Lest We Forget

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

As Porter closed with the enemy convoy, he disguised his ship as a merchant vessel by ordering all gunports closed, the sails reconfigured more haphazardly, and most of his crew hidden from sight. The ruse worked, and the Essex was able to approach the convoy without raising suspicion. That night, using the cloak of midwatch darkness to his advantage, Porter brazenly inserted the Essex into the enemy convoy and managed to cut out and capture the last ship in the group. She was the Samuel and Sarah and was carrying about 200 soldiers and $14,000 in cash.

In the weeks to come, Porter would capture seven more merchant ships. It was already a successful cruise by nearly any measure, but the best was yet to come.

On 13 August, off the coast of Newfoundland, a lookout in the Essex's maintop spotted a Royal Navy sloop that proved to be HMS Alert. To lure the British warship in to striking range, Porter again disguised his small frigate as a merchant. Taking the bait, the Alert closed to within two miles before her captain realized his mistake. At this point, unable to flee from the speedy Essex, the Alert continued to close and opened fire. Her shots did little damage, but when the Essex replied with a full broadside it was a different story indeed. It was a withering blast, quickly followed by several more. The battle was over in less than ten minutes when the Alert struck her colors.

Not only did this action give Porter the honor of scoring the first capture of a British warship in the War of 1812, but this first cruise was to have an important effect on the conduct of the remainder of the war as well. In roughly the same period that Porter had scored these multiple successes, Rodgers' squadron had managed to capture a mere seven merchants, despite having taken his three large frigates, a sloop, and a brig across the Atlantic and back. When compared to Porter's success as a lone wolf, this poor showing convinced Hamilton to shift to the strategy originally proposed by Decatur. Before long, Decatur and others would defeat their British counterparts in one-on-one sea fights that would not only astound the world but inject a much needed boost to national morale in some of the darker days of the war.

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
The men of the U.S. Navy's brown-water force played a vital but often overlooked role in the... Read More
BATTLE OF LEYTE GULF
The last great naval battle of World War II, Leyte Gulf also is remembered as the biggest naval... Read More
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

 
 

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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...

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Meet the Author & Book Signing

Sat, 2014-08-30

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