Wednesday, June 11, 2014

John Paul Jones Has Only Three Guns Left

Featuring Alexander Slidell Mackenzie from his book “Life of John Paul Jones”, 1841

Previouslyon “I Have Not Yet Begun to Fight!”

Time: 1779
Place: North Sea off Flambough Head, Yorkshire, Great Britain

Colonel Chamillard, who was stationed on the poop, with a party of twenty marines, had already been driven from his post, with the loss of a number of his men. The Alliance kept studiously aloof, and, hovering about the Pallas and the Countess of Scarborough, until the latter struck, after half an hour's action, Landais endeavored to get information as to the force of the Serapis. He now ran down, under easy sail, to where the Richard and Serapis grappled. At about half-past nine he ranged up on the larboard quarter of the Richard, of course having the Richard between him and the Serapis, though the brightness of the moonlight, the greater height of the Richard, especially about the poop, and the fact of her being painted entirely black, while the Serapis had a yellow streak, could have left no doubt as to her identity; moreover, the Richard displayed three lights at the larboard bow, gangway, and stern, which was an appointed signal of recognition.

Landais now deliberately fired into the Richard's quarter, killing many of her men. Standing on, he ranged past her larboard bow, where he renewed his raking fire, with like fatal effect. To remove the chance of misconception, many voices cried out that the Alliance was firing into the wrong ship; still the raking fire continued from her. Captain Pearson also suffered from this fire, as he states in his report to the Admiralty, but necessarily in a much less degree than the Richard, which lay between them. There is ample evidence of Landais having returned there several times to fire on the Richard, and always on the larboard side, or opposite one to that on which the Richard was grappled with the Serapis.

While the fire of the Serapis was continued without intermission from the whole of her lower-deck battery, the only guns that were still fired from the Richard were two nine-pounders on the quarter-deck, commanded by Mr. Mease, the purser. This officer having received a dangerous wound in the head, Jones took his place, and, having collected a few men, succeeded in shifting over one of the larboard guns; so that three guns were now kept playing on the enemy, and these were all that were fired from the Richard during the remainder of the action. One of these guns was served with double-headed shot and directed at the main-mast, by Jones' command, while the other two were loaded with grape and canister, to clear the enemy's deck.

In this service great aid was rendered by the men stationed in the tops of the Richard, who, having cleared the tops of the Serapis, committed great havoc among the officers and crew upon her upper deck. Thus, the action was carried on with decided advantage to the Serapis' men on the lower decks, from which they might have boarded the Richard with a good prospect of success, as nearly the whole crew of the latter had been driven from below by the fire of the Serapis and had collected on the upper deck. In addition to the destructive fire from the tops of the Richard, great damage was done by the hand-grenades thrown from her tops and yard-arms. The Serapis was set on fire as often as ten or twelve times in various parts, and the conflagration was only with the greatest exertions kept from becoming general.

About a quarter before ten a hand-grenade, thrown by one of the Richard's men from the main-top of the Serapis, struck the combing of the main-hatch, and, glancing inward upon the main deck, set fire to a cartridge of powder. Owing to mismanagement and defective training, the powder-boys on this deck had bought up the cartridges from the magazine faster than they were used, and, instead of waiting for the loaders to receive and charge them, had laid them on the deck, where some of them were broken. The cartridge fired by the grenade now communicated to these, and the explosion spread from the main-mast aft on the starboard side, killing twenty men and disabling every man there stationed at the guns, those who were not killed outright being left stripped of their clothes and scorched frightfully.

At this conjuncture, being about ten o'clock, the gunner and the carpenter of the Richard, who had been slightly wounded, became alarmed at the quantity of water which entered the ship through the shot-holes which she had received between wind and water, and which, by her settling, had got below the surface. The carpenter expressed an apprehension that she would speedily sink, which the gunner, mistaking for an assertion that she was actually sinking, ran aft on the poop to haul down the colors. Finding that the ensign was already down in consequence of the staff having been shot away, the gunner set up the cry, "Quarter! for God's sake, quarter! Our ship is sinking!" which he continued until silenced by Jones, who threw at the recreant a pistol he had just discharged at the enemy, which fractured his skull, and sent him headlong down the hatchway. Captain Pearson, hearing the gunner's cry, asked Jones if he called for quarter, to which, according to his own words, he replied "in the most determined negative."

Continued on June 15, 2014

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