Capture of HMS Cyane and HMS Levant

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Capture of HMS Cyane and HMS Levant
Part of the War of 1812
Capture of H.M. Ships Cyane & Levant, by the U.S. Frigate Constitution.jpg
USS Constitution captures HMS Cyane and HMS Levant
DateFebruary 20, 1815
Result American victory
United States United States United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland United Kingdom
Commanders and leaders
Charles Stewart
Archibald Henderson[1]
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Gordon Falcon (POW)
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland George Douglas (POW)
1 frigate
450 crew[2]
2 sixth-rates
175 men on Cyane[3]
135 men on Levant[4]
310 in total[5]
Casualties and losses
6 killed
9 wounded
19 killed
42 wounded
249 prisoners[6][2]
2 ships captured (1 recaptured)

The capture of HMS Cyane and HMS Levant was an action which took place at the end of the Anglo-US portion of the War of 1812. The two British warships HMS Cyane and HMS Levant fought USS Constitution on 20 February 1815, about 100 miles east of Madeira. Following exchanges of broadsides and musket fire, both Cyane and Levant surrendered. The war had actually finished a few days before the action with the ratification of the Treaty of Ghent by both sides, but the combatants were not aware of this.

Constitution and the two prizes anchored in Porto Praya in the Cape Verde islands. Levant failed to escape when a British squadron appeared, and was recaptured.


The US frigate Constitution, commanded by Captain Charles Stewart, had broken out of Boston late in 1814 in a westerly gale which blew the British blockading squadron under Captain Sir George Collier off station. Stewart then embarked on a commerce-raiding cruise which took Constitution to Bermuda, Madeira, the coast of Portugal and finally back towards Madeira.[7]

At 1:00 pm on 20 February 1815, two ships were sighted to the south, and Stewart set all sail in chase, in an easterly wind. The two ships were the sixth-rate Banterer-class post ship HMS Cyane (sometimes referred to as a "corvette"),[8] commanded by Captain Gordon Thomas Falcon, and the Cyrus class ship-sloop (also a sixth-rate) HMS Levant, commanded by Captain the Honourable George Douglass.[7] Cyane was armed with 22 32-pounder carronades, 10 18-pounder carronades, and two 12-pounder long guns, the slightly lighter Levant had 18 32-pounder carronades, 2 6-pounder long guns, and a shifting 12-pounder. The crews of the two British vessels totaled 310.[9]

Constitution carried a main battery of 30 24-pounder long guns, and 20 or 22 32-pounder carronades and two long bow-chasers[10] Having earlier detached 20 men to a prize, she had a crew of 410 officers and seamen and 41 Marines.[11]

Comparison of force (English measurement methods used for the three ships)[12]

HMS Levant HMS Cyane USS Constitution
Length (gundeck) 116 ft 0 in (35.36 m) 118 ft 2 in (36.02 m) 175 ft 0 in (53.34 m)
Beam 29 ft 10 in (9.09 m) 32 ft 1 in (9.78 m) 43 ft 6 in (13.26 m)
Tonnage 464 tons (bm) 540 tons (bm) 1576 tons (bm)
Complement 135 men 175 men 450 men
Armament 20 × 32-pounder carronades
2 × 9-pounder chase guns
1 × 12-pounder boat gun
22 × 32-pounder carronades
10 × 18-pounder carronades
2 × 12-pounder chase guns
30 × 24-pounder long guns,
22 × 32-pounder carronades,
2 × 24-pounder chase guns
Broadside weight 320 lb (150 kg) 442 lb (200 kg) 716 lb (325 kg)


The two British ships were at first widely separated. Cyane increased sail to close on the Levant and by 5:30 pm, the two British ships were within hail of each other. The two captains resolved to fight rather than split up and try to escape.[8] They at first tried to delay battle until after nightfall, but Constitution was approaching too rapidly and they formed on the starboard tack in line ahead, with Levant a cable's length[nb 1] ahead of Cyane. The combined broadsides of the two British ships were slightly heavier than Constitution's, but were fired almost exclusively from short-range carronades, and at the range at which the action commenced, 250 yards (230 m), the effect of Constitution's main deck battery of 24-pounder long guns was decisive against the lighter structure and short range armament of the British vessels.[2]

At 6:10 pm, the action began, with Constitution to windward, Levant on her port bow and Cyane on her port quarter. After broadsides had been exchanged for quarter of an hour, the cloud of smoke from the firing which gathered under Constitution's lee hid the British ships from view. Stewart ordered his crew to cease fire, and the smoke cleared in time to allow the US crewmen to see Cyane attempting to cross their stern and rake Constitution. Stewart ordered the sails to be thrown aback, and Constitution instead raked Cyane. As Levant tried to cross Constitution's bows, Stewart ordered the sails to be filled again, and raked Levant from astern.[13] As Levant drifted downwind with battered rigging, Constitution turned again to engage Cyane. At 6:50, Cyane struck her colours.

Lieutenant Hoffman, the second lieutenant of Constitution, took command of Cyane. At 8:00 pm, Stewart set off to pursue Levant, and at 8:50 discovered the British vessel beating back upwind to re-enter the fight, unaware that Cyane had surrendered. The two vessels exchanged broadsides on opposite tacks. Captain Douglass then attempted to escape upwind but at 9:30, Levant was overtaken and also forced to surrender.[2]

Although it was acknowledged that the crews of both British ships had fought determinedly and skilfully, Stewart's ship-handling had been faultless.[2]


The US side lost 6 men killed and 9 wounded. Aboard Cyane, 12 men were killed and 26 wounded, some of whom later died of their injuries. Aboard Levant, 7 men were killed and 16 wounded.[2]

It was stated by the British officers, at the court-martial, that the crews of Cyane and Levant were for three weeks kept constantly in the Constitution's hold, with both hands and legs in irons, and allowed but three pints of water during twenty-four hours. It was further proved that, after the expiration of three weeks, upon the application of Captain Douglas, one third of the men were allowed to be on deck, four hours out of twenty-four, but had not the means of walking, being still in leg irons; that on mustering the crews when they landed at Maranham, five of the Levant's boys were missing; that, upon application and search for them, two were found locked up in the US captain of marine's cabin.[6]

Recapture of Levant[edit]

Constitution and the two prizes made for Porto Praya in the Cape Verde islands, which were neutral Portuguese territory. They reached there on 10 March. While repairs were being made to all three ships and Stewart was preparing to send off the prisoners in a neutral cartel, a large ship was sighted making for the anchorage. Stewart was preparing to engage when two more heavy ships were sighted, clearly too powerful a force for Constitution to face. Stewart believed that the Portuguese would be unable to enforce their neutrality and his three ships hastily left the harbour.[14]

The approaching ships were Collier's squadron, which had recrossed the Atlantic once Collier had discovered that Constitution had escaped from Boston. They were Collier's own ship HMS Leander (50 guns), HMS Newcastle (50 guns), and HMS Acasta (40 guns).[15] Leander and Newcastle had been constructed in 1813 with 24-pounder main deck broadsides specifically to match the large US frigates.

As the British pursued, Constitution was forced to cut away the boats which the frigate had been towing. Cyane dropped back and Stewart ordered her to tack. She did so, and escaped, being ignored by Collier's frigates. Levant, commanded by Lieutenant Ballard, first lieutenant of Constitution, also fell back, and turned back for Porto Praya. All three British frigates pursued her into the harbour and opened fire, while the British prisoners from Cyane and Levant seized a Portuguese shore battery and also opened fire on Levant. Although the cannonade was ineffectual, the odds were overwhelming and Ballard surrendered.[15]

After calling at a Brazilian port, where Stewart released his remaining prisoners, Constitution reached Porto Rico where Stewart learned that the war had ended some days before he had fought. Cyane reached New York without incident.[14] The Portuguese later paid compensation to the United States for their failure to enforce their neutrality which allowed the recapture of Levant. Sir George Collier was accused of cowardice or incompetence for his failure to engage Constitution at Porto Praya, and took his own life in 1824.


  1. ^ A nautical unit of length equivalent to 720 feet (220 m) in the U.S. Navy and 608 feet (185 m) in the Royal Navy [1]. As the source is American (Roosevelt, p.231), the former measurement is probably closer.
  1. ^ USS Constitution Museum, crew and rank
  2. ^ a b c d e f Roosevelt, p.232
  3. ^ Andrew Lambert, The Challenge: Britain Against America in the Naval War of 1812, Faber and Faber (2012)[page needed]
  4. ^ Andrew Lambert, The Challenge: Britain Against America in the Naval War of 1812, Faber and Faber (2012)[page needed]
  5. ^ Andrew Lambert, The Challenge: Britain Against America in the Naval War of 1812, Faber and Faber (2012)[page needed]
  6. ^ a b James's Naval Occurrences, p. 465.
  7. ^ a b Roosevelt, p.230
  8. ^ a b Forester, p.203
  9. ^ Andrew Lambert, The Challenge: Britain Against America in the Naval War of 1812, Faber and Faber (2012)[page needed]
  10. ^ Roosevelt, p.30
  11. ^ Roosevelt, p.232 (fn)
  12. ^ Andrew Lambert, The Challenge: Britain Against America in the Naval War of 1812, Faber and Faber (2012)[page needed]
  13. ^ Roosevelt, p.231
  14. ^ a b Forester, p.205
  15. ^ a b Roosevelt, p.206


External links[edit]