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She was therefore set on fire December
31, and the "Constitution" went back to Bahia, where the prisoners
were landed under parole. Thence she sailed for home January 6, 1813,
reaching Boston February 27. Before his departure the Commodore
directed Lawrence to blockade Bahia as long as seemed advisable, but
to beware of a British seventy-four, said to be on the coast. When it
became expedient, he was to quit the position and move northward;
first off Pernambuco, and thence to the coast of Cayenne, Surinam, and
Demerara, a favorite cruising ground for American commerce-destroyers.
The "Hornet" was to be in Boston in the first fortnight of April.

In pursuance of these discretionary orders Lawrence remained off Bahia
for eighteen days, till January 24, when the expected seventy-four,
the "Montagu," appeared, forcing him into the harbor; but the same
night he came out, gave her the slip, and proceeded on his cruise. On
February 24, off the Demarara River, he encountered the British brig
of war "Peacock," a vessel of the same class as the "Frolic," which
was captured a few months before by the "Wasp," sister ship to the
"Hornet." There was no substantial difference in size between these
two approaching antagonists; but, unfortunately for the equality of
the contest, the "Peacock" carried 24-pounder carronades, instead of
the 32's which were her proper armament. Her battery power was
therefore but two thirds that of the "Hornet." The vessels crossed on
opposite tacks, exchanging broadsides within half pistol-shot, the
"Hornet" to windward(1). The "Peacock" then wore; observing which,
Lawrence kept off at once for her and ran on board her starboard
quarter (2). In this position the engagement was hot for about fifteen
minutes, when the "Peacock" surrendered, hoisting a flag union down,
in signal of distress. She had already six feet of water in the hold.
Being on soundings, in less than six fathoms, both anchored, and every
effort was made to save the British vessel; but she sank, carrying
down nine of her own crew and three of the "Hornet's." Her loss in
action was her commander and four men killed, and twenty-nine wounded,
of whom three died; that of the American vessel, one killed and two
wounded. The inequality in armament detracts inevitably from glory in
achievement; but the credit of readiness and efficiency is established
for Lawrence and his crew by prompt action and decisive results. So,
also, defeat is not inglorious under such odds; but it remains to the
discredit of the British commander that his ship did no more
execution, when well within the most effective range of her guns. In
commenting upon this engagement, after noticing the dandy neatness of
the "Peacock," James says, "Neglect to exercise the ship's company at
the guns prevailed then over two thirds of the British navy; to which
the Admiralty, by their sparing allowance of powder and shot for
practice, were in some degree instrumental."

With the survivors of the "Peacock," and prisoners from other prizes,
Captain Lawrence found himself now with two hundred and seventy-seven
souls on board and only thirty-four hundred gallons of water. There
was at hand no friendly port where to deposit his captives, and
provisions were running short. He therefore steered for the United
States, and arrived at Holmes' Hole on March 19.[7]

[Illustration: PLAN OF ENGAGEMENT BETWEEN HORNET AND PEACOCK]

The capture of the "Peacock" was the last of five naval duels, three
between frigates and two between sloops, all favorable in issue to the
United States, which took place in what may justly be considered the
first of the three periods into which the War of 1812 obviously
divides. Great Britain, long reluctant to accept the fact of war as
irreversible, did not begin to put forth her strength, or to exercise
the measures of repression open to her, until the winter of 1812-13
was drawing to a close. On October 13, convinced that the mere news of
the revocation of the Orders in Council would not induce any change in
the American determination, the hitherto deferred authority for
general reprisals was given; but accompanying them was an express
provision that they were not to be understood as recalling the
declaration which Warren had been commissioned to make, in order to
effect a suspension of hostilities.[8] On November 27, however, hopes
from this source having apparently disappeared, directions were sent
the admiral to institute a rigorous commercial blockade of Delaware
and Chesapeake bays,[9] the usual public notification of the fact to
neutral Powers, for the information of their shipping affected by it,
being issued December 26, three days before the action between the
"Constitution" and "Java." On February 21, three days before the
"Hornet" sank the "Peacock," Warren wrote that in compliance with the
orders of November 27 this blockade had been put in force. The ship
"Emily," from Baltimore for Lisbon, under a British license, with a
cargo of flour, was turned back when attempting to go to sea from the
Chesapeake, about February 5; Warren indorsing on her papers that the
bay had been placed under rigorous blockade the day before.[10]
Captain Stewart, the senior United States officer at Norfolk, notified
his Government of these facts on February 10.[11] Soon after, by an
Order in Council dated March 30, the measure was extended to New York,
Charleston, Port Royal, Savannah, and the Mississippi River.[12] Later
in the year Warren, by a sweeping proclamation, dated November 16,[13]
widened its scope to cover Long Island Sound, inside of Montauk and
Black Point; the latter being on the Connecticut shore, eight miles
west of New London. From thence it applied not only to the ports
named, but to all inlets whatsoever, southward, as far as the Florida
boundary. Narragansett Bay and the rest of New England remained still
exempt.

These restrictions, together with the increase of Warren's force and
the operations of 1813 in the Chesapeake, may be considered as
initiating the second stage of the war, when Great Britain no longer
cherished hopes of any other solution than by the sword, but still was
restrained in the exercise of her power by the conflict with Napoleon.
With the downfall of the latter, in April, 1814, began the third and
final act, when she was more at liberty to let loose her strength, to
terminate a conflict at once weakening and exasperating. It is not
without significance that the treaty of peace with the restored
Bourbon government of France was signed May 30, 1814,[14] and that on
May 31 was issued a proclamation placing under strict and rigorous
blockade, not merely specified places, but "all the ports, harbors,
bays, creeks, rivers, inlets, outlets, islands, and sea-coasts of the
United States," from the border of New Brunswick to that of
Florida.[15] In form, this was only the public notification of a
measure already instituted by Warren's successor, Cochrane, embracing
Newport, Boston, and the East under restrictions heretofore limited to
New York--including Long Island Sound--and the coast southward; but it
was not merely the assertion of a stringent resolution. It was a clear
defiance, in the assurance of conscious power, of a principal
contention of the United States, that the measure of blockades against
neutrals was not legitimately applicable to whole coasts, but only to
specified ports closely watched by a naval force competent to its
avowed purpose.

Despite the gathering of the storm, the full force of which was to be
expected in the spring, the United States ships of war that reached
port in the early and middle winter of 1812-13 remained. There is,
perhaps, an unrecognized element of "hindsight" in the surprise felt
at this fact by a seaman of to-day, knowing the views and wishes of
the prominent officers of the navy at that period. Decatur, with the
"United States," reached New York in December, accompanied by the
"Macedonian." Neither of these vessels got to sea again during the
war. By the time they were ready, both outlets to the port were
effectually blocked. Rodgers, with the "President" and "Congress,"
entered Boston December 31, but did not sail again until April 23. The
"Constellation," Captain Stewart, was reported, perhaps erroneously,
as nearly ready for sea at Washington, November 26, waiting only for a
few additional hands. Later in the winter she went to Annapolis, to
examine her powder, leaving there for Hampton Roads February 1, on
account of the ice. On the 4th, approaching her destination, she
discovered two ships of the line, three frigates, and two smaller
British vessels, working up from the Capes for the Roads. In the face
of such a force there was nothing to do but to escape to Norfolk,
where she remained effectually shut up for the rest of the war.
Bainbridge, as already known, brought the "Constitution" back for
repairs in February. Even from Boston she was unable to escape till
the following December.

That there were satisfactory reasons for this seeming dilatoriness is
assured by the character of the officers. Probably the difficulty of
keeping up the ship's companies, in competition with the superior
attractions of privateering and the very high wages offered by the
merchants for their hazardous but remunerative commercial voyages
accounted for much. Hull wrote from New York, October 29, 1812, that
the merchants fitting out their vessels gave such high wages that it
was difficult to get either seamen or workmen.[16] Where no system of
forced enrolment--conscription or impressment--is permitted,
privateering has always tended to injure the regular naval service.
Though unquestionably capable of being put by owners on a business
basis, as a commercial undertaking, with the individual seaman the
appeal of privateering has always been to the stimulants of chance and
gain, which prove so attractive in the lottery. Stewart, an officer of
great intelligence and experience in his profession, found a further
cause in the heavy ships of the enemy. In the hostilities with France
in 1798-1800, he said, "We had nearly four thousand able seamen in the
navy.



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