USS Constitution vs. HMS Guerriere
August 19, 1812
On August 2, the USS Constitution set sail departing from Boston and sailed east in hopes of finding some British ships. After meeting no British ships, the Constitution sailed along the coast of Nova Scotia, and then New Foundland, finally stationing off Cape Race in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. It was here that the Americans captured and burned 2 brigs of little value. On August 15, the Constitution recaptured an American brig from the British ship-sloop HMS Avenger, however the British ship managed to escape. Capt. Issac Hull put a crew on the brig and they sailed it back to an American port.
At 2:00 P.M. on August 19, the crew of the Constitution made out a large sail which proved to be the British frigate HMS Guerriere, led by Capt. James Dacres. At 4:30 P.M., the 2 ships began to position themselves and hoisted their flags. At 5:00 P.M., the Guerriere opened fire with her weather guns, the shots splashed in the water short of the American ship. They then fired her port broadsides, 2 of these shots hit the American ship, the rest went over and through her rigging. As they prepared to fire again, the Constitution fired her port guns. The 2 ships were a fair distance apart, and for the next 60 minutes or so, they continued like this with very little damage being done to either ship.
At 6:00 p.m. they moved closer, at 6:05 P.M. the 2 ships were within pistol-shot of each other. A furious cannonade began, at 6:20 P.M., the Constitution shot away the Guerriere's mizzen-mast. The Constitution came around the Guerriere's bow and delivered a heavy raking fire which shot away the British frigate's main yard. The Americans came around yet again and raked the Guerriere. The mizzen-mast of the British ship was now dragging in the water and the two ships came in close to each other. The British bow guns did some damage to the Hull's cabin of the Constitution, a fire even started there.
It was about here that both crews tried to board the others ship, or at least thought about it. And it was also here where most of the Constitution's casualties were taken. In fact both sides suffered greatly from musketry at this point. On the Guerriere, the loss was much greater. Dacres was shot in the back while cheering on his crew to fight. The ships finally worked themselves free of each other, and then the Guerriere's foremast and main-mast came crashing down, leaving the British ship defenseless.
At 6:30 P.M., the Constitution ran off a little and made repairs which only took minutes to complete. Hull stood and watched at 7:00 P.M. as Guerriere surrendered, unable to continue the fight.
The Constitution had a crew of 456 and carried 44 guns. The Guerriere had a crew of 272 men and carried 38 guns. Almost all the American casualties came from the British musketry when the 2 ships came together.