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Captain Lawrence Dies For The Flag

The Great Victory Of Manila Bay

Captain Ingraham Teaches Austria A Lesson

The Gallant Old Ironsides And How She Captured The Guerriere
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The First Sea Fight Of The Revolution

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How The Gloucester Revenged The Sinking Of The Maine

How Paul Jones Won Renown

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The Final Victory
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The Sinking Of The Albemarle

Hobson And The Sinking Of The Merrimac

Captain Bushnell Scares The British

Commodore Perry Opens Japan To The World

A Famous Vessel Saved By A Poem


"OLD IRONSIDES was a noble old ship, and a noble old ship was she."
Come, I know you have not heard enough about this grand old ship, so let
us go on with her story. And the first thing to tell is how she served
another British ship as she had served the Guerriere.

Four months after Captain Hull's great victory, the Constitution was
in another sea and had another captain. She had sailed south and was now
off the coast of Brazil. And William Bainbridge had succeeded Isaac Hull
in command.

It was almost the last day of the year. Chilly weather, no doubt, in
Boston from which she had sailed; but mid-summer warmth in those
southern waters. It certainly felt warm enough to the men on deck, who
were "spoiling for a fight," when the lookout aloft announced two sails.

The sailors who had been lounging about the deck sprang up and looked
eagerly across the waves, as the cheerful "Sail-ho!" reached their ears.
Soon they saw that one of the vessels was coming their way as fast as
her sails could carry her. The other had sailed away on the other tack.

The vessel that was coming was the Java, a fine British frigate. As
she drew near she showed signals. That is, she spread out a number of
small flags, each of which had some meaning, and by which British ships
could talk with each other. Captain Bainbridge could not answer these,
for he did not know what they meant. So he showed American signals,
which the captain of the Java could not understand any better.

Then, as they came nearer, they hoisted their national flags, and both
sides saw that they were enemies and that a fight was on hand.

Captain Bainbridge was not like Captain Hull. He did not wait till the
ships were side by side, but began firing when the Java was half a
mile away. That was only wasting powder and balls, but they kept on
firing until they were close at hand, and then the shots began to tell.

A brave old fellow was the captain of the Constitution. A musket ball
struck him in the thigh as he was pacing the deck. He stopped his
pacing, but would not go below. Then a copper bolt went deep into his
leg. But he had it cut out and the leg tied up, and he still kept on
deck. He wanted to see the fight.

Hot and fierce came the cannon balls, hurtling through sails and
rigging, rending through thick timbers, and sending splinters flying
right and left. Men fell dead and blood ran in streams, but still came
the heralds of death.

We must tell the same story of this fight as of the fight with the
Guerriere. The British did not know how to aim their guns and the
Americans did. The British had no sights on their cannon and the
Americans had. That was why, all through the war, the British lost so
heavily and the Americans so little. The British shot went wild and the
American balls flew straight to their mark.

You know what must come from that. After while, off went the Java's
bowsprit, as if it had been chopped off with a great knife. Five minutes
later her foremast was cut in two and came tumbling down. Then the main
topmast crashed down from above. Last of all, her mizzen-mast was cut
short off by the plunging shot, and fell over the side. The well-aimed
American balls had cut through her great spars, as you might cut through
a willow stick, and she was dismantled as the Guerriere had been.

The loud "hurrahs" of the Yankee sailors proved enough to call the dead
to life. At any rate, a wounded man, whom everyone thought dead, opened
his eyes and asked what they were cheering about.

"The enemy has struck," he was told.

The dying tar lifted himself on one arm, and waved the other round his
head, and gave three feeble cheers. With the last one he fell back dead.

But the Java's flag was not down for good. As the Constitution came
up with all masts standing and sails set, the British flag was raised to
the stump of the mizzen-mast. When he saw this, Bainbridge wore his
ship to give her another broadside, and then down came her flag for
good. She had received all the battering she could stand. In fact, the
Constitution had lost only 34 men, killed and wounded, while the Java
had lost 150 men. The Constitution was sound and whole; the Java had
only her mainmast left and was full of yawning rents. Old Ironsides
had a new feather in her cap.

Like the Guerriere, the Java was hurt past help. It was impossible
to take her home; so on the last day of 1812, the torch was put to her
ragged timbers and the flames took hold. Quickly they made their way
through the ruined ship. About three o'clock in the afternoon they
reached her magazine, and with a mighty roar the wreck of the British
ship was torn into fragments. To the bottom went the hull. Only the
broken masts and a few shattered timbers remained afloat.

Such is war: a thing of ruin and desolation. Of that gallant ship, which
two days before had been proudly afloat, only some smoke-stained
fragments were left to tell that she had ever been on the seas, and
death and wounds had come to many of her men.

After her fight with the Java the Constitution had a long, weary
rest. You will remember the Bon Homme Richard, a rotten old hulk not
fit for fighting, though she made a very good show when the time for
fighting came. The Constitution was much like her; so rotten in her
timbers that she had to be brought home and rebuilt.

Then she went a-sailing again, under Captain Charles Stewart, as good an
officer as Hull and Bainbridge; but it was more than two years after her
last battle before she had another chance to show what sort of a fighter
she was.

It is a curious fact that some of the hardest fights of this war with
England took place after the war was at an end. The treaty of peace was
signed on Christmas eve, 1814, but the great battle at New Orleans was
fought two weeks afterward. There were no ocean cable then to send word
to the armies that all their killing was no longer needed, since there
was nothing to fight about.

It was worse still for the ships at sea. Nobody then had ever dreamed of
a telegraph without wires to send word out over the waste of waters, or
even of a telegraph with wires. Thus it was that the last battle of the
old Constitution was fought nearly two months after the war was over.

The good old ship was then on the other side of the ocean, and was
sailing along near the island of Madeira, which lies off the coast of
Africa. For a year she had done nothing except to take a few small
prizes, and her stalwart crew were tired of that sort of work. They
wanted a real, big fight, with plenty of glory.

One evening Captain Stewart heard some of the officers talking about
their bad luck, and wishing they could only meet with a fellow of their
own size. They were tired of fishing for minnows when there were whales
to be caught.

"I can tell you this, gentlemen," said the captain, "you will soon get
what you want. Before the sun rises and sets again you will have a good
old-fashioned fight, and it will not be with a single ship, either."

I do not know what the officers said after the captain turned away. Very
likely some of them wondered how he came to be a prophet and could tell
what was going to take place. I doubt very much whether they believed
what he had said.

At any rate, about one o'clock the next day, February 20, 1815, when the
ship was gliding along before a light breeze, a sail was seen far away
in front. An hour later a second sail was made out, close by the first.
And when the Constitution got nearer it was seen that they were both
ships-of-war. It began to look as if Captain Stewart was a good prophet,
after all.

It turned out that the first of these was the small British frigate
Cyane. The second was the sloop-of-war Levant. Neither was a match
by itself for the Constitution, but both together they thought
themselves a very good match.

It was five o'clock before the Yankee ship came up within gunshot. The
two British ships had closed together so as to help one another, and now
they all stripped off their extra sails, as a man takes off his coat and
vest for a fight.

Six o'clock passed before the battle began. Then for fifteen minutes the
three ships hurled their iron balls as fast as the men could load and
fire. By that time the smoke was so thick that they had to stop firing
to find out where the two fighting ships were. The Constitution now
found herself opposite the Levant and poured a broadside into her
hull. Then she sailed backward--a queer thing to do, but Captain Stewart
knew how to move his ship stern foremost--and poured her iron hail into
the Cyane. Next she pushed ahead again and pounded the Levant till
that lively little craft turned and ran. It had enough of the
Constitution's iron dumplings to last a while.

This was great sailing and great firing, but Captain Stewart was one of
those seamen who know how to handle a ship, and his men knew how to
handle their guns. There were never better seamen than those of the Old

The Levant was now out of the way, and there was only the Cyane to
attend to. Captain Stewart attended to her so well that, just forty
minutes after the fight began, her flag came down.

Where, now, was the Levant? She had run out of the fight; but she had
a brave captain who did not like to desert his friend, so he turned back
and came gallantly up again.

It was a noble act, but a foolish one. This the British captain found
out when he came once more under the American guns. They were much too
hot for him, and once more he tried to run away. He did not succeed this
time. Captain Stewart was too much in love with him to let him go, and
sent such warm love-letters after him that his flag came gliding down,
as his comrade's had done.

Captain Stewart had shown himself a true prophet. He had met, fought
with, and won two ships of the enemy. No doubt after that his officers
were sure they had a prophet for a captain.

That evening, when the two British captains were in the cabin of the
Constitution, a midshipman came down and asked Captain Stewart if the
men could not have their grog.

"Why, didn't they have it?" asked the captain. "It was time for it
before the battle began."

"It was mixed for them, sir," said the midshipman, "but our old men said
they didn't want any 'Dutch courage,' so they emptied the grog-tub into
the lee scuppers."

The Englishmen stared when they heard this. It is very likely their men
had not fought without a double dose of grog.

We have not finished our story yet. Like a lady's letter, it has a
postscript. On March 10, the three ships were in a harbor of the Cape de
Verde Islands, and Captain Stewart was sending his prisoners ashore,
when three large British men-of-war were seen sailing into the harbor.

Stewart was nearly caught in a trap. Any one of these large frigates was
more than a match for the Constitution, and here were three in a
bunch. But, by good luck, there was a heavy fog that hid everything but
the highest sails; so there was a chance of escape.

Captain Stewart was not the man to be trapped while a chance was left.
He was what we call a "wide-awake." There was a small chance left. He
cut his cable, made a signal to the prize vessels to do the same, and in
ten minutes after the first British vessel had been seen, the American
ship and its prizes were gliding swiftly away.

On came the British ships against a stiff breeze, up the west side of
the bay. Out slipped the Yankee ships along the east side. Captain
Stewart set no sails higher than his top sails, and these were hidden
by the fog, so the British lookouts saw nothing. They did not dream of
the fine birds that were flying away.

Only when Stewart got his ship past the outer point of the harbor did he
spread his upper sails to the breeze, and the British lookouts saw with
surprise a cloud of canvas suddenly bursting out upon the air.

Now began a close chase. The Constitution and her prizes had only
about a mile the start. As quick as the British ships could turn they
were on their track. But those were not the days of the great guns that
can send huge balls six or seven miles through the air. A mile then was
a long shot for the largest guns, and the Yankee cruisers had made a
fair start.

But before they had gone far Captain Stewart saw that the Cyane was in
danger of being taken, and signaled for her to tack and take another
course. She did so and sailed safely away. For three hours the three big
frigates hotly chased the Constitution and Levant, but let the
Cyane go.

Captain Stewart now saw that the Levant was in the same danger, and he
sent her a signal to tack as the Cyane had done. The Levant tacked
and sailed out of the line of the chase.

What was the surprise of the Yankee captain and his men when they saw
all three of the big British ships turn on their heels and set sail
after the little sloop-of-war, letting the Constitution sail away. It
was like three great dogs turning to chase a rabbit and letting a deer
run free.

The three huge monsters chased the little Levant back into the island
port, and there for fifteen minutes they fired broadsides at her. The
prisoners whom Captain Stewart had landed did the same from a battery on
shore. And yet not a shot struck her hull; they were all wasted in the

At length Lieutenant Bullard, who was master of the prize, hauled down
his flag. He thought he had seen enough fun, and they might hurt
somebody afterwhile if they kept on firing. But what was the chagrin of
the British captains to find that all they had done was to take back one
of their own vessels, while the American frigate had gone free.

The Constitution and the Cyane got safely to the American shores,
where their officers learned that the war had ceased more than three
months before. But the country was proud of their good service, and
Congress gave medals of honor to Stewart and his officers.

That was the last warlike service of the gallant Old Ironsides, the
most famous ship of the American Navy. Years passed by and her timbers
rotted away, as they had done once before. Some of the wise heads in the
Navy Department, men without a grain of sentiment, decided that she was
no longer of any use and should be broken up for old timber.

But if they had no love for the good old ship, there were those who had;
and a poet, Oliver Wendell Holmes, came to the rescue. This is the poem
by which he saved the ship:


Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky;
Beneath it rung the battle shout,
And burst the cannon's roar;
The meteor of the ocean air
Shall sweep the clouds no more!

Her deck, once red with heroes' blood,
Where knelt the vanquished foe,
When winds were hurrying o'er the flood
And waves were white below,
No more shall feel the victor's tread
Or know the conquered knee;
The harpies of the shore shall pluck
The eagle of the sea!

O! better that her shattered hulk
Should sink beneath the wave;
Her thunders shook the mighty deep,
And there should be her grave;
Nail to the mast her holy flag,
Set every threadbare sail,
And give her to the god of storms,
The lightning and the gale.

There was no talk of destroying the Old Ironsides after that. The man
that did it would have won eternal disgrace. She still floats, and no
doubt she will float, as long as two of her glorious old timbers hang

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