Tuesday, August 19, 2008

“Huzza, my boys, we’ve made a brig of her!"

On this day during the War for American maritime rights the USS Constitution was victorious in a short, sharp broadside to broadside exchange with the HMS Guerriere.

In 1794 the USS Constitution was part of a fledgling six Frigate Navy.
Carrying 44 guns,sided with Georgia Live Oak and over sheeted (carrying too much sail) she was the Heavy Cruiser of her day.

On this day in 1812, she was searching for the British Frigate HMS Guerriere (38 38pounders) who she spotted in fog earlier. When The Constitution- under Capt. Issac Hull foundthe Guerriere, they began to gain the wind advantage.
While maneuvering, they began to take fire from the Brits in the shrouds (ropes and sails).
Capt. Hull refused to fire until he was ready, and at 50 yards distance he let go his first broadside which shredded the British ship abaft and felled her mizzen mast.

Sailing past the unmanouverable ship, Hull then crossed her T with his portside cannon, sending grapeshot and cannon balls down the entire deck. This also weakened the bowsprit.

In coming about for another broadside, the Constitution became entangled in the bowsprit of the Guerriere and her Marines in the fighting tops poured musket fire on the enemy decks until they wrenched themselves apart.

The stress then collapsed the Guerriere's bowsprit bringing down her remaining masts, rendering her at the mercy of the sea and the Americans circling to re-engage.
After Captain Dacres surrendered, it was found that the Guerriere was too badly damaged in the hull to salvage and then set ablaze.
The Constitution was almost undamaged, with the 38 pounders of the British bouncing off the thick Live Oak sides, which gave her her nickname of "Old Ironsides".

The casualties were 79 British Tars and 14 Americans wounded or dead.

The USS Constitution is the oldest Commissioned active duty ship in the American Navy, she was involved in our first unilateral war in the Mideast, and served her nation during both world wars as a Barracks ship and a training ship until she was berthed at her home pier in the Boston Navy Yard.
She almost came under the wreckers yard because she was too worn out after the Civil War for the Navy to repair her, and was saved by a future Supreme Court Judge and a short poem he motivated Americans with:

Old Ironsides

Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky;
Beneath it rung the battle shout,
And burst the cannon's roar;
The meteor of the ocean air
Shall sweep the clouds no more!

Her deck, once red with heroes' blood,
Where knelt the vanquished foe,
When winds were hurrying o'er the flood
And waves were white below,
No more shall feel the victor's tread,
Or know the conquered knee;
The harpies of the shore shall pluck
The eagle of the sea!

Oh, better that her shattered hulk
Should sink beneath the wave;
Her thunders shook the mighty deep,
And there should be her grave;
Nail to the mast her holy flag,
Set every threadbare sail,
And give her to the God of storms,
The lightning and the gale!

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