The official war of 1812 bicentennial website - Celebrating 200 years of peace
Historic Sites & Museums

National Museum of the United States Navy

The United States Navy Museum at the Washington Navy Yard has over 100 artifacts that tell the story of the navy's involvement in the War of 1812, known at the time by some as the "second war of American independence".

The war brought the navy into the public eye and started or defined the careers of such men as Stephen Decatur, David Farragut and Oliver Hazard Perry. Use the links below to navigate the war and its artifacts year by year.

Naval Historical Center 

Cat-O-Nine Tails
The most brutal part of a 19th century seaman's life was the harsh punishment that was inflicted for even the smallest breech of regulations. Flogging was the captain's favorite punishment for most enlisted men -- it was simple, direct, and public.

A ship's captain could order no more than 12 lashes for a single offense, unless he summoned a court-martial. However, clever commanders, Preble being among the most prominent, soon found a way to administer more than the routine 12 lashes by compounding several offenses and ordering the appropriate punishment.

Punishment hour was traditionally 1100. The shriek of the boatswain's pipe summoned all hands to the top gun deck to watch the spectacle. The guilty man, with a bare back, was tied to a hatch grating. One or more boatswain mates came forward with the cat-o-nine-tails, a whip with nine strandes, each knotted and weighted at the free end. To ensure a proper flogging, the mates would trade off after a few strokes. When the decreed number of lashes has been applied, the man was cut down, his back attended to, and he was returned to duty as soon as possible. His shipmates, who had been required to witness his punishment, returned to the day's routine.

Bone Model of USS Essex
The people of Essex county and Salem, Massachusetts presented the 36 gun frigate Essex to the US Navy in 1799. Within weeks she began active service in the Quasi War with France. Essex had two tours of duty in the Mediterranean against Barbary pirates between 1801 and 1805. Captain David Porter commanded her throughout the War of 1812. In a single cruise in summer of 1812, she captured ten prizes. Porterís journey to the Pacific where he decimated the English whaling fleet, brought Essex greater renown. She took fifteen prizes and forced the Royal Navy to send two frigates after her. Essexís epic engagement against Phoebe and Cherub ended with Porterís surrender when his losses became too great to continue resistance. The British retained Essex until auctioning her off in 1837. This exquisite bone model was made by a French prisoner of war during the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century.

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war of 1812 Celebrating 200 years of peace