Friday, February 3, 2012

Lt. Caldwell, Midshipman Dorsey & the Tripoli MIAs

Master Commandant Richard Somers - Commander of the ketch Intrepid on its last mission.

It says, inscribed in Latin on the Tripoli Monument at Annapolis, "Here lies the remains of" before the names of the officers who died in the course of the first war against the Barbary Pirates, including Richard Somers, Henry Wadsworth, Joseph Israel, James Decatur and James Caldwell, among others. This clearly indicates that the officers who had the Tripoli Monument built certainly intended their remains to be retrieved from their Tripoli graves.

While Somers, Wadsworth and Israel were killed in the September 4, 1804 explosion of the Intrepid in Tripoli harbor, the others also died in the course of the Battle of Tripoli and are buried somewhere along its shores.

One of the goals of the mission of the Intrepid was to free the 300 man crew of the frigate USS Philadelphia, which ran aground while chasing a pirate corsair into Tripoli Harbor. Captain Bainbridge surrendered his ship without a fight, which would later lead to his court marshal and acquittal, while his first officer, Lt. David Porter would, once freed, take up the collection to have the Tripoli Monument constructed.

Lt. Stephen Decatur, Richard Somers' childhood schoolmate, took the Intrepid into Tripoli harbor one night disguised as a trader that had run the American blockade, and recaptured and sunk the Philadelphia in Tripoli harbor.

Throughout August 1804, Captain Preble, the commander of the American Squadron, supervised a number of attacks against the pirates at Tripoli, engaging the entire American fleet on at least four occasions, having the larger ships fire cannon broadsides against the castle batteries, while the smaller ships escorted gunboats with cannon mounted on their bows into the enemy fleet, at pistol range and often engaged in sword duels and hand to hand fighting.

Preble assigned Richard Somers to oversee one flank while Stephen Decatur oversaw another, and both achieved success in the fighting during every attack.

Lt. Caldwell, who knew Somers and Decatur as Philadelphia school boys, was given command of a captured enemy gunboat that was outfitted with cannon and ten men. Not long into the first battle,
Caldwell's Gunboat #9 received a direct hit from a hot cannonball fired from the castle ramparts. The fireball hit the gunboat's gunpowder and ammo cache, which resulted in a tremendous explosion that completely destroyed the boat and killed everyone aboard. The bodies of Lt. Caldwell and Midshipman Dorsey, their officer's uniforms clearly seen by the American prisoners being mauled by wild dogs.

In one fight, Stephen Decatur's younger brother, Lt. James Decatur, captured an enemy gunboat, but the pirate captain, after surrendering, killed young Decatur after his guard was down. In the midst of the battle, when Stephen Decatur realized what happened to his brother, disengaged from his own fight, after capturing an enemy boat, cut it lose and went after the pirate captain who had killed his brother. Finding him, while they were engaged in a furious fight, Reuben James took a sword meant for Decatur and saved his life. Decatur killed the enemy captain, but was reprimanded by Preble for losing the pirate ship he had captured.

Some say it was the captured Captain Bainbridge who secreted a note to Preble, suggesting that the Intrepid be outfitted as a fireship and sent back into the harbor to sink the anchored pirate fleet.

Somers and Wadsworth volunteered for that mission and Lt. Israel, who outfitted the Intrepid with its explosives, insisted on joining the mission, which resulted in them all being killed, along with ten other men.

As with Caldwell, Dorsey and the men of Gunboat #9, their bodies washed ashore and were mauled by the wild dogs before they were given over to an American burial party led by the chief surgeon of the Philadelphia Dr. Cowdery, who identified the three officers, primarily by their uniforms.

Lieutenant James R. Caldwell, USN, (1778-1804)

James R. Caldwell was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 1 November 1778. He was appointed a Midshipman in the U.S. Navy in May 1798 and promoted to the rank of Lieutenant at the beginning of November 1800. During the undeclared war with France he served in the frigate United States, schooner Experiment and armed ship Ganges. From late 1801 into 1803 Lieutenant Caldwell was an officer of the frigate Constellation during the initial phase of the war with Tripoli. In mid-1803 he returned to the Mediterranean in the brig Siren to participate in further operations against that piratical North African state. Caldwell distinguished himself in a boat action on 7 July 1804 and also took part in an attack on 3 August that resulted in the capture of three vessels that were taken into the Navy as gunboats. One of these, Gunboat Number 9, was under Caldwell's command when the U.S. squadron again bombarded Tripoli on 7 August 1804. While hotly engaged with an enemy battery, a hot shot penetrated her magazine and Gunboat Number 9 blew up. Lieutenant Caldwell and eleven others were killed or mortally wounded in the explosion.

The U.S. Navy has named two ships in honor of James R. Caldwell, including: USS Caldwell (Destroyer # 69, later DD-69) of 1917-1936; and USS Caldwell (DD-605) of 1942-1966.

The USS Bainbridge, which is on counter-pirate duty off Africa, is named after the Captain of the Philadelphia.

The USS Reuban James was named after the man who saved the life of Lt. Stephen Decatur.

There were six US navy ships named after Richard Somers.

The uniform coat of Lt. Henry Wadsworth, who died in the explosion of the Philadelphia.

Lt. James Caldwell and Midshipman Dorsey and the other ten men of Gunboat #9 were possibly buried by locals on the harbor shore or in the slave cemetery.

Somers, Wadsworth and Decatur, recognized primarily by their uniforms, were buried by Dr. Cowdery in a mass grave near another mass grave that contained the remains of the ten seamen.

When their remains are unearthed, or uncovered in the crypts, it is possible that the three officers can be recognized by their uniforms. If the cloth no longer exists, it is possible that their buttons will be found and provide the clue that will help identify the remains of the officers apart from the others.

So besides the three officers and ten men of the Intrepid, the remains of Lt. Caldwell and Midshipmen Dorsey and the other nine men of Gunboat #9 also remain Missing In Action in Tripoli.

In addition, five men from the Philadelphia decided to defect and convert to the Muslim faith, but when a treaty was established, and Bainbridge and the men of the Philadelphia freed, they were asked if they wanted to go home and all but one of them did. Instead they were either enslaved or executed, and probably buried in the Slave cemetery.

Once freed, Lt. David Porter took up a collection from other officers in Preble's Squadron and commissioned the construction of the Tripoli Monument in the name of the officers who died.

Nearly two hundred years later, in 1988, a Navy plane was shot down after bombing Tripoli during Operation El Dorado Canyon, but the body of only one of the two pilots was discovered, and over the following Christmas, repatriated via the Vatican.

The other officer remains MIA, and is believed to have been found by locals and buried somewhere near Tripoli.

So in total, there are three officers and ten men of the Intrepid, whose remains were recovered and buried, and there was Lt. James Caldwell, Midshipman Dorsey and the other ten men of Gunboat #9.

Then there were the five men of the Philadelphia who deserted and were probably executed.

That's thirteen, twelve and five, who along with the pilot from El Dorado Canyon makes it 31 US Navy men who are Missing In Action in Tripoli.

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