The Constitution and the Guerriere
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Lesley Nelson-Burns

The Constitution was commissioned in 1797 and was in service until 1830. When she was ordered decommissioned and scrapped Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes of Boston (father of the Supreme Court Justice) led the fight to preserve her.

The tune tells the tale of a battle that took place some 600 miles East of Boston during the War of 1812 on August 19, 1812. According to legend it was during this battle the Constitution earned her nickname, Old Ironsides. An observer is said to have noted that British shot bounced off the ship and cried, "Huzzah! Her sides are made of iron!"

According to Burl Ives, after the battle Captain Hull of the Constitution refused to take the sword of Captain Dacres in surrender. Instead he took his hat and wore it in his next fight against the British. The two men later met in Rome as friends.

The tune also appears in Malcolm Laws Native American Balladry.

It oft-times has been told,
That the British seamen bold
Could flog the tars of France
So neat and handy, Oh!
But they never met their match,
Till the Yankees did them catch
Oh, the Yankee boys for fighting
Are the dandy, Oh!

The Guerriere, a frigate bold,
On the foaming ocean rolled
Commanded by proud Dacres,
The grandee, Oh!
With as choice a British crew
As ever a rammer drew
Could flog the Frenchmen
Two to one so handy, Oh!

When the frigate hove in view,
Says proud Dacres to his crew,
Come clear the ship for action
And be handy, Oh!
To the weather-gage, boys, get her.
And to make his men fight better
Gave them to drink, gunpowder
Mixed with brandy, Oh!

Then Dacres loudly cries,
Make this Yankee ship your prize,
You can in thirty minutes,
Neat and handy, Oh!
Twenty-five's enough, I'm sure,
And if you'll do it in a score
I'll treat you to a double
Share of brandy, Oh!

The British shot flew hot,
Which the Yankees answered not
Till they got within the distance
They called handy, Oh!
Now, says Hull unto his crew,
Let us see what we can do,
If we take this boasting Briton
We're the dandy, Oh!

The first broadside we poured
Carried her mainmast by the board
Which made this lofty frigate
Look abandoned, Oh!
Then Dacres shook his head,
And to his officers said,
Lord! I didn't think those Yankees
Were so handy, Oh!

Our secon told so well
That their fore and mizzen fell,
Which doused the royal ensign
Neat and handy, Oh!
By George! says he, We're done!
And they fired a lee gun
While the Yankees struck up
Yankee Doodle Dandy, Oh!

Then Dacres came on board
To deliver up his sword.
Tho'loth was he to part with it,
It was so handy, Oh!
Oh! Keep your sword, says Hull,
For it only makes you dull,
Cheer up, and let us have
A little brandy, Oh!

Now, fill your glasses full,
And we'll drink to Captain Hull
And so merrily we'll push
Around the brandy, Oh!
Johnny Bull may boast his fill,
Let the world say what it will,
The Yankee boys for fighting
Are the dandy, Oh!
Related Links
The Burl Ives Song Book
See Bibliography for full information.