28 March 1814, off the Chilean coast during the War of 1812, Cpt David Porter’s USS “Essex” was captured by the frigate HMS “Phoebe”, James Hillyar, and the sloop HMS “Cherub” in the Battle of Valparaiso.
“Hence, if some brainless bravo be Captain of a frigate in action, he may fight her against invincible odds, and seek to crown himself with the glory of the shambles, by permitting his hopeless crew to be butchered before his eyes, while at the same time that crew must consent to be slaughtered by the foe, under penalty of being murdered by the law. Look at the engagement between the American frigate Essex with the two English cruisers, the Phoebe and Cherub, off the Bay of Valparaiso, during the late war. It is admitted on all hands that the American Captain continued to fight his crippled ship against a greatly superior force; and when, at last, it became physically impossible that he could ever be otherwise than vanquished in the end; and when, from peculiarly unfortunate circumstances, his men merely stood up to their nearly useless batteries to be dismembered and blown to pieces by the incessant fire of the enemy's long guns. Nor, by thus continuing to fight, did this American frigate, one iota, promote the true interests of her country. I seek not to underrate any reputation which the American Captain may have gained by this battle. He was a brave man; that no sailor will deny. But the whole world is made up of brave men. Yet I would not be at all understood as impugning his special good name. Nevertheless, it is not to be doubted, that if there were any common-sense sailors at the guns of the Essex, however valiant they may have been, those common-sense sailors must have greatly preferred to strike their flag, when they saw the day was fairly lost, than postpone that inevitable act till there were few American arms left to assist in hauling it down. Yet had these men, under these circumstances, "pusillanimously cried for quarter," by the IV. Article of War they might have been legally hung.” (Herman Melville “White Jacket, Or The World on a Man-O-War”)
|An almost contemporary image of the engagement's climax from the Beverley Robinson collection at the United States Naval Academy.|
|USS "Essex" capturing the sloop HMS "Alert", |
a few weeks before Porter began his cruise in the Pacific
|Contemporary illustration of Valparaiso Bay|
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