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The Forgotten Wars of the Nineteenth Century

Bldg. 76 


The Forgotten Wars of the 19th Century

The Forgotten Wars of the 19th Century


The Quasi-War With France & The Barbary Wars

This exhibit traces the conflicts with France and the Barbary States that the new nation faced after the American Revolution. American and French ships battled in the West Indies even though there was no formal declaration of war. The Pasha of Tripoli declared war on the United States in 1801, and in 1815 President James Madison asked Congress to declare war on Algeria. American merchant ships were in great danger at this time because there was no national navy to protect them abroad.

While typically thought of as a rebuilding time in United States history, it was a busy and tough time for American seamen.

Interesting artifacts in the Forgotten Wars exhibit include:

  • Sword and leather sea chest of James Sever, commander of USS Congress during the Quasi War with France
  • Letter from John Paul Jones to Secretary of State John Jay reporting that Algeria had declared war on the U.S.
  • Captain Thomas Tingey's uniform
  • Diorama of the "Burning of USS Philadelphia" on February 16, 1804
  • Painting, "Decatur Boarding a Tripolitan Gunboat," by D.M. Carter.

Quasi-War with France, 1798-1800. USS Constellation vs. French frigate la Vengeance, off West Indies, February 1, 1800. Artwork by Arthur N. Disney, Sr.

Quasi-War with France, 1798-1800. USS Constellation vs. French frigate la Vengeance, off West Indies, February 1, 1800. Artwork by Arthur N. Disney, Sr.   


USS Constitution Fighting Top Exhibit

In refitting and refurbishing frigate Constitution, the oldest commissioned ship in the United States Navy, it was found necessary to replace the "top" or "fighting top" of her foremast. 

This 3.5 ton platform (measuring 14 by 19 feet, and more than foot thick) surrounds the top of the foremast, serving not only to anchor and spread the rigging for the foremast, but also to furnish a standing place for men aloft.

The term "fighting top" derives from the platform's use during an engagement when Sailor and Marine sharpshooters were stationed there to pick off key enemy targets such as officers, helmsmen, and powder boys.  

The Fighting Top installed here was removed from Constitution in 1976 after 50 years of service.  It was recently restored at the Boston Navy Yard for use by the Nationnal Museum of the United States Navy as a major exhibit.   The simulated masts, rigging, and models give museum visitors a feeling above the water on a wind-shipped sailing ship during a raging sea battle.  


Constitution Fighting Top

Constitution Fighting Top

The War of 1812

Great Britain's interference with American shipping, the impressment of American sailors into the Royal Navy, and Indian raids supported by the British in Canada led Congress to declare war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812. Fighting on inland waterways and on the sea, the U.S. Navy stunned Great Britain by defeating them on Lakes Erie and Champlain. The end result was that Great Britain finally conceded their loss and negotiated the Treaty of Ghent (1814).

Interesting artifacts from the War of 1812 exhibit include:


The Forgotten Wars of the 19th Century:   Old Ironsides

Replica of USS Constitution "Old Ironsides" gundeck.  


The Mexican War

During the Mexican War, the U.S. Navy's home squadron, directed by Commodores David Conner and Matthew C. Perry, blockaded key Mexican ports along the Gulf of Mexico while the Pacific Squadron under Commodore John Sloat controlled ports on the Pacific side and captured California, thus helping to bring Mexico to her knees. The Navy also proved valuable through its quick transfer of men and supplies.

Interesting artifacts in the Mexican War exhibit include:

Ship Models in The Forgotten Wars of the 19th Century exhibit area

Click on ship model for a visual-art history of the ship.


NMUSN:   Forgotten Wars of the 19th Century:   USS Constellation (Frigate)

The frigate Constellation.  Click on ship model for a visual-art history of the ship. 


NMUSN:   Forgotten Wars of the 19th Century:   USS Constitution (Frigate)

The frigate Constitution (descriptive hull).  Click on ship model for a visual-art history of the ship.  


NMUSN:   Forgotten Wars of the 19th Century:   USS Constitution (Frigate)

The frigate Constitution, model #2.   Click on ship model for a visual-art history of the ship.   


NMUSN:   Forgotten Wars of the 19th Century:   USS Essex (Frigate)

The frigate Essex.   Click on ship model for a visual-art history of the ship.  


NMUSN:   Forgotten Wars of the 19th Century:	   USS Niagra (Brig)

The brig NiagaraClick on ship model for a visual-art history of the ship.  


<p>NMUSN_USS Powhatan_Model&nbsp;</p>

Sidewheeled Steam Frigate Powhatan.  Click on ship model for a visual-art history of the ship.     


<p>NMUSN_Forgotten Wars_Model_Saratoga</p>

Corvette Saratoga.  Click on ship model for a visual-art history of the ship. 


NMUSN:   Forgotten Wars of the 19th Century:   USS Vermont (Ship of the Line)

Ship of the Line Vermont Click on ship model for a visual-art history of the ship. 

Published: Wed Jun 30 12:43:45 EDT 2021