Archive for August 19th, 2008

19
Aug
08

Urban Legend: Old Ironsides

Sifting through myth and finding only the facts creates problems for historians and for someone not trained in history can lead to accepting myth for fact.  An urban legend that surrounds “Old Ironsides” illustrates the problem quite well.  I had another blog before I started this one.  An experimental blog that taught me about posting on the Internet and how people would react to those posts.  One of my posts for that blog was as follows:

 

Old Ironsides

The U.S.S. Constitution (Old Ironsides) as a combat vessel carried 48,600 gallons of fresh (remember that figure) water for her crew of 475 officers and men. This was sufficient to last six months of sustained operations at sea. She carried no evaporators (fresh water distillers). However, let it be noted that according to her log, “On July 27, 1798, the U.S.S. Constitution sailed from Boston with a full complement of 475 officers and men, 48,600 gallons of fresh water, 7,400 cannon shot, 11,600 pounds of black powder and 79,400 gallons of rum.”

Her mission: “To destroy and harass English shipping.”

Making Jamaica on 6 October, she took on, according to her log, 826 pounds of flour and 68,300 gallons of rum.

She then headed for the Azores, arriving there 12 November. She provisioned with 550 pounds of beef and 64,300 gallons of Portuguese wine. On 18 November, she set sail for England.

In the ensuing days she defeated five British men-of-war and captured and scuttled 12 English merchantmen, salvaging only the rum aboard each. By 26 January, her powder and shot were exhausted. Nevertheless, and though unarmed, she made a night raid up the Firth of Clyde in Scotland. Her landing party captured a whiskey distillery and took aboard 40,000 gallons of single malt Scotch aboard by dawn.

Then she headed home.

The U.S.S. Constitution arrived in Boston on 20 February 1799, seven [7] months after her departure, with NO cannon shot, NO food, NO powder, NO rum, NO wine, NO whiskey, and 38,600 gallons of stagnant water.*

*According to my calculations that is two and a half gallons of alcohol per man per day.

 

This post got the attention of a few people who then commented.  Here is one of those comments:

 

True story(ask the Navy):
http://www.navy.mil/navydata/people/secnav/dalton/speeches/aapa1008.txt

 

That comment got a rather spirited reply from Henry Sirotin, who is apparently well-versed in the history of that time period.  Henry made a compelling argument for why he felt this story is nothing more than an urban legend.  He refutes the validity of the claim by breaking down the inconsistencies with the story and placing them within known facts.

I don’t care if Dalton gave this story and the Navy included it in his speech list. It is false on the face of it- we weren’t fighting the British in 1798-1799, we were fighting the French, so this whole scenario would have been a declaration of war on Britain, and the Constitution never made European waters until 1803. And anyone who knows where the Firth of Clyde is would know that such a raid would be more than suicidal- totally constricted waters, for which you would need a pilot, no means of escape if pinned in, and a general location where she would easily be trapped, unarmed, and forced to run the gamut of the entire Irish Sea and RN units at Liverpool, Bristol, and Plymouth if the North Channel to the Atlantic were blocked.

I thanked Henry for his help with this story and was glad to have a great illustration on how to tell myth from truth.

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19
Aug
08

On This Day, 8-19-2008: "Old Ironsides"

Old Ironsides earns its names

During the War of 1812, the U.S. Navy frigate Constitution defeats the British frigate Guerrière in a furious engagement off the coast of Nova Scotia. Witnesses claimed that the British shot merely bounced off the Constitution‘s sides, as if the ship were made of iron rather than wood. By the war’s end, “Old Ironsides” destroyed or captured seven more British ships. The success of the USS Constitution against the supposedly invincible Royal Navy provided a tremendous boost in morale for the young American republic.

The Constitution was one of six frigates that Congress requested be built in 1794 to help protect American merchant fleets from attacks by Barbary pirates and harassment by British and French forces. It was constructed in Boston, and the bolts fastening its timbers and copper sheathing were provided by the industrialist and patriot Paul Revere. Launched on October 21, 1797, the Constitution was 204 feet long, displaced 2,200 tons, and was rated as a 44-gun frigate (although it often carried as many as 50 guns).

In July 1798 it was put to sea with a crew of 450 and cruised the West Indies, protecting U.S. shipping from French privateers. In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson ordered the American warship to the Mediterranean to fight Barbary pirates off the coast of Tripoli. The vessel performed commendably during the conflict, and in 1805 a peace treaty with Tripoli was signed on the Constitution‘s deck.

When war broke out with Britain in June 1812, the Constitution was commanded by Isaac Hull, who served as lieutenant on the ship during the Tripolitan War. Scarcely a month later, on July 16, the Constitution encountered a squadron of five British ships off Egg Harbor, New Jersey. Finding itself surrounded, the Constitution was preparing to escape when suddenly the wind died. With both sides dead in the water and just out of gunnery range, a legendary slow-speed chase ensued. For 36 hours, the Constitution‘s crew kept their ship just ahead of the British by towing the frigate with rowboats and by tossing the ship’s anchor ahead of the ship and then reeling it in. At dawn on July 18, a breeze sprang, and the Constitution was far enough ahead of its pursuers to escape by sail.

One month later, on August 19, the Constitution caught the British warship Guerrière alone about 600 miles east of Boston. After considerable maneuvering, the Constitution delivered its first broadside, and for 20 minutes the American and British vessels bombarded each other in close and violent action. The British man-of-war was de-masted and rendered a wreck while the Constitution escaped with only minimal damage. The unexpected victory of Old Ironsides against a British frigate helped unite America behind the war effort and made Commander Hull a national hero. The Constitution went on to defeat or capture seven more British ships in the War of 1812 and ran the British blockade of Boston twice.

After the war, Old Ironsides served as the flagship of the navy’s Mediterranean squadron and in 1828 was laid up in Boston. Two years later, the navy considered scrapping the Constitution, which had become unseaworthy, leading to an outcry of public support for preserving the famous warship. The navy refurbished the Constitution, and it went on to serve as the flagship of the Mediterranean, Pacific, and Home squadrons. In 1844, the frigate left New York City on a global journey that included visits to numerous international ports as a goodwill agent of the United States. In the early 1850s, it served as flagship of the African Squadron and patrolled the West African coast looking for slave traders.

In 1855, the Constitution retired from active military service, but the famous vessel continued to serve the United States, first as a training ship and later as a touring national landmark. Since 1934, it has been based at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston. Over the years, Old Ironsides has enjoyed a number of restorations, the most recent of which was completed in 1997, allowing it to sail for the first time in 116 years. Today, the Constitution is the world’s oldest commissioned warship afloat.

“Old Ironsides earns its names.” 2008. The History Channel website. 18 Aug 2008, 12:53 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=6994.

 

On This Day

1692 – Five women and a clergyman were executed after being convicted of witchcraft in Salem, MA.

1848 – The discovery of gold in California was reported by the New York Herald.

1856 – The process of processing condensed milk was patented by Gail Borden.

1909 – The first car race to be run on brick occurred at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

1917 – Team managers John McGraw and Christy Matthewson were arrested for breaking New York City’s blue laws. The crime was their teams were playing baseball on Sunday.

1919 – Afghanistan gained independence from Britain.

1934 – Adolf Hitler was approved for sole executive power in Germany as Fuehrer.

1942 – About 6,000 Canadian and British soldiers launched a raid against the Germans at Dieppe, France. The suffered about 50 percent casualties.

1955 – Severe flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Diane, in the Northeast United States, claimed 200 lives.

1960 – Francis Gary Powers, an American U-2 pilot, was convicted of espionage in Moscow.

1981 – Two Libyan SU-22s were shot down by two U.S. Navy F-14 fighters in the Gulf of Sidra.

 

CIA-assisted coup overthrows government of Iran

The Iranian military, with the support and financial assistance of the United States government, overthrows the government of Premier Mohammed Mosaddeq and reinstates the Shah of Iran. Iran remained a solid Cold War ally of the United States until a revolution ended the Shah’s rule in 1979.

Mosaddeq came to prominence in Iran in 1951 when he was appointed premier. A fierce nationalist, Mosaddeq immediately began attacks on British oil companies operating in his country, calling for expropriation and nationalization of the oil fields. His actions brought him into conflict with the pro-Western elites of Iran and the Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlevi. Indeed, the Shah dismissed Mossadeq in mid-1952, but massive public riots condemning the action forced the Shah to reinstate Mossadeq a short time later. U.S. officials watched events in Iran with growing suspicion. British intelligence sources, working with the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), came to the conclusion that Mossadeq had communist leanings and would move Iran into the Soviet orbit if allowed to stay in power. Working with Shah, the CIA and British intelligence began to engineer a plot to overthrow Mossadeq. The Iranian premier, however, got wind of the plan and called his supporters to take to the streets in protest. At this point, the Shah left the country for “medical reasons.” While British intelligence backed away from the debacle, the CIA continued its covert operations in Iran. Working with pro-Shah forces and, most importantly, the Iranian military, the CIA cajoled, threatened, and bribed its way into influence and helped to organize another coup attempt against Mossadeq. On August 19, 1953, the military, backed by street protests organized and financed by the CIA, overthrew Mossadeq. The Shah quickly returned to take power and, as thanks for the American help, signed over 40 percent of Iran’s oil fields to U.S. companies.

Mossadeq was arrested, served three years in prison, and died under house arrest in 1967. The Shah became one of America’s most trusted Cold War allies, and U.S. economic and military aid poured into Iran during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. In 1978, however, anti-Shah and anti-American protests broke out in Iran and the Shah was toppled from power in 1979. Angry militants seized the U.S. embassy and held the American staff hostage until January 1981. Nationalism, not communism, proved to be the most serious threat to U.S. power in Iran.

“CIA-assisted coup overthrows government of Iran.” 2008. The History Channel website. 18 Aug 2008, 12:57 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=2764.




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