Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Brief History of the USS Constellation

The Constellation associated with the Civil War was the second ship of that name; the first was a frigate built in Baltimore that was in use from 1797 to 1853. The sloop-of-war Constellation was constructed in Norfolk in 1855. During the prewar years, the Constellation was part of the Mediterranean Squadron and the African Squadron, where she “safeguarded American commerce” and captured slave ships.

On May 21, 1861, a little more than a month after the declaration of the blockade, Constellation captured Triton, a brig obviously outfitted for the transport of slaves. For the next few years of the war, Constellation sailed around the Mediterranean protecting Union ships from Confederate cruisers and raiders. During the sloop-of-war’s journey back to the United States she tried to capture privateers in the West Indies. Finding that the Confederate Navy believed the Constellation was still in European waters, she had an advantage and was easily able to approach rebel vessels without any suspicion.

On Christmas Day of 1864, Constellation found herself at Fort Monroe. Most of the crew’s terms of enlistment expired in January and those sailors were discharged at that time, while the rest of the crew was transferred to St. Lawrence. Constellation acted as a receiving ship at Norfolk, where she remained until the end of the war.

Constellation is a unique Civil War vessel because she has been restored and opened to the public as a museum. She can be found in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, her home since 1968.


  1. Sarah:

    Did she have an auxiliary steam engine, similar to some other sloops-of-war of the period, or was she purely sail-powered?

    Also, does she still put to sea every now and then to shake out her sails and rigging, or is she permanently docked?

  2. I believe she was solely sail, but I can't guarantee it.

    She is semi-permanently docked. I say "semi" because she apparently made a trip to Annapolis in 2004. Very rarely does she leave her spot in the Inner Harbor, though; that was her first time out since 1955.

  3. We toured the Constellation earlier in the summer. I can say the only power generation devices on board are modern additions. She did not have steam propulsion units when rebuilt in the 1850s.