The USS "Constitution" defeats the HMS "Guerriere”
August 19, 1812
Interference with United States' commerce and her rights to sail the seas without hindrance was a major factor leading to war with Great Britain. American merchant vessels were routinely boarded by the British and members of her crews were “impressed” into British service on the grounds that they were English. Despite the powerful Royal Navy's close blockade of the American coast, a number of U.S. warships were able to slip through the blockaders to take their toll of enemy naval and merchant ships.
On March 27, 1794, Congress authorized the construction of six frigates to help protect American merchant fleets from attacks by Algerian pirates and harassment by British forces. They were designed by Joshua Humphreys and built at six different sites. The contract for one of those ships, to be named CONSTITUTION, was given to Edmond Harrt's Shipyard in Boston.
The USS CONSTITUTION, under the command of Captain Isaac Hull, encountered the HMS GUERRIERE 600 miles east of Boston on the afternoon of 19 August 1812. After an hour of inconclusive maneuvering and firing, the two ships settled in to short-range combat. The battle raged for four hours. Eventually, the Briton's mizzenmast fell. Soon afterward, both her remaining masts went overboard. At some point in the battle, someone is said to have seen British shot bouncing off CONSTITUTION's sides, and shouting, “Huzzah! Her sides are made of iron!” And so was born the nickname "Old Ironsides." The Americans suffered 14 casualties; the British, 79. GUERRIERE was so badly damaged, she had to be sunk. Congress awarded Captain Isaac Hull a gold medal.