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The Court Martial for the Loss of HMS Epervier, 1814

Posted by Nicholas Kaizer, on December 7th, 2021

Abstract

This post presents excerpts from the Court Martial for the loss of HMS Epervier, a British sloop lost in action to an American sloop of war in 1814. This text has never before been published. Even a verdict, commonly printed in publications such as the Naval Chronicle, appears not to have surfaced in print. The Court Martial gives us an insight into the regime on board Epervier under her commander, Richard Wales, and the factors that led to her sinking.

The standard British historical narrative of the naval War of 1812 focuses on a series of the dramatic single ship actions. Three in 1812, where three British 38-gun frigates were destroyed by three American 44-gun super frigates, notably USS Constitution, [1] are remembered as vastly unfair actions, a view shared by contemporary Brits and Canadians as well as modern British historians. These engagements were contrasted with three single ship action victories, where British ships defeated evenly-matched opponents due to superb training and seamanship.[2] In other words, when the Royal Navy and the US Navy met on even terms, the British acquitted themselves admirably and demonstrated the very best they had to offer.

But this does not tell the whole story. Other single ship actions of the war, between evenly-matched opponents, were American victories. Some were the clear result of an appalling lack of leadership and preparedness on the part of the British: the most poignant example was the Peacock-Epervier action.

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