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THE FIGHT FOR A FREE SEA

A CHRONICLE OF THE WAR OF 1812

BY RALPH D. PAINE

THE CHRONICLES OF AMERICA SERIES

ALLEN JOHNSON, EDITOR

1920

(Complete with additional overview of the War of 1812 and illustrations not in the original book)


BOOK CONTENTS

I. "ON TO CANADA!"

II. LOST GROUND REGAINED

III. PERRY AND LAKE ERIE

IV. EBB AND FLOW ON THE NORTHERN FRONT

V. THE NAVY ON BLUE WATER

VI. MATCHLESS FRIGATES AND THEIR DUELS

VII. "DON'T GIVE UP THE SHIP!"

VIII. THE LAST CRUISE OF THE ESSEX

IX. VICTORY ON LAKE CHAMPLAIN

X. PEACE WITH HONOR

BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

INDEX

 

 

 

BOOK ILLUSTRATIONS

"OLD IRONSIDES"

THE THEATRE OF OPERATIONS IN THE WAR OF 1812

OLIVER HAZARD PERRY AT THE BATTLE OF LAKE ERIE

ISAAC CHAUNCEY

COMMODORE STEPHEN DECATUR

CONSTITUTION AND GUERRIÈRE

ISAAC HULL

WILLIAM BAINBRIDGE

A FRIGATE OF 1812 UNDER SAIL

JACOB BROWN

THOMAS MACDONOUGH

Complete with Map of Theatre of Operations and a detailed Index

Book Extract:
"
The reconquest of Michigan and the Northwest depended now on the American navy. Harrison wisely halted his inglorious operations by land until the ships and sailors were ready to cooperate. Because the British sway on the Great Lakes was unchallenged, the general situation of the enemy was immensely better than it had been at the beginning of the campaign. During a year of war the United States had steadily lost in men, in territory, in prestige, and this in spite of the fact that the opposing forces across the Canadian border were much smaller.

That the men of the American navy would be prompt to maintain the traditions of the service was indicated in a small way by an incident of the previous year on Lake Erie. In September, 1812, Lieutenant Jesse D. Elliott had been sent to Buffalo to find a site for building naval vessels. A few weeks later he was fitting out several purchased schooners behind Squaw Island. Suddenly there came sailing in from Amherstburg and anchored off Fort Erie two British armed brigs, the Detroit which had been surrendered by Hull, and the Caledonia which had helped to subdue the American garrison at Mackinac. Elliott had no ships ready for action, but he was not to be daunted by such an obstacle. It so happened that ninety Yankee seamen had been sent across country from New York by Captain Isaac Chauncey. These worthy tars had trudged the distance on foot, a matter of five hundred miles, with their canvas bags on their backs, and they rolled into port at noon, in the nick of time to serve Elliott's purpose. They were indubitably tired, but he gave them not a moment for rest. A ration of meat and bread and a stiff tot of grog, and they turned to and manned the boats which were to cut out the two British brigs when darkness fell.

Elliott scraped together fifty soldiers and, filling two cutters with his amphibious company, he stole out of Buffalo and pulled toward Fort Erie. At one o'clock in the morning of the 9th of October they were alongside the pair of enemy brigs and together the bluejackets and the infantry tumbled over the bulwarks with cutlass, pistols, and boarding pike. In ten minutes both vessels were captured and under sail for the American shore. The Caledonia was safely beached at Black Rock, where Elliott was building his little navy yard. The wind, however, was so light that the Detroit was swept downward by the river current and had to anchor under the fire of British batteries. These she fought with her guns until all her powder was shot away. Then she cut her cable, hoisted sail again, and took the bottom on Squaw Island, where both British and American guns had the range of her. Elliott had to abandon her and set fire to the hull, but he afterward recovered her ordnance.

What Elliott had in mind shows the temper of this ready naval officer. "A strong inducement," he wrote, "was that with these two vessels and those I have purchased, I should be able to meet the remainder of the British force on the Upper Lakes." The loss of the Detroit somewhat disappointed this ambitious scheme but the success of the audacious adventure foreshadowed later and larger exploits with far-reaching results. Isaac Brock, the British general in Canada, had the genius to comprehend the meaning of this naval exploit. "This event is particularly unfortunate," he wrote, "and may reduce us to incalculable distress. The enemy is making every exertion to gain a naval superiority on both lakes; which, if they accomplish, I do not see how we can retain the country." And to Procter, his commander at Detroit, he disclosed the meaning of the naval loss as it affected the fortunes of the western campaign: "This will reduce us to great distress. You will have the goodness to state the expedients you possess to enable us to replace, as far as possible, the heavy loss we have suffered in the Detroit."

But another year was required to teach the American Government the lesson that a few small vessels roughly pegged together of planks sawn from the forest, with a few hundred seamen and guns, might be far more decisive than the random operations of fifty thousand troops. This lesson, however, was at last learnt; and so, in the summer of 1813, General William Henry Harrison waited at Seneca on the Sandusky River until he received, on the 10th of September, the deathless despatch of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry: "We have met the enemy and they are ours." The navy had at last cleared the way for the army."

 

A fascinating account of a little known war which had such a lasting impact on Britain and the USA at the start of the 19th Century and at the height of the Napoleonic Wars.


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