The Navy Comes of Age

Chapter 1


A/N: This is a vignette/part of a much longer timeline I'm currently writing. I'll be posting it in three parts (so maybe not really a vignette). The POD for the story here is the Continental Congress adopts a stronger version of the Articles of Confederation. Mainly, Congress is directly charged with the defense of the Nation and is given power to raise taxes as needed. Any and all comments and/or criticisms are more than welcome and appreciated!

October 17th, 1798

Vice Admiral John Barry stood on the quarterdeck of his flagship, the 90 gun USS Independence. It was not yet dawn and already the day promised to be a warm one. "In more ways than one," he thought. For Vice Admiral Barry was sailing for the island of Hispaniola under orders from President Adams to seize it. For this task, he commanded the most powerful American fleet to ever put to sea. In addition to his flagship, the Independence, the fleet consisted of eleven more sail-of-the-line, six frigates and four sloops. Then there were the transports carrying three regiments of infantry, one regiment of cavalry and six artillery batteries under the overall command of Brigadier General Andrew Jackson. Not to mention the Marines that were aboard his ships. His young country had come quite a long way since she had declared her independence.

And now, that independence was being threatened. Not by the United Kingdom. But by their own ally, France. Of course that was almost to be expected considering how badly France had gone to hell ever since The Directory took control and launched The Terror. Still, the fact that the United States was now at war with France and allied with the United Kingdom was jarring. And all because the United States had refused to join France in their insane war against the world. If anyone had approached him in 1783 and told him that in only fifteen years the United States and the United Kingdom would be fighting side-by-side against France, he would have laughed in their face. He guessed it was true after all, that fact is often stranger than fiction.

As he stood on his quarterdeck, John Barry listened to the sounds of the ship around him. The creak of her timbers as she shouldered her way through the swell, the humming of the rigging as the wind moaned through it, the slap and crack of her canvass as it filled to the wind. And the sounds of the 800 officers and men as they began to go about their daily routine. From forward, he could see the smoke from the cook's galley fire as the men's morning meal was prepared. Salt pork today. Hopefully it hadn't been in the casks for too long. The men would need all the nourishment they could get. Just before sunset yesterday, one of his frigates that was out ahead of him scouting, the USS Chesapeake under Captain James Barron, had signaled that they had sighted strange sails to the Northwest. Based on intelligence he had gathered, and his own gut feeling, he felt sure that those sails would be French.

Beside him stood Thomas Truxton, his Flag Captain and Captain of the Independence. He had drilled his men hard. And the results showed. His crew could clear for action is eight minutes flat. They could also fire two full broadsides every two and a half minutes. And the sail handling was impeccable. In a strong wind, Independence could outsail a frigate.

Part of that was due to her designer, Josiah Fox. A Quaker, he nevertheless had an outstanding eye and mind when it came to building a man-o-war. Externally, Independence resembled a 74 gun ship, having only two gun decks. But this ship was spar decked. And where on a British or French man-o-war there were only gangways, this ship had a complete deck mounting 30x42 pounder carronades. Her lower gun deck mounted 30x32 pounders with her upper gun deck mounting 30x24 pounders. That gave her a fearsome broadside of over 1,400 pounds. The ship was also built ridiculously strong with the ship's ribs spaced no more than twelve inches apart. In all, her hull was over three feet thick, solid oak. There wasn't a ship afloat that could match her. Of course, he didn't just build the ship strong. He built her fast. She had very fine lines below the water while inside the hull, he had fitted a new device that he called a diagonal rider. It not only let the ship carry her massive armament, but kept her from hogging as well. When she had first commissioned two years ago, Independence had been recorded running at nearly 14 knots. Two others of her class were also with him today. The nine remaining ships of the line were all 74 gun ships. While he, and the rest of the Navy's Flag Officers, had argued strongly to build more 90 gun ships, Congress, and the budget, had won out in the end and the bulk of the battle line was made up of these smaller ships. Not that they were weak, mind you. Those ships still mounted 32x32 pounders on their lower gun decks, 32x24 pounders on their upper gun decks and 10x42 pounder carronades on their fo'c'sle and quarterdecks. Of all the ships in his fleet though, the best of the bunch, other than the Independence, was Captain Samuel Nicholson's 90 gun Constitution. And she flew the Flag of Rear Admiral John Paul Jones.

Thinking of Jones, he frowned a little. Jones had covered himself with glory during the Revolution. And had proved to have no small skill as an organizer. But he was also stubborn and headstrong and didn't work well with others. It had taken a private meeting between the two of them where he had had to threaten Jones with a Court Martial to finally get the man in line. While he had some questions in his mind that Jones would promptly follow his orders when he issued them, he had no doubts that if and when they met the enemy fleet, Jones would fight them to the best of his ability. Which is why he had placed Jones' squadron in the vanguard. A stubborn man was just what he needed when the fleets would meet.

Behind him, Commodore Richard Dale flew his Broad Pennant in the 90 gun United States. Commanding the United States was Edward Preble. Like the Independence and Constitution, she had been well drilled. Dale was an effective officer, if uninspired. As a second in command or part of a larger fleet, he was more than up to the task. But privately, Barry shuddered to think of what he would do in an independent command. But for this mission, he was more than capable.

As the sunlight touched the masthead, he looked up and saw the lookout perched on the crosstrees, more than two hundred feet off the deck. As he watched, he saw the man stiffen before he turned and yelled down to the deck bellow. "Deck there! Sail on the Starboard Bow!" Followed a few short minutes later by, "It's the Chesapeake, Sir!"

As Vice Admiral Barry watched, the ship's First Lieutenant, Lieutenant Francis Bright, climbed aloft with a telescope slung across his back. Minutes later, Bright called down to the deck, "Deck there! Signal from Chesapeake! Enemy in sight! Ten sail of the line!"

Captain Truxton, standing beside him, turned to the Officer of the Watch and told him, "Acknowledge the signal, Lieutenant."

"Aye, Sir," replied Lieutenant Stephen Decatur Jr, the officer of the watch and the 5th Lieutenant on the Independence. His father, Stephen Decatur Sr was also with the fleet, serving as Captain of the 74 gun USS President. His younger brother James was also with them. He was a Midshipman on the frigate USS Essex. It was strange to think that, for a country and a Navy so young, there was already a solid tradition of families serving in the fleet. Yet the Decaturs were not alone in that regard.

As the signal flags broke to the wind, Vice Admiral Barry ordered Captain Truxton to send the hands to breakfast. Once they had eaten he ordered his Flag Lieutenant, Lieutenant David Porter, to signal the fleet to clear for action and form line of battle. Once that was accomplished, he ordered five of his frigates and all his sloops to protect the transports. The sixth frigate, USS Chesapeake, he ordered to sail to windward and act as a repeating frigate for his signals.

All that was left to do now, was wait.
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Good start so far...

BTW, when does the timeline proper start?
When I finally get the beginning straightened out. Lol. And I also need to figure out an end point for it. Right now its got an outline up to about 1850 and it's starting to get hard to keep track of the butterflies

Edit: If you mean in story, November, 1777
Well, a blockade is certainly possible along with taking coastal cities, but nothing would reconcile and unite the ex-slaves than the threat of a complete invasion by a slaving power.


Well, a blockade is certainly possible along with taking coastal cities, but nothing would reconcile and unite the ex-slaves than the threat of a complete invasion by a slaving power.
That is a very strong possibility. But only if the US attempts to reenslave them
Chapter 2


Authors Note: A full Order of Battle for both fleets will be posted after this chapter either tonight or tomorrow (hopefully).

On the quarterdeck of the USS Independence, the bell rang out.

"Six bells, Admiral," said Captain Truxton. "If the wind holds, we should be engaged within the half hour."

Nodding his head in acknowledgement, Vice Admiral John Berry stood almost like a statue, with his hands clasped behind his back and his face set in a stern mien. Dressed in his finest uniform, the gold lace and epaulets shinning brightly in the late morning sun, he was a sight destined to inspire the men who saw him. Seeing his Flag Lieutenant near the signal halyards, he asked, "you gave my orders to Admiral Jones and Commodore Dale? And to their Captains?"

"I did, Admiral."

"Good. Bend on the signal for 'Close Action' and hoist it when I give the word."

"Aye aye, Sir."

Ten minutes later, with every telescope trained on the converging French fleet, they saw a flash from the forward most ship in the enemy line, followed by a sharp bang as she tried a ranging shot on the lead ship in Jones' squadron. From the spar deck and the fighting tops, the men laughed in derision as the ball landed more than two cables short. Tapping out the time with his foot, Admiral Barry watched the leading Frenchman until the muzzle of her smoking bow chaser poked through the port once more. "Two minutes, Captain."

"Sir?" Replied Captain Truxton.

"It took the leading French ship two minutes to reload their bow chaser."

Understanding dawning on his face, Thomas Truxton said, "We should have a slight advantage in gunnery then. Three broadsides fired in the time it takes them to fire two."

"Still, it'll be a hard fight. They've got two three deckers in their line, and they're the biggest damn ships I've ever seen."

"True, Sir. But then, they've never seen our ships either."

Suppressing a grin, John Barry turned his attention back to the ships of Jones' squadron just in time to see his leading ship, the 74 gun Yorktown, disappear behind a wall of flame and smoke as she fired a full broadside at the French line. As he watched, the leading French ship seemed almost to shudder as the balls fired from the double shotted guns of the Yorktown slammed into her hull. Splinters seemed to explode from her sides as the heavy 32 and 24 pound balls smashed into her. Though hurt, she was far from finished as she replied with a broadside of her own. The thunder of the guns piercing the morning air. Louder and louder the guns roared as ship after ship entered the fray.

"Lieutenant!" Shouted Admiral Barry, calling to David Porter.

"Sir?" replied his Flag Lieutenant.

"Hoist 'Close Action' and keep it flying!"

"Aye, Sir!"

As the signal flags broke to the wind the eight ships of his and Commodore Dale's squadrons threw their helms over, turning across the wind, their sails flapping and thundering at the change of tack, rigging screaming through the blocks as the men hauled madly on their lines. With a roar to challenge that of the guns, the sails boomed out from their yards, filling iron hard in the wind. The eight American ships of the line bearing down on their opposite number, setting every stitch of canvas they could carry, trying desperately to break the enemy's line. The maneuver was executed so suddenly and swiftly that the French Admiral was caught flat footed. His surprise was complete as the American ships bore down on him.

As the madly charging American ships bore down on them, the French ships began to fire on them, using every gun that could be brought to bear. The chain shot and grape from the French guns screamed madly overhead. The French gunners trying desperately to shred the Americans' sails and rigging and stop their mad charge. But as the American Ship's broke through the French line, they knew it wasn't enough. The Americans were about to exact a terrible toll.

As he stood on his quarterdeck, Vice Admiral John Barry knew his decision to break the French line was the correct one. As his flagship broke the French line just astern of the enemy flagship, he smiled coldly. Time to see what his ships could do.

As the bow of the Independence pushed through the line, the guns on both sides of the ship began to belch fire and death at their enemy. To port, the high stern of the French Flagship, with it's ornate stern galleries and open windows towered like a cliff over the water. While to starboard, the long bowsprit of a French 80 gun ship seemed like a lance aimed at them. As the guns began to fire, the stern gallery of the French flagship seemed almost to explode. The heavy balls blasting it into a million pieces. The intricately caved name Ocean disappeared in a welter of splinters as a 42 pound ball from a carronade smashed through it.

The destruction wrought on the French ships was terrible to behold. All the guns of his fleet had been double shotted with grape on top for good measure. As the packed charges of grape and the heavy balls smashed through the unprotected sterns of the French ships and tore along the expanse of the gun decks, they destroyed all in their path.

As the ships sailed clear of the French line, the American ships of the line tacked once more, and reformed their lines on the opposite side of the French. Shortening sail once again, the American ships ranged alongside their opposite numbers and poured a murderous fire into them. To their credit however, the French refused to give up. Firing every gun they had, they pounded the American ships, giving nearly as good as they got. But the damage they had received from the American's raking them was telling. On every ship, guns were dismounted, crew had been killed and maimed, and three of the French ships had been partially dismasted.

Forward of him, his van squadron under Jones was heavily engaged with the French van. While costly, his deception in using Jones' ships to lure the French into thinking he intended a traditional battle, had paid huge dividends. Admiral Barry only prayed that the heavy construction of his fleet's ships would save them from the mauling they were receiving going gun to gun against the French. Judging from the firing coming from forward of him, so far it was. Just as he was thinking this, Lieutenant Porter shouted to him, "Sir! Signal from Congress, 'Require Assistance!'"

"Very well, Lieutenant. Make to President, 'Assist Congress.'"

"Aye, Sir!" As the flags dashed up the yards another French broadside thundered into the hull, throwing splinters in all directions. With a start, Admiral Barry realized there was blood splashed across his breeches. Looking around, he saw that the helm had been practically shot away, the 4 helmsmen and the Sailing Master were laying on the deck withering and screaming in pain as the splinters and shot cut them down. More worrying, Captain Truxton was hit as well. Though he was still on his feet, shouting orders to his crew to rig emergency steering. But blood was running down his arm in rivers.

From Lieutenant Porter he heard, "President has acknowledged, Sir!"

As the guns continued to thunder, the French ships slowly began to be overwhelmed. The cost in material and lives slowly increasing with each successive broadside. From the rear of the formation, Admiral Barry faintly heard cheering. Running up onto the poop deck, he saw one of the French 74s had struck her colors. As he watched, another struck as well. Their Captains deciding that the butcher's bill was high enough.

While across from him, the flagship continued to fire. Suddenly, and without warning, the mainmast of the French flagship crashed down with a splintering roar. Falling into the water alongside, it immediately began to act as a sea anchor, swinging the Ocean downwind, her bow edging closer and closer to the Independence. Seeing what was happening, Captain Truxton, slowly getting weaker from his wounds, ordered his First Lieutenant, "Away Boarders, Lieutenant. We'll take these bastards."

As the Lieutenant shouted for boarders, the Master at Arms broke open the arms chest and began distributing cutlasses and boarding pikes while the Marines began to assemble on the foredeck where the two ships would meet. With a shuddering crash, the two ships of the line ground together, the muzzles of the guns almost touching. Yet despite that, they continued to fire. Belching fire and death at the ship opposite them, tearing gaping holes into the hulls.

With a shouted roar, the American boarding party clambered across the splintered gangway of the French ship, their boarding pikes thrusting through the boarding nets, spearing the French sailors who were trying to defend their ship. As the cutlasses and knives hacked through the boarding nets, the Marines kept up a withering fire from their muskets, while the swivels mounted on the poop deck and in the fighting tops fired their deadly charges of grape at the enemy quarterdeck, trying to cut down the French officers.

As the Americans fought their way further into the French ship, Admiral Barry grabbed a telescope and surveyed the rest of the engagement. From forward, he saw that Congress had been totally dismasted but for a stump of her mizzen, while Constitution's scuppers were running red with the blood of those killed on board. It looked for all the world as if the ship herself was bleeding. President was alongside the ship that had crippled Congress, had grappled her and, as he watched, the Tricolor fluttered down from her masthead as she struck. From astern, the United States was heavily engaged with a French 80 gun ship. Both ships firing as quickly as their guns could be reloaded and run out. The thunder from the two combatants was deafening. Several ports on both ships were empty, their guns either overturned or their crews killed. Their sails were little more than rags, with so many holes torn in them, it was a wonder that either ship was still underway. On the French ship, he saw a blast of canister tear through her officers leaving only a stunned midshipman on her quarterdeck. Unable to stand the strain any longer, the midshipman pulled out his dirk, and cut the halyards, dropping the Tricolor to the deck and giving up the fight.

On the Ocean, the boarding party had made it to the quarterdeck. And after a few more moments, the French flagship struck her colors. Seeing their flagship surrender took the heart out of the remaining French ships. Of the five remaining ships, three struck their colors while the other two attempted to set every stitch of canvas they could and escape. As the two French ships attempted to flee, Admiral Barry ordered the President and the Bunker Hill, his two least damaged ships to pursue and capture. Though truth be told, he wasn't overly concerned with capturing them. As he boarded the captured Ocean, he spotted the French Admiral standing forlornly on the quarterdeck. Walking up to him, the French Admiral drew himself up to attention, saluted Vice Admiral Barry, and said, "Rear Admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve. It seems I must give you this sword." With that, he slid his sword from its scabbard and offered it to Admiral Barry.

Admiral Barry placed his hand over Admiral Villeneuve's and shook his head. "No, Sir. You and your men fought bravely and honorably. I will not take a brave man's sword. Keep your honor, Sir."

"My honor? My honor was lost when I lost my fleet. But thank you just the same."

Turning to the Marine Captain that was on the quarterdeck, Admiral Barry said, "Take the Admiral below to his quarters."

Returning to the Independence, Lieutenant Porter informed his Admiral, "Sir, Constitution has hauled down Rear Admiral Jones' flag."

"Damn. He was a good man. Stubborn and headstrong, but a good man. I needed a stubborn man to take those first broadsides and pin the French in place, and by God he did. Request each ship in the fleet to send their status to the flagship as soon as possible Lieutenant. I need to know what the butcher's bill for all this was and how many of the ships can still fight."

"Aye aye, Sir. I'll get the signal bent on immediately."

"Thank you. I'm going to check on Captain Truxton." Turning away from his Flag Lieutenant, Admiral breathed a deep sigh. He had won. But their work was far from over.


The butchers bill might be high, but Barry captured several French warships.
Very high in some cases. But at least 8 ships of the line captured, including two first rates. That's a substantial addition to any fleet. But more importantly, he completely broke French Naval power in the Caribbean. For all intents and purposes, the Caribbean is now an American and British lake.


Nothing quite like a good sailing naval battle. An excellent start, can't wait to see what comes next.
Thank you!!! This particular story will have only one more update (excluding the order of battle and casualty reports). But the actual timeline that this is drawn from will (hopefully) be starting in a couple months.
Order of Battle


Order of Battle and Casualty Report

USS Independence 90 Captain Thomas Truxton* (Flag, VADM John Barry)
Casualties: 32 Killed, 26 Wounded

USS Constitution 90 Captain Samuel Nicholson (Flag, RADM John Paul Jones+)
Casualties 77 Killed, 52 Wounded

USS United States 90 Captain Edward Preble (Flag, Commodore Richard Dale)
Casualties 14 Killed, 7 Wounded

USS Yorktown 74 Captain Silas Talbot
Casualties 41 Killed, 19 Wounded

USS President 74 Captain Stephen Decatur Sr
Casualties 8 Killed, 4 Wounded

USS Bunker Hill 74 Captain James Sever
Casualties 10 Killed, 8 Wounded

USS Congress 74 Captain Richard Valentine Morris+
Casualties 91 Killed, 71 Wounded

USS Constellation 74 Captain John Nicholson*
Casualties 51 Killed, 23 Wounded

USS Wasp 74 Captain Samuel Barron
Casualties 27 Killed, 12 Wounded

USS Hornet 74 Captain George Cross+
Casualties 12 Killed, 8 Wounded

USS Intrepid 74 Captain John Rodgers
Casualties 19 Killed, 17 Wounded

USS Enterprise 74 Captain Thomas Tingey*
Casualties 26 Killed, 24 Wounded

USS Alliance 44 Captain John Mullowny
Casualties: 12 Killed, 6 Wounded

USS America 44 Captain Jacob Jones

USS Chesapeake 44 Captain James Baron

USS Boston 44 Captain Joshua Barney
Casualties: 9 Killed, 7 Wounded

USS Essex 38 Captain John Manley
Casualties: 36 Killed, 21 Wounded

USS Hancock 38 Captain Nicholas Biddle*
Casualties: 21 Killed, 11 Wounded

USS Spiteful 20 Master Commandant Richard Somers

USS Beagle 20 Master Commandant Isaac Hull


Ocean 118 Captain Jean-Baptiste Henri Barre de Saint-Leu (Flag, Rear Admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve) Captured, commissioned into the USN in 1800 as USS Ocean
Casualties: 112 Killed, 87 Wounded

Terrible 110 Captain Jacques Bergeret (Flag, Rear Admiral Jacques Bedout+) Captured, condemned as a hulk upon arrival in the United Sates, broken up 1805
Casualties: 194 Killed, 157 Wounded

Indomptable 80 Captain Jean-Anne Christy de la Palliere+ Captured, commissioned into the USN in 1799 as USS Indomptable
Casualties: 81 Killed, 79 Wounded

Dugommier 74 Captain Louis Gabriel Denieport* Captured, deemed unfit to be a prize, burned and scuttled the day following the battle
Casualties: 205 Killed, 184 Wounded

Convention 74 Captain Alain Joseph Dordelin Captured, commissioned into the USN in 1800 as USS Supreme
Casualties: 91 Killed, 78 Wounded

74 Captain Pierre Dumanoir le Pelley, escaped
Casualties: 46 Killed, 39 Wounded

Formidable 80 Captain Maxime Julien Emeriau de Beauverger Captured, commissioned into the USN in 1801 as USS Formidable
Casualties: 115 Killed, 101 Wounded

Indivisible 80 Captain Antoine Louis de Gourdon, intitially escaped, ran aground trying to evade USS President after the battle, captured and refloated two days later. Commissioned into the USN in 1800 as USS Indivisible, hulked 1807
Casualties: 52 Killed, 24 Wounded

Constitution 74 Captain Pierre-Paulin Gourrege+ Captured, commissioned into the USN in 1799 as USS Warspite
Casualties: 77 Killed, 51 Wounded

Union 74 Captain Jean Joseph Hubert* Captured, commissioned into the USN in 1800 as USS Union
Casualties: 101 Killed, 94 Wounded

Medee 32 Captain Louis-Antoine-Cyprien Infernet* Captured by USS Hancock while attempting to attack the troop ships. Deemed unfit to be a prize, burned and scuttled the day following the battle
Casualties: 36 Killed, 31 Wounded

Chiffone 38 Captain Pierre Roch Jurien de La Graviere+ Captured by USS Alliance While attempting to attack the troop ships. Commissioned into the USN in 1799 as USS Chiffone
Casualties: 28 Killed, 19 Wounded

Justice 40 Captain Pierre-Nicolas Lahalle Escaped after attempting to attack the troop ships. Engaged by USS Boston
Casualties: 12 Killed, 15 Wounded

Didon 40 Captain Louis-Charles-Auguste Delamarre de Lamellerie* Captured by USS Essex while attempting to attack the troop ships. Commissioned into the USN in 1799 as USS Didon
Casualties: 41 Killed, 39 Wounded

*: Wounded in Action
+: Killed in Action
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the author does the order of battle list represent bulk of the ships of the line in the us navy. Also how big by ship type is the navy in 1798.
Not to bad I'd say. It looks like the French got the worst of it, with heavier casualties and most of their fleet either captured or destroyed. On the American side, besides the casualties, what was the status of the fleet? I know the Congress was dismasted, but what about the other ships?


the author does the order of battle list represent bulk of the ships of the line in the us navy. Also how big by ship type is the navy in 1798.
That is the bulk of the US fleet. Prior to the battle, the USN had 16 ships of the line in commission. Four 90 gun ships and twelve 74 gun ships. They have thirty frigates. Fifteen 44 gun ships, eleven 38 gun ships and four 32 gun ships. There are also forty sloops of war mounting 20 guns and another twenty-eight smaller vessels such as brigs that mount between 12 and 18 guns.

Additional ships are under construction. Four more 74s, one more 90, and two 120 gun First Rates. Along with another six 44 gun frigates and some smaller vessels.