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Miscellany: A Naval Battle

Miscellany: A Naval Battle image
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The following account of the Battlebetween the American frigate United States, and British frigate Macedonian, in the last war, is from a work entitled "Thirty years from home, or a voice from the Main deck," Jby Samuel Leech. Mr. Leech was laid át the time of the battíe, on board the Macedonian, and his impressions of so terrible a contestare much more vivid than any thing gleaned from an official account: The Sabbath carne, and it brought with it a stiff breezCi We usual 1 y made a sort of a holiday of this sacred day. After breakfast it was cöramon to muster the entiro crew on the spar deck, sometimes in blue jackets and blue trowsers; at other times in blue jackets, scarlet vests and blue or white trowsers; with öur anchor buttons glancing in the sun, and our black glossy hats, ornamented with black ribbons, and with the name of öur ship painted on them. After muster, we freqiiently had church service read by the captain: the rest of the day was devoted to idleness. But we were döstined to spend the Sabbath just introduce d to the reader in a different manner. We had scarcely finished breakfast before the man at the mast head shouted 'Sail ho!' The captain rushed upon deck, exclaiming 'mast head there!' Sir!' 'Where away is the sail?' The precise answer to this question I do not recollect, but the captain proceeded to ask, 'What does she look like?' 'A square rigged vessel, sir,' was the reply of the look-out. After a few minutes, the captain shouted again, 'Mast-head there!' 'Sir!' 'What does she look like?' 'Alargeship, sir, standing towards us!' By this time most of the crew were on deck, eagerly straining their eyes to obtain a glimpse of the approaching ship, and murmuring their opinions to each other on her probable character. Then came the voice of the captain shouting, 'Keep silence, fore and aft!' Silence being secured, he hailed the look-out, who, to this question of "What does she look like?' replied, 'A large frigate bearing down upon us, sir!' A whisper ran along the crew that the stranger ship was a Yankee frigate. The thought was confirmed by the command of "All hands clear the ship for action, ahoy!' The drum and fife beat to qnarters; bulk-heads were knocked away; theguns were releasedfrom their confinement; the whole dread páraphernalia of battle was produced; and after the lapse of a few minutes of hurry and confusión, every man and boy was at hia post, ready to do hisbest service for his country, except th band, who, claiming exemption from th afFray, safely stowed themselves away i the cable tier. We had only one sic man on the list, and he, at the cry of th battle, hurried from his cot, feeble as h was tö take his post of danger. A fe of thé junior midshipmen wcre stationec below, on the berth deck. with orders, given in our hearing, to shoot any man who attempted to run from his quarters. Our men were all in goöd Spirits: though they did not scruple to ëxpress the wish that the coming foe Was a Frenchman rather than a Yankee. We had beentold, by the Americans on board, that frigates in the American service carried more and heavier metal than ours. This, together with our consciousness of superiority over the French at 6ea, led us to a preference for a French antagonist. The Americans, among our number, feit quite disconcerted, at the necessity which compelled them to fight against their own countrymen. One of them, named John Card, as brave a seaman as ever trod a plank,ventured to present himself to the captain, as prisoner, frankly declaring his objections to fight. That officer, very ungenerously ordered him to his quarters, threatening to shoot him if he made the request again. Poor fellow! He obeyed the" unjust command, and was killed by a shot from his own countrymen. This fact is more disgraceful to thetain of the Macedonian, than even the loss of his ship. It was a gross and palpabl violation of the rights of man. As the appt'oaching ship showed Amer ican colors, all doubt of her character wa at an end. "We must fight her," wa the conviction of every breast. Every possible arrangement that could ensur success was accordingly made. The gun were shotted; the matches lighted, for a] though our guns were furnished with firs rato locks, they were also provided wit matches attached by linyards, in case th lock should miss fire. A lieutenant thei passed through the ship, directing th marines and boarders, who were furnish ed with pikes, cutlassses and pistols, ho to proceed i f it should be necessary t board the enemy. He was followed by the captain, who exhorted them to fideli ty and courage, urging upon their consideration the well-known motto of the brave Nelson, "England expects overman to do his duty." In addition to all these preparations on deck, some men were stationed in the tops with small arms, whose duty it was to attend to trimming the sails, and to use their muskets provided we carne to close action. There were others also below, called sail trimmers, to assist in working the ship, should it be necessary to change her position du ring the battle. My station was at the fifth gun on th main deck. It was my duty to supply the gun withpowder, a boy beingappoint edto ëach gun in the ship on the side we engaged for this purpose. A woolen screen was placed before the entrance to the magazine, with a hole in it, throughwhich the cartridges were passed to the . boys; we received tliem there, and cover ing them with our jackets, hurried to thei respective guns. These precautions are observed to prevent powder taking fire be fore it reaches the gun. Thus we all stood, waiting orders in rhotionless suspense. At last we fired three guns from the larboard side of the main deck, this was followed by the command "Cease firing; you are throwing away your shot!" Then came the orders to "wear ship,' and prepare lo attack the enemy with our starboard guns. Soon after thisï heard a firing frooi somc other quarter, which I at first supposed to be a discharge from our quarter deck guns; though it proved to be the roar of the enemy's cannon. A strange noise, such as I never heard before,next arrested niy attentiön; it soundedlike the tearing of sails, just over our heads. This I soon ascertained to be the wind of the enemy's shot. The firing, after a few minutes' cessation, recommenced. The roaring of cannon could now be heard from all parts of our trembling ship, and mingling as it did with that of our foes, it madeaniost hideous noise, - By-and-by I heard the shots strike the sides of our ship; the whole scène became indescribably confused and horrible; it was like sorne awful tremendous thunder storm, whose deafening roar is attcnded by incessant steaks of lightning, carrying death in every flash, and strewing the ground with the victim of its wrath; only, in ornease the scène was rendered more horrible than that, by the presencc of - .torrente of blood which dyed our decks. Though the recital may be painful, yet as it will reveal the horrors of war, and show at what a fearful price a victory is won or lost,I shall present the reader with things as they met my eye during the progresa of that dreadful fight. I wasbusily supplying my gun with powder, when I saw bloodsuddenly fly from the arm of a man stationcd at our gun-I saw nothing strike him; the effect alone was visible; in an instant the third lieutenant tied"his handkerchief röund the wounded arm, and sent the groaning wretch below to the surgeom The cries of the wounded now rang through all parts of the ship. These were carried to the cockpit as fast as they feil, Xvhile those more fortúnate men who were killed outright, were immediately thrown overboard. As 1 was stationed but a short distance from the main hatchway, I could catch a glance at all who were carried below. A glance was all I could indulge in, for the boys belonging to the guns next to mine wero wounded in the early part of the action, and I had to spring with all my might to keep three or four guns supplied with cartridges. I saw two of these lads fall nearly together. One of them was struck in the leg by a large shot; he had to suffer amputation above the wound. The other had grape or canister shot sent through his ancle. A stout Yorkshireman lifted him in his árms, aiid hurried him to the cockpit. He had his foot cut off, and was thus made lame for life. Two of the boys stationed on the quarter deck were killed. They were both Portuguese. A man, who saw one of them killed, afterward told me that his powder caught fire and burnt the flesh almost off his face. In this pitïable situation, the agonized boy lifted up both hands as if imploring relief, when a passing shot instantly cut him in two. I was an eye-witness to a sight equally revolting. A man namcd Aldrich hac one of his hands cut off by a shot, and al most at the same moment he received an other shot, which tore open his bowels ii a terrible manner. As he feil, two o three men caught him in their arms, anc as he could not live threw him over board. One of the officers in my división also feil in my sight. He was a noble heart ed fellow, named Nan Kivell. A grap or canister shot struck ncar the heart exclaiming, "Oh! my God!" he feil anc was carried below, where he short ly afte died. Mr. Hope, our first lieutenant, was also slightly wounded by a gumrnet, or smal iron ring probably torn froin a hammock clew by a shot. He went below, shout ing to the men to fight on. Having hac his wounds dressed he carne up again, shouting to us at the top of his voice and bidding us fight with all our might. There was not a man in the ship but would have rejoiced had he been in the place of our master's mate, the unfortunate Nan Kivell. The battle went on. Our men kep cheering with all their might. I cheerec with them, though I confess I scarcely knew for what. Certainly there wasnothing very inspiriting in the aspect o the things where I was stationed. So terrible had been the work of destruction round us,it was termed the slaughterhouse Not only had we had several boys anc men killed or wounded, but several of the guns were disabled. The one I belonged to had a piece of the muzzle knocked out and when the ship rolled, it struck a bean of the upper deck with such force as to become jammed and fixed in that position A twenty-four pound shot had also passec through a screen of the magazine, itnrae diately over the orífice through which we passed our powder. The school mastei received a dea-th wound. The brave boat swain, who carne from the sick bed to the din of battle, was fastening a stopper on the back stay which had been shot away when his head was siïmshed to pieces by a cannon ball; and another man, going to complete the unfinished task, and was also struck down. Another of our midshipmen also received a severo wound. - The unfortunate ward roomsteward, who attempted to cut his throat on a formei occasion, was killed. A fellow named John, who for some petty offense, had been sent on board as a punishment, was carried past me wounded. I distinctly heard tbc large blood-drops all pat, pat, )at, on the deck; his Wounds were mortal. 3 ven a poor goat, kept by the officers for ïer milk, did not escape the general carnage; her hind Jegs were shot off, and oor Nan was thrown overboard. Such was the terrible scenc, amid which ve kept on our shouting and firíng. Our men fought like tigers. Some of hem pulled off their jackets others their ackets and vests; while some, still more etermined, had taken off their shirts, nd with but a hándkerchief tied round the waistbands of their trowsers, ought like I also observed a boy amed Cooper, stationed at a gun some istance from the magazine. He carne o and fro oil the füll run, and appearing o be as "merry as a cricket." The third eütenant cheered him along, occaslonlly, by saying, Well done, my boy, youare worth your weight in gold." I Lave often been asked what were my feelings during this fight. I feit pretty much as I suppose every one does at such a time. That men are without tliought whcn they stand amid the dying and dead, is too absurd an idea to be entertained a moment. We all appeared chcerful, but I know that many a serious thought ran through my mind; still, what could we do but keep a semblance, at least, of animation? To run from our quarters would have been certain death from the hands of our own officers, to give way to gloom, or to show fear, would do no good, and might brand us with the name of cowards. and ensure certain defeat. Our only true philosophj7-, therefore, was to make the best of our situation, by fighting bravely and cheerfully. I thought a great deal, however, of the othor world; every groan, every falling man. told me that the next instant I might be before the Judge of all the earth. For this, I feit unprepared; butbeing without any particular knowledge of religious truth, I satisfied myself by repeating the Lord's praycr, and promising that if spared I would be more attentive to religious duties tban ever before. This promise I had no doubt, at the time, of keeping; but I have learned since that it is easier to make promises amidst the roar of the battle's thunder, or in the horrors of shipwreck, than tokeep them when danger is absent, and safety smiles upon our path. While these thoughts secretly agitatec tny bosom, the din of battle continued. - Grape and canistër shot wcre pouring through our porteóles like leaden rain carrying death in the trail. The large shot carne agaiust the ship's side like iron hail, shaking her to the very keel, 01 passing through her timbers, and scatter ing terriffic splinters which did a more appaling work than even their own death giving blows. The reader may form an idea of the effect of grape and canistër when he is told that grape shot is forme by seven or eight balls confmed to an iron and tied in axloth. These balls ar scattered by the explosión of the powder Canistër shot is made by ñlling a powde canistër with balls, each as large as twe or three musket balls; these also scatte with direful effect when discharged. - What then with splinters, cannon balls grape and canistër, poured incessantly up on us, the reader may be assured that the work of death went on in a raanner whicl must have been sntisfactory even to the King of Terrors himself. Suddenly the rattling of the iron hai ceased. We were ordered to cease firing A profound silence ensued, broken onh by the stifled groans of the brave suffer ers below. It was soon ascertained tha the enemy shot ahead to repair damages for sho was not so disabled but she coulc sail without difficullty; while we wer so cut up that we lay utterly helpless.- We liad braces shot away, the fore and main topmasts were gone, the mizzei mast hung over the stern, having carrie several men over in its fall; we were in a state of complete wreek. A council was now held among the of ficers on the quarter deck. Our condi tion was perilons in the extreme; victorj or escape was alikc hopeless. Out shi] was disabled, many of our men were kill ed, and many more wounded. The ene my would without doubt bear down upon us in a few moments, and, as she coulc now choose her own position, would with out doubt, rake us fore and aft. Any fur ther resistance was therefore, folly. So in spite of the hot brained licutenant, Mr Hope, who advised them not to strike, but to sink along sidc. it was determined to strike our bunting. This was done b} the hands of a bravo fellow nained Watson, whose saddened brow fold how se verely it pained his lion heart to do it. - To me it was a pleasing sight, for I had seen fighting enough for one Sabbath more than I wished to see, ngain on a week-day. His Britannic Majesty's frigate Macedón ian was now the prizc of the American frigate United States.


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