Tell the men to fire faster! Don’t give up the ship! Captain James Lawrence

Tradition has it that Captain James Lawrence said these heroic words after being mortally wounded in the engagement between his ship, the U.S. frigate Chesapeake, and HMS Shannon on the  1st of  June 1813. As the wounded Lawrence was carried below, he ordered “Tell the men to fire faster! Don’t give up the ship!

Although Chesapeake was forced to surrender, Captain Lawrence’s words lived on as a rallying cry during the war. Oliver Hazard Perry honored his dead friend Lawrence when he had the motto sewn onto the private battle flag flown during the Battle of Lake Erie on the 10th of  September 1813.

The citizens of Alexandria, Virginia, are ridiculed in this scene for their lack of serious resistance against the British seizure of the city in 1814. At left two frightened gentlemen kneel with hands folded, pleading, “Pray Mr. Bull don’t be too hard with us — You know we were always friendly, even in the time of our Embargo!” In the center stands a bull in English seaman’s clothes, holding out a long list of “Terms of Capitulation” to the Alexandrians. He says, “I must have all your Flour — All your Tobacco — All your Provisions — All your Ships — All your Merchandize — every thing except your Porter and Perry — keep them out of my sight, I’ve had enough of them already.” His allusion is to American Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry and Captain David Porter. At right, a soldier and sailor carry off spirits, saying: “Push on Jack, the yankeys are not all so Cowardly as these Fellows here — let’s make the best of our time.” and “Huzza boys!!! More Rum more Tobacco!”…Library of Congress print

Perilous fight : America’s intrepid war with Britain on the high seas, 1812-1815 New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2010 Stephen Budiansky United States History War of 1812 Naval operations Hardcover. 1st. ed. xvi, 422 p., [16] p. of plates : ill. (some col.), maps, ports. ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [391]-402) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG  

“Captain Decatur wounded” Engraving after an artwork by J.O. Davidson, published circa the later 19th Century, depicting the wounding of Captain Stephen Decatur during the action between USS President, under his command, and a British squadron on the 15th of January 1815…U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

In Perilous Fight, Stephen Budiansky tells the rousing story of the underdog coterie of American seamen and their visionary secretary of the navy, who combined bravery and strategic innovation to hold off the legendary Royal Navy.

Engagement between USS Chesapeake and HMS Shannon, 1 June 1813 Colored lithograph by M. Dubourg after a drawing by Heath, published in England circa 1813. It depicts the officers and crew of Shannon, commanded by Captain Broke, boarding and capturing the Chesapeake. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Budiansky vividly demonstrates that far from an indecisive and unnecessary conflict—as historians have long dismissed the War of 1812—this “forgotten war” had profound consequences that would change the course of naval warfare, America’s place in the world, and the rules of international conflict forever. Never again would the great powers challenge the young republic’s sovereignty in the aftermath of the stunning performance of America’s navy and privateersmen in sea battles that ranged across half the globe. Their brilliant hit-and-run tactics against a far mightier foe would pioneer concepts of “asymmetric warfare” that would characterize the insurgency warfare of later centuries.

Print shows the Constitution, in the background, firing on the wreckage of the HMS Guerriere, the last remaining mast is falling, in the aftermath of the battle between the two ships. Includes additional text about the battle and a remarque showing bust portrait of Isaac Hull…Library of Congress print

Above all, the War of 1812 would be the making of the United States Navy. Even as the war began, the nation was bitterly divided over whether it should have a navy at all: Jeffersonian Republicans denounced the idea as a dangerous expansion of government power, while Federalists insisted that America could never protect its burgeoning seagoing commerce or command respect without a strong naval force. After the war, Americans would never again doubt that their might, respect, and very survival depended upon a permanent and professional navy.

Drawing shows the British frigate HMS Java, commanded by Captain Lambert after it lost in the clash with the USS Constitution, commanded by Commodore William Bainbridge, off the coast of Salvador, Brazil…Library of Congress print

Drawing extensively on diaries, letters, and personal accounts from both sides, Budiansky re-creates the riveting encounters at sea in bloody clashes of cannonfire and swordplay; the intimate hopes and fears of vainglorious captains and young seamen in search of adventure; and the behind-the-scenes political intrigue and maneuvering in Washington and London. Throughout, Perilous Fight proves itself a gripping and essential work of American naval history.

Print shows portraits of Oliver H. Perry, Stephen Decatur, Johnston Blakeley, William Bainbridge, David Porter, and James Lawrence surrounding a vignette of the battle of Lake Erie…Library of Congress print


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