Cooperstown Crier - Your Source for Hometown News - Cooperstown, Baseball Hall of Fame

June 27, 2013

HMS Shannon vs. USS Chesapeake

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Cooperstown Crier

---- — From the Otsego Herald

for Saturday, June 26, 1813

Compiled, with comments

by HUGH C. MacDOUGALL

US Frigate Chesapeake Captured

Particulars of the Engagement between the Chesapeake and Shannon Frigates. Halifax [British Nova Scotia], June 9.

It is with pleasure we congratulate our readers on the capture of the American frigate Chesapeake, commanded by Captain Lawrence, by his magesty’s ship Shannon, Capt. Broke, which arrived here on Sunday the 6th inst after an action of eleven minutes....

[Capt. Broke hoped] that the Chesapeake frigate, finding the Shannon was cruising alone off Boston, would come out, and give her battle — nor were our tars disappointed — early in the morning of [June first] the Shannon stood in close to Boston lighthouse and observed the Chesapeake lying at anchor, with royal yards across, and apparently ready for sea.

The British colors were then hoisted on board the Shannon, and she hove to, near the land. At 9 a.m. the enemy’s frigate was observed to loosen her sails, and fire a gun; at half past twelve she weighed anchor, and stood out of the harbor, when the Shannon filled, and, under easy sail edged off the land, followed by the Chesapeake; at 4, shortened sail, at 5, hove to, with the topsails aback, for fear the enemy would not bring her to action before dark.

In 20 minutes after, the Chesapeake sheered within musket shot of the Shannon, still standing towards her in such a way as left our tars in uncertainty, which side of the ship she intended to engage.

At half past 5, however, she luffed up on the Shannon’s weather quarter, and on her foremast coming in a line with the Shannon’s miz[z]en, the latter fired her after gun, and her others successively, until the enemy came directly abreast, when the Chesapeake fired her whole broadside, which the Shannon immediately returned; and here broadside to broadside the action commenced.

In 5 minutes the Chesapeake fell along side the Shannon, & was boarded in her tops, as well as on her decks by our gallant countrymen, and in eleven minutes from the commencement of the action, her three ensigns were hauled down, and soon afterwards replaced with the English flag over them — her decks cleared of the dead, the wounded taken below, a great proportion of the prisoners removed out of her; and accompanied by the Shannon she was steering for this port.

COMMENT: In British and Canadian eyes (and this is, of course, a British report), the victory of the Shannon over the Chesapeake avenged the earlier ship-to-ship victories of the American frigate Constitution. The U.S. Captain James Lawrence (1781-1813) died in the engagement, after giving his famous (but in this case unheeded) admonition of “Don’t Give Up the Ship,” which was to become an American naval battle cry. British Captain Sir Philip Bowes Vere Broke (1776-1841), who was wounded, became an instant British hero and was created a Baronet and given a gold medal. A long ballad about the fight, “The Chesapeake and the Shannon” is still sung in Canada, beginning:

“The Chesapeake so bold, out of Boston we've been told, / Came to take the British frigate neat and handy-o, / All the people of the port, they came out to see the sport, / And the bands were playing Yankee Doodle dandy-o ...

“The British frigate's name, for which the purpose came, / Of cooling Yankee courage neat and handy-o, / Was the Shannon - Captain Broke, / All her crew were hearts of oak, \ And at fighting they’re allowed to be the dandy-o ...”

New Lawyer in Town

S. O. RUNYAN, Attorney & Counsellor at Law, has opened his office next door East of the dwelling of Dr. Russell, in the Village of Cooperstown. June 22, 1812.

COMMENT: He may not have stayed long, as I have been unable to find any trace of him.

Two American Generals Captured

Head-Quarters, Fort George, June 6.

Hon. gen. John Armstrong, Secretary of War

SIR — I have received an express from the head of the lake [Ontario] this evening, with intelligence, that our troops commanded by the brigadier-general [John] Chandler were attacked at 2 o’clock this morning by the whole of the British and Indian forces, and by some strange fatality, although our loss was small (not exceeding thirty) and the enemy completely routed and driven from the field, both Brigadier-Generals Chandler and [William] Winder were taken prisoner. They had advanced to ascertain the situation of a company of artillery when the attack commenced.

General [John] Vincent is reported to be among the killed of the enemy. Col. Clark was mortally wounded, and fell into our hands, with sixty prisoners of the 49th British regiment. The whole loss of the enemy is two hundred and fifty. They sent in a flag [of truce], with a request to bury their dead. General [Morgan] Lewis, accompanied by brigadier-general Boyd goes on to take the command of the advanced troops.

— H DEARBORN

COMMENT: This was the Battle of Stoney Creek. After losing Fort George to the Americans, the British retreated to Burlington Heights at the western end of Lake Ontario, from which they launched a night attack against a pursuing American force. It was a confused fight, from which the Americans eventually withdrew after losing 16 dead, 38 wounded and 100 captured. British losses were 23 killed, 136 wounded and 52 captured.

Brig. Gen. William Winder (1775-1824) of Maryland was more of a politician than a soldier, as was Gen. John Chandler (1762-1841) of Maine — they got lost in the battle. British Gen. John Vincent (1764-1848) was not killed (though he suffered concussion after falling off his horse). The overall American commander, General Henry Dearborn (1751-1829), was eventually sacked for this and other failures.