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It is not uncommon to
see small vessels with low sails thus retarded, while larger are being
urged forward by their lofty light canvas. The line otherwise having
been formed, Perry stood down without regard to them. At quarter
before noon the "Detroit" opened upon the "Lawrence" with her long
guns. Ten minutes later the Americans began to reply. Finding the
British fire at this range more destructive than he had anticipated,
Perry made more sail upon the Lawrence. Word had already been passed
by hail of trumpet to close up in the line, and for each vessel to
come into action against her opponent, before designated. The
"Lawrence" continued thus to approach obliquely, using her own long
twelves, and backed by the long guns of the vessels ahead and astern,
till she was within "canister range," apparently about two hundred and
fifty yards, when she turned her side to the wind on the weather
quarter of the "Detroit," bringing her carronade battery to bear
(position 2). This distance was greater than desirable for carronades;
but with a very light breeze, little more than two miles an hour,
there was a limit to the time during which it was prudent to allow an
opponent's raking fire to play, unaffected in aim by any reply.
Moreover, much of her rigging was already shot away, and she was
becoming unmanageable. The battle was thus joined by the
commander-in-chief; but, while supported to his satisfaction by the
"Scorpion" and "Ariel" ahead, and "Caledonia" astern, with their long
guns, the "Niagara" did not come up, and her carronades failed to do
their share. The captain of her opponent, the "Queen Charlotte,"
finding that his own carronades would not reach her, made sail ahead,
passed the "Hunter," and brought his battery to the support of the
"Detroit" in her contest with the "Lawrence" (Q_{2}). Perry's vessel
thus found herself under the combined fire of the "Detroit," "Queen
Charlotte," and in some measure of the "Hunter"; the armament of the
last, however, was too trivial to count for much.

Elliott's first placing of the "Niagara" may, or may not, have been
judicious as regards his particular opponent. The "Queen Charlotte's"
twenty-fours would not reach him; and it may be quite proper to take a
range where your own guns can tell and your enemy's cannot.
Circumstance must determine. The precaution applicable in a naval duel
may cease to be so when friends are in need of assistance; and when
the British captain, seeing how the case stood, properly and
promptly carried his ship forward to support his commander,
concentrating two vessels upon Perry's one, the situation was entirely
changed. The plea set up by Cooper, who fought Elliott's battle
conscientiously, but with characteristic bitterness as well as
shrewdness, that the "Niagara's" position, assigned in the line behind
the "Caledonia," could not properly be left without signal,
practically surrenders the case. It is applying the dry-rot system of
fleet tactics in the middle of the eighteenth century to the days
after Rodney and Nelson, and is further effectually disposed of by the
consentient statement of several of the American captains, that their
commander's dispositions were made with reference to the enemy's
order; that is, that he assigned a special enemy's ship to a special
American, and particularly the "Detroit" to the "Lawrence," and the
"Queen Charlotte" to the "Niagara." The vessels of both fleets being
so heterogeneous, it was not wise to act as with units nearly
homogeneous, by laying down an order, the governing principle of which
was mutual support by a line based upon its own intrinsic qualities.
The considerations dictating Perry's dispositions were external to his
fleet, not internal; in the enemy's order, not in his own. This was
emphasized by his changing the previously arranged stations of the
"Lawrence" and the "Niagara," when he saw Barclay's line. Lastly, he
re-enforced all this by quoting to his subordinates Nelson's words,
that no captain could go very far wrong who placed his vessel close
alongside those of the enemy.


Cooper, the ablest of Elliott's champions, has insisted so strongly
upon the obligation of keeping the station _in the line_, as laid
down, that it is necessary to examine the facts in the particular
case. He rests the certainty of his contention on general principles,
then long exploded, and further upon a sentence in Perry's charges,
preferred in 1818, that "the commanding officer [Perry] issued, 1st,
an order directing in what manner the line of battle should be formed
... and enjoined upon the commanders to preserve their stations in the
line" thus laid down.[87] This is correct; but Cooper omits to give
the words immediately following in the specification: "and in all
cases to keep as near the commanding officer's vessel [the "Lawrence"]
as possible."[88] Cooper also omits that which next succeeds: "2d, An
order of attack, in which the 'Lawrence' was designated to attack the
enemy's new ship (afterwards ascertained to have been named the
'Detroit'), and the 'Niagara' designated to attack the 'Queen
Charlotte,' which orders were then communicated to all the commanders,
including the said Captain Elliott, who for that purpose ... were by
signal called together by the said commanding officer ... and
expressly instructed that 'if, in the expected engagement, they laid
their vessels close alongside of those of the enemy, they could not be
out of the way.'"[89] An officer, if at once gallant and intelligent,
finding himself behind a dull sailing vessel, as Cooper tells us the
"Caledonia" was, could hardly desire clearer authority than the above
to imitate his commanding officer when he made sail to close the
enemy:--"Keep close to him," and follow up the ship which "the
'Niagara' was designated to attack."

Charges preferred are not technical legal proof, but, if duly
scrutinized, they are statements equivalent in value to many that
history rightly accepts; and, at all events, that which Cooper quotes
is not duly scrutinized if that which he does not quote is omitted. He
does indeed express a gloss upon them, in the words: "Though the
'Niagara' was ordered to direct her fire at the 'Queen Charlotte,' it
could only be done from her station astern of the 'Caledonia,' ...
without violating the primary order to preserve the line."[90] This
does not correctly construe the natural meaning of Perry's full
instructions. It is clear that, while he laid down a primary
formation, "a line of battle," he also most properly qualified it by a
contingent instruction, an "order of attack," designed to meet the
emergency likely to occur in every fleet engagement, and which
occurred here, when a slavish adherence to the line of battle would
prevent intelligent support to the main effort. If he knew naval
history, as his quotation from Nelson indicates, he also knew how many
a battle had been discreditably lost by "keeping the line."

With regard to the line, however, it is apt to remark that in fleet
battle, unless otherwise specially directed, the line of the assailant
was supposed to be parallel to that of the defence, for the obvious
reason that the attacking vessels should all be substantially at the
same effective range. This distance, equal for all in fleets as
usually constituted, would naturally be set, and in practice was set,
by the commander-in-chief; his ship forming the point through which
should be drawn the line parallel to the enemy. This rule, well
established under Rodney, who died in 1792, was rigidly applicable
between vessels of the same force, such as the "Lawrence" and
"Niagara;" and whatever deductions might be made for the case of a
light-framed vessel, armed with long guns, like the "Caledonia,"
keeping out of carronade distance of an opponent with heavy scantling,
would not in the least apply to the "Niagara." For her, the standard
of position was not, as Cooper insists, a half-cable's length from her
next ahead, the "Caledonia;" but abreast her designated opponent, at
the same distance as the "Lawrence" from the enemy's line. Repeated
mishaps had established the rule that position was to be taken from
the centre,--that is, from the commander-in-chief. Ships in line of
battle, bearing down upon an enemy in like order, did not steer in
each other's wake, unless specially ordered; and there is something
difficult to understand in the "Niagara" with her topsail sharp aback
to keep from running on board the "Caledonia," although the fact is in
evidence. The expression in Perry's report of the action, "at 10 A.M.
... formed the line and bore up," would by a person familiar with
naval battles be understood to mean that the line was first formed
parallel to the enemy, the vessels following one another, after which
they steered down for him, changing course together; they would then
no longer be in each other's wake, but in echelon, or as the naval
phrase then went, in bow and quarter line. Barclay confirms this, "At
10 the enemy bore up under easy sail, in a line abreast."[91] Thus,
when the distance desired by the commander-in-chief was reached,--a
fact more often indicated by his example than by signal,--the helm
would bring them again in line of battle, their broadsides bearing
upon the enemy.

The technical point at issue is whether Perry, finding the long-gun
fire of the "Detroit" more destructive than he had anticipated, and
determining in consequence to shorten the period of its duration by
changing his original plan, increasing sail beyond the speed of such
slower vessels as the "Caledonia," had a right to expect that his
subordinates would follow his example. In the opinion of the writer,
he had, in the then condition of the theory and practice of fleet
battles; his transfer of his own position transferred the line of
battle in its entirety to the distance relative to the enemy which he
himself was seeking to assume. Were other authority lacking, his
action was warrant to his captains; but the expression in his report,
"I made sail, and directed the other vessels to follow, for the
purpose of closing with the enemy," causes increased regret that the
exact facts were not ascertained by cross-examination before a

Elliott's place therefore was alongside the "Queen Charlotte," so to
engage her that she could attend to nothing else.

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