USS Constellation Museum Photo
Pier 4, Constellation Dock, Baltimore, Baltimore City
With plans completed in May and the keel laid on June 25, 1853, just before steam propulsion was adopted as auxiliary power for all new warships, the "sloop-of-war" CONSTELLATION was the last all sail ship designed by the Navy, as well as the largest "sloop" built to that date. Designed by John Lenthall, Chief Constructor of the Navy, she was much larger than most other ships of that category. Her extreme length (knight head-taffrail) was 186', and her extreme beam was 40'-6". The frames, stem, and knees were constructed of live oak, while her keel, keelson, sternpost, and hull planking were of white oak. The ceiling, deck beams, deck planking, and heavy spars were of yellow pine, while her joiner bulkheads were of white pine. Her light spars were of spruce, and her trunnels of locust. The clench bolts and fasteners were of copper below the waterline, and iron above. Her armaments consisted of a main battery (on the gun deck) composed of sixteen 8" "shell guns" capable of firing the innovative "Paixhains" design exploding shell, and four 32-pound "long guns" firing solid shot; a secondary battery (on the spar deck) composed of two 10" pivot guns, one forward and one aft; and one 12-pounder boat howitzer. The ship had five cutters and one launch. Drinking water was carried in 48 iron tanks capable of holding 28,000 gallons. The CONSTELLATION also carried 61 long tons of iron ballast, and 150 fathoms (about 900 feet) of 1 13/16" iron chain for the anchors. The crew authorized for CONSTELLATION included 20 naval officers, 220 sailors, and 45 marines.
The CONSTELLATION was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. At that time, it was thought that the ship was the 1797 U.S. FRIGATE CONSTELLATION which was launched in Baltimore, and nicknamed the "Yankee Racehorse" because of her speed. Involved in the undeclared "Quasi War" with France, participating in the campaigns against the Barbary states and Caribbean Pirates, and helping to defend Norfolk from capture by the British during the War of 1812, the frigate was considered worth of listing on the National Register. However, subsequent research determined that the 1797 frigate was decommissioned and dismantled at the Gosport Navy Yard in Portsmouth, Virginia in 1853. That same year, the keel was laid for a new vessel, a sloop of war, at the same Navy Yard. Following Naval tradition, the new ship was named for the recently dismantled one, and the new CONSTELLATION was launched on August 26, 1854. CONSTELLATION was very large for a sloop-of-war, being closer in size to a second class frigate. This enabled the ship to carry a heavier battery of guns than conventional sloops. She was commissioned on July 28, 1855, and began a career which included serving with the Mediterranean Squadron from 1855-1858, capturing three slave ships while the Flagship of the African Squadron from 1859-1861, serving in the Civil War from 1862-1866, and acting as a receiving ship and later a practice ship for the Navy. The ship carried relief supplies to famine victims in Ireland in 1880, and carried works of art from Europe to the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1892. She was under sail for the last time in 1893, at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, before being moored at the U.S. Naval Training Center in Newport, Rhode Island, to serve as a stationary training vessel. In 1904 the ship was dry-docked at the New York Navy Yard for extensive survey and repair. By this time, it was generally believed that the ship was the 1797 Frigate, and in 1914 she was ordered restored "as she appeared in 1814" by acting Navy Secretary Franklin D. Roosevelt. To minimize costs, however, these alterations were limited to "such general details as would be noticed by the layman." The 1880s-era bridge platform and 1890s deck housing were removed, and she was displayed in Baltimore and Washington during the fall and winter of 1914 before returning to training duty in Newport. In 1933, she was decommissioned and placed in "Ordinary," essentially being mothballed, until 1955, serving briefly as the Relief Flagship of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet and Battleship Squadron 5 from 1941-1945. In 1955, the City of Baltimore acquired the ship and had it "restored" to its supposed Frigate appearance, making several alterations. The ship served as a tourist attraction in the Baltimore Inner Harbor until the 1990s, when it was drydocked for emergency repairs. The keel was severely "hogged" and much of the wood was rotten. Four years of restoration work has returned the CONSTELLATION to a close approximation of its Civil War appearance. This was the largest non-Naval wooden ship restoration ever undertaken in the United States, costing $7.5 million. Through interpretive and hands-on tours, the CONSTELLATION continues to serve the public.