A Naval Biographical Dictionary/Gordon, James Alexander (a)

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GORDON, K.C.B. (Rear-Admiral of the Red, 1837. f-p., 30; h-p., 24.)

Sir James Alexander Gordon is eldest son of the late Chas. Gordon, Esq., of Wardhouse, co. Aberdeen, by a daughter of the late Major Jas. Mercer, of Auchnacant, in the same shire; and uncle of Commander Thos. Fred. Birch, R.N.

This officer entered the Navy, 25 Nov. 1793, as Captain’s Servant, on board the Arrogant 74, Capt. Jas. Hawkins Whitshed, employed on the Home station; where, and in the Mediterranean, he afterwards served, part of the time as Midshipman, in the Invincible, Ramillies, and Defence 74’s, Capts. Hon. Thos. Fakenham, Sir Rich. Bickerton, and Thos. Wells, Eurydice and Révolutionnaire frigates, both commanded (the latter in Bridport’s action) by Capt. Fras. Cole, Namur 98, Capt. J. H. Whitshed, Goliath 74, Capt. Thos. Foley (one of the victorious fleet in the battle off Cape St. Vincent, 14 Feb. 1797), and Royal William, flag-ship of Admiral Milbanke. Being promoted to a Lieutenancy, 27 Jan. 1800, in Le Bourdelois, of 24 guns and 195 men, Capts. Thos. Manby and John Hayes, he particularly signalized himself in that ship, on 28 Jan. 1801, at the capture, after a close cannonade of half an hour, of the French national brig La Curieuse, of 18 guns and 168 men, about 50 of whom were killed and wounded, while the British only sustained a loss of 1 man killed and 7 wounded. Towards the end of 1802 Mr. Gordon became First-Lieutenant of the Racoon 18, Capts. Wilson Rathborne and Austin Bissell; by the latter of whom we find his conduct on many occasions described as highly exemplary and praiseworthy, but especially lauded in a very warm action of 40 minutes, which, on 11 July, 1803, led to the capture, in Leogane Roads, of the French corvette Le Lodi, of 10 guns and 61 men.[1] Succeeding Capt. Bissell, on 3 March, 1804, in the command of the Racoon, Capt. Gordon had the good fortune, during his continuance in that sloop, to make prize of many of the enemy’s vessels, and, among others, of the French national transport L’Argo, of 6 guns and 30 men, and the privateers L’Aventure, of 1 gun and 28 men, and L’Alliance, of 6 guns and 68 men. He was posted, 16 May, 1805, into the Diligentia, afterwards Legera, employed, as was the Racoon, on the Jamaica station, but resigned the command in a few months, and was next appointed, 18 June, 1807, to the Mercury 28. After visiting Newfoundland with convoy, he proceeded off Cadiz, where, in company with the Alceste 38, and Grasshopper 18, he took a distinguished part, 4 April, 1808, in a gallant action of two hours and a half, which terminated in the defeat, under the batteries of Rota, and in the teeth of 11 French and Spanish line-of-battle ships, of 20 of the enemy’s gun-boats, having a fleet of merchantmen under their charge.[2] During a subsequent command, from 27 June, 1808, to 11 June, 1812, of the Active, of 46 guns and 300 men, Capt. Gordon, whose prompt and zealous co-operation in thp different services on which he was employed appears to have raised his name to a high pitch, planned several cutting-out affairs, and on the occasion of one which took place at Ortano, 12 Feb. 1811, won the particular thanks of Capt. Henry Whitby, his senior officer, for the judicious manner in which he placed his ship and prevented any body of the enemy from forming in the rear of the men detached on the expedition.[3] On 13 March in the same year he had the fortune to render himself conspicuous by his valour in the memorable action off Lissa [errata 1], when the Active and three other frigates, carrying in the whole 156 guns and 879 men, completely routed, after a conflict of six hours, and a loss to the former of 4 killed and 24 wounded, a Franco-Venetian armament, whose force amounted to 284 guns and 2655 men.[4] A few months subsequent to the latter event, on 29 Nov., the Active, whose complement had been reduced to about 218 men, again distinguished herself in becoming the captor of La Pomone, of 44 guns and 332 men, 50 of whom were killed and wounded. The British did not sustain a loss of more than 8 killed and 27 wounded; among the latter of whom, however, was the gallant Gordon himself, “an officer whose merits,” as expressed by Capt. Murray Maxwell, of the Alceste, who had witnessed the action, and been simultaneously engaged with La Pauline, another of the enemy’s frigates, “are known to his country, and who lives in the hearts of all who have the happiness to know him.”[5] A 36-pounder took his leg clean off, just at the knee-joint, while he was standing on a shot-rack, and leaning on the capstan. Capt. Gordon’s next appointment was, on 14 Sept. 1812, to the Seahorse 38, in which frigate, after cruizing for some time in the Channel, making a voyage also to South America, and effecting the destruction, 13 Nov. 1813, of Le Subitile privateer, of 16 guns and 72 men, he joined Sir Alex. Cochrane in the Chesapeake. On 17 Aug. 1814 Capt. Gordon, with a squadron under his orders consisting, besides the Seahorse, of the Euryalus 36, Devastation, Aetna, and Meteor bombs, Erebus rocket-vessel, and Anna Maria tender, entered the river Potomac. After ten days of unequalled labour, during which the British were constantly impeded by shoals and contrary winds, and every ship in the squadron grounded not less than 20 times, they reached and attacked Fort Washington; the which, together with a battery on the beach, a martello tower, and a battery in the rear, containing in the whole 21 heavy cannon and 6 field-pieces, fell into their possession. The city of Alexandria, having thus lost its only defence, was, on the next day, the 29th, forced to capitulate on the most humiliating terms. On the 31st the conquerors, animated with the success they had encountered, retired in charge of 21 of the enemy’s vessels, laden with all kinds of merchandize; the whole of which they brought down in triumph, notwithstanding that the Americans, to the natural difficulties with which their invaders had previously had to contend, how added all the obstacles that the most determined spirit of opposition could suggest. The loss endured by the squadron fortunately did not exceed 7 killed and 35 wounded; yet some idea of the operations may be formed when it is asserted that during the 23 days they lasted the hammocks of the men were down but for two nights. The issue, indeed, of the enterprise was stated by Sir Alex. Cochrane to have surpassed his most sanguine expectations.[6] Capt. Gordon afterwards accompanied the expedition against New Orleans, and throughout all its details afforded, as officially recorded, his unwearied and cheerful assistance to Rear-Admiral Pulteney Malcolm.[7] The importance of his services met a just reward,

  1. Original: Lisbon was amended to Lissa : detail

  1. Vide Gaz. 1803, p. 1229.
  2. Vide Gaz. 1808, p. 570.
  3. Vide Gaz. 1811, p. 997.
  4. Vide Gaz. 1811, pp. 893-4.
  5. Vide Gaz. 1812, pp. 450, 506.
  6. Vide Gaz. 1814, pp. 1940, 2080.
  7. Vide Gaz. 1815, p. 450.