USS Constellation on the Dismal Coast: Willie Leonard's Journal,1859-1861

USS Constellation on the Dismal Coast: Willie Leonard's Journal,1859-1861

USS Constellation on the Dismal Coast: Willie Leonard's Journal,1859-1861

USS Constellation on the Dismal Coast: Willie Leonard's Journal,1859-1861

Synopsis

Today the twenty-gun sloop USS Constellation is a floating museum in Baltimore Harbor; in 1859 it was an emblem of the global power of the American sailing navy. When young William E. Leonard boarded the Constellation as a seaman for what proved to be a twenty-month voyage to the African coast, he began to compose a remarkable journal.
Sailing from Boston, the Constellation, flagship of the U.S. African Squadron, was charged with the interception and capture of slave-trading vessels illegally en route from Africa to the Americas. During the Constellation's deployment, the squadron captured a record number of these ships, liberating their human cargo and holding the captains and crews for criminal prosecution. At the same time, tensions at home and in the squadron increased as the American Civil War approached and erupted in April 1861.
Leonard recorded not only historic events but also fascinating details about his daily life as one of the nearly 400-member crew. He saw himself as not just a diarist, but a reporter, making special efforts to seek out and record information about individual crewmen, shipboard practices, recreation and daily routine--from deck swabbing and standing watch to courts martial and dramatic performances by the Constellation Dramatic Society.
This good-humored gaze into the lives and fortunes of so many men stationed aboard a distinguished American warship makes Gilliland's edition of Willie Leonard's journal a significant work of maritime history.

Excerpt

A three-masted wooden warship floats in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, embraced by modern office towers and market buildings. This veteran of distant seas and other centuries claims the center, while throngs of visitors eat ice cream cones and shop for jewelry or T-shirts in the shadow of its spars. For much of the twentieth century, this ship was believed to be the 1797 frigate Constellation. in fact, however, when the 1797 frigate was dismantled at the Gosport Navy Yard near Norfolk, Virginia, work was beginning on the 1854 sloop, likely reusing some timber from the old ship in building this very new one. the misidentification was maintained by deliberate deception, apparently to enhance the likelihood of the ship’s being preserved as a historic relic. Naval records and the evidence of the extant ship’s hull, though, make it clear that the vessel floating today dates from 1854. This second uss Constellation was the last all-sail ship constructed for the U.S. Navy, and as such it represents the ultimate in American design and craft of the Age of Fighting Sail. Also the only Civil War–era ship still afloat, Baltimore’s Constellation is a twenty-gun sloop, 199 feet long and displacing 1,400 tons.

Constellation had been built in 1797, to claim this ship as their own. Thus it has been preserved. Baltimore’s claim is no less strong today, though the relationship has been revealed to be adoptive rather than one of birth.

Of the various assignments during a hundred-year career (1855–1955) with the U.S. Navy, the sloop Constellation’s most notable episode was the cruise from 1859 to 1861 as flagship of the African Squadron. the squadron’s specific mission was to interdict slave ships leaving the West African coast. During the Constellation’s time as flagship, the squadron experienced by far its greatest operational success, even as at home, under the stress of slavery, the national fabric frayed and split at the seams.

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