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USS Constellation

Three ships of the United States Navy have borne the name Constellation, in honor, according to the US Congress, of the "new constellation of stars" on the flag of the United States.

The first Constellation, 38, a frigate, was the first ship to be commissioned in the United States Navy; the first US Navy vessel to put to sea; and the first US Navy vessel to engage, defeat, and capture an enemy vessel.

On 27 March 1794, a special act of Congress provided for building the US Navy its first new ships: the frigates USF Chesapeake, USF Congress, USF Constellation, USF Constitution, USF President[?], and USF United States. Constellation was the first to be commissioned.

Constellation was built at Harris Creek Shipyard[?] in Baltimore's Fells Point and launched on 7 September 1797, just as the United States entered the Quasi-War with France.

On 9 February 1799, under the command of Captain Thomas Truxtun[?], Constellation fought and captured the frigate L’Insurgente, 36, the fastest ship in the French Navy -- the first major victory by an American-designed and -built warship.

Other victories followed. In February 1800 Constellation fought a night encounter with the frigate La Vengeance, 54. Constellation was victorious after a five-hour battle. Her speed inspired the French to nickname her the "Yankee Racehorse."

Constellation served in the Barbary Wars[?] against Tripoli and in the War of 1812 against Great Britain. In 1840, Constellation completed a voyage around the world, which included becoming the first U.S. warship to enter the inland waters of China.

In 1853 Constellation struck and broken up at the Gosport Navy Yard[?] in Norfolk, Virginia.

Table of contents
1 General Characteristics (1919 design)

General Characteristics

  • Displacement: 1278 tons
  • Length: 164 feet
  • Beam: 41 feet
  • Speed: 14 knots
  • Complement: 340 officers and men
  • Armament 36 guns


The second USS Constellation was a sloop of war[?]. Her keel was laid on 25 June 1853, in Gosport Navy Yard[?] in Norfolk, Virginia, at the same time as the frigate described above was being broken up.

There is some controversy over whether or not the sloop was a new ship, or a rebuilt version of the frigate. The position that they were the same ship relies on three main points:

  1. Some of the funds used to build the sloop were originally allocated to rebuild the frigate
  2. Some timbers from the broken-up frigate were used in the construction of the sloop
  3. the frigate was never formally stricken from the Naval Vessel Register -- a wooden, sailing man-of-war called Constellation was continuously listed from 1797 until 1955

Supporting the position that they are different ships are the facts that the sloop was designed anew from the keel up (without reference to the frigate), and was planned to have been built even if the frigate had not arrived in the yard at that moment. The paper "Fouled Anchors: The Constellation Question Answered", by Dana M. Wegner, et al., published by the Navy's David Taylor Research Center in 1991, concludes that they are different ships.

In any case, the sloop was launched 26 August 1854, and commissioned 28 July 1855.

Constellation's first assignment was interdicting the African slave trade. She captured three slave ships and released the imprisoned slaves. At the outbreak of the Civil War, she made the first Union Navy capture, overpowering the slaver brig Triton in African coastal waters.

After the war, Constellation saw various duties such as carrying famine relief stores to Ireland and carrying American works of art to the Paris Exposition[?] of 1895.

After being used as a practice ship for US Naval Academy midshipmen, Constellation became a training ship in 1894 for the Naval Training Center in Newport, Rhode Island, 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 of the United States Franklin Roosevelt. Shortly after the US's entry into World War II, she became the flagship for Admiral Ernest J. King[?] and Vice Admiral Royal Ingersoll[?].

Constellation was again decommissioned on 4 February 1955, and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 15 August 1955 -- about two weeks and one hundred years from her first commissioning. She was taken to her permanent berth -- Constellation Dock, Inner Harbor at Pier 1, 301 East Pratt Street, Baltimore, Maryland -- and declared a National Historic Landmark[?] (reference number 66000918) on 23 May 1963. she is the last existing American Civil War-era naval vessel and the last sail-powered warship built by the US Navy. She has been assigned the hull classification symbol IX-20.

Constellation completed a $9-million restoration project in July 1999.

General Characteristics

  • Displacement: 1400 tons
  • Length: 199 feet overall, 181 feet waterline
  • Beam: 43 feet extreme, 41 feet waterline
  • Draft: 21 feet
  • Complement: 20 officers, 220 sailors, 45 marines
  • Armament: 23 guns


The keel of a Lexington-class battle cruiser, to have been named USS Constellation (CC-2), was laid at Newport News, Virginia, in August 1920, but the class was cancelled in 1923 by the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922.

General Characteristics (1919 design)

  • Displacement: 43,500 tons
  • Length: 874 feet
  • Beam: 105.5 feet
  • Draft: 31 feet
  • Primary Armament: eight 16-inch/50 guns in four twin turrets
  • Secondary Armament: 16 six-inch/53 guns in single mounts (eight per side), four three-inch guns, eight 21-inch torpedo
  • Machinery, 180,000 shp General Electric geared turbines with electric drive, 4 screws
  • Speed, 35 Knots
  • Complement 1500 officers and men


The third Constellation (CV-64) is a Kitty Hawk-class[?] aircraft carrier. The contract to build her was awarded to the New York Naval Shipyard, Brooklyn, New York, on 1 July 1956, and her keel was laid down 14 September 1957, at the New York Navy Yard. She was launched 8 October 1960, sponsored by Mary Herter[?] (wife of Secretary of State Christian Herter), delivered to the Navy 1 October 1961, and commissioned 27 October 1961, with Captain T. J. Walker[?] in command. At that time, she had cost about US$400 million.

On 19 December 1960, fire swept through the USS Constellation while it was under construction at a Brooklyn Navy Yard pier, injuring 150, killing 50, and doing $75 million worth of damage.

In early 2003, plans are for Constellation to go into mothballs after she completes her current patrol in the Middle East. Connie will be replaced by Ronnie, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76).

General Characteristics

  • Displacement: 61,981 tons light, 82,538 tons full, 20,557 tons dead
  • Length: 1073 feet overall, 990 feet waterline
  • Beam: 282 feet extreme, 130 feet waterline
  • Draft: 39 feet
  • Speed: 30 knots
  • Propulsion System: eight boilers, four steam turbine engines, totalling 280,000 shp
  • Complement: 575 officers, 5049 enlisted



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