This book bears its original title which might be misleading as to the entire content. While over 60% of this interesting collection of naval accounts contains fascinating insights into the War of 1812 as it was fought by the navies of Great Britain and the United States of America, the author has elected to ‘set the scene’ with the development of the United States Navy from its Revolutionary War origins. The reader is introduced to Biddle and the ‘Randolph,’ the cruises of John Paul Jones and other pivotal events and notable sailors of this early period of the nation’s history. Soley closes his text with an overview of the United States Navy as it entered the 19th century, with an assessment of naval activities in the war with Algiers and the Mexican War. The accounts are interesting and the value of the book is enhanced by the author’s scene setting. For those interested in the books primary focus it contains much valuable material about the War of 1812, including the action between the ‘Constitution’ and the ‘Guerrier,’ the activities of Decatur, Bainbridge and James Lawrence, the cruise of the ‘Essex,’ Perry on Lake Erie and Macdonough on Lake Champlain, together with actions by United States Navy sloops and other vessels. This ‘reader’ will fascinate those interested in the conflicts of the world’s navies during the great age of sail.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
At last the wind abated, and on the 16th of February the ships were once more in sight of Tripoli. The breeze was light and the sea smooth, and the Intrepid stood in slowly toward the town. The Siren stayed outside to lull suspicion; but in spite of all precautions she was seen and noticed from the harbour. The plan was for the Siren’s boats to come in after dark and join in the attack. All through the afternoon the Intrepid kept on sailing slowly in, her drags in the water astern checking her headway so that she might not reach the town too early. Her crew remained below, that no suspicion might be roused by the unusual numbers, and only six or eight, dressed as Maltese, were allowed to come on deck. As the sun went down, the breeze grew fainter; and Decatur, fearing that if he delayed longer he might not be able with the light wind to reach the frigate, decided that he would not wait for the Siren’s boats, saying to his officers, like Henry V. at Agincourt, “The fewer the number, the greater will be the honour.”<br>
It was now dark, and the lights could be seen glittering in the houses of the town and on the boats in the harbour, throwing bright reflections over the water. The last preparations were made on board the Intrepid, and the officers, speaking in low tones, told each man once more his allotted duties, and cautioned all to steadiness and silence. The watchword for the night was Philadelphia, by which they were to recognize one another in the confusion of the attack. There was no need to enjoin silence, for each man was busy with his own thoughts. “My own,” said Morris, “were now reverting to friends at home, now to the perils we were about to meet. Should I be able to justify the expectations of the former by meeting properly the dangers of the latter?” These thoughts, mixed with calculations to get a good place in boarding, were passing through the minds of all as they waited in breathless expectation.<br>
Gradually the Intrepid was borne along by the gentle breeze toward the inner basin. Her boat was towed astern. The young moon gave light enough to show her movements, but nothing could be seen upon her deck except Decatur and the pilot standing at the wheel, and here and there a man whose Maltese cap and jersey gave no indication of his hostile character. From end to end of the little ship the rest of the crew, crouching under the shadow of the bulwarks, were lying concealed from view, each man with his eye fixed on Decatur, waiting for him to give the order. Before them could be seen the white walls of the city and the forts.<br>
The first battery is now passed in silence, every man holding his breath. Right in the path of the Intrepid towers the Philadelphia, with her great black hull and lofty spars, and around her lies the circle of batteries. The little craft speeds on noiselessly, steering directly for the frigate. Suddenly the anxious silence is broken by a hail from the enemy demanding the name and purpose of the ketch, and ordering her to keep away. Among the officers and men stretched on the deck can be seen the eager movements of heads bending forward to hear the colloquy. The pilot, speaking the language of the country, answers for Decatur, who prompts him in low tones. He says that he has lost his anchors in the gale,—which, as it happened, was the truth,—and asks to be allowed to run a hawser to the frigate and to ride by her during the night. To this the captain of the Philadelphia consents, and the ketch is approaching, when suddenly the wind shifts, blowing lightly from the ship, and leaves the Intrepid at rest not twenty yards away, motionless under the enemy’s guns.<br>
It is a moment of terrible suspense. The least mistake, the least disturbance or excitement, must mean detection, and detection now will seal the fate of all. But Decatur has that perfect calmness and clearness of judgment which is the highest bravery. There is no flurry. In his low quiet voice he orders the boat manned. His calmness calms the men, and with an air of lazy indolence they get in and take the oars, carrying a rope to another boat which meets them from the frigate. The work is done in silence; the ends are fastened, and the boat returns. The hawser is passed along the deck; the crew lying on it pull noiselessly, and the ketch slowly, slowly but surely, nears her place and lies fast alongside the enemy.<br>
Suddenly a piercing cry breaks the stillness. “Americanos! The Americans are upon us!” The enemy has now discovered the disguise. But at the same moment Decatur’s voice is heard ringing out, “Board!” and he and Morris, who has been watching him, leap to the enemy’s deck. Springing to their feet as one man, the crew follow them, each with his cutlass and pistol. The Tripolitans are panic-struck; for a moment they huddle in a frightened crowd on the forecastle. One instant Decatur pauses to form his men, and then at their head he dashes at the enemy. The few who stay to offer resistance are cut down; one is made prisoner; the rest, driven to the bow, leap from the rail into the water.
The ship is now captured, and the victorious crew hurry to their appointed stations. Two parties are told off to the berth-deck, one to the forward store-rooms, and one under Morris to the cockpit. Each prepares its supply of combustibles, and when all is reported ready, the order is given to set fire. This done, each party leaves the ship, but Morris and his men barely escape through the smoke and flame with which the lower deck is already filled. Decatur, standing on the Philadelphia’s rail, while the smoke rises around him and the flames are bursting from her ports, waits till the last man has returned, and as the Intrepid’s head swings off, he leaps into her rigging.