National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
This engraving of a crucial event in the War of 1812 pictures not one hero but two: the USS Constitution—nicknamed “Old Ironsides” because of her strength in deflecting the cannonballs of the British—and the ship’s commander, Isaac Hull (1773–1843), in the pendant portrait below. First commissioned as a naval lieutenant in 1798, Hull was an experienced officer by the start of the war. Spotting the British frigate Guerrière in the North Atlantic on August 19, 1812, Hull maneuvered his ship alongside it and ordered every starboard gun to fire. His agile and fearless leadership paid off: the Guerrière was destroyed. It was the first American victory over a British frigate and the first good news of the war.
Hull’s portrait—along with a detailed narration of the battle and the majestic depiction of the Constitution—memorializes the significance of the navy in America’s “second” war for independence.