No. 137. [1st Session.
CAPTORS OF THE BRITISH SHIP OF WAR LEVANT REWARDED
AFTER THE RE-CAPTURE OF THE SAID VESSEL.
COMMUNICATED TO THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, FEBRUARY 5, 1816.
Mr. Pleasants made the following report:
The Committee on Naval Affairs, to whom was referred the petition of Captain Charles Stewart, late commander of the frigate Constitution, praying to be paid the value of the Levant, a British ship of war captured by the Constitution in her late cruise, and taken by force out of the harbor of Port Praya, a neutral port, by a squadron of British ships, have had the said petition under consideration, and make the following report: The petitioner states that, on the 20th of February 1815, with the frigate Constitution under his command, whilst cruising in the neighborhood of the island of Madeira, he fell in with two British ships of war, the Cyane mounting thirty-four guns, and the Levant mounting twenty-one; that the Constitution brought the two ships to action, and captured both after a conflict of forty minutes; that having taken possession of her prizes the Constitution proceeded on her cruise, and on the 10th of March anchored with her prizes in Port Praya in St. Jago, one of the Cape de Verd islands belonging to Portugal; that, on the next day, March the 11th, whilst lying in the said port, they discovered a squadron of ships, which ultimately proved to be British, consisting of three sail, two of sixty-eight and one of fifty guns, commanded by Sir George Collier; that the Constitution with her prizes immediately got under way, and with much difficulty escaped the enemy, who had approached very near, under cover of a thick fog, before they were discovered; that the Constitution and Cyane got off without being brought to action by so superior a force, and the Levant, which had moved in a direction to divide the attention of the enemy, being pursued, was enabled to get back into Port Praya, and anchored close under the batteries, thinking the enemy would respect the neutrality of the port; that in that situation she was attacked and taken possession of by the enemy, without any attempt on the part of the Portuguese to prevent the outrage.
The petitioner asks of Congress to pay to the officers and crew of the Constitution the value of the Levant, she having been captured by them on the high seas, and forcibly taken from a neutral port by the enemy.
The committee are of opinion that the petitioners have not a right to demand of the United States the value of the said prize. Though the Government have a right to demand of the Portuguese Government compensation for the outrage committed in one of their ports, and if compensation is made, the amount ought to be paid to the captors, yet in the many and great losses sustained by our citizens during the late war in Europe by the violation of their neutral rights, it has not been the practice of the Government to make compensation for such losses. Were it to be done in this case, the captors would be placed in a more eligible situation than if the outrage had not been committed; in that case they would have had to encounter the ordinary dangers of the sea in bringing their prize into port; and also the hazard of recapture by the enemy. But proceeding on the principle acted on by Congress in other cases which occurred during the late war, of making some compensation for the gallantry and good conduct of the officers and men, where they did not succeed in getting their prizes into port, and such gallantry and good conduct having been signally displayed in this action, the proper tribunals having determined that the force of the enemy was superior, the committee taking the case of the Frolic captured by the Wasp, and recaptured by the enemy, as a proper criterion, the force of the Levant being about equal to that of the Frolic, and the compensation made being twenty-five thousand dollars, recommend the passage of an act authorizing the payment of that sum to the officers and crew of the Constitution, to be deducted from the value of the Levant, provided the Government succeed in obtaining such value from the Portuguese Government. For this purpose they herewith report a bill.
To the honorable the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled.
The petition of the subscriber respectfully showeth:
Philadelphia, December 22, 1815.
That, on the 20th day of February, 1815, the United States frigate Constitution, then under his command, did, in pursuance of the orders of the late honorable Secretary of the Navy, William Jones, overtake on the high seas, about sixty leagues from the island of Madeira, His Britannic Majesty's ships of War the Cyane of thirty-four guns, commanded by Captain Gordon Falcon, and the Levant of twenty-one guns, commanded by Captain the honorable George Douglas, both post captains in the navy of Great Britain, and did there bring to action, engage with, and capture the said two ships of war, the Cyane and Levant, after a sharp conflict of forty minutes; and that your petitioner did take possession of the two prizes aforesaid, and proceed in the frigate Constitution with them to the island of St. Jago, one of the Cape de Verd, in the possession of the troops and subjects of the Prince Regent of Portugal, with whom we were at peace, and from whom there had issued a declaration of neutrality when the war between the United States and Great Britain was made known to him; that your petitioner, having come to anchor with the Constitution, and the above named prizes, in Port Praya, in the aforesaid island of St Jago, on the 10th day of March, 1815, discovered, on the following day, while preparations were making by your petitioner to divest himself of his prisoners, by sending them on parole to Barbadoes agreeable to his instructions, off the port, a squadron of three ships of war, belonging to the King of Great Britain, commanded by his officers generally, and under the command of the honorable Sir George Collier particularly, consisting of the Leander of sixty-eight guns, Newcastle of sixty-eight guns, and Acasta of fifty guns; that the said squadron by means of, and covered by, a thick fog, approached the ship Constitution and her two prizes within three miles before they were discovered, which near approach left no time for your petitioner to hesitate or deliberate on the situation of your good ship the Constitution and her two prizes, but obliged him, for the security of that valuable vessel entrusted to his care, to get under weigh and rescue her from the probable grasp of the enemy, which your petitioner did, taking with him the two prize ships
aforesaid, that they might be used according to circumstances, and for the purpose of saving the Constitution: all of which was done according to the best skill and judgment of your petitioner) and your precious ship the Constitution returned in safety to the port of Boston.
And your petitioner humbly begs leave to state, to your honorable body, that while they were in the act of getting under weigh in the harbor of Port Praya, the flag of the Prince Regent of Portugal was hoisted on two several forts, and a fire opened from their batteries upon the Constitution and her two prizes; several shot from them passing both over and striking near the bends of the Constitution; that after your petitioner had derived all the advantages he could from his prizes aforesaid, the Levant returned into the harbor of Port Praya, and came to anchor close to the batteries thereof, where she was soon after attacked by the aforesaid squadron, under the command of the aforesaid Sir George Collier, and forcibly taken possession of by them and carried from out of the harbor of Port Praya aforesaid, without the troops, garrison, or subjects of the Prince Regent of Portugal making any resistance or hindrance whatever, as they were in duty bound to do within the harbors and neutral waters of the Prince Regent of Portugal.
Your petitioner, therefore, for and in behalf of himself, the gallant officers, and crew of the frigate Constitution under his command, and in consideration of their being so unlawfully and unjustly robbed and deprived of the usual advantages that would accrue to them, for their gallantry in engaging and subduing the aforesaid two ships of war belonging to the King of Great Britain, humbly begs your honorable body will take this their case into consideration; and that you will be pleased to grant to them the value of the said ship Levant, of which they have been deprived as above stated: and your petitioner will ever pray, &c. &c.
Late commander of the United Slates frigate Constitution.
Navy Department, January 5, 1816.
In compliance with the instructions of the honorable Committee upon Naval Affairs, communicated by your letter of the 29th ultimo, I have the honor to enclose to you papers No. 1 to 6; which contain all the information in. the possession of this Department relative to the capture, of the British vessels of war Cyane and Levant, by the United States' frigate Constitution, under the command of Captain Charles Stewart, of the United States' Navy. I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
B. W. CROWNINSHIELD.
Hon. James Pleasants, Jun.
Chairman of the Committee on Naval Affairs, House of Representatives.
U. S. frigate Constitution, May, 1815.
On the 20th of February last, the island of Madeira bearing about west-south west, distant sixty leagues, we fell in with His Britannic Majesty's two ships of war the Cyane and the Levant, and brought them to action about 6 o'clock in the evening; both of which, after a spirited engagement of forty minutes, surrendered to the ship under my command.
Considering the advantages derived by the enemy, from a divided and more active force, as also their superiority in the weight, and number of their guns, I deem the speedy and decisive result of this action the strongest assurance which can be given to Government that all under my command did their duty, and gallantly supported the reputation of American seamen.
Enclosed you will receive the minutes of the action, and a list of the killed and wounded on board this ship; also, enclosed, you will receive, for your information, a statement of the actual force of the enemy, and the number of killed and wounded on board their ships as near as could be ascertained.
I have the honor to be, &c.
Hon. B. W. Crowninshield, Secretary of the Navy.
Minutes of the chase of the U. S. frigate Constitution, by an English squadron of three ships, from out the
harbor of Fort Praya, island of St. Jago.
Commences with fresh breezes and foggy weather; at five minutes past 12, discovered a large ship through the fog, standing in for, Port Praya; at eight minutes past 12, discovered two other large ships astern of her, also standing in for the port. From their general appearance, supposed them to be one of the enemy's squadrons, and from the little respect hitherto paid by them to neutral waters, I deemed it most prudent to put to sea. The signal was made to the Cyane and Levant to get under weigh; at twelve after meridian, with our topsail set, we cut our cable and got under weigh, (when the Portuguese opened a fire on us from several of their batteries on shore;) the prize ships following our motions, and stood out of the harbor of Port Praya close under East point, passing the enemy's squadron about gunshot to windward of them. Crossed our top-gallant yards and set foresail, mainsail, spanker, flying jib, and top-gallant sails. The enemy seeing us under weigh, tacked ship, and made all sail in chase of us. As far as we could judge of their rates from the thickness of the weather, supposed them two ships of the line, and one frigate. At half past meridian, cut away the boats towing astern, first cutter and gig; at 1 P. M. found our sailing about equal with the ship on our quarter, but the frigate luffing, gaining our wake, and rather dropping astern of us; finding the Cyane dropping astern and to leeward, and the frigate gaining on her fast, I found it impossible to save her if she continued on the same course, without having the Constitution brought to action by their whole: force; I made the signal at ten minutes past 1 P. M. to her to tack ship, which, was complied with. This manoeuvre, I conceived, would detach one of the enemy's ships in pursuit of her, while, at the same time, from her position, she would be enabled to reach the anchorage at Port Praya before the detached ships could come up with her; but, if they did not tack after her, it would afford her an opportunity to double their rear, and make her escape before the wind. They all continued in full chase of the Levant and this ship; the ship on our lee quarter firing by divisions broadsides; her shot falling short of us. At 3 P. M. by our having dropped the Levant considerably, her situation became (from the position of the enemy's frigate) similar to the Cyane, it became necessary to separate also from the Levant, or risk this ship being brought to action to cover her. I made the signal at five minutes past 3 for her to tack, which was complied with; at twelve minutes past 3, the whole of the enemy's squadron tacked in pursuit of the Levant, and gave up the pursuit of this ship. This sacrifice of the Levant became necessary for the preservation of the Constitution. Sailing-master Hixon, midshipman Varnum, one boatswain's mate, and twelve men, were absent on duty in the fifth cutter, to bring the cartel brig under our stern.
Minutes of the action between the United States frigate Constitution and His Majesty's ships Cyane and Levant,
on the 20th February, 1815.
Commences with light breezes from the eastward and cloudy weather; at 1, discovered a sail two points on the larboard bow; hauled up and made sail in chase; at quarter past 1, made the sail to be a ship; at three-quarters
past 1, discovered another sail ahead; made them out at 2 P. M. to be both ships, standing close hauled with their starboard tacks on board. At 4 P. M. the weathermost ship made signals, and bore up for her consort, then about ten miles to leeward; we bore up after her, and set lower topmast, topgallant, and royal studding sails in chase; at half past 4, carried away our main royal mast; took in the sails and got another prepared. At 5 P. M. commenced firing on the chase, from our two larboard bow guns; our shot falling short, ceased firing; at half past 5, finding it impossible to prevent their junction, cleared ship for action, then about four miles from the two ships; at forty minutes after 5, they passed within hail of each other and hauled by the wind on the starboard tack, hauled up their courses, and prepared to receive us; at forty-five minutes past 5, they made all sail close hauled by the wind, in hopes of getting to windward of us; at fifty-five minutes past 5, finding themselves disappointed in their object, and we were closing with them fast, they shortened sail, and formed on a line of wind about half a cable's length from each other. At 6 P. M., having them under command of our battery, hoisted our colors, which was answered by both ships hoisting English ensigns. At five minutes past 6, ranged up on the starboard side of the sternmost ship about three hundred yards distant, and commenced the action by broadsides, both ships returning our fire with great spirit for about fifteen minutes; then the fire of the enemy beginning to slacken, and the great column of smoke collected under our lee induced us to cease our fire to ascertain their positions and conditions; and in about three minutes, the smoke clearing away, we found ourselves abreast of the headmost ship, the sternmost ship luffing up for our larboard quarter; we poured a broadside into the headmost ship, and then braced aback our main and mizzen topsails, and backed astern under cover of the smoke, abreast the sternmost ship; when the action was continued with spirit and considerable effect until thirty-five minutes past 6, when the enemy's fire again slackened, and we discovered the headmost bearing up; filled our topsails, shot ahead, and gave her two stern rakes; we then discovered the sternmost ship wearing also, wore ship immediately after her, and gave her a stern rake, she luffing too on our starboard bows, and giving us her larboard broadside; we ranged up on her larboard quarter within hail, and was about to give her our starboard broadside, when she struck her colors, fired a lee gun, and yielded. At fifty minutes past 6, took possession of His Majesty's ship Cyane, Captain Gordon Falcon, mounting thirty-four guns. At 8 P. M. filled away after her consort, which was still in sight to leeward; at half past 8, found her standing towards us, with her starboard tacks close hauled, with topgallant sails set, and colors flying; at fifty minutes past 8, ranged close along to windward of her, on opposite tacks, and exchanged broadsides, wore immediately under her stern and raked her with a broadside, she then crowded all sail, and endeavored to escape by running; hauled on board our tacks, set spanker and flying jib in chase; at half past 9, commenced firing on her from our starboard bow chaser, gave her several shot, which cut her spars and rigging considerably; at 10 P. M. finding they could not escape, fired a gun, struck her colors, and yielded. We immediately took possession of His Majesty's ship Levant Hon. Captain George Douglas, mounting twenty-one guns. At 1 A. M. the damages of our rigging was repaired, sails shifted, and the ship in fighting condition.
United States frigate Constitution, February 23, 1815.
Captain Stewart takes the first opportunity of returning his thanks to the officers, seamen, ordinary seamen, and marines of this ship, for their gallantry, order, and discipline, displayed by all under his command on the night of the 20th instant, while engaged with His Majesty's late ships Cyane and Levant, and congratulates them on the glorious result of their exertions; a result which could not have been produced against so superior a force, commanded by distinguished officers, without the energy and order so conspicuously exhibited by all on that occasion. We were not only outnumbered in guns and weight of metal by the enemy, but had also to contend with a more active class of vessels, and a divided force, which gave to them every advantage. Be assured that the laurels you have acquired for yourselves will never fade, and that the share of glory you have given to your country will be hailed by your fellow citizens with the greatest satisfaction, and posterity, in beholding the trophies gained by your gallant predecessors in victory, shall view with grateful sensations the two which you have added to their number.
You will accept his thanks for the promptness with which you repaired the damages and secured the three ships, and he assures you that it will not be least among your merits, when it is known, that in one hour after a contest so severe, your own ship was ready to fight another action, and your prizes enabled to make sail.
The excellent example hitherto shown by our naval victors in their respect towards the persons and property of a subdued enemy, he trusts, will not be deviated from by any under his command; surely, there can be none among you who can be desirous of tarnishing so much of your well earned glory, as to hesitate between the choice of being scornfully pointed at as a plunderer, or to perceive the finger of satisfaction selecting you as a hero. If, therefore, any of you have unwarily possessed yourselves improperly of either public or private property, he commands you to give it immediately to the commanding officer. You surely cannot wish to bring disgrace on your commander or your officers, whom you have so gallantly supported.
It is much to be regretted, that on occasions like the present, the commander is not permitted to see with his own eyes the distinguished merits of each officer, that he might thank them individually for their exertions, but as all must have done their duty well to produce such decisive effect, he begs they will receive his thanks collectively. He tenders to the officers commanding the gun-deck, forecastle, and quarter-deck divisions, his thanks for the steady and incessant fire kept up by their batteries, the vivacity of which nothing could surpass. To Captain Henderson and Lieutenant Freeman, commanding the marines, he owes his grateful thanks for the lively and well directed fire kept up by the detachment under their command. He thanks Mr. Hixon, and the officers stationed on the forecastle and tops, for their steady attention to orders, and the promptness with which they replaced every thing important that was shot away. To Mr. Pottinger and the officers superintending the magazines and passages, he gives his thanks for the facility with which every essential was furnished the batteries from their departments. To Doctor Kearney, and his assistants in the cockpit, he feels great obligations for their humanity and skill in relieving and assisting the wounded. Captain Stewart begs Lieutenant Ballard to accept "his thanks for the prompt assistance he gave him in all the operations and manoeuvres of the ship, for the alacrity with which every order was attended to, and the promptness with which they were executed, and he assures him that the gallantry and good conduct displayed by him on that occasion will make a lasting impression on his gratitude. To Mr. Humphreys, commanding the flag-guard, and the officers attached to him as aids, he gives his thanks, and assures them that he is highly satisfied with their gallantry and support.
U. S. Frigate Constitution, off New York, May 18, 1815.
Agreeably to an act of Congress, I have the pleasure to transmit to you the flags of His Britannic Majesty's late ships Cyane and Levant, by Captain Henderson, commanding the detachment of marines on board the Constitution, whom I beg leave to recommend to your notice.
Captain Henderson is also the bearer of one of the Constitution's muskets, which I request your permission to deposite in the Navy Department, as an evidence of the veracity of the late enemy.
I am, very respectfully, &c.
Hon. B. W. Crowninshield, Secretary of the Navy, Washington.
Baltimore, May 2, 1815.
I have the honor to make known to you my arrival at this place with a part of the officers and crew of the United States' frigate Constitution, captured in a prize, the Levant, in the harbor of Port Praya, in the island of St. Jago, by a squadron of His Britannic Majesty's ships, consisting of the Leander, Sir George Collier, the Newcastle, Lord George Stewart, and the Acasta, Captain Kerr. For the particulars of my recapture, I beg leave to refer you to the enclosed extract from the log-book of the Levant.
Haying caused the destruction of my own papers, as well as those of the officers with me, I can only say to you, relative to the Constitution, that, after leaving the port of Boston, she severally cruised off the islands of Bermuda and Madeira, in the Bay of Biscay, and for some time in sight of the Rock of Lisbon, without having met with but two of the enemy's vessels, one of which was destroyed, the other ordered in; and that, on the evening of the 20th of February, the island of Madeira bearing west-southwest distant seventy leagues, fell in with, engaged, and, after a close action of forty minutes, captured His Britannic Majesty's ships Cyane, Captain Gordon Falcon, and Levant, Hon. Captain Douglas. It would, sir, be deemed presumption in me to attempt to give you particular details respecting the nature of this action; I shall, therefore, only remark, generally, that every officer, seaman, and marine on board did their duty. I cannot, however, deny myself the pleasure that this opportunity affords me of noticing the brilliant management of Captain Charles Stewart, through whose unerring judgment every attempt of an ingenious enemy to gain a raking position was frustrated.
I have the honor to be, &c.
HENRY E. BALLARD.
The Cyane mounted on her main deck twenty-two 32 lb. carronades; on her upper deck ten 18 lb. carronades, two long 9's, and one 12 lb. carronade, on a travelling carriage, with a complement of 175 men.
The Levant mounted eighteen 32 lb. carronades, two long 9's, and one 12 lb. carronade, with 138 men on board.
The Constitution had four killed and nine wounded; the Cyane, seven killed and seventeen wounded; the Levant, nine killed and seventeen wounded.
Hon. B. W. Crowninshield, Secretary of the Navy.