America's Oldest POWMP case on record.
September 4, 1804 - September 19, 2008 -
It's Time To Repatriate the Men of the Intrepid.
2008 POW/MIA RECOGNITION DAY AND POSTER:
This year's POW/MIA Recognition Day is scheduled for Sept. 19, the third Friday of the month. This is the traditional day of the month for that observance each year. CLICK HERE for more information about the event. Images of the poster commemorating this event may be downloaded from this web site for viewing or printing.
CLICK HERE to download the poster image. Due to the overwhelming positive response and demand for additional printed copies of the poster, the supply has now been exhausted and they are no longer available, however, the downloaded version may suffice for use on fliers, announcements and advertisements for community events.
The United States' War with Tripoli (1801-05) and the War on Terrorism (2001-)
By Michael J. Crawford , Head Early History Branch
Most of the analogies that I have seen drawn in the media between the Barbary Wars of 200 years ago and the current war on terrorism strike me as not valid.
Today's enemy uses random violence, and the fear of random violence, as means to protest against and influence American foreign policy. The world's nations, in general, condemn the terrorists' means as contrary to the rules of civilized behavior and outside the bounds of international law. Although the terrorists' goals are political-principally to remove U.S. influence from Moslem countries-they justify their extreme measures on religious grounds, a perversion of the Mohammedan jihad, the struggle to establish the rule of the Koran.
Two hundred years ago, the countries of the Barbary Coast, the northwest coast of Africa on the Mediterranean Sea, demanded tribute from other nations in return for safe use of the sea by their ships. The Barbary Powers, Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, declared war on nations that refused to sign treaties meeting their tribute demands. The Barbary Powers sent out ships to capture the seagoing commerce of their enemies and held their crews for ransom or enslaved them. The Barbary corsairs, the sailors that the Barbary Powers dispatched to prey on enemy commerce, were neither terrorists nor pirates. They were commissioned privateers. Even the United States Constitution recognizes the legitimate use of privateering in warfare, providing Congress the authority to issue letters of marque and reprisal.
The goals of the Barbary Powers were solely mercenary. They sought to extort tribute, not to influence foreign policy. When Tripoli declared war on the United States in 1801 it was because the United States refused to pay the bashaw tribute, as they had been paying Tunis and Algiers. The Tripolitan War was not a Moslem holy war.
Legitimate analogies can be drawn between the war with Tripoli of 1801 to 1805 and the war on terrorism. These relate not to the causes of the wars, but to the logistical and diplomatic requirements for fighting them.
Today, the United States needs the cooperation of foreign countries and allies in order to have bases outside Afghanistan from which to launch attacks, and to which to return afterwards, as well as for supply depots. Two hundred years ago, the United States needed logistical bases so that their armed forces could operate in the Mediterranean, thousands of miles from home. Use of British-held Gibraltar as a logistical base was essential to U.S. operations during the Barbary Wars. The loan of shallow-draft vessels from the Kingdom of Sicily enabled the U.S. Navy to operate in shallow waters to enforce a blockade of Tripolitan ports.
In Afghanistan, the United States tried to influence the ruling Taliban to accede to political demands by supporting rival political movements that want to overthrow the Taliban. During the Tripolitan War, American leaders supported the ruling Bashaw's brother, a rival for the throne, in an attempt to persuade the Bashaw to negotiate.
During the War with Tripoli, the United States used the show of force and diplomacy to dissuade the other Barbary Powers from also declaring war against the United States. Today, the United States works to dissuade other Moslem countries from coming to the support of the Taliban regime.
In short, the similarities between the Tripolitan War and the war on terrorism have little to do with the religion of the enemy, and everything to do with the problems of waging a campaign in a forbidding environment far from the United States' own borders.
OF THE FRIGATE PHILADELPHIA,
To the honorable the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled:
The people of this country are justly proud of the achievements of their army and their navy. Those achievements are not alone gratifying to their pride, but are regarded as adding strength to their national institutions. Every inducement to high and noble daring is held out to the chivalry of the country, and honors mingled with emoluments form the catalogue of rewards.
From the commencement of our present national government, systematic efforts were made to give consistency and shape to these bounties. In 1799, but especially on the 23d April, 1800, provisions were made in a definite form concerning captures by our national vessels. In the latter act, “for the better government of the navy,” Congress combined into one the previous provisions, and made them the expression of the national policy concerning that branch of the public service. One remarkable provision is contained in the 5th section, wherein it is provided "that the proceeds of all ships and vessels, and the goods taken on board of them, which shall be adjudged good prize, shall, when of equal or superior force to the vessel or vessels making the capture, be the sole property of the captors; and when of inferior force, shall be divided equally between the United States and the officers and men making the capture."
This law is still in force, and was so during the war with Tripoli. During its continuance two vessels were captured from the Emperor of Morocco, which, although afterwards restored to him, were by act of Congress, approved the 19th March, 1804, paid for to the captors.
Under its influence all of the vessels captured from the British navy during the war of 1812, both on the ocean and on the lakes, whether brought into port, destroyed, or recaptured, were paid for. On the lakes, as Perry and McDonough captured superior fleets, those fleets became the sole property of the captors, and were therefore purchased of them. The Frolic, although immediately recaptured, was paid for. Even the Hermes frigate, which formed part of the attacking force at Fort Bowyer, and was destroyed by the guns of the fort, was paid for, and the garrison shared the prize money. All the enemy's vessels which were so injured in combat as to render their destruction necessary, formed no exception.
There is one exception. It is that which forms one of the brightest ornaments of our naval escutcheon- the capture and destruction of the frigate Philadelphia, in the harbor of Tripoli!
It is regarded by some at the present day as a stale claim. No one will so consider it who knows the facts. By the letter of the Hon. Mr. Tazewell it appears that Com. Decatur was urging it as early as 1806, and that he was his counsel in the case. It was presented to Congress as far back as 1824, and has been pressed ever since. One committee after another have sifted its merits, and reported in its favor; while other claims, similar in every respect, have been time after time cheerfully paid, this has failed, until the gallant Decatur, and nearly all his brave associates in that capture, are no more.
But it is said not to have been a capture, but simply a destruction of an enemy’s vessel. The orders of Com. Preble show why it was destroyed. It was because he ordered it, peremptorily. The statement of the pilot Catalano shows the frigate might have been taken out safely from the harbor of Tripoli. It was then “captured,” and by superior orders destroyed.
But does not the rule apply in this case which governed in the captures on the lakes, viz: a superior captured by an inferior? It surely does. There was no comparison between the two vessels or their crews. Instead, therefore, of giving a fixed sum as a bounty, should not Congress feel itself bound to estimate the value of the frigate and its armament when captured, and appropriate the full amount to the captors and their heirs, as a debt due them under an existing law?
For the purpose of bringing this long delayed claim as fairly as possible before Congress, a compilation of a part of the evidence in the case, with the professional opinions of legal gentlemen, and reports of committees of high standing in the halls of Congress, is now submitted to them; and the prayer is respectfully renewed, that justice be extended in this case by the same noble impulses which have so often, in similar instances, guided Congressional action.
On behalf of the captors and their legal representatives.
CHARLES DE SELDING. Washington, April, 1850.
Statement of the circumstances attending the destruction of the frigate Philadelphia, with the names of the officers and the number of men employed on the occasion, as laid before the President by the Secretary of the Navy, November 13, 1804.
On the 31st January, 1804, Commodore Preble, lying with his squadron in the harbor of Syracuse, gave orders to Lieutenant Charles Stewart, commanding the brig Syren, of 16 guns, and to Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, jr., commanding the ketch Intrepid, of 4 guns and 75 men, to proceed to Tripoli, and to destroy the frigate Philadelphia of 44 guns, then lying in the harbor of Tripoli. Lieutenant Decatur had orders to enter the harbor in the night, board and set fire to the Philadelphia; and Lieut. Stewart was ordered to take the best possible position, without the harbor, to cover the retreat.
Under these orders, they proceeded immediately to the coast of Tripoli; but, owing to the very heavy gales of wind that usually prevail there in the winter season, the enterprise could not be undertaken until the 16th of February, when Lieutenant Stewart, having taken the best possible position to effect the object of his instructions, Lieutenant Decatur, at seven o’clock in the night, entered the harbor of Tripoli, boarded, and took possession of the Philadelphia.
This frigate, at the time she was boarded, had all her guns mounted and charged, and was lying within half gun shot of the Bashaw’s castle, and of his principal battery. Two Tripolitan cruisers were lying within two cables length on the starboard quarter, and several gun boats within half gun-shot on the starboard bow, and all the batteries on shore were opened upon the assailants. About twenty men in the Philadelphia were killed, a large boat full got off, and one man was made prisoner.
After having gained possession of the frigate, Lieut. Decatur set fire to her store rooms, gun room, cock pit, and birth deck; and with a firmness highly honorable to him, his officers and men, they remained on board until the flames had issued from the ports of the gun deck and the hatchways of the spar deck, and they continued in the ketch, along side the frigate, until the fire had communicated to her rigging and tops.
Lieutenant Decatur did not lose a man, and had but one slightly wounded.
The following is a list of the officers, and the number of men employed in the destruction of the Philadelphia:
Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, jr. James Lawrence,
Lieutenants. Jonathan Thorn, Lewis Heermann, Surgeon.
Ralph Izard, John Rowe, Charles Morris, Alexander Laws, Midshipman. John Davis, Thomas McDonough, Thomas Oakley Anderson, Mr. ________ Salvadore, Pilot and sixty-two men.
Lieut. Decatur has stated that all his officers and men behaved with the greatest coolness and intrepidity; and Commodore Preble has informed me that Lieutenant Stewart’s conduct was judicious and meritorious.
Clerk’s Office, House of Rep. United States, March 11th, 1828.
I certify that the above is correctly copied from the original, now on file in this office, which was communicated to the House of Representatives by the President of the United States, on the 15th November, 1804.
M. ST. CLAIR CLARKE, Clerk of the House of Representatives.
The Committee of Naval Affairs, to whom was referred the memorial of Susan Decatur, praying for compensation to the officers and crew of the United States ketch, Intrepid, for the capture of the frigate Philadelphia, Report:
That the claim is founded on the re-capture of the Philadelphia frigate in the harbor of Tripoli, on the night of the 16th of February, 1804. The circumstances attending that gallant achievement, are so well known, that the committee will content themselves with a very brief recapitulation of them. Soon after the war with Tripoli had commenced, a small squadron under Commodore Preble was despatched to the Mediterranean, for the purpose of carrying on hostilities. The United States’ frigate Philadelphia, of forty-four guns, commanded by Commodore Bainbridge, not long after the arrival of the squadron on the Barbary coast, was unfortunately stranded on rocks, and in that situation, resistance being impossible, she was captured by the enemy, and the whole of the officers and crew were made prisoners and thrown into a dungeon. The frigate was got off, without material damage, and immediately taken into the Tripolitan service, and being speedily manned and ready for sea, was moored in the harbor of Tripoli, “within pistol shot of the whole of the Tri-
politan marine, mounting altogether upwards of one hundred pieces of heavy cannon, and within the immediate protection of formidable land batteries, consisting of one hundred and fifteen pieces of heavy artillery.” It is stated, that besides this force there were encamped at the time, “in the city and its vicinity, twenty thousand troops,” and that “upwards of one thousand seamen were attached to the fleet in the harbor.” At this period the force under Commodore Preble was, by the loss of the Philadelphia, so much reduced as to deprive him of the means of prosecuting hostilities on a scale at all commensurate with the magnitude of the service to be performed - the release of the American captives, and the restoration of an honorable peace. In this state of affairs, Stephen Decatur, then a Lieutenant commanding the United States’ schooner Enterprise of fourteen guns and seventy men, conceived the idea of entering the harbor of Tripoli in the night, and of boarding and re-capturing the Philadelphia.
He immediately communicated the daring scheme to his commander, and volunteered his services to execute it. After due deliberation on the proposal, Commodore Preble approved of the plan, and accepted the offer of Decatur’s services. Fully aware, however, of the extreme hazard of such an undertaking, and that its success would entirely depend on the secrecy, celerity, and gallantry of its execution; and conceiving that any attempt to bring out the frigate, if captured, must be attended with extraordinary danger to the captors and expose the vessel to the risk of being retaken; and believing, moreover, that the destruction of the Philadelphia would sufficiently restore the superiority of his own fleet, Commodore Preble gave peremptory orders to Lieutenant Decatur not to attempt to bring the frigate out of the harbor, but, “in case of success, to be sure to set fire to the gun-room, births, cock-pit, store rooms forward, births on the birth-deck,” and then, after “blowing out her bottom,” to abandon her. In the execution of these orders, Lieutenant Decatur manned a small ketch of about sixty tons, (which he had just before taken from the Turks,) with seventy officers and men, all volunteers, and sailed from Syracuse, where the American squadron then lay, on the 3rd of February, 1804. After several days of very tempestuous weather, he arrived off Tripoli, on the 16th of the same month, and immediately proceeding into the harbor, ran up alongside of the Philadelphia, about ten o’clock at night, boarded, and carried her in the most gallant style, after a short, but severe conflict on the decks of the frigate, in which upwards of twenty Turks were killed on the spot, and the rest driven below, or overboard. At this period, and while everything around was involved in darkness, Lieutenant Decatur found himself in quiet possession of his prize; and it is the opinion of the pilot who conducted the ketch into the harbor, as well as of several naval officers who were acquainted with all the circumstances, and the committee are assured, it was the decided opinion of Decatur himself, that
he could have brought the Philadelphia out of the harbor in safety. The peremptory orders, however, under which he was acting, precluded the attempt, and having deliberately set fire to the vessel, in the manner prescribed by his commander, and having remained on board “until the fire had communicated to the rigging and the tops,” he finally abandoned her; bringing off the whole of his crew, under a heavy fire from the batteries and the shipping, without the loss of a single man. It is the belief of the committee, that the gallantry of this achievement has very seldom been equalled, and never surpassed in the naval history of the world. In the language of Commodore Preble, “its merit can hardly be sufficiently estimated; it is above all praise.”
Without dwelling on the circumstances which, in their estimation, distinguish this achievement from almost all others, the committee would remark, that when considered in its effects, in inspiring the Turk with a dread of American enterprise and valor, (which neither time nor space have been able to remove,) in elevating the American naval character in the estimation of foreign nations, and in inspiring that confidence in ourselves so essential to success; and which, perhaps, has contributed as much as any other cause to our victories on the ocean and the lakes; the destruction of the Philadelphia cannot fail to be regarded as an event of the highest importance to the government and people of the United States. It was so considered when it occurred, and has never ceased to be so regarded by our naval officers, by the government, and by the country at large; and, perhaps, it is not going too far to assert, that it is to the profound impression produced by that and other exploits, during the Tripolitan war, that this nation is indebted for a greater exemption from depredations, on the part of Turkish cruisers, than has been experienced by any other; and that, when difficulties have occurred, they have been adjusted with unexampled celerity, and at an expense of blood and treasure altogether insignificant, when compared with that to which the greatest maritime powers of Europe have been subjected, under similar circumstances. Without dwelling longer on the merit of the exploit, the committee will come directly to the inquiry whether any and what pecuniary reward ought to be bestowed on the captors of the Philadelphia, according to the practice of our own government, in similar cases? At the time of the capture of the Philadelphia the navy was young, and it was the opinion of many, even of our wisest statesmen, that it was not the true policy of the United States to strengthen this arm of the national defence. The system which has since been introduced, and which seems now to unite all suffrages in its favor, had not yet been established, and appropriate rewards for distinguished services had not been provided. Congress, therefore, though appreciating very highly the valor and good conduct of Decatur and his gallant associates, contented themselves with bestowing mere honorary rewards, unless it can be considered as an excep-
tion to the remark, that they voted two months’ pay to the officers and men; which, it is understood, the former unanimously declined to receive. When, at a later period, however, the people of the United States came to feel and acknowledge the importance of a navy to the national defence - when our officers and men were every day covering themselves and their country with glory, a better and more liberal spirit sprung up, and was cherished, towards this long neglected department of the public service. Prior to the capture of the Guerriere by the Constitution, we believe, no case had occurred in which pecuniary reward, for a naval victory, had been paid out of the public treasury. A share in the thing captured was all that the laws or usages of the country allowed; and, if that perished in the conflict, the victors went without their reward. When, however, the navy had fought itself into favor, and our naval heroes came to be regarded with the gratitude and affection which could no longer be withheld, the rule was adopted of paying, out of the public purse, for the vessels destroyed in battle; and the principle is now settled, from the uniform practice of the government, for fourteen years, that a reasonable compensation is to be allowed for vessels sunk in battle, or necessarily destroyed in consequence of injuries received in the conflict. The committee beg leave to annex to this report a list of the vessels so destroyed, with the compensation allowed for each. Conceiving, therefore, that it is the established policy and settled practice of the government, to allow compensation in all such cases, (although they do not come within the provisions of the prize acts,) the question now presents itself, whether the same liberal principle ought not to be extended to the case of the Philadelphia, and whether compensation is not as justly due to the captors of that vessel as to the captors of the Guerriere and the Java, or of the gun-boat destroyed on Lake Ontario? On this point your committee are clearly and unanimously of opinion, that both justice and policy concur in support of the claim. Where all the facts are notorious, and the merit of the claimants is confessedly of the highest order, the government ought not to avail itself of the mere lapse of time, nor can the committee conceive any sound reason why a rule, founded on justice and enlarged principles of public policy, should not be extended to those who have achieved signal victories, before as well as after its adoption. They have, therefore, no hesitation in recommending that reasonable compensation be now granted to the captors of the Philadelphia.
Two other questions still remain to be considered. The first relates to the amount which ought to be allowed, and the second to the proper distribution of that amount. On the first point, the precedents have varied from the grant of the full value of the vessel captured and destroyed, down to a half, and even a fourth part of such value. An examination of the annexed list will afford full information on this point.
The petitioner in this case, strongly relies on the ground, that as the vessel could have been brought out of the harbor of Tripoli, and was destroyed only in obedience to the orders of Commodore Preble, the captors ought to be remunerated for their loss. And further, that the great disparity of force, making this a case of even higher merit than that of any other frigate ever captured by the American Navy, strengthens the claim to a liberal allowance. Viewing the subject in all its bearings, the committee have come to the conclusion to recommend the grant of one hundred thousand dollars, as a reasonable sum to be now paid to the captors of the Philadelphia, being, at the lowest estimate, about one half of the value of the frigate at the time of her capture.
David Porter (naval officer)
Born at Boston, Massachusetts, Porter served in the Quasi-War with France first as midshipman on board USS Constellation, participating in the capture of L’Insurgente 9 February 1799; secondly, as 1st lieutenant of Experiment and later in command of USS Amphitheatre. During the Barbary Wars (1801–07) Porter was 1st lieutenant of Enterprise, New York and Philadelphia and was taken prisoner when Philadelphia ran aground in Tripoli harbor 31 October 1803. After his release 3 June 1805 he remained in the Mediterranean as acting captain of Constitution and later captain of Enterprise.
He was in charge of the naval forces at New Orleans 1808–10. As commander of Essex in the War of 1812, Captain Porter achieved fame by capturing the first British warship of the conflict, Alert, 13 August 1812 as well as several merchantmen. In 1813 he sailed Essex around Cape Horn and cruised in the Pacific warring on British whalers. On 28 March 1814 Porter was forced to surrender off Valparaiso after an engagement with the frigate HMS Phoebe and the Sloop Cherub, when his ship became too disabled to offer any resistance.
From 1815 to 1822 he was a member of the Board of Navy Commissioners but gave up this post to command the expedition for suppressing piracy in the West Indies 1823–25. While in the West Indies suppressing piracy, Porter invaded the town of Fajardo, Puerto Rico (a Spanish colony) to avenge the jailing of an officer from his fleet. The U.S. government did not sanction Porter's act, and he was court-martialed upon his return to the U.S. Porter resigned and in 1826 entered the Mexican navy as its commander-in-chief 1826–29. He died on 3 March 1843 while U.S. Minister to Turkey. He was buried in the cemetery of the Philadelphia Naval Asylum, and then in 1845 reburied in The Woodlands Cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
He was the father of Admiral David Dixon Porter (1813-1891) and the adopted father of Admiral David Farragut (1801-1870), two of the leading naval officers of the American Civil War, and father of William D. Porter.
See USS Porter for ships named in their honor.