Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

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USS Argus vs HMS Pelican

USS Argus commanded by Master Commandant William Henry Allen arrived at Lorient in Brittany, France, on July 11th 1813. Argus begin raiding British shipping in the English Channel and Irish Sea. During the next month, she captured nineteen merchant ships. Rather than weaken his crew by sending the captured ships to American, French, or neutral ports under prize crews, Allen set most of the captured ships on fire.

The shipping losses soon caused insurance rates for merchant shipping to increase greatly. The British Admiralty sent orders to all available ships to hunt down Argus. The British brig-sloop HMS Pelican had just arrived in Cork Harbor in Ireland, having escorted a convoy from the West Indies, and immediately put to sea again on 10 August 1813. Pelican's captain was Commander John Fordyce Maple.

On 13 August, Argus took two prizes. As with Argus's previous captures, the Americans set fire to the prize unfortunately for them, Pelican was near enough to sight the smoke from the burning vessel and make for it.

On the morning of 14 August 1813, Argus and Pelican sighted each other west of St David's Head in Southwest Wales. Argus was the faster but more lightly armed vessel. Allen could have used Argus's greater speed to escape. Instead, he accepted battle.

The wind was from the south, giving Pelican the weather advantage. Four minutes after the ships exchanged their first broadsides, Allen lost his leg. His first lieutenant was also badly wounded, and Argus's rigging was badly damaged. Pelican tried to cross Argus's stern to deliver raking fire but Argus's second lieutenant, William Howard Allen, threw his sails aback to slow the American brig and instead raked Pelican. This did not cripple the British vessel, and the two brigs continued to exchange broadsides. After four more minutes, Argus's rigging was to badly damaged for the Americans to prevent Pelican from crossing Argus's stern and delivering several raking broadsides.

Finally, the two vessels came into contact, Argus's bow against Pelican's quarter. As British boarding parties mustered but before they could board Argus, the Americans surrendered.