She is still a remarkable beauty, even as she presently sits in Dry Dock 1 in Boston’s Harbor.
She is the second oldest, still active warship in the world and is presently crewed by 6 active duty officers and 46 crewmen of the United States Navy. The USS Constitution, also known as, “Old Ironsides,” is considered an honored assignment by those who are chosen to serve on her today. Some of them say that she talks to them, that she is alive.
The USS Constitution is truly a noble warrior. She was built in Boston and was designed by Joshua Humphreys, War History Online reports. Her hardware was forged by none other than Paul Revere.
She was built along with six frigates under appropriations from the Naval Act of 1794. You will note, that is only 5 years after the election of our first President, George Washington, in 1789. He was given the honor of naming this beautiful ship and chose to name her after the remarkable document that was and still remains the foundation for this experiment in democracy we call the United States of America, The U.S. Constitution.
Every President, federally elected individual, and every military person swears an oath to protect and defend, not the country but the Constitution that is the source of this country’s meaning and purpose. She has borne that name with both courage and dignity throughout her 228 year long existence.
Her design made her the most formidable ship of her day. She was built out of thick, durable oak and pine woods. She has a sea draft of 23 ft and her masts rise into the sky to a height of 204 ft. She was built to be bigger and faster than any ship of her day. Her hulls were built with such heavy oak and such intricate architectural design that she was literally impenetrable to existing warship gunnery and shot of the day.
Her first action came against the Barbary Pirates who had controlled the Mediterranean Sea for decades and were expert at taking European and Americans trading ships and selling their crews into slavery. Most of the European countries and the U.S. were paying huge sums of money to them to ransom those crews. The U.S. alone, a still fledgling country, was paying up to as much as 20% of its budget per year to the Barbary Pirates for this purpose.
The USS Constitution and the six frigates of the U.S. Navy set sail for Algiers and Tripoli to put an end to this. She carried a crew of 500 sailors and Marines and bristled with 55 big guns of her own. It would be a costly endeavor in that they lost two of the frigates in battle, the USS Philadelphia, which went aground off of Tripoli on October 3, 1803, and the USS Intrepid which was hit and blown up by Barbary shore guns as she tried to bring explosives into the harbor in and effort to retake the USS Philadelphia, which the Pirates had taken and turned against the American fleet. The Constitution, being so large could only standoff and fire support for the other ships. But their effort and that of Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon, a Marine who lead allied attacks against the Barbary State from land, put an end to the pirating.
Her first real victories would come during the War of 1812. During that war she defeated five British warships, captured several others and fought a 12 hour long battle with the British warship, Guerriere, during which she got her nickname, “Old Ironsides” because the British ship’s cannon balls simply bounced off of her hull. She would have a storied career after the War of 1812 as well. She would sail around the world, act as a training ship during the American Civil War, and sailed to the Paris Exhibition of 1878. But she would be decommissioned on 1890 and would be nearly forgotten, tied to a pier in the naval shipyard in Boston Harbor. By the early 1900s the Navy had already turned her into a kind of a freek of her former self. They had built a hideous looking house-like structure on her decks and let her fall into disrepair.
There were early attempts to refurbish her, but they generally fell short. It wasn’t until the Secretary of the Navy in the early 1900s proposed to sail her out to sea to be used for target practice and sunk. This raised an uproar and a local Massachusetts man, Moses Gulesian, offered to buy her, but the Navy refused to sell her. He contacted the local newspapers and started a national campaign to save her and get her restored. Finally Congress passed an appropriations bill in 1906 giving $100,000 for restoration and repairs. Another mostly private campaign was undertaken in the 1920s for further restorations. It raised sufficient funds to do so. $148,000 of that money was raised in pennies in schools from around the nation.
Since that time she has sailed through the Panama Canal and participated in the Bicentennial of the United States in 1976. If you visit Boston today, you can visit and go aboard this magnificent 228 year old warship. It really is a must see, if you go to Boston.
The USS Constitution’s history is America’s history. She was there at the beginning and remains a proud active duty member of the United States Navy to this day. It is exciting to see such a noble ship, but it is truly made even more meaningful to meet and talk to some of the over 50 active duty United States Navy sailors who serve aboard her today.
To visit her, to walk on her decks, and to wander through her gun decks and crew quarters is to walk into history, a history that reaches back 228 years and right up to today.
The Veterans Site honors that history and thanks the current crew for keeping her alive and shipshape. What an incredible experience that must be. We wish the USS Constitution continuing…
Fair winds and Following Seas.
Inmterested in more naval dominance? Click the button below to take a tour of the USS Giffords, one of the U.S. Navy’s most advanced littoral ships.
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