I came across this in Wilkipedia and thought I would post it in case the younger crowd never heard of it. I recall my high school English teacher reciting this with great emotion. I have a family connection here, a great … great-uncle served as a deck officer aboard her ca. 1856.
The Humphreys frigates were a brilliant design. The US Navy never had a ship-of-the line (way too expensive) but needed a combat ship of substantial capability. Humphries designed a frigate, larger, more guns, more agile and faster than comparable frigates of other navies, these ships could outrun larger vessels and outgun anything of comparable size. The material was American liveoak (actually a member of the beech family) with a double hull. The strength and elasticity of liveoak combined with the double hull caused cannonballs to bounce off hence, the nickname, “Old Ironsides.”
The USS Constitution is still commissioned and serves as the flagship of the U.S. Navy. If you have the opportunity to visit her in Boston Harbor it is worth the time. She was rebuilt and refitted for the bicentennial in 1976 a task made easier by the tools still kept at the Boston Navy Yard. A bandsaw used to shape the wooden components was still there, three stories high. The throat of the saw is the entire second floor. The major problem was finding the wood required. The knees that support the decks have to be natural from the branches growing from the trunk. As luck would have it the superintendent of construction noticed that a hurricane had knocked down a couple of hundred huge liveoak trees, the pride of the city in North Carolina (as I recall). He called the city, told them to do nothing until he got there, grabbed his checkbook and drove through the night to buy and salvage the trees before they could be hacked up. As he said at the time, “Wood like that doesn’t grow on trees.” Every piece was hauled back to Boston, dried and seasoned and carefully cut to the needed pieces. The knees and boards not used in the rebuild have been “salted down” (literally) and carefully stored away for future use.
While the city wasn’t happy about losing the trees that had lined the streets for more than two centuries they can take pride that their loss enabled a great ship to be restored. As my grandmother used to say, “It’s an ill wind that doesn’t blow somebody some good.”
By Oliver Wendell Holmes
Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky;
Beneath it rung the battle shout,
And burst the cannon's roar;--
The meteor of the ocean air
Shall sweep the clouds no more.
Her deck, once red with heroes' blood,
Where knelt the vanquished foe,
When winds were hurrying o'er the flood,
And waves were white below,
No more shall feel the victor's tread,
Or know the conquered knee;--
The harpies of the shore shall pluck
The eagle of the sea!
Oh, better that her shattered hulk
Should sink beneath the wave;
Her thunders shook the mighty deep,
And there should be her grave;
Nail to the mast her holy flag,
Set every threadbare sail,
And give her to the god of storms,
The lightning and the gale!
"Old Ironsides" was the nickname given to the 18th century frigate, USS Constitution during the War of 1812 after its naval battle with the HMS Guerriere. The Constitution was one of the original six frigates of the United States Navy, commissioned by the Naval Act of 1794. The Constitution was the third of four ships with 44 guns and was granted its name by President George Washington. The ship saw action during the Quasi-War, the First Barbary War, the Battle of Tripoli Harbor, and the Battle of Derne before earning her famous nickname during the War of 1812.
Holmes had recently abandoned his studies of law and began writing poetry for fun. In September 1830, he read an article in the Boston Daily Advertiser about the Navy's plans to dismantle the historic USS Constitution. Startled by this, he was moved to write "Old Ironsides" to express his opposition of the scrapping. The poem was published in the Advertiser the next day and was soon reprinted by papers in New York, Philadelphia and Washington.
The poem brought Holmes immediately national attention, and the poem would remain among his most well-known. Additionally, the poem generated enough public sentiment that the historic ship was preserved as a monument. Today, Constitution is well-known by its nickname "Old Ironsides" and is the oldest commissioned ship in the world still afloat.
Displacement: 2,200 tons
Length: 204 ft. overall, 175 ft. at the waterline
Beam: 43 ft. 6 in.
Draft: 21 ft. forward, 23 ft. aft
Depth of hold: 14 ft. 3 in.
Complement: 450 officers and enlisted including 55 Marines and 30 boys
The other frigates were United States, Constellation, Chesapeake, Congress and President.
1. ^ Toll, Ian W. Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the US Navy. W. W. Norton, 2006: 61. ISBN 978-0-393-05847-5.
2. ^ Hoyt, Edwin Palmer. The Improper Bostonian: Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes. New York: Morrow, 1979: 38. ISBN 0-6880-34292.
3. ^ Novick, Sheldon M. Honorable Justice: The Life of Oliver Wendell Holmes. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1989: 4. ISBN 0-316-61325-8.
4. ^ Hoyt, Edwin Palmer. The Improper Bostonian: Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes. New York: Morrow, 1979: 42. ISBN 0-6880-34292.
5. ^ Menand, Louis. The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001: 6. ISBN 0-374-19963-9.
^ Small, Miriam Rossiter. Oliver Wendell Homes. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1962: 36–37
Last edited by Ralph; 03-18-2012 at 09:24 AM.