The Naval War of 1812

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British Account of the Loss of the Guerrière
to the Constitution

Boston, September 7, 1812.


I am sorry to inform you of the capture of His Majesty's late Ship Guerrière by the American Frigate Constitution after a severe action on the 19th of August in Latitude 40.20 N and Longitude 55.00 West. At 2 PM being by wind on the starboard tack, we saw a sail on our Weather Beam, bearing down on us. At 3 made her out to be a Man of War, beat to Quarters and prepar'd for Action. At 4, She closing fast wore to prevent her raking us. At 4.10 hoisted our Colours and fir'd several shot at her. At 4.20 She hoisted her Colours and return'd our fire. Wore several times, to avoid being raked. Exchanging broadsides. At 5 She clos'd on our Starboard Beam, both keeping up a heavy fire and steering free, his intention being evidently to cross our bow. At 5.20, our Mizen Mast went over the starboard quarter and brought the Ship in the Wind. The Enemy then plac'd himself on our larboard Bow, raking us, a few only of our bow guns bearing and his Grape and Riflemen sweeping our Deck. At 5.40 the Ship not answering her helm he attempted to lay up a board at this time. Mr. Grant who commanded the Forecastle was carried below badly wounded. I immediately order'd the Marines and Boarders from the Main Deck; the Master was at this time shot through the knee, and I receiv'd a severe wound in the back. Lieutenant Kent was leading the Boarders, when the Ship coming too, we brought some of our bow guns to bear on her and had got clear of our opponent when at 6.20 our Fore and Main Masts went over the side, leaving the Ship a perfect unmanageable Wreck. The Enemy shooting ahead, I was in hopes to clear the Wreck and get the ship under Command to renew the Action but just as we had clear'd the Wreck our Spritsail yard went and the Enemy having rove new Braces &c, wore round within Pistol Shot to rake us. The Ship laying in the trough of the Sea and rolling her Main Deck Guns under Water and all attempts to get her before the wind being fruitless, when calling my few remaining officers together, they were all of opinion that any further resistance would be needless waste of lives, I orde'd, though reluctantly, the Colours to be struck.

The loss of the Ship is to be ascribed to the early fall of the Mizen Mast which enabled our opponent to choose his position. I am sorry to say we suffered severely in killed and wounded and mostly while she lay on our Bow from her Grape and Musketry, in all 15 kill'd and 63 wounded, many of them severely; none of the wounded Officers quitted the Deck till the firing ceas'd.

The Frigate prov'd to be the United States Ship Constitution of thirty 24 Pounders on her Main Deck and twenty-four 32 Pounders and two 18 Pounders on her Upper Deck and 476 Men--her loss in comparison with ours was triffling, about twenty, the first Lieutenant of Marines and eight killed and first Lieutenant and Masters of the Ship and eleven Men wounded, her lower Masts badly wounded; and stern much shattered and very much cut up about the rigging. . . .

I hope, in considering the circumstances, you will think the Ship entrusted to my charge was properly defended; the unfortunate loss of our Masts, the absence of the third lieutenant, second Lieutenant of Marines, three Midshipmen, and twenty four Men considerably weakened our Crew, and we only muster'd at Quarters 244 Men and 19 Boys, on coming into action; the Enemy had such an advantage from his Marines and Riflemen, when close and his superior sailing enabled him to choose his distance.

I enclose herewith a List of killed and wounded on board the Guerrière and have the Honour to be Sir, Your most obedient &c

Signed, J. R. Dacres

Vice Admiral Sawyer

Commander in Chief

&c &c Halifax

Continue to:
British Defense of the Royal Navy Following the Loss of the Guerrière

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