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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 3

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Admiral Franklin Buchanan

Charles Lee Lewis

published by
The Norman, Remington Company

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 5

This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.


Chapter IV

The Blue Mediterranean

In view of the many intimate associations which Buchanan was afterwards to have with Annapolis, it is an interesting fact that the young midshipman first went aboard the Java off that port, for she had dropped down there from Baltimore to take on board the remainder of her stores before proceeding on an extensive cruise. While his ship was anchored off this city, at that time the "seat of wealth, refinement, and hospitality",​1 Perry and his officers were courteously invited to a public dinner which they were forced to decline because of the shortness of their stay; but when the ship got under way for Hampton Roads a salute was fired as a compliment to the Annapolitans. After a considerable delay at Hampton Roads, occasioned by a series of storms at sea, the frigate eventually arrived at New York on the ninth of September, where new standing rigging and new carriages for nearly all of her main-deck guns were fitted for her, owing to defects in her construction at Baltimore.

On the twenty-second of January, 1816, the Java set sail for the Mediterranean from Newport, Rhode Island, whence the ship had gone to receive additions to her crew. She carried the newly ratified treaty with Algiers,  p25 and dispatches for Mr. William Shaler, the American consul at that place. An exceedingly rapid passage, though a stormy one, was made. On the fourteenth day out when some hundred miles off Cape St. Vincent, according to Mackenzie, "the maintopmast parted above the cap and went over into the larboard waist, carrying the main-topsail-yard with it, and dragging after it the mizzen-topgallant-mast." At the time ten men were on the yard taking in the main-topgallant-sail, and five of them were killed and others were badly injured. The ship appeared as though she had just been in a hard-fought action, and Doctor Parsons, who had been Perry's surgeon in the Battle of Lake Erie, said that he was reminded of the bloody scenes of that famous battle. In spite of this delay, however, the ship arrived off Gibraltar on February 13, only twenty‑one days out from Newport.

Such was Buchanan's first voyage in a man-of‑war. What his early impressions of sea life were is not known, as none of his letters relating to this cruise are extant; but from passages of poetry which he copied in his notebooks, it is evident that he was in his youth sensitive to beauty and romance. Accordingly, his reactions were probably similar to those of another midshipman​2 who wrote as follows of his first cruise which was made about the year 1828:

"There is certainly a great fascination in the life, a charm in the very loneliness of the solitary ship as she gracefully slides through the sea; a charm that is intensified to a youngster of his first cruise by the extreme novelty of everything he sees and hears on shipboard and in the air around him. What wonderment fills his soul at the vast amount of work following  p26 each terse sharp order of the officer of the deck in language all Greek to the tyro! He hears in seeming answer the shrill piping of the boatswain's whistle, and sees the men on watch swarming aloft and in an instant sails are furled or set as ordered; and, at another order, down they speed on the deck where again perfect quiet prevails, except from the singing of the wind in the rigging, or from the heavy swash of the leaping waters as they roll back heaving and surging under the bows of the ship. His eye takes in the graceful lines of the flowing canvas which clothes the ship from royals to deck; and the tapering spars and taut rigging sharply outlined against the snowy whiteness of the sails hold the gaze entranced awhile ere it falls upon the tossing billows, which near at hand would seemingly strive to o'erwhelm us as we passes over their crests, but which, as the glance nears the distant horizon, gradually appears to fall away until that faint line is reached, so level and unbroken, marking, as it were, where the waters end and the blue of the sky begins."

Entering the Mediterranean, the Java touched at Malaga, and then set sail for Port Mahon on the Island of Minorca, where she arrived March 7. This was a favorite rendezvous for ships in the Mediterranean in those days, and approximated the midshipman's idea of an earthly paradise. Here, according to Park Benjamin,​3

"Jack believed everything afloat in the Mediterranean finally drifted, and embalmed his superstition in the doggerel which all the navy knew:

'Off Cape de Gat

I lost my hat,

 p27  And where do you think I found it?

At Port Mahon,

Behind a stone,

With all the girls around it.'

Mahon of the red‑legged partridges and 'monkey soup',​a and the illimitable family bearing the name of Orfela; Mahon of the toothsome datefish and the succulent 'salsiche' sausage; Mahon, that was whitewashed all over every Saturday afternoon; Mahon, where even midshipmen could borrow money and yet be prevented from paying the debt with the maintop bowline, which means not at all; Mahon of the best 'nougat' in the world, and of other confections dear to the sweet tooth of youth; Mahon of Conchita and Mercedes, and — but ask any of the old gallants on the retired list if you want more." Mahon also had "retreats where the midshipmen could gamble away his last copper at monte, and come back singing,

'So of all the ports I have been in

Mahon is the best of them all;

There's no other place that so quickly,

Will prove a poor sailor's downfall, —'

or perhaps never return at all, but just lie quietly looking up at the sky with sightless eyes with a messmate's bullet in his heart, at the Golden Farm or Hospital Island, where the duels were fought."

In this port, the Java joined the Mediterranean squadron, composed of the frigate United States, Commodore John Shaw; the frigate Constellation, Captain Charles Gordon; the sloop Erie, Captain William N. Crane; and the sloop Ontario, Captain John Downes.  p28 After a few weeks the entire squadron sailed, on April 5, for Algiers, off which place it arrived three days later. Lord Exmouth was then anchored off the town with an English fleet of some dozen vessels, endeavoring to wring from the Dey a treaty, as advantageous in its terms to England as the one Decatur by force had recently negotiated for the United States. This state of affairs contributed to the Dey's finding an excuse for refusing to accept the ratified treaty which had been brought to him by the Java; and the Americans began making secret preparations for an attack on the city and the destruction of the Algerian navy. Scaling ladders were quickly made, cutlasses and pikes were sharpened, and everything gotten ready for striking a blow the same night the American consul withdrew on board the flagship. But unfortunately the preparations were reported to the Dey by a French frigate and the plan was given up because, without the element of surprise, it could not have been carried out without great loss of life. Thus, Midshipman Buchanan came very near to participation in an adventurous experience on his very first cruise.

From Algiers the squadron proceeded to Tripoli, and thence to Syracuse, Messina, and Palermo. Upon learning at the latter place that Tunis was on the point of making trouble for American shipping in the Mediterranean, the Constellation, Java, Erie, and Ontario sailed for that port, where they arrived on the eighteenth of June. Having put things in order here, the ships then dispersed to carry out their duties at different Mediterranean ports, the Java proceeding to Gibraltar, where she secured supplies and then sailed in company with the ship of the line Washington, Commodore Chauncey, to Naples, at which place the whole squadron eventually assembled.

 p29  At Naples was landed the American minister, Mr. Pinckney, who had been sent to attempt the collection from this unreliable government of the payment for damages which they had inflicted on American commerce a few years before when they were under Napoleon's control. Toward the end of August the squadron sailed for Messina, where Perry had the unfortunate altercation with one of his marine officers, Captain Heath, which afterwards resulted in a duel between the two men. Early in November it returned to Gibraltar, visiting on the way Tripoli, Tunis, Algiers, and Malaga.

From here the Java returned to Algiers with American commissioners to negotiate another treaty with that troublesome country. Having accomplished this mission, the frigate was ordered home from Port Mahon with the new treaty, on January 12, 1817. Touching at Malaga and Gibraltar, the ship sailed from the latter place on January 25 and arrived at Newport on March 3. The passage was made easily with delightful weather until the ship approached the American coast when heavy seas made it necessary to keep all the pumps going. The most unpleasant feature of the return voyage was an outbreak of smallpox among the crew, which resulted in several deaths. After a month in Newport, the Java proceeded to Boston, where she arrived April 5 and immediately afterwards was dismantled.

Such was the nature of Buchanan's first cruise, on a man-of‑war, which had been both interesting and educative. Every opportunity possible had been afforded by Captain Perry to the young officers to visit the storied scenes of the Mediterranean ports, such as Messina, Syracuse, Tunis, and Naples. Alexander Slidell Mackenzie,  p30 who was one of the midshipmen on the Java on this cruise, writes as follows of the interest Perry showed in his midshipmen:

"The works of his own well-selected library having reference to the past history and the existing antiquities of these venerable regions were freely placed at the disposal of the curious, and all encouraged to read. On every occasion he manifested the most ardent zeal and persevering interest in the improvement of the younger midshipmen. They were compelled to devote a given portion of each day to studies connected with their profession, under his own eye, in the cabin, the forward part of which he relinquished to them for this purpose. A competent teacher was always on board to teach them French and Spanish; and a good swordsman, to render them skilful in the use of arms. Even the lighter accomplishment of dancing, which their early removal from home might have prevented them from becoming proficient in, was not neglected. Having prepared these facilities for improvement, he made it his constant business to see that they were not neglected; and many a reluctant wight was compelled, by the terrors of a displeasure which, though only exhibited by a few brief words of admonition, few were willing to encounter, to labor for his own advancement."​4

Buchanan was fortunate indeed to have taken his first cruise as a midshipman under such a commanding officer. That he succeeded in pleasing his captain is evident from a letter which was written after the young midshipman had requested, on the return of the Java to the United States, to be ordered to the Ontario. He understood that this vessel was to sail in a few days for Europe, and he declared, "I am desirous of gaining as  p31 much experience in my profession, and remaining in active service as long as I possibly can". Whereupon Perry wrote, May 24, 1817, Secretary Crowninshield this request: "Midshipmen Franklin Buchanan and Wm. McKean have requested my aid in obtaining orders for them to join the Ontario, having understood she is bound on a cruise. They have been under my command for some time, and I do not know two more promising young men. If they can be gratified in their laudable ambition to improve themselves, consistently with your arrangements, it will afford me pleasure."

This request, however, was not granted by the Secretary, and on May 30 following Buchanan was ordered to duty on the brig Prometheus, commanded by Master Commandant Alexander S. Wadsworth, uncle of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. This vessel was then engaged in making surveys along the Atlantic coast under the general direction of Commodore William Bainbridge, then in command of the Naval Station at Boston. It might be called the first practice cruise for midshipmen in the history of the United States Navy. The ship was manned principally by midshipmen, who swung their hammocks on the berth-deck and performed all the duties of enlisted seamen, handling the sails and steering as well as holystoning the decks and cleaning the ship. The harbor of Portsmouth and several other places were surveyed on the cruise. Midshipman Buchanan was to serve on this vessel only a few months, however. For, on September 3 he wrote from Boston to the Secretary of the Navy requesting more active duty on the ship of the line Franklin, 74 guns, and on October 2 following he received his orders to join that splendid ship. Soon afterwards he had the good fortune  p32 to make in her another long cruise in the Mediterranean.

The Franklin was ordered to this station as the flagship of the squadron, commanded by Commodore Charles Stewart, who had distinguished himself in the War of 1812, particularly by the simultaneous capture of two British ships, the Cyane and the Levant, when he was in command of the Constitution. The Franklin, under command of Master Commandant Henry E. Ballard, sailed from Chester, Pennsylvania, October 28. She was a fast sailer, and as she went down the Delaware, according to her commanding officer, she passed several "swift sailing vessels that went down with her as if they had been at anchor". On November 8 she arrived at Annapolis where she was joined by Commodore Stewart, who had come overland, and by Mr. Richard Rush, minister to England, and his family. On November 19​5 the ship set sail for Europe; and passing the Virginia Capes November 24 and in sight of Bermuda five days later, she came to anchor in Cowes Roads (Portsmouth, England) on December 17, after an uneventful voyage across the Atlantic. Here, Mr. Rush, the minister, and his suite left the ship for London, accompanied by Commodore Stewart and Captain Ballard. At Spithead, whence the Franklin shifted her berth on December 30, was then anchored a Russian fleet of five ships of the line and three frigates; also His Majesty's Frigate Tigress, commanded by Captain  p33 Dacres, who had been defeated by Captain Hull in the War of 1812 in the famous ships' duel between the Constitution and the Guerrière.

On January 1, 1818, the Franklin sailed for her station in the Mediterranean, and sighting Gibraltar, Algiers, and Malta on the way, arrived January 29 in the harbor of Syracuse, Sicily where she joined the squadron, commanded by Commodore Isaac Chauncey, consisting of the ship of the line Washington, Captain J. O. Creighton, the frigate United States, Master Commandant Crane, and the sloop Erie, Master Commandant Thomas Gamble. On February 1, Commodore Chauncey hauled down the blue pennant and hoisted the red, and Commodore Stewart took command of the squadron, the ships simultaneously firing a salute of eighteen guns. A week later the squadron sailed to Messina where some two months were spent in painting and overhauling the ships, in preparation for the two years' service on the blue Mediterranean.

It would be tedious to try to follow in detail the movements of even the flagship Franklin, not to mention the other units of the squadron, as they sailed here and there during the next two years, like shuttles on a weaver's loom. Sometimes two or three ships sailed in company; sometimes they cruised alone. Sometimes they came to anchor at Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli; at other times, they merely looked in to see if all was quiet or sailed in sight of the place to let the corsairs know that Uncle Sam's warships were on the watch. They learned to know the coast of Sicily like the palm of the hand, and frequently they called at the Italian ports  p34 Leghorn and Naples;​6 they touched often at Gibraltar, Algeciras, Cadiz, and Malaga in Spain; they visited the islands of Corsica and Minorca and Elba. They often conveyed Shaler, American consul at Algiers, on diplomatic missions from place to place; they carried Mr. Jonathan Russell and his family from Syracuse to Gibraltar where he took ship for the United States. He had been one of the negotiators of the Treaty of Ghent with Great Britain, and then minister to Norway and Sweden, and at this time was on his way home from this post.

The Franklin was often visited by notables. At Leghorn, the Duke of Modena and the officers of a Genoese frigate came aboard with other distinguished persons; also Captain Maitland of His Majesty's Frigate Glasgow. In Cadiz Bay, a Spanish admiral was entertained on the ship. At Naples, the ship was visited by Francis I, the Emperor of Austria, and Ferdinand, King of Naples, with their suites, in honor of whom Commodore Stewart hoisted the Austrian colors at the Franklin's fore and the Neapolitan flag at the mizzen masthead, manned the yards, and fired two salutes of twenty‑one guns each; and a week later the Viceroy of Sicily and his suite, on visiting the vessel, were accorded another salute of eighteen guns. It was during the visit of the Emperor of Austria that an incident occurred which  p35 gave rise to a very amusing yarn, long current in the navy and sometimes applied to other ships than the Franklin. While the royal guests wandered about the decks, one of the Emperor's chamberlains mistook a windsail for a mast and, leaning against it, was precipitated into the cockpit and broke his leg. As the chamberlain fell, an American quartermaster faced aft and in a very loud voice very amusingly reported to the officer of the deck, "One of them kings has fallen down a hatch, sir".​7

Among the ships which thus sailed back and forth on the blue Mediterranean, keeping these various "fretful realms in awe", were besides those already mentioned the little brig Spark, Master Commandant Joseph J. Nicholson, the sloop Peacock, commanded by Master Commandant George W. Rodgers, and the frigate Guerrière, Captain Thomas Macdonough, the latter having won great fame in the War of 1812.

A few passages taken at random from Buchanan's matter of fact journal of this cruise may serve as little windows through which one may possibly catch glimpses of the life aboard the Franklin on the waters of the Mediterranean. For instance, note the following: September 15, 1818, "Spoke an English boat who informed us she had been chased by an Algerine; Corsair then in sight to leeward"; February 22, 1819, "Fired salute of 13 guns . . . as this is a day of festivity no work will be done on board"; October 29, "At 9 A.M. hoisted the colors halfmast in respect to the late Commodore O. H. Perry"; November 14 (Sunday), "Read an order condemning dueling"; December 14, "At 9:15 a very extraordinary large brilliant meteor made its appearance to  p36 eastward and passed some distance astern of the ship; shortly after it disappeared a report was heard resembling that of a distant gun and a noise like that of thunder which lasted nearly a minute"; January 7, 1820, "At 11 called all hands to witness Punishment on W. H. Rainy, 12 lashes, crime Drunkenness"; January 16, "Commences with light variable airs, thick cloudy and rainy weather with a heavy swell from the northward and eastward setting the ship on the Island of Corsica. At 4 P.M. discovered breakers on the lee beam and astern; all hands employed working ship. From 4 to 8 light airs, the ship entirely unmanageable drifting towards the shore" (Fortunately when the vessel was about three miles from the breakers, a light breeze sprung up which enabled the captain to save his ship from destruction, or Buchanan's career might have ended then and there); January 26, "John Pady, captain mizzen top, fell from the masthead on deck and expired immediately; boats employed watering ship".

March 6, 1820 was a red letter day in Buchanan's journal, for it was then that the Franklin set sail on the homeward voyage, cheered and saluted with thirteen guns from the Peacock and the Guerrière. Touching at Santa Cruz, Island of Teneriffe, where Admiral Blake gained everlasting fame and where Nelson lost his right arm, and at Port Praya, Isle of St. Iago, the ship then spread her white wings on March 30, and after a rapid but uneventful passage sighted Dominica, Martinique, and Guadeloupe in the West Indies on April 9. Four days later the ship was off Porto Rico, and on April 24 she came to anchor at New York.

Buchanan had thus spent the greater part of his first five years in the navy on the blue Mediterranean, where  p37 he had served under two distinguished naval officers, Oliver Hazard Perry and Charles Stewart, and been associated with other naval leaders whose names shine bright on the pages of naval history, — Thomas Macdonough, John Downes, Alexander Slidell Mackenzie, and others almost as distinguished. He had also been brought into personal touch with interesting characters on the Barbary Coast, and in Spain and Italy. In beautiful and picturesque surroundings he had been permitted to observe the habits and customs of many different nations, whose history had thus been vitalized for him. He had sailed over the waters where the battles of Cape St. Vincent and Trafalgar had been fought not so many years before; he had often been at Gibraltar whose surrounding waters were veritably liquid history; he had seen Corsica where the great Napoleon was born and visited Elba which had confined the restless spirit of the "Little Corporal" for a short time while Europe had respite; he had seen the wonders of nature spread with a lavish hand round the Bay of Naples and on the Island of Sicily, whose storied past had been further enriched by the recent associations with the deeds of Lord Nelson, some of which indeed had not been creditable to the great admiral.

This was the school of experience which fitted Buchanan to play the role of a "gentleman and officer" in the Navy of the United States. The cultural advantages thus afforded, it must be admitted, went a long way towards supplying the needs of the service at that time; and when Midshipman Buchanan returned to New York from the Mediterranean at the age of twenty, he was as well equipped for the duties of his profession as any other midshipman in the service.

The Author's Notes:

1 Life of Oliver Hazard Perry by A. S. Mackenzie, II.99.

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2 From Reefer to Rear Admiral by Benjamin F. Sands, p13.

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3 The United States Naval Academy, pp74, 75.

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4 Life of Oliver Hazard Perry by A. S. Mackenzie, II.140, 141.

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5 The details of this cruise have been taken from "Journal kept on board the U. S. Ship Franklin of 74 guns, Commodore Charles Stewart; H. E. Ballard, commander. November 23, 1817," kept by Midshipman Franklin Buchanan. This is the earliest complete journal kept by Buchanan that has been preserved; it is to be found in the United States Naval Academy Library. The journal of the homeward voyage of the Java, Captain Perry, Jan. 12‑Mar. 3, 1847, and a fragment of the journal of the Prometheus, both kept by Buchanan, are also preserved in the Naval Academy Library.

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6 Here a revolution demanding a constitutional government broke out a few weeks after the return of the Franklin to the United States. Since the Congress of Vienna had enabled Prince Metternich of Austria to carry out his wish to make Italy merely "a geographical expression," the Neapolitans together with other Italians had grown more determined every year to destroy the dominant reactionary influence of Austria in the Italian peninsula; and as one of the means to that end established the secret societies known as the Carbonari. It was around such potential political volcanoes that the American warships hovered.

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7 This is verified as having happened on the Franklin in a letter by Commodore Stewart of June, 1819 in Captains' Letters, Navy Department Library.

Thayer's Note:

a I've been unable to discover what this sailors' inside joke of Benjamin's refers to. My best guess is that it's an English approximation of some Catalan or Spanish word, or even of a local attempt to pronounce an English phrase for the benefit of the visiting seaman. Since Benjamin's "Orfela" and "salsiche" are both wrong — should be Orfila and salchicha or possibly salsicha — "monkey soup" is going to be a difficult nut to crack. If you know what this is about (spare me the silly and/or offensive Brazilian connection, though), I'd love to hear from you.

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Page updated: 27 Sep 21