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Catherine's, and ascertaining that there
was no hope of better success at Buenos Ayres, or the other Spanish
settlements within the River La Plata, he after reflection decided to
cut loose from the squadron and go alone to the Pacific. There he
could reasonably hope to support himself by the whalers of the enemy;
that class of vessel being always well provided for long absences.
This alternative course he knew would be acceptable to the Government,
as well as to his immediate commander.[243] The next six weeks were
spent in the tempestuous passage round Cape Horn, the ship's company
living on half-allowance of provisions; but on March 14, 1813, the
"Essex" anchored in Valparaiso, being the first United States ship of
war to show the national flag in the Pacific. By a noteworthy
coincidence she had already been the first to carry it beyond the Cape
of Good Hope.

Chile received the frigate hospitably, being at the time in revolt
against Spain; but the authority of the mother country was still
maintained in Peru, where a Spanish viceroy resided, and it was
learned that in the capacity of ally of Great Britain he intended to
fit out privateers against American whalers, of which there were many
in these seas. As several of the British whalers carried
letters-of-marque, empowering them to make prizes, the arrival of the
"Essex" not only menaced the hostile interests, but promised to
protect her own countrymen from a double danger. Her departure
therefore was hastened; and having secured abundant provision, such as
the port supplied, she sailed for the northward a week after
anchoring. A privateer from Peru was met, which had seized two
Americans. Porter threw overboard her guns and ammunition, and then
released her with a note for the viceroy, which served both as a
respectful explanation and a warning. One of the prizes taken by this
marauder was recaptured March 27, when entering Callao, the port of
Lima.

The "Essex" then went to the Galapagos Islands, a group just south of
the equator, five hundred miles from the South American mainland.
These belong now to Ecuador, and at that day were a noted rendezvous
for whalers. In this neighborhood the frigate remained from April 17
to October 3, during which period she captured twelve British whalers
out of some twenty-odd reported in the Pacific; with the necessary
consequence of driving all others to cover for the time being. The
prizes were valuable, some more, some less; not only from the
character of their cargoes, but because they themselves were larger
than the average merchant ship, and exceptionally well found. Three
were sent to Valparaiso in convoy of a fourth, which had been
converted into a consort of the "Essex," under the name of the "Essex
Junior," mounting twenty very light guns. September 30 she returned,
bringing word that a British squadron, consisting of the 36-gun
frigate "Phoebe," Captain James Hillyar, and the sloops of war
"Cherub" and "Raccoon," had sailed for the Pacific. The rumor was
correct, though long antedating the arrival of the vessels. In
consequence of it, Porter, considering that his work at the Galapagos
was now complete, and that the "Essex" would need overhauling before a
possible encounter with a division, the largest unit of which was
superior to her in class and force, decided to move to a position then
even more remote from disturbance than St. Catherine's had been. On
October 25 the "Essex" and "Essex Junior" anchored at the island of
Nukahiva, of the Marquesas group, having with them three of the
prizes. Of the others, besides those now at Valparaiso, two had been
given up to prisoners to convey them to England, and three had been
sent to the United States. That all the last were captured on the way
detracts nothing from Porter's merit, but testifies vividly to the
British command of the sea.

At the Marquesas, by aid of the resources of the prizes, the frigate
was thoroughly overhauled, refitted, and provisioned for six months.
Porter had not only maintained his ship, but in part paid his officers
and crew from the proceeds of his captures. On December 12 he sailed
for Chile, satisfied with the material outcome of his venturous
cruise, but wishing to add to it something of further distinction by
an encounter with Hillyar, if obtainable on terms approaching
equality. With this object the ship's company were diligently
exercised at the guns and small arms during the passage, which lasted
nearly eight weeks; the Chilean coast being sighted on January 12, far
to the southward, and the "Essex" running slowly along it until
February 3, when she reached Valparaiso. On the 8th the "Phoebe" and
"Cherub" came in and anchored; the "Raccoon" having gone on to the
North Pacific.

The antagonists now lay near one another, under the restraint of a
neutral port, for several days, during which some social intercourse
took place between the officers; the two captains renewing an
acquaintance made years before in the Mediterranean. After a period of
refit, and of repose for the crews, the British left the bay, and
cruised off the port. The "Essex" and "Essex Junior" remained at
anchor, imprisoned by a force too superior to be encountered without
some modifying circumstances of advantage. Porter found opportunities
for contrasting the speed of the two frigates, and convinced himself
that the "Essex" was on that score superior; but the respective
armaments introduced very important tactical considerations, which
might, and in the result did, prove decisive. The "Essex" originally
had been a 12-pounder frigate, classed as of thirty-two guns; but her
battery now was forty 32-pounder carronades and six long twelves.
Captain Porter in his report of the battle stated the armament of the
"Phoebe" to be thirty long 18-pounders and sixteen 32-pounder
carronades. The British naval historian James gives her twenty-six
long eighteens, fourteen 32-pounder carronades, and four long nines;
while to the "Cherub" he attributes a carronade battery of eighteen
thirty-twos and six eighteens, with two long sixes. Whichever
enumeration be accepted, the broadside of the "Essex" within carronade
range considerably outweighed that of the "Phoebe" alone, but was much
less than that of the two British ships combined; the light built and
light-armed "Essex Junior" not being of account to either side. There
remained always the serious chance that, even if the "Phoebe" accepted
single combat, some accident of wind might prevent the "Essex"
reaching her before being disabled by her long guns. Hillyar,
moreover, was an old disciple of Nelson, fully imbued with the
teaching that achievement of success, not personal glory, must dictate
action; and, having a well established reputation for courage and
conduct, he did not intend to leave anything to the chances of fortune
incident to engagement between equals. He would accept no provocation
to fight apart from the "Cherub."

Forced to accept this condition, Porter now turned his attention to
escape. Valparaiso Bay is an open roadstead, facing north. The high
ground above the anchorage provides shelter from the south-southwest
wind, which prevails along this coast throughout the year with very
rare intermissions. At times, as is common under high land, it blows
furiously in gusts. The British vessels underway kept their station
close to the extreme western point of the bay, to prevent the "Essex"
from passing to southward of them, and so gaining the advantage of the
wind, which might entail a prolonged chase and enable her, if not to
distance pursuit, at least to draw the "Phoebe" out of support of the
"Cherub." Porter's aim of course was to seize an opportunity when by
neglect, or unavoidably, they had left a practicable opening between
them and the point. In the end, his hand was forced by an accident.

On March 28 the south wind blew with unusual violence, and the "Essex"
parted one of her cables. The other anchor failed to hold when the
strain came upon it, and the ship began to drift to sea. The cable was
cut and sail made at once; for though the enemy were too nearly in
their station to have warranted the attempt to leave under ordinary
conditions, Porter, in the emergency thus suddenly thrust upon him,
thought he saw a prospect of passing to windward. The "Essex"
therefore was hauled close to the wind under single-reefed topsails,
heading to the westward; but just as she came under the point of the
bay a heavy squall carried away the maintopmast. The loss of this spar
hopelessly crippled her, and made it impossible even to regain the
anchorage left. She therefore put about, and ran eastward until within
pistol-shot of the coast, about three miles north of the city. Here
she anchored, well within neutral waters; Hillyar's report stating
that she was "so near shore as to preclude the possibility of passing
ahead of her without risk to his Majesty's ships." Three miles, then
the range of a cannon-shot, estimated liberally, was commonly accepted
as the width of water adjacent to neutral territory, which was under
the neutral protection. The British captain decided nevertheless to
attack.

The wind remaining southerly, the "Essex" rode head to it; the two
hostile vessels approaching with the intention of running north of
her, close under her stern. The wind, however, forced them off as they
drew near; and their first attack, beginning about 4 P.M. and lasting
ten minutes, produced no visible effect, according to Hillyar's
report. Porter states, on the contrary, that considerable injury was
done to the "Essex"; and in particular the spring which he was trying
to get on the cable was thrice shot away, thus preventing the bringing
of her broadside to bear as required. The "Phoebe" and her consort
then wore, which increased their distance, and stood out again to sea.
While doing this they threw a few "random shots;" fired, that is, at
an elevation so great as to be incompatible with certainty of aim.
During this cannonade the "Essex," with three 12-pounders run out of
her stern ports, had deprived the "Phoebe" of "the use of her
mainsail, jib and mainstay." On standing in again Hillyar prepared to
anchor, but ordered the "Cherub" to keep underway, choosing a position
whence she could most annoy their opponent.

At 5.35 P.M., by Hillyar's report,--Porter is silent as to the
hour,--the attack was renewed; the British ships both placing
themselves on the starboard--seaward--quarter of the "Essex." Before
the "Phoebe" reached the position in which she intended to anchor, the
"Essex" was seen to be underway.



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