Gateway to the Classics: American History Stories, Volume III by Mara L. Pratt
American History Stories, Volume III by  Mara L. Pratt

A Lucky Shot

It was a beautiful Sabbath morning in July 1812, that the "Oneida," an American vessel, lay in Sacketts' Harbor. The vessel had just come into port after a long, busy season of active warfare, and the crew, tired out, were planning for a day of real rest.

But, in the early morning, just as the light began to dawn, report came, "The enemy are approaching—they have entered the harbor—they are upon us!"

At once the alarm was spread through the little town; and down to the shore rushed the people. There at the entrance of the harbor lay five men-of-war.

"What will they do?" asked the frightened people. "What can we avail against such a foe in this little close harbor of ours!"

Just then a little boat was lowered from the leader of the fleet.

"See, a messenger comes!" called one from the "Oneida," who was watching from his high place.

Swiftly the little boat advanced. The captain of the "Oneida" waited anxiously, but so quietly that every man around him took courage.

The little boat came alongside. "The captain of the 'Oneida?' " asked the man in the boat.

"I am he," answered the captain.

"This message from the captain of the fleet now stationed at the entrance to the harbor: 'Let the 'Oneida' surrender or the town will be destroyed.' "

But Commodore Woolsey, the brave officer who commanded the "Oneida," knew no such word as surrender. But what could he do? He could not escape, for there lay the enemy just outside the entrance.

"We do not know the word surrender," said the Commodore. At once he began giving orders for action.

The villagers threw up rough breastworks along the shore, dragged down their own great gun and set up on either side a cannon which, at some time, the plucky villagers had pulled up from the sunken hulk of an old British vessel. Commodore Woolsey, meantime, ordered his vessel to the entrance of the harbor. Then he placed her in such a way that her broadside of nine guns faced the enemy.

At eight o'clock the British man-of-war came up within range. Out pealed the great gun from the shore; but alas, it sent its volley only into the water and the enemy were by no means harmed.

"Hooray! Hooray! Hooray for the Yankee gun!" shouted the British, who had a way in this war as in the Revolution, of having their laugh in the early part of the contest—perhaps, because they so rarely had it on their side in the end.

For two hours the firing went on from the shore, from the "Oneida" and from the English vessels. In all that time no one was harmed, neither side had gained one point.

"This is child's play," said a villager, impatiently, as he loaded the great gun at which the British had shouted in scorn.

But just then a whizz-z-z, then a thud, and a great cannon ball from the British fleet rolled at the villager's feet.

"We've been playing ball with the red-coats now long enough," cried he, lifting the ball. "Now let's see if they can catch back again!" And so saying he rammed the ball down the muzzle of the long gun. "Now then, old gun!" said he, as he sent the ball whizzing out across the water.

A boom, a whiz, a crack, and the Royal George was raked from stem to stern, and fourteen men lay wounded upon the deck.

A silence followed. There was hurrying to and fro along the vessel's decks—then—what do think? —the squadron put about, and sped out of the harbor as fast as ever it could, leaving the villagers so dumb with consternation that minutes passed before it occurred to them to rejoice in their victory.

"Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!" cried they, as the British sped away. "Hooray for the Yankee gun!"

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