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Craney Island, operations at

On June 1, 1813, Admiral Sir J. Borlase Warren entered the Chesapeake with a considerable reinforcement for the marauding squadron of Sir George Cockburn (q. v.), bearing a large number of land troops and marines. There were twenty ships of the line and frigates and several smaller British war-vessels within the capes of Virginia. The cities of Baltimore, Annapolis, and Norfolk were equally menaced. Norfolk was the first point of attack. For its defence on the waters were the frigate Constellation, thirty-eight guns, and a flotilla of gunboats; on the land were Forts Norfolk and Nelson (one on each side of the Elizabeth

The Block-House on Craney Island, 1813.

River), and Forts Tar and Barbour, and the fortifications on Craney Island, 5 miles below the city. Towards midnight of June 19 Captain Tarbell, by order of Commodore Cassin, commanding the station, went down the Elizabeth River with fifteen gunboats, to attempt the capture of the frigate Junon, thirty-eight guns, Captain Sanders, which lay about 3 miles from the rest of the British fleet. Fifteen sharp-shooters from Craney Island were added to the crews of the boats. At half-past 3 in the morning the flotilla approached the Junon, and, under cover of the darkness and a thick [416] fog, the American vessels approached her to within easy range without being discovered. She was taken by surprise. After a conflict of half an hour, and when victory seemed within the grasp of the Americans, a wind sprung up from the northeast, and two vessels lying becalmed below came to the Junon's assistance, and by a severe cannonade repulsed them. In this affair the Americans lost one man killed and two slightly wounded.

This attack brought matters to a crisis. The firing had been distinctly heard by the fleet, and with the next tide, on a warm Sunday morning in June, fourteen of the British vessels entered Hampton Roads, and took position at the mouth of the Nansemond River. They bore land troops, under General Sir Sidney Beckwith. The whole British force, including the sailors, was about 5,000 men. Governor Barbour, of Virginia, had assembled several thousand militia, in anticipation of invasion. Craney Island, then in shape like a painter's palette, was separated from the main by a shallow strait, fordable at low tide, and contained about 30 acres of land. On the side commanding the ship-channel were entrenchments armed with 18 and 24 pounder cannon. A successful defence of this island would save Norfolk and the navy-yard there, and to that end efforts were made. Gen. Robert B. Taylor was the commanding officer of the district. The whole available force of the island, when the British entered Hampton Roads were two companies of artillery, under the general command of Maj. James Faulkner; Captain Robertson's company of riflemen; and 416 militia infantry of the line, commanded by Lieut.-Col. Henry Beatty. If attacked and overpowered, these troops had no means of escape. These were reinforced by thirty regulars under Capt. Richard Pollard, and thirty volunteers under Lieutenant-Colonel Johnson, and were joined by about 150 seamen under Lieuts. B. J. Neale, W. B. Shubrick, and J. Sanders, and fifty marines under Lieutenant Breckinridge. The whole force on Craney Island on June 2 numbered 737 men.

At midnight the camp was alarmed by the crack of a sentinel's rifle. It was a false alarm; but before it was fairly daylight a trooper came dashing across the fordable strait with the startling information that the British were landing in force on the main, only about 2 miles distant. The drum beat the long-roll, and Major Faulkner ordered his guns to be transferred so as to command the strait. At the same time, fifty large barges, filled with 1,500 sailors and marines, were seen approaching from the British ships. They were led by Admiral Warren's beautiful barge Centipede (so called because of her numerous oars), and made for the narrow strait between Craney Island and the main. Faulkner had his artillery in position, and when the invaders were within proper distance his great guns were opened upon them with terrible effect. The British were repulsed, and hastened back to their ships. Warren's barge, which had a 3-pounder swivel-gun at the bow, with four others, was sunk in the shallow water, when some American seamen, under the direction of Lieutenant Tattnall, waded out, secured the vessels, and dragged them ashore, securing many prisoners. The British loss, in killed, wounded, and missing, was 144; the Americans lost none. The invaders now abandoned all hope of seizing Norfolk, the Constellation, and the navy-yard, and never attempted it afterwards.

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