Battle of Stonington
DESCRIPTION: "Four/Three/A gallant ship(s) from England came, Freighted deep with fire and flame... To have a dash at Stonington." The Ramilles opens the attack on the town. The Americans have few guns but fight hard and drive off the British ships
EARLIEST DATE: 1889 (Old Folks' Concert Tunes)
KEYWORDS: battle ship navy patriotic
1814 - The attack on Stonington, CT
FOUND IN: US
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Cohen-AFS1, pp. 84-86, "The Battle of Stonington" (1 text plus a broadside print)
NOTES [402 words]: Although the song makes a great deal of this attack, it seems in fact to have been a pretty minor affair. I checked four histories of the War of 1812; only two of them mention it at all, and neither description is long.
John K. Mahon, The War of 1812, 1972 (I used the undated Da Capo paperback edition), p. 254, says that by the time of the battle, the British were becoming upset with "barbarous" American tactics, such as the use of "torpedoes" (mines). Orders were given for reprisals. Few British field commanders indulged in such behavior. There was one exception:
"Rear Admiral Henry Hotham, however, took it as authority to punish Stonington, Connecticut for harboring torpedoes. Four British warships began to bombard Stonington on 9 August 1814. They ceased at the end of the day, but resumed it on 11 August. The fort stoutly replied, and the local militia swarmed 3,000 strong to repel the expected landing. The vessels drew off when night came and did not return" (Mahon, p. 254).
On the British side, there seems to have been little determination to pursue the battle. David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler, editors, Encyclopedia of the War of 1812, 1997 (I use the 2004 Naval Institute Press edition), pp. 492-493, have this to say about the battle:
"For four days, beginning 9 August 1814, a large, heavily armed British naval squadron under the command of Commodore Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy [commander of Nelson's VIctory at Trafalgar] bombarded the tiny seaport of Stonington, Connecticut." The ships involved were the 74-gun Ramilles, the 38-gun Pactolus, and the 18-gun Dispatch and Nimrod. To fight this armada, which supposedly fired 50 tons of metal into the town, the Americans had two 18-pound guns and one 6-pounder.
The Heidlers report that Hardy was clearly trying to avoid inflicting casualties; he gave the citizens warning and time to get out. This limited the damage he could do to the town -- only four of the hundred or so houses were destroyed, with thirty to forty more damaged. Only six Americans were injured and none killed. British casualties are uncertain, with reports varying from two to 21.
It was much like Fort McHenry: Fundamentally, a draw. But the Americans made a lot of propaganda out of it. On the other hand, one of the British goals was to keep the Americans from sending militia to attack Canada -- and in that they largely succeeded. - RBW
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