Thursday, November 03, 2011

Stephen Decatur, Steampunk hero!

During the War of 1812 US Naval hero Commodore Stephen Decatur was blockaded by the British and couldn't take his ships (including the frigate United States) out to sea.  According to historian George C. Daughan (1812-The Navy's War), Decatur was captivated by steam engineer Robert Fulton's inventions and his writings on torpedoes and submarines.  Fulton came to New London, CT where the Brits had Decatur bottled up, and wanted to try an invention he called an underwater cannon against the RN ships.  Decatur was all for this, but the experiment never came off.

Attempts had been made previously to harass the British with a bomb in a boat, and a submarine similar to the Turtle used during the Revolutionary War.  The Brits were offended by Decatur's use of "infernal machines" and threatened countermeasures if more attempts were made to destroy their vessels with exploding devices.

Decatur did eventually get back out to sea, but in January, 1815 he had to strike his colors when the USN President was severely damaged in a fight with HMS Endymion.  The war had officially ended in December, but no one on this side of the Atlantic had yet gotten the word.  Many Americans know the Battle of New Orleans was fought after the war ended, but there were plenty of other sorties which did not have to occur, a situation that became a plot point in Sea Change where a pivotal sea battle takes place in February, 1815.

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