USS Constitution

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Free History For Your Report

USS Constitution

The USS Constitution, better known in historical context as “Old Ironsides,” is a warship built by The United States between 1794-1797 in Edmund Hutt's Shipyard. She is still afloat today, making her the oldest commissioned vessel still operational in the world. Old Ironsides was one of six three-masted windjammers authorized for building under The Naval Act of 1794. Designed to be the six strongest ships in the Navy's fleets, extra lengths were gone through in order to make these vessels as battle-ready as possible, with safety measurements taken that were well beyond those of the usual windjammers of the day.
After the launch of the USS Constitution, she was directed to provide safe passage for several merchant ships during the American-French Quasi War, and also to aid in protection from pirates for the merchant ships. The ship's greatest moment, however, came during her battle with the warship Guerriere, during the War of 1812. During this battle, fought against a fleet of ships from Great Britain, the Constitution destroyed five British warships and captured several merchant ships, resulting in a great victory for The United States of America. It was here that her seemingly indestructible reputation earned the nickname, “Old Ironsides.”

At a time when several of the warships of her generation were being scrapped and newer, stronger ships were being built, the fame of Old Ironsides kept her afloat. However, while remaining in active service, her roles were mostly passive or ceremonial, and she was kept away from any dangerous battles for the most part. One of her most famous trips during this time was an around-the-world trip that departed on May 29, 1844 after an extensive retrofitting. The first purpose of this trip was to transport America's new Ambassador to Brazil, Henry A. Wise, from Boston to Rio de Janeiro. Following this stop, including other ports of call to Africa including Madagascar, Zanzibar, Mozambique, and Sumatra, the remaining legs of the ship's African tour were abandoned for an emergency re-route to Singapore. This was due to a large number of illnesses and deaths on the ship that resulted from foul drinking water. 

After a doctor in Singapore treated those who were still alive, the ship was re-routed to the port of Turon, Cochinchina (modern-day Da Nang, Vietnam), in a failed effort to rescue a French missionary who had been captured in the region and sentenced to death. After a lengthy stand-off plagued by more sickness on the ship, the Constitution abandoned the rescue effort when its failure became apparent and resumed its American-directed diplomatic world tour, culminating in a stop in Honolulu.

Whilst anchored in the Hawaiian islands, the ship was dispatched for a possible emergency war-role; America was preparing to go to war with Mexico regarding the Texas territories. The ship's supplies were re-stocked and the sick crew was treated, allowing the Constitution and her crew to drop anchor in Mazatlan, Mexico for three months. When it became apparent that the war was not going to happen, she was ordered back to her home port of Boston, which required a lengthy sail around South America. It was during a final stop in Rio de Janeiro that the crew learned the Mexican War had indeed broken out unexpectedly, a mere few hours after the ship's departure. Being too far to offer assistance, the ship continued around the east side of South America and back to Boston.

Other voyages during this period included relatively safe surveying cruises around Africa and in the Mediterranean, calling on various ports in Europe and the Middle East, as well as serving to transport art displays for The United States' pavilion at The Paris Exposition in 1878 (ironic, since her original battle was against France).

In 1900, Congress approved the Constitution for a complete restoration, and a re- classification as a museum ship, ensuring her place in the waters but protecting her from battle from that point forward. During returned times of peace, the Constitution set sail on her final world-wide diplomatic trip in 1913, stopping at over 90 ports-of-call worldwide.

Although retired from active service in the Navy, the ship was never decommissioned. As a result, she still has a fully-staffed crew of 60 active-duty Navy personnel who keep the ship seaworthy and in working order. These active-duty personnel, assigned on a “special assignment” for their job on the Constitution, are also responsible for maintaining the museum and performing various ceremonies and duties on board. The ship's most recent voyage to sea occurred in 1997 for her 200th anniversary. After being towed out of Boston, the ship sailed at a top speed of four knots, completely under her own power, inbound to Charleston. As part of the historic trip, the Constitution fired a 21-gun salute as she passed Fort Independence, while the Blue Angels flew overhead. Dignitaries on board included sailing enthusiast and journalist Walter Cronkite and Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy.

Today, the USS Constitution can be toured every day of the year in a berth located at Pier 1 in Charleston, at the edge of The Freedom Trail in Boston. She is maintained by The Naval Historical Center Detachment Boston. Another independent museum is nearby, and while dedicated to the ship, it is not affiliated with the Navy. Once each year the ship makes a short “turnaround cruise” in Boston Harbor. This serves the purpose of allowing her to be berthed in various directions, making sure that the wear on the ship from sitting in the dock is even, thereby aiding in lengthening the life of the ship.

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