August 19: Old Ironsides

Old IronsidesBuilt in the mid-1790s, The USS Constitution was one of the first six ships commissioned for the United States Navy, and was named after the U. S. Constitution by George Washington himself. Her early duties involved the protection of merchant ships, but her most famous maritime endeavor came on this day in 1812.

Compared to the prowess of the British Navy during the War of 1812, the U. S. was vastly outnumbered. England’s Royal Navy had 85 vessels in American waters alone. The fleet of the U. S. Navy on the other hand, consisted of only 22 vessels. So, suffice to say, the British were feeling a little cocky about their chances in a war against their former colony. On the afternoon of August 19, 1812 the HMS Guerriere was spotted heading for the port of  Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Constitution, which was patrolling the waters near Nova Scotia engaged the Guerriere in battle. The two ships exchanged cannon fire, but the older Guerriere was no match for the young Constitution. While American cannon balls tore holes into the Guerriere, the English shots seemed to bounce off the Constitution‘s sturdy wooden hull.

At the end of the day, the Constitution stood tall and the Guerriere was badly damaged. After taking the surviving crewmen of the Guerriere prisoner, the commander of the Constitution considered taking the Royal Navy ship as a trophy. However, after inspection the ship was considered too damaged to sail or salvage, and was eventually sunk. After the battle, an American sailor commented on how little damage the Constitution had sustained, exclaiming “Huzzah! her sides are made of iron!” and thus, the ship gained the nickname “Old Ironsides.” Although the battle against the Guerriere was not a major battle of the War of 1812, it was a highly important moral victory for the underdog Americans.

Today, the Constitution resides in the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston and although it’s a museum ship, Old Ironsides is still a commissioned U. S. Navy ship. In fact, it’s the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel. The sixty-odd sailors who work on the ship are active members of the U. S. Navy, and getting to work on the Constitution is considered to be a special honor. The ship still sails on occasion, primarily on the Forth of July.

So, raise a glass to the Constitution with an Ironside cocktail.  It’s a sweet little thing that features a nice balance between the spiced rum and grapefruit soda.


  • 1 1/2 ounces Spiced Rum
  • 4 ounces grapefruit soda
  • 2 lime wedges

Pour the rum into a highball glass with ice, and then fill with grapefruit soda. Squeeze two lime wedges into the drink, and then drop the wedges into the glass.

Tomorrow: Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.


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