Old Ironsides

Old Ironsides

By:  Garland Davis


USS Constitution is a wooden hulled, three-masted Heavy Frigate of the United States Navy, named by President George Washington after the Constitution of the United States.  Launched in 1797, Constitution was one of six original frigates authorized for construction by the Naval Act of 1794 and the third constructed.  The frigates were designed to be the Navy’s capital ships, and were larger, more heavily built, and armed than standard frigates of the period.  Constitution was built in Boston, Massachusetts at Edmund Hall’s shipyard.  Her first duties with the newly formed United States Navy were to provide protection for American merchant shipping during the Quasi-War with France   and to defeat the Barbary pirates in the First Barbary War.

She is most famous for her actions during the War of 1812 against the United Kingdom, when she captured numerous merchant ships and defeated the British warships: HMS Guerriere, HMS Java, HMS Pictou, HMS Cyane, and HMS Levant. The battle with Guerriere earned her the nickname “Old Ironsides” and the public adoration that repeatedly saved her from scrapping.

She served as Flagship in Mediterranean and African Squadrons and circled the world in 1840.  During the American Civil War, she served as a training ship for the IU.S. Naval Academy.  She carried U.S. artwork and industrial displays to the Paris Exposition of 1878.

Retired from active service in 1881, Constitution served as a receiving ship in Norfolk Virginia.  A national campaign to collect funds to save Constitution from scrapping and restore her was invigorated by Doctor and Poet Oliver Wendell Holmes’ poem “Old Ironsides.”  His son Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1902 until 1932.


Old Ironsides



Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!

Long has it waved on high,

And many an eye has danced to see

That banner in the sky;

Beneath it rung the battle shout,

And burst the cannon’s roar; —

The meteor of the ocean air

Shall sweep the clouds no more!


Her deck, once red with heroes’ blood

Where knelt the vanquished foe,

When winds were hurrying o’er the flood

And waves were white below,

No more shall feel the victor’s tread,

Or know the conquered knee; —

The harpies of the shore shall pluck

The eagle of the sea!


O, better that her shattered hulk

Should sink beneath the wave;

Her thunders shook the mighty deep,

And there should be her grave;

Nail to the mast her holy flag,

Set every thread-bare sail,

And give her to the god of storms, —

The lightning and the gale!



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A native of North Carolina, Garland Davis has lived in Hawaii since 1987. He always had a penchant for writing but did not seriously pursue it until recently. He is a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, where he majored in Business Management. Garland is a thirty-year Navy retiree and service-connected Disabled Veteran.


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