Capture of the President

15th January 1815
Part of : The War of 1812 (1812 - 1814)
Previous action : Battle of Lake Borgne 14.12.1814
Next action : Action of 1815-02-20 20.2.1815

 

United States of America

 
Unknown Division
Ship NameCommanderNotes
 
Ship NameCommanderNotes
President (44) Stephen Decatur (1779-1820)24 killed, 50 wounded Captured
 

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

 
Unknown Division
Ship NameCommanderNotes
 
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Endymion (44) Henry Hope11 killed, 14 wounded
Tenedos (38) Hyde Parker (1784-1854), Hyde Parker (1784-1854)
Pomone (38) Philip Carteret (1777-1828)
 

Notes on Action


Description of the ActionB045

On the 14th [the President] had left her consorts at anchor, and put out to sea in the gale. But by a mistake of the pilots who were to place boats to beacon the passage the frigate struck on the bar, where she beat heavily for an hour and a half, springing her masts and becoming very much hogged and twisted. Owing to the severity of her injuries the President would have put back to port, but was prevented by the westerly gale. Accordingly, Decatur steered at first along Long Island, then shaped his course to the S. E., and in the dark ran into the British squadron, which, but for his unfortunate accident, he would thus have escaped. At daylight, the President which had hauled up and passed to the northward of her opponents, found herself with the Majestic and Endymion astern, the Pomona on the port, and the Tenedos on the starboard quarter. The chase now became very interesting. During the early part of the day, while the wind was still strong, the Majestic led the Endymion and fired occasionally at the President, but without effect. The Pomona gained faster than the others, but by Capt. Hayes orders was signalled to go in chase of the Tenedos, whose character the captain could not make out; and this delayed her several hours in the chase. In the afternoon, the wind coming out light and baffling, the Endymion left the Majestic behind, and, owing to the Presidents disabled state and the amount of water she made in consequence of the injuries received while on the bar, gained rapidly on her, although she lightened ship and did everything else that was possible to improve her sailing. But a shift of wind helped the Endymion and the latter was able at about 2.30, to begin skirmishing with her bow-chasers, answered by the stern-chasers of the President. At 5.30 the Endymion began close action, within half point-blank shot on the Presidents starboard quarter, where not a gun of the latter could bear. The President continued in the same course, steering east by north, the wind being northwest, expecting the Endymion soon to come up abeam; but the latter warily kept her position by yawing, so as not to close. So things continued for half an hour during which the President suffered more than during all the remainder of the combat. At 6.00 the President kept off, heading to the south, and the two adversaries ran abreast, the Americans using the starboard and the British the port batteries. Decatur tried to close with his antagonist, but whenever he hauled nearer to the latter she hauled off and being the swiftest ship could of course evade him; so he was reduced to the necessity of trying to throw her out of the combat by dismantling her. He was completely successful in this, and after two hours righting the Endymions sails were all cut from her yards and she dropped astern, the last shot being fired from the President. The Endymion was now completely silent. Commodore Decatur did not board her merely because her consorts were too close astern; accordingly the President hauled up again to try her chances at running, having even her royal studding-sails set, and exposed her stern to the broadside of the Endymion but the latter did not fire a single gun. Three hours afterward, at 11, the Pomone caught up with the President, and luffing to port gave her the starboard broadside; the Tenedos being two cables length's distance astern, taking up a raking position. The Pomone poured in another broadside, within musket shot, when the President surrendered and was taken possession of by Capt. Parker of the Tenedos, A considerable number of the President's people were killed by these two last broadsides. The Endymion was at this time out of sight astern. She did not come up, according to one account, for an hour and three-quarters and according to another, for three hours; and as she was a faster ship than the President, this means that she was at least two hours motionless repairing damages. Commodore Decatur delivered his sword to Capt. Hayes of the Majestic, who returned it, stating in his letter that both sides had fought with great gallantry. The President having been taken by an entire squadron, the prize-money was divided equally among the ships. The Presidents crew all told consisted of 450 men, none of whom were British. She had thus a hundred more men than her antagonist and threw about 100 pounds more shot at a broadside ; but these advantages were more than counterbalanced by the injuries received on the bar, and by the fact that her powder was so bad that while some of the British shot went through both her sides, such a thing did not once happen to the Endymion when fairly hulled. The President lost 24 killed and 55 wounded; the Endymion, 11 killed and 14 wounded. Two days afterward, on their way to the Bermudas, a violent easterly gale came on, during which both ships were dismasted, and the Endymion in addition had to throw over all her spar-deck guns.


Description of the ActionTRN6

The President had tried to put to sea in the gale, but she struck on the bar, where she beat heavily for an hour and a half, springing her masts and becoming so hogged and twisted that she would have put back to port if the storm had not blown so furiously as to render it impossible. 2 Before daylight next morning, Sandy Hook bearing W.N.W., fifteen leagues distant, she ran into the British squadron, and a headlong chase followed. During the early part of the day, when the wind was still strong, the powerful Majestic went better than any of the other ships, and fired occasionally at the President without effect. The Pomone towards noon began to gain rapidly, and would have overtaken the President had she not been sent to investigate the Tenedos, which turned up in an unexpected quarter, and was mistaken for another American ship. In the afternoon the wind became light and baffling, and the Endymion forged to the front and gained rapidly on the President, which was making a large amount of water in consequence of the injuries which she had received while on the bar. For three hours the ships occasionally interchanged shots from their bow and stern chasers. At about half -past five the Endymion drew up close, and began to pour in her broadsides on the President's starboard quarter, where not a gun of the latter would bear. For half an hour the President bore the battering as best she might, unable to retaliate; and she did not like to alter her course, lest she should lessen her chance of escape. Moreover, Decatur expected the Endymion to come up abeam. But Captain Hope kept his position by yawing, not wishing to forfeit his advantage. In this he was quite right, for the President suffered more during the half-hour when she had to endure the unreturned fire of her opponent than during the entire remainder of the combat. At six o'clock Decatur found his position unbearable, and kept off, heading to the south. The two frigates ran abreast, the Americans using the starboard, the British the port, battery. Decatur tried to close with his antagonist, but the latter, being both a lighter and a swifter ship, hauled up and frustrated the attempt. The President then endeavoured to dismantle the British frigate, and thus get rid of her. In this she was successful. The Endymion's sails were cut from her yards, and she fell astern, the fire gradually dying away on both sides. The last shot was fired from the President. Three hours afterwards, at eleven o'clock, the Pomone caught up with the President, and gave her two broadsides, which killed and wounded a considerable number of people. The Endymion was out of sight astern. Decatur did not return the fire, but surrendered, and was taken possession of by the Tenedos. He delivered his sword to Captain Hayes of the Majestic. In the President twenty-four were killed, and fifty wounded; in the Endymion eleven were killed and fourteen wounded. Two days afterwards, in a gale, all three of the President's, and two of the Endymion's masts went by the board, and the Endymion, in addition, had to throw over-board her quarter-deck and forecastle guns.

This was an important success for the British. It was won by the vigilance of Captain Hayes, and the foresight of the British in stationing ample blockading squadrons off the harbours where the American frigates lay. The Endymion was a much lighter ship than the President, and could not be expected to capture her, for the President had a hundred more men in crew, two more guns in broadside on the main-deck, and 42's instead of 32's on the spar-deck. What Captain Hope could do he did; that is, hang on the quarter of an enemy who had no choice but flight, pouring in broadsides which could not be returned, and then, when he did engage, keep up the battle as long as possible, and do as much damage as he could, before dropping out of the combat. The relative loss is of course no criterion of the merits of the fight, because the President was trying to escape. She did not attempt to return the earliest and most destructive broadsides of the Endymion, and afterwards devoted her attention chiefly to the effort to unrig her opponent, while part of her loss was caused by the two unreturned broadsides of the Pomone.

So far as the Endymion is concerned, Decatur seems to have done all he could, and no severe censure could be passed on him for surrendering when attacked by a fresh frigate, with another close astern. It certainly seems, however, that it would have been worth his while to try at least a few broadsides on the Pomone. A lucky shot might have taken out one of her masts, and then he would have had a chance to dispose of the Tenedos and make good his escape. Of course it was not much of a chance, but there were plenty of captains in both the British and the American navies who would certainly have taken advantage of it.



Sources


IDDescriptionAuthorType
B045The Naval War of 1812 - Vol 2Theodore RooseveltBook
TRN6The Royal Navy : a history from the earliest times to the present Vol VIWilliam Laid ClowesDigital Book

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