In Boston's Charlestown neighborhood, within the Charlestown Navy Yard National Historic Site, is one of the most important icons from the War of 1812: the U.S.S. Constitution, a frigate sailing ship that earned its name "Old Ironsides" during the war. Within the ship is a plaque placed in a miniature sail placed by the U.S. Department of the Interior that states that the U.S.S. Constitution is a National Historic Landmark.
The plaque states the following:
National Historic Landmark
This vessel possesses national significance in commemorating the history of the United States of America
Launched in Boston in 1797, USS Constitution is the world's oldest commissioned warship afloat and is a testament to American Naval skill and courage. Undefeated in combat, she earned the title of 'Old Ironsides' in legendary battles against the Royal Navy in the War of 1812.
National Park Service
United States Department of the Interior
The USS Constitution was one of the original six frigates that were commissioned by the U.S. government. These ships were engaged in two wars before: the Quasi-War with France (1798 - 1801) and the Barbary Wars (1801 - 1805). So, by the War of 1812, the ship and crew were already war seasoned.
The U.S.S. Constitution was one of the six ships authorized by the U.S. Congress in March 27, 1794. It was designed by Joshua Humphreys (like the other frigates) and built at the Hartt's Shipyard, which was located at the U.S. Coast Guard Station in Boston's North End - launched in October 21, 1797. After the Charlestown Navy Yard was established in 1800, it became the ship's home port.
The War of 1812 proved to be when the Constitution had its finest moments. On June 20, 1812, the declaration of war was read to the crew of the Constitution, and, after preparations, set sail on July 12 under Captain Isaac Hull to join Commodore Rodgers' North Atlantic Squadron. Thinking it was Rodger's squadron, the Constitution headed for a group of ships. When it was discovered that they were, in fact, part of a British squadron, the Constitution instead successfully maneuvered to escape. The ship did run the blockade around Boston several times and did capture several British merchant ships from Nova Scotia to Guiana.
On August 19, 1812, the Constitution met and defeated the HMS Guerriere by the St. Lawrence Seaway off the coast of Nova Scotia. It was during this engagement that, after a sailor noted that 18 pound British cannon balls bounced off the Constitution's hull and shouted, “Huzza! Her sides are made of iron!” Thus, the nickname "Old Ironsides" was coined and has remained ever since.
In December 29, 1812, the Constitution met and defeated the HMS Java off the coast of Brazil. The Captain was William Bainbridge.
On February 20, 1815, not knowing that the war had been officially called off just three days before, the USS Constitution met and defeated both the HMS Cyane and Levant off the coast of Morocco. The Captain at the time was Charles Stewart. One of the impressive moves was causing the the ship to sail backwards to avoid being raked with the HMS Cyane and to get into position to broadside it.
How important were the victories by this ship? The web site, History.navy.mil, had the following analysis:
“Objective analysis of the War of 1812 must conclude that the victories of Constitution … had no direct effect on the course of the war,” explained Tyrone G. Martin in his history of USS CONSTITUTION, A Most Fortunate Ship. “The losses suffered by the Royal Navy were no more than pinpricks to the great fleet: they neither inspired its battle readiness nor disrupted the blockade of American ports… What Constitution did accomplish was to uplift American morale spectacularly and, in the process, end forever the myth that the Royal Navy was invincible.”
This is somewhat of a disappointment, but, still it is an important icon to Bostonians and Americans.
The ship continued service in the Navy until 1855. After almost being scrapped in 1905, the ship was saved and restored. In 1960, the USS Constitution received the US National Landmark, and the plaque is placed in the middle deck of the ship by the Captain's quarters.
Today, it is open for tours at the Charlestown Navy Yard National Historic Site (check the web site for specific visitor hours). There is parking available within the old Navy Ship Yard, but it is limited. Better, take the transit. There are buses that stop nearby. The Orange Line Heavy Rail has two stops, North Station and Bunker Hill Community College, that are about 3/4 mile away and, thus, require some walking. There is no charge to enter the Constitution or the Visitor Center by the ship. However, there is significant security in place that are similar to airport security methods, and adults over 18 need a photo ID. In addition to the ship and Charletown Navy Yard Visitor Center, there is the Constitution Museum, located outside of the security area. There you can learn more about the ship and the early U.S. Navy.
National Park Service (Boston National Historic Park-Charlestown Navy Yard, USS Constitution):
History.navy.mil (USS Constitution):
navysite.de (USS Constitution) - There are popups on this page: