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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 6

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 8

This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.


Chapter VII

The Fair Constellation

After Buchanan's arduous service in the Caribbean, he had the good fortune to again see duty on the Mediterranean, at that time the most pleasant and interesting naval service. The Navy of the United States felt entirely at home in those waters, where some of the most brilliant achievements of its officers had been performed. Feeling that this great sea was not Mare Nostrum (our sea) to those nations alone which bordered upon its waters, the government of the United States was determined that the doctrine of the freedom of the seas should be applied fully to its lanes of commerce.

The frigate Constellation, to which Buchanan was ordered on June 4, 1829 as third lieutenant, was one of the most famous war vessels in the Navy. It has already​1 been referred to as the ship in which Captain Thomas Truxtun won fame in the Naval War with France. She also saw service in the War with Tripoli, the War of 1812, and the brief War with Algiers. It was a high privilege for one like Buchanan, whose mind loved to dwell upon the glorious deeds of American naval heroes, to serve on this vessel which had played such a noble part in building up worthy naval traditions.

The frigate, then at Norfolk, was commanded by  p61 Captain Alexander S. Wadsworth; his first lieutenant was Hiram Paulding, and he had besides five other lieutenants, one passed midshipman, and nineteen midshipmen, among whom were David D. Porter and John Rodgers, sons of distinguished naval officers. There were also a surgeon, two acting assistant surgeons, a purser, and a chaplain. Her crew numbered about 350 men.​2

On July 8, President Jackson and Secretary of the Navy John Branch came down from Washington to Norfolk, and the Constellation manned the yards and cheered the President as he passed that ship. The frigate sailed, on the 16th, for New York with the Secretary of the Navy on board. Here, Louis McLane and William Cabell Rives, ministers to England and France respectively, were taken aboard, as well as Commodore James Biddle who was going out to command the Mediterranean squadron, and on August 15 the Constellation departed for Europe. "A little before sunset, the hoarse cry of the boatswain, echoed by his mates through every part of the ship, was heard, 'All hands, up anchor, ahoy!' No electric shock ever produced a more sudden or visible effect. It seemed as if new powers of enjoyment had been suddenly communicated to every individual on board. The first lieutenant seized the trumpet, the capstan-bars were speedily shipped, and at the command 'Heave!' they flew round like the spokes of a wagon-wheel. Nothing could surpass the alacrity with which the men worked, and the anchor was soon snugly deposited in its place under the bows. At the command,  p62 'Lay aloft to make sail!' the topmen sprang to their stations in the rigging, and it was not long before our gallant Constellation was dashing the foam from her sides, and with sails gracefully swelling to the breeze, moving like a thing of life 'the ocean waves among'. "​3

All went pleasantly until the night of the 28th when a storm arose and the remainder of the voyage was rough and boisterous. "The ocean for many days in succession appeared like a vast expanse of moving mountains. Nothing could surpass its dark and angry sublimity. But a frigate under such circumstances is not a very comfortable place of residence."​4 At length, on the 12th of September,​a1 the vessel came to anchor off Cowes. Here Minister McLane left for London, and the officers had a few days for visiting the sights in that vicinity, among which was Nelson's flagship, the Victory, in the harbor of Portsmouth. On August 21,​a2 the frigate sailed and, calling at Havre to land Mr. Rives, the Minister to France, then proceeded the next day towards the Mediterranean. Cape St. Vincent was passed on October 4, and Nelson's first great naval battle was brought to mind. Two days later, the Constellation passed through the Straits into the Mediterranean, "that glorious ocean in miniature, sowed with a thousand fairy islands, surrounded by the loveliest and most illustrious portions of the globe, and canopied by the purest and brightest skies that ever smiled on the lovers of nature".​5

Arriving off Gibraltar, October 7, where the American consul was communicated with, the Constellation departed at once for Port Mahon. Near her destination  p63 on October 14, the frigate was kept at sea several days longer by a fierce gale which lashed the sea into a fury. When the storm was almost at its height, a man fell overboard. The sea was too rough to order men into a boat to attempt a rescue; but Buchanan, who happened to be officer of the deck, instantly gave over his duties to another lieutenant and, jumping into one of the quarter-boats, called out for volunteers. The cutter was soon manned, lowered, and launched. It looked as though the boat would be swallowed up by every successive wave, but she successfully made her way to the drowning man who had been struggling in the rough water for thirty minutes and was almost completely exhausted when the boat reached him. When Buchanan stepped on the quarter-deck, Commodore Biddle seized his hand and declared that he never expected to see him again and that, if he had been on deck at the time, he would not have permitted him to risk his life in such a hazardous undertaking.

In the beautiful and capacious harbor of Port Mahon (Island of Minorca) the Constellation joined, on October 19, the ship of the line Delaware, Commodore Crane, the sloop Warren, Master Commandant Charles W. Skinner, and the frigate Java, Captain Downes. Three days later the Delaware returned to the United States; while on October 31 the remainder of the squadron sailed for Tripoli to settle a difficulty which had arisen between the Bey and the American consul. No other port in the Mediterranean has such an interest for the American naval officer, for it was there that Decatur and Somers and the other members of that gallant band of Preble's "school boys" covered themselves with glory. The gloomy walls of the Bey's Castle, no doubt, brought  p64 back gloomy thoughts to Commodore Biddle, who as a midshipman was imprisoned there for many months with Captain Bainbridge and the other officers of the Philadelphia when that unfortunate frigate fell into the hands of the Tripolitans.​b

After a cruise of four weeks, the squadron was back at Port Mahon where the next four winter months were spent. On April 1, the Constellation and Ontario sailed to look after American interests at Algiers. France was then making active preparations for an expedition against that city, and her fleet was expected to sail in a few weeks from Toulon. Soon afterwards operations were indeed carried out successfully by the French in a naval expedition of some three hundred sail, and from the year 1830 to the present Algeria has been an important colonial possession of France.

The American squadron remained only a week off Algiers, and then sailed for Tunis, where the officers were given the opportunity of paying a most interesting call on the Bashaw and his Court, and of visiting the ruins of Carthage. The names of Dido and Aeneas, Hannibal, Regulus, and Scipio were thus made more real as Buchanan and his fellow officers stood upon this grave of the capital of a mighty empire, which at one time was no unworthy rival of Rome, for the ships of Carthage whitened the Mediterranean and her armies overran Italy and knocked at the very gates of Rome.

The squadron returned to its base by way of Tangier and Gibraltar, arriving at Port Mahon the 24th of May. The year 1830 was one of revolution and turmoil throughout southern Europe, and it was one of the chief duties of the Mediterranean Squadron to call at strategic ports now and then in order to keep in touch with  p65 current events. The summer cruise of the Constellation and the Ontario, accordingly, included Barcelona, where Ferdinand and Isabella received Columbus on his return from the discovery of the New World; Marseilles,​6 the most important French city, historically and commercially, on the Mediterranean; Genoa,​7 the home of the great seaman Andrea Doria; Leghorn,​8 and finally Naples, where the ships lay at anchor for several weeks, surrounded by the unparalleled beauty of the envoys of this city, which Buchanan had already seen on a previous cruise.

From Naples the squadron returned for the winter again to Port Mahon, and the following spring of 1831 Biddle took his ships into Greek waters and the Aegean. The Greeks had won their War of Independence only a year or so previously, and that part of the Mediterranean was still in an unsettled condition. The Constellation sailed in company with the Boston on March 30 and, proceeding by way of Tripoli and Malta, arrived April 25 off Navarino, Greece, where a Turkish fleet had been destroyed by an Anglo-Franco-Russian fleet in the recent war, the last great naval battle between sailing ships. From there the American squadron sailed through the Greek islands, known as the Cyclades, to Smyrna in  p66 Asia Minor. Here the ships lay for nearly a month, giving the officers ample time to explore this semi-oriental city, and the neighboring town of Magnesia and the ruins of Sardis, capital of the Lydian kingdom where Croesus hoarded his wealth. Then they returned to southern Greece, anchoring in the beautiful harbor of Nauplia, where the President of Greece, Count Capo d'Istria visited the Constellation and received the customary salute of twenty‑one guns, on May 29th. From here parties of officers from the ships went inland to visit the interesting remains of those ancient cities Argos, Tiryns, Mycenae, and Corinth.​9

Early in June the squadron sailed north and anchored in the very waters on which the decisive naval battle of Salamis was fought, more than twenty-three hundred years before, between the Greeks and Persians. This being near Athens, the officers visited that city also, which even in her ruins gave striking evidence of "the glory that was Greece". The ships then parted company, the Boston going to Smyrna and the Constellation sailing still further north to the island of Tenedos near the entrance to the Dardanelles. Here some of the officers went ashore and tramped over the site of ancient Troy, whose story has been sung by Homer and Virgil. From here it had been planned to cruise along the coast of Asia Minor down to Palestine and thence to Egypt, but having learned that the plague was then raging in the seaports of those countries, Biddle gave up his plan and, passing by Scio and Samos, off Ephesus, and through  p67 the Cyclades, returned to Port Mahon, which was reached on August 12th.

From this port, the Constellation sailed, October 5, for the United States; and arriving at Gibraltar on the 13th of October, in twenty-nine days the frigate was back once again at Norfolk. That Buchanan had continued to perform his duties with his accustomed fidelity is indicated by the following excerpt from a letter which his commanding officer, Captain Wadsworth, wrote in Mahon shortly before the sailing of the Constellation: "Lieutenant Franklin Buchanan still merits my good opinion for his abilities and good conduct".

It is useless to dwell very long upon the value of such a cruise in supplementing the education and broadening the culture of Buchanan, who had thus been brought into close contact both with the eloquent remains of the history of the past and also with history in the very process of its making. He had, indeed, become not only an accomplished seaman and navigator but also a cultured man of the world. That he was responsive to the significance of the scenes of the past which he visited is shown by passages from Homer which he copied in his notebooks as well as such quotations as the following which he took from "The Shipwreck" by William Falconer:

"Argos, in Greece forgotten and unknown,

Still seems her cruel fortune to bemoan;

Argos, whose monarch led the Grecian hosts

Far o'er the Aegean main to Dardan coasts."

"Illustrious Troy! renown'd in every clime

Through the long annals of unfolding time!

How oft, thy royal bulwarks to defend,

Thou saw'st thy tutelar gods in vain descend!

 p68  Though chiefs unnumbered in her cause were slain,

Though nations perished on her bloody plain,

That refuge of perfidious Helen's shame

Was doomed at length to sink in Grecian flame:

And now, by Time's deep ploughshare harrowed o'er,

The seat of sacred Troy is found no more;

No trace of all her glories now remains;

But cornº and vines enrich her cultured plains.

"Immortal Athens first, in ruin spread,

Contiguous lies at Port Liono's head.

Great source of science! whose immortal name

Stands foremost in the glorious roll of fame;

Here godlike Socrates and Plato shone,

And, firm to truth, eternal honour won. . . .

Here Solon dwelt, the philosophic sage,

That fled Pisistratus' vindictive rage.

Just Aristides here maintained the cause,

Whose sacred precepts shine through Solon's laws."

At the close of the cruise of the Constellation, Buchanan, having been given leave of absence, went at once to Philadelphia to see his mother and sisters. During the journey, which was made by water by way of Baltimore, the young lieutenant's life was threatened by some seamen from the Constellation who had experienced during the last cruise the rigid discipline which Buchanan had found it necessary to employ in order to preserve good order on shipboard. So loud and vehement were the threats of these disgruntled seamen in the saloons and on the streets of Norfolk that some of Buchanan's friends tried to dissuade him from taking the same boat with these hundred or more men up the Chesapeake Bay; but this he refused to consent to.

 p69  Twice, groups of seamen during the voyage came into the after cabin, bent on making trouble; but Buchanan seized his sword cane and overawed them by walking up and down the cabin until the captain came and ordered them out. "There he stood," related an eyewitness,​10 "with form erect, both hands resting on his cane; the expression of his countenance, calm, resolute, and defiant. The seamen gathered around him, and gave vent to their feelings in blasphemous oaths. One man remarked that he had been more than twenty years in the service; that he had fought at Tripoli, and had never been punished until ordered by Lieutenant Franklin Buchanan. Another said he was a tyrant; another that he was no seaman; another that he should be driven out of the service. But there he stood in statue-like repose, not a word escaping his lips. He seemed rooted to the deck. For full five minutes or more he braved the tempest, but not a man dared lay the weight of his finger upon him. Quietly and gracefully he turned upon his heel, and passed down the stairway through the long passage into the after cabin and went to bed."

On a canal boat, going across from the Chesapeake to Delaware Bay, the seamen became so troublesome and threatening in the limited accommodations on board, one going so far as to pull out a long knife and feeling the keenness of its edge, that the passengers complained and the captain stopped his boat and hustled five or six of the ringleaders on shore. Buchanan then came forward and begged that the men be not left to suffer, perhaps to perish in the cold after three years in the warm climate of the Mediterranean, and agreed to answer for their  p70 future conduct. That was the end of their foolishness.

When they had all gone aboard a steamer for Philadelphia and had proceeded a few miles, a sloop was run down. It became necessary to rescue the captain, his daughter, and a sailor who were on the sinking vessel. In the confusion, Buchanan called at the top of his voice, "Where are the men of the Constellation?" And in short order, he together with the captain of the steamer and some of these same sailors were off in a small boat to the rescue, which was successfully accomplished. While Buchanan was drying his clothes, one of the sailors brought word that his companions wanted to see him in the forward cabin. He retired to his stateroom and put on his overcoat, at the same time dropping a pistol into each pocket, and then went to meet the men who were drawn up to receive him. To his surprise, all that they wished was to tell him they wanted to separate in peace rather than in anger, and they proposed to drink his health. "With all my heart", ranched Buchanan; and thus ended happily what might very easily have resulted in bloodshed, causing the end of his career in the navy or possibly his death. The incident reveals fully the strength of Buchanan's character. Though he was known at the time as one of the strongest men in the service physically, he relied rather upon the strength of moral courage and self restraint, under circumstances which would have led a less disciplined character into rashness and folly.

Months went by before Buchanan was again given active service. In fact, it was not until June 1, 1833 that he was ordered to the ship of the line Delaware of 74 guns, as first lieutenant. This vessel, then under command of Captain Henry E. Ballard, was known as a  p71 "crack ship", the neatest, the cleanest, the best disciplined ship in the navy, though this was accomplished by the free use of the "cat of nine tails", as the ship's log amply shows. Among her eight lieutenants were Sidney Smith Lee, brother of Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Robert E. Lee, and Andrew H. Foote; she carried also the famous chaplain, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Charles S. Stewart, and many other officers who distinguished themselves later in the Civil War.

The Delaware, after having been honored by a visit from President Jackson on July 29, sailed from Norfolk the following day for New York, where she was visited by the Secretary of the Navy, the Navy Commissioners, and Vice President Van Buren, and the Minister to France, Edward Livingston, and his family were taken on board. The ship sailed on August 15 for Cherbourg, where she arrived September 12 after an uneventful voyage. From here Ballard and his officers went to Paris​11 where they had the honor of being presented to King Louis Philippe, who invited the American Minister and the officers of the Delaware to dine with him. The ship then sailed for the Mediterranean, arriving at Port Mahon on November 3 after weathering a heavy storm in the Bay of Biscay.

Here the Delaware became the flagship of Commodore D. T. Patterson's squadron. In shifting his flag to her February 14, 1834 from the frigate United States, he took with him his captain and several lieutenants. This necessitated an exchange of officers,​12 and Buchanan  p72 was one of those who joined that frigate, becoming its first lieutenant, under command of Captain Ballard. By this transfer to the United States, Buchanan missed an extremely interesting cruise which the Delaware made to Egypt, Palestine, and Syria.

But the movements of the United States were by no means devoid of interest, though she covered much of the same territory that Buchanan had seen previously when attached to the Constellation. She sailed from Port Mahon first to Toulon, where an unfortunate accident occurred, which Buchanan relates in his diary as follows: "May 1st. Lieutenant Long fired a salute (during my absence from the ship) of 20 guns in honor of the birthday of the King of the French. The gunner neglected drawing the shot from three of the guns, in consequence of which one shot passed through the side of the line of battle ship Suffren and killed one man and wounded five others, two of which died soon afterwards on shore." The ship then visited in turn Genoa, Leghorn, and Naples, and afterwards sailed to Smyrna by way of the Island of Milo, where the famous statue of Venus had been found in 1820. July, August, and most of September were spent in Smyrna waters, with brief visits to Salonica, Nauplia, and Salamis.

There was in the harbor of Smyrna at this time a British fleet, under Admiral Rawley, of six ships of the line and six smaller vessels. One of the ships, the Edinburgh of 76 guns, was commanded by Captain Dacres, who in command of the Guerrière during the War of 1812 was defeated and captured by Captain Hull in the frigate Constitution, a sister ship to the United States. On August 14th Buchanan made the following entry in his diary: "Sailed in company with the English fleet  p73 by invitation from Admiral Rawley to try the sailing of the ship, beat out of the bay of Smyrna with a fresh breeze and when the signal of recall was made at sunset, the U. States was several miles ahead, and to windward of all the fleet". This must have been a source of pride to the officers and crew of this frigate, which in the War of 1812 under command of Decatur had had the distinction of defeating a British frigate, the Macedonian. While at Nauplia, the United States was visited by King Otto of Greece, then only eighteen years old, who had been placed on the throne by Great Britain, France, and Russia in May, 1832, after the assassination of President Capo d'Istria the previous year.

On October 4, the United States sighted the Delaware off the island of Sicily and, in company with that ship, sailed by way of Malta to Port Mahon, which was reached on October 9. From this base the frigate departed for home on October 6 and arrived at New York on the 12th of December. This ended Buchanan's fourth and last cruise in the Mediterranean. His next experiences were to be on the broad Pacific, which up to that time he had never seen but upon whose waters one of the most interesting episodes of his career was later to be experienced.

The Author's Notes:

1 See page 9.

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2 For a most carefully written and interesting description of this frigate, see "Two Years and a Half in the American Navy" by E. C. Wines, I.16, 29 et seq.

Thayer's Note: Another good description of the Constellation is given by Eugene S. Ferguson in Truxtun of the Constellation, pp153‑156.
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3 Ibid., I.78, 79.

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4 Ibid., 93.

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5 Ibid., 139.

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6 Here the officers of the Constellation gave a grand ball, and this interesting entry was made in Buchanan's diary of the cruise: "July 3d. The English sloop of war Favorite arrived with the news of the death of the King of England (George IV). Lowered our colors half mast."

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7 "July 12th. Lieutenants Du Pont and Whittle and Doctor Macombe of the Ontario, Lieutenant Thorburn, Doctor Swift and myself of the Constellation left Genoa on a visit to Milan, Turin, Pavia, Lake of Como, etc.; returned to Genoa on the 20th." (Ibid.)

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8 "July 26th. Captain Stevens and Purser McCauley of the Ontario, Captain Wadsworth, Lieutenant Eskridge, Purser Handy, Doctor Swift, and myself of this ship left Leghorn for Pisa, Florence, and Lucca: returned on the 2d of August." (Ibid.)

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9 "June 2d. Captain Wadsworth, Lieutenants Pendergrast, Penington, Crabb (Marine Corps), Doctor Swift, and myself, accompanied by Lieutenant G. Pearson and Purser Wilson of the Boston left Napoli de Romania (Nauplia) for Mycenea,º Corinth, and Argos. Returned to the ship on the 4th." (Buchanan's Diary.)

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10 William H. Hexall in Richmond Dispatch, May 13, 1883.

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11 "September 15th. I left the ship for Paris in company with Captain Ballard, Lieutenants Magruder, Seton, Lee, Macomber of the Marines, and the Reverend Mr. Stewart, Chaplain.

"October 7th. Returned from Paris." (Buchanan's Diary.)

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12 "Lieutenants Geo. A. Magruder, Thos. O. Selfridge, S. S. Lee, Lieutenants Macomber and Young of the Marines, Dr. Rapalje, and Acting Sailing Master Hancock from the Delaware, 74 also joined the U. States, and Lieutenant Long from the Constellation." (Ibid.)

Thayer's Note:

a1 a2 So the printed text. It should be either "12th of August . . . August 21" or "12th of September . . . September 21", of course; but I've been unable to determine which for sure. September seems much more likely to me, a sailing time from Le Havre to Cabo de São Vicente of 12 days (an average speed of 5 knots) rather than 43 days (1⅓ knots?). According to the Office of the Historian at the United States State Department, Louis McLane presented his credentials on October 12, 1829 and William Cabell Rives presented his credentials on October 25, 1829.

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b On October 31, 1803 the U. S. S. Philadelphia struck an uncharted reef near Tripoli, in modern Libya. The ship and its crew fell into the hands of the Bey of Tripoli. The crew was imprisoned on land and the ship was converted by the Tripolitans to their own use. In a daring attack in the port of Tripoli itself, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur (Jr.) stormed the ship and set fire to it, destroying it. The grounding and capture of the Philadelphia are told in Clark et al., A Short History of the United States Navy, p71 ff.; Decatur's celebrated exploit is the subject of the next chapter of the same book.

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