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This she did, placing herself first under the stern
(4), and then on the bow (5) of her antagonist, where the only reply
to her broadside was with musketry.

In this helpless situation the "Argus" surrendered, after an
engagement of a little over three quarters of an hour. The British
loss was two killed and five wounded; the American, six killed and
seventeen wounded, of whom five afterwards died. Among these was
Captain Allen, who survived only four days, and was buried with
military honors at Plymouth, whither Captain Maples sent his
prize.[218] After every allowance for disparity of force, the injury
done by the American fire cannot be deemed satisfactory, and suggests
the consideration whether the voyage to France under pressure of a
diplomatic mission, and the busy preoccupation of making, manning, and
firing prizes, during the brief month of Channel cruising, may not
have interfered unduly with the more important requirements of
fighting efficiency. The surviving officer in command mentions in
explanation, "the superior size and metal of our opponent, and the
fatigue which the crew of the 'Argus' underwent from a very rapid
succession of prizes."

[Illustration: Diagram of the Argus vs. Pelican battle]

From the broad outlook of the universal maritime situation, this rapid
succession of captures is a matter of more significance than the loss
of a single brig of war. It showed the vulnerable point of British
trade and local intercommunication; and the career of the "Argus,"
prematurely cut short though it was, tended to fix attention upon
facts sufficiently well known, but perhaps not fully appreciated. From
this time the opportunities offered by the English Channel and
adjacent waters, long familiar to French corsairs, were better
understood by Americans; as was also the difficulty of adequately
policing them against a number of swift and handy cruisers, preying
upon merchant vessels comparatively slow, lumbering, and undermanned.
The subsequent career of the United States ship "Wasp," and the
audacious exploits of several privateers, recall the impunity of Paul
Jones a generation before, and form a sequel to the brief prelude, in
which the leading part, though ultimately disastrous, was played by
the "Argus."

While the cruise of the "Argus" stood by no means alone at this time,
the attending incidents made it conspicuous among several others of a
like nature, on the same scene or close by; and it therefore may be
taken as indicative of the changing character of the war, which soon
began to be manifest, owing to the change of conditions in Europe. In
general summary, the result was to transfer an additional weight of
British naval operations to the American side of the Atlantic, which
in turn compelled American cruisers, national and private, in pursuit
of commerce destruction, to get away from their own shores, and to
seek comparative security as well as richer prey in distant waters. To
this contributed also the increasing stringency of British convoy
regulation, enforced with special rigor in the Caribbean Sea and over
the Western Atlantic. It was impossible to impose the same strict
prescription upon the coastwise trade, by which chiefly the
indispensable continuous intercourse between the several parts of the
United Kingdom was maintained. Before the introduction of steam this
had a consequence quite disproportionate to the interior traffic by
land; and its development, combined with the feeling of greater
security as the British Islands were approached, occasioned in the
narrow seas, and on the coasts of Europe, a dispersion of vessels not
to be seen elsewhere. This favored the depredations of the light,
swift, and handy cruisers that alone are capable of profiting by such
an opportunity, through their power to evade the numerous, but
necessarily scattered, ships of war, which under these circumstances
must patrol the sea, like a watchman on beat, as the best substitute
for the more formal and regularized convoy protection, when that
ceases to apply.

From the end of the summer of 1813, when this tendency to distant
enterprise became predominant, to the corresponding season a year
later, there were captured by American cruisers some six hundred and
fifty British vessels, chiefly merchantmen; a number which had
increased to between four and five hundred more, when the war ended in
the following winter.[219] An intelligible account of such
multitudinous activities can be framed only by selecting amid the mass
some illustrative particulars, accompanied by a general estimate of
the conditions they indicate and the results they exemplify. Thus it
may be stated, with fair approach to precision, that from September
30, 1813, to September 30, 1814, there were taken six hundred and
thirty-nine British vessels, of which four hundred and twenty-four
were in seas that may be called remote from the United States. From
that time to the end of the war, about six months, the total captures
were four hundred and fourteen, of which those distant were two
hundred and ninety-three. These figures, larger actually and in
impression than they are relatively to the total of British shipping,
represent the offensive maritime action of the United States during
the period in question; but, in considering them, it must be
remembered that such results were possible only because the sea was
kept open to British commerce by the paramount power of the British
navy. This could not prevent all mishaps; but it reduced them, by the
annihilation of hostile navies, to such a small percentage of the
whole shipping movement, that the British mercantile community found
steady profit both in foreign and coasting trade, of which the United
States at the same time was almost totally deprived.

The numerous but beggarly array of American bay-craft and oyster
boats, which were paraded to swell British prize lists, till there
seemed to be a numerical set-off to their own losses, show indeed that
in point of size and value of vessels taken there was no real
comparison; but this was due to the fact, not at once suggested by the
figures themselves, that there were but few American merchant vessels
to be taken, because they did not dare to go to sea, with the
exception of the few to whom exceptional speed gave a chance of
immunity, not always realized. In the period under consideration,
September, 1813, to September, 1814, despite the great falling off of
trade noted in the returns, over thirty American merchant ships and
letters of marque were captured at sea;[220] at the head of the list
being the "Ned," whose hair-breadth escapes in seeking to reach a
United States port have been mentioned already.[221] She met her fate
near the French coast, September 6, 1813, on the outward voyage from
New York to Bordeaux. Privateering, risky though it was, offered a
more profitable employment, with less chance of capture; because,
besides being better armed and manned, the ship was not impeded in her
sailing by the carriage of a heavy cargo. While the enemy was losing a
certain small proportion of vessels, the United States suffered
practically an entire deprivation of external commerce; and her
coasting trade was almost wholly suppressed, at the time that her
cruisers, national and private, were causing exaggerated anxiety
concerning the intercourse between Great Britain and Ireland, which,
though certainly molested, was not seriously interrupted.

Further evidence of the control exerted by the British Navy, and of
the consequent difficulty under which offensive action was maintained
by the United States, is to be found in the practice, from this time
largely followed, of destroying prizes, after removing from them
packages of little weight compared to their price. The prospect of a
captured vessel reaching an American port was very doubtful, for the
same reason that prevented the movement of American commerce; and
while the risk was sometimes run, it usually was with cargoes which
were at once costly and bulky, such as West India goods, sugars and
coffees. Even then specie, and light costly articles, were first
removed to the cruiser, where the chances for escape were decidedly
better. Recourse to burning to prevent recapture was permissible only
with enemy's vessels. If a neutral were found carrying enemy's goods,
a frequent incident of maritime war, she must be sent in for
adjudication; which, if adverse, affected the cargo only. Summary
processes, therefore, could not be applied in such cases, and the
close blockade of the United States coast seriously restricted the
operations of her cruisers in this particular field.

[Illustration: THE BURNING OF A PRIVATEER PRIZE.
_Drawn by Henry Reuterdahl._]

Examination of the records goes to show that, although individual
American vessels sometimes made numerous seizures in rapid succession,
they seldom, if ever, effected the capture or destruction of a large
convoy at a single blow. This was the object with which Rodgers
started on his first cruise, but failed to accomplish. A stroke of
this kind is always possible, and he had combined conditions unusually
favorable to his hopes; but, while history certainly presents a few
instances of such achievement on the large scale, they are
comparatively rare, and opportunity, when it offers, can be utilized
only by a more numerous force than at any subsequent time gathered
under the American flag. In 1813 two privateers, the "Scourge" of New
York and "Rattlesnake" of Philadelphia, passed the summer in the North
Sea, and there made a number of prizes,--twenty-two,--which being
reported together gave the impression of a single lucky encounter;
were supposed in fact to be the convoy for which Rodgers in the
"President" had looked unsuccessfully the same season.[222] The logs,
however, showed that these captures were spread over a period of two
months, and almost all made severally. Norway being then politically
attached to Denmark, and hostile to Great Britain, such prizes as were
not burned were sent into her ports. The "Scourge" appears to have
been singularly fortunate, for on her homeward trip she took, sent in,
or destroyed, ten more enemy's vessels; and in an absence extending a
little over a year had taken four hundred and twenty prisoners,--more
than the crew of a 38-gun frigate.[223]

At the same time the privateer schooner "Leo," of Baltimore, was
similarly successful on the coast of Spain and Portugal.



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