HMS Macedonian versus USS United States By Thomas Birch
|Ordered:||28 September 1808|
|Laid down:||May 1809|
|Launched:||2 June 1810|
|Out of service:||25 October 1812|
|Acquired:||25 October 1812|
|Fate:||Broken up, 1834|
|Class and type:||Lively-class frigate|
|Tons burthen:||1082 bm|
|Length:||156 ft (48 m)|
|Beam:||38 ft 9 in (11.81 m)|
|Draft:||18 ft 4 in (5.59 m)|
|Complement:||306 officers and enlisted|
HMS Macedonian was a 38-gun fifth rate Lively-class frigate in the Royal Navy, later captured by USS United States during the War of 1812. She was built at Woolwich Dockyard, England in 1809, launched 2 June 1810 and commissioned the same month. She was commanded by Captain Lord William FitzRoy. Among the original crew was the 13-year-old Samuel Leech, who later wrote a memoir of his experiences.
As HMS Macedonian
Macedonian first delivered a company of soldiers to Lisbon, Portugal, then remained in the area, guarding against the possibility of French naval attack. During this period, FitzRoy made personal profit by falsification of records of ships' stores, for which he was court-martialled in March 1811 and dismissed from the service (he was quietly reinstated in August, presumably due to his aristocratic rank).
FitzRoy's replacement, William Waldegrave, was an interim appointment whose command lasted for only a few weeks before he was himself replaced by John Surnam Carden. One of Carden's first actions was to hire a band, a move popular with the crew, but he did not get along with the first lieutenant David Hope.
In January 1812, Macedonian was ordered to secretly deliver some bills of exchange to Norfolk, Virginia and to bring back an equivalent quantity of gold and silver currency, as part of a scheme to keep the Bank of England solvent. During the visit, Carden socialised with the notables of Norfolk, including Captain Stephen Decatur, but bungled the mission by inadvertently revealing what was planned, and had to return to Lisbon empty handed. Captain Carden dined frequently with Decatur and his wife Susan and jokingly bet a beaver hat on the outcome of a battle of their ships. They had come to consider one another friends.
In September 1812, Macedonian was ordered to accompany an East Indiaman as far as Madeira, then to cruise in search of prizes as long as his supplies permitted. The frigate left Madeira on 22 October 1812, but only a few days later, on the morning of 25 October, encountered USS United States, commanded by his former dinner host Decatur. The United States had just declared war on the United Kingdom, and both captains were eager to achieve personal glory in a fight.
Unfortunately for Macedonian, United States was one of the new 44-gun frigates, and her broadside was 864 pounds of metal, versus Macedonian's 528 pounds. USS United States hove round, turning downwind and making HMS Macedonian chase her. Within a few minutes of closing, fire from United States's 24-pounder cannons brought down all three of Macedonian's masts, and riddled the hull. United States then pulled away temporarily, leaving Carden and Hope time to contemplate their lack of options. Finally, with United States preparing to rake the British vessel again, Carden struck his colors, making Macedonian the second Royal Navy vessel to surrender to the Americans during the war.
As USS Macedonian
Decatur was careful to preserve Macedonian, sending over a detail to help repair it. This took a full two weeks. Decatur then brought the captured ship into Newport, Rhode Island as a prize on 4 December 1812, causing an immediate national sensation. USS Constitution had previously beaten HMS Guerriere, but Guerriere had been too badly damaged to save. Macedonian was a sizable and welcome addition to the then tiny US Navy.
United States took Macedonian into the United States Navy immediately, retaining the name as Macedonian under the command of Captain Jacob Jones.
Early in May after receiving needed repairs Macedonian, along with United States and the sloop Hornet hoped to make their way to sea from the anchorage of Staten Island by way of Sandy Hook but were because of the British Blockade, two ships of the line and three frigates guarding that passage Decatur, determined, took his squadron and crossing New York harbor made his way up the East River by way of Hell Gate, New York, 24 May 1813. While sailing along Long Island Sound on the night of 24 May the flagship United States was struck by lightning, causing damage to the main mast, which came crashing down and causing serious damage to the vessel. Macedonian, being close by, immediately distanced herself from the periled United States. After hasty repairs the fleet continued on their way eastward along the Sound. Because of unfavorable winds and a passage not favorable to heavy vessels, the fleet finally reached Montauk Point, the easternmost point of Long Island. The open sea was now before them but the British had blockading vessels there lying in wait. Outmatched, the fleet had no alternative but to turn back, making their way to the Thames River (Connecticut), where Macedonian and the rest of the fleet remained until the end of the war.
On 20 May 1815 she departed for the Mediterranean to join Commodore Decatur's 10-ship squadron in the Second Barbary War in Algeria, a renewal of naval action against the Barbary powers, to stop harassment of American shipping. On 17 June the frigate assisted in the capture of the Algerian flagship, the frigate Mashuda, by frigates Constellation and Guerriere, the sloops-of-war Epervier and Ontario.
The signing of a treaty with Tunis and Tripoli on 7 August, following that with Algeria in June, won maritime freedom in the Mediterranean. The next three years Macedonian patrolled there and off the East Coast.
From January 1819 to March 1821 the frigate operated off the Pacific coast of South America, giving aid and protection to the commercial ships in the area during the disorders following the Latin colonial revolts, before returning to Boston in June 1821.
During this period she worked as a banking ship, doing business with privateers of every kind. Captain Downes often kept his midshipmen and other trusted aids busy counting specie. Many deposits were made, with many single deposits of over 100,000.
The men complained bitterly about their treatment, writing of how they were forced to eat mealy grain while counting hundreds of thousands of dollars in specie. Many of the men felt that Captain Downes was doing this for the "good of the Captain" and wondered when they would be used for the purpose they joined the Navy for rather than for the Captain's personal enrichment.
She next cruised in the West Indies where she helped suppress piracy, into 1826.
On 11 June 1826 Macedonian departed Norfolk for service on the Pacific station, returning to Hampton Roads, 30 October 1828. She was decommissioned in 1828 and was broken up at the Norfolk Navy Yard. The crew for this final voyage included William Henry Leonard Poe, brother of American writer Edgar Allan Poe.
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