The general strategy adopted by the Americans against the British during the War of 1812 was of guerre de course (commerce raiding). Conventional wisdom says this was a necessity as the American Navy could not have stood against the British battleline.
Is this really true though? The American fleet was indeed small, consisting of 8 frigates, 12-14 smaller vessels, and no ships of the 3rd rate or larger. By contrast, the RN had over 600 ships, including more than 80 in American waters.
There is no doubt that the commerce raiding strategy stung the British, who were obviously very reliant on worldwide trade, but my question is, if the commerce raiding had been left to privateers and smaller vessels (which did most of the damage in that area anyway) and gotten all the frigates together to challenge the British in a fleet action, what would have been the outcome?
On the surface, it seems easy, no ships of the line vs. lots of ships of the line. However, all of the RN ships were not in one place. A more typical fleet would size would have been the force that captured the USS President (4 frigates, including a very heavy razee frigate).
It is not out of the question that the 3 heavy 44-gun frigates of the US Navy could have potentially gone toe to toe with a 3rd rate. Their general structure actually was more along the line of a 3rd rate than of the average frigate of the day.
What do you all think, given fairly even numbers, who would have prevailed?
Lets say a US fleet consisting of the 3 big US frigates (Constitution/President/United States), plus 3 smaller ones, and 2 sloops of war against a 74-gun liner (HMS Royal Oak or similar), a 50 gun 4th rate, 2 large 38-44 gun frigates and 2 smaller 28-32 gun frigates and 3 unrated ship-sloops. Nine ships to eight.
Also, its worth noting that while the Americans won numerous frigate engagements throughout the war, showing themselves very skilled at ship handling and gunnery, commanding even a small fleet in action is something else again, and the British had lots of practice at this.
Anyway, I'm eager to see what you all think.
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