Friday, April 18, 2014

Fullbore Friday

As the Ukrainians and everyone else is learning again, international law, custom, and just plain good manners are only useful if everyone agrees to stick by them - otherwise they are about as useful and valuable as the air and paper they are on.

When power wants something, they will think about taking it. They can especially be prompted when power is facing what they see as weakness.

Weakness, however, can be deceiving. As in any venture with human beings, there is a wildcard variable there - leadership. 

Just looking on paper, what are we looking at here on a windswept island in the middle of the Atlantic. 
The General Armstrong had passed Sandy Hook on the 9th, sailing from New York (with) ... their one 42-pounder long gun and eight long 9-pounders ... On the evening of 26 September 1814, the American privateer ... lay quietly at anchor in the harbor at Fayal, in the Azores.
Keeping her company at that neutral port;
(HMS) Carnation (an) 18-gun brig ... HMS Plantagenet , a third-rate 74-gun ship-of-the-line, and HMS Rota , a 38-gun frigate.
I'm just going to pull Act II of a three act play that our friend LCDR BJ Armstrong, (USN) reviews in the latest edition of Naval History with his article, A Daring Defense in the Azores.

Privateer or not - this is clearly in the finest traditions of the naval service, and a great example for those who find themselves on paper in a hopeless situation;
The second attack began at midnight. A dozen British boats came on in close order and in single file. Reid’s men had spent the entire evening at their stations, and the General Armstrong was prepared. When all the boats were in range, the captain gave the order to fire and musket and cannon balls from the privateer smashed into the approaching craft. Sailors and marines in the boats returned fire with carronades, swivel guns, and small arms. Blasts from the privateer’s 42-pounder long gun, nicknamed “Long Tom,” however, staggered the British line. After a moment of disorder, the attackers recovered and raised three cheers. The boats then broke from the disciplined line of advance and, with tars pulling hard at their oars, raced for the American schooner, reaching her bow and starboard quarter.

As men in the boats grappled the General Armstrong ’s sides, the Americans heard British officers shout an order: “Board!” Stepping away from the big guns, the privateer’s crewmen took up any weapon at hand. With muskets, pistols, cutlasses, and boarding pikes they met the first group over the rail with a ferocious counterattack. Driven back into their boats, the British reorganized and made another attempt, but were once again cut down by the defenders.

The American crewmen at the bow, with Reid at their side, decimated their attackers as the bloody back and forth of assault and repulse continued. After 20 minutes, Reid received word from the division defending the stern of the ship that Second Lieutenant Alexander Williams had been killed and Third Lieutenant Robert Johnson wounded. Without leadership, the defenders there had begun to fall back.

Reid joined the aft division and rallied the men. After unleashing a fresh volley of musket fire, they charged and forced the British back over the stern rail. Forty minutes after the first shots had been fired, following wave after wave of boarding attempts, the attackers had been routed. As musket shots continued from the deck of the privateer, some of the British sailors and marines dove overboard and swam ashore to escape the bloodbath. Finally several of the boats limped away, others drifted across the harbor, and three remained lashed to the bow and stern of the General Armstrong , filled with the mangled bodies of the dead and wounded.

The Americans looked around their debris-strewn deck as quiet descended on Fayal Harbor. Long Tom had been dismounted in the fight, and several of the carriages of the smaller guns shattered. Wreckage lay all around them, both from the ship and in the form of six wounded sailors and the body of Lieutenant Williams. But the magnitude of the British loss was entirely different. With hundreds of men having participated in the attack, they reported suffering 36 sailors and marines killed and more than 80 wounded. Based on discussions with British officers after the battle, the Americans and Portuguese put the number closer to 120 dead. Reid would report two of his crew killed, seven wounded.
Of course, you need to read the whole thing.

Not an isolated event either. After reading this accounting I realized that in no small measure, I probably owe my existence to Captain Reid. 

You see, there was a second order effect of the action with the crew of the GENERAL ARMSTRONG that greatly increased the odds of your humble blogger's ancestors would survive the action that they were soon to be involved with as part of a rag-tag group of militiamen under an irascible Major General named Jackson.

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