Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Old Ironsides

(Hartenstein and Daughter Rebekah share a moment while hiking through the fields of eastern Montana.)

Through 1812-13 Americans continued to invade Canada but were largely unsuccessful despite capturing York, present day Toronto, and burning government buildings.  The Canadians returned the favor later that year by defeating American troops, crossing into western New York and burning Buffalo and neighboring towns.  Astonishingly, American forces were better served at sea fighting the most powerful naval force in the world.  One of the most famous battles took place on the American ship Constitution and the Brittish Guerriere on August 19, 1812. Old Ironsides got her name when Brittish cannonballs seemed to bounce off her oak hull.  The following is a poem dedicated to her service.

"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!

Oh, 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!"  -Old Ironsides by Oliver Wendell Holmes

Old Ironsides, or the USS Costitution, was one of the U.S. Navy's first ships. Built in Boston between 1794 and 1797 the 204 foot long vessel was fitted for five hundred crew members and 44 cannons, and a 72 canvas sails.  The battle with Guerriere was Old Ironsides most famous battle, but it went on to other successes at sea.  In 1830, when the worn-out ship was ordered destroyed, Oliver Wendell Holes paid tribute to her in a poem.  People were so moved by the poem she was restored and sits in Boston Harbor to this day.

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