Capture of HMS Boxer

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Capture of HMS Boxer
Part of the War of 1812
Enterprise and Boxer.png
Date 5 September 1813
Location off Pemaquid Point, near Bristol, Maine
Result American victory
Belligerents
 United Kingdom  United States
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Samuel Blyth  United States William Burrows 
Strength
1 gun-brig
Sailors and
Marine infantry
1 brig
Sailors and
Marine infantry
Casualties and losses
1 gun-brig captured 1 brig damaged

The capture of HMS Boxer in 1813 was a sea fight off the coast of Maine in the War of 1812. The United States Navy brig USS Enterprise, commanded by Lieutenant William Burrows, defeated the Royal Navy gun-brig HMS Boxer, led by Master Commandant Samuel Blyth. Constructed as a schooner in Maryland in 1799, the victorious American was rebuilt as a brig prior to the war. She met an inglorious end, wrecking in the West Indies in 1823. However, her name carried on. A number of following U.S. Navy warships bore the name. The Boxer was auctioned for $9,775 to benefit her captors, and she served as a local merchantman for some years.

Battle

On 5 September 1813, USS Enterprise with fourteen 18-pound carronades and two 9-pound long guns and 102 men sighted HMS Boxer with twelve 18-pound carronades and two 6-pound long guns and 66 men off Pemaquid Point, Maine. After six hours of maneuvering, the antagonists got down to business. Blyth prepared for a fight to the finish. He ordered a Union Jack nailed to the foremast and two on the mainmast. In Enterprise, Burrows demonstrated similar resolve. He moved one of his two long 9-pounders from the bow to a stern port, and tradition indicates he declared: "We are going to fight both ends and both sides of this ship as long as the ends and the sides hold together." When the firing commenced, the ships were eight miles southeast of Seguin. When it ended, according to William Barnes, a member of the American crew and later a respected mariner from Woolwich, the ships were "some four or five miles east from Pemaquid point, four miles southwest of East Egg Rock . . . and about seven miles west north west of Monhegan." [1] Boxer was in the area, having for a fee escorted an American merchantman with Swedish papers from New Brunswick to the Kennebec River.

Within half pistol shot, the two brigs opened fire. "Great God, what shots!" exclaimed Blyth an instant before being killed during the initial fusillades. Moments later, while helping his crew run out a carronade, a musket ball tore into Burrow's thigh. He fell to the deck mortally wounded, but refused to be carried below. The fierce contest ended in 30 minutes. Command of Enterprise devolved to Lieutenant Edward McCall, while Lieutenant David McGrery had assumed command of the battered Boxer. Towards the end, McGrery described his ship as a complete wreck with three feet of water in the hold. The flags on the mainmast were shot away, but the Englishman's colors remained nailed to the foremast; "but his tongue was not fastened and he called for quarters. . .."[2] The dying Lieutenant Burrows declined to accept Commander Blyth's sword, directing it be sent to the family of the dead British captain. "I am satisfied, I die contented," Lieutenant Burrows exclaimed. McCall returned to Portland to the southwest with the two ships and the casualties.

An American court-martial charged Sailing Master William Harper and Isaac Bowman, captain's clerk, with cowardice. Captain Isaac Hull dismissed the Bowman complaint, and the court acquitted Harper. However, at Bermuda, a British court martial found its acting master's mate and three seamen "through cowardice, negligence, or disaffection" deserted their quarters during the action.,[3][4]

Aftermath

Newspapers in the United States rejoiced in "another brilliant naval victory." After two days of planning, authorities conducted an impressive state funeral for the two commanders, and they rest side by side in Portland's Eastern Cemetery. Next to them is the comparable grave of Lieutenant Kerwin Waters who suffered mortal wounds as a midshipman during the battle but lived for two more years.

Quotation

" The captain of HMS Boxer, Commander Samuel Blyth, was killed early in the action by a cannon ball; had he lived he might have defended his ship more desperately, but it is not probable with more success. He was an officer of distinguished merit; having received a sword from government for his good conduct under Sir James L. Yeo, in the capture of Cayenne. Blyth was also one of the pall-bearers of our lamented James Lawrence, when buried at Halifax, Nova Scotia. It was his fate now to receive like courtesy at the hands of his enemy. His remains, in company with those of the brave Burrows, were brought to Portland, where they were interred with military honours in Eastern Cemetery. It was a striking and affecting sight, to behold two gallant commanders, who had lately been arrayed in deadly hostility against each other, descending into one quiet grave, there to mingle their dust peacefully together. "[5]

This battle was referenced by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his poem "My Lost Youth":

"I remember the sea-fight far away,
How it thundered o'er the tide!
And the dead captains, as they lay
In their graves, o'erlooking the tranquil bay
Where they in battle died.
And the sound of that mournful song
Goes through me with a thrill:
"A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

References

  1. ^ Ellis, p. 136.
  2. ^ Niles' Weekly Register, September 18, 1813.
  3. ^ Ellis, pp 141-142.
  4. ^ Lohnes (1973), p.326.
  5. ^ Washington Irving, Analectic Nagazine, November 1813
  • Ellis, James H. A Ruinous and Unhappy War: New England and the War of 1812 (New York: Algora Publishing, 2009), pp. 134–142.
  • Frost, John (1985) The Pictorial Book Of The Commodores; Comprising Lives Of Distinguished Commanders In The Navy Of The United States. (New York:Nafis & Cornish).
  • Lohnes, Barry J. (1973) "British Naval Problems at Halifax During the War of 1812". Mariner's Mirror 59, 317-333.
  • Smith, Joshua M. Battle for the Bay: The War of 1812 (Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane Editions, 2011), pp. 75–91.

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