An Account Of War At Sea
June 24, 2013 9:26 AM   Subscribe

Samuel Leech, R.N., fought in the battle between the 38 gun HMS Macedonian, commanded by Captain John Surman Carden, and the 44 gun USS United States, Commodore Stephen Decatur on October 25th 1812.
A strange noise, such as I had never heard before, next arrested my attention; it sounded like the tearing of sails, just over our heads. This I soon ascertained to be the wind of the enemy's shot. The firing, after a few minutes' cessation, recommenced. The roaring of cannon could now be heard from all parts of our trembling ship, and, mingling as it did with that of our foes, it made a most hideous noise. By-and-by I heard the shot strike the sides of our ship; the whole scene grew indescribably confused and horrible; it was like some awfully tremendous thunder-storm, whose deafening roar is attended by incessant streaks of lightning, carrying death in every flash and strewing the ground with the victims of its wrath: only, in our case, the scene was rendered more horrible than that, by the presence of torrents of blood which dyed our decks.
posted by the man of twists and turns (8 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
The link doesn't appear to provide any sourcing. The account appears to be excerpted from Leech's memoir A Voice from the Main Deck.
posted by ogooglebar at 10:37 AM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

USS United States was one of the so-called "super frigates" the US built. Their design was subtle and unique and the effect of the design, plus the "iron oak" they were built out of, made them very fast and difficult to stop. After a couple of experiences against them (including this one, which HMS Macedonian lost) the RN realized they only had two kinds of ship: those which were too slow to catch the super-frigates, and those which were too undergunned to fight them. Standing orders thereafter were to avoid battle if at all possible when confronted with one of them.

The most famous of the super-frigates, and the only one to still exist, is USS Constitution.

The reason the super-frigates were so fast is that they incorporated slanting columns inside which placed more of the load on the center of the keel. This prevented "hogging", and made the hull more streamlined.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:35 PM on June 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

In addition to the design superiority mentioned by CP above, I have read that the USA's all-volunteer navy resulted in ships manned by more experienced and enthusiastic seamen than the pressed men of the Royal Navy, however well drilled.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 12:52 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're interested in more about the Quasi-War, the War of 1812 and the famous frigates, I recommend the book Six Frigates.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:07 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think this would be even more frightening than being under artillery fire on land, although that must be bad enough. In modern naval warfare, a lot of the deaths seem to come from burns - my nightmare.
posted by thelonius at 2:27 PM on June 24, 2013

As far as I can tell, Decatur was only depicted in one film, Old Ironsides (a 1926 silent). But his entire life was pretty amazing -- he enlisted as a midshipman, rose to become Captain of that same vessel (the United States), eventually appointed to the Naval Commission beginning at age 35 (!). Meantime he engaged in something like a Navy SEAL raid to rescue the crew of a captured frigate in Tripoli harbor, seized vessels of the Dey of Algiers including his flagship during the Second Barbary War, his actions during the War of 1812 that won him the Congressional Gold Medal, and finally two duels, one with a British officer, and one with a fellow Commodore whom he had previously court-martialed, and which killed him. It's quite a tale.

There have been five ships of the US Navy named Decatur, including the current Arleigh Burke class destroyer DDG-73.
posted by dhartung at 5:00 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is this super-frigate the kind of ship, Aubrey is up against in The Far Side of the World (the book, not the movie, which features a French crew for some reason) by Patrick O'Brian?
posted by bouvin at 6:53 AM on June 25, 2013

Yes, it is of a similar design. The ship was changed from American to French to make the film more palatable to American audiences.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:44 AM on June 25, 2013

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