A History of American Privateers
Edgar S. Maclay
New York 1899
The Chasseur, Captain Thomas Boyle, was familiarly known as the Pride of Baltimore.
It was in his last cruise in this war that Captain Boyle gained his greatest reputation for daring and success on the high seas.
On February 26 1815, when the Chasseur was about thirty-six miles to windward of Havana and some twelve miles from land, a schooner was discovered, about eleven o’clock in the morning, to the north-east, apparently running before the wind. This was the English war schooner St. Lawrence, [formerly the privateer Atlas, Captain David Maffit, captured July 12, 1813] commanded by Lieutenant Henry C. Gordon.
Here we have an admirable opportunity to compare the relative merits of American and British man-of-warsmen; for the St. Lawrence, being built and equipped by Americans, deprives our friend the English, of their oft-repeated cry that our vessels were better built, etc.
The Chasseur carried fourteen guns and one hundred and two men, as opposed to the St. Lawrence’s thirteen guns and seventy-six men. Both vessels were schooners. When sighted by Captain Boyle, the St. Lawrence was bearing important dispatches and troops from Rear-Admiral Cockburn relative to the New Orleans expedition.
Captain Boyle promptly made sail in chase, and soon discovered the stranger to be a war craft having a convoy in company, the latter just discernible from the mast head. By noon the Chasseur had perceptibly gained on the chase, which to the Americans appeared to be a long, narrow pilot-boat schooner with yellow sides. When she made out the Chasseur she hauled more to the north, evidently anxious to escape. At half past twelve captain Boyle fired a gun and showed his colours, hoping to ascertain to what nation the chase belonged, but the latter paid no attention to the summons, and in her efforts to carry a greater press of sail her fore-topmast was carried away.
At the time this happened she was about three miles ahead. Her people promptly cleared the wreck away and trimmed her sails sharp by the wind. Owing to this accident the Chasseur drew up on the chase very fast, and at one o’clock the latter fired a stern gun and hoisted English colours. As the stranger showed only three on the side nearest to the Chasseur, Captain Boyle got the impression that she was a "running vessel" bound for Havana which in all probability was poorly armed and manned. Acting on this impression he increased his efforts to get alongside, confident of making short work of her. This mistake of the Americans was encouraged by the fact that very few men were seen on the deck of the stranger.
As neither Captain Boyle nor his officers anticipated any serious fighting, the regular preparations for battle were not made. At 1.26 p.m. the Chasseur was within pistol shot of the enemy, when the latter suddenly triced up ten port covers, showing that number of guns and her decks were swarming with men wearing the uniform of a regular British man-of-war. Evidently they had been carefully concealed during the chase. It took the enemy scarcely five seconds to give three cheers, run out their guns, and pour in a whole broadside on round shot, grape, and musket balls into the Chasseur. For once, at least, the crafty Yankee skipper had been caught napping. He was fairly and squarely under the guns of an English man-of-war, so that either prompt surrender or fight were the only alternatives. It did not take captain Boyle an instant to decide on the latter course, and, although taken somewhat by surprise, he made the best of the situation and returned the enemy’s fire with both cannon and musketry.
Believing that his best chance for victory was at close quarters, Captain Boyle, endeavoured to board in the smoke of his broadside; but the Chasseur, having greater speed at that moment, shot ahead under the stranger’s lee. The latter put up his helm for the purpose of wearing across the privateer’s stern, with a view of pouring in a raking fire. Perceiving the enemy’s object, Captain Boyle frustrated this manoeuvre by putting up his helm also. The Englishman now forged ahead and came within ten yards of the privateer, the fire of both vessels at the time being exceedingly destructive. At 1.40 p.m. Captain Boyle, seizing a favourable moment, put his helm to starboard and called on his men to follow him aboard the enemy. Just as the two vessels came together W.N. Christie, prize master, jumped aboard the stranger’s deck followed by a number of other Americans, but before they could strike a blow the English surrendered.
The St. Lawrence according to British accounts, mounted twelve short 12-pounders and one long 9-pounder and had a complement of seventy-five men, besides a number of officers, soldiers, and civilians as passengers, who were bound for the British squadron off new Orleans. According to the report of her commander she had six men killed and seventeen wounded, several mortally. According to the American accounts the English had fifteen killed and twenty-five wounded. The St. Lawrence was found to be seriously injured in the hull, while scarcely a rope was left in tact, such had been the accuracy and rapidity of the Chasseur’s fire. The privateer also suffered considerably in her sails and rigging, while five of her crew were killed and eight wounded, among the latter being Captain Boyle himself. In view of the fact that the action lasted only fifteen minutes these casualties reveal, better than words, the desperate nature of the encounter. The Chasseur mounted six 12-pounders and eight short 9-pounders -ten of her original sixteen 12-pounders having been thrown overboard when the privateer was chased by the British frigate Barcosa [Barrosa]. The were replaced by the 9-pounders which had been taken from a prize.
"from the number of hammocks, bedding, etc., found on board the enemy," said Captain Boyle, in his official report to one of the owners of the Chasseur, George P. Stephenson, of Baltimore, "it led us to believe that many more were killed than were reported. The St. Lawrence fired double the weight of shot that we did. From her 12-pounders at close quarters she fired a stand of grape and two bags containing two hundred and twenty musket balls each, when from the Chasseur’s 9-pounders were fired 6 and 4 pound shot, we having no other except a few grape." In closing his report, Captain Boyle speaks in the highest terms of the gallantry of the first officer, John Dieter, and of the second and third officers, Moran and Hammond N. Stansbury.
That night the masts of the St. Lawrence went by the board, and having no object in bringing home so many prisoners Captain Boyle made a cartel of his prize and sent her into Havana. After this gallant affair the Chasseur returned to the United States with her hold filled with valuable goods. She arrived in Baltimore, April 15, 1815, where it was learned that a treaty of peace had been signed. So well pleased were the British officers at the treatment they received from the Americans that Lieutenant Gordon issued the following memorial or certificate dated:
"At sea, February 27 1815. On board the United States privateer Chasseur: In the event of Captain Boyle’s becoming a prisoner of war to any British cruiser I consider it a tribute justly due to his humane and generous treatment of myself, the surviving officers and crew of His majesty’s late schooner St. Lawrence, to state that his obliging attention and watchful solicitude to preserve our effects and render us more comfortable during the short time we were in his possession were such as justly entitle him to the indulgence and respect of every British subject. I also certify that his endeavours to render us comfortable and to secure our property were carefully seconded by all his officers, who did their utmost to that effect."
War of 1812