Lest We Forget

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

At first, he was happily surprised that the Hope surrendered without a fight. But as he closed in to claim his prize, he realized that the clever British captain had passed the order for his men to cut the ships halyards, knowing that this would prevent Mugford from being able to sail the disabled ship away before the nearby enemy fleet could respond.

Mugford opened fire with a volley of oaths and promises that the captain and his entire crew would suffer a horrid death if they persisted in cutting the lines. Knives and axes dropped to the deck, and Mugford soon had his undamaged prize. He immediately set sail and delivered much-needed supplies—including 1,500 barrels of gunpowder and 1,000 carbines—to the American troops ashore.

Knowing the Royal Navy would be seeking retribution, Mugford then headed for the open sea. But an opposing tide prevented him from getting far, and he was soon compelled to anchor. Expecting the worst, Mugford ordered a quantity of 12-pound shot heated until red hot and had springs fixed to his anchor cables to allow him to swing his ship about should he need to unmask batteries.

Before dawn could ease the inky darkness, lookouts heard the creak and splash of approaching oars. When Mugford hailed them, a voice replied, "For God's sake don't shoot! We are friends from Boston come to help you." Unfooled by this attempted ruse, Mugford opened fire with a broadside.

Of 14 boats filled with 200 British soldiers, five were immediately destroyed, but the others pressed the attack, and soldiers began clamoring up the Franklin 's hull. In the vicious fight that ensued, the Americans dropped red-hot cannon balls on the attackers' heads, and as the enemy soldiers grasped at the Franklin 's rails, the Americans lopped off a great many fingers and whole hands. Mugford alone severed five pairs of hands. But he soon paid battle's ultimate toll and fell, mortally wounded.

Before he died, Mugford told his second-in-command, "I am a dead man. But do not give up the vessel. You will be able to beat them off. If not, cut the cable and run the schooner on shore!" Not as succinct as Captain James Lawrence's later "Don't give up the ship," but the spirit was the same.

The lieutenant did indeed run the schooner ashore and saved her from capture. The British lost 70 men in the fight, while Captain Mugford was the only American death. A century later, a monument was placed in his honor on Old Burial Hill in Marblehead.

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.

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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
Videotape Interview
10:00am, “Veterans Oral Histories Series,” American Veterans Center, 1100 N. Glebe Rd., Arlington,... Read More


Conferences and Events

Maritime Security Dialogue

Mon, 2016-06-13

You are cordially invited to: U.S. Coast Guard Update A discussion with: Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, USCG25th Commandant of the U.S...

2016 Naval History Conference

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