What It Was Like To Be Shot Up By ‘old Ironsides’


“Modte Breeze. V. Hazy all sail set. At 1 exercised Great Guns and Small Arms. At 1.20 Saw a Strange Sail North. Made compass Signal N. W. to the Levant at that time. Hauld down to leward in Studg Sails and hauld the Wind on the Stard Tack in Chase, the Stranger appeared to be a Square rigged Vessel, steering to the Southward. At ¼ past 2 made the Chase out to be Ship [ie, a three master] and shortly after a Ship of War, and at about ½ past 2 to be a Frigate. Made the Private Signals which not being answered at ¼ past 2 Bore up to join the Levant then on a Wind on the Starbd Tack to Leward, Hull Down the Stranger bearing NE at 5 or 6 miles. Observed her to make all Sail in chase of us. Cleared Ship for Action. Made Signals nos. 3,11,377 to the Levant with Guns, observed signals on board the Levant but could not distinguish them. Found the Stranger gaining upon us. Made all possible Sails. Shortly after the Stranger fired his Bow Guns at us, we steering the most direct course to join the Levant, she at the time Working to Windward under all Sail at ¾ past 4 shortened Sail to Topsail, Top Gallt [gallant] Sails and Foresail. Spoke the Levant. When finding it was Captain Douglas’ intention to engage the Ships Companies cheered. Hauled the Wind and Set the M[ain] Sail keeping always about ½ Cables length astern of the Levant. The Stranger hauled up a little and Set his M Sail and Spanker. Found we could not gain the wind of him, again spoke the Levant when both ships bore up with a view of prolonging the Engagement until Dark, at 5.10 bore up haul’d the Wind on the Starbd Tack up Mainsail. The Stranger hauling up likewise and hoisted American Colours—Discovered his force, viz 15 long Guns on the Main Deck 8 on the Quarter Deck and 4 on the Forecastle of a side, hoisted our Colours. At 5.30 the Enemy being about 1/3 of a Mile or rather more, tried the range of his Shot and immediately commenced the Action, his position being [illegible] on the Cyane’s Starbd beam. Both Ships returned his fire, the Levant holding an advantagious position on the Enemy’s Bow, Braced Sharp up and endeavoured to close on the Quarter of our adversary observing our Shot frequently fall Short whilst he held a decided Superiority by his long Guns cutting our rigging and sails to pieces. Found by our Manouevering that we had neared him as his Musquet Balls began to fall on Board, at the same time we suffered greatly in our rigging and Sails his fire being greatly superior in consequence of some of our Guns being disabled. At about 40 minutes past 6 the Levant appeared to be keeping away, and thinking it might be with an intention of Wearing, We immediately found we had not a brace or bowling left except the Starbd Fore braces but the Levant being at this time exposed to a heavy raking fire, the enemy having filled across her, the Cyane was brought to the Wind on the Larbd Tack with everything aback for the purpose of covering the Levant, renewed the Action and continued it as long as the Guns would bear, lost sight for some time of the Levant in the Smoke. Shortly afterwards the firing ceased for a Short time, discovered the enemy had wore and was standing for the Cyane and soon after commenced firing his Starbd Guns, Turned the Hands up to refit the rigging, rove new braces etc [some loss of legibility here on a tear]. After the Clearing up of the Smoke found the Levant was returning to leward. Tried to get the Cyane before the wind to close her but could not—owing to the crippled State of the rigging and situation of the Sails, they layeing flat aback and driven so entangled in the wreck of the Mizen Mast and not being able to get it down and Jib and Foresail totally useless and before we could effect it the Enemy had taken a position on our Quarter weather Hail, the Ship at this time totally unmaneageable with most of the Standing and all the running rigging Shot away, Sails much shot and torn, all the lower Masts and several of the Yards badly Wounded particularly the Main and Mizen Masts, fore and Mizen Topmasts and Fore T.G. [top gallant] Mast, Cross Jack yard, M(main) T.G. yard, Spanker Boom abd Gaffs and Mizen Staysail Gaff. A number of Shot in the Hull and Nine or Ten between Wind and Water. Six guns disabled by the Enemy’s Shot, drawing of Bolts and starting of chocks etc and Starbd F. Topsail shot and clew of the Sail shot away, the Enemy holding a position in which the Ship was exposed to his Broadside with not more than 3 or 4 Guns to bear upon him. The Levant at this time nearly two miles directly to leeward and still going before the Wind, The Enemy to all appearance having Sustained but little damage and being in full command of the Ship. Thus situated and no opportunity of refitting the rigging so as to get the Ship under command, further resistance was considered as useless against such a Superior force a light was therefore Shewn and at 7 o’clock the Colours Struck. Shortly afterwards an Officer came on Board when it was found we were captured by the United States Ship of War Constitution Captain Charles Stewart mounting 52 Guns long 24 Pns and 32 Pd Carronades with compliment of 472 Men at the commencement of Action. On my quitting the Cyane the Levant nearly out of sight to the Leward

—Alfd L. Strangeways.”