USS Hornet vs HMS Peacock, 24 February 1813

The clash between USS Hornet and HMS Peacock (24 February 1813) saw the well drilled American ship easily defeat a British sloop. The Hornet was an eighteen gun sloop that was part of a small American squadron sent towards the Pacific early in the War of 1812. This expedition reached the coast of Brazil, but no further, and the Hornet then returned north, attacking British shipping in the Caribbean.

On 24 February the Hornet signed the brig HMS Espiegle anchored in the Demerara River, making repairs to her rigging. The captain of the Hornet decided to try and attack this brig, but in order to do this he needed to sail around some sandbanks off the mouth of the river. During this manoeuvre, the Hornet encountered a second British ship, the sloop Peacock. In theory the Hornet was now in a rather dangerous position, caught between two ships each of which carried a similar number of guns to her, but in fact neither of the British ships would pose a serious threat. The captain of the Espiegle didn’t make any efforts to come to the help of the Peacock, instead remaining in the estuary until he could escape into Demerara. The Peacock was a clean well maintained ship, but its crew lacked gunnery skills.

The battle began when the Hornet and the Peacock passed each other on opposite tacks, firing a broadside as they passed. The Peacock's gunnery was ineffective, but the Hornet's was devastating, disarming most guns on the Peacock's port side. Commander William Peake, on the Peacock, clearly didn’t lack courage, and he ordered his ship to tack so that she could fire with her starboard guns, but the American gunnery was still superior. In a fight lasting only fifteen minutes the Peacock was so badly damaged that she began to sink.

Her colours were lowered and a distress flag was raised. The crew of the Hornet attempted to help, but the Peacock sank very quickly, taking at least five of the survivors of the battle with her. The Hornet returned to the United States, where she was blockaded for some time, but she did manage to get to sea once more at the very end of the war, capturing HMS Penguin on 23 March 1815.

Books on the War of 1812 | Subject Index: War of 1812

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (27 September 2011), USS Hornet vs HMS Peacock, 24 February 1813 ,

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