The oldest commissioned warship afloat is the USS Constitution, which played a crucial role in the Barbary Wars and the War of 1812. She actively defended sea lanes from 1797 to 1855.
When reading USS Constitution‘s early log books or journals, December 25th, as the Christmas holiday, frequently goes unremarked upon. In 1798, for instance, December 25th seems to have passed as just another day with the crew of Constitution loading supplies in Boston and getting the ship ready for her next deployment to the Caribbean Sea for the Quasi-War with France.
The first Christmas of the War of 1812 found Captain William Bainbridge in command of the recently nicknamed “Old Ironsides”. The ship was cruising for prize vessels around the time of the holiday. On December 29, 1812, Bainbridge and his crew received a “gift” of the season – a Royal Navy frigate. The nearly three hour battle with HMS Java proved costly for both sides. But Bainbridge, who had previously lost two U.S. Navy warships – to the French in the Quasi-War and infamously USS Philadelphia to the Tripolitans in the Barbary War – emerged triumphant and reaffirmed the success of USS Constitution and her crew.
During normal operations, the active-duty Sailors stationed aboard USS Constitution provide free tours and offer public visitation to more than 600,000 people a year as they support the ship’s mission of promoting the Navy’s history and maritime heritage and raising awareness of the importance of a sustained naval presence.
USS Constitution was undefeated in battle and destroyed or captured 33 opponents. The ship earned the nickname of Old Ironsides during the war of 1812 when British cannonballs were seen bouncing off the ship’s wooden hull.