Concerning the recent Battle between the USS United States and HMS Macedonian, during the War of 1812.
This is one of the finest War of 1812 letters we have had the pleasure of offering. This autographed letter signed by Commodore Stephen Decatur was written shortly after the Battle in the Atlantic with his U.S.S. United States and H.M.S. Macedonian, under the command of Captain John Carden, Royal Navy.
This two page ALS was written either aboard the USS United States or on shore at New London, Conn. on December 4th, 1812. The letter is written to Decatur’s friend and U.S.Naval Agent John Bullus at New York;
I arrived here [yesterday] this morning. Last night I parted company, owing to the darkness of the night from my prize, the British Frigate Macedonian of 49 guns, the weather is now so thick that notwithstanding she has a pilot on board –she will not be able to come in. I however anticipate the pleasure of seeing her the moment if lightens up. I then as soon as possible I will endeavor to gratify you by a sight of her, she is a beauty, a look at her will be good for sore eyes. It was a long fight but neither doubtful, close, or hard on our side, we had 5 killed & 7 wounded, she 36 killed, 68 wounded. I have given John a copy of my official letter, I told him to shew it to you, pointless not to get hold of it – send me immediately, my good fellow, two good hell gate pilots, newspapers &c. Write me all the news where Rodgers, Smith, the particulars of Jones fight, &c. my compliments to Mrs Bullus in great haste.
History records that on December 4th, 1812; Commodore Stephen Decatur on board the victorious Frigate U.S.S. United States, and his recent prize the His Britannic Majesty’s HMS Macedonian arrived at Newport, Rhode Island. Yet this letter dated December 4, 1812 in the hand of Decatur states to Naval Agent John Bullus, that indeed he and his prize have arrived at New London, Connecticut.
Whether this was for just a brief stay prior to going on to Newport is not yet known, but seems rather odd that Decatur has already sailed past the harbor at Newport, only to return to the east to this later harbor. Did he actually enter New London on the 4th only to up anchor and head for Newport on the same day? History records that Decatur did bring the HMS Macedonian to Newport on the 4th of December.
In his letter to Agent Bullus, he requests the need for two good Hell Gate pilots. Hell Gate is the section of hard navigable waters in the East River at New York. After some needed repair to the prize ship, it was Decatur’s intention to go to New York, and thus the need for experienced pilots to navigate Hell Gate.
Stephen Decatur mentions Rodgers, Smith and Jones in his letter to Bullus. Captain John Rodgers commanding the Frigate President, and commanding the Atlantic Fleet, took his squadron comprising Captain John Smith’s Congress, and Jones’s Wasp. Rodgers had success off the Grand Banks, capturing a prize as did Master Commandant Jacob Jones on Wasp who captured the HMS Frolic, a British Sloop of War, but was soon overtaken by a British 74 gun ship of the line, HMS Poictiers. Jones and his crew were taken prisoner to Bermuda, later paroled in November of 1812. Jones would be awarded command of the HMS Macedonian, awaiting his arrival at Newport.
Historical reference also disagrees with the number of guns aboard the United States and Macedonian. Decatur claims the Macedonian as having 49 guns, when she is rated as a 38-gun frigate. Captain Carden commanding Macedonian records in his report to the Admiralty 52 guns not to include the “Howitzers in her Tops (fighting tops); United States was rated a 44-gun frigate. Commodore Decatur’s assessment of causalities is accurate.
After the battle between United States and Macedonian on October 25th, 1812, Decatur spent two weeks at sea below the Azores making repairs to his prize. Once underway there was a passage of 25 days to New London. The newness of his victory had not waned in just under the month since the battle, as in the letter you can feel him still beaming in pride of the prize ship Macedonian.
Autographed letters by historic figures such as Stephen Decatur detailing battle action during the War of 1812 are extremely rare. Even autographed letters signed by Decatur are highly sought after, as the commodore was such a most successful early American naval officer, having a storied career cut short too early by a duel in March of 1820 with another fellow naval officer that could have been avoided.
The letter was conserved some time ago, possibly 50 years ago or earlier by the look of the book plate mounted within the custom made archival presentation folder. The bookplate for the collector is Frank L. Hadley who must have had a sizable collection, this ALS being numbered “5193.”
As you can see from the photos the letter is in excellent condition, due largely to the conservation done years ago. There is some minor chipping at the edges in a few places.
I have put together some historical data relating to Decatur and the Battle with the Macedonian, including some copied prints and a painting of the Decatur himself and the two belligerents under fighting sail.
Truly a fabulous offering with great historical significance.