The Capture of HMS Savage was a naval battle of the Revolutionary War involving the American privateer Congress and the British sloop-of-war HMS Savage. It occurred in September 1781 off South Carolina and is considered one of the hardest-fought single ship actions of the war.
By 1781 the smaller British vessels blockading Chesapeake Bay were raiding the American coast by means of boat expeditions. One commander involved in the operations was Captain Charles Stirling of the sloop Savage, armed with sixteen 6-pounders. Stirling is noted for having plundered Mount Vernon, the estate of General George Washington, who was the overall commander of the Continental Army and later the first American president. Shortly after, Captain Stirling sailed his ship south.
In the early morning of 6 nSeptember Savage was escorting a convoy when she encountered the sloop-of-war Congress ten leagues from Charleston. Congress was under the command of Captain George Geddes of Philadelphia, armed with twenty 12-pounders and four 6-pounders, with a complement of 215 officers and men. Stirling placed Savage between the merchant vessels and the stranger.
When Stirling first saw Congress he sailed towards her, in the hope that she was a privateer of twenty 9-pounder guns that had been raiding in the area. However, when he got closer and saw that she was significantly stronger even than the privateer he though she might be, Stirling attempted an escape. However, by 10:30 am the Americans came within range and opened fire with their bow chasers. By 11:00 Congress had closed the distance and her crew engaged with muskets and pistols, to which the British replied with "energy". At this point Captain Geddes observed that his ship was faster than that of the enemy so he maneuvered ahead of Savage until almost abreast, in preparation for a broadside.
A duel then commenced at extreme close range, during which both ships were heavily damaged. Sailors on both sides were also burned by the flashes of their enemy's cannon. Congress's rigging was torn to shreds during the exchange, which compelled the Americans to stand off for quick repairs. After doing so, they resumed the chase. Congress was swiftly alongside the Savage again and another duel began.
The Americans and British fought for about an hour, the combat ending with Savage in ruins. Her quarterdeck and forecastle had been completely cleared of resistance, her mizzenmast was blown away, and her mainmast was nearly gone as well. Geddes felt that this was an opportune time to board the enemy, but just as he was moving his ship in, a boatswain appeared on Savage's forecastle, waving his hat as a sign of surrender.
British forces lost eight men killed and 34 wounded, including Captain Stirling; the Americans had 11 killed and around 30 wounded. In his letter reporting on the action, Captain Stirling noted that after he and his men became prisoners, the Americans had treated them "with great Humanity."
The Americans never made it back to port. The frigate HMS Solebay recaptured Savage on 12 September. When she was recaptured, Savage had a prize crew of 30 men aboard her. Maclay states that the same frigate captured Congress and recaptured Savage. (The London Gazette mentions the recapture of Savage, but not the capture of her captor Congress.)