Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

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The USS Constitution vs HMS Cyane and HMS Levant

The British warships HMS Cyane commanded by Captain Gordon Thomas and HMS Levant commanded by Captain the Honorable George Douglass fought USS Constitution with Captain Charles Stewart on February 20 1815 about 100 miles east of Madeira. The war had actually finished before this action with the ratification of the Treaty of Ghent by both sides, but the combatants were not aware of this.

After sighting Constitution, the two British captains resolved to fight rather than split up and try to escape. At first they tried to delay battle until after nightfall, but Constitution was approaching too rapidly and they formed in line, with Levant ahead of Cyane. The combined broadsides of the two British ships were slightly heavier than Constitution's, but almost exclusively from short-range carronades, and at the range at which the action commenced, Constitution's main deck battery of 24-pounder long guns has the advantage against the British vessels.

The battle began, in the evening with Constitution to windward, Levant and Cyane on her port quarter. After broadsides where exchanged for 15 minutes, Cyane attempted to cross Constitution's stern and rake her. Stewart ordered the sails thrown aback, and Constitution instead raked Cyane. As Levant tried to cross Constitution's bows, Stewart ordered the sails filled again, and raked Levant from astern. As Levant drifted downwind with battered rigging, Constitution turned again to engage Cyane, at this point the ship surrendered.

Lieutenant Hoffman, the second lieutenant of Constitution, took command of Cyane. Stewart set off to pursue Levant, and discovered the British vessel beating back upwind to re-enter the fight, unaware that Cyane had surrendered. The two vessels exchanged broadsides on opposite tacks. Captain Douglass then attempted to escape upwind, Levant was overtaken and surrender.

Constitution and the two prizes anchored in Porto Praya in the Cape Verde Islands. Levant failed to escape when a British squadron appeared, and was recaptured. The Americans lost 6 men killed and 9 wounded. Aboard Cyane, 12 men were killed and 26 wounded, some of whom later died of their injuries. Aboard Levant, 7 men were killed and 16 wounded.