Through the Napoleonic campaigns, America remained neutral, and established itself as the world’s leading commercial shipping nation. Due to better wages and conditions, British naval ships could ill afford to visit American harbors or face heavy rates of desertion. British impressment of sailors off American ships at sea was long a sore spot with their former colonies, but when H.M.S LEONARD boarded, fired upon and impressed four sailors off U.S.S CHESAPEAKE 10 miles from Hampton Roads, war became inevitable.
One of the most decisive and bloody ship-to-ship combat of the naval war happened on Dec. 29, 1812 when U.S.S. CONSTITUTION under command of Commodore William Bainbhridge met the H.M.S. JAVA, a brig under the lead of Captain Henry Lambert. The speedier JAVA led the CONSTITUTION out to sea, and turning to meet, they continued to make a series of maneuvers to fire raking broadsides and to avoid receiving the same. While the British seamanship held up, their gunnery did not, and after losing some sails, the Americans closed after a brief respite and JAVA’s colors were struck after more than two hours of battle. Nine Americans died with 25 wounded, the British total of 22 dead and 25 wounded. The JAVA would be so badly damaged that they burned her at sea and took their prisoners to Salvador, Brazil.
Bentham-Dinsdale has captured an early moment in the clash, with the ships challenging each other and the ocean for position and the upper hand, all while the cannons roar. A complete little vignette from the War of 1812.
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