The crew of USS Constitution commemorated the bicentennial of Old Ironsides’ final battle during the War of 1812, her unprecedented dual-victory over Royal Navy ships HMS Cyane and HMS Levant Feb. 20 in Charlestown Navy Yard.
Constitution Sailors fired the ship’s saluting battery at noon to commemorate the start of the battle, and visitors to the ship received dramatic accounts of the battle from Constitution crew members throughout the day. At sunset, the saluting gun was fired again in commemoration of the conclusion of both the battle and the War of 1812.
The evening gun salute was followed by a ceremony and reception at the USS Constitution Museum. The reception opened with welcoming remarks from Cmdr. Sean D. Kearns, Constitution’s 73rd commanding officer, and Anne Rand, president of the USS Constitution Museum, and then featured an account of the battle from a current crew member, Damage Controlman Fireman Terray Franklin, followed by remarks from the guest speaker, Professor James Holmes of the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.
“The ceremony today was a great way to commemorate what was arguably Constitution’s greatest victory under the command of perhaps her greatest captain,” said Kearns. “It was also a fitting time to reflect on the entire war and the peace which has existed among the belligerents ever since. As Professor Holmes mentioned in his remarks, it is as important now as it was then for us to be able to look past old enmities and strive for peace and partnership with other nations.”
Representatives from Boston’s Canadian and Irish consulates were also on hand to give remarks and toast the 200 years of peace that has existed between the U.S., Canada and Great Britain since the conclusion of the war.
“The War of 1812 helped solidify the North American borders, and helped create a peace between Canada and America,” said Frank Ruddock, Canada’s consul general in Boston. “The war helped forge a truce between the countries, and allowed us to move forward together.”
Constitution’s battle against Cyane and Levant originally took place on Feb. 20, 1815 near the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira in the Atlantic Ocean. At the start of the battle, Constitution was confronted by the two Royal Navy ships simultaneously, as British officers were now under orders to only confront solo American frigates in pairs or as part of a squadron. Under the command of Capt. Charles Stewart, Constitution was able to out-maneuver and eventually cause the British ships to separate from one another.
With the Cyane and Levant split up, Stewart was able to battle and capture the Royal Navy ships as if he were fighting two separate one-on-one battles. The Cyane-Levant battle is still studied at the Naval War College today to better understand the superior tactical strategies utilized by Stewart and the crew of Old Ironsides 200 years ago.
Breandan O Caollai, Ireland’s consul general in Boston, spoke of the relationship between Capt. Charles Stewart, and the Irishman Charles Stewart Parnell, Stewart’s grandson. Parnell is regarded as one of the most famous patriots in Ireland’s history and was founder and leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party.
“Our histories are intertwined,” said O Caollai. “Charles Stewart greatly influenced our Charles Stewart Parnell, and helped forge Parnell into the history of Ireland. Growing up, I would learn about Parnell and pass his namesake street, and now to represent Ireland at the ship celebrating his grandfather’s victory is truly an honor.”
Friday’s event was the finale of Constitution’s three-year bicentennial commemoration of the War of 1812, which concluded in 1815. Old Ironsides’ first two victories in the war were against HMS Guerriere on Aug. 19, 1812 and HMS Java on Dec. 29, 1812.
USS Constitution, the world’s oldest commissioned warship afloat, actively defended sea lanes against global threats from 1797 to 1855. Now a featured destination on Boston’s Freedom Trail, Constitution and her crew of U.S. Navy Sailors offer community outreach and education about the ship’s history and the importance of naval seapower to more than 500,000 visitors each year. USS Constitution is scheduled to be dry docked in Charlestown Navy Yard in the spring of 2015 for a three-year planned restoration period.