Sunday, 19 June 2011

The Raid on Havre de Grace 1813

In May 1813 a small squadron of frigates under George Cockburn* was cruising the coast between Baltimore and Canada, with the dual aims of capturing privateers (pirates) and forcing the diversion of regular US troops from Canada. After a very successful raid on Frenchtown Cockburn resolved to attack the fortified town of Havre de Grace. This is his report (available online at the London Gazette).

Admiral George Cockburn

His Majesty's Ship Maidstone, Tuesday night, 3d May 1813, at Anchor off Turkey Point.

I HAVE the honour to inform you, that whilst anchoring the brigs and tenders off Specucie island, agreeable to my intentions notified to you in my official report of the 29th ultimo, No. 10, I observed guns fired and American colours hoisted at a battery lately erected at Havre-de-Grace, at the entrance of the Susquehanna river; this of course immediately gave to the place an importance which I had not before attached to it, and I therefore determined on attacking it after the completion of our operations at the island; consequently having sounded in the direction towards it, and found that the shallowness of the water would only admit of its' being approached by boats, I directed their assembling under Lieutenant Westphal**, (first of the Marlborough) last night at twelve o'clock, alongside the Fantome, when our detachments of marines, consisting of about one hundred and fifty men, (as before) under Captains Wybourn and Carter, with a small party of artillerymen, under Lieutenant Robertson, of the artillery***, embarked in them, and the whole being under the immediate direction of Captain Lawrence, of the Fantome, (who with much zeal and readiness took upon himself, at my request, the conducting of this service) proceeded towards Havre, to take up under cover of the night, the necessary positions for commencing the attack at dawn of day.

Rocket boats - the crew shelter behind wetted sails during firing

The Dolphin and Highflyer tenders, commanded by Lieutenants Hutchinson and Lewis, followed for the support of the boats, but the shoalness of the water prevented their getting within six miles of the place. Captain Lawrence, however, having got up with the boats, and having very ably and judiciously placed them during the attack, a warm fire was opened on the place at daylight from our launches and rocket boats, which was smartly returned from the battery for a short time, but the launches constantly closing with it, and their fire rather increasing than decreasing, that from the battery soon began to slacken, and Captain Lawrence observing this, very judiciously directed the landing of the marines on the left, which movement, added to the hot fire they were under, induced the Americans to commence withdrawing from the battery, to take shelter in the town.

Lieutenant G. A. Westphal, who had taken his station in the rocket boat close to the battery, therefore now judging the moment to be favourable, pulled directly up under the work, and landing with his boats crew, got immediate possession of it, turned their own guns on them, and thereby soon obliged them to retreat with their whole force to the furthest extremity of the town, whither (the marines having by this time landed) they were closely pursued, and no longer feeling themselves equal to a manly and open resistance, they commenced a teazing and irritating fire from behind the houses, Walls, trees, &c. from which I am sorry to say, my gallant first lieutenant received a shot through his hand whilst leading the pursuing party; he, however, continued to head the advance, with which he soon succeeded in dislodging the whole of the enemy from their lurking places, and driving them from shelter to the neighbouring woods, and whilst performing which service, he had the satisfaction to overtake, and with his remaining hand to make Prisoner,-and bring in a captain of their militia.

We also took an ensign and some armed individuals, but the rest of the force which had been opposed to us, having penetrated into the woods, I did not judge it prudent to allow of their being further followed with our small numbers, therefore after setting fire to some of the. houses, to cause the proprietors (who had deserted them, and formed part of the militia, who had fled to the woods,) to understand and feel what they were liable to bring upon themselves, by building batteries and acting towards us with, so much useless, rancour.

An American propaganda poster of the time, so perhaps of limited accuracy

I embarked in the boats the guns from the battery, and having also taken and destroyed about one hundred and thirty stand of small arms, I detached, a small division of boats up the Susquebanna, to take and destroy whatever they might meet with in it, and proceeded myself with the remaining boats under Captain Lawrence, in search of a cannon foundry, which I had gained intelligence of, whilst on shore in Havre, as being situated about three or four miles to the northward, where we found it accordingly, and getting possession of it without difficulty, commenced instantly its destruction, and that of the guns and other materials we found there, to complete which, occupied us during the remainder of the day, as there were several buildings and much complicated heavy machinery attached to it.

It was known by the names of the Cecil or Principio foundry, and was on of the most valuable works of the kind in America; the destruction of it, therefore, at this moment, will I trust prove of much national importance.

In the margin (see below) I have stated the ordnance taken and disabled by our small division this day, during the whole of which we have been on shore in the centre of the enemy's country, and on his high road between Baltimore and Philadelphia. The boats which I sent up the Susquehanna returned after destroying five vessels in it, and a large store of flour; when every thing being completed to my utmost wishes, the whole division re-embarked and returned to the ships, where we arrived at ten o'clock, after being twenty-two hours in constant exertion, without nourishment of any kind, and I have much pleasure in being able to add that, excepting Lieutenant Westphall's wound, we have not suffered any casualty whatever.

The judicious dispositions made by Captain Lawrence, of the Fantome, during the preceding night, and the able manner in which he, conducted the attack of Havre, in the morning, added to the gallantry, zeal and attention shewn by him during this whole day, most justly entitle him to my highest encomiums and acknowledgements, and will, I trust, ensure to him your approbation; and I have the pleasure to add, that he speaks in the most favourable manner of the good conduct of all the officers and men employed in the boats under bis immediate orders, particularly of Lieutenants Alexander and Reed, of the Dragon and Fantome, who each commanded a division.

Of Lieutenant G. A. Westphall whose exemplary and gallant conduct it has been necessary for me already to notice in detailing to you the operations of the day, I shall only now add, that for a thorough knowledge of his merits (be having served many years with me as first lieutenant) I always, on similar occasions-, expect much from him, but this day he even outstripped those expectations, and though in considerable pain from his wound, he insisted on continuing to assist me to the last moment with his able exertions, I therefore, Sir, cannot but entertain a confident hope that his services of today -and the wound' he has received, added to what be so successfully executed at French Town (as detailed in my letter to you of the 29th ultimo), will obtain for him your favourable consideration and notice, and that of my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty.

HMS Apollo, sister ship to HMS Maidstone, Cockburn's flagship

I should be wanting in justice did I not also mention to you particularly the able assistance again afforded me by Lieutenant Robertson, of the artillery, who is ever a volunteer where service is to be performed, and always foremost in performing such service, being equally conspicuous for his gallantry and ability; and he also obliged me by superintending the destruction of the ordinance taken from the foundry,

To Captains Wyborn and Carter, who commanded the marines, and shewed much skill in the management of them, every praise is likewise due, as are my acknowledgements of Lieutenant Lewis, of the Highflyer, who, not being able to bring his vessel near enough to render assistance, came himself with his usual active zeal to offer his personal services. And it is my pleasing duty 'to have to report to you in addition, that all the other officers and men seemed to vie with each other in the cheerful and zealous discharge of their duty and I have therefore the satisfaction of recommending their general good conduct on this occasion to your notice accordingly.
'I have the honour to be, &e, (Signed') G. COCKBURN, Rear Admiral.

Taken from the battery at Havre-de-Grace - 6 guns, twelve and six-pounders.
Disabled in the battery for protection of foundry - 5 guns, twenty-four pounders.

Disabled, ready for sending' away from foundry - 28 guns, thirty-two pounders
Disabled in boring house and foundry - 8 guns and 4 carronades, of different calibres.

Total 51 guns, and 130 stand of small arms.

* Cockburn was the naval commander during the burning of Washington, in retaliation for the sacking of Toronto. He also raised a Corps of Colonial Marines from former United States slaves. The corps served in several actions up and down the Atlantic coast including the victory at St Peter, and the occupation of Cumberland Island, where they helped the freeing and emigration of several hundred slaves.

** Lt Westphal had an extraordinary, charmed, life. Born in Preston, Nova Scotia, in 1785 George was the son of a retired Hanoverian officer. He joined the Royal Navy at 13, and in 1805 found himself on HMS Victory. During the fighting he was severely injured and carried below deck, where Nelson lay dying. Nelson's coat was used as a pillow, but his hair, matted with blood, became so entangled with the coat button that they had to be cut off. Westphal kept the buttons as souvenir. Further adventures included escaping from a prison in Guadaloupe, leading a section of gunboats against Flushing and innumerable other escapades. He served with Cockburn, where he made a very good impression and saw a lot of action, including leading the raid on Frenchtown.
Made captain in 1814, he was knighted in 1823 and in 1846, George Westphal was appointed a naval aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria.
George's brother Philip also became an admiral, and there is a school named after them both in Nova Scotia.

*** members of the Royal Artillery stationed at Bermuda. Congreve rockets were basically huge fireworks, developed originally in India and modified by the British.

**** The Lockhouse museum in Havre stages a reconstruction of the raid every year

Royal Marines

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