The USS Constitution, affectionately known as ′Old Ironsides′, will set sail under her own power for the only the second time in 131 years. The 44-gun frigate, built in 1797, the United States Navy′s oldest commissioned warship, will celebrate the 200th anniversary of her famous battle during the War of 1812 between the HMS Guerriere and herself off the coast of Nova Scotia. A tugboat will take the Constitution through Boston Harbor out to the open sea, where she will sail on her own for 10 minutes. The last time Old Ironsides was under full sail was during the July 4th celebration in 1997, commemorating the ship′s 200th birthday. Prior to that, the USS Constitution was last out to sea in 1881. Since then, citizens have flocked to the Constitution Museum to see the famous warship.

USS Constitution sails

The Constitution was the third of six frigates built by the United States Navy via the Naval Armament At of 1794. The USS United States was launched first, followed by the USS Constellation and then the Constitution. She was then followed by the USS Congress, the USS Chesapeake and finally the USS President. During the early days of the the new American republic, threats to our commercial shipping came from many corners. Piracy was a major concern, particularly off the Barbary Coast of Northern Africa. Then there was the long struggle between France and England as part of the Napoleonic Wars. Not only were merchant vessels carrying goods to one nation or the other attacked, sunk or captured, but often ships crews were pressed into service by the French or British navies against their will.

The argument, simply summed up in the quote, ″Millions for defense but not one penny in tribute.″, became the rallying cry to fund building a permanent, US Navy, high seas fleet. The USS Constitution participated in many skirmishes during the early conflicts with France and the Barbary pirates. But by 1812, tensions between the United States and Great Britain reached a boiling point leading to the U.S. declaring war against the British. The US Navy had only 22 ships compared to the British Navy′s 80 warships.

After a skirmish off the coast of New Jersey in July, 1812, known as ′The Great Chase′, where the Constitution outmaneuvered five British warships, she encountered the HMS Guerriere near Nova Scotia on August 19, 1812. Armed with 55 cannons, the Constitution attacked the Guerriere, which was armed with 38 guns. The battle lasted barely 35 minutes as the British 18-pound guns had little effect on the 25-inch thick oak sides of the Constitution. Cannonballs bounced off as her crew shouted ″Huzza!″ after surviving each volley. The American 24-pound guns made quick work of turning the Guerriere into toothpicks. Wounded, the British Captain, James Dacres, signaled his surrender to Captain Isaac Hull, giving the Constitution her first victory in the war.

So if you are near Boston Harbor today, you will have a great view of the USS Constitution heading out to sea. Old Ironsides will sail under her own power as part of a commemoration of her battle with the HMS Guerriere near Nova Scotia 200 years ago today. The Constitution is the US Navy′s oldest commissioned warship and usually serves as the USS Constitution Museum. But today, as part of the on-going bicentennial of the War of 1812, the famous 44-gun sailing frigate will prove once again that she is still sea worthy.

USS Constitution vs GuerriereGuerriereBattlePattern