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It consisted
of the "Constitution" and sloop of war "Hornet," then in Boston, and
of the "Essex," the only 32-gun frigate in the navy, fitting for sea
in the Delaware. The original armament of the latter, from which she
derived her rate, had been changed to forty 32-pounder carronades and
six long twelves; total, forty-six guns. It is noticeable that this
battery, which ultimately contributed not merely to her capture, but
to her almost helplessness under the fire of an enemy able to maintain
his distance out of carronade range, was strongly objected to by
Captain Porter. On October 14 he applied to be transferred to the
"Adams," giving as reasons "my insuperable dislike to carronades, and
the bad sailing of the "Essex," which render her, in my opinion, the
worst frigate in the service."[1] The request was not granted, and
Porter sailed in command of the ship on October 28, the two other
vessels having left Boston on the 26th.

In order to facilitate a junction, Bainbridge had sent Porter full
details of his intended movements.[2] A summary of these will show his
views as to a well-planned commerce-destroying cruise. Starting about
October 25, he would steer first a course not differing greatly from
the general direction taken by Rodgers and Decatur, to the Cape Verde
Islands, where he would fill with water, and by November 27 sail for
the island Fernando de Noronha, two hundred and fifty miles south of
the Equator, and two hundred miles from the mainland of Brazil, then a
Portuguese colony, of which the island was a dependency. The trade
winds being fair for this passage, he hoped to leave there by December
15, and to cruise south along the Brazilian coast as far as Rio de
Janeiro, until January 15. In the outcome the meeting of the
"Constitution" with the "Java" cut short her proceedings at this
point; but Bainbridge had purposed to stay yet another month along the
Brazilian coast, between Rio and St. Catherine's, three hundred miles
south. Thence he would cross the South Atlantic to the neighborhood of
St. Helena, remaining just beyond sight of it, to intercept returning
British Indiamen, which frequently stopped there. Porter failed to
overtake the other vessels, on account of the bad sailing of the
"Essex." He arrived at Fernando de Noronha December 14, one day before
that fixed by Bainbridge as his last there; but the "Constitution" and
"Hornet" had already gone on to Bahia, on the Brazilian mainland,
seven hundred miles to the southwest, leaving a letter for him to
proceed off Cape Frio, sixty miles from the entrance of Rio. He
reached this rendezvous on the 25th, but saw nothing of Bainbridge,
who had been detained off Bahia by conditions there. The result was
that the "Essex" never found her consorts, and finally struck out a
career for herself, which belongs rather to a subsequent period of the
war. We therefore leave her spending her Christmas off Cape Frio.

The two other vessels had arrived off Bahia on December 13. Here was
lying a British sloop of war, the "Bonne Citoyenne," understood to
have on board a very large amount of specie for England. The American
vessels blockaded her for some days, and then Captain Lawrence
challenged her to single combat; Bainbridge acquiescing, and pledging
his honor that the "Constitution" should remain out of the way, or at
least not interfere. The British captain, properly enough, declined.
That his ship and her reported value were detaining two American
vessels from wider depredations was a reason more important than any
fighting-cock glory to be had from an arranged encounter on equal
terms, and should have sufficed him without expressing the doubt he
did as to Bainbridge's good faith.[3] On the 26th the Commodore,
leaving Lawrence alone to watch the British sloop, stood out to sea
with the "Constitution," cruising well off shore; and thus on the
29th, at 9 A.M., being then five miles south of the port and some
miles from land, discovered two strange sail, which were the British
frigate "Java," Captain Henry Lambert, going to Bahia for water, with
an American ship, prize to her.

Upon seeing the "Constitution" in the south-southwest, the British
captain shaped his course for her, directing the prize to enter the
harbor. Bainbridge, watching these movements, now tacked his ship,
and at 11.30 A.M. steered away southeast under all plain sail, to draw
the enemy well away from neutral waters; the Portuguese authorities
having shown some sensitiveness on that score. The "Java" followed,
running full ten miles an hour, a great speed in those days, and
gaining rapidly. At 1.30, being now as far off shore as desired,
Bainbridge went about and stood toward the enemy, who kept away with a
view to rake, which the "Constitution" avoided by the usual means of
wearing, resuming her course southeast, but under canvas much reduced.
At 2.10 the "Java," having closed to a half mile, the "Constitution"
fired one gun ahead of her; whereupon the British ship hoisted her
colors, and the American then fired two broadsides. The "Java" now
took up a position to windward of the "Constitution," on her port
side, a little forward (2.10); "within pistol-shot," according to the
minutes submitted by the officer who succeeded to the command; "much
further than I wished," by Bainbridge's journal. It is not possible
entirely to reconcile the pretty full details of further movements
given by each;[4] but it may be said, generally, that this battle was
not mainly an artillery duel, like those of the "Constitution" and
"Guerrière," the "Wasp" and "Frolic," nor yet one in which a principal
manoeuvre, by its decisive effect upon the use of artillery, played
the determining part, as was the case with the "United States" and
"Macedonian." Here it was a combination of the two factors, a
succession of evolutions resembling the changes of position, the
retreats and advances, of a fencing or boxing match, in which the
opponents work round the ring; accompanied by a continual play of
the guns, answering to the thrusts and blows of individual
encounter. In this game of manoeuvres the "Constitution" was somewhat
handicapped by her wheel being shot away at 2.30. The rudder remained
unharmed; but working a ship by relieving tackles, the substitute for
the wheel, is for several reasons neither as quick nor as accurate.

[Illustration: PLAN OF THE ENGAGEMENT BETWEEN CONSTITUTION AND
JAVA]

Certain salient incidents stand out in both accounts, marking the
progress of the engagement. Shortly before three o'clock the head of
the "Java's" bowsprit was shot away, and with it went the jib-boom. At
this time, the fore and main masts of the British frigate being badly
wounded, with all the rigging cut to pieces, Captain Lambert looked
upon the day as lost unless he could board. The sailing master having
been sent below wounded, the first lieutenant, whose account is here
followed, was directed to run the ship alongside the enemy; but the
helm was hardly put up when the foremast went overboard, at five
minutes past three, a time in which both accounts agree. The British
narrative states that the stump of their bowsprit caught in the mizzen
rigging of the "Constitution" (3.35). This Bainbridge does not
mention; but, if correct, the contact did not last long, for the
"Constitution" immediately wore across the "Java's" bow, and the
latter's maintopmast followed the foremast. The British frigate was
now beaten beyond recovery; nevertheless the flag was kept flying, and
it was after this that Captain Lambert fell, mortally wounded.
Resistance was continued until 4.05, by the American accounts; by the
British, till 4.35. Then, the enemy's mizzenmast having fallen, and
nothing left standing but the main lower mast, the "Constitution" shot
ahead to repair damages. There was no more firing, but the "Java's"
colors remained up till 5.25,--5.50 by the British times,--when they
were hauled down as the "Constitution" returned. The American loss
was nine killed and twenty-five wounded; that of the British, by their
official accounts, twenty-two killed, one hundred and two wounded.

The superiority in broadside weight of fire of the "Constitution" over
the "Java" was about the same as over the "Guerrière." The "Java's"
crew was stronger in number than that of the "Guerrière," mustering
about four hundred, owing to having on board a hundred supernumeraries
for the East India station, to which the ship was ultimately destined.
On the other hand, the material of the ship's company is credibly
stated to have been extremely inferior, a condition frequently
complained of by British officers at this late period of the
Napoleonic wars. It has also been said, in apparent extenuation of her
defeat, that although six weeks out from England, having sailed
November 12, and greater part of that time necessarily in the trade
winds, with their usual good weather, the men had not been exercised
in firing the guns until December 28, the day before meeting the
"Constitution," when six broadsides of blank cartridges were
discharged. Whatever excuse may exist in the individual instance for
such neglect, it is scarcely receivable in bar of judgment when
disaster follows. No particular reason is given, except "the many
services of a newly fitted ship, lumbered with stores;" for in such
latitudes the other allegation, "a succession of gales of wind since
the day of departure,"[5] is incredible. On broad general grounds the
"Java" needed no apology for being beaten by a ship so much heavier;
and the "Constitution's" loss in killed and wounded was over double
that suffered from the "Guerrière" four months before, when the
American ship had substantially the same crew.[6] Further,
Bainbridge reported to his Government that "the damage received in the
action, but more especially the decayed state of the "Constitution,"
made it necessary to return to the United States for repairs."
Although Lieutenant Chads, who succeeded Lambert, was mistaken in
supposing the American ship bound to the East Indies, he was evidently
justified in claiming that the stout resistance of the "Java" had
broken up the enemy's cruise, thus contributing to the protection of
the British commerce.

[Illustration: THE QUARTERDECK OF THE _JAVA_ BEFORE THE
SURRENDER.
_Drawn by Henry Reuterdahl._]

The "Java" was considered by Bainbridge too much injured to be worth
taking to the United States.



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