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Captain Lawrence Dies For The Flag






HIS WORDS, "DO NOT GIVE UP THE SHIP," BECOME THE FAMOUS MOTTO OF THE
AMERICAN NAVY


THE United States navy had its Hornet as well as its Wasps. And they
were well named, for they were all able to sting. The captain of the
Hornet was a noble seaman named James Lawrence, who had been a
midshipman in the war with Tripoli. In the War of 1812 he was captain in
succession of the Vixen, the Wasp, the Argus, and the Hornet.

The Hornet was a sloop-of-war. I have told you what that means. She
had three masts, and carried square sails like a ship, but she was
called a sloop on account of her size. She had eighteen short guns and
two long ones. The short guns threw thirty-two pound and the long ones
twelve pound balls.

Of course you have not forgotten the fight of the Constitution with
the Java. When the Constitution went south to Brazil at that time
the Hornet went with her, but they soon parted.

In one of the harbors of Brazil Captain Lawrence saw a British ship as
big as the Hornet. He waited outside for her, but she would not come
out. He had found a coward of a captain, and he locked him up in that
harbor for two months.

Then he got tired and left. Soon after he came across the Peacock, a
British man-of-war brig. The Peacock was as large as the Hornet and
its captain was as full of fight as Captain Lawrence. He was the kind of
man that our bold Lawrence was hunting for. When two men feel that way,
a fight is usually not far off. That was the way now. Soon the guns were
booming and the balls were flying.

But the fight was over before the men had time to warm up. The first
guns were fired at 5.25 in the afternoon, and at 5.39 the British flag
came down; so the battle lasted just fourteen minutes. Not many
victories have been won so quickly as that.

But the Hornet acted in a very lively fashion while it lasted. Do you
know how a hornet behaves when a mischievous boy throws a stone at its
nest? Well, that is the way our Hornet did. Only one ball from the
Peacock struck her, and hardly any of her men were hurt. But the
Peacock was bored as full of holes as a pepper-box, and the water
poured in faster than all hands could pump it out. In a very short time
the unlucky Peacock filled and sank. So Captain Lawrence had only the
honor of his victory; old ocean had swallowed up his prize.

But if Captain Lawrence got no prize money, he won great fame. He was
looked on as another Hull or Decatur, and Congress made him captain of
the frigate Chesapeake. That was in one way a bad thing for the
gallant Lawrence, for it cost him his life. In another way it was a good
thing, for it made him one of the most famous of American seamen.

I have told you the story of several victories of American ships. I must
now tell you the story of one defeat. But I think you will say it was a
defeat as glorious as a victory. For eight months the little navy of the
young Republic had sailed on seas where British ships were nearly as
thick as apples in an orchard. In that time it had not lost a ship, and
had won more victories than England had done in twenty years. Now it was
to meet with its first defeat.

When Captain Lawrence took command of the Chesapeake, that ship lay in
the harbor of Boston. Outside this harbor was the British frigate
Shannon, blockading the port.

Now you must know that the American people had grown very proud of their
success on the sea. They had got to think that any little vessel could
whip an English man-of-war. So the Bostonians grew eager for the
Chesapeake to meet the Shannon. They were sure it would be brought
in as a prize, and they wanted to hurrah over it.

Poor Lawrence was as eager as the people. He was just the man they
wanted. The Chesapeake had no crew, but he set himself to work, and in
two weeks he filled her up with such men as he could find.

It was a mixed team he got together, the sweepings of the streets. There
were some good men among them, but more poor ones. And they were all new
men to the ship and to the captain. They had not been trained to work
together, and it was madness to fight a first-class British ship with
such a crew. Some, in fact, were mutineers and gave him trouble before
he got out of the harbor.

But the Shannon was a crack ship with a crack crew. Captain Broke had
commanded her for seven years and had a splendidly trained set of men.
He had copied from the Americans and put sights on his guns, had taught
his men to fire at floating marks in the sea, and had trained his topmen
to use their muskets in the same careful way. So when Captain Lawrence
sailed on June 1, 1813, he sailed to defeat and death.

Captain Broke sent a challenge to the Chesapeake to come out and fight
him ship to ship. But Lawrence did not wait for his challenge. He was
too eager for that, and set sail with a crew who did not know their
work, and most of whom had never seen their officers before.

What could be expected of such mad courage as that? It is one thing to
be a brave man; it is another to be a wise one. Of course you will say
that Captain Lawrence was brave; but no one can say he was wise. Poor
fellow, he was simply throwing away his ship and his life.

It was in the morning of June 1 that the Chesapeake left the wharves
of Boston. It was 5.50 in the afternoon that she met the Shannon and
the battle began.

Both ships fired as fast as they could load, but the men of the
Shannon were much better hands at their work, and their balls tore the
American ship in a terrible manner. A musket-ball struck Lawrence in the
leg, but he would not go below. The rigging of the Chesapeake was
badly cut, the men at the wheel were shot, and in ten minutes the two
ships drifted together.

Men on each side now rushed to board the enemy's ship, and there was a
hand-to-hand fight at the bulwarks of the two ships. At this moment
Captain Lawrence was shot through the body and fell with a mortal wound.
He was carried below.

As he lay in great pain he noticed that the firing had almost ceased.
Calling a surgeon's mate to him, he said, "Tell the men to fire faster,
and not give up the ship; the colors shall wave while I live."

Unfortunately, these words were spoken in the moment of defeat. Captain
Broke, followed by a number of his men, had sprung to the deck of the
Chesapeake, and a desperate struggle began. The Americans fought
stubbornly, but the fire from the trained men in the Shannon's tops
and the rush of British on board soon gave Broke and his men the
victory. The daring Broke fell with a cut that laid open his skull, but
in a few moments the Americans were driven below.

The Chesapeake was taken in just fifteen minutes, one minute more than
the Hornet had taken to capture the Peacock.

The British hauled down the American flag, and then hoisted it again
with a white flag to show their victory. But the sailor who did the
work, by mistake got the white flag under the Stars and Stripes.

When the gunners in the Shannon saw the Yankee flag flying they fired
again, and this time killed and wounded a number of their own men, one
of them being an officer.



The gallant Lawrence never knew that his ship was lost. He lived until
the Shannon reached Halifax with her prize, but he became
delirious, and kept repeating over and over again his last
order--"Don't give up the ship!"

With these words he died. With these words his memory has become
immortal. "Don't give up the ship!" is the motto of the American navy,
and will not be forgotten while our great Republic survives. So Captain
Lawrence gained greater renown in defeat than most men have won in
victory.

The capture of the Chesapeake was a piece of wonderful good fortune
for the British, to judge by the way they boasted of it. As Captain
Pearson had been made a knight for losing the Serapis, so Captain
Broke was made a baronet for taking the Chesapeake. A "baronet," you
must know, is a higher title than a "knight," though they both use the
handle of "Sir" to their names.

The work of the Shannon proved--so the British historians said--that,
"if the odds were anything like equal, a British frigate could always
whip an American, and in a hand-to-hand conflict such would invariably
be the case."

Such things are easy to say, when one does not care about telling the
truth. Suppose we give now what a French historian, who believed in
telling the truth, said of this fight,--

"Captain Broke had commanded the Shannon for nearly seven years;
Captain Lawrence had commanded the Chesapeake for but a few days. The
Shannon had cruised for eighteen months on the coast of America; the
Chesapeake was newly out of harbor. The Shannon had a crew long
accustomed to habits of strict obedience; the Chesapeake was manned by
men who had just been engaged in mutiny. The Americans were wrong to
accuse fortune on this occasion. Fortune was not fickle, she was merely
logical."

That is about the same as to say that the Chesapeake was given away to
the enemy. After that there were no more ships sent out of port unfit to
fight, merely to please the people. It was a lesson the people needed.

The body of the brave Lawrence was laid on the quarter-deck of the
Chesapeake wrapped in an American flag. It was then placed in a coffin
and taken ashore, where it was met by a regiment of British troops and a
band that played the "Death March in Saul." The sword of the dead hero
lay on his coffin. In the end his body was buried in the cemetery of
Trinity Church, New York. A monument stands to-day over his grave, and
on it are the words:

"Neither the fury of battle, the anguish of a mortal wound, nor the
horrors of approaching death could subdue his gallant spirit. His dying
words were

'Don't give up the ship!'"





Next: Commodore Perry Whips The British On Lake Erie

Previous: The Fight Of Captain Jacob Jones



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