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The Last War Cruise Of Old Ironsides
From her chaplain’s diary comes this graphic story of the final sea battle of America’s famous frigate
April 1955 | Volume 6, Issue 3
“Captain Biddle, I beg your pardon, I have no authority to receive your arms, they will be sur- rendered to the Commodore. I presume this is the United States ship Hornet ?”
The English lieutenant’s increased politeness was now understandable. The Hornet had stung the British Navy into a very high estimate of her prowess. Lieutenant Davis was obviously congratulating himself upon the capture of this troublesome pest when Ballard rudely disillusioned him.
“There is some presumption in that, Sir; No Sir, this is His Britannic Majesty’s late ship Levant .”
“And that ship which escaped to the westward?” inquired the astonished Englishman.
“Is, Sir, His Majesty’s ship Cyane .”
“And what was the ship of which we gave up the chase?” he continued, with growing apprehension.
“That was the United States frigate Constitution , and the Cyane and Levant are her prizes.”
The British had captured some eighty Americans: the 63 men who made up the prize crew on the Levant , and the seventeen sailors left behind by the Constitution . The prisoners were distributed among the four British vessels with not more than two do/en in any one ship and not more than two officers to a wardroom. Fortune, however, smiled again upon Mr. Humphreys. Together with the ship’s doctor, he was allowed to remain on the Levant where he received courteous treatment from Lieutenant Jellicoe.
After the prisoners had been suitably distributed, Commodore Collier spent the night in the harbor of Port Praya and the following morning made leisurely preparations for departure. At eleven o’clock the loin-vessels, all once more flying the British ensign, set sail. So cautious was their pursuit of the Constitution and the Cyane , that the lour warships remained for eight days within signaling distance of each other. During this interval, both the Constitution and the Cyane made good their escape.
Mr. Humphreys only shared the opinion of nearly all authorities on naval warfare that “had they conducted themselves as their duty to their country required,” the British warships should have captured both of the fleeing vessels.
Mr. Humphreys improved his leisure moments by rewriting, from memory, the narrative of events originally recorded in the journal which he had sacrificed in Port Praya. He subsequently returned to Baltimore and resumed a naval career which he pursued until shortly before his death in 1826. It is certain, however, that never again did he participate in such a strange experience as this voyage of the Constitution .