The Info List - Capture Of USS President

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HMS Cyane and HMS Levant · HMS Penguin · EIC Nautilus

The CAPTURE OF USS PRESIDENT was one of many actions fought at the end of the War of 1812
War of 1812
. After running aground before the engagement, the frigate USS President , tried to break out of New York Harbor
New York Harbor
but was intercepted by a British squadron of four warships and forced to surrender. To the British, this would be one of the most significant engagements of the war. Once the 1574 ton, 24-pounder armed President was in Royal Navy's hands, it would prove that the big American 44-gun frigates were far more powerful than the 38-gun, 1067 ton, 18-pounder armed standard British Frigate. This would restore British honor as it would prove that the American victories in single ship actions in the first year of the war were not of equal force as the Americans claimed they were. Hence, while the Americans would celebrate their victory in New Orleans , the British would celebrate the taking of the USS President. Both had taken place several weeks after the Treaty of Ghent , but there is no evidence to suggest the combatants were aware, and more than a month before it was fully ratified.


* 1 Prelude * 2 President\'s breakout * 3 Action * 4 Aftermath * 5 Endymion Crook (Midshipman\'s Badge) and other awards * 6 See also * 7 References * 8 Bibliography * 9 External links


After the Little Belt Affair
Little Belt Affair
, when the United States
United States
declared war on Britain, the USS President became a prime target of the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
as a result of the affair.

At the time of the battle Commodore Stephen Decatur
Stephen Decatur
commanded President. In 1812, while in command of the frigate USS United States , he had captured the British frigate HMS Macedonian
HMS Macedonian
in a famous action . After his return, the British instituted a strict blockade of the American coast.

In 1813, Decatur tried to break out of New York in United States
United States
and USS Macedonian (which had been taken into the United States
United States
Navy), but encountered a powerful British squadron which drove him into New London, Connecticut . To lighten the two frigates sufficiently to tow them far enough upriver to be safe from British cutting-out expeditions, they were effectively hulked , or demilitarized.

Decatur tried to break out in United States
United States
in early 1814, but turned back when he feared that pro-British local civilians (the so-called Blue light federalists ) were burning lights to alert the blockaders. Decatur and the crew of United States
United States
were transferred to President, which had been refitted in New York. (The crew of Macedonian were transferred to the Great Lakes
Great Lakes

Meanwhile, the British Squadron blockading New York consisted of the former ship of the line Majestic which had been razeed , i.e. cut down to a single deck to create a 56-gun heavy frigate, the 24-pounder frigate HMS Forth , and the 18-pounder frigates HMS Pomone and HMS Tenedos . Commodore John Hayes , the captain of Majestic, was in overall command.

The 24-pounder frigate HMS Endymion had earlier attempted to cut out (i.e. send the boats of the ship to board and capture a ship) the notorious privateer Prince de Neufchatel and had lost many of its crew, in particular, the officers. Captain Henry Hope had expected to be sent back to Britain after the unsuccessful battle.

To Hope's surprise, Endymion was ordered to remain in the service of the North American Station by Admiral Henry Hotham
Henry Hotham
. Desperate for replacements for the losses from the engagement with the Prince de Neufchâtel, Hotham ordered a crew to be drafted from the 56-gun razee HMS Saturn . Hope, who quickly needed to train his new crew, adopted the methods of Captain Philip Broke
Philip Broke
and fitted Endymion's guns with dispart sights, painted degree markings on the deck to allow for concentrated accurate gun fire and carried out very regular gun practice. These methods, though unusual, had proven to be decisively effective under Broke on HMS Shannon in the disabling of the of USS Chesapeake in the Battle of Boston Harbor . Endymion was also regarded as the fastest ship in the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
and was renowned for exceptionally good handling, especially for a ship of its size when winds were light. The combination of its handling and the crew's training meant that in an impressively short time, Endymion was better prepared for battle than most other frigates with the exception of HMS Shannon and HMS Spartan which both also used Broke's method.

Endymion was ordered to relieve Forth from the New York blockade as Endymion was a suitable fast 24-pounder frigate and a sister ship of Forth. Hayes' squadron now consisted of Majestic, Endymion, Pomone and Tenedos.


On 13 December 1814, President and some smaller warships (the sloops-of-war USS Peacock and USS Hornet , and the schooner-rigged tender USS Tom Bowline ) were in New York Harbor
New York Harbor
, preparing to break out past the British blockade to embark on cruises against British merchant shipping.

On 13 January, a blizzard blew up from the northwest. The British ships were blown off their station, to the southeast. Decatur determined to take advantage of the situation by breaking out with President alone. (He may have been accompanied by a merchant brig , also named Macedonian, carrying extra rations as a tender, but the brig does not feature in any subsequent events.) The plan was that the smaller warships would break out later and rendezvous with President off Tristan da Cunha
Tristan da Cunha
in the South Atlantic.

Decatur immediately met with disaster. He had ordered gunboats as harbor pilots to mark the safe passage across the bar with anchored boats at the mouth of the harbor, but they failed to do so properly. President grounded on the bar and remained stuck there for almost two hours, enduring a pounding from the wind and heavy sea. Decatur claimed that by the time the frigate worked free it was heavily damaged: some copper was stripped away from the hull; the masts were twisted and some of them "sprung," i.e. had developed long cracks; and the hull was twisted and "hogged," i.e. the bow and stern sagged. Nevertheless, there was no evidence of the hogging when's when the ship was surveyed on its arrival in Britain, although damage to the copper and pintles was recorded. Furthermore, President's sailing performance was not hampered by the grounding as she managed to outsail every ship in the squadron including the fast Leda class frigate Tenedos, with the exception of Endymion which was considered the "Fastest ship in the Royal Navy" which logged speeds faster than the clipper ship Rainbow 1845 . Furthermore, Endymion excelled in light winds such as those in which the chase was held. Although her accompanying vessels headed for safety, Decatur claimed it impossible for President to return to port as the gale was still blowing. The logs from the British squadron claimed the gale had stopped, though strong winds persisted. It was unlikely that the open gunboats could have been safely put out to mark a passage if the gale had persisted also suggesting the gale had stopped. Decatur claimed was forced to put to sea. Whether he truly could not wait out the storm was not clear, but given the strong westerly winds, what appeared to be the best decision would be to put out to sea. He headed east, keeping close to the Long Island
Long Island
shore before heading southeast.


Once the gale had abated, the British regrouped. Realizing that American ships might have taken the opportunity to leave port unobserved, Hayes left Tenedos to watch the Sandy Hook
Sandy Hook
passage and headed north to watch the Long Island
Long Island
passage, rather than head back to the harbor entrance. At dawn on 14 January, they sighted President. Decatur immediately turned downwind and tried to gain speed by lightening his ship, throwing stores and boats overboard and pumping out drinking water. He would later claim that the damage he had received on the bar had fatally slowed President, but given that President was able to outsail the fast Leda class frigate
Leda class frigate
Tenedos it is unlikely that President's sailing ability was hampered.

After Majestic had fired some ranging shots which fell short, Pomone overtook her and led the pursuit, but Tenedos appeared unexpectedly to the south and Hayes sent Pomone to investigate. As the afternoon wore on, the wind eased to a breeze and Endymion, under Captain Henry Hope , overtook Majestic and President as Endymion was regarded as "The fastest ship in the royal navy."

By late afternoon, Endymion and President were exchanging fire using their bow- and stern-chase cannon respectively. By nightfall, Endymion had closed to President's quarter, where Decatur could bring no guns to bear. Endymion was a very fast ship, and Captain Hope yawed to fire a broadside into President's quarter, before turning again to follow and regain his position. It was The Long Island
Long Island
shore was too near for Decatur to steer northwards and put Endymion astern.

The first broadside sent splinters flying in the President's spar deck where Decatur was standing. A large splinter hit him in the chest knocked him over while another cut his forehead. His first Lieutenant who was standing next to him had his leg cut off by a splinter and was knocked down and through the wardroom hatch. Another splinter fatally fractured the skull of a Lieutenant next to him too. Before that point it may well have been believed that Endymion was a standard 18-pounder frigate as she was firing at president with only her brass 18-pounder long bow chaser. It was clear that 24-pounder shot form Endymion's broadside was much more effective than the 18-pounder shot that Decatur had experienced from the HMS Macedonian
HMS Macedonian
while he was aboard the United States
United States
. Such 18-pounder shot from the HMS Guerriere was unable to pierce the USS Constitution
USS Constitution
which was built to the same design as President giving the Constitution the nickname of "Old Ironsides" It was clear that the British had learned from their losses early in the war. After Endymion had repeated this maneuver for the third time, causing considerable loss aboard President, Decatur abruptly turned to starboard to cross Endymion's bow . He had mustered boarding parties in case the British were taken by surprise, but Endymion also turned to starboard and the two ships headed south, exchanging broadsides. Decatur had no time to batter the British vessel into surrender, if he could, as the other three British ships would almost certainly be in range before long; so his gunners fired high into Endymion's rigging , seeking to disable her, using chain shot and "dismantling shot" (bars of iron linked by a ring), while the British gunners fired low into the hull of President. However, it was claimed that the shooting was poor on both sides while President's powder was defective. Despite this claim, gunfire from the Endymion significantly damaged the President's hull. Shot had pierced President below the waterline and 6 feet of water was found in the hold(although some could have been from the grounding). Endymion successfully disabled 6 guns on the President 's starboard broadside by damaging the barrels or shooting them off their carriages. 10 out of the 15 starboard gun ports were hit and the gun crews reduced. Shot from the Endymion was even found inside the President 's magazine . Given the situation, President might have been on its way to sinking. This suggest's that Philip Broke's method of naval gunnery was effectively used in the engagement as was it in the engagement between Shannon and Chesapeake 18 months earlier as in both cases the British were able to target the enemy's gun ports. These were remarkably small targets given the accuracy of naval guns of the era and it is likely that Broke's method of using gunsights and degree markings on the deck were the key method in which that such small targets were able to be hit. Meanwhile, President had significantly cut the rigging of Endymion effectively slowing it down. USS President (left foreground) having surrendered, HMS Endymion (right foreground) is shown with her fore topmast struck in order to replace the damaged topmast shrouds. Note the topmast crosstress are shown at half of their regular height indicating that the topmast was not shot away in battle, but rather taken down for repairs. Neither ship had lost spars in the battle, but Endymions rigging was significantly cut.

At 7.58pm, President struck , hoisting a light in her rigging to signify her surrender. Endymion hove to and commenced repairs to her rigging. Captain Hope was unable to take immediate possession of his prize as he had no boats available that would "swim". Seeing Endymion hove to, Decatur attempted to escape, making sail at 8.30pm and running downwind. Endymion completed her hasty repairs and got under way at 9.05pm. In the meantime both Pomone and Tenedos were closing on President. By 9.05pm, Pomone had caught up, firing two broadsides at President, after which Decatur once again indicated his surrender.

President had had a crew of 480 and a broadside of 916 pounds against Endymion's crew of 346 and broadside of 676 pounds. During the whole fight, President lost 24 men killed (including three of the frigate's lieutenants), and 55 wounded, including Decatur who had been wounded by a splinter. The British lost 11 killed and 14 wounded, all aboard HMS Endymion.


The damaged Endymion and President sailed in company to Bermuda
. They encountered a violent storm that dismasted both. However, both reached safety. Official notification of the end of the war came soon afterwards. Endymion and President arrived at Spithead
on 28 March 1815. The British took the President briefly into the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
as HMS President but broke up the badly battered ship in 1818. They later built a fourth-rate frigate, which they also named President , as an exact copy of the American vessel. The 1829 President was built as a reminder to the Americans that the British had taken their flagship in 1815 rather than as a testimony to the ships design. The British even went to the extent of making President the flagship of the North American Station under the command of Admiral Sir George Cockburn , who had directed the burning of Washington in 1814.

The British press noted the good conduct of both British and American captains and sailors, though they caused some ill will by claiming that Endymion had defeated President in a straightforward stand-up fight. Similarly, Decatur caused ill will by claiming he was overwhelmed by the entire squadron including the HMS Dispatch which wasn't even present. Truthfully, the only British ships to engage President were Endymion to which she struck and Pomone to which she struck again, although Tenedos was closing just as Decatur struck for the second time: The British briefly held Decatur and his crew prisoner in Bermuda. After their release, a court martial board acquitted Decatur, his officers and his men of any wrongdoing in the surrender of President. Decatur was quickly appointed to command an American squadron dispatched to the Mediterranean to protect American merchant ships against corsairs. He was later mortally wounded in a duel, the cause of which lay in a pre-war quarrel.

The smaller American ships still in New York sortied before hearing of the capture of President, and reached the rendezvous off Tristan da Cunha. Hornet sank the British brig of war HMS Penguin before Peacock joined her. The two American ships then mistook the British ship of the line HMS Cornwallis for an East Indiaman
East Indiaman
. Hornet narrowly escaped after jettisoning all her guns and most of her stores. Peacock subsequently captured several British merchant ships in the Indian Ocean until receiving confirmation that the war had ended.


Following the arrival of Endymion and President in Bermuda, Captain Henry Hope was presented with a silver plate in honour of his success. Soon after Hope presented his officers with silver crooks that were probably made from that plate. The design of a crook was a play on the name Endymion , which had been named after a shepherd of Classical legend. These silver crooks have been named as the Midshipman's Badge, however they were given to the all of Endymion's 24 officers rather than the midshipmen only. On 15 January 1815 Hope was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath
Order of the Bath
for his role in the capture of President. In 1847 the Admiralty authorized the issue to any still surviving crew from Endymion of the Naval General Service Medal with clasp "Endymion wh. President".


* War of 1812
War of 1812

* List of sailing frigates of the United States
United States
Navy * List of ships captured in the 19th century * Bibliography of early American naval history
Bibliography of early American naval history


* ^ Lambert, Andrew: The Challenge: Britain against America in The War of 1812, Kindle edition * ^ Cite error: The named reference Lambert was invoked but never defined (see the help page ). * ^ Forester, p.142 * ^ A B Military History online article * ^ A B C D E F Lambert, Andrew: The Challenge: Britain against America in The War of 1812, Kindle edition location 9099 * ^ Roosevelt, p.221 * ^ A B Forester, p.206 * ^ Forester, p.218 * ^ Roosevelt, p.236 * ^ Roosevelt, p.222 * ^ Lambert p.358 * ^ Lambert * ^ A B Forester, p.207 * ^ A B C Roosevelt, p.224 * ^ Lambert pp.369-370 * ^ Lambert pp.369-370 * ^ Lambert pp.364-365 * ^ Forester, p.209 * ^ Cooper (1856), p. 433. * ^ "Endymion Crook (Midshipman\'s Badge), 1815 (American `War of 1812\')". Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridgey. Retrieved 19 Dec 2011. * ^ "No. 17061". The London Gazette
The London Gazette
. 16 January 1815. p. 1877.


* Cooper, James Fenimore (1856). History of the Navy of the United States of America. Stringer & Townsend, New York. OCLC
197401914 . * Forester, Cecil Scott (1956). The Age of Fighting Sail: The Story of the Naval War of 1812. Doubleday, New York. ISBN 0-939218-06-2 . * James, William (1837). The Naval History of Great Britain, from the Declaration of War by France in 1793, to the Accession of George IV. 6. R. Bentley. * Lambert, Andrew (2012). The Challenge - Britain Against America in the War of 1812. Faber and Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-27319-5 . * Roosevelt, Theodore (1883) . The Naval War of 1812
War of 1812
or The History of the United States
United States
Navy during the Last War with Great Britain (3rd ed.). G.P. Putnam's sons, New York. OCLC
133902576 .