Last Friday, I stepped aboard the U.S.S. Constitution in the Charlestown Navy Yard of Boston Harbor. I joined Commander Timothy M. Cooper, his crew, and 150 members of the Wounded Warrior Project for an underway commemoration of the Battle of Midway. The ship honored injured service members from Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom and commemorated the Navy’s victory at Midway Island in World War II.
The Archivist stepping aboard the U.S.S. Constitution
(Photo Courtesy of the U.S.S. Constitution)
The U.S.S. Constitution is the oldest commissioned ship in the world. Christened on October 21, 1797, she is a wooden-hulled, three-masted heavy frigate of the U.S. Navy. She earned the nickname “Old Ironsides” during the War of 1812 when, in a 35-minute battle with the HMS Guerriere off the coast of Nova Scotia, 18-lb British iron cannonballs bounced off her 25-inch oak hull.
I grew up in Beverly, Massachusetts and remember my mother telling me how she had collected pennies to help save the U.S.S. Constitution when she was young. Having served a four-year enlistment in the U.S. Navy as a hospital corpsman during Vietnam, the underway was a memorable experience for me. It was a moving tribute to those who won the Battle of Midway and to our present-day heroes who have made tremendous sacrifices to serve our country.
Shortly after 8 a.m. we got underway into the Boston Harbor. Around 9:30 a.m. the Constitution fired a 21-gun salute at the mouth of the harbor, which was answered by a 21-gun salute from Fort Independence on Castle Island. Around 11 a.m. we returned pier-side.
1817 Sail Drawing of the U.S.S. Constitution from the records of the National Archives
This past April, Commander Tim Cooper and four of his crew came to visit the National Archives in Washington, D.C. We looked at the ship logs for the U.S.S. Constitution from the War of 1812. The sailors, very knowledgeable about their ship’s history, knew instantly the details and battles the logs described.
In the ship logs for April 1814, we saw the entry describing when the U.S.S. Constitution was chased by two British frigates, Junon and Tenedos, up the coast into Marblehead Harbor, Massachusetts. I remember this story from growing up in the area. The citizens of Marblehead protected the Constitution by assembling cannons at Fort Sewall. The British called off their pursuit and the Constitution made it safely to Boston Harbor for repairs to her mainmast.
The April 1814 Ship Log for the U.S.S. Constitution
The sailors’ love for their ship and her history became readily apparent as we looked through the ship logs. As ambassadors for the history and tradition of the U.S. Navy, these active-duty United States Sailors share their passion by providing important educational programs to the public throughout the year. Our most beloved “Old Ironsides” is well-served by their dedication.
For More Information:
- U.S.S. Constitution Underway to Honor Battle of Midway, Wounded Warriors at http://www.news.navy.mil/search/display.asp?story_id=53860
- Sail Drawing of the U.S.S. Constitution, 27-15-18 [Cartographic Record]; Dash File; Records of the Bureau of Ships, Record Group 19; National Archives, College Park, MD.
- Ship Log of the U.S.S. Constitution, April 1814; Record Group 24, Entry 118, Logs of the United States Ships and Stations, 1801-1946, USS Constitution; National Archives, Washington, D.C. Available on microfilm publication M1030 Roll 1.
- U.S.S. Constitution Official Twitter Feed at http://twitter.com/USSConstitution
- U.S.S. Constitution Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Charlestown-MA/The-Official-Page-of-USS-Constitution/131534206740?ref=ts&ajaxpipe=1&__a=6