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St. Lawrence battle]

This action was very creditably fought on both sides, but to the
American captain belongs the meed of having not only won success, but
deserved it. His sole mistake was the over-confidence in what he could
see, which made him a victim to the very proper ruse practised by his
antagonist in concealing his force. His manoeuvring was prompt, ready,
and accurate; that of the British vessel was likewise good, but a
greater disproportion of injury should have resulted from her superior
battery. In reporting the affair to his owners, Captain Boyle said,
apologetically: "I should not willingly, perhaps, have sought a
contest with a King's vessel, knowing that is not our object; but my
expectations at first were a valuable vessel, and a valuable cargo
also. When I found myself deceived, the honor of the flag intrusted to
my care was not to be disgraced by flight." The feeling expressed was
modest as well as spirited, and Captain Boyle's handsome conduct
merits the mention that the day after the action, when the captured
schooner was released as a cartel to Havana, in compassion to her
wounded, the commander of the "St. Lawrence" gave him a letter, in the
event of his being taken by a British cruiser, testifying to his
"obliging attention and watchful solicitude to preserve our effects,
and render us comfortable during the short time we were in his
possession;" in which, he added, the captain "was carefully seconded
by all his officers."[239]

These instances, occurring either in the West Indies, or, in the case
of the "Kemp," affecting vessels which had just loaded there, are
sufficient, when taken in connection with those before cited from
other quarters of the globe, to illustrate the varied activities and
fortunes of privateering. The general subject, therefore, need not
further be pursued. It will be observed that in each case the cruiser
acts on the offensive; being careful, however, in choosing the object
of attack, to avoid armed ships, the capture of which seems unlikely
to yield pecuniary profit adequate to the risk. The gallantry and
skill of Captain Boyle of the "Chasseur" made particularly permissible
to him the avowal, that only mistake of judgment excused his
committing himself to an encounter which held out no such promise; and
it may be believed that the equally capable Captain Diron, if free to
do as he pleased, would have chosen the packet, and not her escort the
"Dominica," as the object of his pursuit. This the naval schooner of
course could not permit. It was necessary, therefore, first to fight
her; and, although she was beaten, the result of the action was to
insure the escape of the ship under her charge. These examples define
exactly the spirit and aim of privateering, and distinguish them from
the motives inspiring the ship of war. The object of the privateer is
profit by capture; to which fighting is only incidental, and where
avoidable is blamable. The mission of a navy on the other hand is
primarily military; and while custom permitted the immediate captor a
share in the proceeds of his prizes, the taking of them was in
conception not for direct gain, personal or national, but for injury
to the enemy.

It may seem that, even though the ostensible motive was not the same,
the two courses of operation followed identical methods, and in
outcome were indistinguishable. This is not so. However subtle the
working of the desire for gain upon the individual naval officer,
leading at times to acts of doubtful propriety, the tone and spirit of
a profession, even when not clearly formulated in phrase and
definition, will assert itself in the determination of personal
conduct. The dominating sense of advantage to the state, which is the
military motive, and the dominating desire for gain in a mercantile
enterprise, are very different incentives; and the result showed
itself in a fact which has never been appreciated, and perhaps never
noted, that the national ships of war were far more effective as
prize takers than were the privateers. A contrary impression has
certainly obtained, and was shared by the present writer until he
resorted to the commonplace test of adding up figures.

Amid much brilliant achievement, privateering, like all other business
pursuits, had also a large and preponderant record of unsuccess. The
very small number of naval cruisers necessarily yielded a much smaller
aggregate of prizes; but when the respective totals are considered
with reference to the numbers of vessels engaged in making them, the
returns from the individual vessels of the United States navy far
exceed those from the privateers. Among conspicuously successful
cruisers, also, the United States ships "Argus," "Essex," "Peacock,"
and "Wasp" compare favorably in general results with the most
celebrated privateers, even without allowing for the evident fact that
a few instances of very extraordinary qualities and record are more
likely to be found among five hundred vessels than among twenty-two;
this being the entire number of naval pendants actually engaged in
open-sea cruising, from first to last. These twenty-two captured one
hundred and sixty-five prizes, an average of 7.5 each, in which are
included the enemy's ships of war taken. Of privateers of all classes
there were five hundred and twenty-six; or, excluding a few small
nondescripts, four hundred and ninety-two. By these were captured
thirteen hundred and forty-four vessels, an average of less than
three; to be exact, 2.7. The proportion, therefore, of prizes taken by
ships of war to those by private armed vessels was nearly three to

Comparison may be instituted in other ways. Of the twenty-two national
cruisers, four only, or one in five, took no prize; leaving to the
remaining eighteen an average of nine. Out of the grand total of five
hundred and twenty-six privateers only two hundred and seven caught
anything; three hundred and nineteen, three out of five, returned to
port empty-handed, or were themselves taken. Dividing the thirteen
hundred and forty-four prizes among the two hundred and seven more or
less successful privateers, there results an average of 6.5; so that,
regard being had only to successful cruisers, the achievement of the
naval vessels was to that of the private armed nearly as three to two.
These results may be accepted as disposing entirely of the extravagant
claims made for privateering as a system, when compared with a regular
naval service, especially when it is remembered with what difficulty
the American frigates could get to sea at all, on account of their
heavy draft and the close blockade; whereas the smaller vessels,
national or private, had not only many harbors open, but also
comparatively numerous opportunities to escape. The frigate "United
States" never got out after her capture of the "Macedonian," in 1812;
the "Congress" was shut up after her return in December, 1813; and the
"Chesapeake" had been captured in the previous June. All these
nevertheless count in the twenty-two pendants reckoned above.

The figures here cited are from a compilation by Lieutenant George F.
Emmons,[240] of the United States Navy, published in 1853 under the
title, "The United States Navy from 1775 to 1853." Mr. Emmons made no
analyses, confining himself to giving lists and particulars; his work
is purely statistical. Counting captures upon the lakes, and a few
along the coast difficult of classification, his grand total of
floating craft taken from the enemy reaches fifteen hundred and
ninety-nine; which agrees nearly with the sixteen hundred and
thirty-four of Niles, whom he names among his sources of information.
From an examination of the tables some other details of interest may
be drawn. Of the five hundred and twenty-six privateers and
letters-of-marque given by name, twenty-six were ships, sixty-seven
brigs, three hundred and sixty-four schooners, thirty-five sloops,
thirty-four miscellaneous; down to, and including, a few boats putting
out from the beach. The number captured by the enemy was one hundred
and forty-eight, or twenty-eight per cent. The navy suffered more
severely. Of the twenty-two vessels reckoned above, twelve were taken,
or destroyed to keep them out of an enemy's hands; over fifty per
cent. Of the twelve, six were small brigs, corresponding in size and
nautical powers to the privateer. Three were frigates--the
"President," "Essex," and "Chesapeake." One, the "Adams," was not at
sea when destroyed by her own captain to escape capture. Only two
sloops of war, the first "Wasp" and the "Frolic,"[241] were taken; and
of these the former, as already known, was caught when partially
dismasted, at the end of a successful engagement.

Contemporary with the career of the "Argus," the advantage of a sudden
and unexpected inroad, like hers, upon a region deemed safe by the
enemy, was receiving confirmation in the remote Pacific by the cruise
of the frigate "Essex." This vessel, which had formed part of
Commodore Bainbridge's squadron at the close of 1812, was last
mentioned as keeping her Christmas off Cape Frio,[242] on the coast of
Brazil, awaiting there the coming of the consorts whom she never
succeeded in joining. Captain Porter maintained this station, hearing
frequently about Bainbridge by vessels from Bahia, until January 12,
1813. Then a threatened shortness of provisions, and rumors of enemy's
ships in the neighborhood, especially of the seventy-four "Montagu"
combined to send him to St. Catherine's Island, another appointed
rendezvous, and the last upon the coast of Brazil. In this remote
and sequestered anchorage hostile cruisers would scarcely look for
him, at least until more likely positions had been carefully examined.

_From the painting by Charles Wilson Peale, in Independence Hall,

At St. Catherine's Porter heard of the action between the
"Constitution" and "Java" off Bahia, a thousand miles distant, and
received also a rumor, which seemed probable enough, that the third
ship of the division, the "Hornet," had been captured by the
"Montagu." He consequently left port January 26, for the southward,
still with the expectation of ultimately joining the Commodore off St.
Helena, the last indicated point of assembly; but having been unable
to renew his stores in St.

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