The Royal Navy ruled the seas off the coast of the United States at the end of
1814. In that year, Washington D.C. had been burned, and all but a few warships were
able to get past the British blockade.
The British desperately wanted to catch one of the big American frigates as a matter of pride and propaganda. Capt. Broke of the Royal Navy had written
"We must catch one of these great American ships with our squadron, to send her home for a show, that people may see what a great creature it is, and that our frigates have fought very well, though unlucky".
The British squadron blockading the New York port consisted of the 56 gun razee, HMSMajestic, commanded by Capt. Hayes, the 24-pounder frigate HMSEndymion, commanded by Capt. Hope, the 18-pounder frigate HMSPomone, commanded by Capt. Lumly, and the 18-pounder frigate HMSTenedos, commanded by Capt. Parker.
In January 1815, the U.S.S. President, commanded by Commodore Decatur, made it's way out to sea in a snowstorm, leaving orders for the sloops USSPeacock and USSHornet to rendezvous with the USSPresident in the south Atlantic. Unfortunately, the President was loaded with supplies for a long voyage to the East Indies, and not far out of port she struck a bar and was laid up for at least an hour and a half. During this time, the President received a great deal of damage.
Decatur wanted to bring the ship back to port but was unable to do so because of a westerly gale, so he first made his way to Long Island and then went south east. Although the British squadron had been blown off station, Hayes was able to predict Decatur's likely course and at dawn on January 15, the President ran right into the entire British squadron.
The American crew did everything possible to make their get away, they set all sails to the maximum. They threw all spare equipment overboard, such as, lifeboats and anchors. Anything to make the ship sail faster was done.
At first the British ship, HMSMajestic, led the chase for the President. By noon, with the winds becoming light it was the HMS Endymion that closed, and about 2:30 P.M. was within range and began firing with her bow chasers. The Americans returned fire with their stern chasers. By the end of the afternoon, the Endymion had taken a position on the starboard quarter of the President and began a devastating fire. The President could only fire back with partial broadsides. The President continued on the same course, east by north expecting the Endymion to close, but the British kept there position. For the next half hour or so, the President suffered a great deal of damage.
Commodore Decatur had one more weapon at his disposal, Star & Chain shot. Star & Chain shot, or Star & Bar shot, when fired would open out to form flailing patterns of steel designed to cut rigging and rip the sails apart. With the weapons loaded, the President bore up, during this time they were hit by 2 raking broadsides from the British figate. The President returned fire and the Endymion was struck with a hail of Stars & Bars, tearing the sails from the ship.
The President started to pull away, leaving the Endymion behind. Here, it appeared that the Americans would make their get away
However, 3 hours later, the Pomone caught up with the President and fired a starboard broadside, the Tenedos came up on the President astern and began firing a raking fire. The Pomone moved in and fired another devastating broadside, within musket range.
Decatur had no other choice at this point, the President struck her colors, bringing this battle to an end.
The British went to great lengths to bring the President back to England. After runnning into another gale a few days after this battle, the President was further damaged. By the time the President reached England, it was severly damaged.