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Battle with HMS Guerriere

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USS Constitution, under the command of Captain Isaac Hull, sailed from Boston on August 2, 1812 and steered for the blustery waters southeast of Halifax, Nova Scotia. After two weeks of daily gun drills in preparation for combat, Hull and his crew sighted the British frigate HMS Guerriere, under the command of Captain James Richard Dacres, on the afternoon of August 19, 1812.

As Guerriere closed to within a mile of Constitution, the British hoisted their colors and released a broadside, but the cannonballs fell short. The crew asked Hull for permission to return fire, but he refused so as not to waste the first broadside. Soon, however, Constitution slid alongside her opponent and Hull gave command to fire. The battle commenced. Constitution’s thick hull, composed of white oak planking and live oak frames, proved resilient to enemy cannonballs. During the engagement, an American sailor was heard exclaiming, “Huzza! Her sides are made of iron! See where the shot fell out!” Boarding parties were summoned as the ships came together, and Lieutenant William Sharp Bush, shot while attempting to board Guerriere, became the first United States Marine Corps officer to be killed in battle. After intense combat, the severely damaged Guerriere that was forced to surrender

The next morning, Hull made the difficult decision to scuttle Guerriere. Constitution sailed for Boston and arrived on August 30. News of Constitution‘s victory quickly spread through town and throngs of cheering Bostonians greeted Hull and his crew. A militia company escorted Hull to a reception at the Exchange Coffee House and more dinners, presentations and awards followed in the ensuing weeks, months, and years. USS Constitution, for her impressive strength in battle, earned the nicknamed “Old Ironsides.”

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