Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Marines at Tripoli

The Marines at Tripoli

"To the Shores of Tripoli" was the motto of the US Marine Corps (before "Semper Fi") and is importalized in the Marine Corps hymn, and the Leathernecks certainly distinguished themselves at Tripoli on many occassions.

For the most part however, the stories, the articles, the books and especially the films "To the Shores of Tripoli" are not about Tripoli at all, but the Battle of Derne. (1)

The Marines were a major contingent on all of the ships of the Mediterranean Squadron, including 50 on the 450 man USS Consitution, and smaller numbers on the schooners USS Nautilus and USS Enterprise.

The actions of the Marines in combat are mentioned especially when the Enterprise engaged a pirate ship for the first time, and in the capture of the Ketch that became the prize Intrepid.

There were most certainly at least 50 Marines aboard the captured frigate USS Philadelphia, and held in the dungeons of the old castle fort at Tripoli, and thus the target of most of the Ameican military efforts to free them.

All of the Marines in the Squadron saw action in the two major offensive engagments against the enemey fleet at Tripoli Harbor in August, 1804, when Lt. Stephen Decatur and Lt. Richard Somers each led flotilas of gunships on each flank against the enemy fleet.

It was during those engagements that Reuben James stepped in to take the sword meant for Lt. Decatur, and earned the name of the ship USS Reuben James, which was the first American vessell sunk during World War II (see: Woody Gunthre song).

While the Constitution (Old Ironsides) is still the oldest, active US Naval vessell still afloat, other ships have been named after the USS Nautilus, USS Enterprise, USS Intrepid, USS Decatur, USS Wadsworth, USS Preble and USS Somers.

It should also be noted that the US Marines official dress sword, the Marmaluke sword, originated in the First Barbary Pirate War.

With Marines aboard each of the boats involved in the Battles of Tripoli, it is likely that Marines were also volunteers in the two special operations that utilized the ketch Intrepid, Decatur's skuttling of the Philadelphia, and Somers' fatal mission of September 4, 1804.

Although the names of the men of the Intrepid are known, it does not appear that they have been checked against the lists of Marines aboard the Constitution or the Nautilus, from where they came, and the official denial by the Marines today, declining any interest in the repatration of the men of the Inrepid, rings hollow.

Whether they were Marines or not, the men of the Intrepid were engaged in a mission to defeat the enemy that held Marines prisoners in their dungeons, reason enough to want to assist in their repatriation.

The men of the Intrepid didn't hesitate to volunteer for what they knew was a suicide mission, but today, the Marines should be ashamed of their denial of any interest in the return of the remains of these men who died "on the Shores of Tripoli" trying to resuce POW marines.

As mentioned in the DIA newsletter article, LTC Robert "Kyle" Carnahan "....continued to research the history of the graves and has requested support from the Marine Corps and Navy. The Marine Corps provided a report from 1955 that concluded the remains were not of Marines, though several Marines died during the First Barbary War."

The 1955 report should be made public and accessable, and should be reevaluated, considering the amount of new information available.

I would venture that the 1955 USMC report did not include the names of the men of the Intrepid, and those names were not checked against USMC records of the ships they came from - the Constitution and the Nautilus.

Regardless, the USMC should make the repatriation of the men of the Intrepid a priority interest, and not shuffl these men under the rug.

(1) As with the movie "Shores of Tripoli" (Staring Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara), the story is of the Battle of Derne.

Other examples:

Properly called The Battle of Derne:

The real Battle of Tripoli:

Painting of Battle of Tripoli (Maine Historical Society)

Caption for the painting of Battle of Tripoli above:

This hand-colored print shows the Constitution at the right foreground, and thirteen other American gunboats in battle with boats defending Tripoli, the walled city in the background.

The text below the print reads: "The attack made on Tripoli on the 3d. August 1804 by the American Squadron under Comodore (sic) Edward Preble to whom this Plate is respectfully dedicated by his Obedient Servant John B. Guerrazzi
1. Constitution, Frigate 2. Sirion 3. Arges 4. Enterprise 5. Notlas 6. Vixon"

Henry Wadsworth, uncle of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was killed in the Battle of Tripoli. ]

Bill Kelly can be reached at

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