Military Subjects:  War of 1812


The War of 1812 Magazine

Issue 5: December 2006

Letter to the Editor

Regarding “Leading Myths of the War of 1812,” by Donald Hickey, The War of 1812 Magazine, Issue No. 4, September 2006

Commander Tyrone G. Martin, US Navy (Retired) writes …


I read Dr. Hickey's piece with interest, but believe he has either gone astray or been too brief in his remarks.

The American frigates were "heavily armed," to be sure, but they were not armored.  Their hulls were solidly built, mostly of live and white oak, but the only metal sheathing they had was the coppering of their bottoms.  (See Martin, Creating A Legend, Chapel Hill: Tryon Publishing Co., 1997.)  Constitution's sobriquet,"Old Ironsides,' was the result of the strength of her oaken sides, not from any iron plating, per se.

Shortly after the Chesapeake-Leopard affair, the Navy Department instituted a policy of not enlisting sailors who were not native-born or formally naturalized citizens.  (See Martin, A Most Fortunate Ship (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1997), p. 128.)  This was both responded to the cause of that unfortunate event, and also opened up employment for American seamen beached by the Jefferson Embargo.  Thus, foreign-born men amongst the USN crews were the result of captains ignoring the directive.

The Treaty of Ghent's date of implementation actually was later than the 17 February ratification by the US Congress.  It included a provision that it would not become effective until 30 dyas after both parties had ratified it to allow time for the governments to notfiy their farflung naval combatants.  It was this point that made Constitution's conquest of Cyane and Levant on 20 February a legitimate part of the war.

A myth not mentioned by Dr. Hickey in his article, but which I have been trying to knock down for thirty years is the tale that Isaac Hull in Constitution defeated Guerriere in thirty minutes.  Hull never quite said that in either of his brief reports, but some thought it was inferred.  The rabid press of the day, of course, ran with it - as have many authors since.  The battle ran about two hours; it also included two collisions about which little has been said.

Ty Martin



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