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USS Constitution Observes Anniversary of Victory over HMS Cyane and HMS Levant

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By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Casey Scoular, USS Constitution Public Affairs
BOSTON (NNS) -- USS Constitution commemorated the 203rd anniversary of her victory over Her Majesty's Ship (HMS) Cyane and HMS Levant at Pier One of the Charlestown Navy Yard, Feb. 20.

USS Constitution's 75th commanding officer, Cmdr. Nathaniel R. Shick, opened the ceremony with a summary of the factors which led President James Madison and the United States to declare war against Great Britain on June 12, 1812.

"At the outset of the 19th Century, Great Britain was locked in a long and bitter conflict with Napoleon Bonaparte's France. In an attempt to cut off supplies from reaching the enemy, both sides attempted to block the United States from trading with the other," said Shick. "The Royal Navy outraged the Americans by its practice of impressment, or the removal of seamen from U.S. merchant vessels, forcing them to serve on behalf of the British Navy."

Following the commanding officer's remarks, Seaman Anthony Day, Constitution's command historian, and Mike Evans, a veteran of Her Majesty's Royal Navy, read deck log entries made by the respective commanding officers during and after the battle. 

Anne Grimes Rand, president of USS Constitution Museum, and Ms. Margherita Desy, senior historian serving with Naval History and Heritage Command Boston, spoke about the lives of Sailors who served aboard Constitution and reflections from Constitution's commanding officer, Capt. Charles Stewart.

Vice Adm. Phil Sawyer, Commander, U.S. Seventh Fleet spoke about Capt. Stewart's leadership and his crew's disciplined professionalism during the battle, and the long-lasting effects that their legacy has on Sailors today.

"A man of action, cool under fire, and steadfast throughout a naval career that spanned seven decades, seven at-sea commands, and four wars, Captain Stewart is the prototype all naval officers should hope to emulate," said Sawyer. "Above all, his actions show that our Navy cannot rest safely in harbor when faced by overwhelming challenges just beyond our shores... We must always seek opportunities to deploy and engage challenges directly, pausing when necessary, and pursuing our obligations to the end." 

The ceremony concluded with Cmdr. Shick giving the order to "Beat to Quarters," at which point Sailors assigned to USS Constitution performed a gun drill evolution with a replica 24-pound long gun at the end of which one round was fired from USS Constitution's saluting battery.

On Feb. 20, 1815, Constitution sighted the British warships Cyane and Levant sailing off the coast of Madeira Island in the North Atlantic and gave chase. Cyane and Levant began a series of broadsides against her, but Stewart outmaneuvered both and forced Levant to disengage. He concentrated fire on Cyane, which soon surrendered. After critical repairs, Levant returned to engage Constitution, but she turned and attempted to escape when she saw that Cyane had been defeated. Constitution overtook her and, after several more broadsides, Levant surrendered as well. Constitution had suffered little damage in the battle, though it was later discovered that she had twelve 32-pound British cannonballs embedded in her hull, none of which had penetrated. The Constitution and her two prizes then set a course for the Cape Verde Islands and arrived at Porto Praya on March 10.

USS Constitution, America's Ship of State, actively defended sea-lanes against global threats from 1797-1855. Now a featured destination on Boston's Freedom Trail, Constitution and her crew of active duty U.S. Navy Sailors offer community outreach and education about the ship's history and the importance of naval sea power to more than 500,000 visitors each year. 

Constitution's mission today is to offer community outreach and education about the ship's history. 

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