Monday, July 4, 2011

History: Battle of Valparaiso

In the War of 1812 Captain David Porter, commanding USS Essex in the South Pacific, was engaged in the pursuit of British whalers. His success was so great that he essential shut down His Majesty’s whaling fleet, costing Britain millions in lost revenue. Captain James Hillyar, in command of HMS Phoebe, was dispatched to take, sink or burn Essex. The two ships, along with their tenders, met and engaged in Valparaiso Harbor off Chile in the spring of 1814.

Hillyar, who was an acquaintance of Porter’s, employed the brutal tactic of standing out of Essex’s range, trapping her against the shore and bombarding her with his long guns until she was literally a floating abattoir. Porter was forced to strike after losing most of his crew, including all officers but his third lieutenant, Stephen Decatur McKnight and one midshipman – Porter’s adoptive son – David Farragut. The ungentlemanly behavior of the British captain would be spoken of for years and his career after the war was certainly hindered by the infamous affair. Porter himself would write to the Secretary of the Navy, William Jones, after his parole, castigating his former friend without reserve:

I now consider my situation less unpleasant that that of Captain Hillyar who, in violation of every principle of honor and generosity, and regardless of the rights of nations, has attacked Essex in her crippled state within a pistol shot of neutral shore, when for the last six weeks I have daily offered him fair and honorable combat on terms greatly to his advantage, the blood of the slain must be on his head, and he has yet to reconcile his conduct to heaven, to his conscience, and to the world.

Porter and the surviving members of his crew were back in the United States in time to witness the end of the war with the Battle of New Orleans.

Happy Independence Day to the U.S. Brethren, and a hearty cheer for one of our finest, Commodore David Porter.

Header: Contemporary engraving of the Battle of Valparaiso


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Happy Independence Day to all and Huzzah! for Commodore Porter!

Pauline said...

He was certainly outspoken and fearless. One of my favorite seamen!