Little Bits of History

Unlucky Ship

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 1, 2012

USS Chesapeake

June 1, 1813: James Lawrence takes command of the USS Chesapeake during the War of 1812. Lawrence was born in 1781 and his mother died soon after. His father abandoned the family and as a Loyalist, fled to Canada. Lawrence studied law and then joined the US Navy as a midshipman in 1798. He served on two ships before being promoted to lieutenant in 1802. His ship sailed to the Mediterranean where he was part of a successful attack on June 2, 1803. He was eventually given command of his own warship and excelled at the task. After capturing HMS Peacock in February 1813, he returned to the States. He was given his new command on this day.

The USS Chesapeake was one of the original six frigates of the US Navy. The ships were authorized by the Naval Act of 1794 and were designed by Joshua Humphreys. Chesapeake was a 44-gun frigate but was originally built by Josiah Fox as a 38-gun ship. She was launched December 2, 1799 having cost $220,677 to build ($7.35 million today). Her maiden voyage took place on May 22, 1800. She was in bad shape when Lawrence came aboard on May 20 and some of the crew deserting daily while others stayed aboard, drunk. Chesapeake had just returned from a successful raid and the prize money to the crew was held up in court, so Lawrence himself paid the monies to appease the crew.

Finally ready to sail from Boston Harbor with a crew thrown together from many nations, Chesapeake under command of now-Captain Lawrence set sail on this day and immediately met with a blockade. British Captain Broke of HMS Shannon had a crack crew who held daily gun and weapon drills. The two ships met and fired on each other. In six minutes, each ship successfully fired two broadsides. Chesapeake was hit by 362 shots and Shannon was hit by 258. Chesapeake’s helm was lost early in the conflict and she lost maneuverability. Captain Lawrence was also mortally wounded.

Lawrence’s last act of command was to issue one of the most famous orders of the Navy, “Don’t give up the ship.” He issued his command as he was carried below decks. Captain Broke ordered a boarding party and the crew of the Chesapeake was soon overwhelmed. Captain Broke was also severely injured. Of the Chesapeake crew, 61 were killed and another 85 were injured during the battle. Lawrence died of his wounds on June 4. Broke managed to recover and was later made a Baronet. The ship was taken into British waters and brought to Nova Scotia. She was commissioned into the British Navy later that year and was sold in 1820 and broken up.

Don’t give up the ship. Fight her till she sinks. – James Lawrence

A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for. – Grace Hopper

Anybody can pilot a ship when the sea is calm. – Navjot Singh Sidhu

If I had been censured every time I have run my ship, or fleets under my command, into great danger, I should have long ago been out of the Service and never in the House of Peers. – Horatio Nelson

Also on this day:

And Now – The News – In 1980 Ted Turner begins broadcasting with CNN.
Breathing – In 1974, the Heimlich Maneuver was published.
Not Hops Scotch – In 1495, Friar John Cor was listed as possessing ingredients to make Scotch.

One Response

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  1. Brian Stephens said, on October 1, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    For those who may be interested:

    Transcribed as written from the Providence Gazette (R.I.)
    July 10, 1813 p.1

    Official Account of the Capture of the Chesapeake:
    Copy of a letter from Lieut. Budd to the Secretary of the Navy dated, Halifax, June 15, 1813

    SIR – the unfortunate death of Captain James Lawrence, and Lieut. Augustus C. Ludlow, has rendered it my duty to inform you of the capture of the late U. States Frigate Chesapeake. On Tuesday June 1, at 8, A.M. we unmoored ship, and at meridian got under way from President’s Roads, with a light wind from the southward and westward, and proceeded on a cruise. A ship was then in sight in the offing, which had the appearance of a ship of war, and which, from the information received from pilot-boats and craft, we believed to be the British frigate Shannon.

    We made sail in chase and cleared ship for action. At half past 4, P.M. she hove to, with her head to the southward and eastward. At 5, P.M. took in the royals and top gallant sail, and at half past 5, hauled the courses up. About 15 m. before 6, P.M. the action commenced with a pistol shot. The first broadside did great execution on both sides, damaged our rigging, killed among others, Mr. White, the sailing master, and wounded Capt. Lawrence. In about 12 minutes after the commencement of the action, we fell on board of the enemy, and immediately after, one of our arm chests on the quarter-deck was blown up by a hand grenade thrown from the enemy’s ship. In a few minutes one of the Captains aids came on the gun-deck to inform me that the boarders were called. I immediately called the boarders away, and proceeded to the spar deck, where I found that the enemy had succeeded in boarding us, and had gained possession of our quarterdeck. I immediately gave orders to haul on board the fore tack, for the purpose of shooting the ship clear of the other, and then made an attempt to regain the quarterdeck, but was wounded and thrown down on the gun deck.

    I again made effort to collect the boarders, but in the meantime the enemy had gained complete possession of the ship. On my being carried down to the cockpit, I there found Capt. Lawrence and Lieut. Ludlow, both mortally wounded; the former had been carried below previous to the ship’s being boarded; the latter was wounded in attempting to repel the boarders. Among those who fell early in the action, was Mr. Edward J. Ballard, the 4th Lieutenant, and Lieut. James Broome, of the marines. I herein enclose to you a return of the killed and wounded, by which you will perceive that every officer, upon who the charge of the ship would devolve, was either killed or wounded previous to her capture. The enemy report the loss of Mr. Watt, their 1st Lieut., the purser, the Captains clerk, and 23 seaman killed; and Captain Broke, a midshipman and 56 seaman wounded. The Shannon had, in addition to her full compliment, an officer and 16 men belonging to the Belle Poul, and part of the crew belonging to the Tenedos.

    I have the honour to be, with the greatest respect, &c. George Budd.
    The Hon. William Jones, Secretary of the navy, Washington.


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