tv [untitled] June 17, 2012 7:00pm-7:30pm EDT
washington for the constitution of the united states. the ship gained fame during the war of 1812, defeating british war ships in three sea battles and earning the nickname old iron sides. american history tv visited the uss constitution museum in boston located at the same pier where the ship is docked today. the museum's president, anne grimes rand, gave us a tour of some of the museum's exhibits and artifacts which trace the history of the ship from the construction to its role in the war of 1812 to the present day. >> welcome to the "uss constitution" museum. my name is anne games rand. i'm the president of the museum, and i'm pleased to be able to share some of the stories of
"constitution's" fascinating career with you. we're here on the first floor of the museum, and the exhibit about me is about "old ironsides" in war & peace. for over 200 years "uss constitution" has been a part of our navy, and if you start here we have a beautiful portrait painted in the 1800s by marshall johnson showing "constitution" with the wind pulling at her sails. she's charging through the water there. a beautiful iconic image of this ship which has become such a wonderful symbol of our country. congress authorized the construction of six ships in 1794 with the naval armament act and "constitution" was one of those first six ships built for our united states navy, and she's still with us today. in this exhibit we actually back up in time to talk about the construction of "constitution" and why did we build the first six ships of our united states navy? so, we have to think about boston in an earlier time, and boston was much smaller buildings. think about people carrying all of their provisions on carts drawn by horses. remember, this is the biggest ship that's ever been built in boston. when the construction is happening in the 1790s.
so we can meet a few of the people who provided the supplies for "constitution." we have the skillins brothers who carved the figurehead of "constitution." when she was first launched, you can see in a close-up of a painting from 1803, we have the oldest known image of "constitution" painted in 1803. you can see hurk hercules standing on the firm rock of independence holding the document, the constitution in her hand, because the ship is named for the document that governor oz country as she is defending our country. so the skillins brothers carved the figurehead. this is a wonderful representation of today of what that figurehead probably looked like. it actually was damaged when "constitution" was sailing in the mediterranean in the early 1800s so we don't have the original figurehead, but this gives you a sense of the prominence and the importance of the document for which the ship is named. we'll take a look at another merchant who is well known. paul revere.
most people think of him riding at midnight, a silversmith in boston who is busy during the american revolution, warning of the british march. but at this time we're in the 1790s, he is still here in boston. he's a merchant. he's working with his sons, and they have a bell and cannon foundry, so they are providing things like this brass howitzer. we're not sure if he provided this one, but he provided guns to the specification, and he also provided, if you look at the long piece down here, we have a bolt which is one of the fasteners that would hold the ship together, and when we think of a bolt today, most people think of something only a few inches long, but you've got big pieces of wood that "constitution" is made, and they all have to be held together by a copper fastener like this. we believe this one was probably provided by paul revere based on the location and where we found it in the constitution, so you
have many different merchants across the city helping to provide the supplies they needed for "constitution," and if you weren't working on "kaunlsitution," certainly something you knew would. because it was the biggest ship that's been built in boston at the time. just across the dock from where she's sitting now we have the shipyard base which is where "constitution" was being built at the time. you can see over here, we can give you a sense what have she looked like once they launched "constitution," and they have got the ship fully built and outfitted. this is called a rigor's model, and it's named that because it focusing on the rigging. all the sails, when you see "constitution" tied up at the pier, she doesn't have her sails up. this gives you a sense of how she can carry up to an acre of canvas. you can see that the black is called standard rigging which supports the mast sections, the white is the running rigging, the lines to control the sails. most of us are familiar with the phrase learning the ropes. if you're a sailor that's very
important because if you're in awakened in the middle of the night and you're going to climb up and step out on the foot rail to furl the sail, you need to know exactly where you're going, and the crewmate will be down on the deck and they need to release the right line at the right time. so it's really important as a sailor to release the right ropes. now when "constitution" was constructed in the north end of boston, her hull grew taller and taller, and when it came time to launch the ship in september of 1797 and they put out notices and warned everyone that when the ship came into boston it would be difficult to estimate how big the waves would be so coshed people to stand back from the shore line. the first time they launched "constitution" the ship started to slide down the waves but didn't make it all the way into the water. she got stuck so in the shipyard they used enormous blocks like the one right up here to try and
tug and haul and force "constitution" into the water, but she wasn't ready to go. they had to come back and tried again the next day. that didn't work either. it took another month until they could flatten out the ship waves so that "constitution" could launch smoothly into the ocean. in september 1797 she launched into boston harbor. much to the relief of the folks working in the shipyard. from the beginning, people were worried she might be an unlucky ship. here you can see a bit about "constitution's" construction. she's made all of wood, with frames made out of live oak which is an incredibly dense wood. you can see it grows in the southeastern coastal states, and it has big long branches. you often see spanish moss growing on them, but it's called live oak because it doesn't drop its leaves throughout the year. it's very durable, wonderful wood. they sent new england ship builders down there to cut the timber for the ship, and so many
of them died they ended up getting the local slaves on the plantations to help cut the wood that they needed for the ship, so you have frames sort of like the rib cage of a person made of live oak and then planking on either side of white oak which grows in this part of the country, a very strong, durable wood. you end up with about 25 inches thick of wood at the ship's water line so that is the real strength in "constitution." it's the wood. it's the live oak. she is not made of iron. she's made all of wood. "uss constitution" earned her first laurels during the barbary wars. she was patrolling off the mediterranean. most know this from the theme song for the marines "from the halls of montezuma to the shores of tripoli" that's the moment when this was head of the mediterranean squadron and the "uss constitution" is the big flagship and the whole squadron
was attacking on tripoli because american merchant ships sailing into the mediterranean had been stopped and some of our sailors were imprisoned on the north african coast. used to be common to pay tribute to the north african leaders. sort of like the toll takers of the mediterraneans. most governments did, that britain and france, and we did that at first. we spent up to 1/6 of our national budget on tribute to the north african coast. finally we decided we didn't want to do that anymore so in 1803 "constitution" is the there as the flagship of the squadron and we were able to negotiate a peace with tripoli and the release of our sailors who were held captive. "uss constitution" earned her greatest laurels during the war of 1812. now, war was declared june 18th, 1812, and "constitution" was in the chesapeake bay when word came of war against great britain. she went out to sea, and she had the good fortune to be the first american frigate to meet a
british warship at sea. "constitution" had an exciting escape from the british in july of 1812, and this painting shows that. "constitution" was sailing up to the new york coast, up to new york from chesapeake bay, and she saw five ships on the horizon, and she thought it was the american squadron that she was supposed to meet. it was sunset so she sailed up toward them, and you would have private signals of the day to signal an american ship. at night you would use a series of lights so "constitution" made the light signals but didn't get the proper signals back from the other ships so instead of sailing directly towards them she sailed off the coast and in the morning it became apparent that it was a british squadron who was sailing to new york to meet the americans instead of the americans "constitution" wanted to meet so now "constitution" was facing five british ships. she tried to outsail them, but it was a very light air day. you can see in addition to her normal sails in the painting
here off to the side are additional sails called stencils so you could add even extra canvas to try to escape from the british, so the british did the same. they set all their canvas. they tried to launch the row boats rowing, to try to tow the "constitution" away from the british. the british did the same thing. colonel morris suggested hedging. they were off the coast of new jersey which is a gradual, sandy, shallow coast. they were able to row, send a small boat out ahead of "constituti "constitution" and drop an anchor and then the men would push the giant capstan bars to haul the "constitution" up to the anchor while the other men road it forward. so they can use this to try to stay ahead of the british when there was no wind. a light chase of air and a puff now and then and when the breeze filled it reached "constitution"
first. so she scooted away in the storm before she reached the british. so war was declared against great britain on june 18th in 1812. in july of 1812 "constitution" had the great escape from the british so august 1812 she was still afloat, and she was the first to meet one of those five ships pursuing her. "the guerrier" was heading to halifax for repairs. "constitution" met "guerrier" on august 19, 1812, and we have put together a diagram from captain hull to help you understand how that battle went. "constitution" met "guerrier" at 3:45. "constitution" is here and clearing for action. you can see that they're getting ready for battle. they shorten the sails. the men go to their guns. they get the shot in the powder all ready. they are preparing.
at 4:45 "guerrier" is sailing back and forth waiting for constitution to approach and it isn't until the two ships get very close together that captain hull begins to fire. "guerrier" sent shots to test the range, but right here by 6:20 when the two ships came alongside, firing broadside to broadside. all the guns come out the side of the ship and are firing at each other, and hull reports in less than 15 minutes from the time we got alongside, his mast went by the board. that's the last mast of "guerrier." you can see it falling into water here so "guerrier" has lost one of its three masts and now it's dragging in the water sort of like a sea anchor so we thought captain hull thought he could cross the "t" meaning all of his guns would bear on "guerrier" while none of hers would be pointing at "constitution." at 6:30 they try to cross. as the two ships cross they actually collide and here's a image that we have enlarged in
the exhibit here. this is the moment when the two ships are together that the boarders tried to cross. the first lieutenant of the marines, william bush, climbed on and asked the captain shall i board her, sir? at that moment he actually is shot by a sharpshooter. in the rigging of the british ships, they would have marines firing at the enemy deck, so he fell to the deck. he's the first marine officer to die in combat in the war of 1812. our first lieutenant, charles morris, then goes to lead the boarding party. he's also shot and wounded and finally the two ships pull apart. as the two ships pull apart, the rigging is tangled and "guerrier" loses her last two masts so when you look at the final image here, she's left a perfect wreck in the water. she has no more ability to maneuver with no masts and sails. she has to surrender by firing a gun away from "constitution," the signal that the battle is over, so "constitution" has just beaten a british frigate. britain has been queen of the seas for as long as anybody remembers.
britain always wins sea battles, but here "uss constitution" fought the battle and saw cannonballs bounce off her side, and a sailor cried, her sides are made of iron, a joke because she's a fully wooden ship, but she earned the nickname old ironsides in this battle. when "constitution" returned to boston after the victory over the british in the war of 1812 the city exploded. it was such a surprise that an american frigate beat a british frigate, and captain isaac hull who you see in the portrait by gilbert stewart was welcomed as a hero. by the time he set foot on shore, there was a parade ready to lead him up state street and the crew was greeted with ceremonial dinners, a trip to the theater. it was an explosion in the city. it was such a wonderful surprise. isaac hull came home to the hero's welcome and then he stayed ashore because of a death in the family. he had personal matters to care for so william bainbridge was
serving as the commandant here in the charlestown navy yard, so he and hull switched commands. bainbridge took "constitution" in and went back to sea, and then he was the one who was captain when "constitution" earned her next laurels over "hms java." in this area we take a look at the battle against "java" way was much longer, a much more difficult battle than the "guerrier" battle, and as you walk down you can see william bainbridge is in command. we're off the coast of south america now, and during this battle the enemy shot actually hits "constitution's" wheel so you can see the wheel is shattered. at about the same time captain bainbridge himself is injured, but he stays in command, and to steer "constitution," they formed a human chain to relay the orders from the quarter deck where the captain and the shattered wheel was down below to men pulling on the ropes to adjust the ship's tiller, so it was amazing that they were able
to continue to steer constitution that way, but they did, and if you take a close look, we have a wonderful battle diagram here. we keep it behind doors so that the light doesn't fade it because it's 200 years old, but this was from a sailor who served on "constitution," and he was injured in the battle but this wonderful diagram was found in his attic in marblehead. so you can follow "java" is in red and "constitution" is in blue, and it follows the track as the ships are firing broadside to broadside, broadside to broadside, and in the third position, you see "java" there, the red ship, crossing "constitution's" stern, when the wheels was firing away. then the two ships come together again, split apart, and in this meeting "java" loses her foremast, so now she is hampered. they come together again, and in the end of this battle "java," again has lost most of her mast,
just a stump remains, so "constitution" becomes the victor and goes off for repairs and then "java" surrenders. "constitution" has gotten two victories during the first six months. war of 1812 among with another u.s. frigate. so three times, britain, queen of the seas, has lost to the americans. it was a real surprise in great britain. remember, they are focused on the napoleonic wars and fighting france. there's a world war that's really the focus of their attention but here on this shore our american navy is now proud. we've stood up for ourselves. the british focused a little more attention. they say you can't engage one of these american ships. they realize we build bigger, stronger ships than a typical frigate so they said you can't take on an american ship unless you have superior force, two-on-one, and there was a blockade on the atlantic coast. so much of the action of the war of 1812 moves inland to the lakes. that's not "constitution's" story. she's here on the coast, but eventually towards the end of
of the war, she does escape the block aid and meet the british one more time. this is a wonderful portrait of william bainbridge actually painted by sarah peele, one of the first female professional artists in our country, the daughter of charles wilson pe peal, and there's a wonderful story with this portrait because it was owned by a family in maryland. they took a floral painting from the wall into the conservator to be cleaned, and the conservator called back and said which painting do you want cleaned? they thought they brought in only one painting, but this portrait was sealed behind another canvas. our best guess might be during the civil war when they weren't sure which way maryland would go, if a portrait of a northern officer might not be appreciated, so we think it was hidden for over 100 years. no dirt. no trauma. so when they pulled it out you have a beautiful portrait and you can see the ruddy cheeks of the captain, and often in sea
portraits, you'll see a red complexion and the white forehead hidden by a hat. >> constitution's final battle during the war of 1812 was against two british ships and it was a light air battle. we have an image here that shows you, this is one of those wonderful artifacts painted on a wooden panel. you can see the crack, but it was a lighter battle, and so a lot of times they would stop the battle to wait for the smoke to clear. captain charles stewart where you see an image just above and we also have a portrait on the coin that he received. the captain would receive a gold coin after the victory and there would be silver copies for the officers and bronze for the crew, but the way he got that victory during this battle one of the smaller british ships thought they could come astern of constitution.
you can see in the model, if they could come astern, all their guns would fire on "constitution." captain stewart realized with the wind coming across the beam of the ship or the side of the ship he could actually back down and that's very unusual on sailing and we let the visitors try that on the model, and if you hold the sails to the back, the ship moves backwards. so instead of coming astern the ship came up to the constitution's broad side here. so through this great feat of maneuvering and throughout the battle "constitution" was able to capture two smaller british ships, two at once. remember the british said you can't take on an american ship unless you have superior force and while the gun power was comparable to constitution's, she was able to split them and capture both during this final battle in the war of 1812. we also have a wonderful portrait here of the sailing master samuel ames who might be
an experienced merchant captain and would be onboard and advice the captain on the sailing, the maneuvering, the trim of the ship, and that's one of the wonderful portraits from the war of 1812 era where you can see him there dressed as a sea captain would be with his telescope under his arm with the stormy sea behind him. constitution earned her laurels during the war of 1812 and not only the ship captain, but also the ship herself became a symbol. by the war of 1812 a newspaper said let us keep old ironsides at home and she has become a symbol of our nation and all we stand for. already, the idea that the ship was more than just a fighting ship but a national symbol appears in the press. "constitution" herself as well as her captains are represented on things like liverpool pittures. pitcthese rs were popular at
the time and made in england. england was able to capitalize on their own losses by selling images to the american market. isaac hull here was the captain during the first victorious battle. up top is "constitution" fighting the cyan and levant, the two smaller ships in a light air battle. this beautiful jug features constitution herself. uss constitution did have three victories, was undefeated, came out with a great record, but she was only one ship among the mighty british navy. the real significance of the victories was the feeling throughout the nation that we could stand up for ourselves. this was an unpopular war when declared. but when uss constitution, the ship built here in boston, got those victories and emerged undefeated, it really helped to rally the country behind the war effort, and when we survived the war, we were not a part of britain again, people really felt that we had accomplished something, we were more of a
nation, and constitution had defended the document for which she was named. following the war of 1812 the constitution had different assignments and served as flagship in the 1820s, but in 1830 the ship was under repair and there were fears that "constitution" might not be properly repaired. there was a notice in the newspaper that constitution would be scrapped because it would be too much money to repair her. that wasn't really true. the government had asked how much it would cost to repair "constitution," but when that notice hit the press, a student here in boston, oliver wendell holmes, wrote a poem about "constitution" called "old ironsides" saying long has it waved on high, and many and i has danced to see that banner in the sky. it goes on to tell the story of "constitution" saying it's this wonderful ship t shouldn't be scrapped. if you're going to get rid of t
at least give it a proper burial at sea. we produced newspapers up and down the country so there was a rallying for constitution. people said she must be saved and the navy, in fact, did allocate the funds to save "constitution." you can see this image of "constitution" as the poem described her, that if she were to be scrapped, instead of scrapping her, the poem said every threadbare sail, and give her to the god of storm, the lightning and the gale. throughout the 1800s constitution served actively in the united states navy. you would have expected this ship to have lasted 15 to 20 years. so launched in 1797, she had her victories during the war of 1812, but she continued in service. the oldest known image of her under sail is here in 1881. this is off the capes of virginia and she is serving as a training vessel for new recretes to the navy. they would learn their naval
history and heritage while serving on this famous frigate. sailors would still climb aloft and set sail. shortly after this was taken, the naval board looked and decided she was getting too old and too weak and they shouldn't be sailing her anymore. so they lowered the ship's masts. you can see her with the mast is in sections and they've taken all but the lower sections down there when she's in the new york navy yard. by the time she celebrated her 100th birthday, you can see in the model, she has been roofed over. people are sometimes shocked when they see this, but instead of destroying an old ship, i like to think of it as adaptive reuse. they built a barn over the deck. that helped to preserve the ship. she was being used as a receiving ship so if you were between assignments you might be stationed on constitution for a period, but that's not how the nation wanted to see her when it was time to celebrate her
100th birthday. they brought her back to boston and the governor had a ball aboard, underneath the barn roof there, they had patriotic rallies, they had parades, all to raise attention for the need to repair "constitution" and subsequently, they were able to do that. you can see here how constitution in 1907 and the ship's masts, the barn is removed and the masts are raised again. you can see that on this august 1907 issue of the use companion. that was the start of the restoration and she needed more work so there was a national fund-raising campaign. school children learned about constitution and contributed their pennies. this was part of the fund-raising campaign to restore constituti constitution, and that brought her into the dry dock just in front of the museum. our building which is now the museum building was actually the
office for the reconstruction of the u.s. frigate "constitution" and when they removed wood from the ship they made souvenirs and sold those to pay for the restoration of constitution. after this tremendous restoration to say thank you, the ship was towed around the country from 1931 to 1934 in the midst of the great depression, old ironsides, this famed symbol of our nation's strength, was towed from boston up the coast to maine. she was towed all along the east coast, down along the gulf coast and even through the panama canal all the way up the west coast to washington state, and then back home. she visited 76 different ports. 4.5 million people got to see constitution in their home port during this time when our nation so needed something to be proud of.
in this exhibit, we follow her through the first 200 years of service from 1797 to 1997, and in 1997 when she celebrated her 200th birthday, she sailed for the first time in 116 years. so we have a wonderful image of "constitution" under sail here. it was off the coast of massachusetts, off marblehead. just the same way when she sailed into battle, a simple sail configuration, just six sails, but you can see the old and new navy with the blue angels flying overhead as constitution marks her 200th birthday in 1997. aboard "constitution" the captain was michael beck, but the first lieutenant, our executive officer was lieutenant officer claire bloom, the first female officer aboard constitution, so she would wear an 1812 style uniform, which we have in the case here, and because it was the modern navy, while she would have as a
lieutenant, an epaulet on the left shoulder, but on the right should shoulder, she would have her navy purse. we said, we really need that once you leave "constitution." it's fun to tell the current story as well as the history. it's all a part of the story and now constitution has women as a regular part of her crew. >> you can watch this or other american artifacts programs at any time by visiting our website. and watch american art vakts every sunday at 8:00 a.m., 7:00 p.m., and 10:00 p.m. eastern on c-span3. now, the contenders, our 14-week series on key political figures who ran for president and lost, but who nevertheless changed political history. we feature william jennings bryan, who was also a three-time presidential candidate.