Home  »  Every Day in the Year A Poetical Epitome of the World’s History  »  The Constitution’s Last Fight

James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

February 20

The Constitution’s Last Fight

By James Jeffrey Roche (1847–1908)

  • The Constitution (Old Ironsides) was built in Boston in 1797. In her last fight, Feb. 20, 1815, she captured the Cyane and the Levant; this was during the war with England in 1812.

  • A YANKEE ship and a Yankee crew—

    Constitution, where ye bound for?

    Wherever, my lad, there’s fight to be had

    Acrost the Western ocean.

    Our captain was married in Boston town

    And sailed next day to sea;

    For all must go when the State says so;

    Blow high, blow low, sailed we.

    “Now, what shall I bring for a bridal gift

    When my home-bound pennant flies?

    The rarest that be on land or sea

    It shall be my lady’s prize.”

    “There’s never a prize on sea or land

    Could bring such joy to me

    As my true love sound and homeward bound

    With a king’s ship under his lee.”

    The Western ocean is wide and deep,

    And wild its tempests blow,

    But bravely rides “Old Ironsides,”

    A-cruising to and fro.

    We cruised to the east and we cruised to north,

    And southing far went we,

    And at last off Cape de Verd we raised

    Two frigates sailing free.

    Oh, God made man, and man made ships,

    But God makes very few

    Like him who sailed our ship that day,

    And fought her, one to two.

    He gained the weather-gage of both,

    He held them both a-lee;

    And gun for gun, till set of sun,

    He spoke them fair and free;

    Till the night-fog fell on spar and sail,

    And ship, and sea, and shore,

    And our only aim was the bursting flame

    And the hidden cannon’s roar.

    Then a long rift in the mist showed up

    The stout Cyane, close-hauled

    To swing in our wake and our quarter rake,

    And a boasting Briton bawled:

    “Starboard and larboard, we’ve got him fast

    Where his heels won’t take him through;

    Let him luff or wear, he’ll find us there,—

    Ho, Yankee, which will you do?”

    We did not luff and we did not wear,

    But braced our topsails back,

    Till the sternway drew us fair and true

    Broadsides athwart her track.

    Athwart her track and across her bows

    We raked her fore and aft,

    And out of the fight and into the night

    Drifted the beaten craft.

    The slow Levant came up too late;

    No need had we to stir;

    Her decks we swept with fire, and kept

    The flies from troubling her.

    We raked her again, and her flag came down,—

    The haughtiest flag that floats,—

    And the lime-juice dogs lay there like logs,

    With never a bark in their throats.

    With never a bark and never a bite,

    But only an oath to break,

    As we squared away for Praya Bay

    With our prizes in our wake.

    Parole they gave and parole they broke,

    What matters the cowardly cheat,

    If the captain’s bride was satisfied

    With the one prize laid at her feet?

    A Yankee ship and a Yankee crew—

    Constitution, where ye bound for?

    Wherever the British prizes be,

    Though it’s one to two, or one to three,—

    “Old Ironsides” means victory,

    Acrost the Western ocean.