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History of the Constellation

In 1853, the frigate USS Constellation (1797) was condemned by the navy and dismantled at the Gosport Navy Yard in Norfolk, Virginia.  At the same time the frigate was being destroyed, a new 22-gun sailing sloop or "corvette" was being built in the same facility.  At the time, Congress was reluctant to fund new ship construction, so construction of the new sloop was funded out of the Navy's repair budget and the name of the historic frigate was transferred to the new ship.  First commissioned in 1855, Constellation was assigned to the Mediterranean station under the command of Captain Charles Bell (1855-58).

From 1859 to 1861, Constellation, under the command of Captain John Nicholas, served as Commodore William Inman's flagship in the African Squadron.  The mission of the African Squadron was to cooperate with a similar British Navy force to interdict slave ships leaving the Congo River delta area for the Western Hemisphere.  During this cruise, Constellation captured three slave ships, liberating 700 men, women and children from bondage.  The last ship, Triton out of Charleston, South Carolina, was captured on May 21, 1861, making it the first capture of a Confederate naval or merchant vessel by the Union Navy during the Civil War.    Soon, most of the ships in the squadron were ordered home due to the outbreak of war.

Constellation returned to sea in March, 1862, bound for the Mediterranean Sea, where her assignment was to protect Union shipping from Confederate raiders such as the CSS Sumter.  She served on this post until ordered to Admiral Farragut's Squadron at Mobile, Alabama, reporting there in November, 1864.  Due to her size and reliance solely on the wind, she was unsuitable for service in Farragut's force, and was ordered to Norfolk where she served as a receiving ship through the end of the war.

In the 1870s through 1890s, she was sporadically commissioned to run training cruises for the midshipmen of the Naval Academy and a few humanitarian assignments.  From the 1890s to 1940, she served as a training ship at Newport, Rhode Island.  In 1940, she was recommissioned and in 1941, she was designated relief flagship of Admiral Ernest J. King, commander of the Atlantic Fleet.   Later in the war, she served as flagship of the commander of Battleship Division Five, Atlantic Fleet.

Constellation was decommissioned for the last time on February 4, 1955, and delivered to Baltimore where a 40-year ongoing effort to restore her to look like the 1797 frigate and open her for tours left her deteriorated and structurally unsound.  The Navy condemned her and closed her to the public in 1993.  In 1996, a three-year, nine million dollar project to restore the ship to her 1861 appearance was initiated.  The ship returned to her berth at Pier One in Baltimore's Inner Harbor and resumed public visitation on July 2, 1999.


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