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Besides the destruction already mentioned, a
division of boats went up the Susquehanna, destroyed five vessels and
more flour; after which, "everything being completed to my utmost
wishes, the division embarked and returned to the ships, after being
twenty-two hours in constant exertion." From thence Cockburn went
round to the Sassafras River, where a similar series of small injuries
was inflicted, and two villages, Georgetown and Frederickstown, were
destroyed, in consequence of local resistance offered, by which five
British were wounded. Assurance coming from several quarters that no
further armed opposition would be made, and as there was "now neither
public property, vessels, nor warlike stores remaining in the
neighborhood," the expedition returned down the bay, May 7, and
regained the fleet.[153]

The history of the Delaware and its waters during this period was
very much the same as that of the Chesapeake; except that, the water
system of the lower bay being less extensive and practicable, and the
river above narrower, there was not the scope for general marauding,
nor the facility for systematic destruction, which constituted the
peculiar exposure of the Chesapeake and gave Cockburn his opportunity.
Neither was there the same shelter from the sweep of the ocean, nor
any naval establishment to draw attention. For these reasons, the
Chesapeake naturally attracted much more active operations; and
Virginia, which formed so large a part of its coast-line, was the home
of the President. She was also the leading member of the group of
states which, in the internal contests of American politics, was
generally thought to represent hatred to Great Britain and attachment
to France. In both bays the American Government maintained flotillas
of gunboats and small schooners, together with--in the Delaware at
least--a certain number of great rowing barges, or galleys; but,
although creditable energy was displayed, it is impossible to detect
that, even in waters which might be thought suited to their particular
qualities, these small craft exerted any substantial influence upon
the movements of the enemy. Their principal effect appears to have
been to excite among the inhabitants a certain amount of unreasonable
expectation, followed inevitably by similar unreasoning complaint.

It is probable, however, that they to some extent restricted the
movements of small foraging parties beyond the near range of their
ships; and they served also the purpose of watching and reporting the
dispositions of the British fleet. When it returned downwards from
Cockburn's expedition, it was followed by a division of these schooners
and gunboats, under Captain Charles Gordon of the navy, who remained
cruising for nearly a month below the Potomac, constantly sighting the
enemy, but without an opportunity offering for a blow to be struck
under conditions favorable to either party. "The position taken by the
enemy's ships," reported Gordon, "together with the constant protection
given their small cruisers, particularly in the night, rendered any
offensive operations on our part impracticable."[154] In the Delaware,
a British corvette, running upon a shoal with a falling tide, was
attacked in this situation by a division of ten gunboats which was at
hand. Such conditions were unusually favorable to them, and, though a
frigate was within plain sight, she could not get within range on
account of the shoalness of water; yet the two hours' action which
followed did no serious injury to the grounded ship. Meantime one of
the gunboats drifted from its position, and was swept by the tide out
of supporting distance from its fellows. The frigate and sloop then
manned boats, seven in number, pulled towards her, and despite a plucky
resistance carried her; their largely superior numbers easily climbing
on board her low-lying deck. Although the record of gunboats in all
parts of the world is mostly unfruitful, some surprise cannot but be
felt at the immunity experienced by a vessel aground under such
circumstances.[155]

On May 13 Captain Stewart of the "Constellation" reported from Norfolk
that the enemy's fleet had returned down the bay; fifteen sail being
at anchor in a line stretching from Cape Henry to near Hampton Roads.
Little had yet been done by the authorities to remedy the defenceless
condition of the port, which he had deplored in his letter of March
17; and he apprehended a speedy attack either upon Hampton, on the
north shore of the James River, important as commanding communications
between Norfolk and the country above, or upon Craney Island,
covering the entrance to the Elizabeth River, through the narrow
channel of which the navy yard must be approached. There was a party
now at work throwing up a battery on the island, on which five hundred
troops were stationed, but he feared these preparations were begun too
late. He had assigned seven gunboats to assist the defence. It was
clear to his mind that, if Norfolk was their object, active operations
would begin at one of these approaches, and not immediately about the
place itself. Meanwhile, he would await developments, and postpone his
departure to Boston, whither he had been ordered to command the
"Constitution."

Much to Stewart's surprise, considering the force of the enemy, which
he, as a seaman, could estimate accurately and compare with what he
knew to be the conditions confronting them, most of the British fleet
soon after put to sea with the commander-in-chief, leaving Cockburn
with one seventy-four and four frigates to hold the bay. This apparent
abandonment, or at best concession of further time to Craney Island,
aroused in him contempt as well as wonder. He had commented a month
before on their extremely circumspect management; "they act
cautiously, and never separate so far from one another that they
cannot in the course of a few hours give to each other support, by
dropping down or running up, as the wind or tide serve."[156] Such
precaution, however, was not out of place when confronted with the
presence of gunboats capable of utilizing calms and local conditions.
To avoid exposure to useless injury is not to pass the bounds of
military prudence. It was another matter to have brought so large a
force, and to depart with no greater results than those of Frenchtown
and Havre de Grace. "They do not appear disposed to put anything to
risk, or to make an attack where they are likely to meet with
opposition. Their conduct while in these waters has been highly
disgraceful to their arms, and evinces the respect and dread they have
for their opponents."[157] He added a circumstance which throws
further light upon the well-known discontent of the British crews and
their deterioration in quality, under a prolonged war and the
confinement attending the impressment system. "Their loss in prisoners
and deserters has been very considerable; the latter are coming up to
Norfolk almost daily, and their naked bodies are frequently fished up
on the bay shore, where they must have been drowned in attempting to
swim. They all give the same account of the dissatisfaction of their
crews, and their detestation of the service they are engaged in."[158]
Deserters, however, usually have tales acceptable to those to whom
they come.

Whether Warren was judicious in postponing attack may be doubted, but
he had not lost sight of the Admiralty's hint about American frigates.
There were just two in the waters of the Chesapeake; the
"Constellation," 36, at Norfolk, and the "Adams," 24, Captain Charles
Morris, in the Potomac. The British admiral had been notified that a
division of troops would be sent to Bermuda, to be under his command
for operations on shore, and he was now gone to fetch them. Early in
June he returned, bringing these soldiers, two thousand six hundred
and fifty in number.[159] From his Gazette letters he evidently had in
view the capture of Norfolk with the "Constellation"; for when he
designates Hampton and Craney Island as points of attack, it is
because of their relations to Norfolk.[160] This justified the
forecast of Stewart, who had now departed; the command of the
"Constellation" devolving soon after upon Captain Gordon. In
connection with the military detachment intrusted to Warren, the
Admiralty, while declining to give particular directions as to its
employment, wrote him: "Against a maritime country like America, the
chief towns and establishments of which are situated upon navigable
rivers, a force of the kind under your orders must necessarily be
peculiarly formidable.... In the choice of objects of attack, it will
naturally occur to you that on every account any attempt which should
have the effect of crippling the enemy's naval force should have a
preference."[161] Except for the accidental presence of Decatur's
frigates in New London, as yet scarcely known to the British
commander-in-chief, Norfolk, more than any other place, met this
prescription of his Government. His next movements, therefore, may be
considered as resulting directly from his instructions.

The first occurrence was a somewhat prolonged engagement between a
division of fifteen gunboats and the frigate "Junon," which, having
been sent to destroy vessels at the mouth of the James River, was
caught becalmed and alone in the upper part of Hampton Roads; no other
British vessel being nearer than three miles. The cannonade continued
for three quarters of an hour, when a breeze springing up brought two
of her consorts to the "Junon's" aid. The gunboats, incapable of close
action with a single frigate in a working breeze, necessarily now
retreated. They had suffered but slightly, one killed and two wounded;
but retired with the confidence, always found in the accounts of such
affairs, that they had inflicted great damage upon the enemy. The
commander of a United States revenue cutter, lately captured, who was
on board the frigate at the time, brought back word subsequently that
she had lost one man killed and two or three wounded.[162] The British
official reports do not allude to the affair. As regards positive
results, however, it may be affirmed with considerable assurance that
the military value of gunboats in their day, as a measure of coast
defence, was not what they effected, but the caution imposed upon the
enemy by the apprehension of what they might effect, did this or that
combination of circumstances occur.



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