CHAPTER X. THE UNION IN DANGER (1809-1815).
The campaign of 1813 was little more fortunate. The British, with their savage allies, held Detroit; but a fresh-water navy had been constructed by both parties on Lake Erie, and the victory of Commodore Perry gave the control of Lake Erie, and thus of Detroit, to the Americans. On the Niagara frontier the Americans were successful in occupying the British forts on the western side of the river, but could not penetrate the country. A northern expedition descended the St. Lawrence, but was obliged to retire into American territory without result; and in the last days of the year the Niagara posts were again abandoned.
112. NAVAL WARFARE (1812-1815).
[The first cruise.] [English cruisers captured.]
When the war broke out, the purpose of the administration was to keep the vessels of the United States navy in Port for harbor and coast defence. An order was sent to New York authorizing a brief preliminary cruise, and within one hour Commodore Rodgers, with the frigates "President", and "Congress", the ship "Hornet" and brig "Argus", had got to sea. Within two days the little squadron attacked the British frigate "Belvidera," which had made herself obnoxious by her blockade of American ports, but lost her. On August 19 the frigate "Constitution", Captain Hull, met the British frigate "Guerriere", renowned for its unauthorized search of American vessels: in thirty minutes the "Guerriere" was taken; and the "Constitution" returned in triumph to Boston. The effects of this brilliant victory were immediately felt: New England shared in it; British naval prestige had received a damaging blow; and the Navy Department could no longer hope to keep the navy at home for police duty. Meantime the sloop-of-war "Wasp" had captured the British brig "Frolic" of equal force; and Decatur, in the frigate "United States", on October 25 took the British frigate "Macedonian". A few weeks later the frigate "Constitution" captured the British frigate "Java".
[Effect of the victories.]
The result of six months naval warfare was the capture of three British frigates and two smaller vessels, besides large numbers of merchantmen. American commerce had been almost driven from the seas, but only three small American cruisers had been taken. The victories were more than unexpected, they were astounding In nearly every fight the American vessel was of heavier tonnage, and threw a heavier broadside; but the sailors were fighting the most renowned naval power in the world, The British captains in every case sought the encounter, and they were defeated by the superior tactical skill, and especially the superior gunnery, of the Americans, Congress was obliged by the force of public sentiment to begin the construction of new vessels. At the same time American privateers ranged the seas and brought in British merchantmen. In 1813 there was a minor naval warfare on Lakes Erie, Ontario, and Champlain, Two small armed vessels, the "Peacock" and the "Boxer," were captured at sea by the Americans; and the ship "Essex," under Captain Porter, ranged the Pacific and captured thirteen vessels,
[The American navy subdued.]
The tide had now begun to turn, In June, 1813, Captain Lawrence, of the frigate "Chesapeake," was challenged by Captain Broke, of the "Shannon," to fight him near the harbor of Boston. People assembled on Marblehead Neck to see the English cruiser made a prize; after a hard fight the "Chesapeake" was captured and towed into Halifax. It was the victory of disciplined courage over courage less trained, and perhaps less well handled. By this time large blockading squadrons had been sent out, and most of the American fleet was shut up in the harbors of Boston, New London, and New York. The frigate "President" was captured while endeavoring to escape from New York; the "Essex" was taken in a neutral port; and for a time there was no American cruiser on the sea.
The defence of the newly acquired American reputation at sea was thus left to the privateers. They were small, handy vessels, apt at striking, and quick to run away. In 1813 they captured four hundred prizes, while the national cruisers took but seventy-nine. The "True-Blooded Yankee" alone in thirty-seven days took twenty-seven vessels, some of them in Dublin Bay, and was not captured. The loss of property and of prestige was so great that in 1814 insurance on vessels crossing the Irish Channel was rated at thirteen per cent. During two and a half years of war the privateers took fourteen hundred prizes, and the cruisers took three hundred more. On the other hand, about seventeen hundred American merchantmen had been captured by the British. The flag of the United States on unarmed vessels had at the end of 1814 almost ceased to float on the ocean.
113. DISASTROUS CAMPAIGN OF 1814.
[The situation abroad.]
Nothing but a total want of understanding of the conditions in Europe could have brought about the War of 1812. In 1811 the Continental System (sec. 102) had broken down, because Russia would no longer cut off the trade in American ships. The result of this breach was Napoleon's Russian campaign of 1812; his success would have totally excluded American commerce from the Baltic, and would probably have resulted in the overthrow of England. The Americans were assisting the cause of a great tyranny and a great commercial monopoly.
[Fall of Napoleon.]
During 1812 and 1813, while the Americans were vainly struggling to capture a few petty forts on the Canadian frontier, Napoleon was falling back step by step; and on April 6, 1814, he abdicated his throne, and a general European peace was made.
[Lundy's Lane.] [English invasion.] [Sidenote: Capture of Washington.]