Verse > Anthologies > James and Mary Ford, eds. > Every Day in the Year
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James and Mary Ford, eds.  Every Day in the Year.  1902.
 
June 1
The “Shannon” and the “Chesapeake”
By Thomas Tracy Bouvé (1875–1938)
 
          The fight between the American frigate Chesapeake and the English frigate Shannon took place just outside Boston Harbor on June 1, 1813, and resulted in a victory for the English ship. Captain Lawrence of the Chesapeake was mortally wounded and was carried below exclaiming, “Don’t give up the ship.”

THE CAPTAIN of the Shannon came sailing up the bay,
A reeling wind flung out behind his pennons bright and gay;
His cannon crashed a challenge; the smoke that hid the sea
Was driven hard to windward and drifted back to lee.
 
The captain of the Shannon sent word into the town:        5
Was Lawrence there, and would he dare to sail his frigate down
And meet him at the harbor’s mouth and fight him, gun to gun,
For honor’s sake, with pride at stake, until the fight was won?
 
Now, long the gallant Lawrence had scoured the bitter main;
With many a scar and wound of war his ship was home again;        10
His crew, relieved from service, were scattered far and wide,
And scarcely one, his duty done, had lingered by his side.
 
But to refuse the challenge? Could he outlive the shame?
Brave men and true, but deadly few, he gathered to his fame.
Once more the great ship Chesapeake prepared her for the fight,—        15
“I’ll bring the foe to town in tow,” he said, “before to-night!”
 
High on the hills of Hingham that overlook the shore,
To watch the fray and hope and pray, for they could do no more,
The children of the country watched the children of the sea
When the smoke drove hard to windward and drifted back to lee.        20
 
“How can he fight,” they whispered, “with only half a crew,
Though they be rare to do and dare, yet what can brave men do?”
But when the Chesapeake came down, the Stars and Stripes on high,
Stilled was each fear, and cheer on cheer resounded to the sky.
 
The captain of the Shannon, he swore both long and loud:        25
“This victory, where’er it be, shall make two nations proud!
Now onward to this victory or downward to defeat!
A sailor’s life is sweet with strife, a sailor’s death as sweet.”
 
And as when lightnings rend the sky and gloomy thunders roar,
And crashing surge plays devil’s dirge upon the stricken shore,        30
With thunder and with sheets of flame the two ships rang with shot,
And every gun burst forth a sun of iron crimson-hot.
 
And twice they lashed together and twice they tore apart,
And iron balls burst wooden walls and pierced each oaken heart.
Still from the hills of Hingham men watched with hopes and fears,        35
While all the bay was torn that day with shot that rained like tears.
 
The tall masts of the Chesapeake went groaning by the board;
The Shannon’s spars were weak with scars when Broke cast down his sword;
“Now woe,” he cried, “to England, and shame and woe to me!”
The smoke drove hard to windward and drifted back to lee.        40
 
“Give them one breaking broadside more,” he cried, “before we strike!”
But one grim ball that ruined all for hope and home alike
Laid Lawrence low in glory, yet from his pallid lip
Rang to the land his last command: “Boys, don’t give up the ship!”
*        *        *        *        *
The wounded wept like women when they hauled her ensign down.        45
Men’s cheeks were pale as with the tale from Hingham to the town
They hurried in swift silence, while toward the eastern night
The victor bore away from shore and vanished out of sight.
 
Hail to the great ship Chesapeake! Hail to the hero brave
Who fought her fast, and loved her last, and shared her sudden grave!        50
And glory be to those that died for all eternity;
They lie apart at the mother-heart of God’s eternal sea.
 
 
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