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To use the nautical expression, she
was on the "Shannon's" weather bow (2). While this was happening her
sailing master was killed and Lawrence wounded; these being the two
officers chiefly concerned in the handling of the ship.

[Illustration: Diagram of the Chesapeake vs. Shannon Battle]

Upon this supervened a concurrence of accidents, affecting her
manageability, which initiated the second scene in the drama, and
called for instantaneous action by the officers injured. The
foretopsail tie being cut by the enemy's fire, the yard dropped,
leaving the sail empty of wind; and at the same time were shot away
the jib-sheet and the brails of the spanker. Although the latter,
flying loose, tends to spread itself against the mizzen rigging, it
probably added little to the effect of the after sails; but, the
foresail not being set, the first two mishaps practically took all the
forward canvas off the "Chesapeake." Under the combined impulses she,
at 5.56, came up into the wind (3), lost her way, and, although her
mainyard had been braced up, finally gathered sternboard; the upshot
being that she lay paralyzed some seventy yards from the "Shannon" (3,
4, 5), obliquely to the latter's course and slightly ahead of her. The
British ship going, or steering, a little off (3), her guns bore fair
upon the "Chesapeake," which, by her involuntarily coming into the
wind,--to such an extent that Broke thought she was attempting to haul
off, and himself hauled closer to the wind in consequence (4),--lost
in great measure the power of reply, except by musketry. The British
shot, entering the stern and quarter of her opponent, swept diagonally
along the after parts of the spar and main decks, a half-raking fire.

Under these conditions Lawrence and the first lieutenant were mortally
wounded, the former falling by a musket-ball through his body; but he
had already given orders to have the boarders called, seeing that the
ship must drift foul of the enemy (5). The chaplain, who in the
boarding behaved courageously, meeting Broke in person with a
pistol-shot, and receiving a cutlass wound in return, was standing
close by the captain at this instant. He afterwards testified that as
Lawrence cried "Boarders away", the crews of the carronades ran
forward; which corresponds to Broke's report that, seeing the enemy
flinching from their guns, he then gave the order for boarding. This
may have been, indeed, merely the instinctive impulse which drives
disorganized men to seek escape from a fire which they cannot return;
but if Cooper is correct in saying that it was the practice of that
day to keep the boarders' weapons, not by their side, but on the
quarter-deck or at the masts, it may also have been that this
division, which had so far stuck to its guns while being raked, now,
at the captain's call, ran from them to get the side-arms. At the
Court of Inquiry it was in evidence that these men were unarmed; and
one of them, a petty officer, stated that he had defended himself with
the monkey tail of his gun. Whatever the cause, although there was
fighting to prevent the "Chesapeake" from being lashed to the
"Shannon", no combined resistance was offered abaft the mainmast.
There the marines made a stand, but were overpowered and driven
forward. The negro bugler of the ship, who should have echoed
Lawrence's summons, was too frightened to sound a note, and the voices
of the aids, who shouted the message to the gun deck, were imperfectly
heard; but, above all, leaders were wanting. There was not on the
upper deck an officer above the grade of midshipman; captain, first
lieutenant, master, marine officer, and even the boatswain, had been
mortally wounded before the ships touched. The second lieutenant was
in charge of the first gun division, at the far end of the deck below,
as yet ignorant how the fight was going, and that the fate of his
superiors had put him in command. Of the remaining lieutenants, also
stationed on the gun deck, the fourth had been mortally wounded by the
first broadside; while the third, who had heard the shout for
boarders, committed the indiscretion, ruinous to his professional
reputation, of accompanying those who, at the moment the ships came
together, were carrying below the wounded captain.

_Drawn by Henry Reuterdahl._]

Before the new commanding officer could get to the spar deck, the
ships were in contact. According to the report of Captain Broke, the
most competent surviving eye-witness, the mizzen channels of the
"Chesapeake" locked in the fore-rigging of the "Shannon." "I went
forward," he continues, "to ascertain her position, and observing that
the enemy were flinching from their guns, I gave orders to prepare for
boarding." When the "Chesapeake's" second lieutenant reached the
forecastle, the British were in possession of the after part of the
ship, and of the principal hatchways by which the boarders of the
after divisions could come up. He directed the foresail set, to shoot
the ship clear, to prevent thus a re-enforcement to the enemy already
on board; and he rallied a few men, but was himself soon wounded and
thrown below. In brief, the fall of their officers and the position of
the ship, in irons and being raked, had thrown the crew into the
confusion attendant upon all sudden disaster. From this state only the
rallying cry of a well-known voice and example can rescue men. "The
enemy," reported Broke, "made a desperate but disorderly resistance."
The desperation of brave men is the temper which at times may retrieve
such conditions, but it must be guided and fashioned by a master
spirit into something better than disorder, if it is to be effective.
Disorder at any stage of a battle is incipient defeat; supervening
upon the enemy's gaining a commanding position it commonly means
defeat consummated.

Fifteen minutes elapsed from the discharge of the first gun of the
"Shannon" to the "Chesapeake's" colors being hauled down. This was
done by the enemy, her own crew having been driven forward. In that
brief interval twenty-six British were killed and fifty-six wounded;
of the Americans forty-eight were killed and ninety-nine wounded. In
proportion to the number on board each ship when the action began, the
"Shannon" lost in men 24 per cent; the "Chesapeake" 46 per cent, or
practically double.

Although a certain amount of national exultation or mortification
attends victory or defeat in an international contest, from a yacht
race to a frigate action, there is no question of national credit in
the result where initial inequality is great, as in such combats as
that of the "Chesapeake" and "Shannon," or the "Constitution" and
"Guerrière." It is possible for an officer to command a ship for seven
years, as Broke had, and fail to make of her the admirable pattern of
all that a ship of war should be, which he accomplished with the
"Shannon"; but no captain can in four weeks make a thoroughly
efficient crew out of a crowd of men newly assembled, and never out of
harbor together. The question at issue is not national, but personal;
it is the credit of Captain Lawrence. That it was inexpedient to take
the "Chesapeake" into action at all at that moment does not admit of
dispute; though much allowance must be made for a gallant spirit,
still in the early prime of life, and chafing under the thought that,
should he get to sea by successful evasion, he would be open to the
taunt, freely used by Broke,[136] of dodging, "eluding," an enemy only
his equal in material force.

Having, however, undertaken a risk which cannot be justified, was
Captain Lawrence also reckless, and vainly confident, in his conduct
before and during the action? Was he foolhardy, or only rash? The
reply, if favorable, is due to one of the most gallant and attractive
personalities in the annals of the United States Navy.

_From the painting by Gilbert Stuart in the possession of the New
Jersey Historical Society, Newark, N.J._]

From his action it is evident that Lawrence clearly recognized that a
green crew can be more quickly formed to efficiency at the battery
than to that familiarity with the rigging and the sails, and that
habit of working together about decks, on which manoeuvring power
depends. He therefore chose an artillery duel, surrendering even the
opportunity of raking permitted him by Broke, who awaited his approach
without an attempt at molestation. How far was his expectation as to
the results overstrained? The American crew lost double in proportion
to their enemy; but it did not fail to inflict a very severe
punishment, and it must be added under a very considerable
disadvantage, which there has been a tendency recently to
underestimate. The loss of the head sails, and all that followed, is
part of the fortune of war; of that unforeseeable, which great leaders
admit may derange even the surest calculations. It is not, therefore,
to be complained of, but it is nevertheless to receive due account in
the scales of praise and blame; for the man who will run no risks of
accidents accomplishes nothing.

In the preceding narrative, and in the following analysis, the account
of the British naval writer James is in essentials adopted; chiefly
because, of all historians having contemporary sources of information,
he has been at most pains to insure precision.[137] As told by him,
the engagement divides into three stages. First, the combat side to
side; second, the period during which the "Chesapeake" lay in the wind
being raked; third, the boarding and taking possession. To these James
assigns, as times: for the first, six minutes; for the second, four;
for the third, five; this last being again subdivisible into a space
of two minutes, during which the "Chesapeake" was being lashed to her
opponent, and the actual fighting on her decks, which Broke states did
not exceed three.

The brief and disorderly, though desperate, resistance to boarding
proves that the "Chesapeake" was already beaten by the cannonade,
which lasted, as above, ten minutes.

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