USS Constellation (1854)

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USS Constellation
Career United States Navy Jack
Laid down: 25 June 1853
Launched: 26 August 1854
Commissioned: 28 July 1855
Decommissioned: 4 February 1955
Fate: Museum ship
Struck: 15 August 1955
General Characteristics
Displacement: 1,400 tons
Length: 199 ft (61 m) overall, 181 ft (55 m) waterline
Beam: 43 ft (13.1 m) extreme, 41 ft (12.5 m) waterline
Draft: 21 ft (6.4 m)
Propulsion: Sail
Complement: 20 officers, 220 sailors, 45 marines
Armament: 25 guns:

The USS Constellation constructed in 1854 is a sloop-of-war and the second United States Navy ship to carry this famous name. Her keel was laid on 25 June 1853, in Gosport Navy Yard in Norfolk, Virginia, at the same time as the original 1797 frigate Constellation was being broken up.

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. Additionally, when the ship was to be rebuilt in the 1990s, naval historians that 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 until 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 arrived in the yard at that moment. The paper "Fouled Anchors: The Constellation Question Answered", by Dana M. Wegner, et al., published by the Navy's David Taylor Research Center in 1991, concludes that they are different ships. The conclusive proof came during the renovation concluding in 1999 in which all evidence pointed to the construction of an entirely new sloop-of-war from the 1850s era.

In any case, the sloop was launched 26 August 1854, and commissioned 28 July 1855, with Captain Charles H. Bell in command.

From 1855 to 1858, Constellation performed largely diplomatic duties as part of the US Mediterranean Squadron. She was flagship of the US African Squadron from 1859 to 1861. In this period, she disrupted the African slave trade by interdicting three slave ships and releasing the imprisoned slaves. The last of these was captured at the outbreak of the US Civil War: Constellation overpowered the slaver brig Triton in African coastal waters, effecting one of the first Union Navy captures of a Confederate ship.

After the Civil War, Constellation saw various duties such as carrying famine relief stores to Ireland and exhibits to the Paris, France Exposition Universelle (1878). She also spent a number of years as a receiving ship (floating naval barracks).

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.

Decommissioned in 1933, Constellation was recommissioned as a national symbol in 1940 by President Franklin Roosevelt. She spent much of the Second World War as relief (i.e. reserve) flagship for the US Altlantic Fleet, but spent the first 6 months of 1942 as the flagship for Admiral Ernest J. King and Vice Admiral Royal Ingersoll.

Constellation was again decommissioned on 4 February 1955, and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 15 August 1955—about two weeks and one hundred years 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 (reference number 66000918) on 23 May 1963. She is the last existing American Civil War-era naval vessel and the last sail-powered warship 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 drydock at Fort McHenry in 1996, and a $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 US Naval Academy in Annapolis, lasting 6 days, marked the ships first trip to the city in 111 years.

Tours are regularly available, self-guided or with the assistence of staff. Nearly all of the ship is accessible, and about half the lines are present (amounting to several miles). A cannon is demonstrated daily, and tour groups can also participate in demonstrations such as turning the yards.

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