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Chapter 3

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Thence Round Cape Horn

by
Robert Erwin Johnson


published by
United States Naval Institute
Annapolis, Maryland
1963

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 5
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p43  4. Aground on Her Own Beef Bones

Although it was obviously undesirable that the important Pacific Station be left in the hands of so junior an officer as a master-commandant, the Navy Department was unable to resist the opportunity to assign a supplementary task to the outward-bound Potomac. Commodore John Downes, returning to familiar waters, was ordered first to give passage to Martin Van Buren, newly appointed minister to the Court of St. James. Before the frigate could get under way for England, however, the Navy Department received news of an outrage committed against an American merchantman. The Salem vessel Friendship, loading pepper in 1830 at the village of Quallah-Battoo (Kuala Batu), Sumatra, had been taken by people of the village, and several of her officers and men had been killed. As the East India Station had not yet been established, there was no naval force in those waters to take punitive action.

Secretary of the Navy Levi Woodbury, heeding the demands of merchants and shipowners that this crime be avenged, ordered Downes to proceed to Sumatra by way of the Cape of Good Hope. At Quallah-Battoo he was to make every effort to learn the true facts of the case and to punish the offenders. This mission accomplished, the Potomac would go on to the Pacific Station, touching at Macao, Canton, and such islands as might be on her track, for the dual purpose of replenishing her provisions and protecting American shipping.

Commodore Downes received information which led him to believe that virtually the entire populace of the village of Quallah-Battoo was involved in the Friendship incident and that they were ready to oppose a landing with force, despite the fact that the Potomac had been disguised as a Danish Indiaman. Thereupon, he sent ashore landing parties which captured all but one of the forts, and that was demolished by the frigate's guns. Ascertaining that  p44 most of the culprits had been slain during these attacks, Downes had the village burned, and then entertained the request for peace. This was granted on assurances from the villagers that American merchant vessels would be treated well in the future, and the Potomac then proceeded on a leisurely passage to Callao.

This reprisal caused some repercussions in the United States. President Andrew Jackson, himself not above summary punishment of such offenders in the past, thought that Downes should have made a more thorough inquiry and proceeded more carefully so that innocent persons would not have suffered. Eventually, however, Downes's reports satisfied most of the critics, and the matter was allowed to rest.

The steps thus taken to protect American interests in East Indian waters were not completely effective, because only the continued presence of warships could ensure that such agreements as that made by Downes would be respected. With the establishment of the East India Station in 1835, this neglect was remedied, and the Pacific Squadron's responsibility for the region was ended.

During the Potomac's passage among the islands, the centennial of the birth of George Washington was celebrated. This event was awaited eagerly by the ship's company since "scuttlebutt" rumors had circulated to the effect that an "extra-extra" ration of spirits would be issued in observance of the great occasion. Following the seventeen‑gun salute, the men were mustered and Downes admonished them not to drink themselves into a state of intoxication. Then he announced that the "extra-extra" allowance of grog would consist of the usual amount of rum mixed with a double measure of water. The disappointment of the sailors may well be imagined; no one could get drunk on this grog. Downes's love of practical jokes was usually appreciated by the enlisted men, but doubtless he was thoroughly cursed in private by his crew on this occasion.

Commodore Downes must have found the Pacific Station very quiet by comparison with his earlier service in those waters. Again the flagship spent most of her cruise in the important harbors of South America, while the smaller vessels visited the more remote areas. Downes, like most of his predecessors, urged that more sloops or schooners be sent out, and his request met with the usual response — in comparison with the forces on other stations, the Pacific Squadron was large enough. He also desired that American citizens  p45 be appointed as consuls in some of the larger ports, with salaries sufficient to relieve them of the necessity of engaging in private business. The latter practice led to their involvement in the domestic affairs of the cities to which they were assigned, with consequent neglect of American interests in favor of their own. This recommendation also fell on deaf ears in Washington, so Downes's last cruise in the Pacific resulted in nothing which would alleviate some of the difficulties faced by commanders in chief of the Pacific Squadron.

While the Potomac was serving her time on the South American coast, Woodbury turned his mind to the problem of getting relief vessels to the distant stations before the ships on those stations were forced to depart for the United States by the expiration of enlistments. He asked the Navy Commissioners if it might not be practicable to rotate the vessels in commission among the stations. Thus the Potomac might be relieved by a frigate from the Brazil Squadron, and the vacancy so created be filled by a ship from the United States as soon as she could be readied. Commodore Rodgers, for the Board, answered with a categorical "no." Not only would the recommended practice make it impossible for the Navy Department to know exactly which ships were on each station, but the equipment required for one station might be entirely unsuited for service on another. The changes of climate involved might be deleterious to the health of the men. The difficulties of rendezvous with the commander in chief, already great, would be largely increased as the ships changed stations, and all of the squadrons would be weakened while vessels were passing from one to another.

Moreover, each of the officers commanding squadrons had his own code of signals and vague tactical and strategic plans, and Woodbury's proposal would require every commanding officer in the Navy to be familiar with all. In the face of this reasonable argument, the Secretary withdrew his suggestion, and the relief of ships on distant service proceeded as before, with the difference that the vessels were intended to go out at intervals rather than sailing at the same time. Thereby, invalids and men coming home on leave or for other purposes could be given passage in the homeward-bound warship at little extra expense to the government.

Notwithstanding Woodbury's concern, there was no large ship  p46 ready to carry Downes's successor out when the time came for the Potomac to be relieved, and she had already left the station when Commodore Alexander S. Wentworth sailed in the sloop-of‑war Vincennes. The latter's indignity at having to go out in so small a vessel was softened in part by the knowledge that he could shift his broad pennant to the Brandywine as soon as the frigate could be readied for sea and arrive in the Pacific Ocean.

National affairs were reflected in the Pacific in 1835 when Franco-American relations became tense over the failure of the French government to pay for the depredations of French privateers in the years immediately following the American Revolution. By a treaty of 1831, France had agreed to indemnify the Americans, but the French Chambers refused to vote the money. President Jackson's annual message to Congress in December 1834, proposed that a law be enacted authorizing the United States to seize French property if the money was not voted at the following session of the Chambers. The blunt wording of the message offended the French and stirred up anti-French feeling in the United States. Both nations made preparations for war and the situation seemed serious indeed. England, however, offered to mediate; Jackson included an explanation in his next message; and the French chose to regard this as an apology. The Chambers then voted the necessary money, and the whole episode ended amicably.

In view of the condition of the United States Navy, Jackson's proposal seems little less than foolhardy. The French naval forces in the Pacific Ocean were far superior to Wadsworth's squadron, and though her men might be sure that the "roaring Brandywine" was a match for anything afloat, it is likely that even the "Brandywines" would have been unable to prevent virtually a wholesale slaughter of American whalers and merchantmen in those waters. Closer to home, newly commissioned warships might have arrived on the various stations in time to be of use, but in the eastern Pacific hardly anything short of precipitous flight could have saved Wadsworth's force. American interests would, no doubt, have suffered cruel losses before the Pacific Squadron could have been reinforced.

Although 1836 saw Franco-American relations restored to a cordial plane, the awareness of the need for a stronger force in the Pacific had been established. Therefore, the line-of‑battleship North  p47 Carolina was chosen to carry the broad pennant of Commodore Henry E. Ballard, though she could not be readied for sea before expiring enlistments forced the Brandywine to sail for the United States. Ballard was informed that Wadsworth had already left the station, but that orders for direction of the squadron had doubtless been left at Valparaiso and no additional orders were given the new commander in chief. Ballard, however, asked for and received a copy of Wadsworth's original orders from Secretary of the Navy Mahlon Dickerson.

Early in January 1837, the North Carolina was ready for sea and stood out of New York Harbor on her way to the Pacific. One week out, a seaman fell from the fore topsail yard and was lost, a surprising similarity to the Macedonian's experience, for she too had lost a man from aloft seven days after sailing. But here the resemblance ended. The North Carolina encountered some heavy weather, but nothing like the gale which dismasted the much smaller frigate. The passage to Rio de Janeiro was uneventful except for the fact that two men threw themselves overboard, only to be picked up by boats from the battleship. Apparently the North Carolina could not rival the Macedonian as a happy ship.

Ballard's flagship sailed from Rio de Janeiro on 25 March after a twenty‑day visit. She was off Cape Horn on 20 April, and anchored at Valparaiso on 14 May after a routine passage. She seems to have been favored with relatively peaceful weather, although it must be remembered that a ship-of‑the‑line would not suffer so greatly as a small vessel in any but mountainous seas.

Commodore Ballard found that Chile and Peru were at war again; accordingly, he proceeded to Callao almost immediately in order to be as close to the scene of hostilities as possible. The North Carolina arrived in the Peruvian port on 27 May, after a passage of nine days. Those newcomers to the Pacific among her company must have looked around this harbor with some curiosity, but they need not have troubled themselves. It was to become very familiar to anyone on board the North Carolina during the next two years.

The flagship of the Pacific Squadron remained at Callao until 10 December 1837. Throughout this period of more than six months, her officers and men were not idle — the ship's company of a man-o'‑war is never idle. While Commodore Ballard spent much of  p48 his time at Lima in the company of American diplomatic representatives and Peruvian officials, his subordinates were occupied with the never-ending duties necessary to keep the North Carolina efficient as a warship. Setting up rigging, painting, caulking, and work on the great guns and their appurtenances went on almost continuously, while Lieutenant Thomas O. Selfridge, acting commanding officer of the flagship, permitted no cessation of the drills without which no ship's company remains an effective fighting unit.

Nor was their concern with the big battleship alone. By this time, the squadron also included two sloops-of‑war and two schooners, and whenever these appeared at Callao, they could depend on assistance by working parties from the flagship to effect necessary repairs. The North Carolina's sailmakers would turn out new sails for one of the little schooners, while her carpenters were helping to recaulk the latter's hull and her gunners were lending a welcome hand to reeve new gun tackles to schooner carronades. Meanwhile, seamen from the larger ship would assist the crew of the little vessel in filling her water tanks. Ballard also used his flagship to some extent as a supply ship for the squadron, and her boats ferried loads of bread and other provisions from her capacious lockers to the schooner. Moreover, the battleship's large complement served as a reservoir of manpower from which vacancies in sloop and schooner complements were filled. This gave some members of the flagship's crew a chance for more active service than that afforded by duty in the North Carolina.

Occasionally the flagship did weigh anchor and stand out of the harbor, but she never got beyond the sight of land. The purpose seems to have been to give her men more realistic sail drill than was possible while she rode at anchor. During these extremely short cruises, the big ship never remained under way overnight.

Although the North Carolina's inactivity must not be interpreted as idleness, many of her men must have repeated the old proverb to the effect that she would eventually ground on the beef bones thrown overboard every day by the cooks.

An uncertain peace had come to Peru when, on 10 December 1837, the flagship weighed anchor and stood out for Valparaiso. She was giving passage to the United States chargé d'affaires from Lima, but much of the three-week run was devoted to sail handling. At Valparaiso she fell into her old habits, and was not induced to  p49 leave the harbor until 5 April 1838, when hostilities again threatened to break out farther north.

The North Carolina sailed in company with the British frigate Imogene, a vessel boasting a reputation as an able sailer. The battleship found none of the strong winds which would have given her an advantage in the race, but neither did the light airs help her rival. The two vessels remained in sight of one another virtually the whole time at sea, and the Imogene, aided by an inshore wind, entered the harbor at Callao on 13 April several hours ahead of the North Carolina, which had been becalmed farther out. She seems to have sailed very well for a ship-of‑the‑line, a type of warship usually much slower than a frigate, except in winds strong enough to force the small vessel to shorten sail without endangering the strong rigging and massive spars of the larger.

Almost a month later, a Chilean squadron arrived to blockade Callao, but this was certain to be a legal blockade since all of the nations having considerable commercial intercourse with Peru maintained sizable squadrons at that port, and were prompt to intervene on behalf of merchantmen under their flags. This time, the North Carolina remained at Callao no less than nine months, and during a considerable part of that period, Commodore Ballard kept his entire squadron — Lexington, Falmouth, Boxer, and Enterprise — anchored there also.

It is not clear what motives governed Ballard in this course. Obviously, it was necessary that the activities of the blockaders be watched, but this should not have required the services of the whole squadron. The big North Carolina alone should have been a match for several of the Chileans, if necessary. To be sure, the presence of the commodore was desirable at the most troubled harbor of the station; the senior British and French officers were at Callao also, but occasionally departed to cruise elsewhere. Moreover, Ballard must have received the letter of 20 December 1837 wherein he was informed of potential difficulties with Mexico and was told it was the President's wish that:

. . . until you shall be otherwise instructed you cause as large a portion of your Squadron as may be convenient to visit the Harbors and cruise upon the Coast of that Gov't. at such points as in your opinion may afford the best means of protecting our commerce. . . .1

 p50  But Ballard did not see fit to send more than one of his small ships at a time, and for much of his cruise it was not convenient to send any.

Whatever the commodore's reasons, his squadron remained at Callao and busied itself with the usual activity. An embarrassing moment came when, on 16 July, the schooner Enterprise was hove down for repairs. Her garboard strake was exposed and a sudden gust of wind heeled her even farther. Within a short time, she had filled and disappeared in twenty‑one feet of water. Only the barge to which she had been secured kept her from capsizing, and made her ultimate recovery much easier. The North Carolina weighed anchor the next day and stood over to the disaster scene, where her great bulk and strong spars made her invaluable in raising the schooner. On 21 July the Enterprise was again afloat, and she was ready to go to sea on 10 August. The North Carolina's crew performed most of the tasks necessary to make the schooner seaworthy after her brief immersion.

So time passed. Occasionally the flagship shifted her berth to be clear during the sporadic bombardments carried out by Chilean warships, and she weighed anchor a few times to stand out in succor of American merchantmen detained by the blockaders, although one of the sloops usually went out for this purpose. A few men deserted, but these frequently were recovered after a few days absence. Desertion was undoubtedly kept to a minimum by the policy of granting liberty fairly generously; most of the men got ashore three times during the cruise.

All things must come to an end, however, and even the North Carolina's time at Callao did so. She put to sea on 15 January 1839, arrived at Valparaiso on 10 February, and got under way homeward bound on 23 March. The battleship made her ponderous way around the Horn without incident, and stopped at Rio de Janeiro for stores and dispatches. Here she lingered for only two weeks and then stood to the northward, carrying some mutineers from the whaler Georgia home for trial. Her Pacific cruise ended in New York Harbor late in June 1839, surely one of the most uneventful and least active in the early history of the Pacific Squadron.

During her cruise of some two years and six months, the North Carolina lost twenty‑six men out of her complement of more than 800. Four of these were killed in shipboard accidents, while the  p51 remainder died of unspecified illnesses. This casualty rate compares favorably with that of the frigates, but it must be remembered that living conditions in those small and overcrowded vessels were much worse than in a comparatively spacious ship-of‑the‑line.

As stated above, the foregoing description of the North Carolina's cruise was presented in order that it might be contrasted with the far more eventful voyage of the Macedonian. However, this is not intended to be either a criticism of Commodore Ballard or a glorification of Captain Downes. The conditions prevailing on the station dictated the way in which the senior officer used his ships, and the interests of the United States seem not to have suffered unduly during either cruise. If at times Ballard's policy is not easily understood and he appears to have ignored important Department orders, it must be remembered that he was present on the Pacific Station and so had much more current information as to its needs than could be available to his seniors many thousands of miles distant.

While Commodore Ballard was commanding in the Pacific, one of the most notable exploring expeditions ever sent out by the United States government sailed from Hampton Roads, Virginia. This project had been the darling of President John Quincy Adams, who saw in the unexplored reaches of the Pacific Ocean an opportunity for his nation to make a significant contribution to geographic knowledge. Adams had attempted to win Congressional support for such an expedition in 1826, but he was rarely successful in his relations with that body, and had failed to gain its consent. Thereafter, the great project was all but forgotten until revived by President Andrew Jackson almost ten years later.

The honor of commanding the exploring squadron first went to Captain Thomas ap Catesby Jones, earlier mentioned as commanding the Peacock. He was an officer of undoubted ability, but was possessed of somewhat uncertain temperamental qualities which made themselves known as preparation of the squadron dragged along. The especially designed and built exploring vessels turned out to be miserably slow, and even worse, they drew too much water for their intended duties. Jones had been promised the new frigate Macedonian (built to replace Downes's old ship) as flagship, but she too was not suited for exploration. He became enraged over the  p52 problem of choosing subordinates, the emotional tension disturbed a troublesome wound received in 1815, and the resulting illness led him to resign the command.

Several other captains were suggested for the vacant command, but none possessed the necessary scientific training and eventually the post went to Lieutenant Charles Wilkes. He had already served as director of the Depot of Charts and Instruments (forerunner of both the Hydrographic Office and the Naval Observatory), and had been mentioned earlier as a likely astronomer for the expedition. A better selection could not have been made, but Wilkes should have been promoted for squadron command. However, he remained a lieutenant, although adopting the style of commodore at sea.

When the United States Exploring Expedition finally left Hampton Roads on 18 August 1838, it consisted of the sloops-of‑war Vincennes and Peacock, the brig-of‑war Porpoise, the pilot schooners Flying Fish and Sea Gull, and the storeship Relief. The first was flagship with Wilkes himself in command, and the slightly senior Lieutenant William L. Hudson subordinated himself to Wilkes to command the Peacock. The other officers were junior to Wilkes in rank. In all, the vessels were manned by eighty-three officers and 342 men.

The squadron's track led to Cape Horn by way of Madeira and Rio de Janeiro. Some time was devoted to surveys of the inhospitable region around Cape Horn, and there the little Sea Gull went missing with all hands during a search for the storm-delayed Relief. This was a serious loss, for the handy pilot boats had been counted on for yeoman service in shallow and restricted waters.

The squadron entered the Pacific Ocean in 1839, worked its way through the Tuamotu and Society Islands, and stopped briefly at Samoa. Accurate surveys were made of many of the islands and reefs in the waters through which the vessels passed, and much hydrographic and anthropological information was recorded. The four ships remaining in the squadron (Relief had returned to the United States after depositing her supplies at ports to be visited by the other vessels) anchored at Sydney, Australia, in November and made preparations for a visit to Antarctica.

They set out on this venture in December 1839. Despite almost unbelievable hardships and the near loss of the Peacock, the two larger vessels succeeded in sighting land, thus indicating the possibility  p53 of an Antarctic continent, a possibility which became a certainty as the Vincennes and Porpoise fought through the ice along its coast for some hundreds of miles. To the surprise of experienced British mariners, the squadron made its way back to Sydney during the southern hemisphere autumn, and refitted once more. Next came a visit to New Zealand, and then the squadron resumed its work of surveying in the Fiji Islands. The period from May to August 1840 was spent in those waters, where Wilkes encountered the only trouble with islanders to mar the cruise. Two officers were killed, and the islanders were soundly defeated by punitive landing parties.

After touching at Honolulu in October, the vessels scattered to the southward, surveying islands as far south as the Tuamotu Archipelago. Early in 1841, the squadron sailed to the Puget Sound region on the coast of North America, and undertook the surveys which had so long been desired of the Pacific Squadron. Shore parties went east and south from Puget Sound, while the vessels coasted to the southward. Another disaster overtook the expedition when the Peacock was wrecked, fortunately without loss of life, while entering the Columbia River. The spit on which she grounded still bears her name.

Undismayed by this loss, Wilkes sent a third exploring party to the southward along the Willamette River, while the remaining ships, together with a merchant brig chartered to replace the Peacock, proceeded to San Francisco. More surveys were made in the vicinity of the Sacramento River, and the party coming south overland joined the squadron once more. In November, the four vessels stood out for Honolulu to replenish provisions, and then sailed to the westward through the Caroline Islands, surveying as they went. At Manila, Wilkes decided that the projected visit to Japan should be given up because the Peacock's loss had so weakened his squadron; instead, he stopped at Sulu to conclude trade agreements with the ruler in February 1842.

Its work finally ended, the Exploring Expedition returned to the Atlantic by way of the Cape of Good Hope, and arrived at New York early in June 1842.

In all, the officers of the squadron had surveyed more than two hundred islands and hundreds of miles of North American and  p54 Antarctic coastlines. The hydrographic information so gained was invaluable, and Wilkes's surveys have proven to be accurate almost without exception. His vessels were not well fitted for the duties they performed, and it is amazing that only two were lost in the course of a voyage of circumnavigation during which the Pacific Ocean was crossed three times and many uncharted regions were visited. The excellence of the work done by the Exploring Expedition may be indicated by the fact that American warships passage in the central Pacific during World War II frequently used charts which bore the notation "U. S. Ex. Ex."

Unfortunately, Lieutenant Wilkes's homecoming was marred by a series of charges and countercharges which culminated in a general court-martial. He was found guilty of punishing some of his men illegally, and was publicly reprimanded. No doubt he was something of a martinet, and his subsequent difficulties during the Civil War were in large part due to his own conceit, but these cannot lessen the value of the work he performed in the Pacific Ocean. The Exploring Expedition remains one of the greatest peacetime achievements of the United States Navy.

The naval vessels cruising on distant stations received the usual orders to render every assistance to Lieutenant Wilkes, but it cannot be stated that the Pacific Squadron was able to give him much aid. At no time did he fall in with the commander in chief on Pacific Station, and no help seems to have been desired. However, it must be admitted that the Pacific Squadron was one of the principal beneficiaries of Wilkes's work. Many of the islands and reefs charted by his squadron were within the limits of the Pacific Station.

Meanwhile, Commodore Alexander Claxton had been ordered to the Pacific in 1839 as Ballard's relief. He was allowed the privilege of naming a commanding officer for the flagship Constitution, and chose his good friend Captain Daniel Turner for the position. This led to complications, for Claxton himself was officially only a captain, and two officers of that rank, even when one is decidedly junior to the other, are apt to find one ship too small for their combined dignities.

At the outset all went well. Claxton and Turner converted the commodore's and captain's quarters into one large apartment, shared mess expense, and generally existed as equals. However, it was not long before Claxton began to take an interest in the ship's organization  p55 as well. This was not surprising — he had no duties at all to perform on the long outward passage, and time passed slowly. The first sign of trouble came when Captain Turner found that the purser had issued certain articles of slop clothing to the Constitution's crew without the knowledge or permission of his commanding officer. Claxton assumed the responsibility; he felt that the men needed this clothing and had not thought it necessary to trouble his good friend with so minor a matter. Further investigation disclosed that the commodore had taken more than a passing interest in the outfitting of the flagship, and Turner sought to impress upon his senior that he did not wish the latter to become involved in details which were the responsibility of the commanding officer.

All was forgiven after this little incident, and relations between the two captains remained cordial while "Old Ironsides" plowed southward through the Atlantic and then northward in the Pacific. But this harmony gradually ceased to prevail in the monotony of cruising along the western coast or swinging idly at anchor in a sleepy South American harbor. There was simply too little to do to keep the commodore occupied, and soon Turner began to be aware of minor infringements of his duties. Mild remonstrances led to sharper rejoinders, for each man felt the dignity of his position, and both shared the delicate sense of honor which characterized captains of the United States Navy. Claxton was surprised and hurt that the officer whom he regarded as a younger brother (or more nearly, as a son) should resent his efforts to be helpful. Turner, for his part, began to find the commodore's manner irritatingly condescending, and the rift widened rapidly. Once the commodore's and captain's quarters resumed their separate identities, and the manner of each captain toward the other became increasingly cold.

Matters reached an impasse on 2 February 1840, when Turner asked to be allowed to return to the United States. This request brought the following exchange of letters on the next day:

[Claxton to Turner] A sense of public duty forbids that I should grant your request of this date. [The request is dated on the preceding day in Turner's letter book.] If I had the will, I have not the power, according to my view of Service.

[Turner to Claxton] I request you will grant me permission to leave this Ship, and remain on shore, until the pleasure of the Hon. the Secretary of the Navy may be known respecting my return to the United States.

 p56  [Claxton to Turner] By a rule of service the command of this Ship is entrusted to a Captain. No Captain being present whom I could with propriety order in your place, I am unable to grant your request to remain on shore.2

This decidedly unpleasant situation was not improved with the passage of time. Claxton persisted in being amazed at the ingratitude of the man for whom he had done so much, and continued his efforts to bring Turner to a more reasonable attitude. The latter became more sensitive to the wrongs done him, and the enmity grew. Neither seemed able to drop the formal correspondence which had become their only method of communication. From the veiled, and later, open threats which appeared in these letters, it is apparent that an official inquiry, and probably, one or more general courts-martial might have resulted when the Constitution returned to the United States.

However, the whole matter was decided suddenly by a higher authority even than the Secretary of the Navy. Commodore Alexander Claxton died on 7 March 1841 after being stricken by an especially virulent form of dysentery. His remains were respectfully interred at Lima, and his late antagonist assumed command of the Pacific Squadron. In accordance with Navy Regulations, he did not presume to hoist a broad pennant or take the title of commodore.

Reports of this and similar altercations between commodores and officers commanding flagships reached the Navy Department, and Secretary Abel P. Upshur issued a circular for the future guidance of those officers concerned. This pointed out that the flag officer's relationship to the captain of the flagship should be the same as that of every other officer commanding in the squadron. Further, the commodore would lessen his own dignity by taking part in the internal organization of a particular ship, and this practice would tend to undermine the authority of the vessel's rightful captain. Upshur closed with a strong intimation that too much familiarity between a flag officer and any one of his captains was very likely to cause trouble. But a mere circular was hardly enough. The commodore commanding on a distant station was nearly an absolute monarch, and his conduct could rarely receive official attention before the end of his cruise. A more effective solution to the problem lay in the creation of an official rank above that of captain, but Congress was not yet ready to authorize such a flag rank.

 p57  Captain Turner, on taking command of the Pacific Squadron, found that he had the St. Louis sloop and the schooner Shark under his orders. The storeship Relief was at Callao, and the third-class sloops Dale and Yorktown were on their way to join the squadron, the former as the St. Louis's relief and the latter to cruise on the Pacific whaling grounds. His predecessor's orders advised him that the entire west coast of South America as far north as Panama was his responsibility and that he might be called on to send vessels to the Hawaiian and Society Islands if the need arose. It was also desirable that one of the smaller ships cruise on the California coast occasionally. As usual, the primary motives for this keeping a squadron on the eastern Pacific were "protection of commerce and improvement of discipline by affording active service to a portion of the officers and crews of our vessels."3

Actually, the coastal waters of Mexico and California were more important at this time than Secretary of the Navy James K. Paulding had foreseen when he sent out Claxton's sailing orders. The end of hostilities between Chile and Peru permitted the Pacific Squadron to give its attention to events farther to the north. Already, in June 1840, Commander French Forrest of the St. Louis had touched at Monterey in response to reports that American and British citizens had been imprisoned on suspicion that they were planning to set up a government independent of Mexico.4 Diplomacy backed by a threat of force won their release and Mexican recognition of their claims for reimbursement. The St. Louis did not remain to enforce payment, however, and the claims dragged on for years.

When the Yorktown arrived at Callao, Commander John H. Aulick set out to collect such information as would enable him to perform his whale fishery protection duty efficiently. He learned in conversations with whaler captains that:

. . . the present Fishing Ground of a large portion of the Whalers in this Sea, is on this coast between Longitudes 118° and 125° west, but some go as far as the Marquesas and Society Islands. What they call the Japan Fleet, fish between the Latitudes 28° and 32° North, and Longitudes 165 West, and 155 East, and rarely go within sight of the Coast, with which, they say, they would not be allowed by the Natives to have any communications.

The season for whaling ther[e], is from April to October, they never remain to the eastward of 180° Longitude after the 1st Sept. when the hurricane season commences. They then draw to the Westward and  p58 generally assemble in Nov. and Dec. at the Sandwich Islands for refreshment and repairs, after which some visit the Coast of California.5

In accordance with his orders, Aulick fitted out for a long transpacific cruise, no new experience for him since in 1835‑1836 he had commanded the Vincennes on a cruise through south Pacific islands, thence northward to Guam and the Palau Islands, and returned to the United States by way of the Cape of Good Hope. This time, however, he was ordered to return to the Pacific Station at the termination of his voyage, since it was not expected to last for more than a year.

The Claxton-Turner cruise was marked by a definite increase in the size of the Pacific Station. The growing importance of areas in Central and North America has been noted, and in 1839 the Congress had become concerned about the defense of the Oregon Territory. Secretary Paulding referred the question to the Board of Navy Commissioners, and Commodore Isaac Chauncey answered that this area could be defended only by land forces and fortifications. However, the Pacific Station would co‑operate with the military to the fullest extent.

Two years later, Commodore Lewis Warrington, president of the Board, recommended the first geographical limits for the Pacific Station: "All the west coast of America, and westward from the meridian Cape Horn to the 180th degree of longitude; and southward between those meridians to the South Pole."6 Perhaps the absence of a northern limit reflects uncertainty as to the probable importance of the waters north of Hawaii; more likely it was understood that the limit of navigation in the unknown seas to the north was also the northern boundary of the Pacific Station. If so, the Pacific Station had finally come to encompass the area which was to be included within its limits for more than eighty years.


The Author's Notes:

1 Dickerson to Ballard, 20 December 1837, "Letters to Officers, Ships of War, March 1798–September 1868," XXV, 28.

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2 Captain Daniel Turner's correspondence, 2 and 3 February 1840, "Letter Books of Officers of the United States Navy at Sea, March 1778–July 1908."

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3 Paulding to Claxton, 9 May 1839, "Letters to Officers, Ships of War, March 1798–September 1868," XXIV, 431‑439.

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4 Louis N. Feipel, "The United States Navy in Mexico, 1821‑1914," U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings, XLI (1915), 44, puts this visit in 1841. It is true that St. Louis was at Monterey in May 1841, but George P. Hammond, ed., The Larkin Papers (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1951‑1955), I, 45‑46, and Hubert H. Bancroft, The History of California (San Francisco: A. L. Bancroft and Co. and The History Co., 1884‑1890), IV, 36, make it clear that the following incident occurred in 1840. The rank of commander replaced the cumbersome title of master-commandant.

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5 Aulick to Turner, 11 May 1841, "Turner's Letter Book."

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6 Warrington to Badger, 8 May 1841, "Board of Navy Commissioners' Letters to the Secretary of the Navy, April 1815–August 1842," VII, 39.


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