hms guerriere

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August 1812, the US frigate Constitution, 44 guns, fell in with HMS Guerriere, 38, off the coast of Nova Scotia.  The British Captain Dacres, eager to prove his nation’s mastery of the seas, quickly closed with Constitution, intending to give battle.  Guerriere proved hopelessly outclassed in the action, as the US frigate’s 24 pound main battery effectively destroyed Guerriere within 45 mintues, while the British ship’s 18 pound guns could do little damage to Constitution.  The British suffered over 100 killed and wounded while only 14 Americans were killed or injured.  After the battle, Dacres was exchanged, and exonerated at his subsequent court martial, his main excuse for the lopsided defeat being that Guerriere was originally captured from the French, meaning his ship was not built to British standards.   

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Today we mark the 200th anniversary of the USS Constitution’s defeat of the HMS Guerriere in which she earned the name “Old Ironsides” for the cannonballs that bounced over her sides. An 1890 tracing by A H Dutton of her sail drawing is in the lab. Treatment will remove pressure sensitive tape and stains from the tracing linen, made from a drawing by Charles Ware in 1817.

On Sunday, the USS Constitution sailed across Boston Harbor to commemorate the battle, for the first time since the bicentennial in 1997 of its launching.

The U.S.S. Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship in the United States Navy (and the oldest commissioned warship in the world). The ship was launched in 1797 as one of the 6 original heavy frigates built by the United States government following the Naval Act of 1794. The ship was first used to protect U.S. merchant vessels during the Quasi War with France, as well as to defeat Muslim pirates off the coast of North Africa during the first Barbary War. 

During the War of 1812 the Constitution defeated the British Navy ships HMS GuerriereJavaPictouCyane and Levant in battle. During the battle with the Guerriere the Constitution earned its nickname “Old Ironsides” after sailors witnessed cannonballs bouncing off her hard oak side. 

The ship was built out of southern live oak from Georgia, and was constructed in Boston, MA. The ships copper work was done by Paul Revere, and its name was chosen by George Washington. 

The Constitution is now stationed at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston where it is manned by a full U.S. Navy crew.