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War of 1812
Battle of Plattsburgh

By James P. Millard

Captain Daniel Pring letter

Actual transcript of Letter from Capt. Daniel Pring R.N. of His Majesty's 16-gun brig Linnet to Commodore Sir James Yeo, commanding His Majesty's navy in Canada.

 

United States Ship SARATOGA, Plattsburg-Bay
Lake Champlain, Sept 12 1814

Sir,

The painful task of making you acquainted with the the circumstances attending the capture of his Majesty's squadron yesterday, by that of the Americans under Commodore M'Donough, it grieves me to state, becomes my duty to perform, from the ever-to-be-lamented loss of that worthy and gallant officer, Captain Downie, who unfortunately fell early in the action.


In consequence of the earnest solicitation of his Excellency, Sir G. Prevost, for the co-operation of the naval force on this Lake to attack that of the enemy, who were placed for support of their works at Plattsburg, which it was proposed should be stormed by the troops, at the same moment the naval action should commence in the bay; every possible exertion was used to accelerate the armament of the new ship, that the military movements might not be postponed at such an advanced season of the year, longer than was absolutely necessary.


On the 3rd inst. I was directed to proceed in command of the flotilla of gun-boats to protect the left flank of our army advancing towards Plattsburg, and, on the following day, after taking possession and patrolling the Isle La Motte, I caused a battery of three long 18-pdr guns to be constructed for the support of our position abreast of Little Chazey, where the supplies for the army were ordered to be landed.
The fleet came up on the 8th inst , but for the want of stores for the equipment of the guns, could not move foreward until the 11th; at daybreak we weighed, and at seven were in full view of the enemy's fleet; consisting of a ship, brig, schooner, and one sloop, moored in line abreast of their encampment, with a division of five gun-boats on each flank; at forty minutes past seven, after the officers commanding vessels and the flotilla had received their final instructions as to the plan of attack, we made sail in order of battle. Capt. Downie had determined on laying his ship athwart-hawse of the enemy's directing Lieut. M'Ghee (


At eight the enemy's gunboats and smaller vessels commenced a heavy and galling fire on our line; at ten minutes after eight, the CONFIANCE having two anchors shot away from her larboard bow, and the wind baffling was obliged to anchor (though not in the situation proposed), within two cable's length of her adversary; the LINNET and the CHUBB soon after took their alloted stations, something short of that distance, when the crews on both sides cheered and commenced a spirited and close action; a short time, however, deprived me of the valuable services of Lieut. M'Ghee, who, from having his cables, bowsprit and main-boom shot away, drifted within the enemy line and was obliged to surrender.


From the light airs and the smoothness of the water, the fire on both sides proved very destructive from the commencement of the engagement, and with the exception of the brig, that of the enemy seemed united against the CONFIANCE. After two hours severe conflict with our opponents she cut her cable, run down and took shelter between the ship and the schooner, which enabled us to direct our fire against the division of the enemy gun-boats and ship, which had so long annoyed us during our close engagement with the brig without any return on our part; at this time the fire of the enemy ship slackened considerably, having several of her guns dismounted, when she cut her cable, and winded her larboard broadside to bear on the CONFIANCE, who, in vain, eneavoured to effect the same operation; at thirty-three minutes after two, I was much distressed to see that the CONFIANCE had struck her colours.

The whole attention of the enemy force then became directed towards the LINNET, the shattered and disabled state of the masts, sails, rigging and yards, precluded the most distant hope of being able to effect an escape by cutting the cable; the result of doing so must, in a few minutes, have been her drifting alongside the enemy's vessels, close under our lee; but in the hope that the flotilla of gun-boats, who had abandoned the object assigned them, would perceive our wants and and come to our assistance, which would afford a reasonable prospect of being towed clear, I determined to resist the then destructive cannonading of the whole of the enemy's fleet, and at the same time, despatched Lieut. H. Drew to ascertain the state of the CONFIANCE. At forty-five minutes after ten I was appraised of the irreperable loss she had sustained by the death of her brave commander ( whose merits it would be presumption in me to extol), as well as the great slaughter which had taken place on board, and observing from the manoeuvers of the flotilla, that I could enjoy no further expection of relief, the situation of my noble comrades who had so nobly fought, and even now fast falling by my side, demanded the surrender of his Majesty's brig entrusted to my command to prevent a useless waste of valuable lives, and at the request of the surviving officers and men, I gave the painful orders for the colours to be struck.


Liet. Hicks of the FINCH, had the mortification to strike on a reef of rocks, to the eastward of Crab Island, about the middle of the engagement, which prevented him rendering that assistance to the squadron, that might, from an officer of such ability, have been expected.


...when it is taken into consideration that 16 days before the CONFIANCE was on the stocks, with an unorganized crew, composed of several drafts of men who had recently arrived from different ships at Quebec, many of whom only joined the day before and were totally unknown either to the officers or to each other, with the want of gun-locks as well as other necessary appointments not to be procured in this country, I trust you will feel satisfied of the decided advantage that the enemy possessed, exclusive of their great superiority in point of force...


The fine style in which Capt. Downie conducted the squadron into action amidst a tremendous fire, without returning a shot until secured, reflects the greatest credit to his memory as also on Lieuts. M'Ghee and Hicks, for so strongly attending to his example and instructions. I cannot help noticing the individual conduct of Lieut. Robertson, who succeeded to the command of the CONFIANCE, and Lieuts. Cresswick and Hornby, and Mr Pryden, the master, for their particular exertion in attempting to bring the CONFIANCE's starboard side to bear on the enemy after most of their guns were dismounted on the other br. My first lieutenant, Mr William Drew behaved in a most exemplary manner. By the death of Mr Paul, acting second lieutenant, the service has been deprived of a valuable and brave officer. Great credit is due to Mr Giles, the purser, and Mr Mitchell, the surgeon.


Mr Jackson, the boatswain was killed a few moments before the action terminated. I recommend to your notice Mr Muckle, the gunner, Mr Clarke, master's mate, Messrs. Towke and Sinclair, midshipmen, the latter of whom was wounded in the head, as well as the whole of my gallant little crew.


I have much satisfaction in making you acquainted with the humane treatment the wounded have received from Commodore M'Donough. They were immediately removed to his own hospital on Crab Island, and were furnished with every requisite.


I have the honour to be,

DAN. PRING

Captain, late of H.M. Sloop


A Statement of the Enemy's Squadron engaged with his Majesty's late Squadron on Lake Champlain,

11 September 1814


Ship SARATOGA, of 8 long 24-pounders, 12 32-pounder carronades, 6 42-pounder carronades.
Brig EAGLE, of 8 long 18-pounders, 12 32-pounder carronades.
Schooner TICONDERAGO, of 4 long 18-pounders, 10 12-pounders, 3 32-pounder carronades.
Cutter PREBLE, of 7 long 9-pounders.
Six gun boats of 1 long 24-pounder, 1 18-pounder carronade each.
Four gun boats of 1 long 12-pounder each.
Impossible to ascertain the number of men.

A Return of the Killed and Wounded on board his Majesty's late Squadron.


CONFIANCE - 3 officers, 38 seamen and marines killed, 1 officer, 39 seamen and marines wounded.
LINNET - 2 officers, 8 seamen killed, 1 officer, 13 seamen and marines wounded.
CHUBB - 6 seamen and marines killed, 1 officer, 15 seamen and marines wounded
FINCH - 2 seamen and marines wounded. -- TOTAL - 129
From the CONFIANCE's crew having been landed after the action, no opportunity has offered a muster.

Names of the Officers Killed And Wounded.
Killed - CONFIANCE - G. Downie, captain; A. Anderson, capt. RM; W. Gunn, midshipman.
LINNET - W. Paul, act. lieut.; C. Jackson, boatswain.
Wounded - CONFIANCE - Lee, midshipman
LINNET - J. Sinclair, midshipman.
CHUBB - J. M'Ghee, lieut.

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