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What Happened to the USS Constitution?

After the wars, several military ships were displaced. Some were repurposed while others were left to rot on the ocean floor. But did you know about the USS Constitution?

The USS Constitution was built in 1797, making it the oldest ship afloat. The Secretary of Navy wanted to use it as target practice in 1830, but a benefactor campaigned against it. Congress agreed to save it.

The USS Constitution

The USS Constitution, also known as Old Ironsides, was the first frigate built for the US Navy designed by Joshua Humphreys. It was built in Hartt’s Shipyard and launched in Boston, Massachusetts, on October 21, 1797. The ship was christened by Captain James Server and is considered the oldest warship afloat as it still sails up to this day. (Source: Naval History and Heritage Command)

The cost of building the ship then was at $300,000, which also included its guns and equipment. It was rated as a forty-four gun frigate. It was initially created to be fast and highly maneuverable. The vessel is 62 meters long and is estimated to be 2,200 tons heavy. Its gun range is around 1,100 meters, and historical reports claim it usually carried more than fifty guns and about 450 crew. (Source: Britannica)

The USS Constitution got its name Old Ironsides in the War of 1812. On August 19, 1812, the Constitution won a battle against the British frigate Guerriere under the command of Captain Isaac Hull. American sailors dubbed the ship as Old Ironsides when they observed that the British could not penetrate the oak sides of the Constitution.

In 1830, the ship was tagged as unseaworthy. It was condemned for dismantling, but thanks to the poem Old Ironsides written by Oliver Wendell Holmes, the ship was preserved, and efforts to rebuild it started.

In 1905, Secretary of Navy Charles Joseph Bonaparte’s annual report noted that much of the ship had been altered and felt it was no longer capable of active service. Bonaparte pointed out that the USS Constitution deserved a warrior’s death for sentimental reasons and recommended that it be used as target practice and be sunk by the North Atlantic fleet. (Source: USS Constitution Museum)

Moses Gulesian, an American-Armenian businessman, read about this decision and offered to purchase the ship for $10,000, to which the State Department refused. Gulesian’s offer and Bonaparte’s response found their way in the Boston Globe newspaper. The article gained national support, and ultimately Bonaparte’s plan to sink the ship was abandoned. (Source: Armenian Weekly)

The ship is now located in Charlestown Navy Yard, part of the Boston National Historical Park. It is now open to the public as part of the museum. (Source: USS Constitution Museum)

USS Constitution Battles

The USS Constitution has endured many battles in its time. Here is a list of some of the significant events the nation’s ship survived.

  • The Quasi-War with France from 1798-1800
  • The War of 1812
  • The HMS Guerriere Battle where it earned its name Old Ironsides
  • The HMS Java Battle of 1812
  • The HMS Cyane and HMS Levant Battle of 1815

(Source: USS Constitution Museum)

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