Wednesday, August 26, 2015


26 August 2015:
As we reported a couple of days ago, during the War of 1812, the British marched almost unopposed into the capital, Washington City, bent on destruction and mayhem. They succeeded nicely! Only they had a problem with Mother Nature. As we earlier reported, Admiral Cockburn, after dining in the President's Mansion (the White House), set it afire, damaging it severely (as you might expect). It was late at night and other buildings around the city were also aflame.


Fortunately for the American inhabitants and business owners in  the city, Mother Nature intervened, providing a monstrous storm the next morning - some said it was a hurricane - with huge winds (not so good) and torrential downpours of rain (really good!) that put out most of the fires. Then, for good measure, she threw in a mini-twister which really put the frosting on the cake! By forensic weather study, the NWS has claimed that a "strong tornado struck Northwest and downtown Washington and did major damage to the residential section of the city."
contemporary etching of destruction of Washington

Naturally, the rains put out the fires, but the tornado that came into the city in the early afternoon did some serious damage to the British troops; it knocked down a building in which the soldiers were taking shelter from the rain killing many, and overturned a gun carriage, killing several British Marines instantly. Roofs were torn off buildings and men were knocked off their horses. Two cannon were picked up and thrown into the air, according to eyewitness accounts. The roofs of the General Post Office  and the Patent Office were ripped off and many trees were uprooted. .
The British, Gen'l Ross and Admiral Cockburn, decided remaining in the capital would accomplish nothing further and that night, using the aftermath of the storm as a distraction, began their march back to their ships, intent on destroying their next target, Baltimore. More on that later.
So that's the story of how Mother Nature saved Washington - or kinda did!
Until next time,
                                Fair Winds,
                                   Old Salt


Monday, August 24, 2015


24 August 2015: During the "northern campaign" in the War of 1812, American troops under Zebulon Pike and sailors under Isaac Chauncey attacked and burned the Canadian capital at York. York, by the way, is now called Toronto. That was 27 April 1813. The Brits were anything but happy about it, possibly more because they got beat by those damn upstarts, but likely in equal measure, because the capital city was put to the torch. The anger festered and boiled until August 1814 when they extracted their retribution.

Royal Navy ships under Admiral Alexander Cochrane, involved with ravishing the Chesapeake Bay area (for the second time) sailed up the Patuxent River to Marlboro MD and then, in true British style, "quick marched" toward Washington DC. Each Royal Marine and sailor carried, in addition to their own weapons and packs, a twelve pound cannonball for the artillery they also dragged. While Adm. Cochrane remained on his flagship, his second in command, Admiral George Cockburn (pronounced "co-burn" - it's Scottish) and his Army counterpart, Gen'l Robert Ross, led their combined force through the blistering August heat. As a matter of interest, they lost more men from heat prostration than from enemy action! And action they had at Bladensburg, where they had to cross a bridge in order to carry on to the nation's capital.

With the knowledge that the British forces would be coming that way, militia and regular federal troops were arrayed in the hills and trees on the Washington side of the river. Included in the American force were Commodore Joshua Barney's men -sailors and US Marines - from his gunboat fleet. He had scuttled his ships on the orders of the Defense Secretary to help with the upcoming fight. At the end of the day, after the militia and regular federal troops ran away in the face of British fire, Barney's Marines were the only ones left to defend the bridge. The newspapers of the time referred to the American disaster as the "Bladensburg Races."

Unfortunately, their teamsters driving the wagons with the shot and powder also ran away and the commodore got himself wounded. He told his men to head for Washington to see if they could be of help there. And the British, after four attempts, got across the bridge on continued on, unhindered, to the capital.

Commodore Barney is wounded, and captured by Gen'l Ross (in red)
The enemy arrived in Washington City about dusk and began their work, burning and looting. They were instructed to burn only government buildings and, in fact, only one civilian property was destroyed: the offices and press of the National Intelligencer newspaper. And because some local ladies pleaded with Cockburn not to burn it as they feared the fire would spread to their homes, he had it dismantled, brick by brick! The admiral was annoyed that the paper had written uncomplimentary articles about him! Fair's fair; the Americans had burned only the government buildings in York the year before.

Adm Cockburn in front of burning Washington
The Capitol and the President's Mansion (now called the White House) suffered mightily, and the Washington Navy Yard was burned by the Americans to preclude it and the ships there from falling into the enemy's hands. All because Americans burned York the year before! While the British, realizing they could not hold the territory, finished up their work and headed back to their ships a day or so later. (We'll have more on that soon.)

The President's Mansion aflame


As a matter of interest, it was the only time our capital has been occupied by an enemy force since the American Revolution!
So, on that note, until next time, I wish you all
                                Fair Winds,
                                   Old Salt

Saturday, August 22, 2015


22 August 2015: Well, friends, we made it a year! Maritime Maunder posted its first message just one year ago and, thanks to the good people out there who found us a bit interesting from time to time, we have reached just shy of 7,000 readers in something like 25 countries! I personally am astounded; I never thought there were that many history/maritime oriented people out there who would be interested in what I had to say! So, thank you all; I shall try to keep putting up items of interest in the maritime world and/or historical discoveries that might be entertaining. In honor of our 1st birthday, I am reposting a few my favorite images from posts over the last year.

CSS Hunley - recovered

John Paul Jones Crypt, USNA

Mayflower arrives at MYSTIC Seaport for overhaul

Nelson, Trafalgar Square, London

Rubber Duckie, Philapelphia

Sandy Hook Light

Young Endeavour at the Horn

Washington crossing the Delaware

So, thank you all again and, as we begin the second year of our voyage together, I wish us all

                                   Fair Winds and following seas!
                                              Old Salt

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


19 August 2015: 203 years ago today, USS Constitution won her nickname "Old Ironsides" when she triumphed over HMS Guerriere in the eastern Atlantic, beginning a string of successful encounters with frigates of the Royal Navy during the War of 1812. The days leading up to the victory were low indeed, for the young United States of America, with land-based disasters seemingly proving the nay-sayers right about declaring war on the mightiest country in the world on June 18, 1812.

But USS Constitution, commanded by Isaac Hull, brought welcome news of the first victory - and notable it was! - to the beleaguered citizens desperate for some good news! It was during that monumental engagement when the stout sides of Constitution repelled the iron shot of the British ship and caused one American sailor to cry out, "The cannonballs bounce off her sides! They must be of iron!" And the nickname was born.
Constitution mid-battle with Guerriere

In commemoration of that famous battle, Constitution's first single ship engagement, the US Navy, still the owner of the ship, ordered her underway on her own power - sail, she has no mechanical propulsion - on 19 August 2012. It was a wonderful sight, though with precious little wind to fill her sails. Nonetheless, she was free floating, unattached from her ubiquitous tug, with some of her sails set. Here's an image I took that day!

As you can easily see, there wasn't much breeze, unlike the previous time she sailed, on the 200th anniversary of her launch. A still marvelous experience to witness. Congratulations, Old Ironsides!

Until next time,

                                 Fair winds,
                                         Old Salt

Saturday, August 15, 2015


15 August 2015: And speaking of things recovered from watery graves, my friends at Mystic Seaport (CT) tell me that divers in Sweden have salvaged a figure head from a 15th century Danish warship, Gribshunden, (I am told that is Swedish for "Griffon-dog, but since I have no knowledge of Swedish, I can not confirm it!). The 660 pound figurehead is carved into am 11 foot long beam and shows a crocodile mouth with lion ears. So far, it appears to be the only one in existence. Here's a photo of it:
Aside from being remarkably well preserved (I guess the really cold water there in Sweden is good for preservation!) it is an imaginatively carved critter which, I am sure, struck terror into the hearts of the enemies of the Danes! And warded off evil spirits as well!
To put in perspective the age of this artifact, consider that when this figurehead last saw daylight, Christopher Columbus was alive and Leonardo Da Vinci was creating his masterpieces!
The wreck was found in the Baltic Sea, south of Stockholm, discovered by sport divers in the 1970's but was not identified for several decades. As I mentioned above, it was the Gribshunden, which sank in 1495, and belonged to King Hans. The ship died not in battle, but was anchored in Ronneby en route to Kalmar when it caught fire and sank. It had been built most likely in Flanders with timbers harvested in France around 1482-3. Amazingly, the wreck is quite intact, considering its age. The low salinity of the Baltic prevents boring worms and other nasty critters from eating the wood.
Raising the figurehead. Bet that water is damn cold!
Following preservation, the figurehead will be on display in Ronneby, Sweden this autumn.
Until next time, friends,
                                     Fair Winds!
                                             Old Salt

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


11 August 2015: Microsoft founder and zillionaire Paul Allen has successfully recovered the bell from the sunken remains of the British battlecruiser HMS Hood. The ship was sunk in an engagement with the German battleship Bismark in the Denmark Straits in 1941. She sank with shocking loss of life: 1,415 of 1,418 men died when she exploded and went down.

The above image is Hood shortly before the action with Bismark, so is the last photo of her in existence. She was protecting the flow of supplies to England sent from America (before America joined the war) which Germany had vowed to stop.
Allen, using his expedition ship Octopus and a remote controlled submersible, had found the bell and photographed it in 2001, but did not attempt to recover it until 2012. Bad weather and technical glitches precluded that attempt. Ordinarily, salvage of the ship would be prevented under international law (Military Remains Act of 1986), but Allen got special permission to get the bell as a memorial to those who los their lives. He was assisted in the effort by Blue Water Recoveries. the bell, seen in the photo below, appears to be in pretty good condition, given it has sat on the ocean floor for 74 years.
Once it has been conserved, the bell will be presented to the National Museum of the Royal Navy where it will serve as the center piece of a new exhibit on the 20th and 21st century navy.
Thanks to US Naval Institute for this great story!
Until next time,
                                    Fair winds,
                                      Old Salt