HMS Shannon vs USS Chesapeake, War of 1812

HMS Shannon and USS Chesapeake fought one of the most celebrated naval battles of the War of 1812. On 1 June 1813, the two ships met 20 nautical miles (37 km) east of Boston lighthouse, between Cape Ann and Cape Cod. The ships were evenly matched; USS Chesapeake's twenty-eight 18-pounder long guns were an exact match for HMS Shannon’s armaments. Captain James Lawrence, commanding the Chesapeake, positioned his port broadside against Shannon’s starboard battery. The two ships opened fire at a range of about 35 metres, with Shannon striking the Chesapeake on one of its gun ports. Two or three further broadsides swept the Chesapeake’s decks with grape and round shot. Shannon opened fire on the Chesapeake’s main deck, killing many of its crew. When the smoke cleared, Captain Philip Bowes Vere Broke of the Shannon gave the order to board, where they met disorganized resistance.

After a few minutes of fierce fighting, the Americans rallied and counter attacked. Three American sailors attacked Captain Broke, striking him with a sabre and knocking him to the deck. The Shannon’s crew rallied to the defence of their captain, carried him to the forecastle and killed the remaining Americans.

The engagement had lasted just eleven minutes. Shannon suffered 23 killed and 56 wounded. Of the Chesapeake's crew, about 60 had been killed. Captain Lawrence was mortally wounded and before he died reportedly uttered the immortal words "Don't give up the ship!" After the victory, a prize crew was put aboard the Chesapeake and the Shannon escorted her and her crew into Halifax, arriving there with great fanfare on 6 June.

Graves of Shannon's crew are marked in the cemetery of the Royal Naval Dockyard, Halifax, and at St. Paul's Church. Shannon's bell is displayed at the Maritime Command Museum in Halifax.

Author: James Marsh