CONSTITUTION, The, or OLD IRON SIDES (from the slightness of the injury her hull received in the fight with the Guerriere), one of the most famous vessels of the Amer ican navy, now fixed in Boston harbor. She was a 44-gun frigate of 1,576 tons; one of the six war vessels ordered by Congress early in 1794, on account of the Algerian piracies. (See BARBARY POWERS, U. S. WARS AND TREATIES WITH THE). During the wars against Tripoli she was Preble's flagship and in 1805 took part in three of the five bombardment) off Tripoli.
When the War of 1812 broke out Hull started to join the New York squadron with her, 12 July; was cut off by a British squadron, including the Guerriere, but in a wonderful chase of three nights and two days out manoeuvred and escaped it. On 19 August, off Cape Race, she ran into and fought a battle with the Guerriere, a somewhat weaker English frigate which she left a total wreck after an engagement of 25 minutes, the English losing 79 of their crew, the Americans 14. The Guerrilre was sinking and could not be towed into port; she was therefore blown up. Hull sailed into Boston with his prisoners, to such an ovation as few men have ever earned in so short a time. In less than 25 minutes of actual fighting he had lifted the despised American navy and nation to an equality with the proud est of the world; and drew from Great Britain such an explosion of rage and humiliation as it has never known before or since. Later the Constitution was made Bainbridge's flagship for a cruise against English commerce in the East Indies. On 29 Dec. 1812 it encountered the Java, Captain Lambert, off the coast of Brazil, and at 2.10 P.M. joined attion. The Constitution had 54 guns, with 787 pounds of metal; the Java 47, with 568 pounds. The crews were 480 and 426. One of the fiercest of naval battles ensued for nearly two hours, in which the Constitution's wheel was shot away at the outset, making its navigation difficult, and the English vessel was the better sailer anyway. But the American gunnery was incomparably more intelligent and improved every oppor tunity for raking broadsides, while the British did not. As soon as the Constitution came to
close quarters, she inflicted ruinous damage and frightful slaughter. The Constitution was taken into Boston for repairs; but before they were completed, Boston was closely blockader', and she did not escape till New Year's Day 1814, under Capt. Charles Stewart. See therm STATES, WAR OF 1812.
In a cruise to the West Indies, Captain Stewart captured four prizes, with 24 guns and 76 men; one of them was the 14-gun schooner Picton. Again blockaded by a powerful British squadron she did not escape until 17 Dec. 1814: In 1815 she encountered two British vessels, the Cyane and the Levant.
The Cyane struck; the Levant temporarily escaped, but was overhauled by the Constitu tion, and surrendered also. The two ships had lost 35 killed and 42 wounded; the Constitu tion, 4 killed and 10 wounded. Cut off by a powerful British squadron at a neutral port whose neutrality the English treated with utter contempt, the Constitution and Cyane succeeded by fine seamanship in escaping, but the Levant was recaptured. In 1830 she was reported un seaworthy, and condemned to be broken up, but Oliver Wendell Holmes published in the Bos ton Advertiser his thrilluig poem