RESTORATION AND APPRENTICE TRAINING SHIP
(1872-1881)

 

Displayed below are the images of USS Constitution and her people during the period 1872-1881, as recorded down through the years, arranged in approximate chronological order of the event or person depicted. Undatable, general, images are grouped at the end. Where appropriate, commentary is provided to put the image in context and evaluate its accuracy.

 

Lithograph of the Philadelphia Navy yard showing Constitution apparently beginning her restoration of the 1870s. Because she is moored under the mast shears, it appears that preparations are being made to take out her lower masts. Note that both the jib boom and flying jib boom are absent. The turret of a monitor can be seen aft of her to the left.

 

USS Constitution on the marine railway at the old Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1874, her outer stripped to the top of the copper. Her frames are so close together, they look like a solid hull. Note that the second Andrew Jackson figurehead has been removed, and the absence of hawse holes.

 

Courtesty Peabody Museum of Salem

USS Constitution "out of the water" in the Philadelphia navy yard, 1874. The ship has been stripped of outer planking down below the waterline, exposing her closely-laid frames. Note the lower waist area, indicating that the "bulwarks" formerly seen there were superficial, and did not include continuations of the frames. Note also the slightly larger "port" that is the access to the quarter gallery, the three openings in the upper transom where the poop cabin windows once were, the presence of only three windows in the captain's cabin, and the fact that the stern davit arms are mounted atop the cap rails rather than through the transom as they were in earlier years. Note also that each davit arm has been extended by the addition of an additional piece atop it, evidently to provide for the hoisting of two boats aft.

 

U. S. Navy NH 56013

Captain Henry A. Adams, Jr., commanded Constitution, January-August 1877, as she lay moored in the river off the Philadelphia Navy Yard, employed as a stationery training ship for apprentice boys.

Born in Pennsylvania in 1833, during the Civil War he participated in the taking of New Orleans in 1862 and Fort Fisher in1865. The picture evidently was taken shortly after his departure from the frigate, as he died at Montevideo, Uruguay, on 1 February 1878.

 

Captain Reigert Bolivar Lowry reported aboard on 23 August 1877. When he realized his new command was only a stationary school ship for apprentices, he complained to the Department that it was no better than his experience at the Naval Academy a decade earlier. He was detached on 5 September, one of the shortest command tours in the shipís history.

 

U. S. Navy NH 79173

Commodore Oscar C, Badger, seen in a later photograph, commanded Constitution from 9 January 1878 to 2 August 1879, sailing her on her last voyage to Europe in connection with a Paris Exposition that year.

Badger was born in Windham, Connecticut, in 1823, saw much action during the Civil War, being severely wounded. He died in Concord, Massachusetts, on 20 June 1899. His service has since been remembered in the naming of a destroyer and a frigate.

 

This dramatic image from an English newspaper purports to show Constitution about to go aground on England's south coast early in 1879. The actual event was a gentle grounding, and, after some lightening and with the assistance of a tug, she was got off. Subsequent drydocking at Portsmouth found little damage.

 

The Medal of Honor was authorized in 1862 and created by the Philadelphia Mint. The central area of the medal depicts "Minerva Defeating Discord," while each of the points is filled with oak and laurel leaves, signifying strength and victory. The star is attached to the suspension ribbon by an anchor. When created, the medal was available only to enlisted personnel and was awarded for acts of heroism both in and out of combat. This medal was awarded to Carpenter's Mate Henry Williams, and Captains of the Top James Horton and Joseph Matthews in 1879 of Constitution for their efforts in going over the stern in a gale to save the ship's rudder. Another was awarded later that year to Ship's Corporal James Thayer for saving the life of a Boy who had gone overboard

The medal itself has remained unchanged, but the criteria have been changed to limit its award to acts of extreme bravery in combat only, and officers became eligible. The ribbon was changed to a light blue with white stars in 1913, following the Army's example. During World War II, the method of wearing was changed to an around-the-neck pale blue suspension ribbon spangled with white stars.

 

U. S. Navy NH 79266

Oscar Fitzalan Stanton, seen here as a Commodore about a decade later, commanded Constitution from Oct 1879 to June 1881, during which time the ship was employed as an underway apprentice training ship. In that role, he took her a several cruises along the East Coast and to the Caribbean.

 

NH 42076

Lieutenant Aaron Ward, ca. 1898. Late in 1879, while serving on board Constitution, then-Master Ward was instrumental in saving a man from drowning, for which he was commended by the Secretary of the Navy. As officers then were not eligible to received the Medal of Honor, he did not share in the recognition awarded an enlisted man involved in the same rescue.

 

U. S. Navy NH 60888

Constitution at anchor, ca. 1880, in an unknown location. Details of interest:

A single dolphin striker

Billethead vice figurehead

Bowhead area totally enclosed

Gun streak continues right around the bow

Spencer gaffs at the fore and main masts

The thin Charlie Noble located beneath the main hatch

Two sets of boat davits on either quarter

Boats painted different colors for distant identification

 

In 1880, the Bureau of Equipment and Recruiting, under Commodore Winfield Scott Schley, revised the "Good Conduct Badge." In doing so, an adaptation of the Bureau's seal was the basis for the new design. Struck by the U. S. Mint, it featured a broadside view of Constitution in a disc, superimposed on an anchor. On the reverse, the words "FIDELITY ZEAL OBEDIENCE" around the perimeter repeated those found on the face of the earlier badge. The recipient's name was engraved on the back, and a medal was awarded for each enlistment concluded with an honorable discharge. The ribbon was created by joining two pieces of the old, narrow ribbon along the red edge, and a brooch was provided. Fewer than 500 of the medals were awarded between 1880 and 1884.

In 1884, while the medal proper remained unchanged, the ribbon was changed to all red, and connected to the medal with a bar, instead of being gathered into a ring. In addition to the man's name, the reverse was engraved with his "continuous service number," discharge date, and ship name. Instead of issuing a new medal, subsequent awards were distinguished by bars affixed to the medal ribbon and engraved with his ship's name. On the barís reverse were engraved the man's discharge date and continuous service number.

With minor variations, this medal remained in use until about 1954, when all individualization was stopped. At about the same time, ribbon attachment reverted to the ring arrangement common to most U.S. medals. The use of bars to mark succeeding awards was ended in about 1950, when a small bronze star on the ribbon was used, one each for second thorough fourth awards, and a silver star of the same size to mark the fifth.

Whatever the ribbon, bar, and suspension variations, the Navy Good Conduct Medal has pictured "Old Ironsides" since 1880.

 

John Jefferson was born in Hull, England, on 6 November 1856. In October 1880, he joined Constitution as a Quartermaster and remained aboard until November 1881, about three weeks before the old frigate was decommissioned at New York. Late in his tour aboard, Jefferson was rerated as a Schoolmaster and, together with 135 apprentice boys, was transferred to USS New Hampshire just before Constitution was towed out of Newport

 

Taken in the early spring of 1881, as she was inbound passing Fortress Monroe, this is the only photograph known showing Constitution underway. Visible are a single dolphin striker, two davited boats on her starboard quarter, and the galley smokestack nearly amidship

 

The 1864 wooden screw gunboat Yantic was assigned to tow Constitution to Washington, D.C., for the unveiling of the Farragut Memorial in April 1881. The old frigate's deep draft, however, prevented her from getting any farther up the Potomac River than Piney Point. Most of her crew was taken to the city in Yantic and a transport, and still participated.

 

U. S. Navy NH 78515

Commander Edwin M. Shepard, seen here in a later photograph, commanded Constitution during her final six months of regular service, June to December 1881.

 

U. S. Navy NH 48102

USS Powhatan, a wooden sidewheel steamer from 1852, was used to tow Constitution from Norfolk, Virginia, to Newport, Rhode Island, in June 1881.

 

U. S. Navy NH 43865

USS Tallapoosa was commissioned in 1864 as a sidewheel double-ender gunboat and served in the East Gulf Blockading Squadron. Moved to Annapolis as a training ship in 1872, the following year she was redesignated as a transport until 1874, when she received a major rebuild as a single-ended ship (as seen here) and became a dispatch vessel. While in this capacity, late in 1881 she towed Constitution from Newport, Rhode Island, to New York, where the old frigate was decommissioned on 14 December,