The Last Naval Battle Of The Revolution


YOU must think by this time that we had many bold and brave sailors in

the Revolution. So we had. You have not been told all their exploits,

but only a few among the most gallant ones. There is one more story that

is worth telling, before we leave the Revolutionary times.

If you are familiar with American history you will remember that Lord

Cornwallis surrendered to General Washington in October, 1781. That is

generally looked on as the end of the war. There was no more fighting on

land. But there was one bold affair on the water in April, 1782, six

months after the work of the armies was done.

This was in Delaware Bay, where Captain Barry had taken a war vessel

with a few rowboats. The hero of this later exploit was Captain Joshua

Barney, and he was as brave a man as John Barry.

Captain Barney had seen service through the whole war. Like John Paul

Jones, an accident had made him a captain of a ship when he was a mere

boy. He was only seventeen, yet he handled his ship with the skill of an

old mariner. War broke out soon afterward and he became an officer on

the Hornet, though still only a boy. Soon after he had some lively

service in the Wasp, and captured a British privateer with the little

sloop Sachem.

Then he had some bad fortune, for he was taken prisoner while bringing

in a prize vessel, and was put on the terrible prison-ship Jersey. Few

of the poor fellows on that vessel lived to tell the story of the

frightful way in which they were treated. But young Barney managed to

escape, and went to sea again as captain of a merchant vessel. In this

he was chased by a British war-vessel, the Rosebud. Shall I tell you

the way that Captain Barney plucked the petals of the Rosebud? He

fired a crowbar at her out of one of his cannon. This new kind of

cannon-ball went whirling through the air and came ripping and tearing

through the sails of the British ship. After making rags of her sails,

it hit her foremast and cut out a big slice. The Americans now sailed

quietly away. They could laugh at John Bull's Rosebud.

On the 8th of April, 1782, Captain Barney took command of the Hyder

Ali. This was a merchant ship which had been bought by the State of

Pennsylvania. It was not fit for a warship, but the State was in a

hurry, so eight gun-ports were cut on each side, and the ship was

mounted with sixteen six-pounder cannon. Then she set sail from

Philadelphia in charge of a fleet of merchant vessels.

On they went, down the Delaware river and bay, until Cape May was

reached. Here Captain Barney saw that there was trouble ahead. Three

British vessels came in sight. One of these was the frigate Quebec.

The others were a brig, the Fair American, and a sloop-of-war, the

General Monk.

Before such a fleet the Hyder Ali was like a sparrow before a hawk.

Captain Barney at once signaled his merchant ships to make all haste up

the bay. Away they flew like a flock of frightened birds, except one,

whose captain thought he would slip round the cape and get to sea. But

the British soon swallowed up him and his ship, so he paid well for his


On up the bay went the other merchantmen, with the Hyder Ali in the

rear, and the British squadron hot on their track. The frigate sailed

into a side channel, thinking it would find a short-cut and so head them

off. Captain Barney watched this movement with keen eyes. The big ship

had put herself out of reach for a time. He knew well that she could not

get through that way, and laid his plans to have some sport with the

small fish while the big fish was away.

The brig Fair American was a privateer and a fast one. It came up with

a fair breeze, soon reaching the Hyder Ali, which expected a fight.

But the privateer wanted prizes more than cannon balls, and went

straight on, firing a broadside that did no harm. Captain Barney let her

go. The sloop-of-war was coming fast behind, and this was enough for him

to attend to. It had more guns than his ship and they were double the

weight--twelve-pounders to his six-pounders. As the war sloop came near,

Barney turned to his helmsman, and said:

"I want you to go opposite to my orders. If I tell you to port your

helm, you are to put it hard-a-starboard. Do you understand?"

"Aye, aye!" answered the tar.

Up came the General Monk, its captain thinking to make an easy prize,

as the Fair American had been let go past without a shot. When about a

dozen yards away the British captain hailed:

"Strike your colors, or I will fire!"

"Hard-a-port your helm," roared Barney to the man at the wheel. "Do you

want her to run aboard us?"

The order was heard on board the enemy, and the captain gave orders to

meet the expected movement. But hard-a-starboard went the helm, and the

Hyder Ali swung round in front of the enemy, whose bowsprit caught and

became entangled in her fore-rigging.

This gave the American ship a raking position, and in a moment the grim

tars were hard at work with their guns. Broadsides were poured in as

fast as they could load and fire, and every shot swept from bow to

stern. The Englishman, though he had double the weight of metal, could

not get out of the awkward position in which Barney had caught him, and

his guns did little harm. In less than half an hour down went his flag.

It was none too soon. The frigate had seen the fight from a distance,

and was making all haste to get out of its awkward position and take a

hand in the game. Barney did not even wait to ask the name of his prize,

but put a crew on board and bade them make all haste to Philadelphia.

He followed, steering now for the Fair American. But the privateer

captain had seen the fate of the General Monk and concluded that he

had business elsewhere. So he ran away instead of fighting, and soon ran

ashore. The Hyder Ali left him there and made all haste up stream. The

frigate had by this time got out of her side channel, and was coming up

under full sail. So Captain Barney crowded on all sail also and fled

away after his prize.

If the frigate had got within gunshot it would soon have settled the

question, for it could have sunk the Hyder Ali with a broadside. But

it was not fast enough, and after a speedy run the victor and her prize

drew up beside a Philadelphia wharf.

Never had the good people of the Quaker City gazed on such a sight as

now met their eyes. Nothing had been done to remove the marks of battle.

The ships came in as they had left the fight. Shattered bulwarks, ragged

rents in the hulls, sails in tatters and drooping cordage told the story

of the desperate battle.

And the decks presented a terrible picture. Blood was everywhere. On the

General Monk were stretched the dead bodies of twenty men, while

twenty-six wounded lay groaning below. The Hyder Ali had suffered much

less, having but four killed and eleven wounded.

In all the Revolutionary War there have been few more brilliant actions;

and his victory gave Joshua Barney a high standing among the naval

commanders of the young Republic.

Shall we take up the story of the gallant Barney at a later date? Thirty

years after his victory over the General Monk, there was war again

between Americans and Britons, and Commodore Barney, now an old man,

took an active part.

He started out in the early days of the war with no better vessel than

the schooner Rossie, of fourteen guns and 120 men. He soon had lively

times. The Rossie was a clipper, and he could run away from an enemy

too strong to fight, though running away was not much to his taste.

In his first cruise he was out forty-five days, and in that time he

captured fourteen vessels and 166 prisoners.

In a month's time he was at sea again. Now he got among British frigates

and had to trust to the heels of his little craft. But in spite of the

great ships that haunted the seas, new prizes fell into his hands, one

being taken after an hour's fight. In all, the vessels and cargoes taken

by him were worth nearly $3,000,000, though most of this wealth went to

the bottom of the sea.

The next year (1813) he was made commodore of a fleet of gunboats in

Chesapeake Bay. Here for a year he had very little to do. Then the

British sailed up the Chesapeake, intending to capture Washington and

Baltimore, Barney did not hesitate to attack them, and did considerable

damage, though they were much too strong for his small fleet.

At length there came from the frightened people at Washington the order

to burn his fleet, and, much against his will, he was forced to consign

his gunboats to the flames. With his men, about four hundred in all, he

joined the army assembled to defend the capital.

These sailor-soldiers made the best fight of any of the troops that

sought to save Washington from capture; but during the fight Commodore

Barney received a wound that brought his fighting days to an end.

Fortunately there was little more fighting to do, and peace reigned over

his few remaining years of life.

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