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U.S. Navy stages daring mission during First Barbary War

U.S. Navy stages daring mission during First Barbary War

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During the First Barbary War, U.S. Lieutenant Stephen Decatur leads a military mission that famed British Admiral Horatio Nelson calls the “most daring act of the age.”

In June 1801, President Thomas Jefferson ordered U.S. Navy vessels to the Mediterranean Sea in protest of continuing raids against U.S. ships by pirates from the Barbary states–Morocco, Algeria, Tunis and Tripolitania. American sailors were often abducted along with the captured booty and ransomed back to the United States at an exorbitant price. After two years of minor confrontations, sustained action began in June 1803 when a small U.S. expeditionary force attacked Tripoli harbor in present-day Libya.

In October 1803, the U.S. frigate Philadelphia ran aground near Tripoli and was captured by Tripolitan gunboats. The Americans feared that the well-constructed warship would be both a formidable addition to the Tripolitan navy and an innovative model for building future Tripolitan frigates. Hoping to prevent the Barbary pirates from gaining this military advantage, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur led a daring expedition into Tripoli harbor to destroy the captured American vessel on February 16, 1804.

After disguising himself and his men as Maltese sailors, Decatur’s force of 74 men, which included nine U.S. Marines, sailed into Tripoli harbor on a small two-mast ship. The Americans approached the USS Philadelphia without drawing fire from the Tripoli shore guns, boarded the ship, and attacked its Tripolitan crew, capturing or killing all but two. After setting fire to the frigate, Decatur and his men escaped without the loss of a single American. The Philadelphia subsequently exploded when its gunpowder reserve was lit by the spreading fire.

Six months later, Decatur returned to Tripoli Harbor as part of a larger American offensive and emerged as a hero again during the so-called “Battle of the Gunboats,” a naval battle that saw hand-to-hand combat between the Americans and the Tripolitans.

Barbary Wars

On a mission to free the 307 men taken prisoner from the captured Philadelphia, the USS Constitution, under the command of Commodore Edward Preble, blasts the shore batteries in the harbor of Tripoli.

“Barbary Wars” is a collective name for two naval conflicts, the Tripolitan War of 1800–05 and the Algerine War of 1815. Both were USN actions against the state-sanctioned piracy of Muslim mariners operating out of the “Barbary states” (present-day Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya) on the coast of North Africa. Such piracy had been directed against the shipping of Christian (i. e., non-Muslim) nations since the 17th century, and governments became accustomed to paying extortionate tribute money to the Barbary states for protection against the pirates. Beginning in the administration of Thomas Jefferson, however, U. S. policy would no longer brook extortion, which was seen as a threat to sovereignty.

The origin of the Tripolitan War may be traced to 1785, when Great Britain encouraged Algiers to capture two American vessels. At the time, Jefferson was American minister plenipotentiary to France from this post, he attempted to draw Portugal, Naples, Sardinia, Russia, and France into an anti-Algerian alliance. A French refusal to cooper- ate brought the collapse of the alliance, and Britain incited Algeria to an even more vigorous piracy, in which a dozen American ships were captured and more than 100 American sailors imprisoned. The U.S. government negotiated a treaty with the bey of Algiers in 1795, pledging tribute to secure release of the captives and to ensure freedom of navigation. Additional treaties were concluded with Tunis and Tripoli. The United States, however, delayed sending the tribute money, which, shortly after the inauguration of President Jefferson in 1801, moved Pasha Yusuf Qaramanli, Tripoli’s ruler, to declare war, albeit informally.

Jefferson responded by creating a coalition with Sweden, Sicily, Malta, Portugal, and Morocco against Tripoli, forcing Qaramanli to back down. From 1801 to 1803, one USN frigate and several smaller USN vessels patrolled the Tripolitan coast. In October 1803, USS Philadelphia ran aground and was captured 300 American sailors were imprisoned in Tripoli. In February 1804, however, Lieutenant STEPHEN DECATUR led a daring raid on Tripoli harbor and burned Philadelphia, thereby denying the prize to the bey. Following this, Commodore Edward Preble increased an ongoing bombardment of Tripoli while the American consul at Tunis, William Eaton, proposed an alliance with Ahmed Qaramanli, the brother Yusuf had deposed in 1795. At the same time, Eaton recruited a force of Arabs and Greeks who joined a contingent of U.S. Marines to support the restoration of Ahmed. In coordination with the USN bombardment, Eaton’s force captured Derna in 1805. Eaton had never secured the authorization of the Jefferson government, however, and the president concluded a treaty of peace with Yusuf Qaramanli on June 4, 1805. Although the treaty stipulated a $60,000 ransom to be paid for the release of the American prisoners, it also ended the practice of annual tribute payment, establishing unhindered commerce between the United States and Tripoli. Americans hailed the war as a triumph of U. S. seapower.

Despite the Treaty of Tripoli, Barbary piracy soon revived, especially during the W AR OF 1812, when U. S. Navy vessels that had been patrolling the Barbary waters had to be withdrawn for service closer to home. The bey of Algiers exploited the absence of patrolling vessels to resume piracy. After expelling the U. S. consul and imprisoning or enslaving American nationals, the bey formally declared war in 1815. His timing, however, was bad. With the War of 1812 ended, Commodore Stephen Decatur was able to lead a 10-ship squadron into the Mediterranean and, between March 3 and June 30, 1815, capture two Algerian warships. He then sailed into the harbor of Algiers, where, at the mouth of his cannon, he demanded an end to tribute and the release of all prisoners without ransom. The bey acquiesced, concluding on June 30, 1815, a treaty ending state-sanctioned piracy. Decatur continued on to Tunis and Tripoli, where he also coerced treaties and even secured compensation for American vessels that had been seized by those states (at British prompting) during the War of 1812. Like the Tripolitan War, the briefer Algerine War was a triumph for the U. S. Navy as an instrument of American international policy. Nevertheless, despite the treaty of 1815 and another concluded in 1816, Algerian piracy remained a threat—although at a significantly reduced level— until France captured Algiers in 1830.


For a long time, the Muslim rulers of the so-called Barbary States—Morocco, Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis—sanctioned piracy against the vessels of Christian nations plying the Mediterranean near the coast of North Africa. The so-called Barbary Pirates demanded tribute—protection money—in return for allowing shipping to be conducted unmolested. In its early years, the United States, a struggling young republic in no position to wage war against the Barbary Pirates, concluded tribute treaties. However, in May 1801, a new bey assumed the Tripolitan throne, demanded a more exorbitant tribute, then declared war on the United States in an effort to get it. In 1803, during the course of the war, the bey’s navy captured the USN frigate Philadelphia. Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, USN, led a daring raid, which included marines, to set fire to the Philadelphia while it was in harbor, thereby depriving the bey of his prize.

In 1804, while the U. S. Navy blockaded the harbor of Tripoli, a mixed force of Egyptians, European troops, and eight U. S. Marines under the command of Lieutenant PRESLEY O’BANNON in- cited a revolt against the bey. O’Bannon and his marine detachment led the force 600 miles across the Libyan desert and attacked and took Derna on April 27, 1805, defeating superior forces. Shortly afterward, the bey concluded a favorable peace treaty with the United States—and presented O’Bannon with a jeweled MAMELUKE SWORD , which became the model for that worn by USMC officers on ceremonial occasions. O’Bannon’s victory was also the source of the reference to the “shores of Tripoli” in the MARINE HYMN .


One of the early heroes of the U. S. Navy, Preble was born in Falmouth (modern Portland), Maine, and, during the AMERICAN REVOLUTION , enrolled as a midshipman, not in the fledgling Continental navy but in the state navy of Massachusetts, one of sev- eral navies raised by the states during the conflict. He rose to lieutenant in this service and, after the war, shipped out with the merchant marine. When the QUASI – WAR WITH FRANCE heated up in 1798, Preble joined the USN and, the following year, was promoted to captain. As skipper of the USS Essex, he led an expedition to Batavia, Dutch East Indies. and his ship became the first USN vessel to show the flag beyond the Cape of Good Hope. With the outbreak of the BARBARY WARS , Preble commanded a squadron against the Tripolitan raiders and against Tripoli itself. He enjoyed great success during 1804, then returned to the United States, where he took charge of the construction of a much-needed fleet of GUNBOATS .

Feb 16, 1804: The Most Daring Act of the Age

In June 1801, President Thomas Jefferson ordered U.S. Navy vessels to the Mediterranean Sea in protest of continuing raids against U.S. ships by pirates from the Barbary states–Morocco, Algeria, Tunis, and Tripolitania. American sailors were often abducted along with the captured booty and ransomed back to the United States at an exorbitant price. After two years of minor confrontations, sustained action began in June 1803 when a small U.S. expeditionary force attacked Tripoli harbor in present-day Libya.

In October 1803, the U.S. frigate Philadelphia ran aground near Tripoli and was captured by Tripolitan gunboats. The Americans feared that the well-constructed warship would be both a formidable addition to the Tripolitan navy and an innovative model for building future Tripolitan frigates. Hoping to prevent the Barbary pirates from gaining this military advantage, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur led a daring expedition into Tripoli harbor to destroy the captured American vessel on February 16, 1804.

After disguising himself and his men as Maltese sailors, Decatur’s force of 74 men, which included nine U.S. Marines, sailed into Tripoli harbor on a small two-mast ship. The Americans approached the USS Philadelphia without drawing fire from the Tripoli shore guns, boarded the ship, and attacked its Tripolitan crew, capturing or killing all but two. After setting fire to the frigate, Decatur and his men escaped without the loss of a single American. The Philadelphia subsequently exploded when its gunpowder reserve was lit by the spreading fire.

Six months later, Decatur returned to Tripoli Harbor as part of a larger American offensive and emerged as a hero again during the so-called “Battle of the Gunboats,” a naval battle that saw hand-to-hand combat between the Americans and the Tripolitans.

This special operator was a real life ‘Jason Bourne’

Posted On January 28, 2019 18:40:49

They called him “the East European.”

He was a former Delta Force operator who’d taken a career turn into the shadowy world of “non-official cover” intelligence operations for the Army. He lived in the shadows — traveling around the world to build and maintain his cover as a businessman, with members of his former unit wondering where he’d gone.

But on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the East European executed a daring mission on behalf of America’s top commando units, driving into the heart of Saddam Hussein’s power and surveilling his most fearsome tool of the Iraqi dictator’s oppression.

The East European conducted clandestine electronic surveillance deep inside Baghdad with no official cover. (DOD photo)

The stunning story of the East European is detailed in Sean Naylor’s book “Relentless Strike: The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command.” The operator is said to have been an original member of Delta Force and was on the ill-fated Eagle Claw mission to rescue American hostages in Tehran. Born in Eastern Europe, the elite commando was said to be a “funny, outgoing guy with a heavy accent,” Naylor writes.

The operator left the assaulter side of Delta and worked in the Training, Evaluation and Operational Research office of the unit, which among other things develops high-tech gadgets for Delta commandos to use on covert missions. Later, the East European descended into the shadowy world of a NOC.

These intelligence agents, Naylor writes, were playing a dangerous game. They could infiltrate countries where Americans dared not travel under a realistic cover, but if they were caught, they had no ready support and no diplomatic immunity like CIA officers do. The East European had traveled to Iran in hopes of recruiting military sources there and had even worked inside Iraq in the 1990s as part of the United Nations’ search for WMD. His cover was maintained by a U.S.-allied country in Eastern Europe, and he’d even had access to that country’s embassy in Baghdad, Naylor explained.

Inspectors and other IAEA staff prepare for the resumption of inspections in Iraq 18 Nov, 2002. (Photo Credit: Mark Gwozdecky / IAEA)

But it was after the attacks on 9/11, that the East European was given his most dangerous mission yet.

It was a typical drive from Amman to Baghdad for the American agent, but the vehicle he was driving into Saddam’s capital wasn’t typical at all. The SUV that would carry him into the city was bristling with surveillance equipment implanted by the National Security Agency. The super-secret listening devices were designed to capture cellphone and handheld radio traffic and send the signals back to the U.S. for analysis, Naylor writes.

The East European simply parked the SUV in front of the Iraqi intelligence headquarters in Baghdad and left it there. Military intelligence operatives hoped to get tips on Iraqi military positions just before the invasion and track the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein.

“If you were trying to establish every time that Saddam Hussein’s personal security detail drove around Baghdad, this was a way of doing that,” a Joint Special Operations command officer told Naylor. “The Iraqis were notoriously poor at OPSEC.”

After leaving the vehicle at Iraqi intel HQ, the East European walked the streets of Baghdad with a special GPS device, tagging targets in the Iraqi capital for airstrikes.

The East European pinpointed targets deep inside Baghdad for U.S. bombers during the ‘Shock and Awe’ campaign. (Photo from Democracy Now)

“Such missions entailed enormous risk, not only from the Iraqi security services if the agent was compromised, but from the bombing campaign itself,” Naylor wrote. “Protecting him required careful, up-to-the-minute planning of the airstrikes.”

So if it wasn’t the Mukhabarat that could bring death and destruction to the East European, it was American bombs.

The East European quietly exfiled from Iraq after the invasion and served several more years in military-related intelligence services. But that drive into the heart of Baghdad shows that the feats of Hollywood superstars like Jason Bourne aren’t entirely the stuff of fiction.


HISTORY CORNER: U.S. Navy and Marines defeat Barbary pirates

Thomas Luny (1769-1837) painting of Bombardment of Algiers in August 1816 depicting major attack on Barbary pirate stronghold by joint Spanish-Neapolitan-Maltese-Portuguese fleet commanded by the experienced Spanish Admiral Antonio Barceló, causing high casualties that brought fear of another attack, eventually forcing a peace treaty.

President Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) ordered a stop to Barbary piracy against American Ships.

Painting by English-born American artist Edward Moran (1829-1901) of deliberate burning of frigate USS Philadelphia captured by Tripolitans after running aground in Tripoli harbor during Barbary Wars, the destruction made by Stephen Decatur and 60 men who escaped in ketch Intrepid shown in foreground.

Painting by Charles Bird King (1785-1862) of U.S. Navy hero Stephen Decatur Jr. (1779-1820).

Illustration depicting Barbary pirate ship.

Barbary pirate ship model owned by maritime fiction writer Alaric Bond.

Painting by Dennis Malone Carter (1820-1881) of Stephen Decatur boarding a Tripolitan gunboat during a Barbary War naval engagement, Aug. 3, 1804, with Decatur in blue uniform in lower right center.

Painting by Aert Anthniszoon (c.1580-1620) French ship under attack by Barbary pirates.

Worldwide piracy locations today.

USMC artist Charles Waterhouse (1924-2013) painting of U.S. Marines led by Lieutenant Presley N. O’Bannon attacking Barbary fortress of Durna in 1805 to rescue kidnapped crew of USS Philadelphia, after marching across 600 miles of Libyan desert to “shores of Tripoli” in the First Barbara War.

Dey of Algiers who demanded and received tribute payments from the U.S. in exchange for not hijacking American shipping (1817).

U.S. Navy Captain William Bainbridge delivering tribute payment to Dey of Algiers in exchange for leaving American shipping free of Barbary pirate attacks, a practice ended by President Thomas Jefferson.

Today’s South China Sea pirates.

U.S. Navy Commodore Edward Preble (1761-1607), commander of first American fleet to fight back against the Barbary pirates in the First Barbary War (1801-1805).

Thomas Jefferson had barely been inaugurated as president before having to deal with a major thorn in the side of the fledgling United States — attacks on American shipping by Muslim pirates in the Mediterranean, so he sent Stephen Decatur with a small fleet of warships to stop them.

Jefferson already knew a great deal about Barbary pirates, from his days as an American diplomat in Paris.

What followed was the First Barbary War — America’s first overseas war against a foreign enemy.

Piracy on the high seas has been around since the 13th century B.C., according to ancient Egyptian chronicles, writing about raids by the “Sea Peoples” in the shipping lanes of the eastern Mediterranean.

Then in the days of Julius Caesar, even the mighty Romans were plagued by pirates, with the lucrative slave trade fueling much of it.

According to early Roman historian Lucius Cassius Dio, pirates were more difficult to catch or break up than bandits. The pirates raided Mediterranean coastal fields and towns, causing food shortages in Rome.

Finally, Caesar had enough and sent ally (and later rival) Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus “Pompey the Great” to help get rid of them.

Pompey captured 71 pirate ships and 306 more that were surrendered. He also seized 120 towns and fortresses, and killing about 10,000 pirates. Mercifully, he relocated another 20,000 pirates to sparsely populated parts of the empire to help develop those areas.

That didn’t end the slave trade however.

After Pompey’s victory over the pirates, Rome still needed slaves, and the pirates who weren’t caught were central agents to provide them.

Even Pompey’s own son, Sextus became a pirate and commanded a pirate fleet.

Europeans soon got into the act of piracy that continues to this day. Many countries commissioned privateers to plunder shipping on behalf of the government. Queen Elizabeth I, for example, authorized Sir Francis Drake to attack Spanish ships.

Barbary piracy emerged with the rise of the Ottoman Empire about A.D. 1300.

The Barbary pirates, sometimes called Barbary or Ottoman corsairs, were Muslim pirates and privateers who operated from North Africa, mostly from Salé, Rabat, Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli — seaports on the Mediterranean “Barbary Coast.”

During colonial times, American merchant ships had the protection of the Royal Navy, but that ended after Independence. The corsairs agreed to spare English ships for payment of an annual bribe — usually in gold, jewels, arms and supplies. Other European countries did the same.

After becoming independent, the United States had no naval warships to protect its merchant fleet and little money to build them.

Aware of that weakness, Barbary pirates from Morocco, Tripoli, Algiers and Tunis pounced on American ships sailing in the Mediterranean throughout the 1780s, stealing the cargo and holding the crew captive for ransom or slavery.

America wasn’t ready for war, so the ransom was paid — sanctioned by presidents Washington and Adams.

It was cheaper to pay than fight.

During that time, Thomas Jefferson served as U.S. Ambassador to France and was against paying tribute.

When he became president in 1801, Tripoli demanded $225,000 (about $3.5 million today) in tribute from the new administration.

Then Tripoli declared war and chopped down the flagstaff in front of the American Consulate.

Without a formal declaration of war, Congress authorized Jefferson to send four naval vessels and Marines to the Mediterranean to defend American shipping interests and rescue captive crewmembers.

He was further authorized to instruct his commanders to do whatever is necessary to accomplish the mission.

Sweden joined the effort, and Malta helped with supplies.

Hostilities began on Aug. 1, 1801 when the USS Enterprise schooner armed with 12 six-pounder cannons and 80 men commanded by Lieutenant Andrew Sterett engaged the Tripolitan corsair Tripoli with 14 six-pounders and 80 men.

The Americans won easily and had no casualties, while the Tripolitans suffered 50.

They cut down the ship’s masts and let it go. The crippled pirate ship limped back to Tripoli, where the Dey (ruler) was so angry at the captain, he paraded him through the streets tied backward on a donkey.

Then he was given 500 whacks on the soles of his feet.

The Enterprise sailed on for Malta for new supplies before returning to blockade duty and attacking Barbary pirate ships.

In October 1803, the 16-gun USS Philadelphia ran aground on an uncharted reef near Tripoli. All efforts to refloat the ship failed. The Tripolitans then took over the ship and refloated it while holding the American crew hostage.

To stop them using the Philadelphia as a pirate ship, Captain Stephen Decatur and a small detachment of Marines sailed a captured local vessel into Tripoli harbor in the dark of night, pretending to be in distress.

Sideling up to the Philadelphia, they set it ablaze.

Britain’s Lord Nelson called it, “the most bold and daring act of the age.”

For 19 months, the 315 officers and crew from the Philadelphia captured by Jusuf Karamanli, ruling pasha of Tripoli, languished in a fortress overlooking the harbor. The food was poor and they had little clothing, but the Danish consul did what he could to help them.

Their captivity ended in 1805 after the Battle of Durna.

Ex-U.S. consul and former Army captain William Eaton and Marine Lieutenant Presley N. O’Bannon and eight Marines assembled a force of 500 Greek, Arab and Berber mercenaries in Alexandria, Egypt.

Then they led them on a torturous 521-mile trek across the Libyan desert to make a surprise attack on the city of Derna, a pirate haven seaport on “the shores of Tripoli.”

Their mission was to oust Yusuf Karamanli, the ruling pasha of Tripoli who had deposed his brother Hamet who was sympathetic to the U.S.

With support by three U.S. Navy ships bombarding Durna with their big guns, the Americans won a decisive victory in 16 days, with few casualties.

Not wanting another bitter defeat, Yusuf arranged a peace treaty with U.S. Consul Tobias Lear, ending the conflict, and releasing the captured crew from the Philadelphia.

The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty a year later.

Eaton and O’Bannon returned to the United States as heroes.

Hamet Karamanli didn’t get the throne back and returned to exile in Egypt.

The peace treaty was short-lived. Soon the Barbary pirates went back to preying on merchant ships — triggering the Second Barbary War.

In the years between the two Barbary wars, hostility between the U.S. and Britain was brewing that would erupt in the War of 1812. Britain was battling the French under Napoleon, and would seize any American ships trading with France.

They also forced captured American crewmembers to serve in the Royal Navy — impressment.

During that time, the British encouraged the Barbary pirates to attack American merchant ships.

When the 1812 war ended in 1815 with the Treaty of Ghent, the U.S. returned to dealing with the Barbary pirates.

Congress then authorized deployment of a 10-ship naval squadron commanded by Commodore Stephen Decatur to go after the Algerian pirates.

In the Mediterranean, he captured several pirate ships, then confronted the Dey of Algiers with tough talk about stopping the piracy and demanded compensation for losses — threatening destruction if he didn’t comply.

The Dey capitulated, released 10 captives and agreed to full payment for injuries to Americans. In return, Decatur gave back two captured ships and about 500 of the Dey’s subjects.

The treaty guaranteed no further tribute demands and granted safe shipping rights in the Mediterranean.

Decatur then signed similar agreements with others Barbary countries.

With the signing of the treaty, all the crew and officers of the USS Philadelphia held in captivity for 19 months were set free.

Commodore Stephen Decatur’s final years were as a Navy Commissioner and prominent Washington, D.C., social figure.

He died on March 24, 1820, from a wound sustained two days earlier in a dual with Commodore James Baron. President James Monroe and 10,000 citizens attended his funeral.

America’s Navy hero and “Conqueror of the Barbary Pirates” was only 41.

The Barbary States, although they did not capture anymore U.S. ships, the Barbary corsairs resumed raids in the Mediterranean, and despite punitive British bombardments didn’t end their piracy until the French conquest of Algeria in 1830.

The Barbary War victories were a bold start for a young America.

Contact Syd Albright at [email protected]

Famous captives held by pirates…

Among the famous prisoners held captive by the Barbara pirates and later ransomed were St. Vincent de Paul and Miguel de Cervantes, author of "Don Quixote."

Failed negotiations in London…

In March 1786, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams went to London to negotiate with Tripoli's envoy, Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdurrahman to end the piracy. The Americans were told that “the Koran says that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave.”

A first for Old Glory…

After winning the battle at Derna, Marine Lieutenant Edward O’Bannon raised the 15-star and 15-stripe American flag (later made famous in the War of 1812 as the "Star-Spangled Banner"), over the fortress. It was the first time the Stars-and-Stripes had ever flown over a fortification on that side of the Atlantic.

Mercenary mutiny…

On the long trek from Egypt, Eaton and O’Bannon’s mercenaries started talking mutiny when food rations ran low. Tension developed between the Orthodox-Christian Greeks and the 200 to 300 Muslim Arabs and Turks. Several Arab camel drivers did run away, and at one point, some Arabs tried to raid the supply wagon but were stopped by the Marines and a few Greek artillerymen.

Stephen Decatur — American hero…

At age 25, Stephen Decatur became the youngest man to reach the rank of captain in U.S. Naval history. He served in three major wars and made the U.S. Navy a superpower with his exceptional leadership qualities. Five U.S. Navy ships have been named after him.

Thomas Luny (1769-1837) painting of Bombardment of Algiers in August 1816 depicting major attack on Barbary pirate stronghold by joint Spanish-Neapolitan-Maltese-Portuguese fleet commanded by the experienced Spanish Admiral Antonio Barceló, causing high casualties that brought fear of another attack, eventually forcing a peace treaty.


President Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) ordered a stop to Barbary piracy against American Ships.

Painting by English-born American artist Edward Moran (1829-1901) of deliberate burning of frigate USS Philadelphia captured by Tripolitans after running aground in Tripoli harbor during Barbary Wars, the destruction made by Stephen Decatur and 60 men who escaped in ketch Intrepid shown in foreground.


Painting by Charles Bird King (1785-1862) of U.S. Navy hero Stephen Decatur Jr. (1779-1820).

Illustration depicting Barbary pirate ship.


Barbary pirate ship model owned by maritime fiction writer Alaric Bond.

Painting by Dennis Malone Carter (1820-1881) of Stephen Decatur boarding a Tripolitan gunboat during a Barbary War naval engagement, Aug. 3, 1804, with Decatur in blue uniform in lower right center.

Painting by Aert Anthniszoon (c.1580-1620) French ship under attack by Barbary pirates.


Barbary corsairs and crews from the North African Ottoman provinces of Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, and the independent Sultanate of Morocco under the Alaouite dynasty (the Barbary Coast) were the scourge of the Mediterranean. [6] Capturing merchant ships and enslaving or ransoming their crews provided the Muslim rulers of these nations with wealth and naval power. The Roman Catholic Trinitarian Order, or order of "Mathurins", had operated from France for centuries with the special mission of collecting and disbursing funds for the relief and ransom of prisoners of Mediterranean pirates. According to Robert Davis, between 1 and 1.25 million Europeans were captured by Barbary pirates and sold as slaves between the 16th and 19th centuries. [7]

Barbary corsairs led attacks upon American merchant shipping in an attempt to extort ransom for the lives of captured sailors, and ultimately tribute from the United States to avoid further attacks, as they did with the various European states. [8] Before the Treaty of Paris, which formalized the United States' independence from Great Britain, U.S. shipping was protected by France during the revolutionary years under the Treaty of Alliance (1778–83). Although the treaty does not mention the Barbary States in name, it refers to common enemies between both the U.S. and France. As such, piracy against U.S. shipping only began to occur after the end of the American Revolution, when the U.S. government lost its protection under the Treaty of Alliance.

This lapse of protection by a European power led to the first American merchant ship being seized after the Treaty of Paris. On 11 October 1784, Moroccan pirates seized the brigantine Betsey. [9] The Spanish government negotiated the freedom of the captured ship and crew however, Spain offered advice to the United States on how to deal with the Barbary States. The advice was to offer tribute to prevent further attacks against merchant ships. The U.S. Minister to France, Thomas Jefferson, decided to send envoys to Morocco and Algeria to try to purchase treaties and the freedom of the captured sailors held by Algeria. [10] Morocco was the first Barbary Coast State to sign a treaty with the U.S., on 23 June 1786. This treaty formally ended all Moroccan piracy against American shipping interests. Specifically, article six of the treaty states that if any Americans captured by Moroccans or other Barbary Coast States docked at a Moroccan city, they would be set free and come under the protection of the Moroccan State. [11]

American diplomatic action with Algeria, the other major Barbary Coast State, was much less productive than with Morocco. Algeria began piracy against the U.S. on 25 July 1785 with the capture of the schooner Maria, and Dauphin a week later. [12] All four Barbary Coast states demanded $660,000 each. However, the envoys were given only an allocated budget of $40,000 to achieve peace. [13] Diplomatic talks to reach a reasonable sum for tribute or for the ransom of the captured sailors struggled to make any headway. The crews of Maria and Dauphin remained enslaved for over a decade, and soon were joined by crews of other ships captured by the Barbary States. [14]

In 1795, Algeria came to an agreement that resulted in the release of 115 American sailors they held, at a cost of over $1 million. This amount totaled about one-sixth of the entire U.S. budget, [15] and was demanded as tribute by the Barbary States to prevent further piracy. The continuing demand for tribute ultimately led to the formation of the United States Department of the Navy, founded in 1798 [16] to prevent further attacks upon American shipping and to end the demands for extremely large tributes from the Barbary States.

Various letters and testimonies by captured sailors describe their captivity as a form of slavery, even though Barbary Coast imprisonment was different from that practiced by the U.S. and European powers of the time. [17] Barbary Coast prisoners were able to obtain wealth and property, along with achieving status beyond that of a slave. One such example was James Leander Cathcart, who rose to the highest position a Christian slave could achieve in Algeria, becoming an adviser to the bey (governor). [18] Even so, most captives were pressed into hard labor in the service of the Barbary pirates, and struggled under extremely poor conditions that exposed them to vermin and disease. As word of their treatment reached the U.S., through freed captives' narratives and letters, Americans pushed for direct government action to stop the piracy against U.S. ships.

In March 1786, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams went to London to negotiate with Tripoli's envoy, ambassador Sidi Haji Abdrahaman (or Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja). When they enquired "concerning the ground of the pretensions to make war upon nations who had done them no injury", the ambassador replied:

It was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave and that every mussulman who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise. He said, also, that the man who was the first to board a vessel had one slave over and above his share, and that when they sprang to the deck of an enemy's ship, every sailor held a dagger in each hand and a third in his mouth which usually struck such terror into the foe that they cried out for quarter at once. [25]

Jefferson reported the conversation to Secretary of Foreign Affairs John Jay, who submitted the ambassador's comments and offer to Congress. Jefferson argued that paying tribute would encourage more attacks. Although John Adams agreed with Jefferson, he believed that circumstances forced the U.S. to pay tribute until an adequate navy could be built. The U.S. had just fought an exhausting war, which put the nation deep in debt. Federalist and Anti-Federalist forces argued over the needs of the country and the burden of taxation. Jefferson's own Democratic-Republicans and anti-navalists believed that the future of the country lay in westward expansion, with Atlantic trade threatening to siphon money and energy away from the new nation, to be spent on wars in the Old World. [26] The U.S. paid Algiers the ransom, and continued to pay up to $1 million per year over the next 15 years for the safe passage of American ships and the return of American hostages. [ citation needed ] A $1 million payment in ransom and tribute to the privateering states amounted to approximately 10% of the U.S. government's annual revenues in 1800. [27]

Jefferson continued to argue for cessation of the tribute, with rising support from George Washington and others. With the recommissioning of the American Navy in 1794 and the resulting increased firepower on the seas, it became increasingly possible for America to refuse paying tribute, although by now the long-standing habit was hard to overturn.

The Barbary Wars

With one significant exception, American intervention in Africa has been restricted to the postcolonial era. The exception occurred during the formative years of the United States, when the Barbary pirates of the North African coast clashed with the nascent American Navy and Marine Corps.

The coast of North Africa had long been a haven to the semiautonomous states of Tripoli, Tunis, Algiers, and Morocco, known collectively as the Barbary States. The coast was long held in check by the Knights of St. John, based on the island of Malta. However, the destruction of the Knights during the Napoleonic Wars (c. 1799–1815) opened up a power vacuum in the Mediterranean, which the pirates were quick to exploit.

Meanwhile, the United States, newly independent and no longer able to benefit from British naval protection, found its merchant fleet at the mercy of the resurgent Barbary pirates. The United States adopted a policy of paying “protection money” to the Barbary pirates. Thomas Jefferson, ambassador to France under John Adams, vigorously opposed this policy. Upon becoming president in 1801 he immediately cut off the payments, which were amounting to 20 percent of the government's annual revenue by that point.

The result of this new hard-line policy was the First Barbary War, which lasted until 1805. Although an undeclared war, Congress did appropriate funds for its execution, enabling the fledgling U.S. Navy to operate against its North African foes.

The course of the war took a dramatic turn in 1804 with the capture of the USS Philadelphia and its crew. On February 16, Captain Stephen Decatur led a raid on the Tripoli harbor, where the Philadelphia was moored, to destroy the ship, thus denying its use to the pirates. It was a daring raid and a complete success. Decatur returned home as one of the country's first national heroes.

Two months later, a unit of marines under General William Eaton landed on the “shores of Tripoli.” With an assortment of five hundred Arab, Greek, and Berber mercenaries, the Marines executed a fifty-day, five hundred-mile march over vast tracts of Libyan desert to find victory at the Battle of Derne, the decisive conflict of the war. A negotiated settlement was soon reached: in exchange for $60,000, the Barbary states pledged to hand over three hundred prisoners and cease attacks on American ships. Although money had once again been paid, a distinction was drawn: this was no longer tribute, but rather a ransom.

The power of the Barbary pirates was not broken, however. As the United States became embroiled in war with Great Britain in 1812, the Dey of Algiers began renewed raids on U.S. shipping. With the British defeat in 1815, Congress once again sent Stephen Decatur to North Africa to deal with the pirate threat. Within a month of departure, Decatur had captured two Algerian ships and forced the Dey to turn over all American and most European prisoners and to pay America a $10,000 indemnity.

The Second Barbary War marked the effective end of the North African pirates as a significant threat. By the 1830s, the region had been divvied up between France and the Ottoman Empire, even as the rest of Africa began to rapidly fall under European colonial domination. This domination necessarily prevented the United States from exerting influence in African affairs for over a century.


In 1785, Barbary pirates began to seize American merchant vessels in the Mediterranean Sea, most notably from Algiers. In 1793 alone, 11 American ships were captured and their crews and stores held for ransom. To combat this problem, proposals were made for warships to protect American shipping, resulting in the Naval Act of 1794. [12] [13] The act provided funds to construct six frigates, but it included a clause that the construction of the ships would be halted if peace terms were agreed to with Algiers. [14]

Joshua Humphreys' design was unusual for the time, being deep, [15] long on keel, narrow of beam (width), and mounting very heavy guns. The design called for a diagonal riders intended to restrict hogging and sagging while giving the ships extremely heavy planking. This design gave the hull a greater strength than a more lightly built frigate. It was based on Humphrey's realization that the fledgling United States could not match the European states in the size of their navies, so they were designed to overpower any other frigate while escaping from a ship of the line. [16] [17] [18]

Her keel was laid down on 1 November 1794 at Edmund Hartt's shipyard in Boston, Massachusetts under the supervision of Captain Samuel Nicholson, master shipwright Colonel George Claghorn and Foreman Prince Athearn of the Martha's Vineyard Athearns. [19] [20] Constitution ' s hull was built 21 inches (530 mm) thick and her length between perpendiculars was 175 ft (53 m), with a 204 ft (62 m) length overall and a width of 43 ft 6 in (13.26 m). [3] [5] In total, 60 acres (24 ha) of trees were needed for her construction. [21] Primary materials consisted of pine and oak, including southern live oak which was cut from Gascoigne Bluff and milled near St. Simons, Georgia. [19]

A peace accord was announced between the United States and Algiers in March 1796, and construction was halted in accordance with the Naval Act of 1794. [22] After some debate and prompting by President Washington, Congress agreed to continue funding the construction of the three ships nearest to completion: United States, Constellation, and Constitution. [23] [24] Constitution ' s launching ceremony on 20 September 1797 was attended by President John Adams and Massachusetts Governor Increase Sumner. Upon launch, she slid down the ways only 27 feet (8.2 m) before stopping her weight had caused the ways to settle into the ground, preventing further movement. An attempt two days later resulted in only an additional 31 feet (9.4 m) of travel before the ship again stopped. After a month of rebuilding the ways, Constitution finally slipped into Boston Harbor on 21 October 1797, with Captain James Sever breaking a bottle of Madeira wine on her bowsprit. [25] [26]

Armament Edit

Constitution was rated as a 44-gun frigate, but she often carried more than 50 guns at a time. [27] Ships of this era had no permanent battery of guns such as those of modern Navy ships. The guns and cannons were designed to be completely portable and often were exchanged between ships as situations warranted. Each commanding officer outfitted armaments to his liking, taking into consideration factors such as the overall weight of stores, complement of personnel aboard, and planned routes to be sailed. Consequently, the armaments on ships changed often during their careers, and records of the changes were not generally kept. [28]

During the War of 1812, Constitution ' s battery of guns typically consisted of 30 long 24-pounder (11 kg) cannons, with 15 on each side of the gun deck. Another 22 guns were deployed on the spar deck, 11 per side, each a short 32-pounder (15 kg) carronade. Four chase guns were also positioned, two each at the stern and bow. [29]

All of the guns aboard Constitution have been replicas since her 1927–1931 restoration. Most were cast in 1930, but two carronades on the spar deck were cast in 1983. [30] A modern 40 mm (1.6 in) saluting gun was hidden inside the forward long gun on each side during her 1973–1976 restoration in order to restore the capability of firing ceremonial salutes. [31]

President John Adams ordered all Navy ships to sea in late May 1798 to patrol for armed French ships and to free any American ship captured by them. Constitution was still not ready to sail and eventually had to borrow sixteen 18-pound (8.2 kg) cannons from Castle Island before finally being ready. [4] She put to sea on the evening of 22 July 1798 with orders to patrol the Eastern seaboard between New Hampshire and New York. She was patrolling between Chesapeake Bay and Savannah, Georgia a month later when Nicholson found his first opportunity for capturing a prize. They intercepted Niger off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina on 8 September, a 24-gun ship sailing with a French crew en route from Jamaica to Philadelphia, claiming to have been under the orders of Great Britain. [32] Nicholson had the crewmen imprisoned, perhaps not understanding his orders correctly. He placed a prize crew aboard Niger and brought her into Norfolk, Virginia.

Constitution sailed south again a week later to escort a merchant convoy, but her bowsprit was severely damaged in a gale and she returned to Boston for repairs. In the meantime, Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert determined that Niger had been operating under the orders of Great Britain as claimed, and the ship and her crew were released to continue their voyage. The American government paid a restitution of $11,000 to Great Britain. [33] [34]

Constitution departed Boston on 29 December. Nicholson reported to Commodore John Barry, who was flying his flag in United States near the island of Dominica for patrols in the West Indies. On 15 January 1799, Constitution intercepted the English merchantman Spencer, which had been taken prize by the French frigate L'Insurgente a few days prior. Technically, Spencer was a French ship operated by a French prize crew but Nicholson released the ship and her crew the next morning, perhaps hesitant after the affair with Niger. [35] [36] Upon joining Barry's command, Constitution almost immediately had to put in for repairs to her rigging due to storm damage, and it was not until 1 March that anything of note occurred. On this date, she encountered HMS Santa Margarita [37] [38] whose captain was an acquaintance of Nicholson. The two agreed to a sailing duel, which the English captain was confident he would win. But after 11 hours of sailing, Santa Margarita lowered her sails and admitted defeat, paying off the bet with a cask of wine to Nicholson. [39] Resuming her patrols, Constitution managed to recapture the American sloop Neutrality on 27 March and, a few days later, the French ship Carteret. Secretary Stoddert had other plans, however, and recalled Constitution to Boston. She arrived there on 14 May, and Nicholson was relieved of command. [40]

Change of command Edit

Captain Silas Talbot was recalled to duty to command Constitution and serve as Commodore of operations in the West Indies. After repairs and resupply were completed, Constitution departed Boston on 23 July with a destination of Saint-Domingue via Norfolk and a mission to interrupt French shipping. She took the prize Amelia from a French prize crew on 15 September, and Talbot sent the ship back to New York City with an American prize crew. Constitution arrived at Saint-Domingue on 15 October and rendezvoused with Boston, General Greene, and Norfolk. No further incidents occurred over the next six months, as French depredations in the area had declined. Constitution busied herself with routine patrols and Talbot made diplomatic visits. [41] It was not until April 1800 that Talbot investigated an increase in ship traffic near Puerto Plata, Santo Domingo, and discovered that the French privateer Sandwich had taken refuge there. On 8 May the squadron captured the sloop Sally, and Talbot hatched a plan to capture Sandwich by utilizing the familiarity of Sally to allow the Americans access to the harbor. [42] First Lieutenant Isaac Hull led 90 sailors and Marines into Puerto Plata without challenge on 11 May, capturing Sandwich and spiking the guns of the nearby Spanish fort. [43] However, it was later determined that Sandwich had been captured from a neutral port she was returned to the French with apologies, and no prize money was awarded to the squadron. [44] [45]

Routine patrols again occupied Constitution for the next two months, until 13 July, when the mainmast trouble of a few months before recurred. She put into Cap Français for repairs. With the terms of enlistment soon to expire for the sailors aboard her, she made preparations to return to the United States and was relieved of duty by Constellation on 23 July. Constitution escorted 12 merchantmen to Philadelphia on her return voyage, and on 24 August put in at Boston, where she received new masts, sails, and rigging. Even though peace was imminent between the United States and France, Constitution again sailed for the West Indies on 17 December as squadron flagship, rendezvousing with Congress, Adams, Augusta, Richmond, and Trumbull. Although no longer allowed to pursue French shipping, the squadron was assigned to protect American shipping and continued in that capacity until April 1801, when Herald arrived with orders for the squadron to return to the United States. Constitution returned to Boston, where she lingered she was finally scheduled for an overhaul in October, but it was later canceled. She was placed in ordinary on 2 July 1802. [46]

The United States paid tribute to the Barbary States during the Quasi-War to ensure that American merchant ships were not harassed and seized. [47] In 1801, Yusuf Karamanli of Tripoli was dissatisfied that the United States was paying him less than they paid Algiers, and he demanded an immediate payment of $250,000. [48] In response, Thomas Jefferson sent a squadron of frigates to protect American merchant ships in the Mediterranean and to pursue peace with the Barbary States. [49] [50]

The first squadron under the command of Richard Dale in President was instructed to escort merchant ships through the Mediterranean and to negotiate with leaders of the Barbary States. [49] A second squadron was assembled under the command of Richard Valentine Morris in Chesapeake. The performance of Morris's squadron was so poor, however, that he was recalled and subsequently dismissed from the Navy in 1803. [51]

Captain Edward Preble recommissioned Constitution on 13 May 1803 as his flagship and made preparations to command a new squadron for a third blockade attempt. The copper sheathing on her hull needed to be replaced and Paul Revere supplied the copper sheets necessary for the job. [52] [53] She departed Boston on 14 August, and she encountered an unknown ship in the darkness on 6 September, near the Rock of Gibraltar. Constitution went to general quarters, then ran alongside the unknown ship. Preble hailed her, only to receive a hail in return. He identified his ship as the United States frigate Constitution but received an evasive answer from the other ship. Preble replied: "I am now going to hail you for the last time. If a proper answer is not returned, I will fire a shot into you." The stranger returned, "If you give me a shot, I'll give you a broadside." Preble demanded that the other ship identify herself and the stranger replied, "This is His Britannic Majesty's ship Donegal, 84 guns, Sir Richard Strachan, an English commodore." He then commanded Preble, "Send your boat on board." Preble was now devoid of all patience and exclaimed, "This is United States ship Constitution, 44 guns, Edward Preble, an American commodore, who will be damned before he sends his boat on board of any vessel." And then to his gun crews: "Blow your matches, boys!" [Note 2] Before the incident escalated further, however, a boat arrived from the other ship and a British lieutenant relayed his captain's apologies. The ship was in fact not Donegal but instead HMS Maidstone, a 32-gun frigate. Constitution had come alongside her so quietly that Maidstone had delayed answering with the proper hail while she readied her guns. [54] This act began the strong allegiance between Preble and the officers under his command, known as "Preble's boys", as he had shown that he was willing to defy a presumed ship of the line. [55] [56]

Constitution arrived at Gibraltar on 12 September where Preble waited for the other ships of the squadron. His first order of business was to arrange a treaty with Sultan Slimane of Morocco, who was holding American ships hostage to ensure the return of two vessels that the Americans had captured. Constitution and Nautilus departed Gibraltar on 3 October and arrived at Tangiers on the 4th. Adams and New York arrived the next day. With four American warships in his harbor, the Sultan was glad to arrange the transfer of ships between the two nations, and Preble departed with his squadron on 14 October, heading back to Gibraltar. [57] [58] [59]

Battle of Tripoli Harbor Edit

Philadelphia ran aground off Tripoli on 31 October under the command of William Bainbridge while pursuing a Tripoline vessel. The crew was taken prisoner Philadelphia was refloated by the Tripolines and brought into their harbor. [60] [61] To deprive the Tripolines of their prize, Preble planned to destroy Philadelphia using the captured ship Mastico, which was renamed Intrepid. Intrepid entered Tripoli Harbor on 16 February 1804 under the command of Stephen Decatur, disguised as a merchant ship. Decatur's crew quickly overpowered the Tripoline crew and set Philadelphia ablaze. [62] [63]

Preble withdrew the squadron to Syracuse, Sicily and began planning for a summer attack on Tripoli. He procured a number of smaller gunboats that could move in closer to Tripoli than was feasible for Constitution, given her deep draft. [64] Constitution, Argus, Enterprise, Scourge, Syren, the six gunboats, and two bomb ketches arrived the morning of 3 August and immediately began operations. Twenty-two Tripoline gunboats met them in the harbor Constitution and her squadron severely damaged or destroyed the Tripoline gunboats in a series of attacks over the coming month, taking their crews prisoner. Constitution primarily provided gunfire support, bombarding the shore batteries of Tripoli—yet Karamanli remained firm in his demand for ransom and tribute, despite his losses. [65] [66]

Preble outfitted Intrepid as a "floating volcano" with 100 short tons (91 t) of gunpowder aboard in a final attempt of the season. She was to sail into Tripoli harbor and blow up in the midst of the corsair fleet, close under the walls of the city. Intrepid made her way into the harbor on the evening of 3 September under the command of Richard Somers, but she exploded prematurely, killing Somers and his entire crew of thirteen volunteers. [67] [68]

Constellation and President arrived at Tripoli on the 9th with Samuel Barron in command Preble was forced to relinquish his command of the squadron to Barron, who was senior in rank. [69] Constitution was ordered to Malta on the 11th for repairs and, while en route, captured two Greek vessels attempting to deliver wheat into Tripoli. [70] On the 12th, a collision with President severely damaged Constitution ' s bow, stern, and figurehead of Hercules. The collision was attributed to an act of God in the form of a sudden change in wind direction. [71] [72]

Peace treaty Edit

Captain John Rodgers assumed command of Constitution on 9 November 1804 while she underwent repairs and resupply in Malta. She resumed the blockade of Tripoli on 5 April 1805, capturing a Tripoline xebec, along with two prizes that the xebec had captured. [73] Meanwhile, Commodore Barron gave William Eaton naval support to bombard Derne, while a detachment of US Marines under the command of Presley O'Bannon was assembled to attack the city by land. They captured it on 27 April. [74] A peace treaty with Tripoli was signed aboard Constitution on 3 June, in which she embarked the crew members of Philadelphia and returned them to Syracuse. [75] She was then dispatched to Tunis and arrived there on 30 July. Seventeen additional American warships had gathered in its harbor by 1 August: Congress, Constellation, Enterprise, Essex, Franklin, Hornet, John Adams, Nautilus, Syren, and eight gunboats. Negotiations went on for several days until a short-term blockade of the harbor finally produced a peace treaty on 14 August. [76] [77]

Rodgers remained in command of the squadron, sending warships back to the United States when they were no longer needed. Eventually, all that remained were Constitution, Enterprise, and Hornet. They performed routine patrols and observed the French and Royal Navy operations of the Napoleonic Wars. [78] Rodgers turned over the command of the squadron and Constitution to Captain Hugh G. Campbell on 29 May 1806. [79]

James Barron sailed Chesapeake out of Norfolk on 15 May 1807 to replace Constitution as the flagship of the Mediterranean squadron but he encountered HMS Leopard, resulting in the ChesapeakeLeopard affair and delaying the relief of Constitution. [80] Constitution continued patrols, unaware of the delay. She arrived in late June at Leghorn, where she took aboard the disassembled Tripoli Monument for transport back to the United States. Campbell learned the fate of Chesapeake when he arrived at Málaga, and he immediately began preparing Constitution and Hornet for possible war against Britain. The crew became mutinous upon learning of the delay in their relief and refused to sail any farther unless the destination was the United States. Campbell and his officers threatened to fire a cannon full of grapeshot at the crewmen if they did not comply, thereby putting an end to the conflict. Campbell and the squadron were ordered home on 18 August and set sail for Boston on 8 September, arriving there on 14 October. Constitution had been gone for more than four years. [81] [82]

Constitution was recommissioned in December with Captain John Rodgers again taking command to oversee a major refitting. She was overhauled at a cost just under $100,000 however, Rodgers inexplicably failed to clean her copper sheathing, leading him to later declare her a "slow sailer". She spent most of the following two years on training runs and ordinary duty. [83] Isaac Hull took command in June 1810, and he immediately recognized that she needed her bottom cleaned. "Ten waggon loads" of barnacles and seaweed were removed. [84]

Hull departed for France on 5 August 1811, transporting the new Ambassador Joel Barlow and his family they arrived on 1 September. Hull remained near France and the Netherlands through the winter months, continually holding sail and gun drills to keep the crew ready for possible hostilities with the British. Tensions were high between the United States and Britain after the events of the Little Belt affair the previous May, and Constitution was shadowed by British frigates while awaiting dispatches from Barlow to carry back to the United States. They arrived home on 18 February 1812. [85] [86]

War was declared on 18 June and Hull put to sea on 12 July, attempting to join the five ships of a squadron under the command of Rodgers in President. He sighted five ships off Egg Harbor, New Jersey on 17 July and at first believed them to be Rodgers' squadron but, by the following morning, the lookouts determined that they were a British squadron out of Halifax: HMS Aeolus, Africa, Belvidera, Guerriere, and Shannon. They had sighted Constitution and were giving chase. [87] [88]

Hull found himself becalmed, but he acted on a suggestion from Charles Morris. He ordered the crew to put boats over the side to tow the ship out of range, using kedge anchors to draw the ship forward and wetting the sails to take advantage of every breath of wind. [89] The British ships soon imitated the tactic of kedging and remained in pursuit. The resulting 57-hour chase in the July heat forced the crew of Constitution to employ myriad tactics to outrun the squadron, finally pumping overboard 2,300 US gal (8.7 kl) of drinking water. [90] Cannon fire was exchanged several times, though the British attempts fell short or overshot their mark, including an attempted broadside from Belvidera. On 19 July, Constitution pulled far enough ahead of the British that they abandoned the pursuit. [91] [92]

Constitution arrived in Boston on 27 July and remained there just long enough to replenish her supplies. Hull sailed without orders on 2 August to avoid being blockaded in port, [93] heading on a northeast route towards the British shipping lanes near Halifax and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Constitution captured three British merchantmen, which Hull burned rather than risk taking them back to an American port. On 16 August, he learned of a British frigate 100 nmi (190 km 120 mi) to the south and sailed in pursuit. [94] [95]

Constitution vs. Guerriere Edit

A frigate was sighted on 19 August and subsequently determined to be HMS Guerriere (38) with the words "Not The Little Belt" painted on her foretopsail. [96] [Note 3] Guerriere opened fire upon entering range of Constitution, doing little damage. After a few exchanges of cannon fire between the ships, Captain Hull maneuvered Constitution into an advantageous position within 25 yards (23 m) of Guerriere. He then ordered a full double-loaded broadside of grape and round shot which took out Guerriere ' s mizzenmast. [97] [98] Guerriere ' s maneuverability decreased with her mizzenmast dragging in the water, and she collided with Constitution, entangling her bowsprit in Constitution ' s mizzen rigging. This left only Guerriere ' s bow guns capable of effective fire. Hull's cabin caught fire from the shots, but it was quickly extinguished. With the ships locked together, both captains ordered boarding parties into action, but the sea was heavy and neither party was able to board the opposing ship. [99]

At one point, the two ships rotated together counter-clockwise, with Constitution continuing to fire broadsides. When the two ships pulled apart, the force of the bowsprit's extraction sent shock waves through Guerriere ' s rigging. Her foremast collapsed, and that brought the mainmast down shortly afterward. [100] Guerriere was now a dismasted, unmanageable hulk with close to a third of her crew wounded or killed, while Constitution remained largely intact. The British surrendered. [101]

Hull had surprised the British with his heavier broadsides and his ship's sailing ability. Adding to their astonishment, many of the British shots had rebounded harmlessly off Constitution ' s hull. An American sailor reportedly exclaimed "Huzzah! her sides are made of iron!" and Constitution acquired the nickname "Old Ironsides". [102]

The battle left Guerriere so badly damaged that she was not worth towing to port, and Hull ordered her to be burned the next morning, after transferring the British prisoners onto Constitution. [103] Constitution arrived back in Boston on 30 August, where Hull and his crew found that news of their victory had spread fast, and they were hailed as heroes. [104]

Constitution vs Java Edit

William Bainbridge, senior to Hull, took command of "Old Ironsides" on 8 September and prepared her for another mission in British shipping lanes near Brazil, sailing with Hornet on 27 October. They arrived near São Salvador on 13 December, sighting HMS Bonne Citoyenne in the harbor. [105] Bonne Citoyenne was reportedly carrying $1.6 million in specie to England, and her captain refused to leave the neutral harbor lest he lose his cargo. Constitution sailed offshore in search of prizes, leaving Hornet to await the departure of Bonne Citoyenne. [106] On 29 December, she met with HMS Java under Captain Henry Lambert. At the initial hail from Bainbridge, Java answered with a broadside that severely damaged Constitution ' s rigging. She was able to recover, however, and returned a series of broadsides to Java. A shot from Java destroyed Constitution ' s helm (wheel), so Bainbridge directed the crew to steer her manually using the tiller for the remainder of the engagement. [107] Bainbridge was wounded twice during the battle. Java ' s bowsprit became entangled in Constitution ' s rigging, as in the battle with Guerriere, allowing Bainbridge to continue raking her with broadsides. Java ' s foremast collapsed, sending her fighting top crashing down through two decks below. [108]

Bainbridge drew off to make emergency repairs and re-approached Java an hour later. She lay in shambles, an unmanageable wreck with a badly wounded crew, and she surrendered. [109] Bainbridge determined that Java was far too damaged to retain as a prize and ordered her burned, but not before having her helm salvaged and installed on Constitution. [110] Constitution returned to São Salvador on 1 January 1813 to disembark the prisoners of Java, where she met with Hornet and her two British prizes. Bainbridge ordered Constitution to sail for Boston on 5 January, [111] being far away from a friendly port and needing extensive repairs, leaving Hornet behind to continue waiting for Bonne Citoyenne in the hopes that she would leave the harbor (she did not). [112] Java was the third British warship in as many months to be captured by the United States, and Constitution ' s victory prompted the British Admiralty to order its frigates not to engage the heavier American frigates one-on-one only British ships of the line or squadrons were permitted to come close enough to attack. [113] [114] Constitution arrived in Boston on 15 February to even greater celebrations than Hull had received a few months earlier. [115]

Marblehead and blockade Edit

Bainbridge determined that Constitution required new spar deck planking and beams, masts, sails, and rigging, as well as replacement of her copper bottom. However, personnel and supplies were being diverted to the Great Lakes, causing shortages that kept her in Boston intermittently with her sister ships Chesapeake, Congress, and President for the majority of the year. [116] Charles Stewart took command on 18 July and struggled to complete the construction and recruitment of a new crew, [117] finally making sail on 31 December. She set course for the West Indies to harass British shipping and had captured five merchant ships and the 14-gun HMS Pictou by late March 1814. She also pursued HMS Columbine and HMS Pique, though both ships escaped after realizing that she was an American frigate. [118]

Her mainmast split off the coast of Bermuda on 27 March, requiring immediate repair. Stewart set a course for Boston, where British ships HMS Junon and Tenedos commenced pursuit on 3 April. Stewart ordered drinking water and food to be cast overboard to lighten her load and gain speed, trusting that her mainmast would hold together long enough for her to make her way into Marblehead, Massachusetts. [119] The last item thrown overboard was the supply of spirits. Upon Constitution ' s arrival in the harbor, the citizens of Marblehead rallied in support, assembling what cannons they possessed at Fort Sewall, and the British called off the pursuit. [120] Two weeks later, Constitution made her way into Boston, where she remained blockaded in port until mid-December. [121]

HMS Cyane and HMS Levant Edit

Captain George Collier of the Royal Navy received command of the 50-gun HMS Leander and was sent to North America to deal with the American frigates that were causing such losses to British shipping. [122] Meanwhile, Charles Stewart saw his chance to escape from Boston Harbor and made it good on the afternoon of 18 December, and Constitution again set course for Bermuda. [123] Collier gathered a squadron consisting of Leander, Newcastle, and Acasta and set off in pursuit, but he was unable to overtake her. [124] On 24 December, Constitution intercepted the merchantman Lord Nelson and placed a prize crew aboard. Constitution had left Boston not fully supplied, but Lord Nelson ' s stores supplied a Christmas dinner for the crew. [123]

Constitution was cruising off Cape Finisterre on 8 February 1815 when Stewart learned that the Treaty of Ghent had been signed. He realized, however, that a state of war still existed until the treaty was ratified, and Constitution captured the British merchantman Susanna on 16 February her cargo of animal hides was valued at $75,000. [125]

On 20 February, Constitution sighted the small British ships Cyane and Levant sailing in company and gave chase. [126] Cyane and Levant began a series of broadsides against her, but Stewart outmaneuvered both of them and forced Levant to draw off for repairs. He concentrated fire on Cyane, which soon struck her colors. [126] Levant returned to engage Constitution but she turned and attempted to escape when she saw that Cyane had been defeated. [127] Constitution overtook her and, after several more broadsides, she struck her colors. [126] Stewart remained with his new prizes overnight while ordering repairs to all ships. Constitution had suffered little damage in the battle, though it was later discovered that she had twelve 32-pound British cannonballs embedded in her hull, none of which had penetrated. [128] The trio then set a course for the Cape Verde Islands and arrived at Porto Praya on 10 March. [126]

The next morning, Collier's squadron was spotted on a course for the harbor, and Stewart ordered all ships to sail immediately [126] he had been unaware until then of Collier's pursuit. [129] Cyane was able to elude the squadron and make sail for America, where she arrived on 10 April, but Levant was overtaken and recaptured. Collier's squadron was distracted with Levant while Constitution made another escape from overwhelming forces. [130]

Constitution set a course towards Guinea and then west towards Brazil, as Stewart had learned from the capture of Susanna that HMS Inconstant was transporting gold bullion back to England, and he wanted her as a prize. Constitution put into Maranhão on 2 April to offload her British prisoners and replenish her drinking water. [131] While there, Stewart learned by rumor that the Treaty of Ghent had been ratified, and set course for America, receiving verification of peace at San Juan, Puerto Rico on 28 April. He then set course for New York and arrived home on 15 May to large celebrations. [126] Constitution emerged from the war undefeated, though her sister ships Chesapeake and President were not so fortunate, having been captured in 1813 and 1815 respectively. [132] [133] Constitution was moved to Boston and placed in ordinary in January 1816, sitting out the Second Barbary War. [130]

Mediterranean Squadron Edit

Charlestown Navy Yard's commandant Isaac Hull directed a refitting of Constitution to prepare her for duty with the Mediterranean Squadron in April 1820. They removed Joshua Humphreys' diagonal riders to make room for two iron freshwater tanks, and they replaced the copper sheathing and timbers below the waterline. [134] At the direction of Secretary of the Navy Smith Thompson, she was also subjected to an unusual experiment in which manually operated paddle wheels were fitted to her hull. The paddle wheels were designed to propel her at up to 3 knots (5.6 km/h 3.5 mph) if she was ever becalmed, by the crew using the ship's capstan. [135] Initial testing was successful, but Hull and Constitution ' s commanding officer Jacob Jones were reportedly unimpressed with paddle wheels on a US Navy ship. Jones had them removed and stowed in the cargo hold before he departed on 13 May 1821 for a three-year tour of duty in the Mediterranean. [130] On 12 April 1823, she collided with the British merchant ship Bicton in the Mediterranean Sea, and Bicton sank with the loss of her captain. [136]

Constitution otherwise experienced an uneventful tour, sailing in company with Ontario and Nonsuch, until crew behavior during shore leave gave Jones a reputation as a commodore who was lax in discipline. The Navy grew weary of receiving complaints about the crews' antics while in port and ordered Jones to return. Constitution arrived in Boston on 31 May 1824, and Jones was relieved of command. [137] Thomas Macdonough took command and sailed on 29 October for the Mediterranean under the direction of John Rodgers in North Carolina. With discipline restored, Constitution resumed uneventful duty. Macdonough resigned his command for health reasons on 9 October 1825. [138] Constitution put in for repairs during December and into January 1826, until Daniel Todd Patterson assumed command on 21 February. By August, she had been put into Port Mahon, suffering decay of her spar deck, and she remained there until temporary repairs were completed in March 1827. Constitution returned to Boston on 4 July 1828 and was placed in reserve. [139] [140]

Constitution was built in an era when a ship's expected service life was 10 to 15 years. [141] Secretary of the Navy John Branch made a routine order for surveys of ships in the reserve fleet, and commandant of the Charlestown Navy Yard Charles Morris estimated a repair cost of over $157,000 for Constitution. [142] On 14 September 1830, an article appeared in the Boston Advertiser which erroneously claimed that the Navy intended to scrap Constitution. [143] [Note 4] Two days later, Oliver Wendell Holmes' poem "Old Ironsides" was published in the same paper and later all over the country, igniting public indignation and inciting efforts to save "Old Ironsides" from the scrap yard. Secretary Branch approved the costs, and Constitution began a leisurely repair period while awaiting completion of the dry dock then under construction at the yard. [144] In contrast to the efforts to save Constitution, another round of surveys in 1834 found her sister ship Congress unfit for repair she was unceremoniously broken up in 1835. [145] [146]

On 24 June 1833, Constitution entered dry dock. Captain Jesse Elliott, the new commander of the Navy yard, oversaw her reconstruction. Constitution had 30 in (760 mm) of hog in her keel and remained in dry dock until 21 June 1834. This was the first of many times that souvenirs were made from her old planking Isaac Hull ordered walking canes, picture frames, and even a phaeton that was presented to President Andrew Jackson. [147]

Meanwhile, Elliot directed the installation of a new figurehead of President Jackson under the bowsprit, which became a subject of much controversy due to Jackson's political unpopularity in Boston at the time. [148] Elliot was a Jacksonian Democrat, [149] and he received death threats. Rumors circulated about the citizens of Boston storming the navy yard to remove the figurehead themselves. [145] [150]

A merchant captain named Samuel Dewey accepted a small wager as to whether he could complete the task of removal. [151] Elliot had posted guards on Constitution to ensure the safety of the figurehead, but Dewey crossed the Charles River in a small boat, using the noise of thunderstorms to mask his movements, and managed to saw off most of Jackson's head. [151] The severed head made the rounds between taverns and meeting houses in Boston until Dewey personally returned it to Secretary of the Navy Mahlon Dickerson it remained on Dickerson's library shelf for many years. [152] [153] The addition of busts to her stern escaped controversy of any kind, depicting Isaac Hull, William Bainbridge, and Charles Stewart the busts remained in place for the next 40 years. [154]

Mediterranean and Pacific Squadrons Edit

Elliot was appointed captain of Constitution and got underway in March 1835 to New York, where he ordered repairs to the Jackson figurehead, avoiding a second round of controversy. [155] Departing on 16 March Constitution set a course for France to deliver Edward Livingston to his post as Minister. She arrived on 10 April and began the return voyage on 16 May. She arrived back in Boston on 23 June, then sailed on 19 August to take her station as flagship in the Mediterranean, arriving at Port Mahon on 19 September. Her duty over the next two years was uneventful as she and United States made routine patrols and diplomatic visits. [156] [157] From April 1837 into February 1838, Elliot collected various ancient artifacts to carry back to America, adding various livestock during the return voyage. Constitution arrived in Norfolk on 31 July. Elliot was later suspended from duty for transporting livestock on a Navy ship. [156] [157]

As the flagship of the Pacific Squadron under the command of Captain Daniel Turner, she began her next voyage on 1 March 1839 with the duty of patrolling the western coast of South America. Often spending months in one port or another, she visited Valparaíso, Callao, Paita, and Puna while her crew amused themselves with the beaches and taverns in each locality. [158] The return voyage found her at Rio de Janeiro, where Emperor Pedro II of Brazil visited her about 29 August 1841. Departing Rio, she returned to Norfolk on 31 October. On 22 June 1842, she was recommissioned under the command of Foxhall Alexander Parker for duty with the Home Squadron. After spending months in port she put to sea for three weeks during December, then was again put in ordinary. [156]

Around the world Edit

In late 1843, she was moored at Norfolk, serving as a receiving ship. Naval Constructor Foster Rhodes calculated that it would require $70,000 to make her seaworthy. Acting Secretary David Henshaw faced a dilemma. His budget could not support such a cost, yet he could not allow the country's favorite ship to deteriorate. He turned to Captain John Percival, known in the service as "Mad Jack". The captain traveled to Virginia and conducted his own survey of the ship's needs. He reported that the necessary repairs and upgrades could be done at a cost of $10,000. On 6 November, Henshaw told Percival to proceed without delay, but stay within his projected figure. After several months of labor, Percival reported Constitution ready for "a two or even a three-year cruise." [159]

She got underway on 29 May 1844 carrying Ambassador to Brazil Henry A. Wise and his family, arriving at Rio de Janeiro on 2 August after making two port visits along the way. She sailed again on 8 September, making port calls at Madagascar, Mozambique, and Zanzibar, and arriving at Sumatra on 1 January 1845. Many of her crew began to suffer from dysentery and fevers, causing several deaths, which led Percival to set course for Singapore, arriving there 8 February. While in Singapore, Commodore Henry Ducie Chads of HMS Cambrian paid a visit to Constitution, offering what medical assistance his squadron could provide. Chads had been the Lieutenant of Java when she surrendered to William Bainbridge 33 years earlier. [160]

Leaving Singapore, Constitution arrived at Turon, Cochinchina (present-day Da Nang, Vietnam) on 10 May. Not long after, Percival was informed that French missionary Dominique Lefèbvre was being held captive under sentence of death. He went ashore with a squad of Marines to speak with the local Mandarin. Percival demanded the return of Lefèbvre and took three local leaders hostage to ensure that his demands were met. When no communication was forthcoming, he ordered the capture of three junks, which were brought to Constitution. He released the hostages after two days, attempting to show good faith towards the Mandarin, who had demanded their return. During a storm, the three junks escaped upriver a detachment of Marines pursued and recaptured them. The supply of food and water from shore was stopped, and Percival gave in to another demand for the release of the junks in order to keep his ship supplied, expecting Lefèbvre to be released. He soon realized that no return would be made, however, and Percival ordered Constitution to depart on 26 May. [161]

She arrived at Canton, China on 20 June and spent the next six weeks there, while Percival made shore and diplomatic visits. Again the crew suffered from dysentery due to poor drinking water, resulting in three more deaths by the time that she reached Manila on 18 September, spending a week there preparing to enter the Pacific Ocean. She then sailed on 28 September for the Hawaiian Islands, arriving at Honolulu on 16 November. She found Commodore John D. Sloat and his flagship Savannah there Sloat informed Percival that Constitution was needed in Mexico, as the United States was preparing for war after the Texas annexation. She provisioned for six months and sailed for Mazatlán, arriving there on 13 January 1846. She sat at anchor for more than three months until she was finally allowed to sail for home on 22 April, rounding Cape Horn on 4 July. Arriving in Rio de Janeiro, the ship's party learned that the Mexican War had begun on 13 May, soon after their departure from Mazatlán. She arrived home in Boston on 27 September and was mothballed on 5 October. [162]

Mediterranean and African Squadrons Edit

Constitution began a refitting in 1847 for duty with the Mediterranean Squadron. The figurehead of Andrew Jackson that caused so much controversy 15 years earlier was replaced with another likeness of Jackson, this time without a top hat and with a more Napoleonic pose. Captain John Gwinn commanded her on this voyage, departing on 9 December 1848 and arriving at Tripoli on 19 January 1849. She received King Ferdinand II and Pope Pius IX on board at Gaeta on 1 August, giving them a 21-gun salute. This was the first time that a Pope set foot on American territory or its equivalent. [163]

At Palermo on 1 September, Captain Gwinn died of chronic gastritis and was buried near Lazaretto on the 9th. Captain Thomas Conover assumed command on the 18th and resumed routine patrolling for the rest of the tour, heading home on 1 December 1850. She was involved in a severe collision with the English brig Confidence, cutting her in half, which sank with the loss of her captain. The surviving crew members were carried back to America, where Constitution was put in ordinary once again, this time at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in January 1851. [164]

Constitution was recommissioned on 22 December 1852 under the command of John Rudd. She carried Commodore Isaac Mayo for duty with the African Squadron, departing the yard on 2 March 1853 on a leisurely sail towards Africa and arriving there on 18 June. Mayo made a diplomatic visit in Liberia, arranging a treaty between the Gbarbo and the Grebo tribes. Mayo resorted to firing cannons into the village of the Gbarbo in order to get them to agree to the treaty. About 22 June 1854, he arranged another peace treaty between the leaders of Grahway and Half Cavally. [165]

Constitution took the American ship H.N. Gambrill as a prize near Angola on 3 November. Gambrill was involved in the slave trade and proved to be Constitution's final capture. [166] The rest of her tour passed uneventfully and she sailed for home on 31 March 1855. She was diverted to Havana, Cuba, arriving there on 16 May and departing on the 24th. She arrived at Portsmouth Navy Yard and was decommissioned on 14 June, ending her last duty on the front lines. [167]

Civil War Edit

Since the formation of the US Naval Academy in 1845, there had been a growing need for quarters in which to house the students (midshipmen). In 1857, Constitution was moved to dry dock at the Portsmouth Navy Yard for conversion into a training ship. Some of the earliest known photographs of her were taken during this refitting, which added classrooms on her spar and gun decks and reduced her armament to only 16 guns. Her rating was changed to a "2nd rate ship". She was recommissioned on 1 August 1860 and moved from Portsmouth to the Naval Academy. [168] [169]

At the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861, Constitution was ordered to relocate farther north after threats had been made against her by Confederate sympathizers. [170] Several companies of Massachusetts volunteer soldiers were stationed aboard for her protection. [171] R. R. Cuyler towed her to New York City, where she arrived on 29 April. She was subsequently relocated, along with the Naval Academy, to Fort Adams in Newport, Rhode Island for the duration of the war. Her sister ship United States was abandoned by the Union and then captured by Confederate forces at the Gosport Shipyard, leaving Constitution the only remaining frigate of the original six. [143] [172]

The Navy launched an ironclad on 10 May 1862 as part of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, and they bestowed on her the name New Ironsides to honor Constitution ' s tradition of service. However, New Ironsides ' s naval career was short, as she was destroyed by fire on 16 December 1865. [173] In August 1865, Constitution moved back to Annapolis, along with the rest of the Naval Academy. During the voyage, she was allowed to drop her tow lines from the tug and continue alone under wind power. Despite her age, she was recorded running at 9 knots (17 km/h 10 mph) and arrived at Hampton Roads ten hours ahead of the tug. [143] Andersonville Prisoners- "Thorp and his fellow soldiers were transported to Jacksonville, Fla., then on USS Constitution to “Camp Parole” in Annapolis, Md. There, they were issued rations, clothing and back pay before being sent to their respective regimental headquarters for discharge." [174]

Settling in again at the Academy, a series of upgrades was installed that included steam pipes and radiators to supply heat from shore, along with gas lighting. From June to August each year, she would depart with midshipmen for their summer training cruise and then return to operate for the rest of the year as a classroom. In June 1867, her last known plank owner William Bryant died in Maine. George Dewey assumed command in November and he served as her commanding officer until 1870. In 1871, her condition had deteriorated to the point where she was retired as a training ship, and then towed to the Philadelphia Navy Yard where she was placed in ordinary on 26 September. [175]

Paris Exposition Edit

Constitution was overhauled beginning in 1873 in order to participate in the centennial celebrations of the United States. Work began slowly and was intermittently delayed by the transition of the Philadelphia Navy Yard to League Island. By late 1875, the Navy opened bids for an outside contractor to complete the work, and Constitution was moved to Wood, Dialogue, and Company in May 1876, where a coal bin and a small boiler for heat were installed. The Andrew Jackson figurehead was removed at this time and given to the Naval Academy Museum where it remains today. [176] Her construction dragged on during the rest of 1876 until the centennial celebrations had long passed, and the Navy decided that she would be used as a training and school ship for apprentices. [177]

Oscar C. Badger took command on 9 January 1878 to prepare her for a voyage to the Paris Exposition of 1878, transporting artwork and industrial displays to France. [178] Three railroad cars were lashed to her spar deck and all but two cannons were removed when she departed on 4 March. While docking at Le Havre, she collided with Ville de Paris, which resulted in Constitution entering dry dock for repairs and remaining in France for the rest of 1878. She got underway for the United States on 16 January 1879, but poor navigation ran her aground the next day near Bollard Head. She was towed into the Portsmouth Naval Dockyard, Hampshire, England, where only minor damage was found and repaired. [179]

Her problem-plagued voyage continued on 13 February when her rudder was damaged during heavy storms, resulting in a total loss of steering control with the rudder smashing into the hull at random. Three crewmen went over the stern on ropes and boatswain's chairs and secured it. The next morning, they rigged a temporary steering system. Badger set a course for the nearest port, and she arrived in Lisbon on 18 February. Slow dock services delayed her departure until 11 April and her voyage home did not end until 24 May. [180] Carpenter's Mate Henry Williams, Captain of the Top Joseph Matthews, and Captain of the Top James Horton received the Medal of Honor for their actions in repairing the damaged rudder at sea. [181] Constitution returned to her previous duties of training apprentice boys, [182] and Ship's Corporal James Thayer received a Medal of Honor for saving a fellow crew member from drowning on 16 November. [181]

Over the next two years, she continued her training cruises, but it soon became apparent that her overhaul in 1876 had been of poor quality and she was determined to be unfit for service in 1881. Funds were lacking for another overhaul, so she was decommissioned, ending her days as an active-duty naval ship. She was moved to the Portsmouth Navy Yard and used as a receiving ship. There, she had a housing structure built over her spar deck, and her condition continued to deteriorate, with only a minimal amount of maintenance performed to keep her afloat. [168] [183] In 1896, Massachusetts Congressman John F. Fitzgerald became aware of her condition and proposed to Congress that funds be appropriated to restore her enough to return to Boston. [184] She arrived at the Charlestown Navy Yard under tow on 21 September 1897 [185] and, after her centennial celebrations in October, she lay there with an uncertain future. [168] [186]

In 1900, Congress authorized the restoration of Constitution but did not appropriate any funds for the project funding was to be raised privately. The Massachusetts Society of the United Daughters of the War of 1812 spearheaded an effort to raise funds, but they ultimately failed. [187] In 1903, the Massachusetts Historical Society's president Charles Francis Adams requested of Congress that Constitution be rehabilitated and placed back into active service. [188]

In 1905, Secretary of the Navy Charles Joseph Bonaparte suggested that Constitution be towed out to sea and used as target practice, after which she would be allowed to sink. Moses H. Gulesian read about this in a Boston newspaper he was a businessman from Worcester, Massachusetts, and he offered to purchase her for $10,000. [187] [189] The State Department refused, but Gulesian initiated a public campaign which began from Boston and ultimately "spilled all over the country." [189] The storms of protest from the public prompted Congress to authorize $100,000 in 1906 for the ship's restoration. First to be removed was the barracks structure on her spar deck, but the limited amount of funds allowed just a partial restoration. [190] By 1907, Constitution began to serve as a museum ship, with tours offered to the public. On 1 December 1917, she was renamed Old Constitution to free her name for a planned, new Lexington-class battlecruiser. The name Constitution was originally destined for the lead ship of the class, but was shuffled between hulls until CC-5 was given the name construction of CC-5 was canceled in 1923 due to the Washington Naval Treaty. The incomplete hull was sold for scrap and Old Constitution was granted the return of her name on 24 July 1925. [2]

1925 restoration and tour Edit

Admiral Edward Walter Eberle, Chief of Naval Operations, ordered the Board of Inspection and Survey to compile a report on her condition, and the inspection of 19 February 1924 found her in grave condition. Water had to be pumped out of her hold on a daily basis just to keep her afloat, and her stern was in danger of falling off. Almost all deck areas and structural components were filled with rot, and she was considered to be on the verge of ruin. Yet the Board recommended that she be thoroughly repaired in order to preserve her as long as possible. The estimated cost of repairs was $400,000. Secretary of the Navy Curtis D. Wilbur proposed to Congress that the required funds be raised privately, and he was authorized to assemble the committee charged with her restoration. [191]

The first effort was sponsored by the national Elks Lodge. Programs presented to schoolchildren about "Old Ironsides" encouraged them to donate pennies towards her restoration, eventually raising $148,000. In the meantime, the estimates for repair began to climb, eventually reaching over $745,000 after costs of materials were realized. [192] In September 1926, Wilbur began to sell copies of a painting of Constitution at 50 cents per copy. The silent film Old Ironsides portrayed Constitution during the First Barbary War. It premiered in December and helped spur more contributions to her restoration fund. The final campaign allowed memorabilia to be made of her discarded planking and metal. The committee eventually raised more than $600,000 after expenses, still short of the required amount, and Congress approved up to $300,000 to complete the restoration. The final cost of the restoration was $946,000. [193]

Lieutenant John A. Lord was selected to oversee the reconstruction project, and work began while fund-raising efforts were still underway. Materials were difficult to find, especially the live oak needed Lord uncovered a long-forgotten stash of live oak (some 1,500 short tons [1,400 t]) at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida that had been cut sometime in the 1850s for a ship-building program that never began. Constitution entered dry dock with a crowd of 10,000 observers on 16 June 1927. Meanwhile, Charles Francis Adams had been appointed as Secretary of the Navy, and he proposed that Constitution make a tour of the United States upon her completion as a gift to the nation for its efforts to help restore her. She emerged from dry dock on 15 March 1930 approximately 85 percent of the ship had been "renewed" (i.e. replaced) to make her seaworthy. [194] Many amenities were installed to prepare her for the three-year tour of the country, including water piping throughout, modern toilet and shower facilities, electric lighting to make the interior visible for visitors, and several peloruses for ease of navigation. [195] 40 miles (64,000 m) of rigging was made for Constitution at Charlestown Navy Yard ropewalk. [196]

Constitution recommissioned on 1 July 1931 under the command of Louis J. Gulliver with a crew of 60 officers and sailors, 15 Marines, and a pet monkey named Rosie that was their mascot. The tour began at Portsmouth, New Hampshire with much celebration and a 21-gun salute, scheduled to visit 90 port cities along the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific coasts. Due to the schedule of visits on her itinerary, she was towed by the minesweeper Grebe. She went as far north as Bar Harbor, Maine, south and into the Gulf of Mexico then through the Panama Canal Zone, and north again to Bellingham, Washington on the Pacific Coast. Constitution returned to her home port of Boston in May 1934 after more than 4.6 million people visited her during the three-year tour. [197]

1934 return to Boston Edit

Constitution returned to serving as a museum ship, receiving 100,000 visitors per year in Boston. She was maintained by a small crew who were berthed on the ship, and this required more reliable heating. The heating was upgraded to a forced-air system in the 1950s, and a sprinkler system was added that protects her from fire. Constitution broke loose from her dock on 21 September 1938 during the New England Hurricane and was blown into Boston Harbor where she collided with the destroyer Ralph Talbot she suffered only minor damage. [198]

With limited funds available, she experienced more deterioration over the years, and items began to disappear from the ship as souvenir hunters picked away at the more portable objects. [199] Constitution and USS Constellation were recommissioned in 1940 at the request of President Franklin Roosevelt. [200] [201] In early 1941, Constitution was assigned the hull classification symbol IX-21 [2] and began to serve as a brig for officers awaiting court-martial. [202]

The United States Postal Service issued a stamp commemorating Constitution in 1947, and an Act of Congress in 1954 made the Secretary of the Navy responsible for her upkeep. [203]

Restoration Edit

In 1970, another survey was performed on her condition, finding that repairs were required but not as extensively as those which she had needed in the 1920s. The US Navy determined that a Commander was required as commanding officer—typically someone with about 20 years of seniority this would ensure the experience to organize the maintenance that she required. [204] Funds were approved in 1972 for her restoration, and she entered dry dock in April 1973, remaining until April 1974. During this period, large quantities of red oak were removed and replaced. The red oak had been added in the 1950s as an experiment to see if it would last better than the live oak, but it had mostly rotted away by 1970. [205]

Bicentennial celebrations Edit

Commander Tyrone G. Martin became her captain in August 1974, as preparations began for the upcoming United States Bicentennial celebrations. He set the precedent that all construction work on Constitution was to be aimed towards maintaining her to the 1812 configuration for which she is most noted. [205] In September 1975, her hull classification of IX-21 was officially canceled. [2]

The privately run USS Constitution Museum opened on 8 April 1976, and Commander Martin dedicated a tract of land as "Constitution Grove" one month later, located at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Indiana. The 25,000 acres (100 km 2 ) now supply the majority of the white oak required for repair work. [206] On 10 July, Constitution led the parade of tall ships up Boston Harbor for Operation Sail, firing her guns at one-minute intervals for the first time in approximately 100 years. [207] On 11 July, she rendered a 21-gun salute to Her Majesty's Yacht Britannia, as Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip arrived for a state visit. [208] The royal couple were piped aboard and privately toured the ship for approximately 30 minutes with Commander Martin and Secretary of the Navy J. William Middendorf. Upon their departure, the crew of Constitution rendered three cheers for the Queen. Over 900,000 visitors toured "Old Ironsides" that year. [209]

1995 reconstruction Edit

Constitution entered dry dock in 1992 for an inspection and minor repair period that turned out to be her most comprehensive structural restoration and repair since she was launched in 1797. Multiple refittings over the 200 years of her career had removed most of her original construction components and design, as her mission changed from a fighting warship to a training ship and eventually to a receiving ship. In 1993, the Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston reviewed Humphreys' original plans and identified five main structural components that were required to prevent hogging of the hull, [210] as Constitution had 13 in (330 mm) of hog at that point. Using a 1:16 scale model of the ship, they were able to determine that restoring the original components would result in a 10% increase in hull stiffness. [211]

Three hundred scans were completed on her timbers using radiography to find any hidden problems otherwise undetectable from the outside—technology that was unavailable during previous reconstructions. The repair crew used sound wave testing, aided by the United States Forest Service's Forest Products Laboratory, to determine the condition of the remaining timbers that may have been rotting from the inside. [210] The 13 in (330 mm) of hog was removed from her keel by allowing the ship to settle naturally while in dry dock. The most difficult task was the procurement of timber in the quantity and sizes needed, as was the case during her 1920s restoration, as well. The city of Charleston, South Carolina donated live oak trees that had been felled by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, and the International Paper Company donated live oak from its own property. [206] The project continued to reconstruct her to 1812 specifications, even as she remained open to visitors who were allowed to observe the process and converse with workers. [210] The $12 million project was completed in 1995. [212]

Eaton is rescued and prepares for the attack

As camp breaks up, a scout spots a sail on the horizon. Eaton and his troops are overjoyed. They march about 5 miles to a water source and wait for the ship to arrive.

USS Hornet arrives with provisions and dispatches for Eaton from Commodore James Barron. Though ailing, Barron is responsible for the American squadron in the Mediterranean. He congratulates Eaton but distances himself from a convention Eaton had signed with Hamet, the former pasha of Tripoli who is allied with the Americans. Among the articles of the convention is a promise that the United States will return Hamet to his throne. Barron argues that this promise is not something the Americans can keep nor was it the end goal of the expedition.

Nevertheless, Barron promises to send Eaton more materiel and support. That day, the Nautilus sails for Bomba with a field piece that Eaton had requested.

Eaton’s men reprovision and rest.

The Barbary Wars

Stephen Decatur's exploits against the Barbary States made him one of the youngest men ever elevated to the rank of captain.

On a late February morning in 1804, Lord Horatio Nelson, busy besieging the French Mediterranean port of Toulon, heard some news about a conflict to the south between the Barbary pirates of Tripoli and a group of American seamen. The way he heard it, the pirates had managed to get their hands on an American frigate, the USS Philadelphia, the previous October, capturing and enslaving most of the crew. Those that did escape went into hiding, but instead of disappearing, they returned to Tripoli harbor where the ship was kept disguised as locals, snuck aboard in the middle of the night, killed the guards watching over it, and setting her alight and making their escape, preventing its use by the enemy without losing a single man. Upon hearing this news, Lord Nelson, perhaps the most famous naval military figure in history, simply declared the American’s feat “the most bold and daring act of the Age.” He was not the only figure to heap praise upon the American Navy. Pope Pius VII, too, praised the Americans and their leader, Captain Stephen Decatur, stating, “The United States, though in their infancy, had done more to humble and humiliate the anti-Christian barbarians on the African coast in one night than all the European states had done for a long period of time.” But why was the American Navy off the coast of North Africa in the first place, to the point where these pirates could capture one of their frigates, and why did their war against these pirates carry such excitement in a Europe in the middle of the Napoleonic Wars?

Piracy had long been a major problem for sailors on the Mediterranean. The Roman statesmen and general Julius Caesar had famously been kidnapped by pirates and held for ransom once. But from the 15th to the 19th centuries, the Barbary Corsairs plagued both the southern coastlines and the minds of Europeans. Labelled as such for their shared homeland on the North African (Barbary) coast, particularly the ports of Tunis, Algiers and Tripoli, these seafarers never really operated as a single organized group. A diverse ethnic mix of Turks, Arabs and Berbers, what they shared was the toleration, and often tacit endorsement of the local authorities, typically autonomous beys (Turkish for “Lord”) that held nominal fealty to the Ottoman Empire. This was because, as opposed to the common image of piracy, the Corsairs played an important role in the North African and Ottoman economy, particularly the slave trade. They did not go after merchants’ goods or hunt for buried treasure. Instead, using slightly antiquated, oar-powered galleys packed with as many armed men as possible, the pirates targeted undefended ships and coastal settlements and held any non-Muslims they could find for ransom. If a ransom was not paid in time, the unfortunate victims were sold at local slave markets, or at larger ones in Istanbul. Those even less lucky were subjected to the horrendous conditions of a galley slave. European states frequently directed their navies to clear the coasts of piracy, which only worked temporarily, and found that diplomacy and tribute to the beys in charge to be a less costly solution.

While under British control, American merchants plying the waters of the Mediterranean had protection from piracy under this very sort of agreement, but that changed after winning independence in 1783. While the United States had made some diplomatic inroads with Mediterranean states, particularly Morocco, the rulers of Tunis, Algiers, and Tripoli proved much more quarrelsome. President Thomas Jefferson, despite previous objections to a professional navy, now attempted to use it to cow the pirates into submission, but the small squadron he sent into the Mediterranean had only four ships, not nearly large enough to pose a threat, though they did skirmish successfully without casualties. Meanwhile, the ruler of Tripoli, Yusuf Karamanli, declared war against the United States shortly, and the U.S. Navy began a blockade of the city aided by a Swedish flotilla. It was during this blockade that a group of pirates surrounded and captured the Philadelphia, before Decatur denied them their prize a few months later. The war continued indecisively just outside Tripoli Harbor until the Spring of 1805. In late April, a small group of U.S. Marines landed in Alexandria, Egypt, hired a few hundred Greek, Arab and Turkish mercenaries and began a long march towards the town of Derna, where they fought and routed a defensive force of 4,000 with the aid of naval bombardment. Hearing of the defeat, Karamanli sued for peace and brought the First Barbary War to a close, promising to release all prisoners of war and refrain for antagonizing American merchants further.

A typical Barbary galley. Most of the space on the ship was taken up by armed men, meaning that the pirates could not go hunting on long voyages and relied on coastal support.

Peace in the Mediterranean did not last, however. While the Americans were busy with the War of 1812 and the rest of Europe busy with Napoleon Bonaparte, Barbary pirates began attacking American and European vessels once again. President James Madison authorized Stephen Decatur, now commodore, to set sail for the Mediterranean and bring the ruler of Algiers to heel with ten warships under his command in the May of 1815. Decatur fought two battles with the pirates off the coast of Spain, both of which were overwhelming American victories and allowed him to capture almost 500 prisoners. The Bey of Algiers, now facing pressure from both Britain and the Netherlands as well as the United States, surrendered to Decatur.

North African piracy proved to be a difficult problem until 1830, when French conquest and colonization of the region put an end to the issue for good. For America, the Barbary Wars were minor conflicts compared to the contemporary wars in Europe and America at the time but proved to be an important proving ground for the United States Navy. William Bainbridge, Stephen Decatur and Oliver Hazzard Perry all saw some of their first action in the Mediterranean, which proved to be valuable experience in the later War of 1812. More broadly, the wars were a sign that the young nation could maintain its independence in the truest sense, managing its own foreign policy and successfully defending its own interests against outside aggression.

Watch the video: The United States Navy - Barbary Pirates to The War of 1812 (June 2022).


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