Lest We Forget

By Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler, U.S. Navy (Retired)

Two hours into the chase, a serious squall arose and within minutes both ships had a common enemy in the gale-force winds. The Constellation fared better, having let go her sheets and braces in time to avoid serious damage, but the French frigate lost her mainmast to a violent gust.

As the squall subsided, the Constellation continued to close and soon was ranging up on the French ship's lee quarter. When they were close enough for the American Sailors to see the faces of their counterparts peering out the other ship's gun ports, they at last heard the long-awaited order, and a great roar echoed across the sea as the 24-pounders fired at the French frigate. The heavy balls crashed through the enemy's side and careened across her deck, inflicting great damage to men and material.

Almost immediately, the enemy answered the Constellation 's broadside with one of her own, and wood splinters flew about like snowflakes in a winter flurry. There was a tearing sound and then a loud crash as a boom fell to the deck trailing a tangle of lines behind it.

The American gun crews continued servicing their weapons as the confused sea frequently doused them with wind-driven spray, causing clouds of steam to rise from the cannons' heated barrels. The noise was deafening, the smell of burning powder and running perspiration filled the air, and musket balls and deadly wooden shards—some of them several feet long—flew about, threatening to tear off limbs or snuff out young lives in an instant.

At last, with the French ship's rigging a shambles, her crew decimated and in disorder, her rails shattered, and her hull pierced in many places, her captain struck his flag in surrender.

In one of the earliest battles in U.S. naval history, the Constellation had captured l'Insurgente , having lost only four men compared to more than a hundred dead on the French ship. Truxtun had unquestionably set the bar high for the fledgling U.S. Navy. His precedent would not go ignored as men like Stephen Decatur, Isaac Hull, and Oliver Hazard Perry would soon follow his example.

Lieutenant Commander Cutler is the author of several books, including A Sailor's History of the U.S Navy and Brown Water, Black Berets .
 

Thomas J. Cutler is a retired lieutenant commander and former gunner's mate second class who served in patrol craft, cruisers, destroyers, and aircraft carriers. His varied assignments included an in-country Vietnam tour, small craft command, and nine years at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he served as Executive Assistant to the Chairman of the Seamanship & Navigation Department and Associate Chairman of the History Department. While at the Academy, he was awarded the William P. Clements Award for Excellence in Education (military teacher of the year).

He is the founder and former Director of the Walbrook Maritime Academy in Baltimore. Currently he is Fleet Professor of Strategy and Policy with the Naval War College and is the Director of Professional Publishing at the U.S. Naval Institute.

Winner of the Alfred Thayer Mahan Award for Naval Literature, the U.S. Naval Institute Press Author of the Year, and the U.S. Maritime Literature Award, his published works include NavCivGuide: A Handbook for Civilians in the U.S. Navy; A Sailor's History of the U.S. Navy [one of the books in the Chief of Naval Operations Reading Program]; The Battle of Leyte Gulf; Brown Water, Black Berets: Coastal & Riverine Warfare in Vietnam; and the 22nd, 23rd (Centennial), and 24th editions of The Bluejacket's Manual. His other works include revisions of Jack Sweetman's The Illustrated History of the U.S. Naval Academy and Dutton's Nautical Navigation. He and his wife, Deborah W. Cutler, are the co-editors of the Dictionary of Naval Terms and the Dictionary of Naval Abbreviations.

His books have been published in various forms, including paperback and audio, and have appeared as main and alternate selections of the History Book Club, Military Book Club, and Book of the Month Club. He has served as a panelist, commentator, and keynote speaker on military and writing topics at many events and for various organizations, including the Naval History and Heritage Command, Smithsonian Institution, the Navy Memorial, U.S. Naval Academy, MacArthur Memorial Foundation, Johns Hopkins University, U.S. Naval Institute, Armed Forces Electronics Communications and Electronics Association, Naval War College, Civitan, and many veterans' organizations. His television appearances include the History Channel's Biography series, A&E's Our Century, Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor, and CBS's 48 Hours.

More by this Author

BROWN WATER, BLACK BERETS
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BATTLE OF LEYTE GULF
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DUTTON'S NAUTICAL NAVIGATION, 15TH EDITION
As paper navigational charts are replaced by vector images on computer screens, magnetic compasses... Read More
A SAILOR'S HISTORY OF THE U.S. NAVY
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Events and Conferences

Guest Lecturer
12:30pm, “Shifley Lecture Series,” U.S. Naval Academy Museum, 118 Maryland Ave., Annapolis, MD /... Read More

 
 

Conferences and Events

2014 U.S. Naval Institute History Conference

Wed, 2014-10-01

The 2014 Naval History Conference is hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute and the U.S. Naval Academywith support from The William M...

Maritime Security Dialogue

Defense Forum Washington 2014

Newseum - Knight Conference Center

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Guest Speaker

Thu, 2014-10-02

Guest Lecturer

Thu, 2014-10-02

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