Milford vs Yankee Hero

6th June 1776
Part of : The American War of Independence (1775/04/19 - 1784/01/14)
Previous action : Action of 23rd February 1776 23.2.1776
Next action : Staten Island Landings 2.7.1776 - 4.7.1776


Great Britain

Ship NameCommanderNotes
Milford (28) John Burr (c.1725-1776)

United States of America

Ship NameCommanderNotes
Yankee Hero (14) James Tracy

Notes on Action

Description of the actionW027

At dawn on 6 June, HM Frigate Milford was patrolling off Cape Ann. She was a large frigate, armed with twenty-eight 9-pounders, with a crew of 280 men. Her commanding officer, Captain John Burr, was a seasoned and experienced veteran. Milford set easy sail and stood west, her deck officer noting that she was twelve miles ESE of Cape Ann. By afternoon the Yankee Hero was going around Cape Ann and Tracy saw the sails of a large vessel in the distance. Without a full crew aboard he was reluctant to chase. Soon after the brig overtook two boats, full of armed men, which had been pursuing the vessel. These men informed Tracy that several transports had been in close to the Cape earlier in the day, and offered to join him if he would pursue the stranger. Tracy agreed, and fourteen of the men boarded the Yankee Hero, sending their boats ashore. The brig now set off for the stranger, which was fifteen miles away to the ESE, the wind blowing from the west. Aboard the Milford Burr's lookouts noticed the stranger bearing down in chase about 1400. Burr held to his course, concluding that the chase (if it were American), could be lured closer by imitating a merchant vessel.

When Yankee Hero had closed to within six miles of the stranger he discovered her to be a large ship, and soon after, from her actions, he concluded she was a warship. Yankee Hero immediately came about and headed for the distant shore. No one aboard the American thought the warship could catch the brig, but the wind died after about ten minutes. Aboard the Milford, the master noted that the chase had tacked at 1500. Yankee Hero was to the southwest of Milford when she turned away. Burr immediately followed and set all sail. Milford caught a fresh south wind and was coming up very fast, intending to get between Tracy and the shore, thus cutting off the Yankee Hero's retreat. The warship had gotten into the brig's wake when the west wind sprang up again. Tracy angled for the shore with the most direct tack possible. The ship pursued. An hour went by. An agonizing hour of watching the pursuit steadily draw closer. At a distance of half a mile the warship opened fire with her bow chasers. Milford's master noted that they fired four shots at 1530 and four more at 1600. An hour later Milford had pulled alongside Yankee Hero.

When the Milford opened fire with her bow chasers, Tracy had his crew reply: with one swivel gun. As Milford closed in, she kept up a constant long range fire (probably ranging shots). Tracy prepared for a desperate fight. When the Milford had closed to within pistol shot on his lee quarter, he opened fire with guns, swivels and muskets, and kept firing continually. The frigate soon pulled alongside: with twelve 9-pounders to the side, forecastle and quarterdeck guns, and Marines in her fighting tops high above the brig's decks, Tracy was overmatched and knew it. Burr noted that Milford was alongside the Yankee Hero at 1700, when several shots were fired at the frigate, upon which he "came to Actio" Milford kept up a rapid and continuous fire. Burr turned his ship into the wind, cutting Tracy off from shore and forcing him to conform or collide with Milford. First Lieutenant Main was struck and wounded. Yankee Hero was now unable to fight her lee guns. Tracy quickly backed sail, and ran under the frigate's stern to escape. However, Milford sailed quicker and worked just as fast as the brig and soon had her on the broadside again. Tracy could not evade Burr. Milford's master simply recorded that, at 1730, the brig wore ship and bore away, Milford following. Milford got alongside within pistol shot, firing “Great Guns and Musquets” for about thirty minutes.

The two vessels lay a hundred feet apart, yawing back and forth in the wind, for an hour and twenty minutes, all the while keeping a steady fire upon each other. When the Milford's foremost guns slackened fire, Tracy saw a glimmer of a chance. He tacked under Milford's stern again and got clear of the smoke and fire that hung in a cloud over the water. As he ran clear Tracy saw that Yankee Hero's rigging was cut to pieces: yards were flying without braces, sails tattered. Dead and wounded men lay on the deck: it looked as if half the crew were down. Prize Master Davis had fallen in the last fighting.

Tracy set his men collecting the wounded and getting them below, and refitting the brig's rigging. Milford was now some way off and had no guns bearing at the moment. She soon came around and got underway. As the ship came up Tracy sent his men back to the guns, but kept a few hands at work on the rigging. Hardly had two broadsides been fired when Tracy was hit in the thigh. In a few minutes he could not stand, then he fainted and had to be helped below. When he came to, he was in the Yankee Hero's cockpit, surrounded by dead and dying men, and the brig's guns were silent. Tracy had himself carried to the deck in a chair, to resume the action. On deck he fainted again, briefly, then looked around his vessel, and gave the order to surrender.

The action seemed shorter aboard Milford, her master noting the American surrendered after a half an hour, about 1800. Burr sent his first lieutenant over to take charge of the prize. The lieutenant reported that Yankee Hero had seventeen guns, twelve swivels, and a crew of fifty-two men. The lieutenant found twelve wounded and four dead among the prisoners. While removing the prisoners, another man died.


W027American War of Independence at SeaKen Kellow, Web Site

Previous comments on this page

Posted by Laurie Davis on Sunday 21st of October 2018 00:58

My 4th great-grandfather, Ebenezer Rowe of Sandy Bay, was onboard the Yankee Hero, one of the volunteers who came out to join the battle. He lost his left hand in the ensuing fight but lived until age 88 in Georgetown, Maine

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