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USS Constellation is a sloop-of-war, the last sail-only warship designed and built by the United States Navy. She was built in 1854, using a small amount of material salvaged from the frigate USS Constellation, which had been disassembled the year before. Despite being a single-gundeck "sloop," she is actually larger than her namesake frigate, and more powerfully armed with fewer but much more potent shell-firing guns.

USS Constellation
USS Constellation Inner Harbor.JPG
Constellation at Baltimore's Inner Harbor
United States
Builder: Norfolk Naval Shipyard
Laid down: 25 June 1853
Launched: 26 August 1854
Commissioned: 28 July 1855
Renamed: Old Constellation, 1 December 1917
Renamed: Constellation, 24 July 1926
Decommissioned: 16 June 1933
Recommissioned: 24 August 1940
Reclassified: Miscellaneous Unclassified (IX-20), 8 January 1941
Decommissioned: 4 February 1955
Struck: 15 August 1955
Status: Museum ship
General characteristics
Type: Sloop-of-war
Displacement: 1,400 long tons (1,400 t)
  • 181 ft (55 m) (lwl)
  • 199 ft (61 m) (loa)
  • 41 ft (12 m) (waterline)
  • 43 ft (13 m) (maximum)
Draft: 21 ft (6.4 m)
Propulsion: Sail
  • 21 officers
  • 265 sailors
  • 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 (Frigate)
LocationBaltimore, Maryland
Coordinates39°17′07.9″N 76°36′40.3″W / 39.285528°N 76.611194°W / 39.285528; -76.611194Coordinates: 39°17′07.9″N 76°36′40.3″W / 39.285528°N 76.611194°W / 39.285528; -76.611194
NRHP reference #66000918[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP15 October 1966
Designated NHL23 May 1963[2]

The sloop was launched on 26 August 1854 and commissioned on 28 July 1855 with Captain Charles H. Bell in command. She remained in service for close to a century before finally being retired in 1954. She is now preserved as a museum ship in Baltimore, Maryland, and is a National Historic Landmark.


Design and constructionEdit

From 1816 to the 1830s, the Navy accumulated extensive stocks of live oak timbers for use in new warship construction under the provisions of the Act for the Gradual Increase of the Navy of the United States, passed in 1816. In the early 1850s, the Navy decided to build a new sail-powered ship using these existing stockpiles, calling for a sloop-of-war that would be fast, with a long endurance, and sufficiently armed to be capable of engaging other warships of her type. This would produce a capable warship while keeping costs low since the material used was already on hand and an expensive steam engine would not be required. Chief Constructor John Lenthall prepared the design, along with Edward Delano, the constructor of the Gosport Shipyard. In June 1853, Lenthall completed the hull half model, which was necessary to scale up the design and to prepare the necessary hull timbers. During this period, the new vessel's namesake, Constellation, was in the process of being broken up a short distance away in the Gospart yard.[3]

Beginning in May 1853, work on assembling the timbers commenced, as the shipyard workers prepared to start construction of the new sloop-of-war. The vessel's keel was laid down on 25 June 1853, using material from the oak stockpile; her sternpost was erected on 27 August, and her stem followed a couple of weeks later. She was launched on 26 August 1854 at 11:45. Fitting-out work then commenced, which included the installation of her masts, rigging, and armament.[3]


Constellation is 181 feet (55 m) long at the waterline and 199 feet (61 m) long overall. She has a beam of 41 feet (12 m) at the waterline, and is 43 feet (13 m) across at her widest point. Her maximum draft is 21 feet (6.4 m) at a full load displacement of 1,400 long tons (1,400 t). The ship's crew numbered 21 officers and 265 enlisted men.[4]

In her original configuration, Constellation was armed with a battery of sixteen 8-inch (200 mm) shell-firing guns and four 32-pounder guns mounted on her gun deck in the main battery. On her spar deck, she carried a pair of chase guns; a 30-pounder Parrott rifle was placed in the bow and a 20-pounder Parrott rifle was placed in the stern. She also carried three 12-pounder boat howitzers.[5]

Service historyEdit

Engraving of Constellation in dry dock, c. 1859

Constellation was commissioned on 28 July 1855, under the command of Captain Charles H. Bell. She immediately departed for a tour with the Mediterranean Squadron that lasted three years. During this period, she stopped in Malaga, Spain in July 1856 to protect American nationals in the area during a period of civil unrest. Later that year, she came to the aid of a barque in the Sea of Marmara; the ship received an official thanks from the Emperor of Austria. On 17 April 1858, she left the Mediterranean Squadron for a short patrol in the Caribbean Sea to protect American shipping in the region. On 5 June she returned to the New York Navy Yard before proceeding to Boston, where she was decommissioned on 13 August.[6]

In June 1859, she recommissioned for service with the Africa Squadron, where she served as the squadron flagship, under the command of Captain Thomas Aloysius Dornin. She arrived off the mouth of the Congo River on 21 November, where she began operating as part of the African Slave Trade Patrol. As part of its efforts to end the Atlantic slave trade, the Navy awarded prize money for each slave ship captured, along with a $25 bounty for each slave that was freed; these prizes were divided among the crew, based on rank. On 29 December, she captured the brig Delicia that had no papers and was fitted to carry slaves in her hold. On 26 September 1860, Constellation captured the barque Cora, which had 705 slaves aboard, who were then released in Monrovia, Liberia. The Navy impounded Cora and sold her at an auction.[6]

Civil WarEdit

A week after the Battle of Fort Sumter, which began the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln declared a blockade of all ports of the Confederacy on 19 April 1861. A month later, on 21 May, Constellation captured another slave ship, again without any slaves aboard. In August, the Navy recalled Constellation, and she arrived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on 28 September. She was dispatched to the Mediterranean on 11 March 1862 to patrol for Confederate commerce raiders attempting to attack Union merchant shipping, since her sails provided much greater endurance than steam-powered warships of the day. Commanded by Captain Henry Thatcher, Constellation arrived in the Mediterranean on 19 April. Over the course of the following two years, she patrolled the Mediterranean, but saw little action apart from the blockade of the blockade runner and commerce raider CSS Sumter that was laid up in Gibraltar in need of repairs and refueling. She also blocked the Confederate Navy from taking possession of SS Southerner in Italy.[6]

In May 1864, Constellation departed the Mediterranean, bound for the West Indies; Thatcher reasoned that since his ship was known to be patrolling the Mediterranean, and there were no other similar warships in the Navy, that he would be able to surprise Confederate cruisers and blockade runners. Admiral David Farragut recalled Constellation on 27 November; while en route, she chased a blockade runner but was unable to catch her. She reached Fort Monroe, Virginia on 25 December, and most of her crew, whose enlistments had ended, were discharged. Without a crew to man the vessel, Constellation spent the remainder of the war as a receiving ship based in Norfolk; she continued in this role until 1869.[6]


Constellation in 1926

On 25 May 1871, Constellation was recommissioned for midshipmen training cruises; this was a duty she performed for the next 22 years. In 1871–1872, she was rearmed with eight 9-inch (230 mm) Dahlgren guns, plus one 100-pound Parrott rifle and one 11-inch (280 mm) Dahlgren gun, which would also allow her to be used as a gunnery training ship. From March to July 1878, Constellation was used to transfer exhibits to France for the Exposition Universelle in Paris. On 10 November 1879, she was sent to Gibraltar with a cargo of stores and a replacement crew for the Mediterranean Squadron flagship. After returning to New York, she was modified to carry a large cargo of food and other supplies to Ireland for the relief effort for the 1879 Irish famine. To accommodate as much food as possible, some of the ship's guns were removed, along with some of her ballast. She was able to carry more than 2,500 barrels of flour and potatoes. She left the United States in March 1880 and arrived in Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland on 20 April, where she sent the food ashore, took on ballast, and returned to the United States, arriving in June.[6]

In September 1892, Constellation recommissioned for another unusual duty, to help assemble works of art in Gibraltar for the World's Columbian Exposition. During the cruise, she made stops in Naples, Italy and Le Havre, France, before returning to New York in February 1893. Another training cruise to Gibraltar followed on 3 June and ended on 29 August. She was then transferred to Annapolis, where she was decommissioned on 2 September before being towed to Norfolk for repairs. There, she was converted into a stationary training ship. She was moved to Newport on 22 May 1894, where she remained largely in port for the next twenty years, apart from periodic trips for maintenance. This included an extensive repair in the New York Navy Yard in June 1904.[6]

In 1914, Constellation took part in celebration commemorating the one-hundredth anniversary of the writing of "The Star-Spangled Banner", the national anthem of the United States. Then-Acting Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the Navy to restore Constellation to her appearance in 1814 (as at the time, the Navy believed this ship to have been the one launched in 1797; see the Identity controversy section below), but to limit the work to general details to reduce costs. As a result, her bridge platform, which had been installed in the 1880s, was removed, along with a deck house that had been erected in the 1890s. She was then towed to Baltimore, where she was on display from 7 September to 29 October, when she was towed to Washington, DC. She remained on display there from 31 October to 4 December. Repairs in Norfolk followed later that month, and she resumed training duties on 19 May 1915.[6]

Constellation in 1947

Constellation was renamed Old Constellation on 1 December 1917, since the name was to be used for a new Lexington-class battlecruiser that had been ordered. In 1920, the Navy stopped training sailors in handling sails and rigging, significantly reducing Old Constellation's activity. On 24 July 1925, the ship reverted to her original name when the battlecruiser was scrapped under the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty. Constellation was towed to Philadelphia on 15 May 1926 and moored alongside the protected cruiser Olympia, which had been Admiral George Dewey's flagship at the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish–American War in 1898. There, on 4 July 1926, she participated in ceremonies for the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Following the celebration, she was dry-docked in Philadelphia for maintenance and then was towed back to Newport in November.[6]

The Navy Department ordered that Constellation be decommissioned for preservation on 16 June 1933. The Navy conducted surveys of the ship and prepared cost estimates for the work needed to restore her, but no work was done. With World War II having broken out in Europe in 1939, Constellation was recommissioned on 24 August 1940 and assigned the hull number IX-20 on 8 January 1941 as part of the United States' prewar buildup. She became the reserve flagship for Admiral Ernest J. King, the Commander in Chief of the Atlantic Fleet, until he became the Chief of Naval Operations in early 1942. King was replaced by Vice Admiral Royal E. Ingersoll, who came aboard Constellation from 19 January to 20 July, when he transferred to the gunboat Vixen. Ingersoll returned to Constellation from 1943–1944. After the war in October 1946, the Navy began work on plans to turn the ship into a memorial in Boston, but lacked the funds to do the necessary work. Finally, she was decommissioned on 4 February 1955 and towed to Baltimore, where she was dry-docked for restoration by a private, non-profit organization.[6] She arrived there on 9 August, and was stricken from the naval register on 15 August.[3]

Restoration and museum shipEdit

Constellation in 2012

After restoration work was completed, she was taken to her permanent berth—Constellation Dock, Inner Harbor at Pier 1, 301 East Pratt Street, Baltimore, Maryland on 4 July 1961. She was designated a National Historic Landmark on 23 May 1963,[3][7] and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on 15 October 1966.[1] She is the last existing intact naval vessel from the American Civil War, and she was one of the last wind-powered warships built by the U.S. Navy.[4]

In 1994, Constellation was condemned as an unsafe vessel. She was towed to a drydock at Sparrows Point, near Fort McHenry, in 1996, and a $9 million rebuilding and restoration project was undertaken and completed in July 1999. In an attempt to safeguard the wood planking, the hull from the waterline to the keel was covered in a fiberglass coating and painted an aqua-blue.

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 lasted six days, and it marked her first trip to Annapolis in 111 years.

In late 2012, it was determined the wood hull behind the fiberglass sheathing (installed during the 1996–98 rebuilding) contained significant rotting. Therefore, the ship was again put in dry dock and, over a 6-month period, was rebuilt with fresh (and chemically treated to resist rotting) wood planking during 2014–2015. The rebuilt ship was returned to her inner harbor berth in late March 2015. Her rigging was completed by May 2015, and she is now again open to the public.

Tours are regularly available, self-guided or with the assistance of staff. Nearly all of the ship is accessible, and about one-half of 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" and operating the capstan on the main deck to raise/lower cargo.

The ship is now part of Historic Ships in Baltimore, which also operates the Coast Guard cutter USCGC Taney (WHEC-37), the World War II submarine USS Torsk (SS-423), the lightship Chesapeake, and the Seven Foot Knoll Light. Constellation and her companions are major contributing elements in the Baltimore National Heritage Area.[8]

Identity controversyEdit

The city of Baltimore promoted the ship and even rebuilt sections of the ship to resemble the 1797 frigate. Additionally, when the ship was to be rebuilt in the 1990s, naval historians who favored the theory that the ship traced its lineage to the 1797 original relied on the fact that some of the funds used to build the sloop were originally allocated to rebuild the frigate, the fact that some timbers from the broken-up frigate were used in the construction of the sloop, and that the frigate was never formally stricken from the Naval Vessel Register — a wooden, sailing man-of-war called Constellation was continuously listed from 1797 to 1955.[citation needed] The amateur historian Geoffrey M. Footner supports the assertion that the ship was rebuilt in 1854 but traces its lineage to 1797.[9]

Starting shortly after World War II, a controversy arose over whether the 1854 sloop was a new ship or a rebuilt version of the 1797 frigate. Naval architect Howard I. Chapelle was one of the first people to raise the issue. In his book The History of the American Sailing Navy, published in 1949, he pointed out the differences in the hull dimensions of the 1797 Constellation and the 1854 Constellation as evidence that they were two different ships. He also stated that, "Unfortunately, some of the semi-official lists of American naval ships have listed [the original Constellation] as though she had, in fact, been preserved and altered. This has led to many believing the sloop-of-war, which is still in existence, to be the oldest ship in the Navy and to have had a continuous identity since 1797...the only reason her register was maintained, by means of an administrative fiction, was to enable the work to be done without the need of applying to Congress for authority and funds to build an entirely new ship."[10] Stephen Bockmiller and Lawrence Bopp agree with Chapelle, writing in USS Constellation: An Illustrated History, that "working under the subterfuge of 'repairs,' the Navy actually began building a new ship about 900 yards from where the original Constellation was being dismantled. Thus, unwittingly, the Navy itself would originate the arguments about the authenticity of the Constellation. To further compound the argument, some salvageable timbers from the original ship, particularly the ship’s knees, were used in constructing the new vessel."[11]

In the United States Navy's deed of custody given to the city of Baltimore in 1954 to repair and display Constellation, Rear Admiral John R. Hefferman assured Baltimore of its unbroken provenance, stating that "Nowhere in these records, however, is there any indication that the original Constellation, launched in 1797, was in fact broken up, stranded, scrapped or otherwise disposed of, nor is there any statement authorizing or sanctioning the disposal of the ship by any means whatsoever."[12] In USS Constellation on the Dismal Coast, published in 2013, C. Herbert Gilliland wrote, " For much of the twentieth century, this ship was believed to be the 1797 frigate Constellation. In fact, however, when the 1797 frigate was being dismantled at the Gosport Navy Yard near Norfolk, Virginia, work was beginning on the 1854 sloop, likely reusing some timber from the old ship in building this very new one. The misidentification was maintained by deliberate deception, apparently to enhance the likelihood of the ship's being preserved as a historic relic. Naval records and the evidence from the extant ship's hull, though, make it clear that the vessel floating today dates from 1854."[13]

In September 1991, researchers Dana M. Wegner and Colan Ratliff from the David Taylor Research Center and Kevin Lynaugh, from the Carderock Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center, published an exhaustive report on the question.[3][14] Their research noted several key pieces of historical evidence that the two ships were not the same vessel. This included the fact that the timbers from the dismantled 1797 Constellation were auctioned off after the ship-breaking process ended in September 1853, the fact that the keel-laying for the 1854 ship had been done in June 1853, before the 1797 ship had been dismantled completely, and building records that meticulously accounted for each piece of timber that was used to build the new ship; in fact, only 204 oak knees were re-used, but these came from existing stocks, not the original vessel and they stated that, "There was no evidence that any material was transferred directly from the old ship to the new." In March 1989, they had come upon the builder's half-hull model of Constellation in the U.S. Naval Academy Museum. This was important because half-hull models are only built for new designs, not rebuilds, and the use of half-hull models was not introduced until after 1797. The authors conclude that this is definitive evidence that the vessel launched in 1854 was new, as it was "impossible to accurately scale down the form of an existing ship to model format," and that "a new half model would not have been employed by Lenthall unless he was forging a fully new design."[3]

In addition to evaluating the half model, the researchers also reviewed all the evidence used in the debate to date. With the help of FBI and BATF forensics investigators, they concluded that some 25 to 30 documents supporting the ship being a rebuild were forgeries. In 1991, they published their findings and conclusion that the current Constellation and the original frigate are two different ships. The authors did not agree with Chapelle, however, over the nature of the new ship's construction; they pointed out that the Act for the Gradual Increase authorized the Navy to build new ships from the oak acquired under its provisions, so there was no need to subvert Congress's authority on the matter.[3] Lynaugh summarized the report in a separate article published in 1993, Discussion of the Origins of the Frigate and the Sloop Constellation, and concluded that "though not built in Baltimore in 1797, the present ship was the last sail-only powered warship designed and built by the U.S. Navy. As such, it is a rare artifact of first importance and truly deserves to be preserved and displayed for the American public."[14]

Indeed, the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships (DANFS), the official reference work for vessels of the US Navy, has exemplified and evolved with this identity controversy. In its 1969 edition it stated that the original Constellation was "Laid up in ordinary at Norfolk from 1845 through 1853, she was found to be greatly in need of extensive repair. Thus, in 1854 she was brought into the yard and, in keeping with the needs of the time, modified into a 22-gun sloop-of-war."[15] By its 2004 edition this had been modified to state the original Constellation was broken up at Norfolk in 1853.[16]

For its part, the Historic Ships of Baltimore, the organization that operates the museum of which Constellation is a part, does not present the ship as having been the original vessel. They instead acknowledge that the first vessel was broken up in 1853, and present the accounts provided by more recent editions of DANFS.[17] Its predecessor organization, the U.S.F. Constellation Foundation, had maintained the opposite policy until its board resigned in 1994 and was replaced by advocates of the new-ship school of thought.[18][19][20]


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b National Park Service (9 July 2010). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  2. ^ "Constellation, USS (Frigate)". National Historic Landmarks Program (NHL). National Park Service. Archived from the original on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 4 May 2010.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Wegner, Dana M.; Ratliff, Colan; Lynaugh, Kevin (September 1991). Fouled Anchors: The Constellation Question Answered (PDF) (Report). Bethesda: David Taylor Research Center. DTRC-91/CT06. Archived (PDF) from the original on 11 October 2016. Retrieved 4 July 2016.
  4. ^ a b "CONSTELLATION (IX 20)". Naval Vessel Register. United States Navy. 17 August 2000. Retrieved 21 August 2017.
  5. ^ "United States Sloop of War Constellation". Historic Naval Ships Association. 12 May 2014. Retrieved 8 September 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Constellation II (Sloop-of-War)". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Navy Department, Naval History and Heritage Command. 9 February 2004. Retrieved 21 August 2017.
  7. ^ "Maryland's National Register Properties: U.S.S. Constellation". Maryland Historical Trust. Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  8. ^ "Baltimore National Heritage Area Map" (PDF). City of Baltimore. Archived from the original (pdf) on 22 May 2013. Retrieved 11 March 2012.
  9. ^ Footner, Geoffrey M. (2003). USS Constellation: From Frigate to Sloop of War. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 9781557502841.
  10. ^ Chapelle, Howard I. (1949). The History of the American Sailing Navy: The Ships and Their Development. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 467–469. ISBN 1-56852-222-3.
  11. ^ Bockmiller, Stephen R.; Bopp, Lawrence J. (2000). USS Constellation: An Illustrated History. Charleston, S.C: Tempus Pub. p. 10. ISBN 0-7385-0582-X.
  12. ^ Letter, Adm. John R. Hefferman to James Foster, in reference to City of Baltimore and its deed of custody, a memorandum signed by the Secretary of the Navy, Dept. ref. Op-291R1/HPD; Ser1005P29, 14 May 1954.
  13. ^ Gilliland, C. Herbert (2013). "Prologue". USS Constellation on the Dismal Coast: Willie Leonard's Journal, 1859-1861. By Leonard, William Ambrose. Gilliland (ed.). University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 9781611172904.
  14. ^ a b Lynaugh, K.M. (1993). "Discussion of the Origins of the Frigate and the Sloop Constellation". In Latorre, Robert G. (ed.). Proceedings of the Twenty-Third American Towing Tank Conference. Washington DC: National Academy Press. p. 355.
  15. ^ "Constellation". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. II (reprint w/ corrections ed.). Washington: US Navy, Naval History Division. 1969 [1963]. p. 171.
  16. ^ "Constellation I (Frigate)". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Navy Department, Naval History and Heritage Command. 9 February 2004. Retrieved 18 August 2017.
  17. ^ "USS Constellation". Historic Ships of Baltimore. Retrieved 18 August 2017.
  18. ^ Frank D. Roylance (16 May 1995). "In bid to attract donors, U.S.F. Constellation Foundation changes its name". The Baltimore Sun.
  19. ^ "The Constellation Restoration Effort - After Two Years".
  20. ^ "A Maritime Point of View - UNRAVELLING THE HISTORY OF A STORIED SHIP".

External linksEdit