Skip to Content
Indiana University Bloomington


At Sea 1812

Blockade  --  Constitution v. Guerriere

The fall of 1812 saw the beginning of British efforts to establish a blockade along parts of the Atlantic coast of North America, from Charleston, South Carolina, to Spanish Florida. The only significant American military success in 1812 occurred at sea, though its significance was less strategic and more important for U.S. morale. U.S. frigate Constitution was cruising several hundred miles off the coast of Newfoundland, looking for British ships rumored to be in the vicinity of the Maritime Provinces, when it encountered the British frigate Guerrière. The two ships fought for three hours until an American broadside destroyed or disabled two of the Guerrière’ s masts. The Constitution, nicknamed “Old Ironsides”, escaped with minor damage, but the British ship was so badly damaged that after its captain and crew surrendered, U.S. Captain Isaac Hull had the ship burned rather than bring into port as a prize. Captain Hull, nephew of the disgraced William Hull, returned to Boston a hero. He was lauded for achieving the first major victory over Britain through expert leadership and artful seamanship at the head of a exceptional vessel (even if its sides were not made of iron).