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Bulloch History with Roger Allen - Savannah takes British war ship

Bulloch History with Roger Allen - Savannah takes British war ship

Bulloch History with Roger Allen - Savannah takes British war ship

Roger Allen

      In the 1817 book "A Full and Correct Account of the Chief Naval Occurrences of the Late War," author William James told of the battle between the British warship "Epervier" and the American warship the "Peacock" in the War of 1812.
      Savannah's important role in this affair was two-fold: it served as a port to which the captured British warship was taken; and it served as the site of legal proceedings over the fate of the ship and her cargo.
      The "HMS Epervier" a "Brig-Sloop," was built in 1812, and had a crew of 101 men and 16 ‘boys.' She was 110 feet long and 31 feet wide, and was commanded by Capt. Richard Wales.
      The "USS Peacock," a "Sloop-of-War," was built in 1813 and had a crew of 183 men and two ‘boys.' She was 119 feet long and 32 feet wide, and was commanded by Capt. Lewis Warrington.
      The "Epervier" was outfitted with 16 32-pound short cannon and two 18-pound long cannon, while the "Peacock" was equipped with 20 32-pound short cannon and two 18-pound long cannon.
      The two vessels were considered to be equal in combat. According to naval rules of combat, when two ships "of the same class" engaged in battle, the victor's captain and crew could claim the defeated ship as their "prize vessel."
      The "Epervier" left the British island of Jamaica and stopped at the port of Havana to pick up a cargo of currency, referred to in her logs as "specie."
      On April 29, 1814, off the coast of what is now Cape Kennedy, the "Epervier" and several merchantmen were sighted by the "Peacock," which had just dropped off supplies at Saint Marys, Ga.
      While the merchantmen fled, the two warships engaged. Official reports disclose that the "Peacock's" second broadside of "star" and "chain-shot" reduced the British vessel's sails and riggings to tatters.
      Unable to maneuver, Captain Wales ordered his men to prepare to board the American vessel which the crew reportedly refused to do. After one hour of battle, he was forced to lower his colors.
      The British suffered eight killed and 15 wounded, while the American's suffered only two slightly wounded. Captain Warrington and his crew towed the "Epervier" toward the port of Savannah.
      Unfortunately, they soon sighted two more British Frigates. Warrington sailed the "Peacock" towards and then away from them, acting as a decoy. He was pursued by both of the British warships.
      His First Lieutenant, John B. Nicholson, sailed their prize, the "Epervier" into the port of Savannah. There were many legal challenges entered on who was the rightful owner of the currency in the ship's hold.
      Eventually, the crew of the "Peacock" was declared the legal owners. They split the profit of $163,000, which came from the sale price of $55,000 for the vessel plus another $118,000 for its cargo.
      Savannah's shipbuilders repaired the ship, rechristening her the "USS Epervier." The mayor and city Aldermen of Savannah passed two resolutions honoring the "Peacock's" victory.
      The first crowed that, "another victory has added to the glory, the luster, and renown (sic) of the American Navy." The second stated "(this) great and brilliant exploit (of) the American Navy (has carried) fear and terror to (the enemy's) thousand ships."
      The eventual British court-martial of Captain Wales listed the loss of the vessel as due to "superiority of the enemy (and the) inefficiency of the (British) crew." It went so far as to label the Epervier's crew as the worst ship's crew in the entire British fleet.

      Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look at Bulloch County's historical past. E-mail Roger at roger


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