The 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. She is now preserved as a museum ship in Baltimore, Maryland, and is a National Historic Landmark.
A look at USS Constellation
For over 200 years, Constellation ships have navigated the world's oceans defending America's interests. In 1797, the USF "frigate" Constellation was commissioned. This frigate's name originated from the flag of the Continental Congress. Because of her swift sailing speed and handling ability, USF Constellation soon became known as the "Yankee Racehorse." In 1854, the Sloop of War Constellation was commissioned to carry on famous Constellation's name. This ship was heavily involved in finding and capturing slave trade ships and training for brave seamen. Following the Sloop of War in 1961, the aircraft carrier Constellation was built. Known as "America's Flagship," she continued the tradition of always being first to answer her nation's call.
1797-1853: US Frigate Constellation
The first Constellation initially was a frigate designed by naval constructors Joshua Humphreys and Josiah Fox. However, plans were later altered in its execution by builder David Stodder, and superintendent of shipbuilding, Captain Thomas Truxtun. After the construction of Constellation was finished at Sterrett Shipyard, Baltimore, MD, she launched on September 7, 1797.
Constellation convoyed American merchantmen at the outset (from June through August 1798), before sailing for the West Indies to protect United States' commerce. Under the command of Captain Thomas Truxtun, she sailed for the Caribbean in December 1798. Subsequently, on February 9, 1799, the Constellation captured a French 40-gun frigate, L'Insurgente, in battle off Nevis, West Indies. In a hard-fought victory, she brought her prize into port. In the succeeding months, Constellation additionally encountered and seized two French privateers, Diligent and Union.
After a brief voyage under Captain Samuel Barron, Constellation was later commanded once more by Truxtun. Under this new command change, she sailed for the West Indies in December 1799.
On the evening of February 1, 1800, the Constellation engaged with a 52-gun frigate, the Vengeance, in a lengthy, furious battle. Vengeance twice struck her colors (lowered her flag in surrender) and was close to sinking. However, with a stroke of luck, Vengeance utilized the darkness of the night to escape from Constellation, who was unable to pursue further because of the loss of her mainmast.
In May 1800, Constellation additionally gained more recognition for recapturing three American merchantmen. At the end of the Quasi-War with France, Constellation returned to home waters, where misfortune awaited her. While anchoring in Delaware Bay on April 10, 1801, the ship got caught in winds and an ebb tide that laid her over on her beam ends, causing extensive repairs.
Under Commodore Robert Morris, and later, under Commodores Samuel Barron and John Rodgers, Constellation sailed with the squadron that served in the blockade of Tripoli in May 1802. She traveled widely throughout the Mediterranean during 1804 to show the flag of the United States in demonstration of our nation's seapower strength.
In June 1805, Constellation evacuated a contingent of U.S. Marines and diplomatic personages from Derne at the conclusion of a fleet-short operation against Tripoli. Additionally, she took part in a squadron movement against Tunis that culminated in peace terms in August 1805. She later returned to the United States in November 1805, mooring at Washington where she was later placed in ordinary until 1812.
Constellation then underwent extensive repairs at Washington during 1812 and 1813. With the advent of war with England approaching, Constellation was dispatched to Hampton Roads under the command of Captain Charles Stewart. Shortly after her arrival in January 1813, Constellation was effectively blockaded by an imposing British fleet. Unable to reach the open sea, her presence protected fortifications at Craney Island.
In the wake of the War of 1812, naval action resumed against the Barbary powers that had enriched themselves considerably during the struggle with England. Constellation, attached to the Mediterranean Squadron under Commodore Stephen Decatur, sailed from New York on May 20, 1815 and joined in the capture of the Algerian frigate, Mashuda, on June 17, 1815. Treaties of peace soon ensued Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. Constellation remained with the squadron under Commodores William Bainbridge, Isaac Chauncey, and John Shaw to enforce the accords, returning to Hampton Roads in December 1817.
Except for brief periods under repair in 1828-29, 1832, 1834-35, and 1838-39, Constellation's career through the mid-point 19th century proved varied and colorful. From November 12, 1819 to April 24, 1820, she served as flagship of Commodore Charles Morris on the Brazil Station, which entailed protecting American commerce against privateers and supporting the negotiation of trade agreements with South American nations.
On July 25, 1820, she sailed for the first time to Pacific waters where she joined the Squadron of Commodore Charles Stewart. For two years, Constellation protected American shipping off the coast of Peru, an area where that erupted into revolt against Spain.
In 1827, Constellation acted briefly as flagship for the West India Squadron. She participated in a twofold mission involving the eradication of the last of the pirates and the interception of slavers operating in the area.
In August 1829, she cruised to the Mediterranean to watch over American shipping and to collect indemnities from previous losses suffered by U.S. merchantmen. En route to her station, she carried the American ministers to France and England to their posts of duty.
Arriving in the United States during November 1831, she underwent minor repairs and departed again for the Mediterranean in April 1832 where she remained until an outbreak of cholera forced her to sail for home in November 1834.
In October 1835, Constellation sailed for the Gulf of Mexico to assist in crushing the Seminole uprising. She landed shore parties to relieve the Army garrisons and sent her boats on amphibious expeditions. After a successful mission, she then cruised with the West India Squadron until 1838, serving part of this period in the capacity of flagship for Commodore Alexander Dallas.
During the 1840's, Constellation circumnavigated the globe. Serving as flagship to Captain Kearny and the East India Squadron in March 1841, her mission was to safeguard American lives, property against loss in the Opium War, and enable negotiation of commercial treaties.
Afterward, in May 1843, she arrived at the Hawaiian Islands to help keep them from becoming a British protectorate. Thereafter, she sailed homeward making calls at South American ports.
Ultimately laid up in ordinary at Norfolk, Virginia from 1845 to 1853, Constellation was broken up there in 1853.
1854-1955: US Sloop-of-War Constellation
The second Constellation was a sloop designed by John Lenthall and constructed at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Virginia. Commissioned on July 28, 1855, this sloop later departed under Captain Charles H. Bell for a 3 year cruise with the Mediterranean Squadron to protect American interests.
While on station in July 1856, Constellation was dispatched to protect American lives and property at Malaga, Spain, during a revolution in that country. While cruising in the Sea of Marmora the same year, she rescued a barque in distress and received an official message in appreciation from the court of the Austrian emperor.
Constellation was detached from the Mediterranean Squadron on April 17, 1858 after a brief cruise in Cuban waters where she safeguarded American commerce against unlawful search on the high seas. She later returned to the New York Navy Yard on June 5, 1858, and was then decommissioned at Boston on August 13 the same year.
Re-entering active service in June 1859 as flagship of the U.S. Africa Squadron, Constellation took station off the mouth of the Congo River on November 21, 1859. She captured the brig Delicia during the mid watch on December 21, 1859 "without colors or papers to show her nationality… completely fitted in all respects for the immediate embarcation [sic] of slaves..."
On September 26, 1860, Constellation's entire crew actively "trim[med] the vessel for the chase", and even wet the sails "so they would push the sloop along". Successfully, she captured the "fast little bark" Cora (which showed no flag and carried 705 slaves), nearly running down the slaver in the darkness. When captured, the slavers were impounded and sold at auction. Their captains required to post bond and await trial, while their crews were landed at the nearest port and released. The newly freed slaves were taken to Monrovia, Liberia. The U.S. government paid a bounty of $25 for each freed slave freed, and "prize money" for each impounded ship to be divided among the crew proportionally according to rank.
In April 19, 1861, one week after Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring a blockade of southern ports. On May 2, he then called for the enlistment of 18,000 additional seamen. Following the president's orders, Constellation seized the brig Triton on May 21, 1861, which being the U.S. Navy's first capture of the Civil War. Although Constellation's men found no slaves on board the captured vessel, they noted that "...every preparation for their reception had been made...".
Ordered home in August 1861 under Captain Thomas A. Dornin's command, Constellation reached Portsmouth Navy Yard, New Hampshire, on September 28 the same year. Upon arrival, she received orders to sail to the Mediterranean, where her economy and endurance could outperform less reliable steam ships, as well as guard Union merchant ships against attack by Confederate cruisers and commerce raiders.
On March 11, 1862, Constellation sailed from Portsmouth under the command of Commodore Henry K. Thatcher. Arriving to the Mediterranean on April 19, Constellation spent two years (April 1862 to May 1864) engaged in patrolling. Constellation assisted on blockading the Confederate warship Sumter, who was abandoned by her captain and officers except for a token, caretaker crew, at Gibraltar. Later, she participated in the attempt to prevent the Confederate Navy from taking possession of the British-built steamer, Southerner, in Italy for use as a commerce raider.
Returning home through the West Indies, Constellation operated briefly in the latter region. Written by one of her sailors, "trying to capture Rebel privateers and cruisers and blockade runners. The process of reasoning ... seems to be that our ship is supposed to be in European waters, and there is no United States warship resembling her cruising about here, and consequently she might approach closely to a Rebel vessel or blockade runner without exciting suspicion..."
With the enlistment of most of the crew expiring, Admiral David G. Farragut ordered Constellation to Hampton Roads on November 27, 1864. After pursuing a blockade-runner along the coast, Constellation reached Fortress Monroe on Christmas Day in 1864. In January 1865, the men whose enlistments had expired were "paid off" and discharged. The remainder of the crew was then transferred to St. Lawrence, while the officers were sent on leave to await orders. Constellation finished the Civil War as a Receiving Ship at Norfolk, Virginia, and later at Philadelphia, until 1869.
Later recommissioned on May 25, 1871, Constellation took midshipmen (also classed as "naval cadets" at varying periods) on their summer training cruises for the next twenty-two years. In 1871-1872, she received further modifications to be utilized for gunnery instruction with a main battery of eight 9-inch Dahlgren guns, one 100-pound Parrott Rifle, and one 11-inch Dahlgren gun.
During her assignment with the Naval Academy, Constellation received several special missions that halted her training regimen. From March to July 1878, she transported exhibits to Paris Exposition in France. On November 10, 1879, she was commissioned for a special voyage to Gibraltar to carry crew and stores for the flagship at Mediterranean Squadron, to later return to New York.
From March to June 1880, she carried relief supplies to victims of famine in Ireland. To complete the mission, Constellation's armament and some ballast were removed. Carpenters at the New York Navy Yard built bins on the orlop deck to carry over 2,500 barrels of potatoes and flour. Upon arrival in Queenstown on April 20, she offloaded the cargo onto lighters and took on ballast for the return trip.
Reactivated in September 1892, Constellation sailed for Gibraltar to assemble works of art for the Columbian Exposition. Additionally, she stopped at Naples and Le Havre, and ultimately returned back to New York in February 1893. Afterward, Constellation departed on her final training cruise to Gibraltar on June 7, 1893, later returning under sail for the last time on August 29. On September 2, 1893, she was placed out of commission in Annapolis, Maryland, and was subsequently towed by the tug Leyden to Norfolk, Virginia for repairs.
Constellation was later converted to a stationary training ship after reaching Newport on May 22, 1894. She remained a permanently moored vessel with the exception of two excursions and occasional trips to the repair yard into the second decade of the 20th century. In June 1904, Constellation was dry-docked at the New York Navy Yard for extensive survey and repair.
Kept for her historic value and for conducting training on her spars, rigging and sails, Constellation remained in Newport, Rhode Island. She saw decreased activity for the next twenty years until the Navy then discontinued sail training in 1920.
In recognition of the one-hundredth anniversary of the writing of the National Anthem, the National Star Spangled Banner Centennial commission asked that Constellation partake in the celebration. Acting Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the vessel restored "as she appeared in 1814," with minimize costs that "include only such general details as would be noticed by the layman."
Constellation, towed to Norfolk by the tug Uncas, underwent the necessary modifications like 19th-century ordnance fabricated at the Boston Navy Yard, dummy sails stuffed with straw, and alterations like the removal of the 1880's-era bridge platform and 1890's deck housing. She was then towed to the harbor in Baltimore, Maryland, where she lay on display from September 7 (the anniversary of the 1797 frigate's launching) till October 29, 1914.
Afterward, Constellation was towed to Washington, DC, where she lay on display from October 31 to December 4 the same year. After repairs at Norfolk in December, she returned to training duty at Newport on May 19, 1915.
On May 15, 1926, Constellation was towed to Philadelphia and moored alongside the second-line light cruiser Olympia (CL-15), which had been Admiral George Dewey's flagship at the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898.
Constellation made her last public appearance as a commissioned U.S. Navy ship during the ceremonies accompanying the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1926. After a short dry docking at Philadelphia, she was towed back to Newport in November.
On June 16, 1933 the Navy Department placed an order for Constellation's decommissioned status for preservation as a naval relic. Numerous surveys were conducted and estimates given for the cost of restoring the vessel as a national historic shrine, but no decisions on the ship's fate were taken. Global conflict, however, soon revitalized Constellation's active service.
Recommissioned on August 24, 1940, she was classified as a miscellaneous, unclassified, auxiliary, IX-20, on January 8, 1941. On May 21, 1941, Constellation was designated a relief flagship for Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet. Subsequently, with King's appointment as Chief of Naval Operations at the beginning of 1942, the venerable sloop continued in this capacity under Vice Admiral Royal E. Ingersoll from January 19 to July 20, 1942, when the flag was shifted to the gunboat Vixen (PG-53). Ingersoll once more used Constellation as his flagship during 1943-1944.
Plans to memorialize Constellation brought her to Boston in October 1946, however, a lack of funds delayed the project. Decommissioned for the last time on February 4, 1955, the old ship was then moved to Baltimore in a floating dry-dock for restoration and preservation as a historic ship by a private, non-profit organization.
With little money and no government funds available, restoration took nearly a decade before the public was allowed on board. During that period, the ship was configured to resemble the 1797 frigate Constellation, which had originally been built in Baltimore.
In 1968, the ship was relocated to the Inner Harbor to serve as the centerpiece of the city's revitalization effort. Lack of maintenance funds, however, resulted in the ship having a 36-inch hog in her keel, a severely damaged structure, and significant dry rot that lasted over the next two decades.
In 1994, Constellation's rigging was removed and she was closed to the public. A newly established Constellation Foundation raised the funds needed for a major renovation project on the ship. After the hull of renovations, the repaired sloop-of-war returned to her permanent berth in Baltimore's Inner Harbor on July 2, 1999.
1960-2003: USS Constellation CV-64
Like her famous namesakes, USS Constellation (CV-64) has a proud and distinguished record. Connie, as her crew affectionately calls her, has almost 40 years of service. She has set her sail into harm's way from Yankee Station off the coast of Vietnam to the turbulent waters of the Arabian Gulf.
Built at the New York Naval Shipyard as the second ship in the Kitty Hawk class of aircraft carriers, Connie was commissioned on October 27, 1961, under the motto "Spirit of the Old, Pride of the New." She has been home ported at the Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego since September 1962.
Just like the Frigate Constellation, America's newest Navy ship was immediately put to the test. In response to North Vietnamese attacks on U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin in August 1964, Constellation departed from a scheduled port visit to Hong Kong and was the first U.S. warship to launch strikes against North Vietnamese vessels and bases.
Over the next eight years, Constellation returned to the South China Sea for a total of seven combat cruises. She conducted air strikes against heavily fortified North Vietnamese positions, engaged with naval targets, and shot down enemy aircraft.
In May 1972, Lt. Randy Cunningham and Ltjg. Willie Driscoll of Fighter Attack Squadron 96, became America's first fighter aces of the Vietnam War by downing three MiGs during vicious fighting over North Vietnam. The extraordinary effort brought down five enemy aircraft in four months. Due to her actions in Southeast Asia, President Richard Nixon awarded the Presidential Unit Citation to Constellation.
In 1975, Connie was re-designated "CV" from "CVA" following a complex overhaul to the flight deck. This enabled her to deploy with the S-3A Viking (anti-submarine) and F-14 Tomcat (fighter) aircraft. Newly refurbished, Connie began her 10th deployment in April 1977. This included a first port call by a U.S. carrier to Pattaya, Thailand.
In September 1978, Connie sailed west once more while on her 11th overseas deployment. The ship was extended on station in the Arabian Gulf because of the Iranian hostage crisis. Her service earned her the Navy and Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal. While on her 12th deployment to the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans, Constellation set a new endurance record for the time by remaining on station for 110 consecutive days.
In the summer of 1981, Connie hosted President Ronald Reagan on board, which resulted as a watershed moment in the carrier's illustrious history. Reagan presented a Presidential Flag to the ship and proclaimed Constellation as "America's Flagship" - a motto which is used to this day.
In 1982, Constellation returned back to the yards in Bremerton, Washington. Naval aviation had undergone vast changes since 1961. When Connie came out of the yards in 1984 two weeks early and under budget, it was completely modernized to accommodate those advancements. One facet of the ship's upgrade was the ability to carry the Navy's newest strike fighter, the F/A-18 Hornet. She was additionally fitted with the new Phalanx radar-guided Gattling gun, two new flush deck catapults, and the NATO Sea Sparrow Missile System. During WestPac 1987, Constellation once again found itself in the spotlight by providing vital air cover in the escorting of U.S. flagged oil tankers through the Arabian Gulf.
In February 1990, Constellation left San Diego, returning to the East Coast for a three-year overhaul. The $800 million Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) was completed in Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in March 1993, which added an estimated 15 years to the carrier's operational life. The overhaul saw upgrades to virtually every system on the ship.
After completing one of the most successful work-up schedules in Navy history, Constellation departed San Diego on June 18, 1999 to begin her 19th overseas deployment. Connie immediately put her fighting skills to the test by conducting a Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFEX), which was the first time ever that a carrier has conducted JTFEX at the beginning of a deployment. With increased tensions between North and South Korea, Connie headed for the Korean theatre to closely monitor the situation and to provide a calming influence. After port calls in Pusan, ROK; Yokosuka, Japan; Singapore; and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Connie entered the Arabian Gulf on August 28. She spent the next 10 weeks flying combat air patrols over the Iraqi no-fly zones in support of Operation Southern Watch.
In May 2001, Captain John Miller assumed command from Captain James Kelly. Just as Captain Thomas Truxtun left an indelible imprint on our nation's naval heritage as Constellation's first Commanding Officer in 1797, so too has Captain Kelly continued that heritage by guiding the Navy's finest crew on the nation's best carrier. As Connie's 30th Commanding Officer, Captain Miller will continue this legacy and add to the illustrious history of America's Flagship.
Constellation then returned to San Diego, CA on September 15, 2001 after her 20th overseas deployment. On October 27, 2001, the USS Constellation CVA/CV-64 Association, officers and crew of the Constellation celebrated her 40 years of proud service.
On June 2, 2003, Constellation returned to San Diego after completing her 21st and final deployment to the Western Pacific. During deployment, she took part in Operation Iraqi Freedom, a mission objective on the war on Iraq.
After her impressive 41 year service life, "Connie" was decommissioned pier side at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, California on August 7, 2003. In the middle of September 2003, Connie was towed to Puget Sound Naval Station for storage. Between August 2014 and January 2015, she was towed from Bremerton, WA to Brownsville, TX where she was dismantled.
One of the most essential functions of Historic Ships in Baltimore is the ongoing maintenance and restoration work. The Museum’s dedicated Maintenance & Restoration staff and corp. of volunteers work to ensure that these national treasures survive for future generations.
For a ship that is over 150 years old, USS Constellation is now in good shape. This is due to two reasons: She was originally built with some incredible material - clear white oak (quercus alba) for hull planking and live oak (quercus virginiana) for frames. Her decks were yellow pine, masts and spars white pine or spruce.
Our Current Efforts
Planning is underway for several restoration projects on USS Constellation, including restoration of the ship’s head, painting of the topsides, and fabrication and installation of the davits for the three ships boats. The maintenance staff continues fine-tuning the rigging after its overhaul this past winter. All of these projects are expected to run into the fall.
2014-2015: Dry Docking
On October 13, 2014, the USS Constellation left her berth in the Inner Harbor to travel to dry-dock in at the US Coast Guard Yard, Curtis Bay. The dry docking project repaired extensive rot in the laminated hull planking that was installed during the 1996 – 1999 restoration. This prevented the rot from spreading any further to the ship’s historic fabric. The dry-docking is lasted through February of 2015, and cost approximately $2 million. This project was made possible due to several grants and generous individual donors.
Preparing to Launch USS Constellation
February 26, 2015 - After a long winter the project is complete. We are preparing for launch this morning; flooding the Oakridge dry dock is underway. At 8.5 feet in the dock. Pumps are ahead of flow. Hull planks and caulking are swelling after 4 months in the dock.
Replanking the Hull
January 21, 2015 -The demolition is complete and the restoration team has buttoned up the hull with the 1st layer of planking.
Removing Hull Planking and Prepping the Frames
November 5, 2014 - Two weeks into dry docking we have removed approximately 700sf of Constellation's laminated hull planking. The starboard side was a bit more difficult than the port, but we have mastered our technique and are on schedule. We will begin putting new wood on the starboard side, amidships, this week as we continue to move forward and aft with removal of old.
Tenting Around the Hull Protects from the Weather
USS Constellation Safely on Blocks in Dry Dock
USS Constellation Enters Dry Dock
USS Oak Ridge Floating Dry Dock; US Coast Guard Yard, Curtis Bay
USS Constellation Rigging Removal
Thank You to Cianbro Corp. for donating de-rigging space and equipment.
USS Constellation Leaves the Inner Harbor
Something is missing from Pier 1.
The Constellation passing under Pennington and 695.
When the ship originally came to Baltimore in 1955 she was desperate in need of repair. Several years of neglect had taken their toll. From the 1950's through the 1980's, the ship's stewards never had the resources to properly restore and maintain her. As a result, she rotted from the top down - freshwater is the bane of wooden ships - and her keel began to hog (bend).
In 1992, the navy condemned USS Constellation as an unsafe vessel and she was closed to the public. It took 4 more years to raise the funds necessary to bring her to drydock for repairs. From 1996 to 1999 the USS Constellation went through a massive structural restoration.
While in drydock, a portion of Constellation's frames were replaced with laminated white oak. Approximately 70% of her topside planking was replaced with a 4 layer laminate of douglass fir. She received a new laminated gun deck, new traditionally laid spar deck, as well as new main and fore masts. In July of 1999, Constellation returned to her berth on Pier 1 in the Inner Harbor, Constellation Dock, to a grand homecoming celebration.
Restoration has continued, mostly to Constellation's interior spaces, since 1999. Subsequent projects have included the restoration of the Captain's Cabin, the Sickbay, the Ship's Hold and Orlop Decks, and the latest project, the restoration of the Wardroom and Officers' Quarters. Much of the ship's armament has been recreated with the installation of 16 VIII-inch chambered shell guns on the gun deck and a 20-pounder Parrott rifle mounted on the spar deck.
Future projects will include the restoration of the ship's brig, the galley, the manger, and myriad other detail projects which help tell the story of what life was like on board.
USS Constellation's Museum Gallery and vessel are located at Pier 1 in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Here, you can hop aboard to take a tour, talk to a crewmember, participate in the Parrott rifle drill, or see what's cooking in the galley. Additionally, the Constellation participates in educational and overnight programs for all ages.
There are four decks to explore aboard the sloop-of-war, each one distinctly different from the next. The top deck, or spar deck, is where all sailing operations took place. Directly below the spar deck is the gun deck, which hosts the ship's main battery of guns, the Captain's Cabin, and the Galley. Underneath the gun deck is the berth deck, where the majority of the crew lived and socialized. Down one more ladder, you will reach the ship's hold, where food, water, and gear for a crew of 325 was stowed.
Our artifact collections consist of approximately 50,000 objects, photographs and documents across all of our exhibits. These artifacts tell the stories not only of the ships and lighthouse, but of the thousands of brave sailor for whom these historic sites were a duty post, a home, and a way of life. New items, often donated by former crew members and their descendants, are rotated into exhibits so there are opportunities to see something new in future visits; for example, anew food exhibit has replaced the old one on the gun deck while an additional display was set up on the berth deck. If you are interested in donating an an object, photograph, or document related to one of the sites that the Historic Ships operates, we would love to hear from you.