Tag Archives: USS Constitution

When Old Ironsides shelled Da Nang


It was in the spring of 1845, according to the USS Constitution Museum, at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Massachusetts, where Old Ironsides is docked nearby, still afloat after more than 200 years.

Captain John “Mad Jack” Percival was then in charge of the pride of the American Revolution’s world cruise and he ordered the shelling that redistributed some of the tile on the roofs of old Da Nang. Back then the French had dubbed it Tourane—or soup bowl—for the shape of its harbor on the South China Sea.

Percival was acting on behalf of what he thought were some unfairly detained French missionaries, though the Vietnamese emperor Thiệu Trị considered them disruptive. I alluded to the incident in my Vietnam war novel The Butterfly Rose, which focuses not only on our war there but the 19th century French invasion as well.

I didn’t give much space to the shelling, apparently done by the ship’s starboard Paixhans guns, the first naval guns designed to fire explosive shells, being preoccupied by my fictional French Foreign Legion assault on Hoi An a few miles south and almost 20 years in the future, during the American civil war.

So it’s good to see the museum website’s offering of the story and you should give it a read to appreciate just how long ago American involvement in that part of the world began—almost a hundred years older than the accepted 1950s version of most contemporary histories.

Our post WWII role as world policeman, it seems, is much older than we think.