“Constitution vs Guerriere”
by Patrick O’Brien
On August 2nd, 1812 the “Constitution” set sail departing from Boston and sailed east in hopes of finding some British ships. After meeting no British ships, the “Constitution” sailed along the coast of Nova Scotia, and then Newfoundland, finally stationing off Cape Race in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. It was here that the Americans captured and burned two brigs of little value. On August 15th the “Constitution” recaptured an American brig from the British ship-sloop “Avenger”, however, the British ship managed to escape. Captain Isaac Hull put a crew on the brig and they sailed it back to an American port.
At 2:00 p.m. on August 19th the crew of the “Constitution” made out a large sail which proved to be the British frigate “Guerriere” captained by James Dacres. At 4:30 p.m. the two ships began to position themselves and hoisted their flags (colors). At 5:00 p.m. the “Guerriere” opened fire with her weather guns, the shots splashed in the water short of the American ship. The British then fired her port broadsides, two of these shots hit the American ship, the rest went over and through her rigging. As the British prepared to fire again the “Constitution” fired her port guns. The two ships were a fair distance apart, and for the next 60 minutes or so they continued like this with very little damage being done to either party.
At 6:00 p.m. they moved closer, at 6:05 p.m. the two ships were within pistol-shot of each other. A furious cannonade began, at 6:20 p.m. the “Constitution” shot away the “Guerriere’s” mizzen-mast, the British ship was damaged. The “Constitution” came around the “Guerriere’s” bow and delivered a heavy raking fire which shot away the British frigate’s main yard. The Americans came around yet again and raked the “Guerriere”. The mizzen-mast of the British ship was now dragging in the water and the two ships came in close to each other. The British bow guns did some damage to the captain’s cabin of the “Constitution”, a fire even started there. An American officer by the name of Lieutenant Hoffmann put the fire out.
It was about here that both crews tried to board the others ship, or at least thought about it. And it was also here where most of the “Constitution’s” casualties were taken. In fact, both sides suffered greatly from musketry at this point. On the “Guerriere” the loss was much greater. Captain James Dacres was shot in the back while cheering on his crew to fight. The ships finally worked themselves free of each other, and then the “Guerriere’s” foremast and main-mast came crashing down leaving the British ship defenseless.
At 6:30 p.m. the “Constitution” ran off a little and made repairs which only took minutes to complete. Captain Isaac Hull stood and watched at 7:00 p.m. as the battered British ship surrendered, unable to continue the fight.
The “Constitution” had a crew of 456 and carried 44 guns. The Guerriere had a crew of 272 men and carried 38 guns. The American casualties were 14, which included Lieutenant William S. Bush, of the marines, and six seamen killed. And her first lieutenant, Charles Morris, Master, John C. Alwyn, four seamen, and one marine wounded. Total seven killed and seven wounded. Almost all the American casualties came from the enemy musketry when the two ships came together. The British lost 23 killed and mortally wounded, including her second lieutenant, Henry Ready, and 56 wounded severely and slightly, including Captain Dacres for a total of 79. The rest of the British crew became prisoners.