Battle of Fayal
|Battle of Fayal|
|Part of the War of 1812|
The General Armstrong fighting the British off Fayal.
|United States||United Kingdom|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Samuel Chester Reid|| Robert Loyd
William Matterface †
3 artillery pieces
1 shore battery
|1 ship of the line
12 armed boats
Royal Navy sailors
Royal Marine infantry
|Casualties and losses|
1 brig scuttled to prevent capture
2 armed boats sunk
2 armed boats captured
1 brig-sloop damaged
The Battle of Fayal was an engagement fought in September 1814 during the war between the United States and the United Kingdom at the Portuguese colony of Fayal in the Azores. Three British warships and several boats filled with sailors and marines under assignment for the Louisiana Campaign attacked an American privateer in port. After repulsing two attacks from British troops and sailors, killing one of their commanders, the Americans won a tactical victory but scuttled their ship the following morning to prevent it from being captured.
The Royal Navy ship HMS Plantagenet of seventy-four guns, commanded by Captain Robert Loyd, was sailing to the West Indies with the thirty-eight gun frigate HMS Rota and the eighteen gun brig-sloop HMS Carnation for the Louisiana Campaign. On the night of September 26, the three were in company and cruising in Fayal Roads when they spotted the Baltimore Clipper General Armstrong, a brig of seven guns with a complement of about ninety men. She was commanded by Captain Samuel Chester Reid who was not prepared to surrender his ship. Captain Loyd ordered that a pinnace under Lieutenant Robert Faussett be sent from the Plantagenet to ascertain the nationality of the stranger in port. When the British came within gun range of the American vessel and requested that its crew identify themselves, Captain Reid declared that he would fire if the British came any closer.
According to British reports, Lieutenant Faussett was unable to stop his boat in the rough tide water and it drifted too close to the General Armstrong. The Americans then opened fire with their long 9-pounders and scored hits on the pinnace. Two men were killed and seven others wounded before it was able to retire out of range. Carnation then immediately moved in and anchored in front of the American schooner to begin negotiations for a solution to the problem. When discussions failed and now that the General Armstrong had fired the first shot in a neutral port, Carnation cut her cable and lowered four boats filled with heavily armed men and headed towards Captain Reid as he maneuvered his ship closer to shore. The first attack came at about 8:00 pm and when the American observed the incoming boats they maneuvered again to receive them. In the following skirmish, Carnation was kept out of range by enemy fire and the boats were repulsed with a loss estimated by Reid to be twenty dead and twenty wounded. One American was killed and another wounded.
At about 9:00 pm, twelve boats armed with carronades and filled with 180 marines and sailors from the Plantagenet and the Rota were towed into battle by the Carnation, which stopped out of gun range. There the boats divided into three divisions for another attack. Lieutenant William Matterface commanded the boats and Carnation was directed to provide covering fire. Loyd anchored the Rota and the Plantagenet a few miles away and they did not participate in the engagement. Just after 9:00 pm the British headed forward, the boats advanced but accurate American fire and the current kept the Carnation from closing the range and she was damaged. It took Lieutenant Matterface until about 12:00 am for his boats to reach the General Armstrong, largely due to the current but partly because of where Loyd had stopped his ships. While the Americans were waiting they offloaded three of their cannon and erected a battery so when the British arrived, a boarding was attempted but the American gunners sank two of the British boats before they could get close, captured two more and killed many of the boarders with swords and musketry at point blank range. Lieutenant Matterface and several other officers were killed and no one of sufficient rank survived to lead the remaining Britons.
Altogether thirty-six sailors of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines were killed in action, another ninety-three were wounded. The main action lasted over a half hour and only two Americans were killed and seven wounded in total, including Reid who was hit with a musket ball. Reid's men fired nails, knife blades, brass buttons and other makeshift projectiles from their cannon which reportedly caused severe pain to the surviving British. After being repulsed the British slowly rowed back to their ships and it was 2:00 am on September 27 when they found them. Captain Loyd's response to the defeat was to send the Carnation back to destroy the General Armstrong after daylight but when she arrived, American fire caused further damage so Carnation broke off the attack. A little later the Carnation appeared again but Captain Reid had already chosen to scuttle his brig by firing one of his swivel guns straight through the hull. The vessel was boarded while it was sinking and the British set the sails on fire.
Reid and his crew escaped to the shore. The British wanted to land a detachment to search for the Americans but the Portuguese governor prevented them from doing this. Captain Reid and the crew of General Armstrong were credited with helping delay the British attack on New Orleans and when they returned to America they were greeted as heroes. However, later analysis showed that this was not the case.
The above historical version, and similar accounts, on the Battle of Fayal are disputed by scholars. An English eye-witness and numerous official reports from the American embassy and Portuguese records claim that the British squadron fully intended to seize the General Armstrong illegally and surreptitiously. Nor would it have made sense for the British to send fully armed launches simply to ascertain the identity of the Armstrong. This could have been easily done by contacting their own consulate or the American consulate, or simply sending a peace delegation to the ship when it was in dock.
- James, pp.223-224
- James, p.223
- Coggeshall, pp.378-379
- James, pg. 224
- James, p. 224
- Coggeshall, pp. 378–379
- James, p.224
- Coggeshall, pp.378-379
- James, p.224
- Coggeshall, pp. 378–379
- James, p. 224
- Exploit at Fayal; Wallace C. Baker; AMerican Heritage Magazine vol 10 issue 4 June 1959 / The Manhattan and de La Salle Monthly edited by John Savage 1875 vol. II July to Dec. pg 149
- Coggeshall, George (1856). History of the American privateers: and letters-of-marque, during our war with England in the years 1812, '13, and '14. Interspersed with several naval battles between American and British ships-of-war. Coggeshall Publishing.
- James, William; Frederick Chamier (1859). The naval history of Great Britain, from the declaration of war by France in 1793, to the accession of George IV. London, England: R. Bently Publishing.
- Roosevelt, Theodore (1882). The Naval War of 1812 Or the History of the United States Navy during the Last War with Great Britain to Which Is Appended an Account of the Battle of New Orleans. New York: Modern Library. ISBN 0-375-75419-9.
- Bettencourt, José; Márcia Dutra Pinto, eds. (1859). The Wonderful Battle of the Brig Gen. Armstrong at Faial, 1814: No Bicentário do combate naval corrido na Baía da Horta a 27 Setembro de 1814. Faial, Portugal: OMA-Observatório do Mar dos Açores. ISBN 978-989-98132-9-8.
- American Privateers in The War Of 1812: Examines the myths and facts behind Captain Samuel Reid's sea battle in the Azores and whether Reid's action actually delayed the British squadron and aided General Jackson's defense of New Orleans.