edged away, as if to meet the Little-Belt. The latter, about the same time, made her number, and afterwards the customary signal (No. 277), calling upon the stranger, if a British ship of war, to show hers. The non-compliance with this signal indicating that the President was, what by her colours she appeared to he, an American frigate, the Little-Belt, at 1 h. 45 m. p.m., hoisted her colours, wore, and resumed her course to the southward under all sail. "Being," as Commodore Rodgers says, " desirous of speaking her, and of ascertaining what she was, " the President crowded sail in chase. Observing this, the Little-Belt made the private signal. Finding it unanswered, Captain Bingham felt assured that the stranger, notwithstanding her persisting to chase, was an American frigate, and therefore, hauling down both ensign and signal, continued his course round Cape Hatteras.
Although the wind, since 1 p.m., had been gradually falling, the superior sailing of the President brought her, by 6 h. 30 m. p.m., so near to the Little-Belt, that Captain Bingham, wishing before dark to remove all remaining doubts on either side, shortened sail, rehoisted his colours, and hove to on the larboard tack.
To avoid being taken by surprise, the Little-Belt double-shotted her guns, and got all clear for action. The President, by the manner of her approach, appearing as if she intended to take a raking position, the Little-Belt, to frustrate that design, wore three times. This brought the latter upon the starboard tack ; and at a few minutes past 8 p.m., when the two ships were about 90 yards apart, Captain Bingham hailed the President in the customary manner, but received no answer, probably because be was not heard. The President still advancing, as if desirous to pass astern of the Little-Belt, the latter wore a fourth time, and came to on the larboard tack. The President now hauled her foresail up, and also hove to on the larboard tack, distant about 80 yards from the sloop's weather-beam. Captain Bingham, standing on the gun abaft the larboard gangway, hailed, " Ship ahoy !" " Ship a-hoy !" was repeated from the neutral frigate. " What ship is that?" asked Captain Bingham. " What ship is that?" repeated Commodore Rodgers. At this instant a gun was fired, let us for the present say, by each ship ; and, let us also say, that both guns went off by accident.
Each ship believing the other to have fired first, and that intentionally, and neither being disposed to brook the slightest insult, the two began a furious engagement; which lasted, including an intermission of a few minutes, about half an hour. * The Little-Belt, owing to the loss of her after-sail and the damaged state of her rigging, having fallen off, so that no gun
* Captain Bingham says " three quarters;" some of the American officers, "a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes."
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