#OnThisDay: The Chesapeake-Leopard Affair off Virginia leads to War of 1812

Although the War of 1812 didn’t officially start until the United States declared war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812, a number of incidents over a nine-year period led up to America’s second war against her Mother Country.  Those incidents centered around Great Britain’s maritime violations against United States ships and their crews.

Today is the 213th anniversary of a skirmish between the USS Chesapeake and the HMS Leopard off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia on June 22, 1807. (Sorry, if you were hoping for another kind of affair.)

The War of 1812 wasn’t emphasized much when I was taking history in school. Or perhaps I just didn’t retain the details. I couldn’t have told you what led to the United States going to war with Great Britain again so soon after the American Revolutionary War.

In case you’re like me in that respect, in today’s blog I’ll give you some insight. I promise, today’s blog post won’t be as long as my previous two #OnThisDay posts. No one needs or wants to know that much about the War of 1812.


How all this started

There was trouble on the high seas between the American and British navies as early as 1803. Things escalated and resulted in The Chesapeake-Leopard Affair in 1807.

Jenkin Ratford and four other crewmen on a British vessel patrolling off the coast of Virginia decided to steal a boat and desert their ship. They came ashore at Norfolk and bragged about what they’d done. Ratford joined the crew of the USS Chesapeake, a frigate of the US Navy. Great Britain was embarrassed.

The Chesapeake sailed out of Norfolk in June of 1807, heading for the Mediterranean Sea. The HMS Leopard intercepted it and was set to take revenge for what Ratford had done. When the commander of the Leopard requested to go aboard the Chesapeake to search for deserters, James Barron, the American commodore refused to muster his crew.

The response from the Leopard was swift and decisive. Three Americans were killed and 18 were wounded as the frigate attacked the Chesapeake with a barrage from its artillery. The crew of the Leopard seized the opportunity, boarded the crippled vessel, and captured Jenkin Ratford and other British Navy deserters.

Americans were humiliated by the incident and called for war. This was something that people agreed on, in spite of their political differences. US President Thomas Jefferson’s navy had already largely been dispatched to the Mediterranean in an effort to quell the activity of the Barbary pirates. Furthermore, budget cuts had reduced the fighting power of the US Army. He could ill afford to call for a war with Great Britain.

Jefferson decided to take revenge against Great Britain economically. The Embargo Act was passed by Congress a few months later and signed into law in December of 1807.


The Embargo Act of 1807

The Embargo Act of 1807 forbade all international trade in or out of all US ports. The objective was to get Great Britain and France (who were at war at the time) to stop harassing US ships and to recognize the autonomy of the United States as a nation.

One can imagine how unhappy the US port cities were. They depended upon the international trade for their survival. The embargo failed due to loopholes in the law. For instance, Great Britain continued to export goods to the US via Canada. Goods were smuggled in from Canada and whaling ships. Enforcement was a problem.

In the end, Americans suffered far more than the British or the French. Sailors lost their jobs, farmers couldn’t sell their crops, and merchants went bankrupt.


The end results

Tensions continued. The US declared war against the United Kingdom and Ireland and all its territories on June 18, 1812. By then, James Madison was the US president. The war continued until it officially ended with the Treaty of Ghent on February 17, 1815.


What happened to James Barron and Jenkin Ratford?

James Barron was court-martialed and found guilty of “neglecting on the probability of an engagement, to clear his ship for action.” He was suspended, without pay, from the US Navy for five years.

Jenkin Ratford was court-martialed for mutiny and desertion. His punishment came on August 31, 1807, when he was hanged from the fore yardarm of the HMS Halifax, a ship on which he had previously served.


Until my next blog post

I apologize for not including any photographs in today’s blog post. I usually get my blog photos from unsplash.com; however, I was unable to download any images from that website to use today. One of the cardinal rules of blogging is to always include images, so I’m embarrassed to send today’s post out into the blogosphere without illustration.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m blessed with more library books than I can possibly read before they’re due. I’m giving them my best effort, though. Too many books! What a wonderful dilemma to have!

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have lots of creative time during this pandemic.

Be safe. Be well. Wear a mask in respect for other people.

Don’t be shy. Share my blog!

Janet

#OnThisDay: USS Indianapolis

I’m embarrassed to admit that I did not know anything about the USS Indianapolis until about a week ago. In an effort to try something new on my blog, I did a little research to find out what happened on this day in history. I learned that something noteworthy and gut-wrenching happened on this day in 1945. What a story I’ve pieced together for you today!

The incident I’m writing about today actually took place about five minutes after midnight, so the date is July 30, 1945; however, being so close to the midnight hour, the incident is often referred to as happening on July 29. By the time I discovered that detail, I was not about to let go of the story for my usual Monday blog post.

The greatest loss the US Navy has experienced at sea

The USS Indianapolis was a Portland-class heavy cruiser. It carried a crew of 1,196 men. After delivering crucial parts for the atomic bomb to Tinian Island, it was crossing the Philippine Sea en route to Okinawa. Plans were being made for the invasion of Japan by the United States and its Allies.

12:05 a.m., July 30, 1945

Generic photo of sharks. Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash.

At 12:05 a.m. on July 30, 1945, the ship was hit by two Japanese torpedoes. Some 350 crewmen died in the blast. It would be 84 grueling hours before the survivors were located from the air on August 2. By then there were only 318 remaining survivors. The other survivors of the initial attack had either drowned, died from drinking sea water, or been victim to the numerous sharks in the waters. I read that an estimated 50 sailors were killed by sharks every day until rescuers arrived.

What happened to the commanding officer?

In my research I found several follow-up stories about what happened to the commanding officer of the USS Indianapolis, Charles B. McVay. He was accused of putting the ship and crew in danger by not zig-zagging across the sea. He was threatened with a court-maritial, but in the end was given a reprimand. His conviction as being at fault in the attack continues to be fought against, as there are strong opinions that he was wrongly charged.

Annual survivor reunions

Every year since 1960, the survivors of the attack have held a reunion in Indianapolis, Indiana. This year was no exception. There are only 12 survivors alive today. Seven of them got together in Indianapolis last weekend to remember their World War II experiences and, no doubt, to count their blessings.

I found a wonderful account of this year’s reunion, including a video clip, on the website of the NBC affiliate in Indianapolis, WTHR:  https://www.wthr.com/article/uss-indianapolis-few-remaining-survivors-gather-reunion-indy. I hope you’ll take time to look at it.

As is indicated in that WTHR piece, the youngest living survivor is 92 years old, being just 17 at the time of the attack.

Wreckage located in 2017

The wreckage of the USS Indianapolis was found just two years ago in 18,000 feet of water. Andy J. Semotiuk wrote an article about that discovery in the August 21, 2017 edition of Forbes. Here’s a link to that article, https://www.forbes.com/sites/andyjsemotiuk/2017/08/21/the-story-of-the-uss-indianapolis-a-display-of-great-heroism-in-times-of-unimaginable-anguish/#1eea400a6f9e, which contains a link to a video of the discovery.

Additional sources of information about the USS Indianapolis

Another short video about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis can be found at https://www.smithsonianmag.com/videos/category/history/uss-indianapolis-crew-battled-sharks-and-hal/.

A 90-minute TV program aired here on PBS in January, but I missed it. Here’s a link to a source from which you can order the DVD:  https://www.pbs.org/video/uss-indianapolis-the-final-chapter-aabbsw/.

Additional sources of information about the USS Indianapolis include the following books:

 In Harm’s Way:  The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors, by Doug Stanton;

Abandon Ship!  by Richard F. Newcomb;

Out of the Depths:  An Unforgettable WWII Story of Survival, Courage, and the Sinking of the USS Indianapolis, by Edgar Harrell USMC, with David Harrell;

Fatal Voyage:  The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis, by Dan Kurzman; and

 Indianapolis:  The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man, by Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic.

I haven’t read any of them, but they sound like good reading for anyone who wants to know more about this horrific incident during World War II.

Since my last blog post

I’ve completed Karen Cioffi-Ventrice’s online course, “Building an Author/Writer’s Platform.” Part of it really taxed my brain, but I learned a lot. Some of it I won’t be able to put into practice until I’m a little closer to getting my novel published, but a great deal of it I’ve already started working on or doing.

In case you’re interested in taking the course or other courses offered by Karen Cioffi or others through Women on Writing, here’s a link: https://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/.

I learned a lot of SEO (search engine optimization) and I even learned what black hat SEO and white hat SEO are. If you recall, I mentioned black hat SEO in my blog post on April 29, 2019 (https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/04/29/what-triggered-last-mondays-rant/) when I didn’t have a clue what it was. White Hat SEO is doing search engine optimization the ethical way. Black hat SEO is doing it unethically.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished listening to The Spies of Shilling Lane, by Jennifer Ryan. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Tune in next Monday for my blog post about the books I read in July.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time this week.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

Do you enjoy occasional looks back at what happened on a particular day? If I get good response, I’ll plan other blog posts like this one. A post like this once a month might work for you and me.

Janet

P.S.  A new USS Indianapolis will be commissioned this fall.