By Lynn Robbins
Lieutenant Edward R. McCall might have been a forgotten hero. But thanks to a group of Bordentown residents and a book titled “Knights of the Sea: The true story of the Boxer and the Enterprise and the War of 1812” by David Hanna, McCall will be remembered as the great naval officer he was.
On Sept. 14, Christ Church on Prince Street hosted a memorial event to honor Captain McCall and the 200th anniversary of the battle that occurred off the coast of Maine.
Bordentown resident, Vietnam vet and the event organizer Andrew Law summarized the battle that took place 200 years ago: When the captain of the USS Enterprise William Burrows was wounded by musket fire, he handed the Enterprise command to Lieutenant McCall before he died. Following his captain’s instructions, the 23-year-old McCall and his crew captured the British HMS Boxer ending the battle in victory. For his bravery and triumph, he would later be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and the Thanks of Congress.
Historians say that whenever McCall received praise for his heroic actions, he gave credit to the crew members on the ship.
“He deflected attention away from himself,” Hanna told the audience at the commemoration.
McCall moved to Bordentown later in his life and married a local girl. He lived in the town until he died in 1853.
The commemoration that took place at Christ Church Parish and cemetery this past September involved several months of planning by church members and Bordentown residents, including U. S. Navy Master Chief Ret. Robert Gallagher, Andrew Law, Bill Collom and Mary Ellen Carty.
But a great deal of credit belongs to the late Anna T. Burr, a town historian who referenced McCall in her documents, Carty said. It was Burr’s journal that sparked Carty’s interest in the naval battle of 1813 and planted the seed for the memorial program.
Like McCall, the event planners were modest when describing their roles. They all contributed in many ways, but Law researched McCall on the web, and made calls to coordinate efforts between the church and the city of Bordentown. Gallagher who had read “Knights of the Sea,” invited the author to be the guest speaker, and arranged for the presence of the U.S. Navy Sea Cadets.
Collom, a former Bordentown mayor, worked on publicity. Speaking about the importance of the memorial program, Collom said that historians have called the War of 1812 the second revolution. Some have compared the victory of the Enterprise to Washington’s crossing the Delaware.
The Sept. 14 program began at 10:50 a.m. with the first call followed by the call to the colors (U.S. flag) performed by Matthew Nardone and the posting of the Colors by the U.S. Navy Sea Cadets. Boy Scout Troop 13 led the pledge of allegiance, and the Christ Church Choir sang the national anthem. Father J. Matthew Tucker gave the invocation, and Mayor Joseph Malone welcomed the audience. Past commander Law and Gallagher introduced “The Knights of the Sea” author David Hanna.
Hanna spoke of the events leading to the war and the battle between the Enterprise and the Boxer. Referring to a passage from his book, he spoke of McCall’s integrity and modesty.
After performing the flag folding ceremony, the side boys from the U.S. Navy presented the flag to the Marine detachment who then presented the flag to Mayor Malone in the presence of Deputy Mayor Lynch and Commissioner Zigmont Targonski. The Boatswain’s mate of the watch (senior crewman, also known as bos’n) piped the side for Captain McCall. Eight bells sounded. The cannon boomed a salute under the command of Captain John Mills of the Mott’s Artillery unit. The program closed with Taps performed by Nardone, a benediction by Father Tucker, the retiring of the Colors and a 12-bells toll from the church.
“I am thrilled to be here,” Hanna said after the ceremony. “I’m really impressed that the town cares. The Bordentown citizens deserve a lot of credit.”
“We have a lot of unsung heroes, and Captain McCall is one of them,” Law said.
Gallagher said he had committed his time and energy to the event because he did not want the memory or spirit of McCall to vanish from history. The memorial event has concluded, but the commitment to McCall continues. The committee is working with the Veterans Administration to install a bronze plaque for the gravesite. They have not been able to identify living descendents of McCall, but if there are living family relatives, Law hopes they will be found.
The committee recommends the following websites for more information on the War of 1812 and Captain McCall:
Author of “Knights of the Sea,” David Hanna’s blog: nightwatch1812.wordpress.com.
Maine Military Historical Society: mainemilmuseum.org/battle-of-hms-boxer-uss-enterprise.
Mott’s Artillery: mottsartillery.org.
Christ Church Parish history: ccbtown.com/History.html.
Andrew Law can be reached through the Christ Church office at (609) 298-2348.