Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 91.djvu/258

This page needs to be proofread.


The Unbeaten "Constitution"

Step on board with us and see the guns that won thirty-nine glorious victories

By Thomas Stanley Curtis

��THE frigate Constitution, fighter of thirty-nine battles and winner of every one of them, to-day offers the student an exceptional opportunity to compare the naval fighting machine of a hundred years ago with the super- dreadnought of the hour. Peacefully floating at a wharf in the Charlestown, Mass., Navy Yard, "Old Ironsides" speaks volumes to the thoughtful visitor who has perhaps just a few minutes before stepped down the gangway of a modern ship.

In the war of 1812, after a long series of brilliant exploits, the Con- stitution, under command of Com- modore Hull, sum- marily defeated the British ship Guerierre in an en- gagement which lasted but a scant hour and a half.

On the nineteenth day of August, the commander of the Constitution received word from the captain of an American brig that a British frigate had been sighted cruising in the vicinity. Acting on the information, Hull immediately gave chase in the direction indicated and at 2 o'clock p. m. the Guerierre was sighted. After a three-hour run, the Constitution came within range of the enemy's guns and the Guerierre let go a broadside, which, however, did no dam- age. Turning, the British ship fired her port broadside and scored two hits. For three-quarters of an hour the enemy dis- charged alternate broadsides with little effect while the American ship replied only with her bow guns.

At 6:05 p. m. the Constitution had closed in on the Guerierre and for the next few minutes both ships fired one broadside after another at a range of some two hundred yards. After ten minutes, Hull opened at close range with his whole broadside and the Guerierre' s

���Constitution fighting the Guerierre. The most famous battle of Old Iron- sides. Reproduced from an old print

��mizzen mast went over on the leeward side. At this stage the American com- mander determined to cross the bow of the enemy and rake his deck with a broadside. Disabled in her rigging, how- ever, the ship failed to answer the helm quickly. After two terrific broadsides had swept the deck and pierced the hull of the British ship, practically dead- locked to the enemy and already weak- ened by the raking fire, the Guerierre was worked up in- to the wind against her helm by the fallen mizzen mast and thus brought directly under the guns of the Con- stitution. As the American ship pulled away, the two remaining masts of the Guerierre were shot away and the Brit- ish ship was a total wreck with her guns of the main deck under water. The engagement ended at 6 30 with the surrender of Captain Dacres of the Guerierre.

From this brief account of a typical naval battle of the time, the reader will note that the conflict was little short of hand-to-hand; towards the close of the engagement the contestants were actual- ly locked together with the bowsprit of the one fouled in the rigging of the other. To-day the contestants scarcely see each other's ships. Whereas the fighters of a hundred years ago could actually see the whites of each other's eyes, now there is not a living thing visible on the deck of a ship in action. The gunners of the Constitution could "draw bead" on the hull or deck of the Guerierre, and when they wished to elevate a gun they would tilt the muzzle by withdrawing a wooden wedge beneath the breach. To- day the gunner seldom sees" his target; his range is given him in figures through a telephone and he fires at signal: the

��242

�� �