The USS Peacock (1813, CR Wales

Tags: Warrington, the Peacock, East India Company, Theodore Roosevelt, USS Peacock, British warship, Commander Richard Wales, HMS Epervier, commanding officer, Lewis Warrington, the Indian Ocean, The President, Epervier, New York, British shipping, the Nautilus, Java, Indian Ocean
Content: The USS Peacock (1813) The USS Peacock was one of six sloops-of-war authorized by Congress in January 1813. During the War of 1812 she made three cruises, capturing nineteen prizes, including an eighteengun British warship. She also had the distinction of firing the last shot of the war, in an action in the Sunda Strait more than six months after the formal conclusion of peace in December 1814. Designed by William Doughty, head of construction at the Washington Navy Yard, the Peacock was one of a three-ship class that also included the USS Wasp and USS Frolic. The building contract for the Peacock was assigned to Adam and Noah Brown, owners of a shipyard in New York and builders of several privateers, whose vessels were noted for their speed. In accordance with a contemporary custom in both the British and American navies, her name commemorated a victory over an enemy ship, in this case HMS Peacock, defeated and sunk by the USS Hornet on 24 February 1813. After some modifications to the original plans, the Peacock as built was a ship-rigged craft with a length of 119', a beam of 31' 6", and a depth of 16'4", to be manned by a crew of 140. Her intended armament was twenty 32-pound carronades and two long 28-pounders--more than sufficient firepower for her primary mission of commerce-raiding and enough to make her a formidable challenge for any likely naval opponent. The ship's construction order was placed on 3 March 1813, her keel was laid on 9 July, and she was launched on 19 September. After fitting out, she began her first cruise on 12 March 1814, sailing from New York under the command of Master Commandant Lewis Warrington, a thirty-one-year-old Virginian officer whose previous experience in the West Indies and Mediterranean included actions against the French, the Barbary pirates, and the British. Evading the Royal Navy's blockade, Warrington had orders to deliver a cargo of military supplies to the naval station at St. Mary's, Georgia, and then make a rendezvous with one of the American heavy frigates, the USS President, which would follow from New York. While awaiting the President after leaving St. Mary's, Warrington took the Peacock toward the Bahamas in hopes of intercepting a British convoy sailing from Jamaica to Cuba, but upon hearing of the strength of the convoy's escorts, he turned north along the Florida coast. Off cape Canaveral on the morning of 29 April he met a group of three merchantmen guarded by HMS Epervier, a brig-sloop mounting sixteen 32-pound and two 18-pound carronades, commanded by Commander Richard Wales. Upon sighting the Peacock, Wales's flock scattered, and each warship immediately cleared for action. Battle began at 10:20 a.m. as the two closed on opposite courses. After the opening broadsides, the Epervier reversed course and sailed parallel to the Peacock, disabling the American's foresail and foretopsail. Warrington retained control of his ship, however, and within a short time his crew's superior ship-handling and gunnery had brought down the Epervier's main topmast and damaged the foremast, mainmast, and bowsprit. An attempt by Wales to organize a boarding party failed when his sullen and poorly trained crew--two months earlier off Nova Scotia they would have probably mutinied but for the fortuitous arrival of a gale--refused to participate in what they deemed a lost cause. After three-quarters of an hour 1
the British ship struck her flag, her hull having been hit by forty-five shots, while in her hold the pumps struggled against water rising past five feet. The battle's casualties included eight dead and fifteen wounded on the Epervier and no dead and only two wounded on the Peacock. By evening an American prize crew had made the Epervier seaworthy again, and Warrington had discovered an unexpected bonus in the form of $118,000 in specie the ship was carrying. When two British frigates suddenly appeared, he sent the Epervier close inshore to Savannah, where she arrived on 1 May, and followed her there himself three days later. After a month of repair and resupply, the Peacock sailed from Savannah on 4 June. The President remained blockaded in New York, and abandoning the idea of meeting her, Warrington embarked on the Peacock's second cruise, a long, wandering voyage around the North Atlantic that resulted in the capture of fourteen prizes, making it one of the most productive cruises of the war. From Savannah he sailed north to the Grand Banks, and then southeast to the Azores. Turning north again, he passed along the West Coast of Ireland and from there to the Shetlands. Still headed north, he reached the Faroe Islands and the 62nd parallel before steering south, back along the Irish coast and on through the Bay of Biscay to the Spanish and Portuguese shorelines. After crossing to the West Indies and cruising among the islands, he proceeded north along the American coast and reached New York on 30 October, completing a voyage of 147 days. The Peacock's final cruise against the British was technically not a wartime affair since the conflict had ended on 24 December 1814 with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent. However, this news did not reach the united states until 11 February 1815, and additional weeks or even months passed before ships at sea could be informed. In the meantime, hostilities continued unabated, including major engagements such as Andrew Jackson's victory at New Orleans on 8 January 1815, the loss of the President to a British squadron off New York on 15 January, and the USS Constitution's capture of HMS Cyane and HMS Levant near Madeira on 20 February. Warrington and the Peacock sailed from New York on 23 January 1815 in company with the Hornet and two supply schooners. Their orders were to rendezvous with the President at Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic and then proceed around the Cape of Good Hope for operations against British shipping in the Indian Ocean. The mission fell into disarray from its outset. Unknown to Warrington and his fellow captains, the President had been captured before they even left New York, and storms soon separated the Hornet from the other ships. Sailing independently, the Hornet and Peacock reached Tristan da Cunha a few hours apart on 23 March, with the Peacock and one of the supply schooners arriving just as the Hornet had completed a victorious battle with a British sloop, HMS Penguin. The Penguin proved too heavily damaged to join the flotilla, and after waiting vainly for the appearance of the President, on 13 April the Hornet and Peacock sailed for eastern waters. They separated again on 28 April after encountering the seventy-four-gun HMS Cornwallis, which chose to pursue the Hornet as a slower prey. Jettisoning all her guns and much other equipment and stores to gain speed, the Hornet escaped and sailed for the United States, learning 2
along the way that peace had been concluded. The Peacock, meanwhile, headed for Java and what would become the final episodes of the war. The voyage across the Indian Ocean was not especially fruitful, with only three small ships taken as prizes. Two of these had information about the Treaty of Ghent which the Americans did not consider credible, and by the end of June the Peacock was in the Sunda Strait, off Anjer near the western end of Java. On 1 July she was approached by the Nautilus, an East India Company brig mounting sixteen guns. Hailed with news that peace had been settled, Warrington suspected a ruse and demanded the Nautilus strike her flag. When this was refused, the Peacock fired a broadside, seriously damaging the other ship, killing seven, including the first lieutenant, and wounding the Commanding officer and seven more. Upon boarding the Nautilus, delighted Americans found her to be carrying $30,000 in specie and copper worth $100,000, but to their chagrin they were quickly presented with indisputable written proof that the war was over--"thus are our bright prospects blighted," a Peacock midshipman lamented. Whether from frustration or negligence, Warrington did nothing to assist the Nautilus's casualties, an omission for which he subsequently came under severe criticism from the British and even from that most sympathetic of American historians of the war, Theodore Roosevelt. In 1816, however, a court of inquiry absolved Warrington of any wrongdoing in the Nautilus affair, clearing the way for him to enjoy a distinguished career which carried him to the rank of commodore and the Navy's highest administrative levels before his death in 1851. On 30 October 1815 the Peacock returned to New York. Like the cruise of the USS Essex along the eastern and western coasts of South America in 1813 and 1814, her Atlantic and Indian Ocean exploits had demonstrated the U. S. Navy's ability to project itself on a global scale, even when its home ports were closely blockaded. Over the next twelve years the Peacock served in the Mediterranean, the West Indies, and the Pacific before once more entering her home port of New York in October 1827, to be decommissioned and broken up. In 1828-1829, however, she was ostensibly "rebuilt"--a term artfully concealing that she was really being replaced by a similar but new vessel, also named Peacock, even though Congress had appropriated no funds for such construction. The "reincarnated" Peacock served until 1841, when she was wrecked on the bar of the Columbia River in Oregon. Dr. John Hutcheson Dalton State University Further reading: Stephen Budiansky, Perilous Fight: America's Intrepid War with Britain on the High Seas, 1812-1815. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. 3
Howard I. Chapelle, The History of the American Sailing Navy: The Ships and Their Development. New York: W. W. Norton, 1949. George C. Daughan, 1812: The Navy's War. New York: Basic Books, 2011. Robert Gardiner, ed., The Naval War of 1812. London: Chatham Publishing, 1998. Leonard F. Guttridge and Jay D. Smith, The Commodores. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1969. William James, The naval history of Great Britain, Volume 6, 1811-1827. London: Conway Maritime Press, 2002 [1824]. Theodore Roosevelt, The Naval War of 1812. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1882. "Peacock," in The Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships Online. "USS Peacock (1813). 4

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