August 2002 marks the 190th anniversary of one of the great U.S. naval victories of the War of 1812 and the first major conquest by the frigate Constitution. Not often mentioned are the contemporary views of the event.
On 1 September 1812, the following article appeared in Boston’s weekly, The Repertory & General Advertiser. The simple headline was “Naval Victory: Battle between the U.S. frigate Constitution and the British frigate Guerrière." The detailed eyewitness account of the battle it contains was from an unidentified officer:
The U.S. frigate Constitution and Isaac Hull, Esq. commander, anchored in the outer harbor on Sunday morning, from a short but brilliant cruise. An officer from the frigate has favoured us with the particulars of the splendid victory obtained by the Constitution, over his Britannic Majesty’s frigate Guerrière, Captain [James R.J Dacres. The action took place [on 19] Aug. and after a running fight of an hour, the Constitution succeeded in bringing the Guerrière to close of action in about twenty-five minutes after which, she struck! So destructive was the fire of the Constitution, that at the close of the action, it was found impossible to towed [sic] the Guerrière into the port: the crew were accordingly taken out, and the Guerrière blown up!
The Guerrière mounted 49 guns, 18’s and 32’s. She had 15 men killed, (some think 42) and 64 wounded. The Constitution had but seven killed and seven wounded. She has also taken and destroyed two British merchant brigs and recaptured a very valuable brig laden with bale goods, captured seven days before by the British shop of war Avenger, and ordered her for first port. The British prize master and crew are on board the Constitution. The American frigate received no material injury in her action with the Guerrière.
Particulars of the late action between the U.S. frigate Constitution and the British frigate Guerrière (communicated by an officer on board the Constitution):
Lat. 41,42 N. Lon. 55,33, W. Thursday Aug. , fresh breeze from Northwest and cloudy; at 2 P.M. discovered a vessel to the southward; made all sail in chase. ... At 5 the chase hoisted three English Ensigns, and at five minutes past 5, the enemy commenced firing; at 20 minutes past five, set our colours, one at each masthead, and one at the mizen [sic] peak, and began firing on the enemy, and continued to fire occasionally. He wearing very often, and we maneuvering to close with him, and avoid being raked; at 6, set the main-topgallant sail, an enemy having borne up; at five minutes past six, brought the enemy to close action, standing before the wind; at fifteen minutes past six, the enemy’s mizen mast fell over on the starboard side; and twenty minutes past six, finding we were drawing ahead of the enemy. Luffed a short round his bows, to rake him; at twenty-five minutes past six the enemy fell on board of us, his bowsprit foul of our mizen rigging. We prepared to board, but immediately after, his fore and mainmast went by the board, and it was deemed unnecessary. Our cabin had taken fire from his guns; but soon extinguished, without material injury; at half past six, shot ahead of the enemy. When firing ceased on both sides; he making a signal of submission, by firing a gun to the leeward; set fore sail and main sail, and hauled to the eastward to repair damage;, and all our braces and much of our standing and running rigging and some of our spars being shot away.