L’USS Constitution échappe à une escadre anglaise, en juillet 1812.


On 5 July 1812, a few weeks after the beginning of the War of 1812, the U.S. Frigate Constitution, commanded by Captain Isaac Hull, departed Annapolis, Maryland, with a new crew. She sailed out of the Chesapeake Bay on 12 July, en route to New York. While approaching her destination during the afternoon of 17 July, she encountered a large group of unknown warships that was eventually determined to be British. This squadron, under the command of Captain Philip Vere Broke, included the small ship of the line Africa and the frigates Shannon (Broke's flagship), Belvidera, Guerriere and Aeolus, clearly a force much superior to the Constitution.

During night from 17-18 July, the English and American vessels manoeuvred to take advantage, in a light gentle wind. Towards 5:30 of the morning, the wind fell absolutely. Constitution put out her boats, which towed her ahead of the enemy while four long 24-pounder guns were shifted to allow fire directly astern. The British also had their boats in the water, concentrating most of them to try and pull Shannon within gunfire range. At the suggestion of Lieutenant Charles Morris, Captain Hull had anchors dropped ahead for kedging, allowing the power of of her capstan to pull her more rapidly.


Source : US Naval Historical center

All through the 18th and well into the following day, this effort of towing and kedging continued, with occasional use of sails when a small wind blew up. Though shots were exchanged the range was always too great to allow hitting, and Constitution slowly moved away from her pursuers. By late afternoon on the 19th the nearest British ship, Belvidera, was some four miles astern. A few hours later, as a rain squall approached, Hull promptly got up his sails and greatly increased his lead. The chase continued through that night in slight and shifting winds, with Constitution's crew keeping their sails wet to enhance their effectiveness, and by daylight the enemy was so far astern that they soon gave up the pursuit. Realizing that the presence of the strong British squadron would keep him out of New York, Hull sailed instead for Boston, where he arrived on 26 July to begin preparations for another cruise.

This nearly three-day chase, involving some of the Royal Navy's best officers and cruising warships, was an early demonstration of the United State Navy's seamanship talents. It would soon be followed by dramatic ship-to-ship battles that provided an equally convincing display of superior tactical and gunnery abilities. These inspired the American people at a time of painful land war disasters, but also persuaded the hitherto confident Royal Navy of the urgent need for greater and more effective blockading efforts, which would keep U.S. warships and privateers in port where they could not threaten British seagoing interests.


Source: Departement of the Navy -- Naval historical center
805 Kidder Breese SE -- Washington Navy Yard
Washington DC 20374-5060