Military Wiki
USS Constellation (1854)
Constellation at Baltimore's Inner Harbor
Career (US)
Laid down: 25 June 1853
Launched: 26 August 1854
Commissioned: 28 July 1855 – 1933
Recommissioned: 1940
Decommissioned: 4 February 1955
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
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, constructed in 1854, is a sloop-of-war and the second United States Navy ship to carry the 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. Constellation is the last sail-only warship designed and built by the US Navy. Despite being a single-gundeck "sloop", she is actually larger than her frigate namesake, and more powerfully armed with fewer but much more potent shell-firing guns.

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 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 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."[1]

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

Naval drill, Nov. 1900

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; by this time the ship had become widely confused with her famous predecessor of 1797. She spent much of the Second World War as relief (i.e. reserve) flagship for the US Atlantic 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 two 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 and designated a National Historic Landmark on 23 May 1963,[2] and she was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on 15 October 1966.[3] 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 US 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 Fort McHenry in 1996, and her $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 lasted six days, and it marked her first trip to Annapolis in 111 years.

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.[4]

Identity controversy

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 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 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.[5]


See also


  1. "USS Constellation". Naval History & Heritage Command. 
  2. "Maryland Historical Trust". National Register of Historic Places: Properties in Baltimore City. Maryland Historical Trust. 8 June 2008. Retrieved 2012-10-28. 
  3. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named nris
  4. "Baltimore National Heritage Area Map" (pdf). City of Baltimore. Retrieved 11 March 2012. 
  5. Wegner, Dana M.; Ratliff, Colan; Lynaugh, Kevin (September 1991). "Fouled Anchors: The Constellation Question Answered". Bethesda: David Taylor Research Center. Archived from the original on 3 August 2012. Retrieved 3 August 2012. 

External links

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