List of Military Stores Ordered to be Transported to Boston for the Frigate Constitution, 1797-1798
USS Constitution carried a hefty load of arms and armament to support her crew of 450-500 men during battle. This list of military stores itemizes the arms and armament ordered to be transported to Boston to outfit the frigate around the time of her launch. The manuscript is divided by date into three sections: July 1, 1797, August 10, 1797, and April 9, 1798. The last section is identical to a list that accompanied a letter from Samuel Hodgdon, superintendent of military stores, to John Harris, keeper of military stores. That third section features 30 types of military stores needed for the ship, including 100 pairs of pistols, 200 cutlasses, 60 knapsacks, and 2 fifes with slings, among other weapons-related items. The first two sections, dated July and August 1797, list additional military stores, including 150 muskets with bayonets and cartouche boxes, 200 hand “granades” (sic), 24 tin lanterns, 3,600 round shot for 24-pounders, 100 boarding axes, and 12 blunderbusses, among other items.
Wooden warships rarely sank from the effects of long-range bombardment, and close combat by Marines and seamen often decided many battles. When it came to fighting at close quarters, small arms and edged weapons, such as those listed in this document, played a vital role in overpowering an enemy vessel’s crew. As the hulls of sailing warships intentionally or accidentally crashed together, the men listed as “boarders” on the quarter bill rushed to snatch up pistols, cutlasses, and pikes. The Marines concentrated their fire on the enemy’s decks, at the point chosen for boarding. Hastily formed into divisions by their officers, the men with the cutlasses and pikes boarded first, charging four deep along the gangways towards the quarterdeck. A reserve armed with muskets kept up a steady fire on the enemy’s quarterdeck, the tops above in the masts, and anywhere else the opponent was visible. Hand to hand combat was dangerous, brutal work, but nothing else could win or lose a battle as quickly.
 National Archives and Records Administration: Subject File, Naval Records Collection, RG45. Accessed via ww.wardepartmentpapers.org