HMS Guerriere was a British 3-masted sail frigate of 38 guns captured from the French, and commanded by Captain James R. Dacres when she met the USS Constitution in her last battle. During the afternoon of 19 August 1812, Latitude 40.20 N and Longitude 55.00 West about 400 miles S.E. of Halifax, a sail was sighted on the weather beam bearing down on them. She was soon made out to be a man of war and Guerriere prepared for action mustering 244 men and 19 boys at quarters. When the enemy hoisted American colours, Captain James Richard Dacres permitted the Americans in his crew to quit their guns.
The two ships exchanged broadsides for half an hour before the enemy closed her starboard beam and sent HMS Guerriere's mizzen mast overboard. Switching to the other bow, the enemy raked HMS Guerriere and swept her decks with grape and musket fire, and then attempted to board. Mr Samuel Grant, master's mate commanding the forecastle, was badly wounded and about the same time Mr Rober Scott, the master, was shot through the knee and the Captain severely wounded. Capt. Dacres ordered Lieut. Bartholomew Kent to lead the marines and boarders from the main deck towards the forecastle but the two ships parting at that moment meant that they were able to bring some of the bow guns to bear on the enemy. Mr William J. Snow, master's mate, commanded the fore-most main deck guns and Mr John Garby, acting purser, the after quarter deck guns.
The two ships were clear of each other when Guerriere's fore and main-masts went over the side leaving her an unmanageable wreck. They managed to clear the wreckage but while they were rolling with the main deck guns under water, the enemy wore round within pistol-shot to rake them. At this point Capt. Dacres called his remaining officers together and they agreed to strike the colours to avoid further loss of life. 15 were killed, including the second lieutenant, Mr Henry Ready; six mortally wounded, 39 severely and eighteen slightly wounded. Lieut. Kent was wounded by a splinter early on.
They found that the enemy was the USS Constitution, Capt. Isaac Hull, of thirty 24-pounders on the main deck, twenty-four 32-pounders and two bored out 18-pounders on the upper deck. Out of 476 men 9 were killed and 13 wounded. Capt. Dacres was surprised and shocked to find a large proportion of British seamen amongst her crew, a number of whom had joined in the boarding party.
The Guerriere was too badly damaged to take in so, as soon as the wounded had been taken out, she was set on fire by her captors, and the Constitution returned to Boston.
Boston 7th September 1812
Sir, I am sorry to inform you of the Capture of His Majesty's late Ship Guerriere by the American Frigate Constitution after a severe action on the 19th of August in Latitude 40.20 N and Longitude 55.00 West At 2 PM being by the Wind on the starboard Tack, we saw a Sail on our Weather Beam, bearing down on us. At 3 made her out to be a Man of War, beat to Quarters and prepar'd for Action. At 4, She closing fast wore to prevent her raking us. At 4.10 hoisted our Colours and fir'd several shot at her. At 4.20 She hoisted her Colours and return'd our fire. Wore several times, to avoid being raked, Exchanging broadsides. At 5 She clos'd on our Starboard Beam, both keeping up a heavy fire and steering free, his intention being evidently to cross our bow. At 5.20, our Mizen Mast went over the starboard quarter and brought the Ship up in the Wind. The Enemy then plac'd himself on our larboard Bow, raking us, a few only of our bow Guns bearing and his Grape and Riflemen sweeping our Deck. At 5.40 the Ship not answering her helm, he attempted to lay up on board at this time. Mr [Samuel] Grant who commanded the Forecastle was carried below badly wounded. I immediately order'd the Marines and Boarders from the Main Deck; the Master was at this time shot thro the knee, and I receiv'd a severe wound in the back. Lieutenant [Bartholomew] Kent was leading on the Boarders, when the Ship coming too, we brought some of our bow guns to bear on her and had got clear of our opponent when at 6.20 our Fore and Main Masts went over the side, leaving the Ship a perfect unmanageable Wreck. The Enemy shooting ahead, I was in hopes to clear the Wreck and get the Ship under Command to renew the Action but just as we had clear'd the Wreck our Spritsail yard went and the Enemy having rove new Braces &c, wore round within Pistol Shot to rake us, The Ship laying in the trough of the Sea and rolling her Main Deck Guns under Water and all attempts to get her before the Wind being fruitless, when calling my few remaining officers together, they were all of opinion that any further resistance would be a needless waste of lives, I order'd, though reluctantly, the Colours to be struck. The loss of the Ship is to be ascribed to the early fall of the Mizen Mast which enabled our opponent to choose his position. I am sorry to say we suffered severely in killed and wounded and mostly whilst she lay on our Bow from her Grape and Musketry, in all 15 kill'd and 63 wounded, many of them severely; none of the wounded Officers quitted the Deck till the firing ceas'd. The Frigate prov'd to be the United States Ship Constitution, of thirty 24 Pounders on her Main Deck and twenty four 32 Pounders and two 18 Pounders on her Upper Deck and 476 Men-her loss in comparison with ours was triffling, about twenty, the first Lieutenant of Marines and eight killed and first Lieutenant and Master of the Ship and eleven Men wounded, her lower Masts badly wounded; and stern much shattered and very much cut up about the Rigging. The Guerriere was so cut up, that all attempts to get her in would have been useless. As soon as the wounded were got out of her, they set her on fire, and I feel it my duty to state that the conduct of Captain Hull and his Officers to our Men has been that of a brave Enemy, the greatest care being taken to prevent our Men losing the smallest trifle, and the greatest attention being paid to the wounded who through the attention and skill of Mr [John] Irvine, Surgeon, I hope will do well. I hope though success has not crown'd our efforts, you will not think it presumptuous in me to say the greatest Credit is due to the Officers and Ship's Company for their exertions, particularly when exposed to the heavy raking fire of the Enemy. I feel particularly obliged for the exertions of Lieutenant Kent who though wounded early by a Splinter continued to assist me; in the second Lieutenant the Service has suffered a severe loss; Mr [Robert] Scott, the Master, though wounded was particularly attentive and used every exertion in clearing the Wreck as did the Warrant Officers. Lieutenant [William] Nicoll of the Royal Marines and his party supported the honorable Character of their Corps, and they suffer'd severely. I must particularly recommend Mr [William] Snow, Masters Mate, who commanded the foremost Main Deck guns in the absence of Lieutenant [John] Pullman and the whole after the fall of Lieutenant [Henry] Ready, to your protection, he having serv'd his time and received a severe contusion from a Splinter. I must point out Mr [John] Garby, Acting Purser, to your notice, who volunteer'd his Services on Deck, and commanded the after quarter Deck Guns and was particularly active as well as Mr [John W.] Bannister, Midshipman who has passed. I hope, in considering the circumstances, you will think the Ship entrusted to my charge was properly defended; the unfortunate loss of our Masts, the absence of the third lieutenant, second Lieutenant of Marines, three Midshipmen, and twenty four Men considerably weakened our Crew, and we only muster'd at Quarters 244 Men and 19 Boys, on coming into action; the Enemy had such an advantage from his Marines and Riflemen, when close and his superior sailing enabled him to choose his distance. I enclose herewith a List of killed and wounded on board the Guerriere and have the Honor to be Sir, Your most obedient &c.
- Sign'd J R Dacres
- Vice Admiral Sawyer
- Commander in Chief
- &c &c &c Halifax
- British Public Record Office, Admiralty 1/502, Part 4, 541-45.