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Monday, October 12, 2009

Barbary Wars

From 1801 through 1805 the US engaged North African (Barbary; a general term which derived from Barbarossa - or red bearded - after the Ottoman regent of the Maghrib) pirates in what became the first undeclared wars outside our boundaries. The North African pirates had been engaged in piracy from the time of the Crusades were they raided commerce ships bound for Jerusalem. During the period that the US was a British colony the British navy protected American commerce ships from the raiders but that stopped when the Americans obtained their independence. Encouraged by British government the North African pirates began to raid American ships in the eastern Atlantic and in the Mediterranean, exacting tribute from a defenseless US. The US paid tribute until 1801 when the US refused to pay increasing tribute to the Pasha of Tripoli for safe American merchant traffic across Tripolitanian waters. This led to the Pasha declaring war on the US. Under the slogan 'Millions for Defense: Not one cent for Tribute' the US sent it's small navy to blockade North African ports, bombing several enemy harbors and engaging in naval battles with the Barbary pirates.

One of the battles was the famous raid to burn the captured American frigate USS Philadelphia in Tripoli harbor.

In this raid Botswains Mate Ruben James made his mark on the annals of US Navy history by bodily protecting the raids commander from attack. Later on in October 1941 the American destroyer USS Ruben James became the first American warship to be sunk by hostile action while escorting a convoy bound from Newfoundland to Iceland.

In 1805 several Marines (10) and about 500 Christian and Muslim mercenaries - led by William Eaton, Naval Agent to the Barbary Estates, led an overland mission begun from Alexandria to capture the Pasha of Tripoli. After an ardous journey of 45 days in which he had to contend with near mutinies from the Muslim mercenaries, fighting amongst the Muslim and Christian mercenaries, and almost running out of food and money, his group reached the stronghold port city of Derna. When his demand for the surrender of Derna was rejected the group maneuvered for two days before attacking, capturing the city by late afternoon for the first time in US history the flag was raised in foreign battlefield.

After defending the city off an attack by re-enforcements sent by the Pasha of Tripoli and some dubious but successful diplomatic machinations by other agents of the US government a peace treaty was signed with the Pasha of Tripoli on June 4, 1805.

It was the battle of Derna which gave the line ''to the shores of Tripoli" in the Marine Corps Hymn as well as the adoption of the Mamaluke sword by the Corps.

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