The General Armstrong


Britannia certainly ruled the waves in 1814.  Everyone knew that, except, perhaps, the mad Americans.  Their navy, insignificant in numbers compared to the Royal Navy, had put up quite a fight during the War of 1812 and won a series of ship to ship duels that had injured the pride of the British nation.  Their privateers had damaged British commerce by hunting British merchantmen throughout the Seven Seas.  Therefore, it can come as little surprise to learn that when Captain Lloyd of the Royal Navy led a squadron into the port of Fayal in the Azores on September 26, 1814 he immediately commenced combat operations when he spotted an American privateer, The General Armstrong,  a schooner of 14 guns, also in the port, even though the port was controlled by a neutral power, Portugal.

Although vastly outnumbered by the English squadron, Captain Samuel Reid, the skipper of The General Armstrong, had no intention of giving up without a fight.  The British initially attempted to seize the schooner with four boats filled with Marines and sailors.  Reid opened fire with his guns and drove them off.  The British tried again after dark.  Around midnight the British sent 12 large barges with mounted cannon and filled with 400 men against the schooner.  The British reached the schooner, shouted “No quarter” and boarded her.  The heavily outnumbered Americans fought back ferociously, beating off the attack  and killing most of the attackers.

The next morning the British began to attack the schooner with long range gunnery.  Still The General Armstrong fought on, holding its own in this lop-sided contest.  Ultimately the Americans scuttled The General Armstrong and escaped on shore.  Few injuries to the pride of the Royal Navy were greater than this contest with one American privateer.

The Fight of The General Armstrong

James Jeffrey Roche

Tell the story to your sons
Of the gallant days of yore
When the brig of seven guns
Fought the fleet of seven score,
From the set of sun till morn, through the long September night —
Ninety men against two thousand, and the ninety won the fight—
In the harbor of Fayal the Azore.

Three lofty British ships came a-sailing to Fayal:
One was a line-of-battle ship, and two were frigates tall;
Nelson’s valiant men of war, brave as Britons ever are,
Manned the guns they served so well at Aboukir and Trafalgar.
Lord Dundonald and his fleet at Jamaica far away
Waited eager for their coming, fretted sore at their delay.
There was work for men of mettle ere the shameful peace was made,
And the sword was overbalanced in the sordid scales of trade;
There were rebel knaves to swing, there were prisoners to bring
Home in fetters to old England for the glory of the king!

At the setting of the sun and the ebbing of the tide
Came the great ships one by one, with their portals opened wide,
And their cannon frowning down on the castle and the town
And the privateer that lay close inside;
Came the eighteen-gun Carnation and the Rota, forty-four,
And the triple-decked Plantagenet an admiral’s pennon bore;
And the privateer grew smaller as their topmasts towered taller,
And she bent her springs and anchored by the castle on the shore.

Spake the noble Portuguese to the stranger: “Have no fear;
They are neutral waters these, and your ship is sacred here
As if fifty stout armadas stood to shelter you from harm,
For the honor of the Briton will defend you from his arm.”
But the privateersmen said: “Well we know the Englishmen,
And their faith is written red in the Dartmoor slaughter-pen.
Come what fortune God may send, we will fight them to the end,
And the mercy of the sharks may spare us then.”

“Seize the pirate where she lies!” cried the English admiral:
“If the Portuguese protect her, all the worse for Portugal!”
And four launches at his bidding leaped impatient for the fray,
Speeding shoreward where the Armstrong grim and dark and ready lay.
Twice she hailed and gave them warning; but the feeblc menace scorning,
On they came in splendid silence, till a cable’s-length away —
Then the Yankee pivot spoke; Pico’s thousand echoes woke,
And four baffled, beaten launches drifted helpless on the bay.

Then the wrath of Lloyd arose till the lion roared again,
And he called out all his launches and he called five hundred men;
And he gave the word, “No quarter!” and he sent them forth to smite.
Heaven help the foe before him when the Briton comes in might!
Heaven helped the little Armstrong in her hour of bitter need;
God Almighty nerved the heart and guided well the arm of Reid.

Launches to port and starboard, launches forward and aft,
Fourteen launches together striking the little craft.
They hacked at the boarding-nettings, they swarmed above the rail;
But the Long Tom roared from his pivot and the grape-shot fell like hail:
Pike and pistol and cutlas, and hearts that knew not fear,
Bulwarks of brawn and mettle, guarded the privateer.
And ever where fight was fiercest the form of Reid was seen;
Ever where foes drew nearest, his quick sword fell between.
Once in the deadly strife
The boarders’ leader pressed
Forward of all the rest,
Challenging life for life;
But ere their blades had crossed,
A dying sailor tossed
His pistol to Reid, and cried,
“Now riddle the lubber’s hide!”
But the privateersman laughed and flung the weapon aside,
And he drove his blade to the hilt, and the foeman gasped and died.
Then the boarders took to their launches laden with hurt and dead,
But little with glory burdened, and out of the battle fled.

Now the tide was at flood again, and the night was almost done,
When the sloop-of-war came up with her odds of two to one,
And she opened fire; but the Armstrong answered her gun for gun,
And the gay Carnation wilted in half an hour of sun.

Then the Armstrong, looking seaward, saw the mighty seventy-four,
With her triple tier of cannon, drawing slowly to the shore.
And the dauntless captain said: “Take our wounded and our dead,
Bear them tenderly to land, for the Armstrong’s days are o’er;
But no foe shall tread her deck and no flag above it wave —
To the ship that saved our honor we will give a shipman’s grave.”
So they did as he commanded, and they bore their mates to land,
With the figurehead of Armstrong and the good sword in his hand.
Then they turned the Long Tom downward, and they pierced her oaken side,
And they cheered her, and they blessed her, and they sunk her in the tide.

Tell the story to your sons,
When the haughty stranger boasts
Of his mighty ships and guns
And the muster of his hosts,
How the word of God was witnessed in the gallant days of yore
When the twenty fled from one ere the rising of the sun,
In the harbor of Fayal the Azore!

Published in: on June 26, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The General Armstrong  
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