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His Errors as to our Frigates.
in British history from 1793 to the bombardment of Algiers by Lord Exmouth, the last being the work now under consideration.
His spite against this country is first shown in his slight notice of the Tripolitan war, in which he gives an account of the forced service rendered to the dey of Algiers by the George Washington, Captain William Bainbridge, in the year 1800, interlarded with his usual sneers, and so related as to cast a signal dishonor upon the American flag. It is well known that Captain Bainbridge, in complying with the dey's demand, however unwillingly, only followed an example set him by Spanish, French, and English men-of-war. We find here, too, the first instance (so far as relates to ourselves) of the use of figures to support his misrepresentations. He states the force of the brig Enterprise, Lieutenant Sterrett, in her action with the ship Tripoli, to have been fourteen guns instead of twelve. For what reason, other than the mere gratification of ill-will, he can have touched upon our first war with Tripoli, we are at a loss to discover, since what he professes to record has no possible connection with British naval history. It is the first shot, however, fired in pure malice of heart, and though we shall not suffer our dignity to be disturbed by misstatements easily corrected, or our temper to be ruffled by sneers and contumely, which on this occasion at least are entirely unprovoked, still less shall we suffer these falsehoods to pass unnoticed and uncontradicted.
Mr. James's sixth volume is the part of his work with which we are principally concerned, and to that our attention is now chiefly directed. It opens with an examination of our frigates built before the war, and enters into a minuteness of detail which, with any other writer, would be taken as a primâ facie evidence of its truth. We have not at hand the documents requisite for a strict comparison of all his statements, but it is not difficult to show, by the exposure of some palpable errors, how little they are to be relied on. He asserts that the frigate President was built to mount guns in her gangways, and cites the authority of some officers, not named, (a convenient authority for a writer of Mr. James's character,) to show that she had eight additional guns thus mounted during the war with Tripoli. Having also premised that he speaks from “ocular proof of the manner in which the President was fitted," he continues, " She has fifteen ports, and a bridle, of a side on the main deck, eight of a side on the quarter deck, and four of a side, without reckoning the chase-port, on the forecastle, making fifty-four broadside ports.' Shortly after, however, he discovers that the “ American" forty-tour gun frigate, mounted with her thirty long tweltyfour pounders on the main deck, eighteen carronades, fortytwo pounders, on the quarter deck, (two more than he has given ports above,) six carronades, forty-two pounders, and two long twenty-four pounders on the forecastle, a total of fifty-six guns." He endeavors to account for this discrepancy by saying that the gangway, or entrance ports, were fitted to receive carronades; yet he admits that she mounted only fifty-two of these guns when captured by the squadron under Captain Hayes, (besides a brass eight-inch howitzer.) As Mr. James professes to speak from ocular proof, (which must have been received after the capture of the President,) as to the number of ports, we are at a loss to understand his pretext for giving her an armament of fifty-six guns at any time. We are, however, at no loss to account for his motive in so doing
We make no further comment upon the affair of the Little Belt and President than to observe, that the passion evinced on this occasion by the British naval historian in his abuse of Commodore Rodgers, and the ridiculous allegation that he loaded his guns with "every scrap of iron that could possibly be collected,” offers a striking contrast to the good temper and fairness of Mr. Cooper, who, passing over the naval importance of the transaction, which had no other interest than to exbibit the precision of American gunnery, discusses at length, and in a masterly manner, the general principles it involved.
The chase of the Belvidera, and that of the Constitution, are the next events of importance. The former is a convenient provocation to Mr. James to traduce the officers and people of the United States. The latter event he ushers in with the beginning of those humiliating confessions and excuses with which he endeavors to soothe the mortification occasioned by that ship's signal victory over one of the chasing squadron.
“ The escape of Old Ironsides'* is one of the most interesting
Mr. James tells us that this name originated in the thickness of the Constitution's sides. We pardon his endeavor to discover an origin less painful than the true one.
Contrasts British and American Seamen. 191 exhibitions of nautical skill on record; Captain Byron, also, in the Belvidera, gained great credit for the active manner in which he saved his ship.”
About a month after occurred the first frigate action, that of the Constitution and Guerrière, and we witness with pain the suffering which this brings upon our author, and his various struggles to palliate, this unexpected defeat. The latter, mingled as they are with much indecent, or rather criminal abuse, we read with perfect composure, regarding them as exposures made in the unrestrained bitterness of anger.
We intend, in the course of this paper, to consider the frigate actions together, but shall first convict Mr. James of one or two misstatements in relation to American frigates, which will help to show the value of his record.
He falsely states, that “ landsman" is a "rating unknown on board an American man-of-war;" misrepresents the height of the Constitution's main deck to be eight feet, and leaves the reader to infer that her “ main deck battery was upwards of ten feet from the water.” He gives the broadside of American frigates at twenty-eight guns instead of twenty-six.* Mr. James knew these statements to be incorrect when he made them.
It is curious to remark also, that on occasions of defeat the English crews are styled jail-birds and raw-hands; boys not worth ship-room ; Irishmen who had never smelt salt water; disaffected wretches, the gatherings of press-gangs and prison-ships; whilst the American seamen were picked crews, expert marksmen, altogether the finest set of men ever seen collected or ship-board, and of such extraordinary size that the usual manacles would not fit them.
Now we hear nothing previously of the deterioration of English seamen from the battle of Trafalgar to the period of the war with the United States; but if it was true, why does it not apply as well to the English seamen serving, according to Mr. James, on board American ships, as to others ? or, if this difference existed between the great mass of British seamen at home, and the few who had crept, under false
Mr. James does not always consider the difference of two guns in a broadside, even when that broadside is mounted upon two covered decks, and brought to bear against a frigate, as creating such a decided overmatch." See the action of the Romney and Sybille, vol. i., p. 209.
names, and a false origin, into our navy, the fact is more dishonorable to the British nation, and the character of British seamen, than any event of the war, not excepting the conduct of the crew of the Alert, or the refusal of the Phebe to engage the Essex in single combat. It is utterly incredible that in every instance of defeat the special disadvantage should have existed on the side of the English ; and possessing no means of distinction, we must reject them as altogether fabulous.
After all, this strange argument of the unskilfulness, negligence, and moral and physical inferiority of the British crews, is a simple admission of the fact which the result of the last war sufficiently proved, the decided superiority at that time of American tactics and naval economy, a superiority which we shall presently see that other English authorities besides Mr. James are forced to admit. We incline, however, to regard our author's abuse of his countrymen as a scandalous outrage upon brave men who have done their duty, though unfortunately ; and, if they have not merited special praise, are at least entitled to respect and humanity. A word of English seamen on board American ships of war, which is a favorite topic of consolation - if English seamen assisted us to gain ihe victories of the last war, it would seem that they were better trained to their duties in the navy of the United States, thus establishing the superiority of American officers, or that when a crew composed partly of Englishmen and partly of Americans were successfully opposed to a crew made up entirely of Englishmen, the greater merit of the Americans created the advantage which resulted in victory: We leave to such romance writers as Captain Hall, and Captain Marryatt, the choice in this dilemma. It further appears that Americans on board of English men-of-war repeatedly left their guns when about to engage a vessel of their own country. But Mr. James, while he advances this as a remarkable trait of generosity in British captains, and at the saine time tells us that English seamen fought our guns, is too intent upon his apologies to perceive what honorable testimony he bears to the patriotic character of Americans, and how discreditable, by the side of it, stands out the impuled treason of British subjects.
It excites in us something of that shame which arises unbidden at the sight of vulgar exposures, to witness the weak and self-reproachful excuses made by British authorities for
193 their naval reverses. The most impolitic of these is calumny of the victors.
Tanto el vencedor es mas honrado
is the wise sentiment which Cervantes puts in the mouth of el Caballero del Basque. The habitual violation of it is in Mr. James a pleasant vice, the scourging inflictions of which excite our pity. If in private life we unhesitatingly withhold our assent from the man who utters his propositions in the language of intemperate rage, how much more will this be the case in history, in preparing which, time is given for passion to subside, and for reflection and a sense of duty inseparable from the undertaking, to exert their influence. When he charges Commodores Hull, Bainbridge, and Decatur, and American officers generally, with repeated falsehoods, he pays them as high a compliment as they can receive from a man of Mr. James's character and condition.
But to return to the frigate actions; the Constitution and Guerrière, the United States and Macedonian, and the Constitution and Java. We shall for the present allow to Mr. James the full benefit of his apologies, confessions, excuses, and misstatements, and after doing so, we say that the damage sustained in each action by the two ships, was altogether disproportioned to their relative force even as he states it.
It would be sufficient to adduce the facts that the Guerrière and Java were so thoroughly riddled that it was impossible to take them into port, and that the numbers of killed and wounded on board the Guerrière, Macedonian, and Java were, even according to Mr. James, seventy-eight, one hundred and four, and one hundred and twenty-four, whilst on board the Constitution and United States, the corresponding numbers were thirty, eleven, and fifty-eight. On board Admiral Nelson's ship at the battle of the Nile, which lasted between ten and twelve hours, the number of killed and wounded was a hundred and six, but two more than on board the Macedonian, and eighteen less than on board the Java. In the action of St. Vincent, the “Captain,” Nelson's ship, in which he achieved such wonders, had only seventy-six killed and wounded, and in the celebrated frigate engagement of the Nymphe and Cleopatra, fifty men only were killed and wounded on board the British ship. Further than this, the NO. XIX.- VOL. X.