Old Ironsides, Old Fashioned Leadership

By | August 19, 2019

[August 19, 2019]  A few years ago, I wrote an article about the U.S. Congressional leadership authorizing attacks on British vessels in 1776.  That strategic decision helped win the War of Independence.   Later, with the U.S. Naval Act of 1794, Congress authorized the building of six frigates; one of the six built was named the USS Constitution.  It earned its place in history during the War of 1812 when its crew defeated the British frigate HMS Guerrière in a furious engagement.

Witnesses claimed that the British shot merely bounced off the Constitution’s sides as if the ship were made of iron rather than wood.1  By the war’s end, “Old Ironsides” destroyed or captured seven more British ships.  These successes against the supposedly invincible Royal Navy provided a major boost in morale for the young American republic.

Good, old fashioned leadership made this happen.  While leadership is accomplished in a variety of ways and using many techniques, the basics of leadership never go out of style.  A combination of the U.S. Congress recognizing a need and funding the building of those original frigates, Joshua Humphrey’s ship design and construction, and the ship’s captain and crew, made for one of the most advanced warships on the seas at the time.

Most people are not aware that the United States had no Navy from 1785 after the War of Independence had been won to the Navy Act of 1794; nearly a decade.  During this time, U.S. maritime merchant ships were subjected to a series of attacks by the Barbary pirates.  The history of this period was fully addressed in Ian W. Toll’s book Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy and my review can be found here (see link).

The tremendous importance of the USS Constitution to the United States both in war and peace has never been overlooked.  Many times, the ship was destined for the scrapyard but public outcry saved it.  Today, amazingly, the ship is the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel still afloat and retains a crew of 60 U.S. Navy active-duty personnel.2,3,4 

The Battle of Guerriere was fought on this date, August 19, 1812, off the coast of Nova Scotia.  It was commanded by Isaac Hull, who had served as a lieutenant on the ship during the Tripolitan War.  In 1855, the Constitution retired from active military service, but the famous vessel continues to serve the United States and remains one of its most important historical treasures.


  1. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/old-ironsides-earns-its-name
  2.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Constitution
  3.  The USS Constitution was built in an era when a ship’s expected service life was 10 to 15 years.
  4.  As an interesting side note, when it was claimed the U.S. Navy was about to scrap the ship in 1830, Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote a poem about “Old Ironsides” in an effort to save the ship.  His poem can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Ironsides_(poem)
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

24 thoughts on “Old Ironsides, Old Fashioned Leadership

  1. Bill Sanders, Jr.

    Another well-written blog article by Gen. Satterfield and why I keep coming back to this leadership website.

    1. Willie Shrumburger

      You got that right. Plus the fact he makes the articles interesting to boot.

  2. Kenny Foster

    Like so many others here, I liked this article. Not sure why I liked it so much. Maybe it’s a feel good type of article that also made me THINK. That’s why I come to this website; to be forced to think (and a little entertainment helps).

  3. Bryan Lee

    In school, I was bored with history. It was about memorizing things, dates, people’s names, etc. Then after I started to get interested in college when I took a few history courses, the college professors started getting political. Those professors went off the deep end and started railing against anything conservative. Like they have some special moral standing.

    1. Tracey Brockman

      I had a similar experience that really turned me off to learning history. Great historically informative article. Thanks.

      1. Nick Lighthouse

        Me too. My history classes were PC. I dropped all humanities courses long ago. Glad I did.

      2. Albert Ayer

        So true and so sad what colleges/universities have come to these days. Pandering by the college/univ leadership and a lack of moral courage is the problem.

    2. Darryl Sitterly

      Bryan, so many of us were thinking the same thing. 👍

  4. Harry B. Donner

    An interesting tidbit about the US Navy being disbanded for almost 10 years. I never knew that.

    1. Wilson Cox

      Yes, and that has sparked a little inter-service rivalry between the USN and USMC on occasion. What is important here is that these services, all of them, have been around for many many years and it takes a continuous line of great leadership to make that happen. Don’t overlook this major feat.

      1. Mike Baker

        You go girl. Right comment; great leadership matters. Respect and trust of others makes this happen. Only in a society like the United States is this allowed to happen. However, I find that the new crop of politicians are not on track to keep this as an important value.

  5. Eva Easterbrook

    I completely enjoyed your article this morning. A little bit of history, a little storytelling, and great info on leadership.

  6. Eric Coda

    Multiple strategic decisions were made. I wonder if anyone was able to link them together or they just by happenstance came together?

    1. Army Captain

      A very thoughtful question and one that I myself was wondering about. Was this all part of an overall meta-strategy or was it something else? That we may never know but the fact it worked says a lot about those involved.

      1. Xerxes I

        Some excellent insight with your question. I think there was an overall strategy that allowed the US to move slowly along with a single objective of surviving in a tough world. If one of our snowflake college students had been in charge, the US would not exist today.

        1. Yusaf from Texas

          You are just too funny, Xerxes. Great name by the way.

  7. Drew Dill

    Good, old-fashioned article. Ha Ha. Great work here on a very informative article on a major historical event.

    1. Lynn Pitts

      You made me laugh. Thanks Drew. Keep those word twists coming our way.

      1. Mark Evans

        Good to see you on today, Lynn. I always appreciate you comments on Gen. Satterfield’s blog.

    2. Georgie B.

      That is why so many of us keep reading his posts. I have been one of the original readers and one who has posted many times here.

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