The Age of Sail was a period from the late 16th century to the mid 19th century where ships were used for trade, travel – and fighting in wars. Though it took some time to build the U.S. Navy, eventually it became a dominant force. The U.S. Navy’s first warship was the USS Constitution, launched on October 21, 1797. (This is the world’s largest warship.)
A small number of sea battles between the great European nations wrote military history at the start of the 19th century. First among these was the Battle of Trafalgar on Oct. 21, 1805, which pitted the British Navy led by Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronte against a force of combined French and Spanish fleets. Nelson died in the battle, but it ended Napoleon’s chances of invading England.
During the Revolutionary War, the British Navy effectively blocked most sea traffic to what would become the United States. Despite help from the French, the colonies had no navy to speak of with which to challenge the British.
The U.S. did not have one until Oct. 21, 1797, when the USS Constitution was launched. The Constitution’s first actions were against several frigates during the War of 1812. The ship was hit by several canon balls, none of which penetrated its oak hull. It was given the name “Old Ironsides.” (These are the worst disasters in naval history.)
In addition to the USS Constitution, a number of U.S. Navy ships have become famous because of their participation in sea engagements over the years.
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