USS Constellation

USS Constellation

While it's always better to be here in person to experience USS Constellation, to actually walk her decks and feel the ship move under your feet, we hope that this short video will give you an idea of what it's like to visit. Hopefully, it will entice you to make the trip to Baltimore to "Come Aboard!"

Constellation History

US Frigate Constellation (1797-1853)

Credit: Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Naval Historical Center

The configuration of the 15 stars in the original United States national flag.

(Frigate: displacement 1,265 tons; length 164 feet, beam 41 feet; draft 13 feet, 6 inches; complement 340; armament 38 24-pounder long guns)

The first Constellation, a frigate designed by naval constructors Joshua Humphreys and Josiah Fox whose plans were altered in the execution by builder, David Stodder, and the superintendent of shipbuilding, Captain Thomas Truxtun, was built at the Sterrett Shipyard, Baltimore, Md., and launched on 7 September 1797.

Constellation convoyed American merchantmen at the outset (June through August 1798), before sailing for the West Indies to protect United States' commerce in those waters. Under the command of Captain Thomas Truxtun, she sailed for the Caribbean in December 1798. Subsequently, on 9 February 1799 she received her baptism of fire in capturing the French 40-gun frigate L'Insurgente in battle off Nevis, West Indies, in a hard fought victory, and bringing her prize into port. In succeeding months, she also encountered and seized two French privateers, Diligent and Union. After a brief voyage under Captain Samuel Barron, Constellation, commanded again by Truxtun, sailed in December 1799 for the West Indies. On the evening of 1 February 1800 she engaged the 52-gun frigate Vengeance in a lengthy, furious battle. Although Vengeance twice struck her colors and was close to sinking, she was able to utilize the cover of darkness to escape from Constellation which, disabled by the loss of her mainmast, proved unable to pursue. More success came to her in May 1800 when she recaptured three American merchantmen. At the end of the Quasi-War with France, Constellation returned to home waters, where misfortune awaited her. Anchoring in Delaware Bay on 10 April 1801, the ship was caught in winds and an ebb tide that laid her over on her beam ends, occasioning extensive repairs.

Sailing with the squadron of Commodore Robert Morris, and later, with that of Commodores Samuel Barron and John Rodgers, Constellation served in the blockade of Tripoli in May 1802. She cruised widely throughout the Mediterranean in 1804 to show the flag in demonstration of United States seapower; evacuated in June 1805 a contingent of U.S.Marines, as well as diplomatic personages, from Derne at the conclusion of a remarkable fleet-shore operation against Tripoli; and took part in a squadron movement against Tunis that culminated in peace terms in August 1805. Constellation returned to the States in November 1805, mooring at Washington where she later was placed in ordinary until 1812.

Constellation underwent extensive repairs at Washington in 1812-13, and with the advent of war with England, Constellation, commanded by Captain Charles Stewart, was dispatched to Hampton Roads. In January 1813, shortly after her arrival she was effectively blockaded by an imposing British fleet. Unable to reach the open sea, her presence protected fortifications at Craney Island.

In the wake of the War of 1812, naval action resumed against the Barbary powers that had enriched themselves considerably during the struggle with England. Constellation, attached to the Mediterranean Squadron under Commodore Stephen Decatur, sailed from New York on 20 May 1815 and joined in the capture of the Algerian frigate Mashuda on 17 June 1815. Treaties of peace soon ensued Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli. Constellation remained with the squadron under Commodores William Bainbridge, Isaac Chauncey, and John Shaw to enforce the accords, returning to Hampton Roads only in December 1817.

Except for brief periods under repair in 1828-29, 1832, 1834-35, and 1838-39, Constellation's career through the mid-point in the 19th century proved varied and colorful. From 12 November 1819 to 24 April 1820 she served as flagship of Commodore Charles Morris on the Brazil Station, protecting American commerce against privateers and supporting the negotiation of trade agreements with South American nations. On 25 July 1820, she sailed for the first time to Pacific waters where she was attached to the Squadron of Commodore Charles Stewart. She remained thus employed for two years, protecting American shipping off the coast of Peru, an area where disquiet erupted into revolt against Spain.

In 1827, Constellation acted briefly as flagship for the West India Squadron on a twofold mission involving the eradication of the last of the pirates and the interception of slavers operating in the area. In August 1829, she cruised to the Mediterranean to watch over American shipping and to collect indemnities from previous losses suffered by U.S. merchantmen. While en route to her station, she carried the American ministers to France and England to their posts of duty. Returning to the United States in November 1831, she underwent minor repairs and departed again for the Mediterranean in April 1832 where she remained until an outbreak of cholera forced her to sail for home in November 1834.

In October 1835, Constellation sailed for the Gulf of Mexico to assist in crushing the Seminole uprising. She landed shore parties to relieve the Army garrisons and sent her boats on amphibious expeditions. Mission accomplished, she then cruised with the West India Squadron until 1838 serving part of this period in the capacity of flagship for Commodore Alexander Dallas.

The decade of the 1840's saw Constellation circumnavigate the globe. As flagship of Captain Kearny and the East India Squadron, her mission, as assigned in March 1841, was to safeguard American lives and property against loss in the Opium War, and further, to enable negotiation of commercial treaties. En route home in May 1843 she entered the Hawaiian Islands, helping to keep them from becoming a British protectorate, and thereafter she sailed homeward making calls at South American ports.

Ultimately laid up in ordinary at Norfolk from 1845 to 1853, Constellation was broken up there in 1853.

US Sloop-of-War Constellation (1854-1955)

Credit: Dictionary of American Fighting Ships, Naval Historical Center

The second Constellation, a sloop designed by John Lenthall and constructed at the Norfolk Navy Yard, was commissioned on 28 July 1855 and departed under Captain Charles H. Bell for a 3-year cruise with the Mediterranean Squadron to protect American interests. While on station, Constellation was dispatched to protect American lives and property at Malaga, Spain, in July 1856 during a revolution in that country. While cruising in the Sea of Marmora the same year, she rescued a barque in distress, and received an official message in appreciation from the court of the Austrian emperor.

Constellation was detached from the Mediterranean Squadron on 17 April 1858 and after a brief cruise in Cuban waters where she safeguarded American commerce against unlawful search on the high seas, returned to the New York Navy Yard on 5 June. She was then decommissioned at Boston on 13 August. Re-entering active service in June 1859 as flagship of the African Squadron, Constellation took station off the mouth of the Congo River on 21 November 1859, she captured the brig Delicia during the mid watch on 21 December 1859 "without colors or papers to show her nationality… completely fitted in all respects for the immediate embarcation [sic] of slaves..." On 26 September 1860, after her entire crew had turned-to to "trim the vessel for the chase" (even wetting the sails "so they would push the sloop along"), Constellation captured the "fast little bark" Cora (which showed no flag and carried 705 slaves), nearly running down the slaver in the darkness. When captured, the slavers were impounded and sold at auction, their captains required to post bond and await trial, while their crews were landed at the nearest port and released. The newly freed slaves were taken to Monrovia, Liberia. The U.S. government paid a bounty of $25 for each freed slave freed, and "prize money" for each impounded ship to be divided among the crew proportionally according to rank.

On 19 April 1861, one week after Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring a blockade of southern ports and on 2 May called for the enlistment of 18,000 additional seamen. Constellation's seizure of the brig Triton on 21 May 1861 proved one of the U.S. Navy's first captures of the Civil War. Although Constellation's men found no slaves on board the captured vessel, they noted that "...every preparation for their reception had been made..."

Ordered home in August 1861, Constellation, Captain Thomas A. Dornin in command, reached Portsmouth (New Hampshire) Navy Yard on 28 September, but soon received orders to the Mediterranean, where her economy and endurance would enable her to outperform less reliable steam ships, to guard Union merchant ships against attack by Confederate cruisers and commerce raiders. On 11 March 1862 Constellation sailed from Portsmouth under the command of Commodore Henry K. Thatcher. Arriving on 19 April, Constellation spent two years (April 1862 to May 1864) engaged in patrolling, at one point assisting in blockading the Confederate warship Sumter, abandoned by her captain and officers except for a token, caretaker crew, at Gibraltar, and later participating in the attempt to prevent the Confederate Navy from taking possession of the British-built steamer Southerner in Italy for use as a commerce raider.

Returning home via the West Indies, Constellation operated briefly in the latter region, wrote one of her sailors, "trying to capture Rebel privateers and cruisers and blockade runners. The process of reasoning ... seems to be that our ship is supposed to be in European waters, and there is no United States warship resembling her cruising about here, and consequently she might approach closely to a Rebel vessel or blockade runner without exciting suspicion..."

With the terms of enlistment of most of the crew expiring, Admiral David G. Farragut ordered Constellation to Hampton Roads on 27 November 1864. After pursuing a blockade-runner along the coast, Constellation reached Fortress Monroe on Christmas Day 1864. In January 1865, the men whose enlistments had expired were "paid off" and discharged, the remainder of the crew was transferred to St. Lawrence, and the officers sent on leave to await orders. Constellation finished the Civil War as a Receiving Ship at Norfolk, a duty she performed there, and later at Philadelphia, until 1869.

Recommissioned on 25 May 1871, she took midshipmen (also classed as "naval cadets" at varying periods) on their summer training cruises for the next twenty-two years. In 1871-1872, she received further modification so she could also be utilized for gunnery instruction with a main battery of eight 9-inch Dahlgren guns, plus one 100-pound Parrott Rifle and one 11-inch Dahlgren gun.

During her assignment at the Naval Academy, Constellation received several special missions that punctuated her training regimen. From March to July 1878, she transported exhibits to France for the Paris Exposition. On 10 November 1879, she was placed in commission for a special voyage to Gibraltar, carrying crew and stores for the flagship of the Mediterranean Squadron and thereafter returning to New York. From March to June 1880, she carried relief supplies to victims of famine in Ireland. To modify Constellation for that mission, her armament and some ballast were removed, and carpenters at the New York Navy Yard built bins on the orlop deck to carry a cargo of over 2,500 barrels of potatoes and flour. Reaching Queenstown on 20 April and offloading the cargo onto lighters, she took on ballast for the return trip. Again active in September 1892 she sailed for Gibraltar in order to assemble works of art for the Columbian Exposition, stopping en route at Naples and Le Havre, and ultimately reached New York in February 1893. She departed on her final training cruise to Gibraltar on 7 June 1893, returning under sail for the last time on August 29. On 2 September 1893, she was placed out of commission at Annapolis, and was subsequently towed by the tug Leyden to Norfolk for repairs.

Converted to a stationary training ship, Constellation reached Newport on 22 May 1894, and remained a permanently moored vessel, with the exception of two excursions and occasional trips to the repair yard, into the second decade of the 20th century. In June 1904 Constellation was dry-docked at the New York Navy Yard for extensive survey and repair. Retained for her historic value and for conducting drills on her spars, rigging and sails, Constellation remained in Newport seeing decreased activity over the next twenty years until the Navy discontinued sail training in 1920.

In recognition of the one-hundredth anniversary of the writing of the national anthem, the National Star Spangled Banner Centennial commission asked that Constellation participate. Acting Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the vessel restored "as she appeared in 1814," but to minimize costs, "include only such general details as would be noticed by the layman." Constellation, towed to Norfolk by the tug Uncas, underwent the necessary modifications (19th-century ordnance fabricated at the Boston Navy Yard, dummy sails stuffed with straw and alterations such as removal of the 1880's-era bridge platform and 1890's deck housing), and was towed thence to Baltimore harbor, where she lay on display from 7 September (the anniversary of the 1797 frigate's launching) until 29 October 1914. She was then towed to Washington, DC where she lay on display from 31 October to 4 December. After repairs at Norfolk in December, she returned to training duty at Newport on 19 May 1915.

On 1 December 1917, to clear the name Constellation for assignment to a projected battle cruiser authorized on 29 August 1916, the ship was renamed Old Constellation. She reverted to her original name on 24 July 1925 when the battle cruiser was scrapped under the provisions of the Washington Treaty for the Limitation of Naval Armaments.

On 15 May 1926, Constellation was towed to Philadelphia and moored alongside the second-line light cruiser Olympia (CL-15), the ship that had been Admiral George Dewey's flagship at the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898. Constellation made her last public appearance as a commissioned U.S. Navy ship during the ceremonies accompanying the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on 4 July 1926. After a short drydocking at Philadelphia, she was towed back to Newport in November.

On 16 June 1933 a Navy Department order placed Constellation in a decommissioned status for preservation as a naval relic. Although numerous surveys were conducted and estimates given for the cost of restoring the vessel as a national historic shrine, no decisions on the ship's fate were taken. Global conflict, however, soon saw Constellation's return to active service. Recommissioned on 24 August 1940, she was classified as a miscellaneous, unclassified, auxiliary, IX-20, on 8 January 1941. On 21 May 1941, Constellation was designated relief flagship for Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet. Subsequently, with King's appointment as Chief of Naval Operations at the beginning of 1942, the venerable sloop continued in this capacity under Vice Admiral Royal E. Ingersoll from 19 January to 20 July 1942, when the flag was shifted to the gunboat Vixen (PG-53). Ingersoll again used Constellation as his flagship during 1943-1944.

Plans to memorialize Constellation brought her to Boston in October 1946 but lack of funds delayed the project. Decommissioned for the last time on 4 February 1955, the old ship was moved to Baltimore in a floating dry-dock for restoration and preservation as a historic ship by a private, non-profit organization.

With little money and no government funds available, it took nearly a decade of work before she was restored enough to allow the public on board. During that period, the ship was configured to resemble the 1797 frigate Constellation, which had been built in Baltimore. In 1968, the ship was moved to the inner harbor where she served as the centerpiece of the city's revitalization effort. Lack of maintenance funds, however, led to significant dry rot over the next two decades, resulting in a 36-inch hog in her keel and severely damaged her structural integrity.

In 1994, her rigging was removed and she was closed to the public. A new Constellation Foundation raised the funds needed for a major renovation project and the repaired sloop-of-war returned to her permanent berth in Baltimore's Inner Harbor on 2 July 1999.

USS Constellation CV-64 (1960-2003)

Credit: USS Constellation Association

The Tradition Continues In America's Flagship

Like her famous namesakes, USS CONSTELLATION (CV 64) has a proud and distinguished record. Connie, as her crew affectionately calls her, has almost 40 years of service, which has seen her sail into harm's way from Yankee Station off the coast of Vietnam to the turbulent waters of the Arabian Gulf.

Built at the New York Naval Shipyard as the second ship in the Kitty Hawk class of aircraft carriers, Connie was commissioned on October 27, 1961, under the motto "Spirit of the Old, Pride of the New." She has been home ported at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego since September 1962.

Just like the Frigate CONSTELLATION, America's newest and best Navy ship was immediately put to the test. In response to North Vietnamese attacks on U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin in August 1964, CONSTELLATION departed from a scheduled port visit to Hong Kong and was the first U.S. warship to launch strikes against North Vietnamese vessels and bases.

Over the next eight years, CONSTELLATION would return to the South China Sea for a total of seven combat cruises, conducting air strikes against heavily fortified North Vietnamese positions, engaging naval targets and shooting down enemy aircraft.

In 1968 President Lyndon Johnson made a surprise visit prior to Connie's fourth deployment to the Western Pacific (WestPac). In November, Connie pilots flew the last strike missions into North Vietnam prior to a bombing halt declaration.

In May 1972, Lt. Randy Cunningham and Ltjg. Willie Driscoll of Fighter Attack Squadron 96 became America's first fighter aces of the Vietnam War by downing three MiGs during vicious dog fighting over North Vietnam. The extraordinary effort brought their total to five enemy aircraft in four months. For her actions in Southeast Asia, President Richard Nixon awarded the Presidential Unit Citation to CONSTELLATION.

In 1975 Connie was re-designated "CV" from "CVA" following a complex overhaul to the flight deck, enabling her to deploy with the S-3A Viking (anti-submarine) and F-14 Tomcat (fighter) aircraft. A newly refurbished Connie began her 10th deployment in April 1977, which included the first port call by a U.S. carrier to Pattaya, Thailand. In September 1978, Connie sailed west once again on her 11th overseas deployment. The ship was extended on station in the Arabian Gulf because of the Iranian hostage crisis. Her service earned her the Navy and Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal. While on her 12th deployment to the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans, CONSTELLATION set a new endurance record for that time by remaining on station for 110 consecutive days.

In the summer of 1981, Connie hosted President Ronald Reagan. It turned out to be a watershed moment in the carrier's illustrious history. Reagan presented a Presidential Flag to the ship and proclaimed CONSTELLATION as "America's Flagship" - a new ship's motto which is used to this day.

In 1982, Constellation returned to the yards, this time in Bremerton, Wash. Naval aviation had undergone vast changes since 1961, and when Connie came out of the yards in 1984 two weeks early and under budget, it was completely modernized. One facet of the ship's upgrade was the ability to carry the Navy's newest strike fighter, the F/A-18 Hornet. She was also fitted with the new PHALANX radar-guided Gattling gun, two new flush deck catapults and the NATO Sea Sparrow Missile System. During WestPac 1987, Constellation once again found itself in the spotlight; this time providing vital air cover for the escort of U.S. flagged oil tankers through the Arabian Gulf.

In February 1990, Constellation left San Diego, returning to the East Coast for a three-year overhaul. The $800-million Service Life Extension Program (SLEP), completed in Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in March 1993, added an estimated 15 years to the carrier's operational life. The overhaul saw upgrades to virtually every system on the ship.

After completing one of the most successful work-up schedules in Navy history, CONSTELLATION departed San Diego on June 18, 1999, beginning her 19th overseas deployment. Connie immediately put her war fighting skills to the test by conducting a Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFEX). This marked the first time ever that a carrier has conducted JTFEX at the beginning of a deployment. With increased tensions between North and South Korea, Connie then headed for the Korean theatre to closely monitor the situation and provide a calming influence. After port calls in Pusan, ROK; Yokosuka, Japan; Singapore; and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Connie entered the Arabian Gulf on August 28 where she spend the next 10 weeks flying combat air patrols over the Iraqi no-fly zones in support of Operation Southern Watch.

In May 2001, Captain John Miller assumed command from Captain James Kelly. Just as Captain Thomas Truxtun left an indelible imprint on our nation's naval heritage as CONSTELLATION's first Commanding Officer in 1797, so too has Captain Kelly continued that heritage by guiding the Navy's finest crew on the nation's best carrier. As Connie's 30th Commanding Officer, Captain Miller will continue this legacy and add to the illustrious history of America's Flagship. CONSTELLATION returned to San Diego, CA September 15th 2001 from her 20th overseas deployment. The USS Constellation CVA/CV-64 Association along with the officers and crew of the CONSTELLATION on October 27th celebrated her 40 years of proud service to a grateful nation.

June 2, 2003, Constellation returned to San Diego after completing her 21st and final deployment to the Western Pacific, during deployment, she took part in the war on Iraq, Operation Iraqi Freedom. After her impressive 41 year service life, "Connie" was decommissioned pier side, at Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego, California on August 7, 2003. Mid September 2003, Connie was towed to Puget Sound Naval Station for storage.  Between August 2014 and January 2015, she was towed from Bremerton, WA to Brownsville, TX where she will be dismantled.

For over 200 years, ship's named CONSTELLATION have navigated the world's oceans defending America's interests. In 1797 the first ship of the U.S. Navy, the U.S.F. "frigate" Constellation was commissioned, she was named for the flag of the Continental Congress. Because of her swift sailing speed and handling ability, Constellation became known as the "Yankee Racehorse." Commissioned in 1854, the Sloop of War Constellation carried on the famous name. Then commissioned in 1961, the aircraft carrier Constellation, that later became known as "America's Flagship," continued the tradition of always being first to answer her nation's call. Thousands of Sailors serving America and the U.S. Navy aboard ship's named Constellation have written a proud, illustrious and stellar history as they protected and defended freedom for both America and other nations around the world.