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The depredations of scattered
cruisers may inflict immense vexation, and even embarrassment; but
they neither kill nor mortally wound, they merely harass. Co-operating
with other influences, they may induce yielding in a maritime enemy;
but singly they never have done so, and probably never can. In 1814 no
commerce was left to the United States; and that conditions remained
somewhat better during 1813 was due to collusion of the enemy, not to
national power.

The needs of the British armies in the Spanish Peninsula and in
Canada, and the exigencies of the West India colonies, induced the
enemy to wink at, and even to uphold, a considerable clandestine
export trade from the United States. Combined with this was the hope
of embarrassing the general government by the disaffection of New
England, and of possibly detaching that section of the country from
the Union. For these reasons, the eastern coast was not included in
the commercial blockade in 1813. But no motive existed for permitting
the egress of armed vessels, or the continuance of the coasting trade,
by which always, now as then, much of the intercourse between
different parts of the country must be maintained, and upon which in
1812 it depended almost altogether. With the approach of spring in
1813, therefore, not only was the commercial blockade extended to
embrace New York and all south of it, together with the Mississippi
River, but the naval constriction upon the shore line became so severe
as practically to annihilate the coasting trade, considered as a means
of commercial exchange. It is not possible for deep-sea cruisers
wholly to suppress the movement of small vessels, skirting the beaches
from headland to headland; but their operations can be so much
embarrassed as to reduce their usefulness to a bare alleviation of
social necessities, inadequate to any scale of interchange deserving
the name of commerce.

"I doubt not," wrote Captain Broke, when challenging Lawrence to a
ship duel, "that you will feel convinced that it is only by repeated
triumphs in even combat that your little navy can now hope to console
your country for the loss of that trade it cannot protect."[128] The
taunt, doubtless intended to further the object of the letter by the
provocation involved, was applicable as well to coasting as to
deep-sea commerce. It ignored, however, the consideration, necessarily
predominant with American officers, that the conditions of the war
imposed commerce destruction as the principal mission of their navy.
They were not indeed to shun combat, when it offered as an incident,
but neither were they to seek it as a mere means of glory,
irrespective of advantage to be gained. Lawrence, whom Broke's letter
did not reach, was perhaps not sufficiently attentive to this motive.

The British blockade, military and commercial, the coastwise
operations of their navy, and the careers of American cruisers
directed to the destruction of British commerce, are then the three
heads under which the ocean activities of 1813 divide. Although this
chapter is devoted to the first two of these subjects, brief mention
should be made here of the distant cruises of two American vessels,
because, while detached from any connection with other events, they
are closely linked, in time and place, with the disastrous seaboard
engagement between the "Chesapeake" and "Shannon," with which the
account of sea-coast maritime operations opens. On April 30 Captain
John Rodgers put to sea from Boston in the frigate "President,"
accompanied by the frigate "Congress," Captain John Smith. Head winds
immediately after sailing detained them inside of Cape Cod until May
3, and it was not till near George's Bank that any of the blockading
squadron was seen. As, by the Admiralty's instructions, one of the
blockaders was usually a ship of the line, the American vessels very
properly evaded them. The two continued together until May 8, when
they separated, some six hundred miles east of Delaware Bay. Rodgers
kept along northward to the Banks of Newfoundland, hoping, at that
junction of commercial highways, to fall in with a West India convoy,
or vessels bound into Halifax or the St. Lawrence. Nothing, however,
was seen, and he thence steered to the Azores with equal bad fortune.
Obtaining thereabouts information of a homeward-bound convoy from the
West Indies, he went in pursuit to the northeast, but failed to find
it. Not till June 9 did he make three captures, in quick succession.
Being then two thirds of the way to the English Channel, he determined
to try the North Sea, shaping his course to intercept vessels bound
either by the north or south of Ireland. Not a sail was met until the
Shetland Islands were reached, and there were found only Danes, which,
though Denmark was in hostility with Great Britain, were trading under
British licenses. The "President" remained in the North Sea until the
end of July, but made only two prizes, although she lay in wait for
convoys of whose sailing accounts were received. Having renewed her
supply of water at Bergen, in Norway, she returned to the Atlantic,
made three captures off the north coast of Ireland, and thence beat
back to the Banks, where two stray homeward-bound West Indiamen were
at last caught. From there the ship made her way, still with a
constant head wind, to Nantucket, off which was captured a British
man-of-war schooner, tender to the admiral. On September 27 she
anchored in Narragansett Bay, having been absent almost five months,
and made twelve prizes, few of which were valuable. One, however, was
a mail packet to Halifax, the capture of which, as of its
predecessors, was noted by Prevost.[129]

The "Congress" was still less successful in material result. She
followed a course which had hitherto been a favorite with American
captains, and which Rodgers had suggested as alternative to his own;
southeast, passing near the Cape Verde Islands, to the equator between
longitudes 24 and 31 west; thence to the coast of Brazil, and so
home, by a route which carried her well clear of the West India
Islands. She entered Portsmouth, New Hampshire, December 14, having
spent seven months making this wide sweep; in the course of which
three prizes only were taken.[130] It will be remembered that the
"Chesapeake," which had returned only a month before the "Congress"
sailed, had taken much the same direction with similar slight result.

These cruises were primarily commerce-destroying, and were pursued in
that spirit, although with the full purpose of fighting should
occasion arise. The paucity of result is doubtless to be attributed to
the prey being sought chiefly on the high seas, too far away from the
points of arrival and departure. The convoy system, rigidly enforced,
as captured British correspondence shows, cleared the seas of British
vessels, except in the spots where they were found congested,
concentrated, by the operation of the system itself. It may be noted
that the experience of all these vessels showed that nowhere was the
system so rigidly operative as in the West Indies and Western
Atlantic. Doubtless, too, the naval officers in command took pains to
guide the droves of vessels entrusted to them over unusual courses,
with a view to elude pursuers. As the home port was neared, the common
disposition to relax tension of effort as the moment of relief draws
nigh, co-operated with the gradual drawing together of convoys from
all parts of the world to make the approaches to the English Channel
the most probable scene of success for the pursuer. There the greatest
number were to be found, and there presumption of safety tended to
decrease carefulness. This was to be amply proved by subsequent
experience. It had been predicted by Rodgers himself, although he
apparently did not think wise to hazard in such close quarters so fine
and large a frigate as the "President." "It is very generally
believed," he had written, "that the coasts of England, Ireland, and
Scotland are always swarming with British men of war, and that their
commerce would be found amply protected. This, however, I well know
by experience, in my voyages when a youth, to be incorrect; and that
it has always been their policy to keep their enemies as far distant
from their shores as possible, by stationing their ships at the
commencement of a war on the enemy's coasts, and in such other distant
situations, ... and thereby be enabled to protect their own commerce
in a twofold degree. This, however, they have been enabled to do,
owing as well to the inactivity of the enemy, as to the local
advantages derived from their relative situations."[131]

The same tendency was observable at other points of arrival, and
recognition of this dictated the instructions issued to Captain
Lawrence for the cruise of the "Chesapeake," frustrated through her
capture by the "Shannon." Lawrence was appointed to the ship on May 6;
the sailing orders issued to Captain Evans being transferred to him on
that date. He was to go to the mouth of the Gulf of St. Lawrence,
seeking there to intercept the military store-ships, and transports
with troops, destined to Quebec and Upper Canada. "The enemy," wrote
the Secretary, "will not in all probability anticipate our taking this
ground with our public ships of war; and as his convoys generally
separate between Cape Race and Halifax, leaving the trade of the St.
Lawrence to proceed without convoy, the chance of captures upon an
extensive scale is very flattering." He added the just remark, that
"it is impossible to conceive a naval service of a higher order in a
national point of view than the destruction of the enemy's vessels,
with supplies for his army in Canada and his fleets on this
station."[132]

Lawrence took command of the "Chesapeake" at Boston on May 20. The
ship had returned from her last cruise April 9, and had been so far
prepared for sea by her former commander that, as has been seen, her
sailing orders were issued May 6. It would appear from the statement
of the British naval historian James,[133] based upon a paper captured
in the ship, that the enlistments of her crew expired in April.
Although there were many reshipments, and a nucleus of naval seamen,
there was a large infusion of new and untrained men, amounting to a
reconstitution of the ship's company.



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