total for the first six months of the war; of which seventy-nine only seem to have been taken distant from the home shores. For the second six months, to June 30, 1813, the aggregate has fallen to one hundred and fifty-nine, of which, as far as can be probably inferred, ninety-one were captured in remote waters. Comparing with the preceding and subsequent periods, we find here evidently a time of transition, when American enterprise had not yet aroused to the fact that British precaution in the Western Hemisphere had made it necessary to seek prizes farther afield.

In view of the incompleteness of the data it is difficult to state more than broad conclusions. It seems fairly safe, however, to say that after the winter of 1812-13 American commerce dwindled very rapidly, till in 1814 it was practically annihilated; but that, prior to Napoleon’s downfall, the necessities of the British Government, and the importunity of the British mercantile community, promoted a certain collusive intercourse by licenses, or by neutrals, real or feigned, between the enemy and the Eastern States of the Union, for the exportation of American produce. This trade, from the reasons which prompted it, was of course exempt from British capture. Subsidiary to it, as a partial relief to the loss of the direct American market, was fostered an indirect smuggling import from Great Britain, by way of Halifax and Montreal, which conduced greatly to the prosperity of both these places during the war, as it had during the preceding periods of commercial restriction. It was to maintain this contraband traffic, as well as to foster disaffection in an important section of the Union, that the first extension of the commercial blockade, issued by Warren from Bermuda, May 26, 1813, stopped short of Newport; while the distinction thus drawn was emphasized, by turning back vessels even with British licenses seeking to sail from the Chesapeake. By this insidious action the commercial prosperity of the country, so far as any existed, was centred about the Eastern States. It was, however, almost purely local. Little relief reached the Middle and South, which besides, as before mentioned, were thus drained of specie, while their products lay idle in their stores.

As regards relative captures made by the two belligerents, exact numbers cannot be affirmed; but from the lists transmitted a fairly correct estimate can be formed as to the comparative injury done in this way. It must be remembered that such losses, however grievous in themselves, and productive of individual suffering, have by no means the decisive effect produced by the stoppage of commerce, even though such cessation involves no more than the retention in harbor of the belligerent’s ships, as the Americans were after 1812, or as had been the case during Jefferson’s embargo of 1808. As that measure and its congeners failed in their object of bringing the British Government to terms, by deprivation of commerce, the pecuniary harm done the United States by them was much greater than that suffered in the previous years from the arbitrary action of Great Britain. She had seized, it was alleged, as many as nine hundred and seventeen American vessels, many of which were condemned contrary to law, while the remainder suffered loss from detention and attendant expenses; but despite all this the commercial prosperity was such that the commercial classes were averse to resenting the insults and injury. It was the agricultural sections of the country, not the commercial, which forced on the war.

Niles’ Register has transmitted a careful contemporary compilation of American captures, in closing which the editor affirmed that in the course of the war he had examined not less than ten, perhaps twelve, thousand columns of ship news, rejecting all prizes not accounted for by arrival or destruction. It is unlikely that data complete as he used are now attainable, even if an increase of accuracy in this point were worth the trouble of the search. Up to May 1, 1813, he records four hundred and eleven captures, in which are included the British ships of war as well as merchantmen; not a very material addition. The British Naval Chronicle gives the prize lists of the various British admirals. From these may be inferred in the same period at least three hundred seizures of American merchant vessels. Among these are a good many Chesapeake Bay craft, very small. This excludes privateers, but not letters-of-marque, which are properly cargo ships. Both figures are almost certainly underestimates; but not improbably the proportion of four to three is nearly correct. Granting, however, that the Americans had seized four British ships for every three lost by themselves, what does the fact establish as regards the effect upon the commerce of the two peoples? Take the simple report of a British periodical in the same month of May, 1813: “We are happy to announce the arrival of a valuable fleet from the West Indies, consisting of two hundred and twenty-six sail, under convoy of the “Cumberland,” seventy-four, and three other ships of war." This one fleet among many, safely entering port, numbers more than half of their total losses in the twelvemonth. Contrast this relative security with the experience of the “Ned,” cited a few pages back, hunted from headland to headland on her home coast, and slipping in a single ship by dexterous management past foes from whom no countryman can pretend to shield her.

Even more mortifying to Americans, because under their very eyes, in sharp contrast to their sufferings, was the prosperity of Halifax and Canada. Vexed though British commerce was by the daring activity of American cruisers, the main streams continued to flow; diminished in volume, but not interrupted. The closure of American harbors threw upon the two ports named the business of supplying American products to the British forces, the British West Indies, and in measure to Great Britain itself. The same reason fixed in them the deposit of British goods, to be illicitly conveyed into the United States by the smuggling that went on actively along the northern seacoast and land frontier; a revival of the practices under the embargo of 1808. This underground traffic was of course inadequate to compensate for that lost by the war and the blockade; but it was quite sufficient to add immensely to the prosperity of these places, the communications of which with the sea were held open and free by the British navy, and in which centred what was left from one of the most important branches of British trade in the days of peace. Halifax, from its position on the sea, was the chief gainer. The effects of the war on it were very marked. Trade was active. Prices rose. Provisions were in great demand, to the profit of agriculture and fisheries. Rents doubled and trebled. The frequent arrival of prizes, and of ships of war going and coming, added to the transactions, and made money plentiful.

Recalling the generalization already made, that the seacoast of the United States was strictly a defensive frontier, it will be recognized that the successive institution of the commercial blockades, first of the Chesapeake and Delaware in March, and afterward of the whole coast south of Newport, in May, were the offensive operations with which the British initiated the campaign of 1813. These blockades were supported, and their effects sustained and intensified, by an accumulation of naval force entirely beyond the competition of the American navy. In view of such overwhelming disparity, it was no longer possible, as in 1812, by assembling a squadron, to impose some measure of concentration upon the enemy, and thus to facilitate egress and ingress. The movements of the British had passed wholly beyond control. Their admiral was free to dispose his fleet as he would, having care only not to hazard a detachment weaker than that in the port watched. This was a condition perfectly easy of fulfilment with the numbers under his command. As a matter of fact, his vessels were distributed over the entire seacoast; and at every point, with the possible exception of Boston, the division stationed was so strong that escape was possible only by evasion, under cover of severe weather conditions.

Under such circumstances, the larger the ship the more difficult for her to get out. As early as the middle of April, Captain Jones, formerly of the “Wasp,” and now commanding the “Macedonian” in New York, reports that “both outlets are at present strongly blocked, but I believe at dark of the moon we shall be able to pass without much risk." May 22, when a moon had come and gone, Decatur, still on board the “United States,” in company with which the “Macedonian” was to sail, thinks it will be better to try the Sound route. “The last gale, which promised the fairest opportunity for us to get out, ended in light southerly winds, which continued till the blockading ships had regained their stations." A few days later, the attempt by the Sound resulted in the two being driven into New London, where they remained to the close of the war. The only offensive operation by sea open to the United States, the destruction of the enemy’s commerce, fell therefore to the smaller cruisers and privateers, the size and numbers of which combined to make it impossible to restrain them all.

For defensive measures the seaboard depended upon such fortifications as existed, everywhere inadequate, but which either the laxness or the policy of the British commander did not attempt to overcome in the case of the seaports, narrowly so called. The wide-mouthed estuaries of the Chesapeake and Delaware, entrance to which could not thus be barred, bore, therefore, the full brunt of hostile occupation and widespread harassment. In this there may have been deliberate intention, as well as easy adoption of the readiest means of annoyance. The war, though fairly supported in the middle section of the Union, was essentially a Southern and Western measure. Its most strenuous fomenters came from those parts, and the administration was Virginian. The President himself had been identified with the entire course of Jefferson’s commercial retaliation, and general policy toward Great Britain during twelve years past. It is impossible for land forces alone to defend against naval aggression a region like the Chesapeake, with its several great, and numerous small, streams penetrating the country in every direction; and matters are not helped when the defendants are loosely organized militia. The water in such a case offers a great central district, with interior lines, in the hands of a power to which belongs the initiative, with an overpowering mobile force, able at any moment to appear where it will in superior strength.

No wonder then that the local journals of the day speak of continual watchfulness, which from the present organization of the militia is exceedingly toilsome, and of no little derangement to the private affairs of the people. The enemy spreads in every direction; and, although the alarm caused much exceeds the injury done, disquietude is extreme and universal. “Applications from various quarters are constantly pouring in upon us,” wrote a Governor of Maryland to the President; “and as far as our very limited means will enable us we are endeavoring to afford protection. But we have not arms and ammunition to supply the demands of every section of the State; the unavoidable expense of calling out the militia for its protection would greatly exceed the ability of the State government. The capital of the State [which was three miles from the bay, on a navigable river] has not sufficient force for its protection. By the Constitution of the United States, the common defence is committed to the National Government, which is to protect each State against invasion, and to defray all necessary expenses of a national war; and to us it is a most painful reflection that after every effort we have made, or can make, for the security of our fellow-citizens and of their property, they have little to rely on but the possible forbearance of the enemy." The process of reaping what has been sowed is at times extremely unpleasant.