Saturday, August 19, 2006

Old Ironsides: The USS Constitution and August 19, 1812

USS ConstitutionWar of 1812 at Sea -- USS Constitution captures HMS Guerriere, 19 August 1812 This was the battle that gave the USS Constitution the nickname "Old Ironsides."

When the battle began, just before 6 PM, the HMS Guerriere started firing alternating broadsides at the Constitution, but with little effect.
Witnesses claimed that the British shot merely bounced off the Constitution's sides, as if the ship were made of iron rather than wood.
The Guerriere lost its mizzen mast early on - the result of very accurate American gunnery. This was after about 15 minutes of broadside bombardment. That loss impacted the Guerriere's ability to maneuver. As the Constitution pulled ahead and moved to cut across the bow of its enemy the bowsprit got caught in the rigging for Constitution's mizzen mast.

Boarding parties were readied on both sides and many people were killed or injured on both sides as marksmen shot at the exposed crews. Eventually Constitution pulled free. As it did so, the Guerriere's foremast collapsed, pulling down its main mast. Guerriere was left a "defenseless hulk" and her captain surrendered at about 7 PM.

The British sailors were removed from the HMS Guerriere the next day, and that ship was set ablaze and blew up shortly thereafter. Constitution returned to Boston with prisoners.
[The USS Constitution] is the oldest commissioned ship afloat in the world and is still in service in the US Navy (while HMS Victory is the oldest commissioned ship in the world by three decades, she is permanently drydocked).

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