USS Constitution captures HMS Guerriere, 19 August 1812



The U.S. Frigate Constitution left Boston, Massachusetts, on 2 August 1812, bound for a raiding cruise off Nova Scotia, the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Newfoundland. Her Commanding Officer, Isaac Hull, was eager to find and fight one of the several Royal Navy frigates then active off North America, and on 18 August an American privateer informed him that one might be found further south. The next afternoon, some 400 miles southeast of the British base at Halifax, a sail was sighted that turned out to be HMS Guerriere, one of the frigates that had fruitlessly pursued Constitution off New York a month earlier.

Guerriere's Captain, James R. Dacres, was also spoiling for a fight. Despite his ship's disadvantages in number and size of guns, and number of crewmen, the long British tradition of victory in ship-to-ship combat against European enemies provided reasonable grounds for Dacres' aggressive optimism. As Constitution approached on this windy, cloudy day, Guerriere began firing alternating broadsides that produced few hits and little damage. Constitution's return fire, limited to a few guns mounted forward, was also ineffective, but this changed markedly as the two ships drew alongside at about six in the evening of 19 August 1812.

A quarter-hour of intense gunnery by Constitution, delivered with much superior accuracy, battered Guerriere in the hull and masts. The British frigate's mizzenmast fell over the side, crippling her ability to maneuver. Constitution then moved ahead to rake Guerriere, whose bowsprit caught in the American's mizzen rigging. Firing continued while the two ships were thus tangled, and both sides prepared boarding parties. Marksmen in the mast tops blazed away at exposed personnel, with deadly effect. Many officers and men were thus killed, including Constitution's Marine lieutenant. Others, Captain Dacres among them, were wounded. As the ships separated, Guerriere's foremast collapsed, pulling down the mainmast with it. She was now a "defenseless hulk", and surrendered at 7 PM, when Constitution approached to renew the action after making brief repairs to her modest damages. British casualties were more than five times those of the Americans, and Guerriere was beyond saving. Her surviving crewmen were taken off the next day, she was set afire and soon blew up. Constitition then returned to Boston with her prisoners, arriving on 30 August.

This battle, the first of several U.S. Navy victories in ship-to-ship contests, encouraged Americans and chagrined the British. Despite the rational excuse that Royal Navy frigates were not as large and powerful as their American counterparts, the real causes of these outcomes were inspired seamanship and vastly better gunnery. For the rest of the 19th Century, long after the War of 1812 was over, America's Navy was credited with an effectiveness that went well beyond its usually modest size.

This page features paintings of the action between USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere, and provides links to related views.

Additioanl images related to this battle:



Click the photograph to prompt a larger view.

Photo #: KN-14236 (Color)

Action between USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere, 19 August 1812:
"The Engagement"

Oil on canvas, 32" x 48", by Michel Felice Corne (1752-1845), depicting the two frigates sailing toward each other at the commencement of the battle. Constitution is shown on the right, with crewmen working aloft.

Painting in the collections of the U.S. Naval Academy Museum, transferred from the Navy Department in 1869.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

Online Image: 76KB; 740 x 530 pixels

Reproductions may be available through the National Archives

 
Photo #: K-26254 (Color)

Action between USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere, 19 August 1812:
"In Action"

Oil on canvas, 32" x 48", by Michel Felice Corne (1752-1845), depicting the two frigates firing on each other, as Guerriere's mizzen mast goes over the side.

Painting in the collections of the U.S. Naval Academy Museum, transferred from the Navy Department in 1869.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

Online Image: 80KB; 740 x 530 pixels

Reproductions may be available through the National Archives

 
Photo #: KN-2781 (Color)

Action between USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere, 19 August 1812:
"Dropping Astern"

Oil on canvas, 32" x 48", by Michel Felice Corne (1752-1845), depicting the Guerriere's main and fore masts collapsing from the effects of Constitution's fire.

Painting in the collections of the U.S. Naval Academy Museum, transferred from the Navy Department in 1869.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

Online Image: 83KB; 740 x 510 pixels

Reproductions may be available through the National Archives

 
Photo #: K-26255 (Color)

Action between USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere, 19 August 1812:
"She Fell in the Sea a Perfect Wreck"

Oil on canvas, 32" x 48", by Michel Felice Corne (1752-1845), depicting the dismasted Guerriere firing a gun to the unengaged side to signify her surrender.

Painting in the collections of the U.S. Naval Academy Museum, transferred from the Navy Department in 1869.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

Online Image: 76KB; 740 x 510 pixels

Reproductions may be available through the National Archives.

 
Photo #: 80-G-K-12670 (Color)

Action between USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere, 19 August 1812

Painting by an unidentified artist, depicting the two frigates fully engaged.
Photographed by the Naval Photographic Center in 1952, with the original caption providing no further information about the painting.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Online Image: 140KB; 740 x 595 pixels

Reproductions may be available through the National Archives.

 
Photo #: NH 48472-KN (Color)

Action between USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere, 19 August 1812

Painting by Anton Otto Fischer, depicting Guerriere's masts going over the side as Constitution rakes her from ahead.

Courtesy Miss Katrina S. Fischer.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 101KB; 740 x 585 pixels

 
Photo #: NH 85507-KN (Color)

Action between USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere, 19 August 1812

Painting by an unidentified artist, after Thomas Birch, depicting Guerriere dismasted, prior to striking her colors.

Courtesy Charles Hammer, 1954.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 74KB; 740 x 635 pixels

 
Photo #: KN-10953 (Color)

Action between USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere, 19 August 1812

Oil on canvas, 46" x 64", attributed to Thomas Birch (1779-1851). It depicts Constitution standing off the dismasted British frigate's bow, as the latter strikes her flag in surrender.

Painting in the collections of the U.S. Naval Academy Museum. Bequest of Mrs. Walter Jennings, 1949.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

Online Image: 103KB; 740 x 565 pixels

Reproductions may be available through the National Archives.

 
Photo #: USN 1055208

Action between USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere, 19 August 1812


Painting by G.T. Margeson, 1906, depicting Constitution sailing past the dismasted Guerriere.
This artwork was exhibited in the U.S. House of Representatives offices during the 1950s.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

Online Image: 78KB; 560 x 765 pixels

Reproductions may be available through the National Archives as Photo # 428-N-1055208.
Color reproductions may be available from the same source as Photo # 428-KN-735

 



For higher resolution images see: Obtaining Photographic Reproductions

To the best of our knowledge, the pictures referenced here are all in the Public Domain, and can therefore be freely downloaded and used for any purpose.





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