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He declared the device of hanging chains along the sides of the Kearsarge to have been “a cheat."
He declares that his shot and shell rebounded from this coat of mail, or were broken into fragments and fell into the sea: that his defeat was due to the dishonorable deception of the Union Commander in wearing chain armor, and to his own defective ammunition by deterioration by age.
It may be well to remark that the chains were hung over the midship section of the Kearsarge not for use in this fight, nor were they specially forged for armor. They were common iron anchor chains, taken from the hold a year previous to the action for the double purpose of making room for other stores, and to lessen the force of small shot, which, on occasion, might be fired by a blockade runner. The device was not new. It had previously been employed in Southern waters by both the Union and the Confederate forces.
The bulging chain armor was to be easily seen at a considerable distance, and was observed at all the ports visited by the Kearsarge for more than a year previously.
That so alert a seaman as Semmes was should not have detected it when the Kearsarge entered Cherbourg harbor, seems incredible. As a trained naval officer, he certainly knew that it was not the duty of a combatant to instruct his adversary in the art of war. In short, were not the misrepresentations of Semmes so widespread and accepted as authoritative, by friends as well as foes, they would be considered too trivial to refute. The chain armor did not in any way contribute to the result of the battle. They were struck but three times, each time by a 32-pound projectile, and each cut through the chain as though they were pipe-stems. Every shot or shell that rebounded from this coat of mail or broke into fragments and fell into the sea, could have been seen by Mr. Semmes only within the radius of his mind's eye.
There was much serious discussion about the escape of Mr. Semmes. The Secretary of the Navy required Captain Winslow to explain why he “permitted the Deerhound to carry off under his guns the pirate captain, his first lieutenant, and a portion of his crew." Captain Winslow replied that he had trusted to the honor of a gentleman of an English yacht club.
Mr. Lancaster held that he was not bound to deliver the rescued men to Winslow by any rule or usage of civilized warfare.
Semmes asserts the right of prisoners to escape if not restrained.
Our able Secretary of State, Mr. Seward, in discussing the question with Earl Russell, says: “It was the right of the Kearsarge that the pirates should drown, unless saved by humane efforts of the officers and crew of that vessel, or by their own efforts, without the aid of the Deerhound. I freely admit it is no part of a neutral's duty to assist in making captures for a belligerent, but I maintain it to be equally clear that so far from being neutrality it is direct hostility for a stranger to intervene and rescue men who had been cast into the ocean in battle and to convey them away from the enemy's guns."
Clearly, Mr. Lancaster violated his Queen's proclamation of neutrality, and had Winslow forcibly taken the Alabama's men from the Deerhound, it is difficult to conceive how Mr. Lancaster could have successfully sustained an appeal to her Majesty's government, whose neutrality he had violated.
At this point we might appropriately close our narrative with the single word Alabama, signifying, “Here we rest."
How significant a word for this scourge of American commerce as she sank, in forty fathoms of water, and into her grave at the bottom of the English Channel, so near the cradle of her origin!
How appropriate too that the Deerhound, built at the same time and in the same shipyard as the Alabama, should officiate as chief mourner at her funeral !
Were we to seek for authoritative opinions of this battle, we may find them among both friends and foes.
The executive of the Alabama writes: “The 11-inch shells of the Kearsarge did fearful work, and her guns were served beautifully, being aimed with precision and deliberate in fire. She came into action magnificently. Having the speed of us, she took her position, and fought gallantly. But she tarnished her glory when she fired upon a fallen foe."
The London Times wrote: “Is there not something ominous in such an encounter within our own seas? Such a contest, so brief, so hard fought, and so decisive, is even more terrible than the hand-to-hand tussle and the mere game of fisticuffs that our fleets used to indulge in with a thousand popguns on either side."
The Liverpool Courier said: “Down under the French waters, resting on the bed of the ocean, lies the gallant Alabama, with all her guns aboard, and some of her brave crew waiting until the sea yields up the dead. She has cost the Federals a thousand times more than her price. She has been worth an army of 100,000 men to the Confederates. She was the allegory of the Confederacy itself. Down with her, hissed to the bottom her captain's sword. The Kearsarge, whose glory it was to have slain this dragon which devastated the American mercantile marine, was built not for speed, but for war."
Among our friends, we confidently turn to our great Admiral Farragut, who wrote to his son:
“The victory of the Kearsarge has raised me up. I would sooner have fought that fight than any ever fought on the ocean! Only think of it. It was fought like a tournament in full view of thousands of French and English, with perfect confidence on the part of all, but the Union people, that we would be whipped!”
The career of the Kearsarge illustrates the nature of the service rendered our country by the navy during the most perilous crisis in our history.
The effect of her victory in the English Channel demonstrates the advantages to be secured by an efficient navy in all emergencies of great public peril. And this truth is emphasized by the triumphs at Manila and at Santiago, at a time when the European press, loudly, and almost unanimously protested against our navy operating in the very waters where the Kearsarge cruised for nearly three years and where her victory was won.
While we follow, with just and exalted pride, the footsteps of our soldiers from the Aroostook to the Golden Gate, from Porto Rico to the Philippines, erecting monuments over their graves, and crowning the brow of the living with garlands of imperishable fame, let us consecrate a single niche in the cathedral of our memories to the patriotic American sailor, who braves the shafts of disease in every clime, who falls in battle far from his native land, whose shroud is the Stars and Stripes, whose requiem is the everlasting anthem of the waves, and whose only monument is the unsullied flag of his country for which he fights and dies.
JOSEPH ADAMS SMITH, U. S. N.
THE BATTLE OF HARLEM HEIGHTS AGAIN
THE article of Dr. Thomas Addis Emmet concerning the site of the
battle of Harlem Heights (Sept. 16, 1776), which appeared in
the September number of the MAGAZINE, cannot mislead any careful historical student who will take the pains to examine the contemporary authorities on the subject. But lest some of the readers of the article who have not the time or material for a critical examination may be unsettled in their notions concerning the site by Dr. Emmet's article, it seems wise, in the interest of authentic history, that some cognizance be taken of his statements.
Dr. Emmet contends that the battle did not take place on what are now called Morningside Heights, but occurred in the vicinity of Trinity Cemetery at 155th Street, about two miles further north. His statements are so confused, his recollection of topography with which he was once familiar is so evidently at fault, and his conception of the operations of September 16 is so much at variance with recorded facts, that it is difficult to analyze his article and discover the basis of his argument.
Before proceeding to examine his statements it may be well to recall just what the battle of Harlem Heights was.
Harlem Plains is a plateau bounded approximately on the east by Harlem river, on the south by the line of East 106th and West 110th streets, on the west by Morningside avenue, and on the north by 13th street. On the south are the heights of Central Park; on the west Morningside Heights; and on the north, Breakneck Hill and other high ground. All these Heights bordering on Harlem Plains were known under the general term of the “ Heights of Harlem," an expression which was applied as far northward at least as Washington's Headquarters in 16th street. Different portions of the Heights also had local designations, as for instance, “ Vandewater Heights,” now called Morningside Heights.
Harlem Plains are connected with the Hudson River by a valley which runs in a northwesterly direction between Morningside Heights and the hills to the northward, along the line of Manhattan street, that is to say, from about Ninth Avenue and 125th Street to the Hudson River at 130th Street.
On the morning of September 16, 1776, the advance posts of the British extended across the heights on the south side of Harlem Plains from McGown's Pass, in the northeast corner of Central Park, to the Hudson River at about 105th Street. The advance posts of the Americans were on the heights on the north side of the Manhattan street Hollow Way.
About dawn on the 16th, Knowlton's Rangers moved out from the American lines, on a reconnoitering expedition, crossed the low intervening ground, and encountered the British pickets on the high land near 105th Street and the Hudson River. The Americans were driven back to their own lines, the British coming to the northernmost part of Morningside Heights, now called Claremont, confronting the Americans across the Hollow Way.
With a view to capturing the British, Washington put into operation a little stratagem which resulted in the second action of the day. He sent a small body of Americans down into the Hollow Way to act as a decoy to draw the British down the slope, at the same time sending out two detachments to circumvent the enemy and cut off their retreat. The British ran down the hill as expected, but the circumventing parties of Americans, clambering up the heights out of sight, by an unfortunate mistake closed in too soon and struck the British on the flanks instead of in the rear, with the result that the British retreat was not cut off. The British therefore regained the Heights, where the most desperate part of the fighting took place in a buckwheat field, and were finally driven back to their lines; whereupon the Americans returned to their own camp.
That, in brief, was the battle of Harlem Heights, as substantiated by innumerable contemporary authorities. Now what is Dr. Emmet's idea of the battle? He says: “There exists no question that the battle of Harlem was fought either to the north or the south of the western portion of Harlem Flats; that the Americans occupied certain heights; and that the assault of the English was made by one body (and that the larger portion) from the plain below along these heights; at the same time a smaller body gained the top of these heights by ascending a ravine from the Hudson River bank at some distance from the main line of attack. The whole question then relates to the locality of Harlem Heights.”
As near as we can gather from the foregoing statement, and from