On August 19, 1812, the 44-gun USS Constitution met the 38 gun HMS Guerriere in single ship combat off the coast of Nova Scotia. During the battle the Constitution earned her nickname ”Old Ironsides” when the British 18 pound shot was seen to bounce off her oak planks. In the 35 minute battle, HMS Guerriere was defeated. Guerriere was the first of five British warships that USS Constitution would capture or destroy during the war of 1812.
Tomorrow, on Guerriere Day, the 200th anniversary of the victory over HMS Guerriere, the two hundred and fifteen year old USS Constitution will set sail for the first time since 1997. It will be only the second time that the ship has sailed on her own in the last 131 years. Her time under sail will not be very long. According to the US Navy press release “at approximately 11:30 a.m., the crew will set up to four sails and make toward open water for about 10 minutes.”
The London Times summed up the British reaction to the loss of HMS Guerriere to the USS Constitution: ”It is not merely that an English frigate has been taken, after, what we are free to confess, may be called a brave resistance, but that it has been taken by a new enemy, and enemy unaccustomed to such triumphs, and likely to be rendered insolent and confident by them. …how important this triumph is in giving a tone and character to the war. Never before in the history of the world did an English frigate strike to an American.”
The USS Constitution was launched in 1797 and is the oldest commission warship afloat. She is berthed at Pier 1 of the former Charlestown Navy Yard, in Boston harbor. Along with the USS President and USS United States, the USS Constitution was one of three “super-frigates” built by the fledgling US Navy. These ships were larger and more heavily armed than the typical frigate of the day.
The 22 commissioned warships of the United States Navy had no real strategic impact on the War of 1812, but proved a shock to the Royal Navy. After defeats by the USS Constitution and the USS United States, the Royal Navy ordered its frigates not to engage the US frigates in single ship combat.
Thanks to Irwin Bryan for contributing to this post.