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The "Constitution," under
Captain Stewart, a seaman of very excellent reputation, was unable to
do so, until the winter gales made it impossible for the blockaders to
maintain an uninterrupted watch off Boston. The sailing of the
"President" and "Congress" was the last successful effort for many
months; and the capture of the "Chesapeake" was the first of several
incidents illustrating how complete was the iron-barring of the coast,
against all but small vessels.

Commodore Decatur, having found it impossible to get out from New York
by the Sandy Hook route, undertook that by Long Island Sound. Passing
through Hell Gate, May 24, with his little squadron,--the "United
States," the "Macedonian," her late prize, and the sloop of war
"Hornet,"--he was on the 26th off Fisher's Island, abreast of New
London. Here he remained until June 1, obtaining various information
concerning the enemy, but only certain that there was at least a ship
of the line and a frigate in the neighborhood. On the last named day,
that of the fight between the "Chesapeake" and the "Shannon," the wind
serving, and the two enemy's vessels being far to the southwest of
Montauk Point, at the east end of Long Island, the squadron put to sea
together; but on approaching Block Island, which was close to their
course, two more enemy's cruisers loomed up to the eastward. The
hostile groups manoeuvred severally to get between the Americans and
their ports of refuge, New London in the one quarter, Newport in the
other. In plain sight of this overwhelming force Decatur feared the
results of trying to slip out to sea, and therefore beat back to New
London.[141] The enemy followed, and, having now this division
securely housed, instituted a close blockade. It was apprehended even
that they might endeavor to take it by main force, the defences of the
place being weak; but, as is commonly the case, the dangers of an
attack upon land batteries were sufficient to deter the ships from an
attempt, the object of which could be attained with equal certainty by
means less hazardous, if less immediate.

The upshot was that the two frigates remained there blockaded to the
end of the war; dependent for their safety, in Decatur's opinion,
rather upon the difficulty of the channel than upon the strength of
the fortifications. "Fort Trumbull, the only work here mounted or
garrisoned, was in the most unprepared state, and only one or two
cannon were to be had in the neighborhood for any temporary work which
should be erected. I immediately directed all my exertions to
strengthening the defences. Groton Heights has been hastily prepared
for the reception of a few large guns, and they will be mounted
immediately.... I think the place might be made impregnable; but the
hostile force on our coast is so great that, were the enemy to exert a
large portion of his means in an attack here, I do not feel certain he
could be resisted successfully with the present defences."[142] On
December 6 he reported that the squadron was moored across the channel
and under Groton Heights, which had been fortified; while in the mouth
of the harbor, three gunshots distant, was anchored a British
division, consisting of one ship of the line, a frigate, and two
smaller vessels. Two other ships of the line and several frigates were
cruising in the open, between the east end of Long Island and Gay
Head. This state of affairs lasted throughout the winter, during which
the ships were kept in a state of expectancy, awaiting a possible
opportunity; but, when the return of spring found the hope
unfulfilled, it was plainly idle to look to the summer to afford what
winter had denied. The frigates were lightened over a three-fathom
bar, and thence, in April, 1814, removed up the Thames fourteen miles,
as far as the depth of water would permit. Being there wholly out of
reach of the enemy's heavy vessels, they were dismantled, and left to
the protection of the shore batteries and the "Hornet," retained for
that purpose. Decatur was transferred to the "President," then at New
York, taking with him his ship's company; while the crew of the
"Macedonian" was sent to the lakes. The enemy's vessels then off New
London were three seventy-fours, four frigates, and three sloops.

This accumulation of force, to watch Decatur's two frigates and the
"President," which during October and November was lying at Bristol,
Rhode Island, testified to the anxiety of the British Government to
restrain or capture the larger American cruisers. Their individual
power was such that it was unwilling to expose to attack by them the
vessels, nominally of the same class, but actually much inferior,
which were ranging all seas to protect British commerce. That this
should suffer, and in some considerable degree, from the operations of
well-developed privateering enterprise, pursued by a maritime people
debarred from every other form of maritime activity, was to be
expected, and must be endured; but the frigates carried with them the
further menace, not indeed of serious injury to the colossal naval
power of Great Britain, but of mortification for defeats, which,
however reasonably to be accounted for by preponderance of force, are
not patiently accepted by a nation accustomed to regard itself as
invincible. There are few things more wearing than explaining adverse
results; and the moral effect of so satisfactory a reply as the
victory of the "Shannon" might well have weighed with an American
captain, not to risk prestige already gained, by seeking action when
conscious of deficient preparation. The clamor aroused in Great
Britain by the three rapidly succeeding captures of the "Guerrière,"
"Macedonian," and "Java," was ample justification of the American
policy of securing superior force in single cruisers, throughout their
several classes; a policy entirely consistent with all sound military
principle. It should be remembered, however, that a cruiser is
intended generally to act singly, and depends upon herself alone for
that preponderance of strength which military effort usually seeks by
concentration of numbers. The advantage of great individual power,
therefore, does not apply so unqualifiedly to the components of
fleets, the superiority of which depends upon the mutual support of
its members, by efficient combination of movement, as well as upon
their separate power.

Both the Government and people of Great Britain expected with some
confidence, from the large fleet placed under Sir John Warren, the
utter destruction of the frigates and of the American navy generally.
"We were in hopes, ere this," said a naval periodical in June, 1813,
"to have announced the capture of the American navy; and, as our
commander-in-chief on that station has sufficient force to effect so
desirable an object, we trust, before another month elapses, to lay
before our readers what we conceive ought long since to have
happened."[143] The words of the Admiralty were more measured, as
responsible utterances are prone to be; but their tenor was the same.
Expressing to Warren disappointment with the results so far obtained,
they added: "It is of the highest importance to the _character_ and
interests of the country that the naval force of the enemy should be
quickly and completely disposed of. Their Lordships therefore have
thought themselves justified at this moment in withdrawing ships from
other important services, for the purpose of placing under your
command a force with which you cannot fail to bring the naval war to a
termination, either by the capture of the American national vessels,
or by strictly blockading them in their own waters."[144] This
expectancy doubtless weighed with Broke; and probably also prompted a
challenge sent to Decatur's squadron to meet two British frigates,
under pledge of fair play, and of safe return if victorious. In the
latter case they at least would be badly injured; so in either event
the blockaders would be relieved of much of their burden.

The presence of several American frigates, blockaded close to the
point where Narragansett Bay and Long Island Sound meet, constituted a
great inconvenience to all that region, by attracting thither so many
enemy's cruisers. To a coasting trade--then so singularly
important--projecting headlands, or capes, are the places of greatest
exposure; in this resembling the danger entailed by salients in all
military lines, in fortification or in the field. Traffic between New
England and New York, general and local, had derived a further impetus
from the fact that Newport, not being included in the commercial
blockade, could still receive external supplies by neutral vessels.
Intercourse depended largely on these waters; and it was to them a
grave misfortune that there were no United States frigates left in New
York to divert the enemy's attention. The vexations entailed were
forcibly presented by the Governor of Connecticut.[145] "The British
force stationed in our waters having occasioned great inquietude along
the whole of our maritime frontier, every precaution consistent with
due regard to the general safety has been adopted for its
protection.... In our present state of preparedness, it is believed a
descent upon our coast will not be attempted; a well-grounded hope is
entertained that it will be attended with little success.
Unfortunately, we have not the means of rendering our navigation
equally secure. Serious depredations have been committed even in our
harbors, and to such an extent that the usual communication through
the Sound is almost wholly interrupted. Thus, while anxiously engaged
in protecting our public ships [Decatur's], we are doomed to witness
the unrestrained capture of our private vessels, and the consequent
suspension of commercial pursuits." As "the disapprobation of the war
by the people of Connecticut had been publicly declared through the
proper organs shortly after hostilities commenced,"[146] it may be
supposed the conditions described, accompanied by continual alarms
withdrawing the militiaman from his shop or his harvest, to repel
petty invasion, did not tend to conciliate opinion.



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