Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Quasi War with France

   Most Americans have never heard of the Quasi War with France, but it was an important Naval conflict that tested the mettle of the new United States.  In July 1798 The American Delaware captured the French Croyable just off the American coast.  The Croyable was renamed the Retaliation . Shortly thereafter, a series of expeditions were launched to the West Indies, where most of the French privateers were located. The first expedition included the American United States and Delaware. These captured only a couple of privateers. The second expedition included the Retaliation, which was captured by a pair of French frigates off Guadeloupe.  The Retaliation was the only American warship captured during the war—and she was recaptured the following year.
Four squadrons, which totaled 21 ships, were sent to the West Indies once the American coastal waters were cleared. They had a easy time of it because the French were preoccupied with the British in other parts of the world. The Americans enjoyed the full support of the British Navy in the West Indies learning much from what at the time was the greatest navy in the world.
While on independent patrol, the Constellation, came upon the French Insurgente that was considered the fastest frigate the French had. Because of strong winds the Constellation was able to catch the Insurgente however as the French ship lost a mast. The Constellation was able to take advantage of this, pounding the Insurgente into submission. In this engagement, the Americans were said to have out sailed, outmaneuvered and outfought the French. The main asset in the fight for the Americans was that they never allowed the numerically superior French force to get in position to board.
A year later, the Constellation, came across the French Vengeance off Guadeloupe. The French did not wish to fight since the ship had passengers and certain cargo aboard. Nonetheless, the Constellation gave chase, eventually catching the Vengeance after a day of pursuit. Attacking after dark the Americans pounded the Vengeance with over 200 rounds of shot. The French captain, seeing the situation was hopeless tried to surrender, but the darkness concealed the attempt. The French were able to limp away under cover of darkness, but this was another clear victory for the Constellation.
The ship to see the most action during the Quasi War was the Enterprise. She was a smaller ship that was faster than most and could operate in shallow water. During one trip she actually captured 5 privateers, blew down the mast of another, and freed 11 captured American merchant ships. Another ship, the Essex also recaptured several American merchant ships.
The last battle of the Quasi War was actually fought after peace had been negotiated when the U.S. Ship Boston attacked the French Berceau. Neither the French or the Americans knew of the peace and the Americans were able to force the French to surrender. This period of American history has several lesser known wars, but all were important, especially to those that fought.