Horace B. Sawyer
Dates of Service: -
Birth Date: 1795
Death Date: 1860
Horace Bucklin Sawyer was born in Burlington, VT in February 1797, the son of James Sawyer and his wife Lydia Foster.
Sawyer received his midshipman’s warrant in the US Navy on 4 June 1812. He joined the crew of USS Eagle on Lake Champlain in 1813. On 3 June of that year, a British squadron captured Sawyer’s vessel and he was sent to Halifax as a prisoner. His hearing was injured by the concussion of the guns during the action and poor medical attention while in British custody exacerbated his infirmity.
Sawyer joined Constitution’s crew as a midshipman at Boston, MA on 14 December 1814. He was furloughed at Boston on 3 July 1815. Sawyer served on Constitution a second time. As a lieutenant he was transferred to the ship at Port Mahon, Minorca on 13 December 1827 and left on 30 June 1828 when the ship returned to Boston.
Midshipmen were officers in training. Drawn from the ranks of the middle class, they went to sea to learn seamanship and leadership. They received some formal training in mathematics, languages, and literature from the schoolmaster or chaplain, but most of their education was hands-on. In time, if they mastered their trade, they could expect to receive a lieutenant’s commission. A midshipman had no specific duties as such, but would be expected to do whatever was ordered of him. This could include supervising the men aloft, running orders for the officers, co-commanding a division in battle, sending and receiving signals, or standing a watch. In addition to their various shipboard duties, midshipmen were expected to keep a journal of every cruise, in which they recorded essential information and observations. Midshipman were paid $19.00 per month and got only one ration per day.
The junior lieutenants each had command of a watch. The men in the watch were under the lieutenant’s care and command. He was to keep a list of all the officers and men in his watch. When mustered, he examined the men to make sure they were well clothed, clean, and sober. He regularly visited the lower decks to make sure the sentries were at their posts, that no tobacco was smoked between decks, and that there were no unenclosed candles lit. While at sea, a junior lieutenant was not to change the ship’s course without the captain’s permission, unless it was to prevent a collision or other accident. In battle, the lieutenants were stationed with their divisions on the spar deck or gun deck. The youngest lieutenant exercised the men with small arms and in battle oversaw their use. In addition, all lieutenants were required to keep a journal or log, a copy of which was to be delivered to the Navy Office at the end of a voyage. They made $40 per month until May 1828, when they then made $50.
Battles and Engagements
Sawyer participated in the victory over HMS Cyane and HMS Levant on 20 February 1815. He received $129.93 as his share of the prize money awarded for the capture of Levant, as well as an equal portion for Cyane.
When Sawyer returned to the United States at the end of the War of 1812, he applied for a furlough from the Navy to sail on a voyage to India. Because of his capture in 1813, he had only spent about six months at sea, and he desired to improve his seamanship by the voyage.
He served on board USS Prometheus in 1816 and in 1818 received his promotion to lieutenant. Sawyer served on the schooner Dolphin in the Pacific Squadron in the early 1820s. His deafness continued to cause his problems. According to the Dolphin’s surgeon in 1822, was “afflicted with partial deafness and that it has within the last three months increased so much as to render conversations in an ordinary tone of voice wholly unintelligible to him.” He served on USS Warren in the mid-1820s and transferred to Constitution once again in 1827.
He commanded the rendezvous (recruiting station) at Boston in 1830. All the while, his deafness became worse. According to childhood friend Joseph P. Russell, an assistant surgeon in the US Army, “to my personal knowledge his hearing has been very much impaired for many years, and I always understood that it was caused by injuries received during the action [on Lake Champlain], together with exposure and sickness while in confinement as a Prisoner of War. He is now very much affected with deafness in so great a degree as to render conversation with him extremely difficult, especially to strangers, whose language in the usual and ordinary tone of voice appears to be, and I have no doubt is wholly unintelligible to him, and furthermore, from my knowledge of his case, I do not think there is the slightest reason to expect any mitigation of the infirmity, but on the contrary I believe it incurable, and not in the least remediable by medical or surgical treatment.”
Despite this disability, he continued in service. He was thrown from his sleigh while in public duty, under orders of the War Department, during the Canadian disturbances in 1838-39. Promoted to commander in 1839, he took command of the Baltimore rendezvous in 1841. He was finally promoted to captain in 1853, only to be placed on the reserve list in 1855. The state of Vermont voted him a sword for his War of 1812 service in 1856. Sawyer died at the Lafayette House Hotel in Washington, DC in February 1860.