Today, the Draped Bust Gold Five-Dollar Coin remembers when the USS Constitution badly damaged and captured the HMS Java off the coast of Brazil on December 29, 1812.
From the Battles of the United States, by Sea and Land, Volume II, by Henry Barton Dawson, published in 1858:
December 29, 1812.
The Capture of the Java.
The Constitution, after her engagement with the Guerriere, had been placed under the command of Captain William Bainbridge; and, after having been refitted, she sailed from Boston, in company with the Hornet, on the twenty-sixth of October, 1812.
After looking into the port of San Salvador, and leaving the Hornet before that harbor, to watch a British cruiser which laid at anchor there, Commodore Bainbridge stood to the southward, along the coast of Brazil.
At nine in the morning of the twenty-ninth of December, when in latitude 13° 6′ S., and longitude 38° W., thirty miles from the coast, two strange sails were made.
They were inshore and to windward; and as one of them altered her course, with an apparent desire to meet the Constitution, the latter, also, tacked to close with her.
It was a pleasant day, the wind being light, from E. N. E., with but little sea; and at eleven o’clock, being satisfied the stranger was an enemy, Commodore Bainbridge tacked again, making to the southward and eastward, for the purpose of drawing her off the land.
At a quarter-past twelve both vessels showed their colors, and threw out their signals.
At twenty-six minutes past one o’clock, having drawn the stranger a sufficient distance from the shore, the Constitution took in her mainsails and royals, tacked, and stood for her; while the stranger, twenty-five minutes afterwards, bore down with an intention of raking, which was prevented by wearing.
The stranger having, meanwhile, lowered his ensign, at two o’clock, the Commodore ordered a single gun to be fired ahead of him, to draw it out again, which was successful; when a broadside was delivered from the larboard guns, which was returned from the stranger’s starboard guns, and the action commenced with round and grape shot, but at a greater distance than was desirable.
At thirty minutes past two the wheel of the Constitution was shot away, and as the stranger was making an effort to secure a position for raking, the former wore again, and the stranger following, the heads of both vessels were again brought to the eastward.
Soon afterwards the same attempt was repeated with the same result, during which the Constitution succeeded in throwing in an efficient raking fire into her opponent.
Both vessels now ran free, with the wind on their quarter, the stranger being to windward; and the latter, at five minutes before three, attempted to close by running down on the Constitution’s quarter.
Running her jib-boom into the mizzen-rigging of the Constitution, the stranger suffered severely without acquiring any advantage; and at three o’clock her jib-boom and the head of her bowsprit were shot away.
About the same time a heavy raking broadside was thrown into her stern; and, a few minutes afterwards, her foremast went overboard.
The same complicated movements, to secure an opportunity for raking and to prevent it, continued some time longer; when, at five minutes past four, having shot away the stranger’s main-topmast and the mizzen-mast, and wounded his fore and main masts, the Constitution hauled aboard her tacks, luffed athwart the stranger’s bow, and passed out of the combat to windward, with her top sails, courses, spanker, and jib set, and spent an hour in repairing her damages and securing her masts.
Having done so the Constitution bore up to the wreck—for the stranger was but a wreck, having lost her mainmast, also, while the Constitution was repairing —but the commander of the former had fallen, and her second in command wisely considered his condition and determined to continue the contest no longer.
Her colors were accordingly struck, and Lieutenant Parker took pos session of her at six o’clock; reporting her as His Britannic Majesty’s frigate Java, of thirty-eight guns, Captain Henry Lambert commanding.
In this very spirited affair, which reflected equal credit both on the victor and the vanquished, the Java was entirely dismasted; six of her quarter deck guns, four forecastle guns, and many of those on the main-deck were disabled; her hull was “knocked to pieces.”
The foremast, in falling, had gone through the forecastle and main decks; the ship was leaking badly, with one of her pumps disabled; and of her crew, three mates, two midshipmen, three petty officers, and fourteen men, were killed.
Captain Lambert, Lieutenant Chads, her master, boatswain, four midshipmen, and fifty-nine seamen; Lieutenant Davies of the Royal marines, and twenty-one petty officers and privates (marines), and thirteen passengers, wounded.
The Constitution did not lose a spar.
An eighteen-pound shot passed through her mizzen-mast, her foremast was wounded, and her main-topmast was slightly injured; her sails and running-rigging were consider ably cut up; her hull had received several round shot; and of her crew nine were killed, and Commodore Bainbridge, Lieutenant Aylwin, and twenty-three men were wounded.
The Java was one of the finest vessels in the service; mounted twenty eight long eighteen-pounders, eighteen thirty-two pound carronades, a twenty four-pounder, and two long nines; and was bound to the East Indies, having on board, as passengers, Lieutenant-general Hislop and his staff, Captain Marshall and Lieutenant Saunders, of the Royal Navy, and upwards of a hundred other officers and men, who were destined for the service in the East.
The Constitution mounted thirty-two long twenty-four-pounders, twenty-two thirty-two-pound carronades, and one eighteen-pound carronade.
After examining his prize, Captain Bainbridge determined to destroy her, in consequence of her severe injuries, the distance she was from the United States, and the difficulty in obtaining masts in that vicinity; and after lying by her two days, and removing the wounded, she was blown up, the Constitution returning to San Salvador, and thence to Boston, where she arrived on the eighth of February.
The Draped Bust Gold Five-Dollar Coin shows with an artist’s image of the badly damaged HMS Java and the USS Constitution, circa 1812.