- Historic Sites
Exploit At Fayal
A lonely, gallant battle fought by the designer of our flag set the stage for Andrew Jackson's victory at New Orleans.
June 1959 | Volume 10, Issue 4
The slaughter in the boats was appalling. Between the brig and the shore, the harbor waters were dotted with the wreckage of boats and the heads of swimming men. An eyewitness on the shore observed that “some of the boats were left without a single man to row them, others with three or four … Several boats floated ashore full of dead bodies. For three days after the battle, we were employed in burying the dead that had washed ashore in the surf.”
For his reckless attack, Lloyd paid dearly with the lives of his best officers and bravest seamen. Reid estimated that in the forty minutes from the first American broadside until the last Britisher dove over the side of the Armstrong, nearly two-thirds of the assault party were casualties, 120 dead and over 130 wounded. The British captain himself took part in the unhappy affair and suffered a severe leg wound.
Reid’s summation of his own situation—in his report of October 4, 1814, to the owners of the Armstrong — was a small gem of understatement: “Our deck was now found in much confusion, our Long Tom dismounted, and several of the carriages broken; many of our crew having left the vessel and others disabled.” His losses, however, were relatively minor: two killed, seven wounded—all of whom later recovered.
When the Portuguese governor again pleaded for a cessation of hostilities, the raging Lloyd had little patience with formalities. He bluntly stated that he was now determined to have that privateer at the risk of knocking down the entire town.
Throughout the early morning hours, the Americans worked feverishly, remounting their guns and cutting out new positions for them. Useless gear was thrown overboard. At daybreak, the Carnation got under way again. Cruising as close to the shallow waters as her commander, Captain George Bentham, dared, the sloop let loose with several broadsides. The privateer replied with its lighter armament.
Many of the Carnation’s balls passed over the low-lying American brig, but the more accurate fire of the Armstrong’s gunners paid off. Her hull holed, the Carnation hauled off to repair the damage and to replace cut-up rigging and a toppled foretopmast. But her broadsides had had their effect. With most of his topside in complete ruin and several guns out of commission, Reid saw that further resistance was useless. So he had a gun upended and drove a ball through the bottom of the brig. As the Armstrong settled in the shallow water, Reid and the surviving crew members swam ashore. British boarding parties took possession of the scuttled brig, and after ascertaining that the task ol raising her would take too long, set her afire.
Reid and his new took refuge in an old convent outside ol Fayal. But Lloyd was not content to leave them alone. Chagrined by the fierce resistance and his own heavy losses, he claimed that two of the crew were deserters from the British Navy. British marines, with the reluctant assistance of the Portuguese, rounded up all the privateersmen and marched them down to the town square for interrogation by Lloyd’s officers. Even this proved fruitless for the Englishman: he was unable to prove that any of Reid’s men were British deserters, and he had to release them all.
The British lingered at Fayal caring for the wounded and retraining men to replace those lost. Three days after the fight, the sloops of war Thais and Calypso sailed in and were dispatched to carry the more seriously injured back to England. Their captains were cautioned not to release any details of the battle—an indication of Lloyd’s worry over his costly victory.
While Lloyd’s fleet was thus detained, Cochrane chafed in Jamaica. Lloyd’s scheduled arrival date came and passed. He and his 2,000 reinforcements didn’t arrive until November, putting off the sailing of the invasion fleet until the twenty-sixth of that month. By the time the British arrived before New Orleans in December, Jackson had had enough time to rally his men.
SIDEBAR: HOW VITAL WAS REID'S VICTORY?
One can only speculate as to what Jackson’s political future might have been had Cochrane made his landing in the latter part ol November as planned. The military significance ol a British victory and occupation of New Orleans would have been minor, as the War of 1812 was already being settled at the peace tables in Europe. But the effect on the reputation of Andrew Jackson as a military leader would have been considerable.
Sam Reid and his men returned to the United States after the war and were widely acclaimed. Reid was feted at a state banquet in Richmond, Virginia, and was awarded a sword of honor by New York City. Then, his brief moment in history past, he turned to the more prosaic task of rearing a family.