The Chaos of Battle: Roles and Images

The gun deck is a case in point of the organized chaos in a naval battle. Battles were won because the crew had rigidly defined roles that were drilled and practiced so often that instinct took over during battle. Teamwork was essential. On YouTube or by renting the movie, have your students watch a battle scene from Master and Commander for an example of the utter chaos that reigned during a battle. Please note – some of the scene may be too intense for your students, please use discretion. Discuss the evidence of teamwork and previous practice they saw during the battle scene.

Ready, Aim, Fire! Step by Step

Loading and firing a cannon was not an easy task. There were several steps that had to be followed in a specific order for it to be a success. Try out our online games, Load your Gun and Fire your Gun to understand the steps and try your hand at target practice.

Team Identity: Authentic Artifact

Each gun aboard Constitution was manned by the same gun team in practice and battle. The men developed a team identity and in fact named their cannon much as sports teams today are unified under a team name. Cannons were normally named after famous American generals or patriots and while many men would not have considered themselves religious, a bible was often strapped to the gun carriage and served as a kind of talisman or charm to ward off evil. An example of this survives in a bible removed from USS President found strapped to the “Montgomery” gun, named for General Richard Montgomery who fell during the attack on Quebec in 1775. After viewing the image, ask students if they can draw any parallels to their own life of times where they have bonded over a shared team identity. What is their team or school named for? What are the qualities that this name inspires them to emulate?

Gun Deck in Battle

Roaring and belching fire, Constitution's guns were like huge and dangerous dragons when the enemy drew near. Seamen fed their smoking mouths with gunpowder and iron. Thick ropes controlled them, yet with every shot they jerked and lurched, threatening to break loose. Constant training taught each member of the gun crew his job in handling these hot, heavy beasts. Yet nothing could really quite prepare him for the smoke, the noise, the blood and the deadly flying splinters of the gun deck in battle.

Creative Writing: Skits and Quotes

Using the list of primary source quotes, ask students to write a historic fiction short story or skit to perform for their classmates about battle. The quotes are divided between the three main phases of a battle: the anticipation of impending warfare, the chaos of battle, and the aftermath from the point of view of both sides. All the quotes are taken from letters, journal entries, reports, and other primary source documents from the War of 1812.