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USS Constellation is a sloop-of-war/corvette, the last sail-only warship designed and built by the United States Navy. She was built in 1854, using materials 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 original frigate build, and more powerfully armed with fewer but much more potent shell-firing guns.

USS Constellation
Constellation at Baltimore's Inner Harbor
United States
Laid down: 25 June 1853
Launched: 26 August 1854
Commissioned: 28 July 1855 – 1933
Recommissioned: 1940
Decommissioned: 4 February 1955
Struck: 15 August 1955
Status: Museum ship
General characteristics
Type: Sloop-of-war/Corvette
Displacement: 1,400 long tons (1,400 t)
  • 181 ft (55 m) (waterline)
  • 199 ft (61 m) (overall)
  • 41 ft (12 m) (waterline)
  • 43 ft (13 m) extreme
Draft: 21 ft (6.4 m)
Propulsion: Sail
Complement: 20 officers, 220 sailors, 45 marines
  • 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)
Location Baltimore, Maryland
Coordinates 39°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
Built 1854
NRHP Reference # 66000918[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP 15 October 1966
Designated NHL 23 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.


Civil WarEdit

From 1855 to 1858, Constellation performed largely diplomatic duties as part of the U.S. Mediterranean Squadron.

She was flagship of the Africa Squadron from 1859 to 1861. In this period, she took part in African Slave Trade Patrol operations to disrupt the Atlantic slave trade. The ship interdicted three slave ships and released the imprisoned Africans:

  • On 21 December 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 26 September 1860, Constellation captured the "fast little bark" Cora with 705 slaves, who were set free in Monrovia, Liberia.
  • On 21 May 1861, Constellation overpowered the slaver brig Triton in African coastal waters. It held no slaves, although "every preparation for their reception had been made."[3]

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

Pre–World War IEdit

After the Civil War, Constellation saw various duties such as carrying exhibits to the 1878 Exposition Universelle in Paris and famine relief stores in the 1879 Irish famine.[4] She also spent a number of years as a receiving ship (floating naval barracks).

World War IEdit

Naval drill, Nov. 1900

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

World War IIEdit

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

Post-war restorationEdit

In October 1946, Constellation was moved to Boston, where she was kept as a relic with the venerable USS Constitution. She remained in commission until 1954.

She was moved to Baltimore in 1955, and taken to her permanent berth – Constellation Dock, Inner Harbor at Pier 1, 301 East Pratt Street, Baltimore, Maryland and designated a National Historic Landmark on 23 May 1963,[5] and she 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. She has been assigned the hull classification symbol IX-20.

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.[6]

Identity controversyEdit

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 a 1949 book,[7][page needed] he pointed out the differences in the hull dimensions of the 1797 Constellation and the 1854 Constellation, which led him to conclude they were two distinct ships.

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 three main points:

  • Some of the funds used to build the sloop were originally allocated to rebuild the frigate.
  • Some timbers from the broken-up frigate were used in the construction of the sloop (see Ship of Theseus).
  • 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.

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 original frigate—and. In March 1989, researchers Dana M. Wegner and Colan Ratliff from the David Taylor Research Center came 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.

Besides 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 of the 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.[8]

A more recent and thorough analysis was published by the historian Geoffrey M. Footner in 2003, supporting the assertion that the ship was rebuilt in 1854 but rightfully traces its lineage to 1797.[9]

The most authoritative official statement on the subject is 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 in a memorandum signed by the Secretary of the Navy that states: “Official records disclose that the Constellation was many times rebuilt, including major rebuildings at Washington in 1812 and at Norfolk in 1853-1855. 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”[10]


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ "CONSTELLATION, USS (Frigate)". National Historic Landmarks Program (NHL). National Park Service. Retrieved 4 May 2010. 
  3. ^ "USS Constellation". Naval History & Heritage Command. 
  4. ^ "The Herald of Relief from America". The New York Times. February 28, 2001. Retrieved October 8, 2015. 
  5. ^ "Maryland Historical Trust". National Register of Historic Places: Properties in Baltimore City. Maryland Historical Trust. 8 June 2008. Retrieved 2012-10-28. 
  6. ^ "Baltimore National Heritage Area Map" (PDF). City of Baltimore. Archived from the original (pdf) on 22 May 2013. Retrieved 11 March 2012. 
  7. ^ Chapelle, Howard I. (1949). The History of the American Sailing Navy: The Ships and Their Development. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 1-56852-222-3. 
  8. ^ Wegner, Dana M.; Ratliff, Colan; Lynaugh, Kevin (September 1991). "Fouled Anchors: The Constellation Question Answered" (PDF). Bethesda: David Taylor Research Center. Retrieved 4 July 2016. 
  9. ^ Footner, Geoffrey M. (2003). USS Constellation: from frigate to sloop of war. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press. 
  10. ^ 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.

External linksEdit