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Peabody Essex Museum - Michel Felice Corne paintings

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  • Member since
    June 2010
  • From: Irvine, CA
Peabody Essex Museum - Michel Felice Corne paintings
Posted by Force9 on Saturday, July 9, 2011 5:13 PM

Hello all...

On my recent trip to Boston I visited the Peabody Essex museum to get a look at the famous Hull model.

In addition, however, I was quite surprised to stumble on the four paintings commissioned by Captain Isaac Hull to commemorate his stunning victory over HMS Guerriere.  I had thought they were in the collection of the US Naval Academy, but the placard indicated that the PEM acquired them in 2008.  They are spectacular works in terrific condition.



"The Engagement"

"In Action"

"Dropping Astern"

"She Fell in the Sea a Perfect Wreck"

Details: Note in particular the dragon on the billet head


More pictures on my Picasa album (soon to be Google Pictures!):


  • Member since
    March 2007
  • From: Carmel, CA
Posted by bondoman on Sunday, July 10, 2011 2:22 AM

Very nice. Ochre colored beeline is a pretty thing.

  • Member since
    June 2010
  • From: Irvine, CA
Posted by Force9 on Sunday, July 10, 2011 9:59 AM

Notice the bow and stern still trimmed in white... This really lends itself to the idea that the ship was painted as the Hull model shows until very shortly before this battle when perhaps the white bands were hurriedly painted over in yellow ochre to make her look more British.

  • Member since
    June 2010
  • From: Irvine, CA
Posted by Force9 on Wednesday, October 19, 2011 11:12 AM


I've had some interesting exchanges with some folks on other forums regarding the accuracy of these paintings.  I'm pasting in some of those threads here to see what thoughts come forth from this group...

 Commander Martin has touched on the development of these paintings in some of his writings and he refers to the letters held in the Thomas Chew family letters collection at the University of Michigan that give us some insight to their development... Apparently Isaac Hull quickly contacted the noted artist and commissioned the series of paintings shortly after his arrival back in Boston.  After he handed the ship over to Bainbridge (at which point the crew practically mutinied) he was temporarily sent southward.  Before leaving, he engaged purser Thomas Chew, who was with him at the battle, to act on his behalf to supervise the paintings and act as his intermediary with Corne.  Bainbridge had brought along his own purser and Chew was now reassigned as the purser for the Boston Navy Yard. (Thos Chew was an interesting and valuable officer in the federal navy - in addition to being purser on board Constitution during the Guerriere fight, he was in that same capacity when USS Chesapeake was overwhelmed by HMS Shannon.  Chew was one of those cradling Lawrence when he gasped out his famous words "Don't Give Up The Ship").  Tyrone Martin cites one of the letters Isaac Hull sent to Chew regarding the details of the painting as evidence that Chew had a different view regarding the relative positions of the ships as depicted in the second scene. Apparently Chew thought Constitution opened the close action from the starboard side of Guerriere, and Hull corrected him saying Constitution was to larboard. The letters also indicate Hull was getting frustrated at how long it was taking to complete the series - Corne didn't deliver them until deep into December.  He apparently wanted them quickly to be copied in lithographs for wider circulation.  Corne made a second set of the paintings as well... I think the Naval Academy has one, and the PEM the other.

There is some skepticism regarding the accuracy of these scenes and the depiction of USS Constitution in particular.  Some surmise that Corne merely copied his earlier 1803 work as a shortcut - the similar scalloped end of the yellow gun stripe across all these paintings is suspicious. I think , however, that is the only similarity.  The ends of the ship are shown trimmed in white on the later works, and the earlier work shows a "pin stripe" detail in line with the spar deck among many differences.  I would say the key difference, however, is the depiction of the trailboard in the final scene.  It clearly shows the griffin/dragon carving.  This was created by the Dodge Bros and added in her New York refit supervised by John Rodgers done some time after the 1803 Corne painting...

The 1803 Corne study (Held in the USS Constitution museum)

We should also take notice of how many details from the official summaries of the battle (log book, Hull's long report to the Secretary of the Navy) are included in the four scenes - even small details such as the royal yards being sent down and the starboard cro'jack yard snapped off.

Here is the Constitution's log entry with the included details highlighted in boldface:

"Commenced with fresh breezes from the Northward, and Westward and Cloudy, at 2 PM, discovered a sail to the Southwards, made all sail in chace, at 3 PM perceived the chace to be a Ship with her Starboard Tacks on board, close hauled by the Wind, at 1/2 past 3 PM closing fast with the Chace, who appeared to be a Frigate, at 1/4 before 5 PM the Frigate lay her Main Topsail to the Mast, took in our Top Gallant Sails, Staysails, flying Jib, hauled the Courses up, took the 2nd Reef in the Topsails, and Sent down the Royal Yards[Scene 1 - “The Engagement”] , and got all B[ ? ], and ready for action and beat to Quarters, at which our Crew gave three Cheers, at 5 PM bore more up bringing the Chace to bear rather off the Starboard Bow, She at that time discovering herself to be an Enemy by hoisting three English Ensigns, at 5 minutes after 5 PM, she discharged her Starboard broadside at us without effect, her shot falling Short of us. She immediately wore around, and discharged her Larboard Broadside two shot of which hulled us and the remainder flying over and through our rigging, we then hoisted our Ensign and a Jack, at the Fore, and Main Top Gallant Mast heads The Enemy still manoeuvering to rake us firing alternately his Broadsides, we returning his fire with as many of our Bow Guns from the Main Gun deck as we could bring to bear on her, at 3/4 past 5 PM the Enemy finding his attempts to rake us fruitless, bore up with the wind rather on his Larboard Quarter, we then sett [sic] our Main Top Gallant Sail, and steered down on his Beam in order to bring him to close action, at 5 minutes after 6 PM hauled down the Jib, and lay the Main Top Sail Shivering and opened on him a heavy fire from all our Guns, at 15 minutes after 6 PM the enemies [sic] Mizen Mast fell over on the Starboard side [Scene 2 - “In Action”], on which our crew gave three cheers, we then fore reaching on him, attempted raking of his Bow,but our braces being shot away and Jib Haulyards, we could not effect it, he immediately attempted raking of our stern, but failed also, getting but one of his Guns to bear on us which he discharged with little or no effect, having his Bowsprit entangled in our Mizen rigging our Marines during that time Keeping up a very brisk and gauling [sic] fire on him, from the Tafferale [sic], and our Boarders preparing to board [Scene 3 - “Dropping Astern”] , at which time Lieutenant Charles Morris, and Lieutenant William S. Bush of the Marines fell from off the Tafferale [sic], the former severely wounded, and the latter Killed, our vessel having way on her, shot clear of him, when immediately, it being then 30 minutes after 6 PM his Fore, and Main Masts fell over on the Starboard Side, Sett Fore and Main Course, and stood to the Eastward, and took one reef in the topsails, in order to reeve our Braces, and haulyards which had been shot away; [ein] which time the Enemy is complete wreck under his Spritsail, fired a Gun in token of Submission to Leeward [Scene 4 - “She Fell in the Sea A Perfect Wreck”], which we answered as soon as our Topsails were sett [sic], and our braces rove by wearing Ship, and running under his Lee, hauling up our courses, and laying our Main Topsail to the Mast, and sending a boat with Lieutenant Reed on board of the prize &c... at 1/2 past 7 PM hoisted out all the Boats, to take out the prisoners, sent the 2d and 3d Cutters with First Cutter with a ten inch Hawser to take the prize in tow, at 8 PM the Boat returned leaving Lieutenant Reed in charge of the Prize, and bringing with them Captain Dacres of formerly his Britannic Majesty's Ship Guerriere mounting 49 Carriage Guns, 30 of which were 18 pounders, on his Main Gun deck 14.32 pounder Carronades on his Quarter deck and one howitzer a 12 pound Caliber also: and 2.32 pounder Carronades, and 2 twelve pounder long Guns on his Forecastle Manned with [left blank] Men including Marines Boys, and Officers, our loss sustained during the action in Killed and Wounded 14. Seven of which were killed, among the latter [sic] William S. Bush, Senior Lieutenant of Marines, and among the latter Lieutenant Charles Morris dangerously, and Mr. Aylwin Sailing Master, slightly; one of the Seamen of the number Killed, Robert Brice lost his life through want of precaution in not sponging His GUn being blown from the Muzzle of the piece, our standing and running rigging much cut, and One Shot through the Fore Mast, one through the Main Mast,and one through the heel of the Fore Top Gallant Mast, and the Starboard Cross Jack yard arm cut away, as also the Spare Top Sail Yard in the Main chains, and the B[ ? ] for the slings of the Main Yard broken, our spanker Boom, and Gaff Broken by the Enemy [All damage reflected in Scene 4], when foul of our Mizen Rigging, at 11 AM [sic] the First Cutter returned with the Master finding it impracticable to get the Prize in tow, having been obligated by the drift of the Wreck to slip the Hawser, during the night keeping at a convenient distance from the a different Tack to receive the prisoners, and in [?] in knotting and splicing the Rigging and getting the Ship clear for action; our sails also being much cut through with the Enemies [sic] Shot..."


Clearly Corne was able to include many credible details in his paintings under the guidance and direction of two key eyewitnesses - Chew and Hull.  Presumably the paint scheme would be represented accurately from their point of view as well.  As pointed out, I think the white trim on both the bow and stern -while the gun stripe is yellow - lends itself to the idea that the crew overpainted the white stripe in haste and that Chew/Hull had that incorporated in the paintings.


  • Member since
    January 2005
  • From: Tampa, Florida, USA
Posted by steves on Sunday, October 23, 2011 4:04 PM


Thank you very much for posting these photos and the commentary on them. Other colors from the paintings to note are the masts, which appear to be a mixture of ochre and bright wood, with the lower doublings perhaps black.  Also the yards appear to be ochre or bright.  The bowsprit, on the other hand appears to be black.  This is contrary to the conventional portrayal of white bow sprit,  lower masts and doublings with black yards. 

I am confused about one thing, which is your reference to the carved dragon on the billethead.  Are you referring to the carved dragon on the trailboard, which appears on the Hull model and also shows up on the Smithsonian model and the big Revell kit?  The billethead on the paintings is unlike anything I have seen before, it looks like an open mouth or a large letter "C".  It does not resemble anything on the Hull model, or any other model that I am aware of.


Steve Sobieralski, Tampa Bay Ship Model Society

  • Member since
    June 2010
  • From: Irvine, CA
Posted by Force9 on Sunday, October 23, 2011 6:07 PM

Hello Steve -

You are correct - I should have referred to the trailboard.  The billethead does appear to be something unusual - certainly not what we see on the Hull model. (I've updated the previous post)

These paintings are doubly interesting (literally) since there were TWO copies of the series produced by Corne.  The color details in the last scene varies slightly across the two copies... We see red "shutters" on the quarter galleries in one, but not the other.  Likewise the gun ports are lined in red vs black depending on the copy.  One copy shows two anchors tied to the starboard fore chains, the other shows one.

Here is the link to the other copy:

Other details:

Green cutter with red interior (The George Ropes Jr version also shows a blue cutter with red interior)

Black mastheads

Red Windows (Stern and Quarter Galleries)

Rectangular ventilation scuttle ports

No gun port lids

No nameplate on stern

I do think these paintings have gotten a bad rap in recent years.  I'd have to blame commander Martin for his perplexing version of the battle and his unscholarly tendency to state as fact that the positions of the ships in these paintings were intentionally switched by Hull to deflect criticism of his tactics.

It all adds to the fun.


  • Member since
    June 2010
  • From: Irvine, CA
Posted by Force9 on Saturday, October 29, 2011 12:46 PM

I've alluded to my skepticism regarding Tyrone Martin's version of this battle.  I've put my very log-winded tirade out on other forums and for the sake of completeness I figure I should copy it into this thread.

I apologize in advance for the lengthy splurge of hot air...


Folks... As I've mentioned earlier in this thread, there seems to be much skepticism out on various forums regarding the accuracy of these paintings - and it all seems to trace directly back to Commander Tyrone Martin and his "interpretation" of the Constitution vs Guerriere battle and how the ships are positioned in these paintings.


For those of you hearty enough to wade through this I'll try to disabuse you of the idea that Tyrone Martin's theories are holy writ.


Stated plainly: Commander Tyrone Martin's version of the USS Constitution vs HMS Guerriere battle is wrong.


I should acknowledge a few things at the outset.


I think it can be fairly said that Commander Tyrone G. Martin is one of the two best friends Old Ironsides ever had (the other being Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr).  He is a former captain of USS Constitution and instituted many of the traditions still continued today including sailors in period dress and the morning and sunset guns.  He has written numerous articles and books about the rich history of  USS Constitution and his A Most Fortunate Ship is widely considered to be the definitive biography of the ship.  He has collected more awards and other accolades than I'd have time to list.  My credentials, on the other hand are…er…well…um… okay - I have no credentials.  I am not an academic and I otherwise lay no claim to being a scholar or researcher.  I'm a hack ship modeler who has read more naval history than ought to be considered healthy.  But please hear me out…


On August 19, 1812 Captain Isaac Hull in command of USS Constitution met HMS Guerriere under command of James Dacres in battle somewhere around 600 miles east of Boston.  He was tipped off by the privateer Decatur the day before that there was an enemy frigate in the area.  According to official reports, the two ships maneuvered for 45 minutes or so trading pot shots without inflicting any crippling damage, before Guerriere backed a topsail and Constitution added a topgallant to close the distance and settle the issue.  Despite absorbing some damage, Hull held his crew back from firing until he was directly alongside Guerriere.  After a 15 minute exchange of initial broadsides at half-pistol shot distance, Guerriere lost her mizzen and stopped answering her helm.  Constitution, firing from her starboard broadside, then fore reached ahead and parked on Guerriere's larboard bow and delivered at least two devastating partial rakes that likely ensured Guerriere's fate.  After losing forward momentum to milk her advantageous position, Constitution failed to cleanly cross the bows of her enemy and became entangled with Guerriere's bowsprit.  The sea caused the bow of Guerriere to plunge up and down, preventing a boarding action.  After a sharp exchange of musketry (which inflicted most of Constitution's casualties) the ships pulled apart with enough force to pull down the weakened masts of Guerriere and the battle was effectively over.  Captain Hull claimed the decisive close action lasted about 30 minutes.  Hull achieved an insignificant strategic victory, but the morale boast for america and the political ramifications were widely felt on both sides of the Atlantic.  To capitalize on his instant fame, Hull commissioned the noted artist Michel Felice Corne to create a series of paintings depicting the key moments of the battle.  He wanted these paintings translated into lithographs for wider publication.  We can see these today in the collection of the Peabody Essex museum (Apparently Corne made an extra copy of the series - I think the Naval Academy also has a set) and they include many of the details outlined in the ship's log and Captain Hulls lengthy after battle report to the Secretary of the Navy.  Being very humble by nature, Hull also included a much more abbreviated version of his battle report that he asked the Secretary to submit for public consumption. 


This was generally the accepted view of the event for the better part of two hundred years - then Tyrone Martin came along.  Commander Martin was bugged by a couple of things that just didn't add up:

- How many times did the ships bump together during the close action?  (some witnesses say they bumped twice)

- Was Constitution on the Starboard or Larboard side of Guerriere when broadsides were exchanged - (some British reports say the starboard, almost all American reports say port)?

- How come the English captain Dacres puts the start of the close engagement at 5pm and Hull has it at 6pm?

- How could the decisive part of the battle last only 30 minutes, as Hull claimed, given the tremendous amount of ammunition that Constitution expended?


After sifting through the various clues, Commander Martin reconstructed the battle in a completely different form than what was previously understood.  Instead of closing in on Guerriere's larboard side and firing her starboard broadside as Hull and other american accounts stated (and is shown in the Corne paintings), Martin switched Constitution to the other side.  This helps him argue that Hull gave up the wind gauge. Because of the prodigious amount of ammunition fired, he surmised that the battle lasted much longer and uses the 5pm start time of the British account. To explain the two collisions - and expand the length of the battle - he inserts an entirely new sequence into the battle that has Constitution cross from the starboard side to the larboard bow (all parties agree that Constitution was off Guerriere's larboard bow at some point) then wear around in a wider loop to eventually collide again after several more exchanges of broadsides where the final entanglement and dismasting takes place.  Commander Martin further bolsters his version by assigning a motive to Hull for altering what really happened.  He portrays him as uncertain and downright hesitant as the crash of battle rages around him.  He asserts that Isaac Hull's tactics were simplistic and he flubbed up the timing of his maneuvers after embarrassingly giving up the wind gauge at the outset.  Therefore Hull distorted the log and after battle reports (and the Corne paintings) to cover up his blunders and protect/enhance his reputation.  Martin claims Isaac Hull's short version of the battle report was a blatant attempt to obfuscate the details and glorify the victory. He also generally asserts that the other american accounts followed suit to preserve the reputation of their beloved commander and benefit from the reflected glory.


Commander Martin put forth his essential justification in the Winter 1987 edition of the American Neptune - the now defunct quarterly journal of the old Peabody museum. Let's review some of his arguments:


Martin states in his article that "neither of Hull's reports specify which side of Guerriere he closed in on.  The second of the Corne paintings shows him to have had it portray him to larboard, a point about which he and his purser differed…" He further says "with the fall of Guerriere's mizzen…her forward motion slowed and the dragging mast caused her head to fall off toward Constitution as the latter drew ahead more quickly than before.  Hull, seeing he was moving ahead, sought to come to port to rake Guerriere, but sundered braces prevented his crew from handling the sails smartly enough."  Here is what Hull said about this juncture in his report: "his Mizen Mast went by the board, and his Main Yard in the Slings, and the Hull, and Sails very much injured, which made it very difficult for them to manage her. At this time the Constitution had received but little damage, and having more sail set than the Enemy she shot ahead, on seeing this I determined to put the Helm to Port, and oblige him to do the same, or suffer himself to be raked, by our getting across his Bows, on our Helm being put to Port the Ship came too, and gave us an opportunity of pouring in upon his Larboard Bow several Broadsides, which made great havock amongst his men on the forecastle and did great injury to his forerigging, and sails, The Enemy put his helm to Port, at the time we did, but his MizenMast being over the quarter, prevented her coming too, which brought us across his Bows, with his Bowsprit over our Stern."


I think Martin is very wrong in his assessment of Hull's report.  Hull does, in fact, say which side he closed in on.  "I determined to put the helm to port…On our helm being put to port the ship came to [swung toward the wind] and gave us the opportunity of pouring upon his larboard bow several broadsides.."  Martin misconstrues this as having Hull turn Constitution to port, which would mean he was on the starboard side of Guerriere, and cross over to end up on her larboard bow - momentarily snagging her bowsprit as he passed.  We modern folk have to remember that this is 1812.  Back in that day a ship's helm was rigged to behave like a tiller - in simple terms: spin the wheel to the left, the bow will swing to the right. (In fact this was still generally true 100 years later when Titanic had her bad day - google "Hard a Starboard" and you'll get an education).  What Hull is actually saying is that he was to larboard of Guerriere and ordered the helm turned to port in order to swing the bow to starboard where he ended up parked on Guerriere's larboard bow for a partial rake. Because Guerriere was entangled with her mizzen wreckage, she could not match Hull's manuever and instead hung in place, enabling Constitution to get into her advantageous position.  Isaac Hull also says something very pertinent that further undermines Martin's stance - "the ship came to…" which means she swung her bow towards the wind.  In other words, being on the larboard side he had given up the wind gauge.  Martin's initial premise is that Hull lied in his reports and had Corne alter his painting to show he did not give up the wind gauge.  In fact, captain Hull admits to it in his report and if you look at the directions of the flags and smoke in Corne's painting (which Martin apparently did not) you'll see the stories match.  Hull wasn't trying to hide the fact that he gave up that advantage - he implies it in his report and had Corne show it in the second scene. The wind was apparently blowing from astern with a slight bias in favor of Guerriere when the close engagement began.  Hull may have chosen the larboard position to maximize the sea state - his crew would be firing on the downroll of the swells.  James Dacres testified in his hearing that Guerriere suffered 30 shot holes in line with the fifth row of copper (below the waterline) on the larboard side.  American accounts also noted that two gun ports on the larboard side had been blown into a single gaping hole by the Constitution's guns.  All this damage on the larboard side doesn't bode well for Martin's idea that the first fifteen or so minutes of the close engagement were fought on the starboard side of Guerriere.


Commander Martin also argues in the American Neptune that the amount of ammunition expended makes it obvious the battle went much longer than the 30 minutes Hull claimed in his longer report.  Here is what Martin puts forth on this point: " As for Hull's statements that the close action lasted 30 minutes, one must consider them in relation not only to the sequence of events but to the reported ammunition expenditure by Constitution.  This appears in Moses Smith's recollection and is said to have been taken from the ship's log.  According to this source, she fired 953 rounds of all kinds.  If we delete the ten 18-pounder shot…by the bow chasers, and if we assume that the 260 stands of grape all were used in double-shotted loads, we are still left with 683 rounds to be fired by twenty-seven guns in a half hour.  This equates to each of those guns firing once every minute and eleven seconds, an incredible sustained rate of fire for gun crews in their first battle.  Even if we assume that the 100 rounds of canister likewise were expended in double shots, the rate of fire remains a surprising minute and twenty-three seconds between rounds."  This argument ultimately provides the foundation for all of Martin's other arguments… It lengthens the battle considerably and allows him to justify using the British start time of 5pm and inserting a whole section of maneuvering that no eyewitness account corroborates (Martin actually states in his book "the record goes blank" here and proceeds to fill it in with his speculation presented as fact - yikes!).


Here Commander Martin is relying on an account published in 1846 by octogenarian Moses Smith, who was manning gun number 1 during the battle.  That's a bit disingenuous considering he dismisses other accounts contrary to his theory because they were published long after the event.  The numbers quoted by Smith are allegedly taken from a ship's log that cannot be found.  The numbers are broken out in more detail in Tyrone Martin's published work Undefeated - Old Ironsides in the War of 1812:


- 300 24-pdr round shot (Long guns)

- 236 32-pdr round shot (Carronades)

- 10 18-pdr round shot (Bow chaser)

- 140 stands of 32-pdr grape

- 120 stands of 24-pdr grape

- 40 24-pdr canister

- 60 32-pdr canister

- 47 24-pdr double-headed shot


(Of course, Martin should've backed out the double-headed shot from his calculation - those would've been used at longer range to try to damage a critical spar during the 45 minute approach... But, he didn't)


The prodigious amounts outlined would rightly raise eyebrows.  It is interesting that Martin takes them at face value and uses them to justify his need to recreate entire sequences of the battle instead of challenging their provenance.  We don't know, for example, if this represents an accounting for just this battle, or for the entire cruise - which would include ammunition used in training exercises.  But this may surprise you… wait for it… I believe these numbers.  I actually think they're about right.  Commander Martin seems to have overlooked the simplest and most obvious explanation for this remarkable output of iron and lead.  The truth is that USS Constitution fired every broadside - every discharge - double shotted.  Every.  One.  


Look at this interesting snippet plucked from Commander Martin's own website - The Captains Clerk:


[From the Secretary of the Navy] To Captain Charles G. Ridgely, Baltimore, MD, 31 Aug 1813:


        "I have before me your letter of yesterday, and am not surprized that you burst one half Mr. Dorsey's Carronades.  The proof was too severe, and I am astonished that any of them stood it.  The particulars of the proof of the Carronades for the Constellation, having certainly escaped your recollection.  The Gunner of the Navy Yard, who has proved all the Guns, for several years, on this station, assures me, that he has never used any other proof than that which Capt. Tingey certified, and delivered to Mr. Dorsey; and that, in the instance of the Constellations Carronades, none of them were tried a second time ‑‑  The long heavy Guns were, and this may have given rise to the mistake.

       "The Constitution's Carronades were proved in the same manner, and they, in the action with the Guerriere, stood a full charge, with two round shot, every round during the action.

        "The pocket Gunner is very equivocal in respect to the proof of Carronades.  He says, 'They are proved with 2 rounds, with their chambers full of powder, and one Shot, and one wad;' but, in the table, assigns 8 lbs of powder to a 32 pr. Carronade, as a proof charge, but says nothing of a shot or wad.  The chamber will not hold 1/8 part of the weight of the Shot in powder.  The fact is, that the proof, used at this station, has been amply sufficient, and Mr. Foxall, or his clerk, always attends to see the powder weighed, agreeably to the proof charge contained in Com. Tingey's certificate.

        "You will, therefore, have all the Carronades proved in conformity with the certificate; and if, after the first proof, you have reason to suspect any particular piece, it will be well to repeat the proof."


Tyrone Martin seems to have never considered this explanation to the dilemma of the ammunition expenditure. If we isolate and examine the 32 pounder carronade round shot - which would only be used in the close engagement - the math works out quite nicely (even for those of us without advanced math degrees).  I agree with Martin that the grape and canister would've been thrown in on top of the round shot for good measure and can be omitted from our calculation:


236 32 pdr round shot expended in 35 minutes.  (Let's round up to 240 for us math-challenged types)

Double-shotted , so divide by two and get 120 discharges in 35 minutes.

12 carronades on a broadside... 120/12 gives 10 discharges for each gun.

35 minutes/10 discharges gives us one discharge every 3.5 minutes.  


(BTW - the math works out exactly the same for the 300 24-pdr shot)


Does anyone think a crew drilled constantly for six weeks by professional American naval officers can fire one double-shotted round every 3.5 minutes?  Me too.  I've used 35 minutes because Martin mentions that length of time in the same context as the ammunition breakdown.  Even at 30 minutes we have a discharge on average every 3.0 minutes - I'm good with that too. It certainly explains the gruesome damage inflicted on HMS Guerriere - all the accounts of washtubs of blood flowing down hatches and bits of brain and skull scattered across the smoldering decks when the prize crew got on board.  Not to mention the water filling her hold that eventually sealed her doom.


Isaac Hull was not a tentative amateur as Martin portrays to help justify his reconstruction... He was clearly not flustered when he held his crew back from returning fire until he was certain to achieve the maximum effect he desired. Martin is certainly correct when he characterizes Hull's tactics as inelegant and straightforward.  He forgot to also mention that his tactics were brutally effective.  I don't think the history books show any other Captain defeating his enemy so completely, in so short a period, while only suffering 7 dead and 7 wounded. Not Decatur.  Not Bainbridge.  Not even Broke in HMS Shannon - he suffered tremendous casualties.  Despite his rotund and humble outward self, the facts suggest Hull was a cold, calculating, and deliberate killer when caught up in the heat of battle. It may be part of why he seemed so remorseful afterwards. 


It may not be that great a sin for Tyrone Martin to have put forth his version of the battle for others to contemplate.  It provokes thought and stimulates more conversation about the famous ship and her glorious deeds.  The great sin is that Martin proceeded to represent his pet theory in his books (and on his website) as whole truth woven from whole cloth.  It is not - never was.  It is actually highly speculative and weak on its foundation and easily refuted.  The facts work against him and the written accounts are almost universally in line with Captain Hull's version.  More recent scholars including Ian Toll (Six Frigates) and Stephen Budiansky (Perilous Fight) have tended to eschew Tyrone Martin's version. In fact, they practically go out of their way to snub it.  At best it may be that Tyrone Martin got excited to introduce a new perspective and just got a bit too far out over the tips of his skis… At worst he was extremely unscholarly in his approach and did not have his best moment as an historian.  I think it is more than a bit ironic that Commander Martin may reasonably be accused of doing exactly what he himself accused another captain of the USS Constitution of doing nearly two hundred years ago -  manipulating the facts of this battle to enhance his own grandiosity.

Get yourself a copy of the American Neptune - Winter 1987 (I got my copy on ebay for $18 including shipping).  And by all means buy yourself a copy of Tyrone Martin's A Most Fortunate Ship... But read them with a critical eye and be prepared to come away scratching your head at how such a theory could've survived relatively unscathed for so many years.

(BTW - The Winter 87 American Neptune includes a book review by a certain hot shot young East Carolina University professor (at least back then) that we all greatly esteem on this forum.  Apparently The Discovery of Ship Models by Norman Boyd is not worth our hard earned cash.  Somehow Prof Tilley managed to insert the word "execrable" into his summary - 'nuff said.)

  • Member since
    July 2020
Posted by EJ8 on Saturday, July 25, 2020 5:08 PM

Do you have any information on the flags that were flown on the Constitution during the War of 1812, specifically those that appear in the Corne paintings and the fore mast and mizzen mast?  Many thanks!


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