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General Armstrong, the

A noted privateer, fitted out in New York in 1812. The merchants of New York fitted out no less than twenty-six fast-sailing privateers and letters-of-marque within 120 days after the declaration of war (1812), carrying about 200 pieces of artillery, and manned by over 2,000 seamen. Among the most noted of these privateers was the General Armstrong, a moderatesized schooner, mounting a “Long Tom” 42-pounder and eighteen carronades. Her complement was 140 men; her first commander was Captain Barnard; her second, Capt. G. R. Champlin. Early in March, 1813, while Champlin was cruising off the Surinam River, on the coast of South America, he gave chase to the British sloop-of-war Coquette, mounting twenty-seven guns and manned by 126 men and boys. They engaged in conflict between nine and ten o'clock (March 11, 1813). Supposing his antagonist to be a British letter-of-marque, Champlin ran the Armstrong down upon her, with the intention of boarding her. When it was too late, Champlin discovered that she was a heavier vessel than he suspected. They poured heavy shot into each other, and for a while the fight was very obstinate, within pistol-shot distance. Champlin was wounded and his vessel severely bruised, but, getting free from the Coquette by a vigorous use of sweeps, the Armstrong escaped under a heavy fire from her antagonist. The Tammany Society of New York gave the captain an elegant sword, and voted thanks to his companions in the fight. In 1814 the General Armstrong was under the command of Capt. Samuel C. Reid, and in September she was in the harbor of Fayal, one of the islands of the Azores, belonging to Portugal. It was a neutral port, and Reid did not expect to be disturbed there by British vessels. He was mistaken.

On the 26th Commodore Lloyd appeared off the harbor with his flag-ship, the Plantagenet, seventy-four guns; the frigate Rota, forty-four, Captain Somerville; and the brig Carnation, eighteen, Captain Bentham; each with a full complement of men. the Armstrong had only seven guns and ninety men, including her officers. In violation of the laws and usages [42] of neutrality, Lloyd sent into the harbor, at eight o'clock in the evening, four large and well-armed launches, manned by about forty men each. At that time Reid, suspecting mischief, was warping his vessel under the guns of the castle. The moon was shining brightly. The barges and the privateer opened fire almost simultaneously, and the launches were driven off with heavy loss. At midnight fourteen launches were sent in, manned by about 500 men. A terrible conflict ensued, which lasted forty minutes, when the launches were again repulsed, with a loss of 120 killed and 130 wounded. At daylight (Sept. 27) a third attack was made by the brig Carnation, which opened heavily, but was soon so cut up by the well-directed guns of the Armstrong that she hastily withdrew. The privateer was also much damaged, and it being evident that she could not endure a fourth attack, Captain Reid directed her to be scuttled, to prevent her falling into the hands of the British. She was then abandoned, when the British boarded her and set her on fire. While the British lost over 300 men in the three attacks, the Armstrong lost only two men killed and seven wounded during the ten hours.

To Captain Reid and his brave men is justly due the credit of saving New Orleans from capture. Lloyd's squadron was a part of the expedition then gathering at Jamaica for the invasion of Louisiana. The object of the attack on the Armstrong was to capture her, and make her a useful auxiliary in the work. She so crippled her assailants that they did not reach Jamaica until ten days later than the expedition intended to sail from there. It had waited for Lloyd, and when it approached New Orleans Jackson had made ample arrangements to receive the invaders. Had they arrived ten days sooner the city must have fallen. The State of New York gave Captain Reid thanks and a sword, and he was greeted with enthusiasm on his return to the United States. The Portuguese government demanded and received from the British an apology for the violation of neutrality, and restitution for the destruction of Portuguese property at Fayal during the action. That government also demanded satisfaction and indemnification for the destruction of the American vessel in their neutral port. This was refused, and neither the owners of the vessel nor their heirs ever received indemnification for their losses either from Great Britain or Portugal.

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