18 May 2009
United States Naval Academy
10 Nov 1812. John Paul Jones was caught naval gazing.
"Admiral, what are your orders?"
"Your orders for the second fleet. Are they ready sir?"
"Oh, yes, coxswain. Communicate our need for additional rations and supplies. We must be prepared to sail at 0400 and engage at 0600."
Admiral John Paul Jones, Jr. of the young United States Navy was aboard the first fleet watching his approaching reinforcements. It was agonizing knowing that he would get absolutely no sleep during the one night he needed it most.
Unfortunately he was relieved of this worry!
All men on the deck of the USS Annapolis heard a loud but distant boom. Jones was the only one to hear the faint post-blast sizzle that told him this was not mere cannonfire.
The coxswain screamed, "Hit the...uh, wooden...ground!", adrenaline poking holes in his emergency vocabulary. Everyone fell facedown on the deck. Everyone save for Jones, who remained standing. A large blackened mass slammed into the main mast and dropped, still smoking. The midshipmen slowly got up to their feet.
"A dead animal? What does this mean, Admiral?"
Jones kicked the beast. He scanned the horizon.
"Prepare the first fleet for combat immediately. The British have fired the warpig."
Capt. James Cook, Jr. of the British Royal Navy and half-Hawaiian blood, grinned with anticipation. His soldiers had been offloaded onto the Virginian shore for a last-ditch ambush attempt. Cook loved traditions. He especially loved the brash intensity of the warpig, the Hawaiian warriors' martial warning. He was proud of his added twist, firing the burning boar from a cannon.
As non-porcine artillery began to rain down on Jones' first fleet, he contemplated why the British were retreating from the Chesapeake Bay. They must have suffered heavy losses in Maryland, so despite the shorthandedness of the first, the second fleet would make quick work of Her Majesty's sailors in the open waters of the Atlantic.
Successive blasts knocked the mizzenmast down, snapping a dozen thick ropes and hurtling iron moorings into Jones' thigh and midsection. He was pinned down. Debris continued to fall. He knew his ship would be reduced to planks, if it remained afloat at all. He had great confidence in the second fleet, but not in his own chances of survival.
"Leave me be, coxswain. I have done my duty. Go do yours."
"What shall I tell the men?"
"Tell them - and tell Cook - we have not yet begun to fight!"