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President, the

An American frigate built in New York City in 1794; became flag-ship of the squadron commanded by Capt. John Rodgers at the beginning of the War of 1812. Minister Pinkney, at the British Court, had arranged the difficulties concerning the affair of the Chesapeake and Leopard (see Chesapeake), by which full atonement by the British government was secured. A favorable arrangement with the French by the United States had caused British cruisers on the American coast to become more and more annoying to American commerce. A richly laden vessel bound to France was captured within 30 miles of New York, and early in May, 1811, a British frigate, supposed to be the Guerriere, stopped an American brig only 18 miles from New York. The government then resolved to send out one or two of the new frigates to protect American commerce from British cruisers. the President, lying at Annapolis, was ordered (May 6) to put to sea at once, under the command of Commodore Rodgers. Rodgers exchanged signals with the stranger who bore off southward. Thinking she might be the Guerriere, Rodgers gave chase.

Early in the evening of May 16 Rodgers was so near that he inquired, “What ship is that?” The question, repeated, came from the stranger. Rodgers immediately reiterated his question, which was answered by a shot that lodged in the mainmast of the President. Rodgers was about to respond in kind when a single gun from his ship was accidentally discharged. It was followed by three shots from his antagonist, and then by a broadside, with musketry. Then Rodgers, “equally determined,” he said, “not to be the aggressor, or suffer the flag of my country to be insulted with impunity,” gave orders for a general fire. His antagonist was silenced within six minutes, and the guns of the President ceased firing, when suddenly her antagonist opened fire anew. Again she was silenced, and at dawn the President saw her several miles to the [286] leeward. He ascertained that she was his Majesty's ship Little Belt, Capt. A. B. Bingham, which was searching for the Guerriere on the American coast.

Rodgers was in the port of New York when war was declared, in command of a small squadron—the President (his flag-ship), forty-four guns; the Essex, thirty-two, Captain Porter; and the Hornet, eighteen, Captain Lawrence. He received orders (June 21, 1812) to sail immediately on a cruise. He had received information that a fleet of West India merchantmen had sailed for England under a convoy, and he steered for the Gulf Stream to intercept them. He had been joined by a small squadron under Commodore Decatur—the United States (flagship), forty-four guns; Congress, thirty-eight, Captain Smith; and Argus, sixteen, Lieutenant-Commander St. Clair. Meeting a vessel which had been boarded by the British ship Belvidera, thirty-six, Capt. R. Byron, Rodgers pressed sail, and in the course of thirty-six hours he discovered the Belvidera, gave chase, and overtook her off Nantucket Shoals. Rodgers pointed and discharged one of the forecastle chase-guns of the President, and his shot went crashing through the stern-frame into the gunroom of his antagonist, driving her people from it. That was the “first hostile shot of the war fired afloat.” A few moments afterwards one of the President's guns burst, killed and wounded sixteen men, blew up the forecastle, and threw Rodgers several feet in the air. As lie fell his leg was broken. Then a shot from a stern-chaser came from the Belvidera, killing a midshipman and one or two men. the Belvidera now lightened her burden by cutting away anchors and casting heavy things overboard. She gained on the President, and at twilight (June 23) the chase was abandoned. the President lost twenty-two men (sixteen by accident) killed and wounded. the Belvidera lost about twelve men killed and wounded.

In the summer of 1814 Commodore Decatur, who had long been blockaded in the Thames, above New London, was transferred to the President, forty-four guns, which Commodore Rodgers had left for the new ship Guerriere. In November he had under his command at New York a squadron composed of his flag-ship; the Hornet, eighteen guns,. Captain Biddle; the Peacock, eighteen, Captain Warrington, and Tom Bowline, store-ship. He had been watching the British who had ravaged the coasts in the vicinity of Chesapeake Bay. Finally he received orders to prepare for a cruise in the East Indies to spread havoc among the British shipping there. On the night of June 14, 1815, the President dropped down to Sandy Hook, leaving the other vessels of the squadron at anchor near Staten Island, and before morning she evaded the British blockaders and cleared the coast. Decatur kept the President close along the Long Island shore for a while, believing that a gale that blew on the 14th had driven the blockaders to the leeward. Then he sailed boldly out to sea, and by starlight that evening he saw a strange sail ahead, within gunshot distance. Two others soon made their appearance, and at dawn the President was chased by four British ships-of-war, two on her quarter and two astern. These were the Endymion, forty guns; Pomone, thirty-eight; Tenedos, thirty-eight, and Majestic, razeeZZZ, which had been blown off the coast by the gale. the President, deeply laden with stores for a long cruise, soon found the Endymion, Captain Hope, rapidly overtaking her. Decatur lightened his ship to increase her speed, but to little purpose. At three o'clock in the afternoon (Sept. 16) the Endymion came down with a fresh breeze, which the President did not feel, and opened her bow guns upon the latter, which she quickly returned. At five o'clock the Endymion gained an advantageous position and terribly bruised the President, while the latter could not bring a gun to bear on her antagonist. It was evident that the Endymion was endeavoring to gradually bring the President to an unmanageable wreck, and so secure a victory. Perceiving this, Decatur resolved to run down upon the Endymion and seize her as a prize by a hand-to-hand fight. But the commander of the British vessel, wary and skilful, was not to be caught so, and managed his vessel so that they were brought abeam of each other, when both delivered [287] tremendous broadsides. Every attempt of Decatur to lay the President alongside the Endymion was foiled by Captain Hope, who adroitly kept his ship a quarter of a mile from his antagonist. Decatur now determined to dismantle his antagonist. The two frigates ran side by side for two hours and a half, discharging broadsides at each other, until the Endymion, having had most of her sails cut from the yards, fell astern, and would have struck her colors in a few minutes. At that moment the other vessels in chase were seen by the dim starlight approaching, when the President kept on her course and vainly tried to escape. The pursuers closed upon her, and at eleven o'clock made a simultaneous attack. Further resistance would have been useless, and the colors of the President were hauled down. Decatur delivered his sword to Captain Hayes, of the Majestic, which was the first vessel that came alongside the President. Decatur lost twenty-four men killed and fifty-six wounded. the Endymion had eleven killed and fourteen wounded. the Endymion, with her prize, sailed for Bermuda, and both vessels were dismasted by a gale before reaching port. When the details of the whole battle became known, the praise of Decatur and his men was upon every lip.

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