Down To The Sea


The Philadelphia, with forty guns mounted, doubleshotted, and ready for firing, and manned by a full complement of men, was moored within half a gunshot of the Bashaw’s … batteries. … Some Tripolitan cruisers, two galleys, and nineteen gunboats also lay between the Philadelphia and the shore. Into the midst of this powerful armament Decatur had to go with his little vessel… and … a crew of seventy-five men. …

He… drifted to within nearly twenty yards of the Philadelphia. … and when [the Tripolitans] hailed the Intrepid, the pilot answered that they had lost their anchors in a gale, and asked that they might run a warp to the frigate and ride by her. While the talk went on the Intrepid’s boat shoved off with the rope, and pulling to the fore-chains of the Philadelphia, made the line fast. …

The suspicions of the Tripolitans were now at last awakened. They raised the cry of “Americanos!” … Decatur sprang up the main chains of the Philadelphia , calling out the order to board.… There was a very short struggle, and the Tripolitans, crowded together, terrified and surprised, were cut down or driven overboard. In five minutes the ship was cleared of the enemy.

Decatur … gave orders to burn the ship, and … in a few minutes, so well and quickly was the work done, the flames broke out in all parts of the Philadelphia. As soon as this was effected the order was given to return to the Intrepid. Without confusion the men obeyed. ... The cables were cut, the sweeps got out, and the Intrepid drew rapidly away from the burning frigate.… then the Philadelphia, a mass of flames, drifted across the harbor and blew up. Meantime the … Intrepid … escaped successfully …

In the years that have elapsed, and among the great events that have occurred since that time, Decatur’s burning of the Philadelphia has been well-nigh forgotten; but it is one of those feats of arms which illustrate the high courage of American seamen, and which ought always to be remembered.

Senator Henry Cabot Lodge Hero Tales from American History

Moran's The Brig Armstrong Engaging the British Fleet (in the Harbor of Fayal, September 26, 1814)

To the port of Fayal Britain pays a sunset call:
A frigate, brig, and seventy-four come sailing slant and sheer
With their guns full sixscore and a thousand men or more
To teach the art of fighting to a Yankee Privateer.
With his trust in the Lord and his hand upon his sword,
His ninety men about him, and our banner looking down,
Gallant Reid clears for fight in the moonlit Azore night
To forge a stunning thunderbolt against the British Crown.
Oh, the moon shines like day as their boats get under way

And bear down on the Armstrong with intentions fell and black …
* * *

All our guns hurl their shot as they burst upon us hot;
They rattle on our bulwarks, slashing at the boarding-net.
We’ve a blow for each head and a pistol full of lead,
And on the Armstrong ’s angry deck no British loot is let.
* * *

Then their brig slowly wears, and her shining battery glares
Upon us for a moment, till we blow her back in shame;
But the great seventy-four takes her station near the shore,
And Reid leads off his gallant men, and sets his ship a-flame.…

Wallace Rice “A Yankee Privateer”

Moran's Sinking of the Cumberland by the Merrimac (in Hampton Roads, March 8, 1862)

At anchor in Hampton Roads we lay,
On board of the Cumberland , sloop-of-war;
And at times from the fortress across the bay
The alarum of drums swept past,
Or a bugle blast
From the camp on the shore.

Then far away to the south uprose
A little feather of snow-white smoke,
And we knew that the iron ship of our foes
Was steadily steering its course
To try the force
Of our ribs of oak.

Down upon us heavily runs,
Silent and sullen, the floating fort;
Then comes a puff of smoke from her guns,
And leaps the terrible death,
With fiery breath,
From each open port. …