Thursday, February 10, 2011

US Sloop of War Hornet Part 6

This week we've been tracking the remarkable service history of the little Sloop of War Hornet. Despite the interest for some, I fully realize that this can get a little dry - don't worry, next week I'll start going back and filling in the framework and we'll get to play a little six degrees of separation - that is going to get REALLY interesting. I've been removing most personal details from this week's narratives, but today I'll leave a few of them in there to give you a small sample of the fun to come (yes, I am a history nerd - there's no escaping it).

For the rest of you - here's a ball.

Part 6 - Postwar Service
In 1818 the Secretary of the Navy decided to bring Hornet out of ordinary and restore her to active service. Commander George C. Read was assigned as her next commanding officer. Read had previously served as a midshipman, then lieutenant in USS Constitution, accepting the surrender of HMS Guerriere on behalf of Isaac Hull in that famous engagement in 1812. Commanding the brig USS Chippewa during the Second Barbary War, he was promoted from Lieutenant to the new rank of Commander in 1816.

Read sailed Hornet to Norfolk where she was assigned to the West Indies Squadron to bolster anti-piracy operations that were ongoing in that region. The need for protection of American flagged merchant ships there had become so great that the Secretary of the Navy ordered not only a permanent squadron to the station, but also that any ship going to or coming from the Mediterranean should pass through those waters to lend what assistance they could. Hornet cruised there for a short time before proceeding to Europe on diplomatic missions. In 1819 she cruised into the Baltic, where she brought the US Consul at Copenhagen back to the United States, arriving back at Boston in December.

In June 1820 Hornet was dispatched to West Africa with frigates Cyane and John Adams as well as schooners Alligator and Shark to enforce the 1819 Slave Trade Act. President John Quincy Adams had ordered the Navy to “seize all vessels navigated under our flag engaged in that trade” and clearly Hornet’s speed and shoal draft would be assets in chasing down the typically small, agile slave ships. She clearly had success in her mission, capturing two slavers - the brig Alexander and the sloop Ferret. Making the obligatory patrol through the West Indies on her way home, she also called at Charleston and Hampton Roads before returning to New York in December. In each of these places Hornet’s log records generals and prominent politicians going aboard, which may be some early indication of her fame and popularity not only in military circles, but also the general public.

In January 1821 Hornet was dispatched to Pensacola to assist in the peaceful transfer of West Florida from Spain to the United States. General Andrew Jackson presided over the event, leading US Army elements to ensure a smooth transition. Hornet later transferred several Spanish citizens to Havana Cuba, making four passages. General Jackson, who would of course later become President, dined aboard at Captain Read’s invitation at least twice during this time period (Read).

Returning to New York in September 1821, Read was promoted to Captain and elevated beyond command of Hornet. It is of note that Read went back to USS Constitution as her captain and made several cruises before taking command of the Philadelphia Naval School in 1839. After promotion to commodore, Read led the African Squadron then the Mediterranean Squadron before being appointed to the rank of rear admiral when the rank was created in 1862. He died later the same year after 58 years of Naval service.

Hornet’s next commanding officer was Robert Henley. Another prominent veteran of the Quasi-War and the War of 1812, Henley was a Williamsburg, Virginia native who had been a midshipman aboard Constellation during the First Barbary War. He later would command two squadrons of gunboats that drove three British frigates out of Hampton Roads in 1813 and was given a gold medal by Congress for his role as second in command at the Battle of Lake Champlain in 1814.

Under Henley, Hornet quickly got underway again and returned to cruising the West Indies in search of pirates. Reporting to the West Indies Squadron, Hornet met with familiar leadership – James Biddle, who had won much acclaim (along with a musket-ball permanently lodged in his neck) during his tenure in command of Hornet six years earlier. Biddle was now commodore in command of the squadron.In October 29th 1821 Hornet captured the pirate schooner Moscow, sailing the ship under a prize crew and conveying the pirates as prisoners into Cuba to be dealt with by the Spanish government – as the US had no legal recourse for doing so established at the time. On April 28th 1822 Henley reported running down a “small sloop observed attacking American brig in the offing”. The pirate didn’t get far, and after a warning shot was fired, hove to and sent a boat to Hornet to present her papers.

Hornet’s log records the following: “Rec’d onbd J. Lafitte known pirate with Spanish papers and letters of Marque, proved false.”


“Delivered to Spanish authority at the Morillo, Honda [Cuba] 9 prisoners incl J. Lafitte taken out of pirate sloop 28th inst.” (Henley)

Of course, this was the famous pirate Jean Lafitte who cooperated with American authorities in Louisiana during the Battle of New Orleans, but had returned to piracy soon after. In a confusing turn of events, the Spanish authorities promptly released Lafitte who went on to establish a base along the Colombian shore, and was killed in 1823. It is interesting to note that in an age of anti-piracy operations where the turnover of pirates is required by international law that the Navy of the 19th century was bound by just as many legal procedures.

Hornet returned to the United States at Hampton Roads in August 1822, where Henley was promoted to command the Norfolk Naval Rendezvous (recruit receiving station) until 1824 and transferred to South Carolina on similar duty in 1824. He died there after a bout of sickness in 1828.

Command of Hornet next passed to Commander Sydney Smith, who made another voyage to the Gulf of Mexico and captured three more pirate craft and a pirate shore base near Galveston, TX in a daring small boat operation. Returning to Norfolk the following year, Smith was also promoted and turned over command of Hornet to Commander Stephen Cassin.

Cassin was another veteran of the Battle of Lake Champlain who had been specifically charged to carry the captured battle flags to Washington. He had previously commanded sloops Ticonderoga and Peacock, and on assuming command of Hornet, Cassin promptly set to sea – keeping to Hornet’s usual busy schedule. He sailed back to join the West Indies where he led a small squadron in Hornet consisting of the schooner Grampus and four gunboats to attack pirate vessels on the North Coast of Cuba. Returning to Norfolk later the same year, he learned of his promotion, and turned over command to Edmund P. Kennedy to begin a general refit of the ship at what is now the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

Making four more cruises to the West Indies Squadron from 1826 to 1829, Hornet continued on under the command of Samuel Woodhouse and Alexander Claxton. Notably from this time period, Midshipman Horatio Nelson Cady kept a series of journals that still survive today. His entry on reporting to Hornet in 1826 offers a glimpse into the character of the ship’s crew:

“I could not have asked for a more perfect ship. The men all know tiny bits of hidden damage from the late war…they look after them as trophies. For all my excitement and enthusiasm I find myself completely eclipsed by the alacrity and pride of Hornet’s people.” (Cady)

Tomorrow, the last installment - the death of Hornet.


Cady, Horatio Nelson. "Cady, Horatio N. Papers, 1823-1831." Logbook kept by Midshipman Horatio Nelson Cady, U.S.N. Also contains "Remarks on board the USS Hornet," Samuel Woodhouse, commanding. National Archives Manuscript Division Room LM101.

Footner, Goeffrey M. Tidewater Triumph - The Development and Worldwide Success of the Chesapeake Bay Pilot Schooner. Centerville, MD: Tidewater Publishers, 1998.

Henley, Robert. Logbooks of USS Hornet, July 1821 - November 1822. 28 April 1822.

Read, George C. "Log of USS Hornet, November 1820 to August 1821." National Archives Main Branch, Washington DC..


1 comment:

Connie Beck said...

I would like to find ut if there was an Alexander Butman on board the Hornet in the years between l818 and 1830. Some record said his surname was Batman, but I am looking for Alexander Butman, as I can't find him in a census. He was from Otsego, NY, in 1825 when his son was born. How could I find this out?