The Naval history of Great Britain:
from the declaration of war by France in 1793 to the accession of George IV
On the 28th of June, at daylight, latitude 48º36' north, longitude 11º15' west, the British 18-gun brig-sloop Reindeer, (sixteen 24-pound carronades and two sixes, ) Captain William Manners, steering with a light breeze from the north-east, discovered and chased in the west-south-west the United States ship-sloop Wasp, (sister ship to the Peacock,) Master-Commandant Johnston Blakeley.
By one o'clock in the afternoon the two vessels had approximated near enough to ascertain that each was an enemy; and, while one manoeuvred to gain, the other manouvered to keep, the weather-gage. At about two o'clock the Wasp hoisted her colours, and fired a gun-to windward; and immediately the Reindeer, whose colours had been previously hoisted, fired a gun also to windward , as an answer to the challenge.
At fifteen minutes past three the Reindeer, being distant about sixty yards on the Wasp's starboard and weather quarter, opened a fire from her boat-carronade mounted on the top-gallant forecastle. This she repeated four times; when, at twenty-six minutes past three, the Wasp, having put her helm alee, luffed up and commenced the action with the after carronade and others in succession. The Reindeer returned the fire with spirit; and a close and furious engagement ensued.
After the mutual cannonade had lasted about half an hour, the Reindeer, owing to her disabled state, fell with her bow against the larboard quarter of the Wasp. The latter immediately raked her with dreadful effect; and the American riflemen in the tops picked off the British officers and men in every part of the deck.
It was now that Captain Manners shewed himself as a great hero in ancient or modern times. The calves of his legs were shot away early in the action; yet did he keep the deck, encouraging his crew, and animating, by his example, the few officers remaining on board. A shot passed through both his thighs. He fell on his knees, but quickly sprang up; and, though bleeding profusely, resolutely refused to quit the deck. perceiving the dreadful slaughter which the musketry in the enemy's tops was causing, he called to his men, "Follow me, my boys, we must board them." While climbing into the rigging, two balls from the tops penetrated his skull, and came out beneath his chin. Placing one hand on his forehead, the other convulsively brandishing his sword, he exclaimed, " O God!" and dropped lifeless on his own deck!
Having lost besides her captain, nearly the whole of her officers and more than half her men, the Reindeer was wholly unable to oppose the Wasp's overwhelming numbers: accordingly at about four o'clock, the American crew rushed on board, and received possession of their hard-earned trophy from the captain's clerk, the senior officer alive on deck.
In a line with her ports, the Reindeer was literally cut to pieces; her upper works, boats, and spare spars were one complete wreck. Her masts were both badly wounded; particularly her fore-mast, which was left in a tottering state.
Out of her crew of ninety-eight men and twenty boys, the brig had her commander, purser, and twenty-three petty officers, seamen, and marines killed; her first and only lieutenant, (second absent,) one master's mate, one midshipman, her boatswain, (all badly,) and thirty-seven petty officers, seamen, marines wounded; total, twenty-five killed and forty-two wounded, twenty-seven of the number dangerously and severely.
The sails and rigging of the Wasp were a good deal cut. "Six round shot and many grape", Captain Blakeley says, struck her hull.
We should imagine, from the Wasp's acknowledged loss, that a few more had either perforated her thick sides or entered her port-hole.
One 24-pound shot passed through the centre of the fore-mast; and yet it stood: a tolerable proof of its large dimensions.
Out of 173 men and two boys in complement, the Wasp had two midshipman and nine seamen and marines killed and mortally wounded, and fifteen petty officers, seamen, and marines wounded severely and slightly.
Comparative force of combatants
||HMS Reindeer||USS Wasp|
"Here is a disparity of force! and the weaker party was the assailant.
Still the British commander cannot be accused of rashness; because both vessels were "sloops of war".
The force employed by the Wasp, stationed upon a floating body, varying a trifle in construction, would have entitled the Reindeer, to seek her safety in flight. But, had she run from the Wasp, Mr. Madison would have exalted as much, in announcing that a British ship had been chased, as captured, by an American ship "of the same class:" and even Britons would have considered the act as a stigma upon the national character".
The action of the Reindeer and Wasp may be pronounced one of the best fought sloop actions of the war. The British crew had long served together; and Captain Manner was the idol and delight of his men. They were called the pride of Plymouth.
Gallant souls! they wanted but as many more like themselves as would have brought them in number within a fourth of their opponents; and the Americans would have had to rue the day that the Wasp encountered the Reindeer.
On the afternoon of the day succeeding the action the fore-mast of the prize went by the board; and on the evening of the 29th, finding the Reindeer too much shattered to keep the sea, and too old and worthless, had she been otherwise, to be worth carrying into port, captain Blakeley set fire to and destroyed her.
The Wasp then steered for Lorient, to refit and renovate her crew, and on the 8th July anchored in that port.