USS Constellation (1854)

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USS Constellation
USS Constellation
Career (US) 100x35px
Name: USS Constellation
Laid down: 25 June 1853
Launched: 26 August 1854
Commissioned: 28 July 1855
Struck: 15 August 1955
Fate: Museum ship
General characteristics
Type: Sloop-of-war
Displacement: 1,400 long tons (1,400 t)
Length: 181 ft (55 m) (waterline)
199 ft (61 m) (overall)
Beam: 41 ft (12 m) (waterline)
43 ft (13 m) extreme
Draft: 21 ft (6.4 m)
Propulsion: Sail
Speed: Unknown
Complement: 20 officers, 220 sailors, 45 marines
Armament: 16 × 8 in (200 mm) chambered shell guns, 4 × 32-pounder (15 kg) long guns, 1 × 20-pounder (9 kg) Parrott rifle, 1 × 30-pounder (14 kg) Parrott rifle, 3 × 12-pounder (5 kg) bronze boat howitzers
USS Constellation
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
U.S. National Historic Landmark
Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Coordinates: 39°17′07.95″N 76°36′40.28″W / 39.2855417°N 76.6111889°W / 39.2855417; -76.6111889Coordinates: 39°17′07.95″N 76°36′40.28″W / 39.2855417°N 76.6111889°W / 39.2855417; -76.6111889
Built/Founded: 1854
Governing body: Historic Ships in Baltimore
Designated NHL: 23 May 1963[1]
NRHP Reference#: 66000918

USS Constellation constructed in 1854 is a sloop-of-war and the second United States Navy ship to carry this famous name. According to the US Naval Registry the original frigate was disassembled on 25 June 1853 in Gosport Navy Yard in Norfolk, Virginia, and the sloop-of-war was constructed in the same yard, possibly with a few recycled materials from the old frigate. USS Constellation is the last sail-only warship designed and built by the U.S. Navy.

The sloop was launched on 26 August 1854 and commissioned on 28 July 1855 with Captain Charles H. Bell in command.

Civil War

From 1855-1858 Constellation performed largely diplomatic duties as part of the US Mediterranean Squadron.

She was flagship of the US African Squadron from 1859-1861. In this period she disrupted the African slave trade by interdicting three slave ships and releasing the imprisoned Africans.

  • On December 21, 1859, she captured the brig Delicia which was "without colors or papers to show her nationality... completely fitted in all respects for the immediate embarcation [sic] of slaves..."
  • On September 26, 1860, the Constellation captured the "fast little bark" Cora with 705 slaves, who were set free in Monrovia, Liberia.
  • On May 21, 1861, the Constellation overpowered the slaver brig Triton in African coastal waters. It held no slaves, although "every preparation for their reception had been made." [2]

Constellation spent much of the war as a deterrent to Confederate cruisers and commerce raiders in the Mediterranean Sea.

Pre-World War I

After the Civil War Constellation saw various duties such as carrying famine relief stores to Ireland and exhibits to the Paris Exposition Universelle (1878). She also spent a number of years as a receiving ship (floating naval barracks).

World War I

After being used as a practice ship for Naval Academy midshipmen, Constellation became a training ship in 1894 for the Naval Training Center in Newport, Rhode Island where she helped train more than 60,000 recruits during World War I.

World War II

Decommissioned in 1933, Constellation was recommissioned as a national symbol in 1940 by President Franklin Roosevelt. She spent much of the Second World War as relief (i.e. reserve) flagship for the US Altlantic Fleet, but spent the first six months of 1942 as the flagship for Admiral Ernest J. King and Vice Admiral Royal E. Ingersoll.

Post-war restoration

Constellation was again decommissioned on 4 February 1955 and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 15 August 1955 — about 100 years and 2 weeks from her first commissioning. She was taken to her permanent berth — Constellation Dock, Inner Harbor at Pier 1, 301 East Pratt Street, Baltimore, Maryland (39°17′07.95″N 76°36′40.28″W / 39.2855417°N 76.6111889°W / 39.2855417; -76.6111889) — and designated a National Historic Landmark (reference number 66000918) on 23 May 1963 [3]. She is the last existing American Civil War-era naval vessel and was one of the last sail-powered warships built by the U.S. Navy. She has been assigned the hull classification symbol IX-20.

In 1994 Constellation was condemned as an unsafe vessel. She was towed to drydock at Fort McHenry in 1996, and a $9-million restoration project was completed in July 1999.

On 26 October 2004 Constellation made her first trip out of Baltimore's Inner Harbor since 1955. The trip to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, lasting six days, marked the ship's first trip to the city in 111 years.

Tours are regularly available, self-guided or with the assistance of staff. Nearly all of the ship is accessible, and about half the lines used to rig the vessel are present (amounting to several miles of rope and cordage). A cannon firing is demonstrated daily, and tour groups can also participate in demonstrations such as turning the yards.

Identity controversy

See also: Ship of Theseus

For some time there was controversy over whether or not the 1854 sloop was a new ship or a rebuilt version of the 1797 frigate. Much of the controversy was created when the city of Baltimore promoted the ship and even rebuilt sections of the ship to resemble the 1797 frigate. Geoffrey M. Footner maintained the view in his book, USS Constellation: From Frigate to Sloop of War, that she was in fact, the original frigate though greatly modified. Additionally, when the ship was to be rebuilt in the 1990s, naval historians who favored the theory that the ship was indeed the 1797 original relied on three main points:

  1. Some of the funds used to build the sloop were originally allocated to rebuild the frigate.
  2. Some timbers from the broken-up frigate were used in the construction of the sloop.
  3. The frigate was never formally stricken from the Naval Vessel Register — a wooden, sailing man-of-war called Constellation was continuously listed from 1797-1955.

Supporting the position that they are different ships are the facts that the sloop was designed anew from the keel up (without reference to the frigate) and was planned to have been built even if the frigate had not been in the yard during that period. In March 1989 researchers Dana M Wegner and Colan Ratliff from the David Taylor Research Center came upon the builder's hull half model of the Constellation in the U.S. Naval Academy Museum. This was important because half models are only built for new designs, not rebuilds, and the use of half models was introduced after 1797. Besides evaluating the half model the researchers also reviewed all the evidence used in the debate to date, concluding with the help of FBI and BATF forensics that many of the rebuild supporting documents were forgeries. In 1991 they published their findings in a paper titled, Fouled Anchors: The Constellation Question Answered and concluded that they are different ships.[4] The proof advanced in this report was confirmed during the 1999 renovation. At that time evidence was uncovered pointing to the construction of an entirely new sloop-of-war of the 1850s era.


  1. "CONSTELLATION, USS (Frigate)". National Historic Landmarks Program (NHL). National Park Service. Retrieved 4 May 2010. 
  2. Department of the Navy's Naval Historical Center. "USS Constellation". 
  3. "Maryland Historical Trust". National Register of Historic Places: Properties in Baltimore City. Maryland Historical Trust. 2008-06-08. 
  4. Wegner, Dana M.; Colan Ratliff, Kevin Lynaugh (September 1991). Fouled Anchors: The Constellation Question Answered. Bethesda: David Taylor Research Center. Retrieved 13 November 2009. 

External links

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