273. Outrages committed by the
Pirates of the Barbary Coast. A hundred
years ago the ports of the nations lying on the northern
coast of Africa the Barbary States, as
they were called, Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli were
infested by fierce pirates. They used to rush
out with their swift vessels and capture the ships
of Christian nations. After plundering them of
their valuables, they would hold the crews as slaves,
or sell them to slave dealers.
These pirates became for years the
terror of Europe. Merchants paid annual tributes
of large sums of money to the Pasha to save their
cargoes from seizure. Even our own nation, in
1795, paid these sea robbers for the release of American
sailors captured and held by them as slaves, and also
for the exemption of our ships from attack. First
and last we paid these robber states not less than
a million dollars to buy their good will.
It is difficult to realize that there
was once a time when the President of the United States
negotiated treaties, the Senate ratified them, and
Congress voted tribute money to keep the peace with
In 1801 a disagreement arose about
our regular payment; and the Bashaw of Tripoli, whose
greed it was hard to satisfy, had the impudence to
declare war against the United States and cut down
the flagstaff in front of our consul’s residence.
274. The Gallant Exploits of
Decatur and his Brave Men. Although we
had only a small navy, President Jefferson thought
it best to put a stop to this blackmail business,
and settle with the pirates in a different way.
So he sent some war vessels to punish them, and they
did it quite thoroughly.
During one of these encounters the
United States frigate Philadelphia, one of our best,
under the command of Captain Bainbridge, chased a
pirate craft into the harbor of Tripoli, but unluckily
ran on a reef. She stuck fast, helpless either
to fight or to sail. She was captured, with all
her crew, by the enemy.
But a few months afterwards, Stephen
Decatur, a gallant lieutenant of only twenty-five,
sailed from Sicily in a small vessel, the Intrepid,
which had just been captured from the Moors. He
boldly entered the harbor of Tripoli one evening about
dusk, and sailed quietly along close to the Philadelphia.
Then pirates did not suspect harm, as the Intrepid
appeared to be a Moorish vessel. With its crew
of seventy men concealed under the bulwarks, the little
vessel was instantly made fast to the ill-fated frigate.
“Follow me, lads!” cried Decatur.
The men from the Intrepid sprang to
their feet and climbed on board the Philadelphia.
The surprise was complete. In ten minutes Decatur
and his bold sailors had killed or driven overboard
every pirate, then set the ship afire, leaped back
upon the Intrepid, and escaped from the harbor amid
a storm of shot from the batteries. Not one of
our men was lost in the whole affair.
This heroic adventure, which made
young Decatur a captain, became common talk in Europe.
England’s greatest naval hero, Lord Nelson, said,
“It was the most bold and daring act of the
ages.” There is no single naval exploit
to be compared with it for boldness, except Cushing’s
destruction of the ironclad Albemarle in the war for
275. Outrageous Conduct of the
British toward American Sailors. During
the years soon after 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte was at
war with almost all Europe, and especially with England.
The British navy was very large and
in constant need of sailors. To get them, English
men-of-war used to stop American merchant ships wherever
they met them on the high seas. They would fire
a cannon shot across the bows of the American vessel
to compel it to heave to. British officers would
then come on board, marshal the crew in line, and pick
out sailors whom they claimed to be deserters from
Very likely the ones thus singled
out could prove that they were Americans by birth
or adoption. No matter for that! They were
needed, and, as the men-of-war had the power to take
them by force, go they must. In time this dastardly
business became even worse. The British sometimes
stationed their war vessels off the entrance of our
largest harbors, ready to search our merchantmen as
they sailed out.
Now all this bid fair to destroy our
commerce. None of our ships were safe. Importing,
exporting, our vast fisheries, important manufactures many
kinds of business were on the verge of ruin.
In spite of our protests the British
government kept up this practice for years, until
it was said that more than nine hundred American vessels
had been searched, and over six thousand American sailors
kidnapped from them.
276. The War of 1812 begun. Why
did we endure these insults from England so long?
Perhaps the principal reason was our small navy.
The English war fleets then numbered over a thousand
vessels, and ours less than twenty! These outrages
could not, however, be longer tolerated. England
even insisted that she had a perfect right to
seize our ships and to carry off our citizens.
War was declared in 1812. In
this war most of our land battles were more or less
failures, but the brilliant success of our naval contests
more than made up for them. In fact, whenever
we speak of the war of 1812, we always think of the
surprising series of victories won by our splendid
though small naval force against England.
277. The Great Naval Battle
between the Constitution and the Guerrière. Only
a few weeks after war was declared, our frigate Constitution,
Captain Isaac Hull, met the enemy’s man-of-war
Guerrière, Captain Dacres, off the Massachusetts
shore. The British vessel had been sailing proudly
up and down our coast, challenging the Yankee craft
to fight. The Guerrière in real British
pride flings out a flag from the top of each “ocean
spire.” Her guns flash but the balls fall
“Not a cannon to be fired till
I give the word,” cried Captain Hull; “double
shot the guns.”
“May we not begin?” shouted
his first officer as the shot came tearing through
Another broadside from the Guerrière!
The men are getting impatient. Captain Hull calmly
waits until he can bring every gun to bear.
“Now, boys, give it to them!”
he shouted at the top of his voice.
They did their work well. In
twenty minutes the proud English frigate was a helpless
“I will not take your sword,”
said the gallant Hull to Captain Dacres as the British
officer surrendered; “but I will trouble you
for that hat!”
It seems that these two brave captains
were personal friends, and Hull had made a bet with
Dacres that his vessel would “whip” the
Guerrière if there should ever be a war,
and the loser was to forfeit his hat!
The Constitution was almost unhurt.
The Guerrière, shattered and useless, was set
on fire, and in a few minutes blew up. All that
was left of the splendid vessel instantly vanished
from sight forever. Hull took his prisoners to
Boston, where he was received with enthusiastic welcome.
The news of this victory created equal
joy in every section of the country. Its chief
importance lay in the confidence it inspired among
all the people, demonstrating that a first-class English
battleship was far from invincible. The British
government was astounded. So were the naval authorities,
some of whom had sneered at the Constitution as “a
bundle of pine boards.”
278. Naval Battle between the
Wasp and Frolic; Other Brilliant Naval Victories for
the American Sailors. A few weeks later
the American sloop-of-war Wasp fell in with the British
brig Frolic off Virginia. It was a sharp fight
for three-quarters of an hour. Both vessels were
nearly destroyed, when the Wasp came close to the Frolic
and gave a tremendous broadside that carried away
everything before it. Then the Wasp’s crew
boarded the Frolic and found not a sailor on deck only
the officers, who surrendered. The surviving
sailors had gone below to escape the deadly fire.
The very next week Commodore Decatur
of the frigate United States attacked the British
frigate Macedonian near the Canary Islands. It
was a brisk fight of two hours, when the Macedonian
surrendered with a loss of over one hundred men.
Decatur’s victory produced a
profound impression both in this country and in England.
Congress recognized its importance by a vote of thanks
and a gold medal to the commodore.
279. “Old Ironsides”
and her Noble Record. In the same month
occurred the famous battle off Brazil between the
Constitution under Commodore Bainbridge and the frigate
Java. It was a furious contest for two hours.
The enemy’s ship had every mast shot away, and
her hull was torn with shot. Her deck was covered
with more than two hundred killed and wounded.
The wreck of the Java surrendered, the survivors were
taken on board the Constitution, and the hull was
burned. This was the fourth brilliant naval victory
gained within six months.
The Constitution has ever since been
popularly known as “Old Ironsides,” by
which name her exploits have been celebrated from that
day until this in oratory and song. Many years
ago the government planned to break her up and sell
her timbers. This prompted Dr. Oliver Wendell
Holmes to write his famous poem beginning:
Ay, tear her tattered ensign
Long has it waved on high.
These stirring lines had a powerful
influence upon the public mind, and the noble-vessel
was saved. She may be seen now (1900), carefully
protected, in the navy yard at Charlestown, Mass.
Slowly but surely the idea dawned
upon many minds in Europe that a nation was springing
up on the other side of the Atlantic that would sometime
dispute with England, the “mistress of the seas,”
the supremacy of the ocean.
280. Battle between the Chesapeake
and Shannon. The year 1813 opened with
hopeful prospects, but the scale turned less in our
favor than during 1812. A brilliant young officer,
Captain James Lawrence, was given in reward for his
bravery the command of the Chesapeake, then lying
in Boston Harbor. She was one of the finest frigates
in our young navy, but had the name among the sailors
of being an “unlucky” craft.
Lawrence had hardly taken charge of
his new ship when he received a challenge from the
British frigate Shannon, cruising outside, daring him
to come out and fight. He hastily made ready for
sea, collected such a crew as he could, part landsmen
and part foreigners, and sailed out. This was
really very unwise.
The Shannon’s crew were picked
men, and had had long and careful drill, while Lawrence’s
men were fresh and unprepared. Lawrence was young,
proud of his late victory, and full of courage.
The hostile ships fought fiercely and with terrible
effect. In a few minutes every one of the Chesapeake’s
officers was either killed or wounded.
While Lawrence was giving an order,
a musket ball inflicted upon him a fatal wound.
As he was carried below, his dying words were,
“DON’T GIVE UP THE SHIP!”
a stirring battle-cry,
which has ever since been a source of inspiration
to our navy.
The battle was soon over. The
torn rigging of the Chesapeake was entangled with
that of the Shannon, the enemy’s officers leaped
on board and raised the British flag. The Chesapeake
was taken to Halifax, where Lawrence was buried with
281. Commodore Perry and his
Brilliant Victory on Lake Erie. The story
of Perry’s brilliant victory on Lake Erie has
been told in prose and verse ever since it took place.
The control of this inland sea between two hostile
countries was very important. The British already
had a little fleet of six vessels with sixty-three
guns, to oppose which we had hardly anything in the
shape of vessels or trained men.
A naval officer, Oliver Hazard Perry
of Rhode Island, not quite twenty-eight years old
and who had never been in action before, was appointed
to take charge of the whole matter in behalf of the
United States. First, he must have an armed flotilla
to meet the enemy.
With remarkable energy the young captain
put a large force of wood-choppers and ship carpenters
at work for months near Erie, Pa., felling huge trees
and building war vessels of the green timber.
Soon he had launched nine, with fifty-four cannon more
vessels than the enemy, but fewer guns.
One beautiful September morning the
British fleet was seen on the horizon.
“Sail ho!” rang out from
the masthead of the American flagship.
“Enemy in sight!” “Get
under way!” was the signal sent to each vessel.
Perry stripped his flagship, the Lawrence,
for action. At her masthead he raised a blue
battle-flag, upon which had been painted in large white
letters the dying words of the brave Lawrence, “Don’t
give up the ship.”
“My brave lads,” said
Perry, “this flag has on it the dying words of
Captain Lawrence. Shall I hoist it?”
“Aye, aye, sir,” shouted
every man, and cheer after cheer echoed and reechoed
through the fleet. This was the signal for battle.
The enemy’s fire was directed
mostly upon Perry’s vessel, which fought the
two largest British ships till the Lawrence was almost
a helpless wreck cannon dismounted, masts
shot away, and most of the crew either killed or wounded.
Should Perry surrender? NOT HE!
Taking his motto banner, he sprang
into his only open boat, with his little brother and
four stout sailors, and standing erect with his battle-flag
half folded about him, balls flying all around him,
he was rowed through the thickest of the fight to
another of his ships, the Niagara, half a mile distant.
A mighty shout went up from all our
fleet at the sight of this heroic deed.
“Fire upon that boat,” ordered the British
The enemy at once poured a hail of
cannon-balls, grapeshot, and musket bullets around
the men in the open boat. Strange to say, not
a person was hurt. Perry sprang on board of the
Niagara, took command, sailed his vessels into the
enemy’s line, and thundered a series of broadsides
right and left into five of their best ships.
In fifteen minutes from this moment
the work was over! For the first time in history
an American fleet had met a British fleet in a fair
fight and captured it!
The battle had lasted three hours.
The victory was complete. Then with singular
pride Perry returned to the shattered Lawrence and
there received the enemy’s surrender! When
he was sure of victory, he wrote in pencil on the
back of an old letter, resting the paper on his cap,
and sent to General Harrison (afterwards President
in 1841) that remarkable despatch, the first sentence
of which has been so often repeated:
“WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND THEY ARE OURS!”
This victory, so astonishing for its
daring act of valor, turned the scales of war.
It saved the western states from further inroads by
the British, and paved the way for General Harrison
to recover what was lost in General Hull’s surrender
282. Other Events of this War. The
next year, 1814, which saw the end of the war, was
marked by events few but important. In the summer
the British with their vast fleet blockaded all our
most important ports, and sailing up rivers and into
unprotected harbors, they plundered without mercy
the defenseless cities and towns.
In August one of their fleet sailed
up to Washington, the city being entirely unguarded.
President Madison, the officers of the government,
and many citizens fled, and General Ross marched unopposed
into the city. Obeying instructions from his
government, he burned the Capitol, the President’s
house, the Treasury, and other public buildings, with
vast amounts of valuable books and records. This
shameful act has always received the sharpest condemnation
from the civilized world.
Next the British army marched to Baltimore,
where the fleet bombarded Fort McHenry all day and
all night, but without avail. The next morning
Francis Scott Key, then a prisoner on a British ship,
seeing the flag still flying over the fort, hastily
wrote in pencil, on the back of an old letter, the
stirring song that we all know so well, “The
The British General Ross was killed,
and his army hastened to the ships and sailed away.
In September the English, with an
army of fourteen thousand veterans, tried to force
a way from Canada to New York through Lake Champlain.
Their army marched from Quebec, while the fleet sailed
down the lake, and both were at Plattsburg together.
But our gallant flotilla under Commodore McDonough
utterly destroyed the British squadron, far superior
283. How General Jackson defeated
the British at New Orleans. Later in the
year the British made a vigorous effort to capture
New Orleans. More than ten thousand trained veterans,
believed to be the finest troops in the world, were
met by less than half that number of men under Andrew
Jackson, afterwards President. The battle was
short but decisive.
The British general repeated the fatal
error of Bunker Hill in marching his soldiers to attack
men who were behind breastworks, and who knew how
to hit every time they fired. Jackson’s
wall of cotton bales was assaulted time and again,
but the red-coat lines broke and ran before the withering
fire of the backwoods rifles. The sharpshooters
of the South-west had worsted British veterans who
had defeated the best soldiers of Napoleon.
In less than an hour the enemy’s
leader, General Packenham, was killed, seven hundred
of his men lay dead on the field, and the contest was
over. The British lost over two thousand in all,
the Americans only thirteen! Never had a British
army met a more decisive defeat.
This battle, fought on the eighth
of January, 1815, was really needless; for peace had
been made in Europe about two weeks before.
284. Results of the War. The
war of 1812 was not fought in vain. It put an
end at once to searching American vessels and kidnapping
American sailors on the high seas. Foreign nations
saw that we were determined to maintain our rights
on the ocean, and have never thought it best since
then to insult our country. This war also served
to strengthen the American feeling of nationality.