The Legend Restored

Dry dock

Watch a hyperlapse of the world's oldest commissioned warship the USS Constitution "Old Ironsides" entering dry dock for her recent multi-year restoration. The critical restoration work, just completed, will allow her to continue her mission for years to come.

The Final Step

Constitution entered Charlestown Navy Yard's Dry Dock 1 in May 2015. Work lasted through this summer (2017), and she will be re-floated and returned to her regular pier in the Navy Yard on the night of July 23, 2017.

During the period of the restoration work, visitors were able to view the ship on blocks and stilts, secured for repair, via a viewing stand the Navy placed at the head of the dry dock. Sailors from her crew answered questions and explained the ongoing work.

It was the first time in 20 years that Constitution was out of the water.

I Am Old Ironsides

Welcome Aboard

For more than 217 years, America's Ship of State, USS Constitution, has been a symbol of the country's fighting spirit. More than 500,000 visitors tour the ship every year and learn about Navy history. Previous commanding officers have said the ship actually "speaks". Welcome to All Hands Magazine's Old Ironsides feature presentation, where USS Constitution will speak to you.

I was born in Boston...

My journey began October 21, 1797, when I was launched from Edmund Hartt Shipyard in Boston Harbor as one of the original six frigates built for the U.S. Navy. It was an awkward introduction, as my extreme size caused difficulty with the launch, and it actually took three separate tries on three different days to get me off the ramps and into the water!

I saw a great deal of action during my 58 years of active naval service, including engagements in the Quasi War with France, the Barbary Wars, and the War of 1812 - winning 33 battles while never taking a loss.

While my guns once struck fear into the heart of the enemy, they now invoke awe and pride in those who witness my ceremonial firings each day.

My Sailors once used unmatched skill to join me in fierce naval battles. Today, they use those skills to help me educate the public and immerse my visitors in naval heritage and pride.

 

BUILT TO
FIGHT

"Many an eye has danced to see
that banner in the sky. Beneath it rung the battle shout
and burst the cannon's roar."
Oliver Wendell Holmes

Renewable Energy Program Office

  • 1576 tons
  • 204 feet long from billet head to taffrail
  • 145 feet of keel
  • The height between my Gun and Spar decks is seven feet.
  • The height between my Gun and Berth decks is six feet and four inches.
  • My hold is 14 feet and three inches high.
  • My draft is 23 feet.
  • My tallest mast stands 189 feet above the water!
  • My beam is 43 feet and six inches.

My Birth Record

  • Designed by: Joshua Humphreys
  • Constructor: George Claghorne
  • Built at Hartt Shipyard, Boston, Massachusetts
  • Launched October 21, 1797

My Crew

  • 1797 - 23 Officers, 273 Enlisted, 60 Marines
  • 1807 - 31 Officers, 330 Enlisted, 58 Marines
  • 1813 - 38 Officers, 376 Enlisted, 59 Marines
  • 1821 - 40 Officers, 395 Enlisted, 60 Marines

Gun Battery - 1798

  • 30 24-pound guns
  • 16 18-pound guns
  • 14 12-pound guns
  • All guns were long guns.

Gun Battery - Aug 1812

  • 30 24-pound long guns
  • 1 18-pound long gun
  • 24 32-pound carronades

Gun Battery - Dec 1812

  • 30 24-pound long guns
  • 24 32-pound carronades

Gun Battery - Feb 1815

  • 30 24-pound long guns
  • 2 24-pound shifting gunades
  • 20 32-pound carronades
graphic picture of the rescue scene

UNDEFEATED
IN BATTLE

Legendary Action

Although my battle record stands at 33 wins and no losses, some of my encounters with the enemy stand out as my proudest achievements. These legendary stories were made possible by unmatched skill, ingenuity, courage and dedication of my Sailors.

The Great Chase - July 16-19, 1812

Less than a month after the United States declared war on Great Britain, under the command of Capt. Isaac Hull, I was en route to New York, to join Commodore John Rodgers' squadron. At about 4 p.m. on July 16, off the coast of Egg Harbor, NJ, my crew sighted an unknown ship to the northeast, which was joined by more ships early the next day. “One Frigate astern within about five or six miles, and a Line of Battle Ship, a Frigate, a Brig, and Schooner, about ten or twelve miles astern all in chase of us, with a fine breeze, and coming up very fast it being nearly calm where we were,” Hull wrote to the secretary of the Navy a few days later. “Soon after Sunrise the wind entirely left us, and the Ship would not steer…”

Capt. Hull ordered the crew to lighten our load in order to give me more speed. They discharged thousands of gallons of drinking water over the side and doused my sails with water to take full advantage of the occasional light winds. Additionally, small boats were launched for a towing operation called kedging - carrying small anchors ahead of me to be dropped into the coastal waters, and then painstakingly using the capstan to pull me forward to the submerged anchors.

The English forces concentrated their own kedging efforts on moving a single ship closer and closer. By about 4 p.m. on July 18, I had a 3-4 mile lead over the enemy. Hull ordered his men prepare our sails for a coming squall, and when the British ships did the same, my sails were unfurled and I raced away at 11 knots. The Royal Navy ships gave up the chase early the next morning.

HMS Guerriere - August 19, 1812

We encountered HMS Guerriere off the coast of Nova Scotia at about 2 p.m. Closing the distance of several miles between the two warships, HMS GUERRIERE raised three British ensigns as an invitation to a duel; Capt. Isaac Hull answered with four American ensigns.

Although Guerriere's captain began firing early, we held our fire until 6 p.m. Capt. Hull wrote soon after the engagement, “…within less than a Pistol Shot, we commenced a very heavy fire from all of our Guns.”

In the course of this 35-minute battle, an astonished sailor observed British 18-lb. iron cannonballs, bouncing harmlessly off my 25-inch oak hull, and he cried out, “Huzza! Her sides are made of iron!” Henceforth, I have carried the nickname “Old Ironsides.”

“The Guerriere was so cut up, that all attempts to get her in would have been useless,” Capt. Dacres explained in a letter to his superiors in England. “As soon as the wounded were got out of her, they set her afire, and I feel it my duty to state that the conduct of Captain Hull and his Officers to our Men has been that of a brave Enemy.”

HMS GUERRIERE sank into the sea in flames on Aug. 20, and I returned to Boston on Aug. 30, to great fanfare.

The British reaction was summed up by the London Times, which stated, “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.”

HMS Java December 29, 1812

Five months after my encounter with HMS Guerriere I engaged my second British frigate during the War of 1812. Under the command of Captain William Bainbridge, I was operating under the directive "to annoy the enemy and afford protection to our commerce." Some thirty miles off the coast of Brazil I met my directive.

At 2 p.m., my Sailors opened fire on HMS JAVA, a 38-gun ship that was smaller and faster than me, and was commanded by Capt. Henry Lambert. HMS JAVA's opening salvo damaged my rigging and spars and wounded my captain. Raking fire from HMS JAVA to my stern shattered the helm and killed or injured the four helmsmen. Wounded a second time in the thigh, Capt. Bainbridge passed steering orders to Marines in the ship's tiller room, who moved the rudder using block and tackle.

We closed fast and delivered a broadside that destroyed HMS JAVA's bowsprit cap, jib boom and head sails. When the British frigate's bowsprit became entangled in my mizzen rigging, Capt. Bainbridge seized the opportunity to fire a final broadside. My boarding party salvaged the helm from the dismasted HMS JAVA, to replace my shattered one.

As many as 60 British seamen were killed in action, including Capt. Lambert. I lost nine Sailors. Following this battle, the British Admiralty - then the world's foremost maritime superpower - decreed their warships would no longer engage American frigates in combat unless in squadron force - that is, two or more to one.

HMS Cyane and HMS Levant - February 20, 1815

The war had ended three days before, but we had no way of knowing. Sailing off the coast of Madeira, Spain, we encountered two smaller British ships in the afternoon. With my 52 guns, we began exchanging fire with both ships, the 24-gun HMS Cyane and the 18-gun HMS Levant.

In his official report, my commander, Captain Charles Stewart, described the beginning of the battle at just after 6 p.m. "…commenced action by broadsides, both ships returning fire with great spirit for about 12 minutes, then the fire of the enemy beginning to slacken, and the great column of smoke collected under our lee, induced us to cease our fire to ascertain their positions and conditions."

After a fierce 45-minute fight, HMS Cyane surrendered and a damaged HMS Levant left the scene. The battle was not over, however, as Levant returned to the scene two hours later, only to be defeated.

The defeat and capture of the two prized British ships became known as one of the most brilliant examples of seamanship and fighting tactics in the War of 1812.

 

Read more of my story and history

Get my latest news, photos and information

 

Part of History - Sailors of the USS Constitution, Part 1

Boots to Roots - Sailors of the Constitution, Part 2

USS Constitution

USS Constitution -- President Hoover Visits USS Constitution at Washington Navy Yard

The Face of the Navy - Sailors of the USS Constitution, Part 3

USS Constitution -- Progress in the Navy

USS Constitution: America's Ship of State

I am Old Ironsides

The Last Ride

CHARLESTOWN, Mass. (Jan. 14, 2008) Seaman Nicole Davis shovels snow through a gun port aboard âUSS Constitution. Despite the weather ÒOld Ironside,Ó remained open for free public tours. At 210-years-old, USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world, manned by 67 active-duty United States Sailors and visited by nearly half a million visitors annually. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Eric Brown (Released)

Snow Day

BOSTON HARBOR, Mass. (July 4, 2009) USS Constitution, the worldÕs oldest commissioned warship, fires a portside cannon during a 21-gun salute in Boston Harbor during 4th of July celebrations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Mark OÕDonald/Released)

BOOM! Firing My Long Guns

BOSTON (June 4, 2010) Seaman Jared Hutchins, left, and Lt. j.g. Gerin Choiniere plot a course for USS Constitution in Boston Harbor. The crew of Constitution hosted approximately 150 members of the Wounded Warrior Project during an underway Battle of Midway commemoration. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kathryn E. Macdonald/Released)

Charting My Course

CHARLESTOWN, Mass. (Jan. 6, 2011) USS Constitution is moved from berth 2 to berth 1 at Charlestown Navy Yard after completion of construction on her pier. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kathryn E. Macdonald/Released)

Resting At Peace in the Harbor

CHARLESTOWN, Mass. (April 5, 2012) USS Constitution is moored to her pier at night in the Charlestown Navy Yard. Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship afloat and welcomes more than 500,000 visitors per year. (U.S. Navy photo by Sonar Technician (Submarine) 2nd Class Thomas Rooney/Released)

After Hours, Always Looking Forward to Tomorrow

BOSTON (July 4, 2012) USS Constitution performs a gun salute during the ship's annual turn-around cruise as part of the Boston Navy Week 2012. Boston Navy Week is one of 15 signature events planned across America in 2012. The eight-day long event commemorates the Bicentennial of the War of 1812, hosting service members from the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard and coalition ships from around the world. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason Daniel Johnston/Released)

Sailing with Friends

Boston, Mass. (June 23, 2006) - USS Constitution's 1812 Marine Guard fire vintage Springfield flintlock muskets during the shipÕs underway.

FIRE! Marines in action

Boston, MA (Jul. 4, 2002) -- USS Constitution (“Old Ironsides”), the oldest commissioned warship afloat, makes her annual 4th of July “turnaround cruise” in Boston Harbor where a 21-gun salute is also rendered off Castle Island’s Fort Independence in South Boston.  This year, the Secretary of the Navy, The Honorable Gordon England witnessed a swearing-in ceremony aboard the ship, where more than two-dozen immigrants were sworn in as naturalized citizens.  U.S. Navy photo by Journalist Seaman Joe Burgess.  (RELEASED)

Out for a ride

BOSTON HARBOR, Mass. (July 4, 2009) USS Constitution, the worldÕs oldest commissioned warship, fires a portside cannon during a 21-gun salute in Boston Harbor during 4th of July celebrations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Mark OÕDonald/Released)

BOOM! Firing My Long Guns