Wednesday, February 16, 2005

On this day in military 1804

On this day in military history….in 1804. Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, Jr. and a small group of men, retake and burn the USS Philadelphia in Tripoli harbor. In the 1700’s, the Barbary States of Northern Africa (Algiers, Tripoli, Tunis and Morocco) were semi-autonomous city-states that lived off of privateering, kidnapping and extortion in the Mediterranean. Both Great Britain and France more or less lived in peace with them thru military might and payment of bribes. Before the revolution, the US was protected by the British navy as a British colony. During the revolution, the US was again protected thru a treaty with France. However, after the revolution, the US was forced to fend for itself and the Barbary Pirates started extorting money from the US for safe passage of its ships thru the Mediterranean. At one point, the amount that the US was paying to the pirates was 20% of the US government annual revenues.

President Thomas Jefferson, when he was the ambassador to France, had always counseled against the payment of bribes/ransom since it would just encourage more attacks (where have we heard that before). When he became president, he refused to pay any more ransom to the Barbary Pirates and the pasha of Tripoli, followed by the rest of the Barbary Pirate states, declared war on the US by chopping down the flag of the US consulate in Tripoli and throwing the US consul in jail. President Jefferson sent the US Navy to the Mediterranean to protect US shipping. The US Navy set up and maintained a blockade of the Barbary ports. In October of 1803, the USS Philadelphia ran aground and was forced to surrender to the city-state of Tripoli. In order to keep the Barbary pirates from using the ship, under the cover of night, Lt. Stephen Decatur, Jr. and a small hand full of men, sailed the USS Intrepid into Tripoli harbor and set the USS Philadelphia on fire.

Although the US Navy kept the blockade up and fought a series of battles with the Barbary Pirates in Tripoli harbor, the turning point came when a force of US Marines and Arab mercenaries under the command of Lt. Presley O’Bannon and the former consul to Tunis, William Eaton traveled 600 miles across the Libyan desert to attack and capture the Tripolian city of Derna in present day Libya. When the pasha of Tripoli saw that he now had to worry about an overland attack as well as naval forces blockading his harbors, he signed a peace treaty in June 1805 to end the war.

Although the US Navy did most of the “heavy-lifting” during the Barbary Pirates War, the US Marine Corps came away with the most notoriety. Two important Marine Corps symbols came from the Barbary Pirates War. The first is the phrase “….from the shores of Tripoli” in the second line of the Marine Corps Hymn which refers to the US Marines attack on the city of Derna during the Barbary Pirates War. The second is the Mameluke Sword which was presented to Lt. O’Bannon by the rightful ruler of Tripoli, Hamet Karamanli. This type of sword that Marine officers carry today commemorates the US Marine Corps service during the Barbary Pirates War.


Post a Comment

<< Home