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At 6.30 P.M. of September 1 four sails
were sighted, from which Blakely selected to pursue the one most to
windward; for, should this prove a ship of war, the others, if
consorts, would be to leeward of the fight, less able to assist. The
chase lasted till 9.26, when the "Wasp" was near enough to see that
the stranger was a brig of war, and to open with a light carronade on
the forecastle, as the "Reindeer" had done upon her in the same
situation. Confident in his vessel, however, Blakely abandoned this
advantage of position, ran under his antagonist's lee to prevent her
standing down to join the vessels to leeward, and at 9.29 began the
engagement, being then on her lee bow. At ten the "Wasp" ceased firing
and hailed, believing the enemy to be silenced; but receiving no
reply, and the British guns opening again, the combat was renewed. At
10.12, seeing the opponent to be suffering greatly, Blakely hailed
again and was answered that the brig had surrendered. The "Wasp's"
battery was secured, and a boat was in the act of being lowered to
take possession, when a second brig was discovered close astern.
Preparation was made to receive her and her coming up awaited; but at
10.36 the two others were also visible, astern and approaching. The
"Wasp" then made sail, hoping to decoy the second vessel from her
supports; but the sinking condition of the one first engaged detained
the new-comer, who, having come within pistol-shot, fired a broadside
which took effect only aloft, and then gave all her attention to
saving the crew of her comrade. As the "Wasp" drew away she heard the
repeated signal guns of distress discharged by her late adversary, the
name of which never became known to the captain and crew of the
victorious ship.[248]

The vessel thus engaged was the British brig "Avon," of sixteen
32-pounder carronades, and two long 9-pounders; her force being to
that of the "Wasp" as four to five. Her loss in men was ten killed
and thirty-two wounded; that of the "Wasp" two killed and one wounded.
The "Avon" being much superior to the "Reindeer," this comparatively
slight injury inflicted by her testifies to inferior efficiency. The
broadside of her rescuer, the "Castilian," of the same weight as her
own, wholly missed the "Wasp's" hull, though delivered from so near; a
circumstance which drew from the British historian, James, the caustic
remark that she probably would have done no better than the "Avon,"
had the action continued. The "Wasp" was much damaged in sails and
rigging; the "Avon" sank two hours and a half after the "Wasp" left
her and one hour after being rejoined by the "Castilian."

The course of the "Wasp" after this event is traced by her captures.
The meeting with the "Avon" was within a hundred miles of that with
the "Reindeer." On September 12 and 14, having run south three hundred
and sixty miles, she took two vessels; being then about two hundred
and fifty miles west from Lisbon. On the 21st, having made four
degrees more southing, she seized the British brig "Atalanta," a
hundred miles east of Madeira. This prize being of exceptional value,
Blakely decided to send her in, and she arrived safely at Savannah on
November 4, in charge of Midshipman David Geisinger, who lived to
become a captain in the navy.[249] She brought with her Blakely's
official despatches, including the report of the affair with the
"Avon." This was the last tidings received from the "Wasp" until the
inquiries of friends elicited the fact that the two officers of the
"Essex" had joined her three weeks after the capture of the
"Atalanta," nine hundred miles farther south. Besides these, there
were among the lost two lieutenants who had been in the "Constitution"
when she took the "Guerrière" and the "Java," and one who had been in
the "Enterprise" in her action with the "Boxer."

Coincident in time with the cruise of the "Wasp" was that of her
sister ship, the "Peacock"; like her also newly built, and named after
the British brig sunk by Captain Lawrence in the "Hornet." The finest
achievement of the "Wasp," however, was near the end of her career,
while it fell to the "Peacock" to begin with a successful action.
Having left New York early in March, she went first to St. Mary's,
Georgia, carrying a quantity of warlike stores. In making this passage
she was repeatedly chased by enemies. Having landed her cargo, she
sailed immediately and ran south as far as one of the Bahama Islands,
called the Great Isaac, near to which vessels from Jamaica and Cuba
bound to Europe must pass, because of the narrowness of the channel
separating the islands from the Florida coast. In this neighborhood
she remained from April 18 to 24, seeing only one neutral and two
privateers, which were pursued unsuccessfully. This absence of
unguarded merchant ships, coupled with the frequency of hostile
cruisers met before, illustrates exactly the conditions to which
attention has been repeatedly drawn, as characterizing the British
plan of action in the Western Atlantic. Learning that the expected
Jamaica convoy would be under charge of a seventy-four, two frigates,
and two sloops, and that the merchant ships in Havana, fearing to sail
alone, would await its passing to join, Captain Warrington next stood
slowly to the northward, and on April 29, off Cape Canaveral, sighted
four sail, which proved to be the British brig "Epervier" of eighteen
32-pounder carronades,[250] also northward bound, with three merchant
vessels under her convoy; one of these being Russian, and one Spanish,
belonging therefore to nations still at war with France, though
neutral towards the United States. The third, a merchant brig, was the
first British commercial vessel seen since leaving Savannah.

As usual and proper, the "Epervier," seeing that the "Peacock" would
overtake her and her convoy, directed the latter to separate while she
stood down to engage the hostile cruiser. The two vessels soon came to
blows. The accounts of the action on both sides are extremely meagre,
and preclude any certain statement as to manoeuvres; which indeed
cannot have been material to the issue reached. The "Epervier," for
reasons that will appear later, fought first one broadside and then
the other; but substantially the contest appears to have been
maintained side to side. From the first discharge of the "Epervier"
two round shot struck the "Peacock's" foreyard nearly in the same
place, which so weakened the spar as to deprive the ship of the use of
her foresail and foretopsail; that is, practically, of all sail on the
foremast. Having thenceforth only the jibs for headsail, she had to be
kept a little off the wind. The action lasted forty-five minutes, when
the "Epervier" struck. Her loss in men was eight killed, and fifteen
wounded; the "Peacock" had two wounded.

In extenuation of this disproportion in result, James states that in
the first broadside three of the "Epervier's" carronades were
unshipped; and that, when those on the other side were brought into
action by tacking, similar mishaps occurred. Further, the moment the
guns got warm they drew out the breeching bolts. Allowing full force
to these facts, they certainly have some bearing on the general
outcome; but viewed with regard to the particular question of
efficiency, which is the issue of credit in every fight,[251] there
remains the first broadside, and such other discharges as the
carronades could endure before getting warm. The light metal of those
guns indisputably caused them to heat rapidly, and to kick nastily;
but it can scarcely be considered probable that the "Epervier" was not
able to get in half a dozen broadsides. The result, two wounded,
establishes inefficiency, and a practical certainty of defeat had all
her ironwork held; for the "Peacock," though only three months
commissioned, was a good ship under a thoroughly capable and attentive
captain. A comical remark of James in connection with this engagement
illustrates the weakness of prepossession, in all matters relating to
Americans, which in him was joined to a painstaking accuracy in
ascertaining and stating external facts. "Two well-directed shot," he
says, disabled the "Peacock's" foreyard. It was certainly a capital
piece of luck for the "Epervier" that her opponent at the outset lost
the use of one of her most important spars; but the implication that
the shot were directed for the point hit is not only preposterous but,
in a combat between vessels nearly equal, depreciatory. The shot of a
first broadside had no business to be so high in the air.

James alleges also poor quality and a mutinous spirit in the crew, and
that at the end, when their captain called upon them to board, they
refused, saying, "She is too heavy for us." To this the adequate reply
is that the brig had been in commission since the end of
1812,--sixteen months; time sufficient to bring even an indifferent
crew to a very reasonable degree of efficiency, yet not enough to
cause serious deterioration of material. That after the punishment
received the men refused to board, if discreditable to them under the
conditions, is discreditable also to the captain; not to his courage,
but to his hold upon the men whom he had commanded so long. The
establishment of the "Epervier's" inefficiency certainly detracts from
the distinction of the "Peacock's" victory; but it was scarcely her
fault that her adversary was not worthier, and it does not detract
from her credit for management and gunnery, considering that the
combat began with the loss of her own foresails, and ended with
forty-five shot in the hull, and five feet of water in the hold, of
her antagonist.

By dark of the day of action the prize was in condition to make sail,
and the "Peacock's" yard had been fished and again sent aloft. The two
vessels then steered north for Savannah. The next evening two British
frigates appeared. Captain Warrington directed the "Epervier" to keep
on close along shore, while he stood southward to draw away the enemy.
This proved effective; the "Epervier" arriving safely May 2 at the
anchorage at the mouth of the Savannah River, where the "Peacock"
rejoined her on the 4th.



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