The name Constellation is one of the most famous in U.S. naval history.
The first ship to be commissioned in the United States Navy; the first
to put to sea; and the first to engage, defeat and capture an enemy
vessel was the three-masted U.S. Frigate CONSTELLATION.
It started on March 27, 1794, when a special act of Congress provided
for building the U.S. Navy its first new ships. The six frigates were
given symbolic names which the new country could rally around
— names such as CONSTITUTION, CONGRESS, CHESAPEAKE, UNITED
STATES, and PRESIDENT. But the first to be commissioned received the
name held in highest esteem by the fledgling Congress — the
name for the “new constellation of stars” on the
The USF CONSTELLATION was built at Harris Creek Shipyard in
Baltimore’s Fells Point. She was designed with a main battery
of 36 guns, had a crew complement of 340 men, and displaced 1,278 tons
with a beam of 41 feet and length of 164 feet.
On September 7, 1797, CONSTELLATION was launched just in time as the
United States entered its first naval war. The “Quasi
War” (1798-1801) with France was largely
CONSTELLATION’s war. On February 9, 1799, CONSTELLATION
fought and captured the 36-gun frigate L’INSURGENTE, the
fastest ship in the French Navy. Under the command of the legendary
Captain Thomas Truxtun, it was the first battle by one of the original
six frigates. This great achievement for a young U.S. Navy was the
first major victory by an American-designed and American-built warship.
There were many more victories to follow. CONSTELLATION fought a second
single-ship action in February 1800: a night encounter with
France’s 54-gun frigate LA VENGEANCE. CONSTELLATION was again
victorious, winning a bloody and violent 5-hour battle. French sailors,
amazed at her expert sailing ability because she could attain the
thrilling speed of 14 knots while sailing under nearly an acre of
canvas sails, nicknamed her “Yankee Racehorse.”
CONSTELLATION continued to serve with distinction in the Barbary Wars
against Tripoli and the War of 1812 against Great Britain. In 1840,
CONSTELLATION completed a historic voyage around the world, which
included being the first U.S. warship to enter the inland waters of
China. After more than 50 years of service, CONSTELLATION was
thoroughly worn out. In 1853 she was broken up at the Gosport Navy Yard
in Norfolk, Va.
But the name of CONSTELLATION would live on. In 1854, the U.S. Sloop of
War CONSTELLATION was launched from Gosport. With similar dimensions to
her famous predecessor, she carried 23 guns and had a crew compliment
of 20 officers, 220 Sailors and 45 Marines.
The new ship’s first assignment was interdicting the slave
trade off the coast of Africa. She captured three slave ships and
released the imprisoned slaves. At the outbreak of the Civil War,
CONSTELLATION made the first Union Navy capture, overpowering the
slaver brig TRITON in coastal waters off Africa.
After the war, CONSTELLATION saw various duties such as carrying famine
relief stores to Ireland and carrying precious American works of art to
the Paris Exposition of 1895.
After being used as a practice ship for U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen,
CONSTELLATION became a training ship in 1894 for the Naval Training
Center in Newport, R.I., where she helped train more than 60,000
recruits during World War I.
Decommissioned in 1933, CONSTELLATION was recommissioned as a national
symbol in 1940 by President Franklin Roosevelt. Shortly after the
country’s entry into World War II, she became the flagship
for Admiral Ernest J. King and Vice Admiral Royal Ingersoll.
The treasured warship was decommissioned in 1955 and was taken
“home” to her permanent berth in Baltimore Harbor.
Now a National Historic Landmark, she is the last existing Civil
War-era naval vessel and the last sail-powered warship built by the
U.S. Navy. Coincidentally, just as the aircraft carrier USS
CONSTELLATION (CV 64) was beginning her 19th overseas deployment, the
U.S. Sloop of War CONSTELLATION completed a $9-million restoration
project in July 1999. The restoration will allow a new generation of
Americans to learn about the important role CONSTELLATION had in our
The second Constellation (CVA-64) was built by New York Naval Shipyard,
Brooklyn, N.Y.; christened 8 October 1960 by Mrs. C. A. Herter, wife of
the Secretary of State and commissioned 27 October 1961, Captain T. J.
Walker, in command. Constellation was damaged by fire while under
Redesignated as a multimission carrier (CV 64) 30 June 1975, she was
subsequently modified to operate ASW aircraft. Her Service Life
Extension Program (SLEP) modernization was conducted at Philadelphia
Navy Yard from July 1990 to 3 March 1993.
Constellation had been scheduled to replace Independence in Japan in
1998 and serve through 2008, but was found to be in worse condition
than Kitty Hawk. She is now scheduled to decommission in 2003, and will
be replaced by CVN-76.