U.S. Naval Personalities of the War of 1812
Commodore William Bainbridge was a native of Princeton, New Jersey and born on May 7, 1774. As a merchant seaman, he commanded his first ship by age twenty before receiving a commission in the U.S. Navy in 1798. Rising through the ranks, he was captain of the frigate USS PHILADELPHIA when she ran aground and was captured off Tripoli in North Africa. He spent more than a year as a prisoner. During the War of 1812, he was placed in command of the USS CONSTITUTION for her second war cruise, defeating the HMS JAVA off the coast of Brazil. Bainbridge then oversaw the construction of the USS INDEPENDENCE, the U.S. Navy's first ship of the line, in Boston, Massachusetts. Following the war, he commanded the American Squadron in the Mediterranean to suppress the Barbary pirates and later served as the commandant of the Boston and Philadelphia Navy Yards. He died in Philadelphia on July 27, 1833.
Commodore Joshua Barney served the U.S. Navy in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Born in Baltimore, Maryland on July 6, 1759, Barney sailed aboard the USS HORNET and USS WASP during the Revolutionary War. While in command of the Pennsylvania ship HYDER ALLY, he led the capture of the much stronger British ship, GENERAL MONK. After taking dispatches to Benjamin Franklin in France, he brought home the news that peace had been signed with Britain, ending the Revolutionary War. Barney served briefly with the French Navy following the Revolutionary War, a choice that may have upset some of his American counterparts. At the onset of the War of 1812, Barney commanded the Baltimore privateer ROSSIE, before presenting a plan for the defense of the Chesapeake Bay using a flotilla of gunboats. The Navy Department accepted his proposal and Barney built and outfitted his flotilla in Baltimore. Sailing down the Bay, he met the British fleet near the Patuxent River. His force delayed the British movements, engaging in numerous skirmishes and minor battles along the Chesapeake Bay and Patuxent River, before being forced to destroy their boats rather than have them captured. Hauling guns and supplies over land, Barney and his sailors attempted to stop the British advance during the Battle of Bladensburg on August 24, 1814. British Admiral Cockburn, following Barney's capture at Bladensburg, commented that Barney and his men "have given us the only fighting we have had." Barney died on December 1, 1818 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Born February 18, 1783, James Biddle began his naval career as a midshipman in 1800. He was aboard the USS PHILADELPHIA when she ran aground off Tripoli and, along with William Bainbridge, was held captive by pirates for nineteen months. During the War of 1812, he sailed as the first Lieutenant aboard the USS WASP and then commanded the USS HORNET when she defeated the HMS PENGUIN in the South Atlantic on March 23, 1815. Biddle was sent in 1817 to the Columbia River to take possession of the Oregon Country for the United States and to China in 1845, where he obtained the first treaty between the U.S. and China. In 1846, he attempted to open Japan to American trade. Misunderstandings and cultural differences frustrated his efforts. Japan would remain closed to American interests until Commodore Matthew Perry visited seven years later. Biddle died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on October 1, 1848.
Born in Seaford, County Down, Ireland in 1781, Blakeley's family immigrated to Charlestown, SC and then Wilmington, NC. North Carolina's Solicitor General, Edward Jones, began raising Blakeley as a foster son when he was nine. He attended school on Long Island, NY and then the University of North Carolina. When finances became an issue, Blakeley asked Jones to obtain him a commission in the U.S. Navy rather than provide a loan to finish school. He was appointed a Midshipman on February 8, 1800 and served mainly in the Mediterranean until 1806. After a brief time aboard merchant ships, Blakeley was promoted to Lieutenant and placed in command of the USS ENTERPRISE. Blakeley oversaw construction of the sloop of war USS WASP in Newburyport, MA during most of the War of 1812. On May 1, 1814 Blakeley and the WASP finally left port. Sailing along the coast of Nova Scotia and across to the western approaches of the English Channel, the WASP captured or sank eight prizes, including the HMS REINDEER. Following repairs in France, the WASP sailed again, taking another seven prizes. Bound for the Caribbean in the fall of 1814, the WASP was lost at sea with all hands. The two cruises of the USS WASP were among the most successful of any U.S. warship during the War of 1812 and Blakely was posthumously promoted to the rank of Captain by the U.S. Congress.
Commodore Isaac Chauncey was born in Black Rock, Connecticut on February 20, 1772. He received his first merchant command at nineteen and was appointed a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy in 1799. He served in the Mediterranean during the campaigns against the Barbary pirates and held command of the USS JOHN ADAMS. Returning to commercial shipping, he was in command of the merchantman BEAVER on a trading voyage to China when the HMS LION threatened to board and press her sailors into the Royal Navy – a leading cause of the War of 1812. Forcing the British captain to choose between pressing a few sailors or an international incident, Chauncey refused to submit to the search and seizure. During the War of 1812, Chauncey supervised the construction of American ships on Lake Ontario and led expeditions against the British forces on the Great Lakes. Following the war, he served in the Mediterranean, commanded the Portsmouth Navy Yard in Maine and served as the President of the U.S. Navy Board in Washington D.C., where he died on January 27, 1840.
One of America's most acclaimed naval heroes, Stephen Decatur was born in Sinepuxent, Maryland on January 5, 1779. He joined the U.S. Navy as a midshipman in 1798 and was promoted to Lieutenant in 1799. Decatur was in command of the USS ENTERPRISE on December 23, 1803 when she captured the ketch MASTICO under the flag of Tripoli pirates. The MASTICO became the USS INTREPID and on February 16, 1804, Decatur led a daring night raid into Tripoli harbor to burn the USS PHILADELPHIA, which had run aground and been captured by the pirates. The famed British Admiral, Lord Horatio Nelson is quoted as saying Decatur's action was the "most daring act of the age." On August 3, 1804, he led a boarding party that captured an enemy gunboat. These two actions inspired the nation and made Decatur a household name. He was promoted to the rank of Captain and held command of numerous frigates. As the War of 1812 opened, Decatur was given command of the USS UNITED STATES, which captured the HMS MACEDONIAN on October 25, 1812. After returning to the U.S. and being given command of the USS PRESIDENT, Decatur and his ship were blockaded in New York by the British fleet. Finally able to slip past the British, he was forced to surrender to a superior British force on January 15, 1815. Following the war, Decatur served in the Mediterranean against the Barbary pirates and on the U.S. Navy Board. Decatur was very vocal in his criticism of Commodore James Barron's surrender of the USS CHESAPEAKE to the HMS LEOPARD in 1807, and on March 22, 1820, both officers were shot while engaged in a dual over the issue. Decatur died of his injuries.
The son of a sea captain, Isaac Hull was born on March 9, 1773 in Derby, Connecticut and joined his father on coastal voyages and longer passages to the Caribbean. Hull commanded numerous merchant vessels, a number of which were taken by the French during the Quasi War in the 1790s. Hull was commissioned in the U.S. Navy as a Lieutenant in 1798 and served in the Mediterranean. By 1806, he was promoted to Captain and held command of the frigates CHESAPEAKE, PRESIDENT and CONSTITUTION. On August 12, 1812, the CONSTITUTION encountered the HMS GUERRIERE and defeated her in a stunning victory that invigorated the American public and stunned Great Britain. During the remainder of the war Hull commanded the Portsmouth Navy Yard in Maine, then served on the Board of Navy Commissioners in Washington D.C. and oversaw the Boston Navy Yard. In the 1820s, Hull commanded U.S. Navy squadrons in the Pacific before returning to Washington D.C. to oversee the Washington Navy Yard. Commodore Hull's last command was over the Mediterranean Squadron between 11839-1841. Age and ill health forced him to take leave and he died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on February 13, 1843.
Captain James Lawrence was born on October 1, 1781 in Burlington, New Jersey and entered the U.S. Navy as a midshipman in 1798. He served aboard a number of frigates in the Caribbean and was commissioned a Lieutenant in 1802. In February 1804, Lawrence served as Stephan Decatur's second in command during the successful raid to destroy the captured USS PHILADELPHIA in Tripoli. Lawrence commanded the USS VIXEN, WASP and ARGUS at various times before the U.S. declared war on Great Britain in 1812. Commanding the USS HORNET during the early days of the war, Lawrence and the HORNET captured the British privateer DOLPHIN and later the HMS PEACOCK. He was promoted to Captain for these exploits and took command of the USS CHESAPEAKE in Boston. On June 1, 1813, USS CHESAPEAKE sailed from Boston, MA to run the British blockade in Cape Cod Bay. They were met by the HMS SHANNON and a fierce engagement followed. During the battle, Lawrence was mortally wounded. Before being taken below, he gave the now famous order: "Don't give up the ship. Fight her till she sinks." Although the CHESAPEAKE was forced to strike her colors and Lawrence died of his wounds the next day, his words became a rallying call for the young U.S. Navy. Lawrence's good friend and fellow officer, Oliver Hazard Perry, had a simple blue flag made with Lawrence's words "Don't Give up the Ship" in white lettering. This flag flew from the masthead of the USS LAWRENCE and the USS NIAGARA during the Battle of Lake Erie.
Commodore Thomas Macdonough was born in what is today Macdonough, Delaware on December 23, 1783. He was appointed midshipman in the U.S. Navy on February 5, 1800 and served aboard the USS PHILADELPHIA until she ran aground off Tripoli. Macdonough was part of Stephen Decatur's force that attacked and burned the PHILADELPHIA. During the War of 1812, Macdonough commanded the U.S. squadron on Lake Champlain, leading the U.S. forces to a decisive victory at the Battle of Plattsburgh on September 11, 1814. For his efforts, he was promoted to the rank of Captain. Following the War of 1812, Macdonough served as the Commandant of the Portsmouth Navy Yard and in the Mediterranean as the commander of the frigates USS GUERRIERE and CONSTITUITION. During his last tour in the Mediterranean, poor health forced him to request to be relieved, and he died while making the passage home on November 10, 1825.
Oliver Hazard Perry
"We have met the enemy and they are ours . . ." Oliver Hazard Perry's words following the Battle of Lake Erie have become one of the most famous quotes in American naval history. Born on August 23, 1785 in South Kingston, Rhode Island, Perry was appointed a midshipman in the U.S. Navy in 1799 and served aboard the USS GENERAL GREENE during the Quasi-War with France. By 1806, he held command aboard the USS REVENGE. While outbound from Narragansett Bay in January, 1811, REVENGE ran aground in rough weather. Although cleared of wrong doing in a court martial, Perry took a leave of absence from the Navy until the outbreak of the War of 1812. As the war began, Perry was sent to Erie, Pennsylvania to take command of U.S. naval forces being built to protect the Lake. On September 10, 1813, his fleet engaged a similar sized British Fleet. His flagship, the USS LAWRENCE was riddled with British shot, forcing Perry to shift his flag to the USS NIAGARA. Bringing up the remainder of his force, the British were overwhelmed and forced to surrender their entire squadron. This marked the first time in history that an entire Royal Navy squadron had surrendered, and secured Lake Erie and the Ohio River Valley for the United States. Perry would go on to aid in the defense of Washington D.C. and Baltimore before the war ended. Following the war, Perry was mired in feuds. After participating in one duel, being challenged to another and bringing court martial charges against a fellow officer, Perry was offered promotion to the rank of Commodore and sent on a diplomatic mission to South America in an effort to diffuse controversy. While in Venezuela, Perry contracted yellow fever, dying aboard ship on August 23, 1829.
Commodore David Porter was a Boston native, born on February 1, 1780. He was named a midshipman in the U.S. Navy in 1798 and was captured by pirates in Tripoli while serving aboard the USS PHILADELPHIA in 1803. Following release from captivity, he served as the commander of the USS ENTERPRISE and as commander of naval forces in New Orleans. During the War of 1812, Porter commanded the USS ESSEX. Taking her around Cape Horn, ESSEX became the first American man-of-war to show our national ensign in the Pacific. Porter and the crew of the ESSEX captured or sank 13 British merchant and whaling ships before being overpowered off Valparaiso, Chile by the HMS PHOEBE and HMS CHERUB on March 28, 1814. Following the War of 1812, Porter served on the Board of Navy Commissioners and in the West Indies before leaving U.S. service to become the Commander-in-Chief of the Mexican Navy in 1826. While serving as the U.S. Minister to Turkey, Porter died on March 3, 1843. His son, Admiral David Dixon Porter, who was a midshipman aboard the ESSEX in 1814, became a well known Union Admiral during the American Civil War.
Commodore John Rodgers was born July 11, 1772 in Havre de Grace, Maryland. He received his commission in the U.S. Navy in 1798 and was serving aboard the USS CONSTELLATION when she captured the French frigate L'INSURGENTE on February 9, 1799. Rodgers was given the honor of commanding the prize, and shortly afterwards promoted to the rank of Captain. He served in the Mediterranean during the hostilities with the Barbary pirates and became Commodore of the Mediterranean Squadron in 1805. Rodgers was in command of the USS PRESIDENT when she fired on the HMS LITTLE BELT on May 16, 1811. This engagement was seen widely as retribution for the HMS Leopard firing on the USS CHESAPEAKE in 1807. While in command of the PRESIDENT during the War of 1812, Rodgers and his crew captured twenty-three prizes. Rodgers aided with the defense of Baltimore in 1814 and went on to head the Board of Navy Commissioners following the war. He died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on August 1, 1838.
A native of Virginia, Lewis Warrington was born in Williamsburg and attended the College of William & Mary before appointment as a midshipman in the U.S. Navy in 1800. He served in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean before being promoted to Lieutenant in 1809. During the War of 1812, he served aboard the USS CONGRESS during two successful cruises in the North Atlantic. In 1813, he was promoted to Master Commandant and given command of the ship rigged sloop of war, USS PEACOCK. Following a sharp engagement in March, 1814, the PEACOCK captured the HMS EPERVIER off Cape Canaveral, FL. For this action, Warrington received the Congressional Gold Medal and a gold hilted sword from the Commonwealth of Virginia. During his second wartime cruise aboard the PEACOCK, Warrington and his crew took fourteen prizes while sailing along the East Coast and across the Atlantic to the coast of Ireland and the Azores. In his last wartime cruise, Warrington took the PEACOCK around the Cape of Good Hope and into the Pacific Ocean before learning that peace had been declared. Following the war, Warrington served in Norfolk, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. Between 1826-1830, he served on the Board of Navy Commissioners. In 1844, he temporarily served as the Secretary of the Navy following the death of Secretary Thomas W. Gilmer. In 1846, he was assigned to the post of Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, dying while in this office on October 12, 1851.