Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Intrepid Infernal by T.G. Martin


The Intrepid Infernal

By Commander Tyrone G. Martin, U.S. Navy (Retired)

Navy History magazine, October, 2004
United States Naval Institute

The plan was for the bomb-laden Intrepid to be steered toward Tripoli harbor, for her crewmen to light the powder train and escape, and for the ship to explode, causing destruction of the enemy bashaw's terriroty. The plan backfired.

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Negotiations had proved futile. Commodore Samuel Barron and his four reinforcing frigates still had not appeared. The fighting season rapidly was ending. Commodore Edward Preble decided on a dramatic act to try to bring things to a head. In March, he had advised the Navy Secretary that he intended to use a lot of powder to blow up the bashaw of Tripoli's works; Now, he thought, was the time for it.

Newly promoted Master Commandant Ricard Somers was the forth senior officer in the American squadron and had begun the 1804 campaign to command the 12-gun schooner Nautilus.

A native of Somers Point, New Jersey, he had been in naval service since 1798, coincident with his longtime chums, Charles Stewart and Stephen Decatur, and with them initially had served on the United States, where he eventually became third lieutenant. It as early in this tour that Somers felt compelled to duel six of his fellow midshipmen.

Wounded in the arm in the first encounter and in the thigh in the second, Somers, seated and braced by Decatur, succeeded in wounding his third opponent. At that point, the remaining three declared honor satisfied and the affair ended. His only other service prior to commanding the Nautilus had been duty in the first American Mediterranean squadron on board the small frigate Boston. During this period, he saw Tripoli for the first time, but accomplished little else as his quixotic captain, Daniel McNeil, never reported to Commodore Morris for duty. McNeil was cashiered on the ship's return to the United States. Decatur, Stewart, and Somers were Preble's principal subordinates in the current squadron.

The little Intrepid, the 60-foot onetime transport for Napoleon's Egyptian expedition and the former Tripolitan Mastico, after lying largely inert in Syracuse since her February escapade to destroy the Philadelphia, joined the squadron off Tripoli on 22 August. She was about to perform her last service to her country of capture. On 29 August 1804, Preble ordered his carpenters to make her over into an "infernal," a gigantic floating bomb.

First, they planked in the forward portion of the hold, making it a magazine. Into it was placed about five tons (100 barrels) of black powder in bulk. Atop this were laid 100 13-inch mortar shells and 50 9-inch shells, as well as an assortment of kentledge (iron ballast blocks), shot, and anything that would make a deadly missile. A wooden trough was run after to another compartment filled with combustibles. A powder train was laid in the trough, connecting the combustibles to two 15-minute fuses run through musket barrels mounted in the magazine bulkhead and into the powder. The Intrepid was to be run in amongst the bashaw's fleet, or even against the castle wall, the combustible room having been lighted to give her the appearance of a fire ship. The powder train would carry the fire along to the magazine which, if the timing was right, would go off as planned, causing much destruction in its vicinity. A small crew would be necessary to guide her in under the cover of darkness until she was headed fair for her target, when the combustibles would be lighted and the helm lashed, and the crew would depart in attending launches.

Preparations in the Intrepid were completed by 1 September. Somers claimed her command as his chance for glory. Commodore Preble granted him his wish, displacing Acting Lieutenant Joseph Israel, who had overseen the ship's preparation, for the duration of the operation.

Newly promoted Acting Lieutenant Henry Wadsworth of the Constitution was the third officer, while four seamen from the Nautilus (Seaman James Harris, William Keith, James Simms, and Thoams Tompline) and six from the Constitution (Seamen William Harrison, Hugh McCormick, and Jacob Williams; Ordinary Seamen Robert Clark, isassc W. Downs, and Peter Penner) completed her compliment. All were volunteers. The officers vowed that the only way the Tripolitans would get the powder was in a blast.

Everything seemed right that evening for the operation. Preble stood the squadron, less the Intrepid, in toward Tripoli during the afternoon. As the sun set, they came to anchor about two miles off the town, and the Tripolitan warships could just be made out taking up their usual nighttime stations between the mole and the castle. At 2230, Soemrs and his volunteers manned the Intrepid, and a half hour later slipped her cable and bore down on the western entrance on a fair east-southeast wind. They were within about 400 yards of the entrance when the wind suddenly shifted south, taking the Intrepid all aback and making further progress impossible. Somers turned back, and at 0200 rejoined the squadron. Nobody in the port seemed to have been the wiser.

The next dawning, as was their custom, the Tripolitan gunboats left their defensive line deep in the harbor and began moving as if to take up their usual daytime positions inside the rocks adjacent to the western entrance. Soon, however, they moved to new positions under the protection of the English fort to the east of the town and to windward of the normal operations area of the Americans.

Preble appreciated the move, seeing that it gave the pirates the weather gauge (wind advantage) in the event the Americans deployed as they had previously. The commodore adjusted his plan accordingly, sending his gunboats to duel with their opposite numbers while the frigate and ketches worked over the castle and fortifications.

It required the rest of the morning and a part of the afternoon for the brigs and schooners to tow their gunboats to positions from which they could descend upon the Tripolitan flotilla at the eastern end of the harbor. At 1430, the flagship signaled the attack and the two divisions went forward, one paying particular attention to the gunboats and the other to the English fort and a new fortification slightly to its west, nicknamed by some of the "American fort." For the next two hours, the sides flailed away at one another without material result.

To the west, Preble had sent in the bomb ketches to bombard the city. Taking position more than a mile off, the two craft had their best day since the attack of 7 August.

Out of 41 shells fired, 33 exploded in the town. Although both units suffered rigging damage from the Tripolitan return fire, it was self-inflicted damage that put Number 1 out of action. Repeated firing of the massive mortar (and apparently inadequate repairs a few days earlier) resulted in the mortar bed giving way and hull timbers starting. She broke off firing with two feet of water in her hold.

The ever-watchful Preble saw what was happening to the bomb-ketches. Once more the Constitution spread her canvas high and wide and bore down on the offending batteries. Some 80 cannon opened at her as she came, raising sprouts of water all around her and sometimes throwing the spray even on the glistening canvas. At 1530 she came to, her port side broadside fair on the town, and there she lay at three cable's length for 40 minutes, crashing shot after shot into the pirate stronghold - more than 200 rounds this time. As on earlier occasions, the shifting wind necessitated the signal to haul off shore, which all units did without incident.

Following a day of repair and resupply, Preble found the evening of 3 September right for the use of the infernal, the Intrepid.

A light haze covered the surface of the sea, making visibility difficult beyond a couple of hundred yards, although the stars clearly were seen overhead.

At 2,000, Intrepid slipped her cable and headed for the port's western entrance, just inside of which three Tripolitan gunboats were known to have taken their regular night stations. She was towing two fast rowing boats, one each from the Constitution and the Nautilus, to be used in the escape from the time bomb.

The Argus, Vixen, Nautilus, and some what later, the Siren, all followed Somers's dangerous craft. They would take up stations off the rocks to pick up the returning daredevils.

Lieutenant George Washington Read, Somer's next senior officer in the Nautilus, was the last to speak to Somers as the escorts dropped away. He later reported that the "Intrepids" were calm, in good order, and determined as they parted company.

Slowly, the Intrepid moved forward and disappeared into the haze. Some claimed to have seen her throughout what followed, but it seems more likely that her gradual disappearance left them convinced themselves they still could make out her form.

After some moments, the Tripolitan batteries were seen and heard to open fire, a fire that seemed aimed at nothing in particular.

About ten minutes after the shore batteries opened up, at about 2147, according to Sailing Master Nathaniel Haraden of the Constitution, there was a tremendous explosion and a burst of light. In an instant a fiery column flashed skyward. In it, some saw Intrepid's mast rising straight up, trailing its rigging. So swiftly did the fire flash and die that none saw the mast come down.

From the point of explosion fountained burning shells, arching across the sky in all directions and raining down on sea and shore alike. And then there was deafening silence, as both sides stopped in awe of what they had seen.

Clearly, something had gone wrong. There had not been time for Somers to have gotten his craft to its destination before the explosion. The haze had prevented a sure knowledge of where the Intrepid was when she blew up. Still the American units waited off the rocks through the night and waning hope that their shipmates would come rowing out of the gloom as Decatur had done the preceding February.

The Intrepid's mast could be seen resting on the rocks just to the west of the entrance the next morning. Also there was what appeared to be a portion of her keel or bottom.

Coincidently, three of the enemy gunboats seemed to be missing. Commodore Preble, with so few clues, concluded that Somers had been boarded, or at least cornered, by the picket of boats and that, true to his word, he fired the charge so that the Tripolitans could not get the powder.

However, given the location of the wreckage at or outside the entrance, it does not seem likely that Somers got far enough to engage the gunboats. He probably missed the entrance in the poor visibility and went gently aground on the rocks on the est side of the entrance. In that vulnerable position, he may have been hit by a stray shot from one of the Tripolitan guns; or perhaps the jar of grounding set off the powder; or perhaps, in the confusion that must have occurred when she struck, someone aboard caused an accident or panicked.

The next morning, Commodore William Bainbridge, the senior of the bashaw's American prisoners, received permission to see the bodies. He had two of his lieutenants accounted for all 13; two bodies still in the wreck, ten floating in varous parts of the harbor or washed ashore southeast of the town, and one in Constitution's boat, which drifted ashore farther down the coast to the west. None of the bodies was recognizable; some were not all there. Somers' remains were identified by his breeches. Those found on the beach subsequently were buried nearby, Bainbridge himself conducting a short service.

Preble's infernal had done absolutely no damage to the Tripolitans. The loss of personnel in this bizarre mode of attack stunned the squadron. The commodore himself deeply felt the loss.

Preparations began anew the next morning for yet another attack, but without quite the drive that had characterized Preble's earlier efforts. The loss of Somers and company and the frustration of his inability to bring the Bashaw to terms, combined with a spate of bad weather on 5 September, led to commodore to call off preparations and to make ready the bomb ketches and gunboats for return to Naples. The season, he decided, was too far advanced to risk keeping the unwieldly craft on the open sea any longer. Late on 6 September, the John Adams, Siren, Enterprise, and Nautilus towed them offshore, on their way home.

Barron and two frigates, the President and Constellation, were sighted at noon on 9 September, and when they joined later that afternoon, Edward Preble hauled down his broad command pennant. Although he did not feel it as the moment, the months to come would prove how very successful he really had been.

Early in the new year, shortly after Preble returned to the United States, Congress voted him a gold medal, swords for each commissioned officer and midshipmen (never delivered), and a month's pay bonus to each of the sailors in his squadron.

The 200 years since have seen ships bearing the names of a number of these officers and men serving in the Navy: six named for Somers, five for Preble, three for Sailing Master Trippe, two each for Lieutenant James R. Caldwell, Midshipman John D. Henley, and Seaman Reuben James, and one each for Acting Lieutenant Joseph Israel, Midshipman John S. Dorsey, and Seaman Daniel Fraser.

(Both James and Fraser were credited, at later times, with saving Stephen Decatur's life in his first gunboat attack.)

Midshipman Robert T. Spence, who persisted in firing his bow cannon even as Gunboat 9 sank under him and survived, also had a destroyer named for him. Neither Lieutenant James Decatur nor Acting Lieutenant Henry Wadsworth have been so honored, perhaps because each had a brother who was: Stephen Decatur and Alexander S. Wadsworth. Henry gained a remembered memorial, however, when his nephew was named for him: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

[Commander Martin is a frequent contributor to Naval History and Proceedings. He once commanded the latest USS Somers (DD-947)]

Tyrone Gabriel Martin is a retired United States Navy Commander, and a naval historian, most notable as an authority on the USS Constitution ("Old Ironsides"), of which he was the 58th Commanding Officer.[1]

Martin was born in Greenwich, Connecticut 5 June 1930 and commissioned an officer through the NROTC in 1952. During his twenty-six years of Navy service he commanded two destroyers on tours of duty off Korea and Vietnam finally becoming the Commanding Officer (Captain) of Constitution on 6 August 1974.[2] In July 1976, during the United States Bicentennial celebrations, Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, arrived for their state visit and privately toured the ship for approximately thirty minutes with Commander Martin and Secretary of the Navy J. William Middendorf.[3]

During Martin's tenure as Commanding Officer, several traditions were instituted that are still observed by the crew of Constitution such as the wearing of 1812 era uniforms and the practice of firing morning and sunset guns. Constitution received her first Meritorious Unit Commendation during his tour and Martin was the first Captain to be decorated for service since Charles Stewart. Martin turned over command of the ship to Commander Robert Leo Gillen on 30 June 1978.[2]

Now retired, Martin has written several books about "Old Ironsides", as well as numerous articles on various aspects of the ship and her times, plus the "Salty Talk" column in the journal Naval History.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Stars & Stripes over Tripoli


Raising the Stars & Stripes over Tripoli
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It was May 14, 1801 when the Bashaw of Tripoli Yusuf Karamanli ordered the Stars & Strips flag at the American consulate at Trippoli cut down, thus being the first country to declare war on the United States.

A few years later, William Eaton, Lt. Presley O'Bannon, USMC and their small squad of Marines led the overland attack against Derna, a port city east of Tripoli, and after capturing the town, they raised the Stars & Stripes for the first time over a foreign land. (US consulates are considered US territory).

A few days later Karamanli capitulated, and sought terms of a truce that was ratified in June, 1805, releasing the prisoners of the USS Philadelphia from the dungeons of the old castle fort, ending the war, but leaving outstanding issues that are still being rectified today. Including the repatriation of the remains of the men of the Intrepid.

US Embassy Staff and Media

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Letter to Ambassador Cretz

Letter to Gene A. Cretz
US Ambassador to Libya
US Embassy, Tripoli, Libya

William Kelly
20 Columbine Ave.
Browns Mills, NJ 08015
609-893-7014 / 608-425-6297

October 22, 2009

Dear Ambassador Cretz,

Over a year ago (September 3, 2008) I wrote to you:

"Congratulations and welcome to your new post. After all of the other problems are ironed out, you will eventually have to deal with the repatriation of the remains of Lt. Richard Somers and the men of the Intrepid. Five of their remains are buried in the Old Protestant Cemetery, and seem secured by US embassy personnel….The other eight, including the remains of the three officers, Somers, Wadsworth and Israel, are at the original grave site in the (Green Square) park near the old castle fort. These graves should be secured as soon as possible, as there have been reports that the Libyans have excavated the site and discovered "buttons and bones." The remains of the officers should be identified by DNA. The POW/MP office of the DOD are responsible for such operations."

These men enlisted in the US Navy and fought the Barbary pirates for the same reasons we fight pirates and terrorist today. In fact, they established the spirit, principles and Navy traditions that are continued today, and we honor them by naming modern Navy warships Somers, Decatur, Porter, Bainbridge, Nautilus, Enterprise and Intrepid after them and their ships.

And one of those traditions is that no one is left behind. As Admiral Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations recently said, after the return of the remains of a Navy airman shot down during the first Gulf War 18 years ago, “Our Navy will never give up looking for a shipmate, regardless of how long or how difficult that search may be.”

Now that you have assumed the position of the American Ambassador, according to the treaty for which these men fought, the remains of those citizens of the United States who have died within the limits of the Regency of Tripoli are under your direction.

The June 4, 1805 Treaty of Peace and Amity between the United States of America and the Bashaw, Bey and Subjects of Tripoli in Barbary. ARTICLE 20, states: “Should any Citizen of the United States of America die within the limits of the Regency of Tripoli, the Bashaw and his Subjects shall not interfere with the property of the deceased; but it shall be under the immediate direction of the Consul, unless otherwise disposed of by will…”
[Treaty: ]

It is the will of the Somers family, the citizens of Somers Point and the State of New Jersey, and veterans who served our country, that the remains of Richard Somers be repatriated home. And it is the tradition of the US Navy that the men of the Intrepid be returned home and reburied in the soil of their native land.
[Petition : ]

In addition, would it be possible to obtain a flag flown over the US Embassy in Tripoli so it can be flown over the Somers Point City Hall and Somers family homestead?

Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter,

William Kelly

Ambassador Cretz Interviewed

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Tripoli Monument at Annapolis

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In Respect to Their Memory and Admiration of Their Valor

By Commander Tyrone G. Martin, U.S. Navy (Retired)
The United States Naval Institute
Naval History Magazine
August 2005

The ornate, allegorical Tripoli Monument is a memorial to six U.S. naval officers' ultimate sacrifice during the Barbary War.

On the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy, sandwiched between Leahy Hall and Preble Hall, lies an unlikely looking military memorial. It's elaborate, asymmetrical appearance, however, belies its rich martial past. In fact, the white marble statuary is the United States' oldest military monument, built to commemorate the supreme sacrifice of U.S. naval officers during the Barbary War against Tripoli and originally funded by their fellow officers.

The monument was the idea of David Porter, who would rise to become commodore of the U.S. Navy. A former first lieutenant of the frigate Philadelphia, he had been held as a prisoner of war in Tripoli after the Barbary State's capture of the vessel. Released in June 1805 at the conclusion of the Barbary War, Porter continued to serve in the Mediterranean Squadron and was soon promoted to master commandant and given command of the newly refurbished schooner Enterprise. He spent much of his time carrying dispatches from port to port around the Mediterranean.

In addition to his official duties, Porter took it upon himself to initiate a project to create a memorial honoring the six U.S. naval officers who perished in the war.

His duties gave him many opportunities to communicate with members of the squadron's dispersed units and to solicit their officers for funds to finance the monument. In fact, he drew up a careful schedule of "dues": Captains and commanding officers were expected to donate $20 each; wardroom officers, mainly lieutenants, were to contribute $10 apiece; and midshipmen, surgeon's mates, etc. $5. (This equates to 20-25% of one month's pay for each category).

By January 1806, Porter had raised at least $1,200 and was able to enlist the Reverend Thomas Hall, an American residing in Leghorn, as director of the project.

Porter initially gave Hall little more direction than saying he wanted a memorial. The reverend, who envisioned a work like Joseph Wilton's ornate monument to General James Wolfe in Westminister Abbey, wrote to the highly respected Danish neoclassical sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen in Rome for ideas. But Thorvaldsen was slow to respond, and another sculptor, Giovanni Carlo Micali, received the commission.

While Porter claimed credit for the memorial's design, he had envisioned an outdoor commemorative monumnet for some public square. However, Micali, and apparently everyone else, foresaw a funerary monument to be installed in a major public building, a popular practice in 18th-century Europe, and that is what the sculptor created.

By the end of 1806, Micali had completed the monument, carvfed from soft, white Carrara marble and about thirty feet high. Its soaring rostral column is topped by an American eagle said to have been copied from the image of one on a naval officer's coat button.

The small pedestal immediately below the column bears the engraving "Hoic decorae functorum in bella virorum cineres" ("Here are deposited the sacred ashes of men who fell in the war.")

The column and pedestal are atop a much larger block, on the front of which is a bas-relief of what appears to be the first U.S. attack on Tripoli in early August 1804.

Six allegorical figures are arranged asymmetrically at various levels of the memorial: a winged Victory or Glory; History in the act of recording the glorious deeds; America, a rather fanciful bare-breasted but caped Indian princess; two cherubic children representing the American people; and Commerce, who holds a cornucopia Urns topped by golden flames were in each lowest corner.

The disassembled monument arrived in New York in November 1807 aboard the USS Constitution and was soon on its way to Washington. The next year it was reassembled in place inside the main gate of the Washington Navy Yard, not in front of the Capitol, as originally intended.

One of the blank faces of the block bearing the bas-relief was inscribed: "Erected to the memory of Captain Richard Somers, Lieutenants James Caldwell, James Decatur, Henry Wadsworth, Joseph Israel, and John S. Dorsey, who fell in different attacks, that were made on the City of Tripoli, in the year of our Lord 1804 and in the 28 year of the Independence of the United States."

On a second side was written: "As a small tribute of the respect to their memory and admiration of their valor so worthy of imitation their brother officers have erected this monument."

The monument did not rest in peace for long. When the British briefly captured Washington in August 1814, the memorial suffered some damage that is usually credited to the invaders, but given the confusion of the time and the fact the Americans themselves had fired the yard and were guilty of looting, it would seem that others had more opportunity.

The monument remained at the Navy Yard until 1831, when Congress ordered it placed in the center of the reflecting pool at the base of the steps on the west side of the Capitol.

It stayed there, the only piece of statuary on the Mall, until the autumn of 1860, when the memorial was moved to the Naval Academy, where it was intended to inspire fledgling naval officers with the memories of their heroic predecessors.

Unlike other memorials on the grounds, however, the Tripoli Monument, as it came to be called, played no central role in any midshipman activity. Exposure to the elements, meanwhile, resulted in water working its way into the monument's many seams, weakening the structure. The soft Carrara marble slowly gave way tot he onslaught of weather and increasingly polluted air and rain. The monument's sparkling whiteness became dulled, and a combination of fungi stained its surfaces with varying shades of black and red.

Toward the end of the 20th century, Naval Academy alumni began a grass-roots effort to restore the monument, which had been officially designated a National Treasure. Eventually some $40,000 was raised through alumni gifts and the efforts of the Save th Tripoli Monument Committee.

The U.S. Navy also contributed about the same amount for the work, which began in May, 2000. The basic cleaning technique was water misting (nebulized water sprayed at low pressure), while restorers used calcim chlorite on the more difficult fungal areas. They also filled large cracks with a mixture that, when dried, could be worked with a dental drill to harmonize it with its surroundings. By the end of June, almost all of the blemishes were gone, and the Tripoli Monument was once more pristine white. The urns and other missing "gold" accoutrements, such as History's quill, were not replaced.

While the Tripoli Monument has been partially restored, if this oldest of American's veterans' memorials 0 a rare naval one - is to be preserved, steps need to be taken to provide it with a sheltered site where it would be protected from the elements. Officers of the early Navy were responsible for the monument's creation. Will members of the present-day navy ensure the preservation of this piece of their heritage?

Tripoli Monument at Annapolis

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In Respect to Their Memory and Admiration of Their Valor

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Good Account & Barbary War for Beginers

The USS Nautilus

“My capture, sink, burn, destroy all Tripolitians.”
– Richard Somers, upon taking command of the U.S.S. Nautilus in 1803.

The NAUTILUS, a Chesapeake Bay schooner, was built in 1799 as a merchant vessel by Mr. Harry Spencer of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and owned by Mr. Thomas Tennant, when it was sold to the United States Navy.

Congress authorized the building of four schooners, but rather than wait for them to be built, Lt. Richard Somers, who was assigned to command one of them, decided to buy a used one instead.

Shortly after being launched, it was captured by French pirates, her captain murdered, the ship returned to the United States, and once inspected and found to be “well qualified for public service,” purchased by the Secretary of the Navy Robert Smith for $7,000.

Somers was quite familiar with schooners, workboats that were made on his own plantation. Before taking command of the Nautilus and leaving for the Mediterranean, Somers returned to Somers Point to put his business and personal affairs in order. One of the things he did was to launch a ship at Mays Landing, a schooner called the Gourd Blossom.

Having learned to sail on Great Egg harbor bay, Somers had taken to the sea early, and as a teenager, was the first mate on a merchant ship in the Caribbean when the captain died. Somers safely saw the ship home.

So Somers was quite familiar with the lines and the handling of his first command, the schooner Nautilus, the first of four U.S. navy vessels that would bear that name. It also could have been an inspiration for Jules Vernes’ fictional submarine of “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”

For Somers, taking over a used ship that was out of repair may have been faster and less expensive than building a new one, but it took a while to get the Nautilus in shape and outfitted for war.

While waiting for cannon and a detachment of marines to arrive, Somers received his orders. In the evening before heading out, he sat down at his desk in his quarters, and by the light of a lamp he wrote a letter to his brother-in-law and most frequent confident, William Jonas Keen.

“Dear Brother, I feel myself much fatigued sitting up until this time of the morning examining my accounts. Cannot omit telling you that I sail at daylight or sweep out of the harbor. I waited on the Secretary yesterday for my orders, which I received with general instructions – to capture, sink, burn, destroy all Tripolitans; and dispatches to Captain Rogers, which I cannot at present inform you of.”

When preparing to sail the Intrepid into Tripoli harbor as a fireship, the volunteers were selected from the crews of the frigate USS Constitution and the schooner Nautilus.

As they disembarked, "Mind boys," one said according to the diary of a shipmate, "give a good account of us when you get home!"

The Navy’s Barbary War Crucible
Naval History
US Naval Institute August, 2005

Despite restrictive orders from Washington and setbacks at sea, the young U.S. Navy acquitted itself well during the four-year war against Tripoli.

By William M. Fowler, Jr.

The United States was born into a hostile world. The infant republic was fragile and vulnerable. Our former mistress, Great Britain, did not welcome American independence, and her government did all that it could to crimp the new nation’s trade. Across the English Channel, our old ally France, mired in a debt largely incurred supporting our revolution, turned against us as well. Other powers waited in expectation that America’s experiment in republicanism would collapse.

In the meantime, U.S. shipowners, having thrown off the restraints previously imposed by king and Parliament, dispatched their captains with orders to try all ports. Soon American ships were venturing into waters where profits loomed and danger lurked. The western Mediterranean was particularly volatile. There, Barbary Coast corsairs, persistent baiters of passing commerce, sortied to seize and hold for ransom our ships and sailors. Among the North African rogue states, Tripoli, ruled by corrupt Bashaw Yusuf Karmanli, was the most troublesome.

In May 1801, when Karamanli sent his henchmen to chop down the flagpole at the American consulate in Tripoli, he was at the same time insulting the United States and declaring war against it. Despite the drama, few people were surprised. For generations Tripoli had run a successful business intimidating nations into paying tribute for the “privilege” of sailing through waters over which it clamed sovereignty.

Great Britain, like most European nations, paid so that its vessels might pass freely. That protection extended to all vessels of the empire, and as long as the Union Jack flew over the stern of vessels hauling from American ports, the Tripoli corsairs permitted them to pass. Independence, however, ended the arrangement. Through the late 1780s and continuing into the 1790s, Tripolitans plundered American ships and imprisoned sailors. Matters worsened to the point that in 1794 Congress authorized the construction of a navy to defend American trade. Along a complicated course of negotiations, including the payment of tribute, the fledging United States attempted to navigate the shoal waters of the Mediterranean. America’s weakness at sea, however, was an invitation to rapaciousness. Karamanli cut down our flagpole not because we would not pay, but because we would not pay enough. The bashaw believed that the feckless Americans would soon find the cast to pay tribute.

Karamanli was wrong. Not even President Thomas Jefferson, who was wary of a strong navy and overseas ventures, could ignore the challenge. Jefferson’s response, however, as Commander Tyrone Martin has pointed out in his series of articles in Navy History about the war with Tripoli, was somewhat less than robust. 1.

The president dispatched Commodore Richard Dale with a small squadron dubbed the “Peace Establishment” whose orders limited their action to instructing officers and “Cruizing in view of the Barbary powers.” 2.

They could engage the enemy only if they found a Tripolitan actually attacking an American vessel. Upon arrival on station, Richard O’Brien, the American consul at Algiers, advised Dale that the Tripolitans must have either “money or Balls without delay.” Dale had none of the former, and his restrictive orders prevented him from delivering the latter.

After several months on station, Dale returned to the United States with little to show for his efforts. His replacement was Commodore Richard Valentine Morris. By the time Morris sailed, Congress had “recognized a state of war” with Tripoli but declined to declare war. Although ambivalent, this recognition did permit the secretary of the Navy to instruct Morris “to subdue, seize and make prize of all vessels, goods and effects, belonging to the Dey of Tripoli [Karamanli].”

Orders notwithstanding, Morris’ squadron behaved more like a touring company than a naval force. 3.

The commodore brought his wife, whom Henry Wadsworth – a young midshipman and uncle of the poet – described as the “commodores…not beautiful or even handsome, but she looks very well in a veil.” 44.

Exasperated at the Navy’s lack of energy, the American consul at Tunis, William Eaton, wrote of the squadron, “What have they done but dance and wench?” 5.

Dale and Morris deserve a good deal of the blame for the failure of their squadrons to subdue the Tripolitans, but the Jefferson administration must bear the weight of responsibility. Thomas Jefferson was committed to defending American trade, but not at the cost of great expenditures. Economy in government was his touchstone, and navies were expensive. He was also deeply concerned that a U.S. naval force operating in the Mediterranean, where European powers had been contending with one another for centuries, might involve the new nation in Old World strife. To preserve the budge and prevent foreign entanglements, he had limited the force given to Dale and Morris and then restricted their activities in ways that made it impossible for them to strike hard.

In organizing the third squadron, to be commanded by Commodore Edward Preble, the administration shifted strategy. Preble’s orders were nearly as restrictive as those given to Dale and Morris, but unlike his predecessors, he had a force more suited for the mission. Dale and Morris commanded large vessels whose size and draft made it difficult for them to pursue the corsairs near the shore, where they always ran for cover. Preble had a pair of powerful frigates, the Constitution and the Philadelphia, but in addition his force included smaller vessels: the brigs Siren and Argus along with the schooners Enterprise, Vixen, and Nautilus.

Hopefully, these smaller craft could bedevil the corsairs closer to their lairs while the deep-draft frigates held the offshore blockade. Preble himself pressed this close-in strategy and asked permission to charter additional small vessels. The secretary of Navy granted his request, but cautioned that he would have to man such vessels out of his own compliment, since there was no money for additional crew.

Preble’s fortunes took a sudden turn on 31 October 1803 when his senior captain, William Bainbridge, ran the frigate Philadelphia aground in Tripoli Harbor while pursuing a corsair. Ever since that dark day, historians have debated Bainbridge’s conduct both as a ship handler and a commander. In retrospect, his decision to pursue the enemy into confined waters had been more bold than prudent. He nonetheless had leadsmen sounding and lookouts posted. Hitting the bar at 8 ½ knots drove he frigate hard aground.

Commander Martin suggests that at this point Bainbridge panicked. That seems a bit unfair. He did all that could reasonable be done under the circumstances, but the simple fact was that his frigate was stuck on the bar. His decision to surrender has also been hotly debated. When Preble heard that Bainbridge had surrendered, he reported to the secretary, “Would to God, that the officers and crew of the Philadelphia, had one and all, determined to prefer death to slavery, it is possible that such determination might have saved them from either.” 6.

To Preble’s bombast I prefer Bainbridge’s explanation, “I never presumed to think I had the liberty of putting to death the lives of 306 souls because they were placed under my command.” 7.

The Philadelphia’s capture set the stage for one of the most famous exploits in U.S. naval history. Lieutenant Stephen Decatur Jr.’s daring raid that resulted in the frigate’s destruction. What is often missed is that while Decatur’s raid set the Philadelphia in flames it did nothing to hasten the release of Bainbridge and his men. That would come nearly two years later via diplomatic negotiations and the payment of ransom. Not, aside from embarrassment, did the Philadelphia’s loss do much harm to the Tripolitans.

Preble increased the pressure on Tripoli through the spring and into the summer of 1804. The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (a virtual vassal to Great Britain) agreed to loan the U.S. commander a small flotilla of gunboats. With his enhanced firepower, Preble laid into the Tripolitan. In August he made four assaults on Tripoli, wreaking considerable damage on the forts and city. In a grand and desperate September attack, Preble sent in Master Commandant Richard Somers in command of the ketch Intrepid, which had been converted into a “infernal” by loading her to the gunwales with power and combustibles. His mission was to sail close to the fortress, light the fuses, and then escape.

The infernal, however, blew up prematurely, and Somers and his crew perished. The Intrepid’s fiery end depressed American spirits. A few days later Commodore James Barron arrived to take command of the American squadron, and by the end of the year Edward Preble was on his way home.

Barron’s prospects were little better than those of his predecessors. Indeed, his situation was made even more dismal by the fact that he was too sick to say on station. He turned tactical command over to Captain John Rodgers, his senior officer, and left for Syracuse.

At the same time, Barron gave permission to William Eaton, naval agent to the Barbary States, to organize a land force to attack Tripoli from the east. Eaton struck a deal with Yusuf Karamanli’s estranged brother Hemet, whom Yusuf had ousted as bashaw. Under the pretense of restoring the rightful ruler, Eaton recruited some locals to join him in an expedition against Tripoli.

Also accompanying him were seven Marines led by First Lieutenant Presley Neville O’Bannon. Setting out from near Alexandria, Egypt, they managed to march 500 miles and capture the town of Derne, but the operation was more comic opera than sound military strategy.

Dale, Morris, Preble, Barron-Rodgers – four U.S. squadrons all with the same mission: to chastise Tripoli and protect American shipping. While American shipping was made safer by the presence of these squadrons, whether Tripoli was chastised remained an open question. As Barron and Rodgers contemplated their options, a surprise message arrived from the bashaw: He wanted to negotiate a peace.

For Yusuf Karamanli the war was all about money. From this perspective the enterprise had ceased to be profitable, and with the continuing presence of a powerful U.S. squadron it appeared as if expenses might even rise. Nonetheless, Karamanli held the high hand – 300 American prisoners – but in some ways the POWs were more of a liability than an asset. They were expensive to keep, and as long as they were imprisoned the Americans would not leave. He would gladly exchange them for cash - $130,000, to be exact.

The Americans countered with $60,000, and Karamanli said yes. As part of the deal the Americans also agreed to abandon their support for Hamet Karamanli, leaving the former bashaw to retreat from Derne and retire to Egypt, where he withered into obscurity.

Despite Jefferson’s misgivings about the creation of a navy, the U.S. squadron in the Mediterranean acquitted itself well. Even the loss of the Philadelphia turned into something of a victory because of Decatur’s heroic action. In terms of human costs, all of this was accomplished at a relatively low price. Only six American officers died; a monument dedicated to their sacrifice stands today on the U.S. Naval Academy grounds. Those officers who returned home – the more notable among them sometimes referred to as “Preble’s Boys” – later played key roles as commanders in the War of 1812.

The financial cost of the war is hard to estimate, but it certainly exceeded $1 million (not including the loss of the Philadelphia). Clearly, paying tribute would have been much cheaper. Why then did the government, in the midst of Jeffersonian austerity and lacking enthusiasm for the Navy, not pay the Tripolitans?

One answer is honor. For generations, misinformed Americans have been quoting Charles Cotesworth Pinckney’s “Millions for Defense but Not one cent for Tribute,” as an example of the pain Americans felt paying bribes to Tripoli. Pinckney, of course, was referring not to the Tripolitans but to France during the furor over the XYZ Affair, which was a clear case of extortion. The Tripolitan situation was far less clear. European nations had been paying tribute for generations, arguing only over the amount, not the principle. Honor became an issue for Americans only after the war broke out; it did not cause it.

Once begun, the war was popular, more popular than cutting the budget. That popularity grew from U.S. victories at sea; not even the capture of the Philadelphia could diminish the enthusiasm. On the contrary, the Philadelphia’s loss resulted in greater resolve and a personalizing of the conflict, which became not just a trade war but also a glorious struggle to free fellow Americans. Her destruction added to the patriotic furvor.

The war, furthermore, really cost very little. Aside from the financial burden, which – despite the treasury’s penny-pinching grousing – the nation could afford, the war made no great demands upon Americans. During the conflict, commerce grew in the Mediterranean and the casualty lists were always small. Nations more often tire of wars because they are expensive. In the latter regard, as Commander Martin’s superb series of essays reminds us, the war with Tripoli was a bargain. By successfully “bashing the bashaw” our nascent navy established a tradition of competence and courage that made it the darling of the young republic.

American Archelogical Sites at Tripoli, Libya

American Archeological Sites at Tripoli, Libya

`1) The original gravesite of 13 Navy sailors who died in the explosion of the USS Intrepid at Tripoli Harbor, September 4, 1804, including Lt. Richard Somers, Lt. Henry Wadsworth, Lt. Israel, and ten seamen. The remains of five of these men were excavated by Italian soldiers in the 1930s and reburied at Old Protestant Cemetery, about a mile east on the old coast road. So there should be the remains of eight men at the original grave site, which was reportedly excavated by the Libyans in 2005 when “bones and buttons” were found.

2) Old Protestant Cemetery, which includes the remains of the five men of the USS Intrepid and less than a hundred graves of European Christian diplomats and their families who died in Tripoli in the 17th, 18th and 19th century.

3) The wreckage of the USS Intrepid, on the east shores of Tripoli harbor.

4) The wreckage of the USS Philadelphia, on east shores of Tripoli harbor.

5) The small brick fort at the entrance to the harbor, which is on most maps of the era and is near where the Intrepid, the Philadelphia and the men of the Intrepid washed ashore.

6) The grave of Capt. Laurence, USN, whose F-111 crashed during Operation El Dorado Canyon, and his remains never recovered.

7) The former Wheeler Air Force Base, occupied by the United States Air Force, where there are reports of a US military cemetery, some of the remains of which may have been repatriated by the Libyans at some point, but the record is unclear.

There are dozens of major archeological sites in Libya, Roman and pre-Greek cities, pre-historic rock paintings and older sites that have been preserved by the area’s natural dry environment and sand.

While many of these sites are thousands of years old, and the American sites are only two hundred years old, the significance of the American archeological sites is directly relevant to the political, economic and historic situation today. A study of these sites gives quick and relevant insight into not only what is happening in Libya today, but in the historic dynamics of the international relations between the US and Libya, then and now.

In 1949, the last time there was an official US Navy ceremony at the cemetery site, when the American flag was raised and a plaque was placed there, the leader of Libya was named Karamanli, the same name and family dynasty we were fighting in 1804 and who signed the treaty of 1805 in the Captain’s quarters of the USS Constitution.

This treaty freed the American prisoners from the Philadelphia and set the tone for not only US – Libyan relations, but set the policy and style of how the United States Navy would conduct itself when dealing with the enemy.

Among the provisions of the …. Articles in the treaty, besides freeing the prisoners of the Philadelphia, was establishing the responsibility for the return of the remains of those Americans who died in Tripoli with the US Ambassador.

As a professor of History at West Point has noted, the resolution of differences and the restoration of official US relations between the US and Libya is just now ending hostilities that began over two hundred years ago, and an understanding of those issues are essential to understanding the situation today.

Just as the repatriation of the American prisoners from the USS Philadelphia was an essential element of the treaty of 1805, the repatriation of the men of the USS Intrepid should be an essential element in the restoration of US – Libyan relations today.

There is a strong potential for agreement on the security and care of American graves and archeological sites in Tripoli and the repatriation of the remains of the Americans, totally unlike the other volatile issues between the United States and Libya today, such as Lockerbie, the bombing of the German disco, the killing of the British policeman outside the Libyan embassy in London, the trial of the Belgian nurses and Palestine doctor, the release of al Megragi to a hero’s welcome and Ghadaffi’s visit to New York and the UN, all of which rub Americans the wrong way.

In response to the negative issues, US Congressman are trying to withhold the $2.5 million in foreign aid and grants that were going to be given to Libya, mainly through the Ghadaffi Charities and Development Foundation, a non-profit organization that is run by Col. Ghadaffi’s son Saif.

Rather than renigging on previous agreements between the US and Libyan governments, and the promise of the financial aid, these funds could be restricted for use in the security of the American graves and archeological sites in Libya, locating the remains of Capt. Laurence, and the development of strong US-Libyan relations in the non-profit, educational, archeological, linguistic, historical and diplomatic fields.

Characters Persona - The Barbary Wars

Characters Persona

Abercrombie, Dr. – Director of the Philadelphia Free Academy.

Adams, John – President of the United States

Bainbridge, William – Captain of the USS Philadelphia, ran ground Tripoli habor, captured, with 300 man crew.

Barry, John – Captain, Commodore, US Navy.

Mrs. John Barry – Wife of Commodore

Barry, John – Schoolmaster, Philadelphia Free Academy

Bashaw of Tripoli – Karamanli,

Cooper, James Finimore – Historian, author of American Naval history and biographies.

Cowdery, Dr. Jonathan – Surgeon’s Mate, USS Philadelphia, captured and help prisoner by Bashaw of Tripoli, identified officers and buried the remains of the men of the USS Intrepid, Tripoli Harbor, September 4, 1804. RIP 21, Nov., 1852.

Cruzen, Rear Admiral – Present at US Navy ceremony at Old Protestant Cemetery, 1949, with Captain of USS Spokane.

Decatur, James – Younger brother of Stephen Decatur, killed in the battle of Tripoli Harbor, Summer, 1804.

Decatur, Jr., Stephen – Captain, USS Enterprise. Led assault on captured USS Philadelphia on USS Intrepid, 1804.

Decatur, Sr., Stephen – Commodore, Privateer, American Revolution; father of Stephen, Jr. and James, seasonal resident of Cape May, NJ.

Decatur, Mrs. Stephen – Wife of Captain Decatur. Lived in Decatur House in Washington, buried in DC until 1980s when reburied in Philadelphia next to husband.

Eaton, William – US emissary to Egypt, leader of expedition to Derne with O’Bannon and Hamet Karamanli.

Humphreys, Joshua – Philadelphia shipbuilder, contractor for USS United States.

Israel, Joseph – Midshipman, USN, 14 years old, perished aboard the USS Intrepid, Tripoli Harbor, September 4, 1804, buried at Tripoli.

Jefferson, Thomas – President of the United States.

Karamanli, Hamet – Brother to Yusef Karamanli.

Karamanli,Yusef – Bashaw of Tripoli.

Keen, Sarah Somers – Wife of William Jonas Keen, sister of Richard Somers.

Keen, Esq., William Jonas – Husband of Sarah Somes Keen, wrote last wills and testaments of John Barry and Richard Somers, executor of the estate of Richard Somers, and payment of prize money to crew of USS Nautilus.

Keen & Stillwell – Philadelphia lawyers, William Jonas Keen.

Leaming, Jonathan, F. – Morristown, NJ, inherited Somers’ Washington Ring, loaned it to Pennsylvania Historical Society for display.

Lear, Tobias – US counsel to Algiers, signed treaty freeing prisoners of USS Philadelphia.

Porter, David – Captain, naval officer and author of Navy history and took up collection for Tripoli monument.

Preble, Edward – Captain, Commodore of the Mediterrean Fleet.

Rush, Richard – Student at Philadelphia Free Academy, son of Revolutionary treasure, Dr. Benjamin Rush.

Somers, Jr., Richard – Lt., Captain, (b. 1776 – d. Sept. 4, 1804), buried at Tripoli harbor.

Somers, Richard, Sr. – Col., Privateer during the American revolution, father of Richard, Jr.

Somers, Sarah – Neice of Richard Somers. Inherited Somers’ Washington Ring.

Somers, Sarah – Sister of Richard Somers. Inherited Somers’ Washington Ring.

Sterrett, Andrew – Lt., Captain of USS Enterprise during early action against the Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean.

Stewart, Charles – Student at Philadelphia Free Academy, Lt. USS United States, Captain Barry, Captain.

Taft, Jr., Orray – US diplomat, present at US Navy ceremony at Old Protestant Cemetery, Tripoli, 1949.

Wadsworth, Henry – Lt. USN, died in the explosion of the Intrepid at Tripoli, Sept. 4, 1804.

Washington, George – President of the United States.

The Prisoners of the USS Philadelphia

Remember the POWs of the USS Philadelphia

An eyewitness account of the capture of the frigate USS Philadelphia off Tripoli and the 19 months imprisonment of the 315 officers and members of the crew in the castle dungeon.

From the Memoir of Commodore David Porter (1875)

….In the latter part of April, 1802, Commodore Morris arrived off Tripoli with the New York, Adams, and Enterprise, and as the squadron stood towards the harbor several small vessels, convoyed by gun boats, were seen close in with the land and making the best of their way to the port of Tripoli. The squadron immediately gave chase, and the enemy finding themselves cut off from the harbor, sent the merchantmen into the port of old Tripoli; while the gun boats, by means of their sweeps, were enabled to pull under the shelter of the batteries….It was impossible for the squadron to follow them in, for the port was full of reefs and there were no reliable charts. A large stone building stood on a bank, near the shore, which was occupied by a body of soldiers, and on each side were thrown up breastworks, composed of stacks of wheat taken from the merchant vessels, which were themselves finally hauled up high and dry on the beach close to the building, and a large reinforcement of troops were brought over from the city to man the breastworks. The best engineer could not have made a better disposition of forces, and the Tripolitans might well consider their works impregnable to an assault by boats and sailors…..

In the latter part of 1803, the Philadelphia 38, Capt. Bainbridge, was directed by the commodore to proceed to Tripoli accompanied by the schooner Vixen, Lieut. Commandant Smith, and keep up as close a blockade of that port as the weather would permit….Lieut. Porter had been transferred from the New York to the Philadelphia, as 1st lieutenant. He was now twenty-three years of age, and had been five years in the service, but in common with other officers of the period he exhibited remarkable proficiency in his profession, and handled a ship with as much skill as an old seamen could have done…
….The navy of those days was a fine school to bring out in relief the noble qualities of those brave spirits who were ready to make any sacrifice, and run any risk in the cause of their country. All seemed ready to share each other’s dangers, and divide the honors won by all…..

Under the care of her experienced captain and energetic first lieutenant, the Philadelphia as in most excellent order, and under the gallant Preble (who was expected shortly to take command of the squadron), the officers expected glorious opportunities for distinction; but all were doomed to severe disappointment by the loss of the ship off the harbor of Tripoli. At 9 A.M. on the 31 of October, 1802, while the frigate was about five leagues off shore, to the eastward of Tripoli, a ship was descried in shore standing to the westward before the wind. Chase was immediately given to the stranger, who hoisted Tripolitan colors and continued her course close along the coast. About eleven o’clock, the frigate was so near the shore that the water shoaled to seven fathoms. The Philadelphia then commenced firing on the enemy, which was kept up by running before the wind for half an hour, when, finding it impossible to prevent the vessel’s escape, the pursuit was abandoned. The frigate then bore off the land to get into deep water, but ran on to some sunken rocks, leaving her with only twelve feet of water forward, and seventeen aft. In spite of all the precautions which had been taken to prevent such a disaster, by keeping three leads constantly going, the ship struck the rocks with about eight knots headway. All sail was immediately set to force her over what was supposed to be a bank, but which was in reality a smooth shelving rock, on which the vessel had run as far as her impetus would carry her, and there she lay hard and fast. Finding that his attempt to force the ship over did not succeed, Captain Bainbridge asked the advice of the first lieutenant as to what was best to be done, and the latter advised a consultation with the commissioned officers. Meanwhile perfect order reigned throughout the vessel, and all hands were busy in efforts to get her off.

Boats were lowered, and soundings soon showed that there was no deep water near the vessel, and it was apparent to all that without some stroke of good fortune she would be lost. The enemy’s gun boats, nine in number, were soon seen coming out of the harbor of Tripoli, and cautiously approaching to reconnoiter the Philadelphia, of whose condition they were apparently aware. At length repeated soundings showed deep water astern, when the sails were braced aback, the guns run aft, and the anchors cut from the bow; but all attempts to move the ship were unavailing. All the guns were hove overboard, with the exception of a few reserved for defense against the advancing gun boats. Meanwhile the frigate had heeled over very much to port, in which position she remained fixed, and the enemy passing under the fire from the stern battery, took up a position on the starboard and weather quarter, where no guns could be brought to bear on them.

It was now that Capt. Bainbridge realized the mistake he had made in sending off the Vixon in search of a Tripolitan cruiser, that had got to sea a short time previous. This had left him alone in the frigate to blockade a port where the chasing had to be done in-shore and in shoal water, a duty which could be far better performed in a vessel of light draft. Moreover, had the Vixon been present she could have kept the enemy’s gun boats at bay while the frigate was being extricated from her perilous position.

Capt. Bainbrige now summoned another council of war, who were of opinion that the water in the hold should be started and pumped out, then all heavy articles were thrown overboard, and finally the foremast was cut away; but all this had no effect in moving the ship. Orders were then given for the carpenter to bore holes through the bottom, and for the gunner to drown the magazine, in fact every precaution was taken to render the ship useless as the Tripolitians, should they unfortunately obtain possession of her.

During these operations, the enemy having taken a position where they could not be harmed by any fire from the Americans, kept up the attack from half past one o’clock until sunset; but the Philadelphia appears to have suffered from it only in her spars and rigging. It was now evidently impossible to prevent the capture of the Philadelphia; and to prevent a useless sacrifice of the lives of his officers and men, Capt. Bainbrige gave the order to strike the colors. Up to this time the enemy had kept at a respectful distance, but no sooner were the colors hauled down, than the gun boats made a rush for the frigate, and in ten minutes the decks were swarming with pirates, who began to plunder the unfortunate Americans of everything they possessed, even stripping off their clothing, and leaving them nearly naked.

The officers were soon carried before the bashaw, who was highly delighted at this capture of prisoners to add to his list of slaves, but on the whole his reception of them was not unkind, and they were conducted to the late American consulate, and place under the particular charge of the minister of foreign affairs, Mahommed D Ghines, with whom they had no difficulty in communicating as he spoke French fluently. Considering that the bashaw was a barbarian his treatment of the prisoners was generous. They were supplied with sufficient food, but suffered greatly for want of clothing. Most of the officers had laid in a three years outfit, and had lost everything except what they stood in when captured. How they were to be clothed in future, unless they adopted the Turkish costume, they were at a loss to imagine.

Fortunately, they found a friend in the person of Mr. Nissen, the Danish consul, who was introduced to Capt. Bainbrige by Mahommed D Ghines, and this gentleman immediately relieved the prisoners’ anxiety, promising them every assistance in his power, which promise he kept to the letter. The minister, Mahommed D Ghines, also manifested the most friendly disposition, intimating to the prisoners that they might depend upon humanity; and Mr. Nissen, having done all that he could for them at the time, the officers found themselves much better situated than they had reason to expect from the rough treatment to which they were subjected when first captured.

He had made few or no captures of American merchant vessels, and his corsair ships had been either captured or blockaded in some foreign port. The capture of the Tripoli, and the treatment of the vessel, was the greatest indignity that this Barbary despot had ever received; and, under the circumstances, it seems wonderful that the bashaw should have been so complaisant as to address words of consolation to his prisoners. The bashaw had begun to feel very despondent, for independently of his losses he felt that his influence among his subjects was declining, and when this feeling arises in barbarous countries, especially when distrust occurs among the troops, the distance from the throne to the grave is short, the bow string is put in requisition, and does it work effectually. But this night the bashaw felt particularly joyous, and so he said, “Let the Christian dogs eat, drink and be merry, for they will bring us a ransom more than the value of the vessels we have lost.”

Next morning the Tripolitans set to work to get the Philadelphia afloat. The frigate was on shore about three miles from Tripoli, and as the corsairs had plenty of large launches, anchors, and cables, and an unlimited number of men, they felt sanguine of saving the vessel. Two days after they got to work the wind came out strong from the northwest, and forcing the water up on the African coast the ship’s stern floated. Anchors were now carried out astern, the whole force at the disposal of the bashaw was applied to the work, and in three days from the commencement of operations the Tripolitans had the Philadelphia afloat. She was towed to within a short distance of town, and there remained until the weather abated; the Tripolitans pumping night and day to keep her free of water.

The Americans supposed that they had effectually destroyed the pumps by dropping shot into them, but if such was the case the Tripolitans soon rigged up others, and the carpenter had scuttled the ship so imperfectly that the holes were stopped without much trouble. Barbarians as they were, the Tripolitans were smart sailors, and taking advantage of the good weather following the northwest gale, they not only succeeded in taking the Philadelphia into port, but in weighing all the guns and anchors which lay in the clear shallow water around the ship, so that there was scare and article thrown overboard that was not recovered.

The American prisoners were deeply mortified to see the Philadelphia repaired as well as circumstances would admit, the guns all mounted, and the anchors in their paces. They had confidently expected that she would have thumped her bottom out in the northwest blow, but it happened she was to leeward of a reef, and the sea broke over her without lifting her much, which accounts for her not going to pieces.

The unwonted kindness of the bashaw did not long continue. From the first he had intended to treat his prisoners as circumstances might occur. He had no doubt that the United States government would now listen to reason, and enable him to propose his own terms of peace. He had three hundred and fifteen prisoners, including twenty-two quarter-deck officers, and rightly supposed that there would be great excitement in the United States over the reduction of all these people to slavery; and hoped to obtain a large amount of money by way of ransom. Previous to this, the bashaw, rather alarmed by the determined attitude of our government, had seemed inclined to listen to terms of peace, but having now gained what he considered a great advantage, he was anxious to continue to the war.

Commodore Preble, who was now in command of the squadron, immediately on hearing of the capture of the Philadelphia, made a proper disposition of his forces, and arrived off Tripoli in the later part of December 1803; but after communicating with Capt. Bainbridge and learning the situation of affairs; he returned in the Constitution to his headquarters at Syracuse, as hostile operations could not be conducted at that season of the year. The first proposition to destroy the Philadelphia came from Capt. Bainbrige and his officers, who took every opportunity, before they were rigorously confined, to ascertain what were the facilities for an active enemy attempting such a task; and the commodore was notified, through Bainbridge, that the vessel was slowly fitting to cruise at sea.

We have all read of the gallant affair of the burning of the Philadelphia by Stephen Decatur in the ketch Intrepid; and as our history will deal as little as possible with matters in which Porter was not personally an actor, we must refer our readers to the chronicles of those times. The rage of the bashaw at the destruction of the Philadelphia was unbounded, and one effect was to increase very much the rigors of his prisoners’ confinement. The satisfaction of the latter, when they saw the flames which destroyed their old ship lighting up the harbor of Tripoli, was short duration. The sailors were put to work carrying stones on their heads and shoulders to repair the fortifications; and at this laborious employment they were kept from morning till night, exposed to burning sun, and supplied with very insufficient rations. Instead of beef, tough camel’s meat was served out to them, and the bread was a miserable article composed of beans instead of wheat.

The officers, although not compelled to labor, had their comforts much curtailed; and the provisions served out to them were of the poorest description. Thus, for upwards of nineteen months, were the unfortunate Americans subjected to a rigorous confinement; the United States government paying no heed to the exhorbitant demands of the bashaw, who required a ransom for his prisoners the sum of $160,000; for, by noticing favorably such a demand, they would have virtually abandoned the principle for which they had been contending. Thus our government was reduced to the painful alternative of leaving their citizens to remain in prison; but resolving to adopt the most energetic measures against their piratical enemies. Notwithstanding the uncomfortable predicament in which our officers and crew were situated, they never murmured at the determination of the government; but, on the contrary, were most anxious that no terms should be entered into for their relief, not strictly honorable to the United States. The officers, seeing that their confinement was likely to be a long one, endeavored to provide against that dullness which is the invariable accompaniment of captivity.

Consul Nissen continued his kind offices and supplied the captives with books; and Porter, whose spirits never flagged, and who never lost an opportunity of encouraging those around him, established a school of instruction for the younger officers, in which all joined. These exercises consumed a greater portion of the day; and evening was spent in such pastimes as could be invented or remembered from among those of their younger days. In this way time passed, if not joyously, at least not uselessly. Lieut. Porter instructed the midshipmen in fleet sailing seamanship, navigation, and gunnery, for which all expressed their indebtedness to him in after years. His own education had been very deficient, for his father could only send him to elementary schools; and he, therefore, took advantage of this opportunity to improve his own mind. He pursued the study of mathematics and the French language, read history carefully, devoted much attention to English grammar, became proficient in right-line drawing, and obtained a fair knowledge of the art of landscape drawing, all of which he considered necessary parts of an officer’s education. It can easily be imagined what a dreary time these captives would have had, shut up in prison for nearly two years, and without the opportunity of communicating with their friends, had there not been some leading spirit to animate them. Captain Bainbridge was allowed a room to himself, in consideration of his rank; his health was not good, and his spirits being greatly depressed in consequence of the loss of his ship, he passed many lonesome hours shut up in his apartment; thus the responsibility of keeping alive the spirits of the party devolved upon his first lieutenant.

The prisoners made many ineffectual attempts to escape, in which Porter always took a conspicuous part; but these attempts had no other result than to increase the severity of their imprisonment. One day they opened communication with the seamen, who on going to their daily work had to traverse a narrow passage past the quarters where the officers were confined. The seamen working on the walls had frequent opportunities of witnessing the operations of the American squadron, and of seeing the preparations of the Tripolitans. By some means a hole was cut through the wall between the officers’ room and the passage, and written communications handed through. This continued without discovery for a considerable time, until at length, grown bold by frequent success, an officer one day undertook to converse with the men going through the passage. The sound of the conversation was overheard by one of the officials appointed to urge the prisoners in their work, the plan was discovered and immediately reported to the Tripolitan officer on duty. The moment this man was informed of what had transpired he rushed into the captive officers’ quarters, his eyes glittering with rage, and demanded to know who had dared to open that hole in the wall; when Lieut. Porter, without a moment’s hesitation, stepped forward and took the blame upon himself. A guard was summoned and Mr. Porter was marched off to the bashaw; his companions, much alarmed at his prospective fate, anxiously waiting to hear what had befallen him. In a few hours Porter returned uninjured to his companions. He had frankly acknowledged his offense to the bashaw, at the same time taking the opportunity to tell Jusef Caramelli how harshly the prisoners were dealt with, protesting in the name of his government against such treatment. Strange to say, the despot, instead of displaying his usual rage, promised to give the matter his consideration, and restored the offender to his anxious friends. The hole was stopped by the bashaw’s order; but from that time their treatment was much improved.

It was a very disheartening thing for those officers to be cooped up when they knew their friends in the squadron were reaping such a harvest of fame, and from Lieut. Porter’s character we can imagine what a conspicuous part he would have taken in the different encounters which were continually taking place between the hostile parties, had he been at liberty to offer his services. They had all to remain quiet, much against their will, and their only consolation was the news of the glorious feats of their comrades outside, which was communicated by their friend Mr. Nissen. The prisoners were frequently in danger from the shot and shell of the United States squadron, which often struck their prison. Once a heavy shot passed through the castle walls into Captain Bainbridge’s room, knocking the stones and mortar on to the bed where the captain was laying and nearly burying him in the rubbish. Bainbridge was instantly pulled out of the debris by his officers, severely injured; and, notwithstanding the danger to which himself and companions were exposed by the bombardment, he wrote to Commodore Preble urging him to keep up the fire with the mortars, at every opportunity, as it demoralized the Tripolitans very much, and would do more than anything else to bring them to terms.

All things will have an end, and the Tripolitan war was no exception to the rule. The United States government at last discovered, that the economical system pursued towards the navy in the early part of Mr. Jefferson’s administration, was not the one to ensure success against a stubborn enemy; so after many earnest appeals from Commodore Preble, who was on his return to the United States in 1804-5, gave all the necessary information on which to base further arrangements for prosecuting the war, a squadron was ordered to be prepared for sea, which when completed, would increase the force before Tripoli to fourteen large vessels carrying 304 guns, ten gun boats carrying 17 guns and two bomb vessels.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Dr. Giuma Anag - Director of Antiquities

Dr. Giuma Anag - Director of Antiquties -
Interview with Dr. Giuma Anag - Director of Antiquities, Tripoli, Libya.
© 2006 by the Archaeological Institute of America

Volume 59 Number 6, November/December 2006

Conversations: Saved by Sand

The challenge of preservation in Libya

In sparsely populated Libya, old buildings have never had to be destroyed to make way for new ones, and what has been abandoned is soon covered with Saharan sand carried in by the ghibli wind each year. The consequence is that Libya is a palimpsest of Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Berber, Christian, Ottoman, and Islamic cultures.

Giuma Anag, director of Libya's Bureau of Antiquities, has championed the cause of archaeology to a government often uninterested in its own cultural heritage. Anag talked with writer Andrew Solomon about his efforts to ensure the survival and protection of some of the world's greatest monuments.

Andrew Solomon: How has archaeology fared in today's Libya?

Dr. Giuma Anag: The view of Libyan authorities has been that the living must be served, while ancient sites that have waited thousands of years can continue to wait. Unfortunately, this policy does not take into account the rapid decay of the exposed sites in modern times.

A.S.: What is the impact of oil exploration on archaeology?

Dr. Anag: It's frequently disastrous. Traditionally, oil has had free reign. Many areas have been mutilated, especially prehistoric sites and rock art. Fortunately, the leader's son, Seif-al-Islam al-Qaddafi, is an exponent of cultural diplomacy and is our great champion. He has supported our request that archaeological surveys be carried out prior to economic activities. A huge body such as our state apparatus takes time to turn around, but it's starting to happen. We would like to think that in the long term our activities could be underwritten at least in part by the oil wealth.

A.S.: In historic terms, what role did colonialism play in the development of Libyan archaeology?

Dr. Anag: The Italians who colonized Libya in the first half of the twentieth century treated the Roman remains on Libyan soil as the basis for a specious claim to a historical right to the country. They were therefore highly motivated to excavate Roman cities and Roman ruins, and they uncovered an enormous amount of material. Unfortunately, they were not interested in anything that didn't fit with their claims, and so they destroyed many surface layers that would have been rich indeed for more careful archaeologists.

A.S.: What are your concerns as Libya opens up to tourism?

Dr. Anag: At a time when the Libyan Minister of Tourism describes tourism as "the new oil," there is a huge question to be resolved: whether the increase in visitors coming to see these sites will result in their preservation or in their being trampled to death. Even the three great sites - Leptis Magna, Cyrene, and Sabratha - are unpoliced and unprotected, and lack any kind of signs or directions to regulate the behavior of visitors.

We need to declare national parks to preserve our natural and cultural heritage. We hope that we can encourage responsible cultural tourism and avoid the kind of mass tourism for which we simply don't have the infrastructure.

A.S.: Has there been looting at Libyan sites? When one visits, it seems as though one could easily walk off with whatever one wanted to take.

Dr. Anag: There are a lot of illegal excavations and illicit trafficking. It's hard to know the extent of the loss. Some inveterate Italian looters, the Castiglione brothers, were taken to court for theft in 1983 and found guilty.

A statue of Hades from Cyrene came up for auction in Maastricht a few years ago, and an American friend tipped us off and we got it back.

We need to increase policing and electronic monitoring of sites and museums. We would like, also, to see a cultural property treaty with the United States, as with other nations; that would be a strong disincentive.

A.S.: Though you have a vast amount of material exposed, aren't archaeologists from here and abroad interested in further excavations?

Dr. Anag: We need to allow some scholarly investigation of what remains unexcavated, and it would be appropriate to determine how much is buried and where it is buried so that we can safeguard it.

Our priority must be to preserve what is already exposed, and to develop the archaeological map of Libya.

Since the Italians exposed and so endangered all this material, they have a moral imperative to work with us on these projects, but we welcome international friends from any foreign place.

Please, send us anyone who can help; there are more than enough projects to occupy everyone

Friday, October 2, 2009

When We Were Pirates

When We Were Pirates

When Richard Somers and Stephen Decatur enlisted in the U.S. Navy, they did so with the intention of fighting pirates.

I’m sure the irony wasn’t lost on them that both young men were the sons of American sea captains who were issued special papers by the government that permitted them to seize British ships, with warships being turned over to the Revolutionary navy and merchant ships and their contents sold at auction.

These civilian militias, known as “privateers,” marauded the British commercial shipping up and down the East Coast.

Richard Somers, Sr., of Somers Point, New Jersey, was a Colonel in the New Jersey Revolutionary militia, commander of the Third Battalion of the Gloucester Militia, and the son of sea captain.

When a privateer captured a British ship, the officers, sailors and soldiers were taken prisoner, to be exchanged for American prisoners, while the cargo was taken to Chestnut Neck, a small Jersey Shore town on the bay where the Mullica river meets the sea.

The town of Chestnut Neck only consisted of a dozen or so buildings, but its position was strategic, as it was difficult to get to overland, and was a convenient port for the privateers, who took their prizes to this small town to auction them and their contents.

They were so brazen about it, they took advertisements in the Philadelphia and New York news papers promoting the sale of goods from a British ship that had been captured.

Up the Mullica river from Chestnut Neck was Batsto, an industrial down with mills along the river that manufactured cannons, cannon balls and musket balls for the revolutionary army.

Needless to say, the British didn’t like the fact that they were such easy prey to what they called a "nest of rebel pirates," though there wasn’t much they could do about it, even with armies in Philadelphia and New York and the most powerful navy in the world.

Eventually they had to do something about it, so they mounted what was to become known in annals of British military history as "The Little Egg Harbor Expedition of 1778." With a regiment of some 500 British Army regulars and tories, they put a fleet together out of New York in late September,`1778. With a dozen or so ships and gunboats they were set to attack Chestnut Neck, but got caught in a storm. By the time they arrived, on October 6, 1778, intelligence had reported they were coming. Though not catching them by surprise, as the rebel ships had left, along with most of the people of the town, there were some 20 captured prize ships, which shows you how prolific they were.

One hundred and fifty men of Col. Somers’ militia manned a small fort, but the cannons Washington had promised had yet to arrive. After a bombardment from the British ships, when the British regiment came ashore, the outnumbered Americans retreated up the river, and the British chased them. When the river got narrow and shallow, their boats ran around. More than one British ship ran aground and the flagship had to be abandoned and sunk.

The American rebels, on their home turf, knew the river well and fought back, in commando style, using hit and run tactics.

Three weeks earlier Colonel Richard Somers' son, Richard, Jr., was born - on September 15, 1778, and it would be this Somers who would distinguish himself as pirate fighter and a hero of Tripoli.

There is a story of local lore, that one of the British soldiers who invaded Chestnut Neck, with orders to kill all the “pirates” and burn their homes, came upon a young girl in hiding, but let her go, and came back after the war to marry her.

Although there is little there today other than a boatyard and a park, a monument was erected in memory of those who fought in the battle of Chestnut Neck, and ceremonies are periodically held there.

For more on the Battle of Chestnut Neck, and photographs, see the Richard Somers Chapter SAR report: Battle of Chestnut Neck 2008 SAR.pdf

One of the best books about the battle of Chestnut Neck is "Nest of Rebel Pirates" by Frankin W. Kemp, a Linwood, New Jersey historian who also wrote an unpublished manuscript on the life and death of Richard Somers, Jr., the naval hero of Tripoli.

Unfortunately, when Kemp took his manuscript to the Atlantic County Historical Society, they had already decided to publish another writer’s biography of Richard Somers, and Kemp’s manuscript was never published. Compounding the problem, Kemp’s wife was unable to locate the manuscript from among Kemp’s papers, and they have yet to be donated to a library and properly archived.

Those who knew Kemp however, relate a story that he told them. Kemp said that he had located an Italian soldier who was stationed in Tripoli in the 1930s, and corresponded with him. This Italian soldier claimed to have participated in the building of a road in Tripoli, and uncovering the remains of five of the men from the Intrepid, which were reburied at the Old Protestant Cemetery. These letters could provide details concerning the location of the original grave site and the circumstances of the reburial.

While these letters may be “lost to history,” the location of the original grave site is not, and it should be easy enough to locate for anyone is there on the scene.

The remains of one of these men is Richard Somers, the pirate fighting son of a pirate from Somers Point, New Jersey.