Run out the guns

I’m currently reading about the naval aspect of the Revolutionary War, and am finding it incredibly interesting. The Revolutionary War is one of those periods in history about which I should know far more than I actually do; it’s marked by some truly larger-than-life people and events.
One such person is John Paul Jones, a name familiar to me since grade school, but about which I actually knew very little until now. I knew he was famous in regard to the colonial Navy in some way, but that’s about it. I just finished reading about the battle that made him a household name for generations to come–the fight between his ship the Bonhomme Richard and the HMS Serapis. Jones’ ship was outgunned and outclassed, but he stubbornly (or stupidly, I suppose) refused to surrender, shouting the famous “I have not yet begun to fight” (or a phrase along those lines; history is uncertain about the exact words–but they were Fightin’ Words, whatever they were).
Anyway, I thought it was a fun and inspiring story, so if you’re not familiar with it, you might enjoy reading a short recounting of the battle.
One aspect of the battle not mentioned in that brief version of events is that the French-captained frigate Alliance, a member of Jones’ squadron, showed up on the scene mid-battle and fired several broadsides… into the Bonhomme Richard. A bit of research on my part has not turned up a satisfactory explanation for this. The author of the book I’m reading believes that battlefield confusion on that scale is unlikely, and that the Alliance hoped to sink the Bonhomme Richard, finish off the badly damaged Serapis, and claim credit for the kill. (I’m sure there’s a joke about the French in there somewhere waiting to be told, but I’ll nobly refrain.)
Interesting stuff!
update: Here’s a much more detailed description of the battle, if you’re up for a longer read. It seems to chalk up the Alliance incident to incompetence, not treachery.

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3 Comments

  1. The Alliance strategy sounds oddly familiar for some reason. I wonder why… oh yeah! That’s exactly how I play first-person-shooters. Find two people fighting, kill them when they’re not paying attention to me, then nab the guns they drop. Except they are generally able to kill me anyway.

  2. Bill says:

    I was wondering if it might of had something to do with the prize money paid for a captured British ship.
    It was a big deal back then to cripple a ship rather than sink it so you could take the ship captive. Then usually governments who were at war and licensed privateering would pay you “prize” money for the ship.
    I wonder if the treacherous frogs…err…French were simply trying to kill the American ship and take the bigger British ship as a prize.
    Interesting story all the same.

  3. MM says:

    I just opened up the front page of today’s North County Times to find a full color picture of the USS Bonhomme Richard loading up gear for the 15th Marine Expeditionary Force which is likely deploying to Iraq. This incarnation of the ship is an Amphibious Carrier. Instead of 135 Marines, this one has 2,500 Marines. Something tells me HMS Serapis wouldn’t have gotten within boarding distance this time.

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