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The capture of USS President was one of many naval actions fought at the end of the War of 1812. 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. The battle took place several weeks after the Treaty of Ghent, but there is no evidence that the combatants were aware that the war had officially ended.

Contents

1 Prelude 2 President's breakout 3 Action 4 Aftermath 5 See also 6 References 7 Bibliography 8 External links

Prelude[edit] The USS President was a prime target of the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
after the Little Belt Affair
Little Belt Affair
and during the War of 1812.[1] At the time of the battle, Commodore Stephen Decatur
Stephen Decatur
commanded President, and he had captured the British frigate HMS Macedonian in a famous action in 1812, while in command of the frigate USS United States. After his return to New York, 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 Navy), but he encountered a powerful British squadron which drove him into New London, Connecticut. The two frigates were effectively hulked or demilitarized in order to tow them far enough upriver to be safe from British cutting-out expeditions.[2] He tried to break out of New London in United States
United States
in early 1814, but turned back when he feared that pro-British local civilians were burning blue lights to alert the blockaders.[3] He and his crew of United States
United States
were transferred to President, which had been refitted in New York. Meanwhile, the British Squadron blockading New York consisted of the former ship of the line Majestic which had been 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 was in overall command as the captain of Majestic.[4] The 24-pounder frigate HMS Endymion had attempted to board and capture the privateer Prince de Neufchatel
Prince de Neufchatel
and had lost many of her crew, and Captain Henry Hope
Henry Hope
had expected to be sent back to Britain after the unsuccessful battle.[4] To his surprise, however, Admiral Henry Hotham
Henry Hotham
ordered Endymion to remain on the North American Station, and he ordered a replacement crew to be drafted from the 56-gun razee HMS Saturn. Hope went to unusual lengths to train his new crew in anticipation of imminent combat. Endymion was regarded as the fastest ship in the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
and was renowned for exceptionally good handling, and the combination of its handling and the crew's training meant that she was better prepared for battle than most other frigates.[4] Endymion relieved Forth from the New York blockade, and Hayes' squadron now consisted of Majestic, Endymion, Pomone, and Tenedos.[4] President's breakout[edit] President was in New York Harbor
New York Harbor
with the sloops-of-war USS Peacock and USS Hornet, and the schooner-rigged tender USS Tom Bowline. They were preparing to break out past the British blockade to embark on cruises against British merchant shipping.[5] A blizzard blew up from the northwest on 13 January, and 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.)[3][6] 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.[7][8] Decatur immediately met with disaster. He had ordered gunboats as harbor pilots to mark the safe passage across the shoal with anchored boats at the mouth of the harbor, but they failed to do so properly[9] and President grounded on the bar and remained stuck there for almost two hours, enduring a pounding from the wind and heavy sea. The frigate was heavily damaged by the time that it was worked free: some copper was stripped away from the hull, the masts were twisted and some of them had developed long cracks, the hull was twisted, and the bow and stern sagged. Decatur decided that it was impossible for President to return to port, as the gale was still blowing. The logs from the British squadron claimed that the gale had stopped, though strong winds persisted. Decatur headed east, keeping close to the Long Island shore before heading southeast.[10] While the President and her crew were struggling to float off the sand bar, the British blockading squadron was fighting to return to their blockading station.[1] As the winds slowed, the British regrouped. Hayes realized that American ships might have taken the opportunity to leave port unobserved, so he left Tenedos to watch the Sandy Hook passage and headed north to watch the Long Island
Long Island
passage, rather than heading back to the harbor entrance.[1] Action[edit] The British squadron sighted President at dawn on 14 January. Decatur immediately turned downwind and tried to gain speed by lightening his ship.[11] The winds had waned but they were still strong. In heavy seas and high winds, the largest ship will have the advantage in speed[12] and Hayes' Majestic gained on President, as they were similar in length but Majestic was considerably heavier. The winds became more moderate at noon. After Majestic had fired some ranging shots which fell short, Pomone overtook the Majestic and led the pursuit, but Tenedos appeared unexpectedly to the south and Hayes sent Pomone to investigate[9] in case the sighting was another American ship. HMS Endymion overtook the rest of the British squadron. Endymion was regarded as the fastest ship in the Royal Navy, as she recorded speeds that were faster than clipper ships. In the afternoon, Endymion and President began exchanging fire using their bow- and stern-chase cannon.[6] At 2 pm, Captain Henry Hope
Henry Hope
took Endymion into position on President's starboard quarter so that none of President's stern chasers could bear.[13] From this position, Hope engaged President with Endymion's single brass 18-pounder bow chaser.[14] Decatur made several attempts to close on Endymion, but he discovered that President's damage limited her maneuverability and exaggerated the advantage in maneuverability of the smaller Endymion.[15] Faced with this new dilemma, Decatur ordered bar- and chain-shot to be fired to disable Endymion's sails and rigging. But President was trapped; Decatur could not escape to the north, as he would have reached the Long Island
Long Island
shore and been forced to the east once more; nor could he escape to the south, as Endymion would most likely slow President enough that the rest of the British squadron would catch up.[16]

USS President (right foreground) engages HMS Endymion (left foreground) with her stern chaser[17]

Hope then yawed Endymion to rake President 's hull, then quickly returned to position on President's quarter where the President's guns would not bear.[1] The first broadside sent splinters flying in the President's spar deck where Decatur was standing.[1] A large splinter hit him in the chest and knocked him over, while another cut his forehead. His First Lieutenant was standing next to him and had his leg cut off by a splinter, and he was knocked down and through the wardroom hatch. Another splinter fatally fractured the skull of a Lieutenant next to him too.[1] The 24-pounder cannons from Endymion were more effective than the traditional 18-pounder shot that British frigates were armed with, which could not could not pierce the thick live oak sides of the United States' frigates,[1] and three shots pierced President all the way through to the after powder room which was located beneath her mizzen step.[1][18]

The USS President (left foreground) and HMS Endymion (right foreground) exchanged broadsides and brailed up their spankers at 7 pm on January 15, 1815[19]

Hope repeated the yawing maneuver three times and did considerable damage.[20][21] At 7 pm, President brailed up her spanker and wore downwind with Endymion imitating the maneuver. Decatur had hoped to put Endymion out of the chase and escape, but Endymion aimed into President's hull, specifically targeting the gun ports.[22] Many members of President's gun crews were cut down, significantly reducing President's ability to fire back at Endymion.[23] By contrast, President primarily directed her fire at Endymion's rigging in order to slow her down.[24][25] President ceased fire at 7:58 pm and hoisted a light in her rigging, indicating that she had surrendered. President's rigging was in a crippled state, and she was slowed to the point that she could not escape from the rest of the British squadron which would soon be in sight.[26] The damage to her hull, however, was far more severe and she had taken on six feet of water in the hold.[26] Her magazine had also been hit;[26] 10 of President's 15 starboard gun ports were hit by shot, and six of the guns were dismounted or damaged.[26] Endymion ceased fire and hove to for repairs once President had surrendered. Endymion could not immediately take possession of her prize, as she had no useable small boats;[1] Decatur took advantage of the situation, despite having struck, and made off to escape at 8:30 pm. Endymion hastily completed repairs and resumed the chase at 8:52.[27] At 9:05, Pomone and Tenedos came up with the heavily damaged President, unaware that she had already struck. Pomone fired two broadsides into her, following which Decatur hailed to say that he had surrendered. Shortly afterwards, Captain Lumley of Pomone took possession of President.[1] According to British accounts, President had lost 35 men killed and 70 wounded, including Decatur; American sources give the losses at 24 killed and 55 wounded. British accounts claimed that Endymion had 11 killed and 14 wounded.[28] President had a crew of 480 and a broadside of 816 pounds; Endymion had a crew of 346 and a broadside of 641 pounds.[29]

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[19]

Comparison of force (English measurement methods used for both ships)

HMS Endymion USS President

Length (gundeck) 159 ft 3 in (48.54 m) 173 ft 3 in (52.81 m)

Beam 42 ft 7 in (12.98 m) 44 ft 4 in (13.51 m)

Tonnage 1277 tons (bm) 1533 tons (bm)

Complement 346 men at least 458 men

Armament 26 × 24-pounder, 20 × 32-pounder carronades 1 × 18-pounder 32 × 24-pounder 20 × 42-pounder carronades 1 × 24-pounder howitzer

Broadside weight 641 lb (291 kg) 816 lb (370 kg)

Aftermath[edit] The damaged Endymion and President sailed in company to Bermuda. They encountered a violent storm that dismasted both,[30] but both reached safety. Official notification came soon afterwards that the war had ended. Endymion and President arrived at Spithead
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 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. Hornet narrowly escaped after jettisoning all her guns and most of her stores. Peacock subsequently captured several British merchant ships in the Indian Ocean
Indian Ocean
until receiving confirmation that the war had ended. See also[edit]

War of 1812
War of 1812
portal

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

References[edit]

^ a b c d e f g h i j 1956-, Lambert, Andrew D., (2013). The challenge : Britain against America in the naval war of 1812. London: Faber. ISBN 0571273203. OCLC 822959206. [page needed][page needed] ^ Forester, p.142 ^ a b Military History online article ^ a b c d Lambert, Andrew: The Challenge: Britain against America in The War of 1812, Kindle edition location 9099[page needed] ^ Roosevelt, p.221 ^ a b Forester, p.206 ^ Forester, p.218 ^ Roosevelt, p.236 ^ a b Roosevelt, p.222 ^ Lambert p.358 ^ Lambert[page needed] ^ H.), Harland, John (John (1984). Seamanship in the age of sail : an account of the shiphandling of the sailing man-of-war, 1600-1860, based on contemporary sources. Myers, Mark, 1945-. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0870219553. OCLC 11036800.  ^ 1956-, Lambert, Andrew D., (2013). The challenge : Britain against America in the naval war of 1812. London: Faber. ISBN 0571273203. OCLC 822959206. [page needed] ^ 1956-, Lambert, Andrew D., (2013). The challenge : Britain against America in the naval war of 1812. London: Faber. ISBN 0571273203. OCLC 822959206. [page needed] ^ 1956-, Lambert, Andrew D., (2013). The challenge : Britain against America in the naval war of 1812. London: Faber. ISBN 0571273203. OCLC 822959206. [page needed] ^ 1956-, Lambert, Andrew D., (2013). The challenge : Britain against America in the naval war of 1812. London: Faber. ISBN 0571273203. OCLC 822959206. [page needed] ^ James Stanier Clarke and John McArthur (2010) The Naval Chronicle: Volume 33, January–July 1815: Containing a General and Biographical History of the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
of the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
with a Variety of Original Papers on Nautical Subjects, reprinted by Cambridge University Press, p. 371 ^ Heinz., Marquardt, Karl (2005). The 44-gun frigate USS Constitution : "Old Ironsides". Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1591142504. OCLC 61727947.  ^ a b Lambert pp.369-370 ^ 1956-, Lambert, Andrew D., (2013). The challenge : Britain against America in the naval war of 1812. London: Faber. ISBN 0571273203. OCLC 822959206. [page needed] ^ Roosevelt (1883), pp. 55–56. ^ 1956-, Lambert, Andrew D., (2013). The challenge : Britain against America in the naval war of 1812. London: Faber. ISBN 0571273203. OCLC 822959206. [page needed] ^ 1956-, Lambert, Andrew D., (2013). The challenge : Britain against America in the naval war of 1812. London: Faber. ISBN 0571273203. OCLC 822959206. [page needed] ^ Cooper (1856), p. 431. ^ Roosevelt (1883), p. 403. ^ a b c d 1956-, Lambert, Andrew D., (2013). The challenge : Britain against America in the naval war of 1812. London: Faber. ISBN 0571273203. OCLC 822959206. [page needed] ^ Lambert, Andrew (2012) The Challenge – Britain Against America in the War of 1812, (Faber and Faber) ISBN 978-0-571-27319-5[page needed] ^ James (1824), vol.6, p. 367. ^ Lambert pp.364-365 ^ Roosevelt, p.224

Bibliography[edit]

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) [1882]. 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. 

External links[edit]

Story of the capture of USS President Documents relating to the capture of USS President Naval Chronicle

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