good articles on the War of 1812 in Hampton Roads by Mark Erickson of the Daily Press and attend this weekend's live festivities.
One of the central reasons for the battle was the presence of the frigate USS Constellation. Shown here is the museum's model of the frigate. Assembled by Sea Classics, the museum acquired the 1/8" to a foot scale model in 1982.
The warship was one of the "original six" frigates authorized by Congress in 1794. Originally designed by Joshua Humphreys and Josiah Fox, Colonel David Stodder and Captain Thomas Truxtun altered the plans during her construction in Baltimore at Sterret Shipyard. Launched on September 7, 1797, her final dimensions were 164 feet in length and had a 13-foot draft. The Navy armed with her 18-pounders long guns and 24-pounder cannonades (though this varied based on captain's preference and available weapons).
The warship made a name for herself under Truxtun's leadership during the Quasi-War With France. During this conflict, she defeated two French frigates, L'Insurgent and La Vengence. During the War of 1812, Constellation attempted to break out in to the Atlantic Ocean via the Virginia Capes, only to find several British warships in her path.
Captain Charles Stewart took the "Yankee Racehorse," as she was nicknamed, to Hampton Roads and down the Elizabeth River. The ship anchored below the guns of Fort Norfolk and where she remained for the rest of the war.
Shown above is a contemporary British map of South Hampton Roads. It shows where the enemy believed Constellation to be at anchor and their plans to either capture or destroy the American frigate. This map comes courtesy of the Barrie Papers at Duke University's Rubenstein Library.
Unfortunately, while the ship was at anchor, somebody helped themselves to the ship's stores. When Captain Charles Gordon came to Norfolk take command of the frigate, he found that "the ship is entirely stripped and everything landed with a swept hold." Missing were over 200 pieces of the ship's dinning and cooking ware, along with all the ship's furniture. He also found the ship in a general state of disrepair. Thus, even if the British lifted the blockade of Hampton Roads, it is possible that Constellation never could have put to sea.
HRNM intern Brian Sagedy contributed to this article.