Mar 27

USS Constellation Aids Victims of Irish Famine

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 1:47 PM


The USS Constellation loading famine relief supplies for Ireland at the New York Navy Yard, in March 1880.

March 27th, 1880

The USS Constellation departs from New York with food for famine victims in Ireland

  The USS Constellation, a frigate first launched in 1797, held a long naval career, which spanned over the length of a century, and exemplified both the military and humanitarian aspects of the U. S. Navy. Towards the end of her career, the Constellation was charged with the duty of bringing aid to the victims of the ongoing famine in Ireland. In this duty, and in several others undertaken at the same point in her career, the Constellation served as an ambassador of sorts for the United States abroad, advancing American relations with other nations. A brief excerpt of her career, from an artical by Ruby Duval in the December 1935 issue of Proceedings documents some of the many duties which made the Constellation such an ambassador.

The Constellation was placed out of commission until 1855 when, after rebuilding at the Norfolk Navy Yard, she was ordered to the Mediterranean to join the squadron of Commodore Breese. In 1859 she joined the African Squadron detailed especially to watch for slavers off the Congo River and succeeded in capturing several; the next year she returned to the Mediterranean and, under the command of Commander Henry Thatcher, remained on that station until May, 1864, when she was directed to proceed to New Orleans to report to Rear Admiral Farragut for duty with the Western Gulf Blockading Squadron. Arriving at Mobile Bay the following November, she was directed by Admiral Farragut to return to Hampton Roads where she became the receiving ship at the Norfolk Navy Yard. Two years later she was towed to Philadelphia by the Miles Standish to assume the duties of receiving ship at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. In 1868 she was again placed out of commission and laid up for complete repairs.

The Naval Academy at Annapolis next claimed the Constellation and on May 25, 1871, she was placed in commission as a cadet (midshipman) practice ship, under the command of Captain Samuel P. Carter. She cruised with the midshipmen aboard to the New England coast during the summer and for the winter months laid up at the Washington Navy Yard. Annual cruises for midshipmen claimed the old frigate each summer for over two decades and in the interim she was performing other duties during the winter and spring months. In March, 1878, under the command of Captain James A. Greer, she sailed from New York with a cargo of exhibits for the Paris Exposition; in the fall of 1879 she carried supplies of naval stores to our squadron in the Mediterranean; in the spring of 1880 she was loaded with relief supplies at New York for famine-stricken Ireland and sailed for Queenstown, arriving at her destination on May 20, after a stormy and most trying passage; and in the autumn of 1892 she sailed for Gibraltar to collect works of art to be exhibited at the Columbian Exposition at Chicago. . . .

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  • One minor point of clarification to this excellent story. A 1991 technical report published by the Curator of Navy Ship Models, entitled “Fouled Anchors: The Constellation Question Answered,” determined that “the U.S.S. Constellation as it exists today in Baltimore, MD, is not the ship that was designed and constructed in 1795 but a new design and construction of 1853.”

  • Jim Valle

    The Constellation went into the dockyard for a “great rebuilding” early in the 1850’s. During this process she was completely dismantled with her kentledge, gear and some timber being set aside. A completely new hull was drafted by naval constructor John Lenthal along the lines of a first class sloop-of-war. She was the last major sailing warship to be added to the Fleet when launched. Some of the old Constellation’s kentledge ( iron ballast pigs ) gear and timbers were incorporated allowing the Navy to claim that they had done a repair rather than build a new ship. Congress was very reluctant to authorize and budget for new construction but they understood that ships needed repairs and were willing to appropriate funds for that purpose.