The First Barbary War was America's first foreign war. It was a naval campaign against Tripolitarian corsairs. Tripoli and the other Barbary stateswre no longer major military powers, but there fast ships were nore than capable of taking heavily laden and undefended merchant vessels. And their fearsome reputation still influenced European thinking. The Bashaw when the United States refused to meet his demands, declared war (May 1801).
The United States sent naval squadrons into the Mediterranean to engage the Tripolitarians and blockade Tunis.
The American slogan became "Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute!". The first American squadron was commanded by Commodores Richard Dale. Sale showed little desire to engage the Bashaw's forces. He showed more interest in remaining in port, especially as his wife was pregnant and he had insisted on bringing her along. Blockading Tripoli proved difficult because of the weather, the size of the American frigates and the linited number of vessels. The next squadron was commanded by William Bradshaw, but ended in disaster when the Philadelphia went aground and was captured by the Bashaw's forces. Edward Preble aggressively pressed the attack on Tripoli. Lt. Stephen Decatur ommanded 4 volunteers into Tripoli harbor and succeeded in destroying the captured Philadelphia (February 16, 1804). Preble blockaded the port, bombarded the town and Bashaw's palace. He secured gunboats from the the Kingdom of Napels which had suffered from Barbary attacks. There was close, ferocious gunboat actions. Prebel to press the attack, approved an overland campaign. Former Consul William Eaton organized a force to replacen Yusuf with his ousted brother. A small force of Hamat's supporters, mercenaries and marines stormed Derna (February 16, 1804). The final Americn squadron was commanded by John Rogers. The American attacks, arrival of more frigates, the overland attack, and the inability to make money with his corsairs bottled up in Tripli convinced the Bashaw to compromise. Tobias Lear finally negotiated a peace settlement (June 3, 1805).
The Barbary pirates or Ottoman corsairs, were pirates who operated under the cover of privateer operations authorized by the Barbary states. The Barbary pirates operated from western portion of the north Africa from Tripoli west to Moroccan ports. This became known as the Barbary coast. The Muslim Barbary pirates preyed on Christian and other non-Islamic shipping in the western Mediterranean Sea beginning with the Crusades, but more importantly inthe 16th century after the fall of Granada to the Christians (1492). The attacks continued into the early 19th century.
Colonial America had a large, active merchant fleet. Ahnd after independence (1883), no longer had the protection of the British Royal Navy. And there was no American Navy to protect the new country's merchant fleet. Barbary corsairs almost immeditely began seizing American merchant vessrls in the Mediterranean. The vessels and cargos wre seized and the crews enslaved. With out a Navy, the United States had no choice, but to ransom the captives and pay tribute. This proved difficult with Algeries, the most powerful Barbary states. The negotiations dragged on for years because of trhe enormous demands. Meanwhile the Americans crews were held in terrible conditions as slaves. The new Federal Constitution was ratified (1789) and there was now a Federal Goverment capable of funding and buildin a navy. This proved a contentious issues. As political parties began to coallease, the Federalists wanted a Navy and the Republicans were opposed. It took several years, however, for the Congress to vote the funds for a navy (1794). They decided to build six frigates. A treaty with Algiers was finally signed and provided for enormous tribute payments (1796). Congress almost cannceled the contruction of the frigates, but soon the outbreak of the Quasi War with France (1798-1800) meant that not only were the six frigates built, but msany other naval vessels as well. The Republican victory and ekection of Thomas Jefferson (1800) meant that the Navy might be stood down entirely and the vessels laid off or sold. This was prevented only by the actions of the Bashaw of Tripoli.
The Karamanli family seized power in Tripoli (1711). The family was not native to Tripoli, but came from a small village in Anatolia. Hamet Karamanli was deposed by Ottomans officer Ali Benghul who restablished Ottoman rule in Tripoli (1793). A younger brother of Hamet, Yusuf Karamanli, aided by the Bey of Tunis who feared an Ottoman challenge to his throne managed to gain control of the city (1795). He consolidated his power by killing opponents including family members. Hamet managed to escape and went into exile in Egypt. Yusuf became the best known Bashaw of the Karamanli dynasty. Tripoli was one of the Barbary states and piracy was the principal source of income. Yusuf began to see increasing numbers of American ships in the Meditrranean. The Napoleonic Wars had created a great demand for food and other products in Europe and American merchants were reaping huge profits by supplying this demand. The United States had made a very small patment to Tripli as part of a treaty (1786). At the time the Barbary states knew very little about the United states and seem to hsve regard it as aoor country unable to msake substantial payments. There were, however, no annual tribute payments. Yusuf noted the increasing number of richly laden American merchant vessels. He had heard rumors that the Americans were making very substantial payments to Algiers. He also noted that there were no American naval vessels to protect the merchants. As far as he could tell, there was no American Navy. If he had waited a few more months, he would have been correct. He finally decided to abrogate the earlier treaty and demand tribute and so informed U.S. Consul, James Cathcart. He expected America to simply pay the tribute as small European countries chose to do.
Thomas Jefferson prevailed over President Adams in the 1800 election, arguably the most important in American history. The now-triumphant Republicans had resisted building a navy, especially the first six frigates. They were the heart of the new Unites States Navy built because the Federalists and President Adams had championed them. Upon taking office, Jefferson's primary intetrest and that of the new Secretary of the Treasury, Albert Galatian, was to lay the frigates up as soon as possible to reduce expenditures. Jefferson had not been among the most ardent anti-navalists, but he had opposed contriction of the frigates. Only the drepedations of Tripoli managed to save the United states Nab\vy and its six new frigates. Thius the frigates that Madison, Jefferson, and Galatian had oposed, were deployed by the new administration. Later President Jefferson would champion a new naval policy, building gunboats for castal defense rather than a blue water navy. It proved to be a costly and wasteful expenditure. Despite the substantial expenditures, when war came with Britain (1812), the gunboats peoved totally ineffective.
President Jefferson's first concern with the United States Navy was how best to to disband it and best layup its vessels. His and Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatian's primary concern was to reduce Federal spending and the Navy as a major expense. Within days of his inaguration, howver, the first crisis he was to face began. The President was made of aware of diplomatic dispatches from the Mediterranean (March 1801). The Bashaw of Tripoli had summoned American Consul James Cathcart to his palace. He threatened war and attacks on Alerican ships if the United States did not make an immediate cash gift of $225,000 and $25,00 in future annual tribute. This was clear violation of the 1786 treaty with the Bashaw. Apparently the other Barbary states were beginning to realize that the United states was a much richer country than they had expected. They had begun to see lsrge numbers of American merchant vessels. And rumors had begun to spread about the details of the 1796) American Algerian Treaty. There was concern that Tunis and Morocco might also demand large payments.
The First Barbary War was America's first foreign war, at least declared war. The Quasi War was actually thre first war, but neither France or America declared war. The Bashaw formally declared war on America. Ironically while America had a large merchant fleet, the navy was the most contentious issue in the earky years of the republic. And Amereica first two wars were both naval wars. It was a naval campaign against Tripolitarian corsairs.
The Bashaw when the United States refused to meet his demands, declared war (May 1801).
Tripoli and the other Barbary stateswre no longer major military powers, but there fast ships were nore than capable of taking heavily laden and undefended merchant vessels. And their fearsome reputation still influenced European thinking.
The United States sent naval squadrons into the Mediterranean to engage the Tripolitarians and blockade Tunis.
The American slogan became "Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute!".
The first American squadron was commanded by Commodores Richard Dale. He had been one of the original six frigate captains. Dale aboard the President sailed for the straits of Gibraltar (June 1, 1801). Dale and the U.S. Navy were not prepared for the War. They had little information about the reefs around Tripli or the weather patterns. Weather in the days of sail was critical and planning a campaign with out a knowledge of the local weather was a seriously flawed approach. Blockading Tripoli thus proved difficult because of the weather, the size of the American frigates and the limited number of vessels. A rare action at sea was carried out by the scooner Enterprise which engaged a Tripolitan galley (August 1). It was an unequal engagement and 60 Tripitans were killed. The American captain Lt. Andrew Sterret was unsure that he had the authority to seize Tripolitan ships as prices. Congress subsequently passed a la specifically authorizing the U.S. Navy to seize Tripolitan ships (February 1802). Lt. Sterret thus cut the masts and let the battered enemy vessel return to Tripoli. The Bashaw was no pleased. Ignoring the greater fire power of the American ship, he had Admiral Rais MahometRous flogged and made to ride through the streets bavkswards on a donkey with sheep enttrails. [Toll, p. 171] Such encounters were rare and Dale made no effort to attack Tripoli itself. President Jefferson was frustrated at both Dale's lack of action and the high cost of maintaining the American squadron in the Mediterranean, substantially more than what the Bashaw had demanded in payment. This of course was part of the Bashaw's calculation, that what he was asking was only a fraction of what naval action would cost the United states.
The next squadron was commanded by Richard Valentine Morris. Secretary Smith wanted Thomas Truxman to command the suadron, but he proved to demanding. Morris proved to be a disasterous choice. The second or relief squadron was made up of two of the American figates, Constelation and Chesapeake. Morris sailed for Gibraltar ((April 14). He proved to be a disasterous choice. Morris showed little desire to engage the Bashaw's forces. He showed more interest in remaining in port, especially as his wife was pregnant and he had insisted on bringing her along. In the Mediterranean, Mprris kept the Chesapeake in port and the Constelation commanded by Cpt. Alexander Murray used to blockade Tripoli. The deep draft Constelation was unsuited for this and the smaller Tripolitan vessels could easily evade the Constelation's guns by keeping to shallow water abd negotiating the reefs where the larger American vessel dare not approch.
Secretary Smith's third choice was very different from Morris. Edward Preble began his naval carreer as a mishipman in the Massachuseets Navy. His ship was captured by the Navy. He was inprioned on the notorious prison ship Jersey, but managed to survive, primarily because aarole was arranged. Even so, his health was affected. As a U.S. navy commander, he was a strict displinarian, but he earned his crew's respect as a fighter. He was prepared to aggressively press the attack on Tripoli. Preble aboard his flagship Constitution sailded for Gibraltar (August 12). He redevoued with the Philadelphia (September 11). Philadelphia was a sleek subcription frigate, essentially a gift to the U.S, Navy from the city of Phildelphia. And Preble learned that Philadelphia had three ships under its control. The merchant brig Celia and a Moroccan ship Miroka which had taken Celia. She also had a another Mooccan vessel, the Meshouda. News that the Moroccans may have also declared war would have significantly complicated Prebel's operations. He decided to make a show of force off Morocco before proceeding east. He was to find that the Govenor of Tangier was acting without the authority of the emperor of Morocco. With the situation off Morrocco sorted out, Preble sailed east. Gibraltar and Malta had been used by the the Americans, but there were problems in dealing with the Royal Navy, in oart because quite a number of British deserters served on American vessels (both U.S. Naby ans And american merchnt vessels). Prebel decided to shift his base of operations to Syracuse in Sicily. Prebel ordered the Phildelphia under Cpt. William Bainbridge to return to a sttion off Tripli to enforce the blockade. Pursuing a Tripoltan vessel, Philadelphia ran aground (October 31). The guns wre thrown overboard in an effort to free the vessel. When they railed, it was easily taken by the by the Bashaw's forces. Avurtually unknown Lt. Stephen Decatur commanded 4 volunteers into Tripoli harbor and succeeded in destroying the captured Philadelphia (February 16, 1804). Preble began his attack on the port itself (July 14, 1804) A series of asaults ensued. He secured gunboats from the the Kingdom of Napels which had suffered from Barbary attacks. There was close, ferocious gunboat actions. Decater's brother James was killed in the fighting. There was a courageous fire ship USS Intrepid under Captain Richard Somers using the Intrepid. It was packed with explosives, but apparently blew up before entering the harbor. The american fleet bombarded the town and Bashaw's palace.
The fourth American squadron was commanded by Samuel Barron. He commanded four frigates which reached Gibraltar (August 12, 1804). Here he learned from the U.S. Consul in Tangier that the Emperor of Morocco was again considering his cirsairs to attack American ships. Barron took the President and Constelation to proceed east and find Preble and Constitution. Barron ordered Cpt. Rogers with Congress and James Baron (the Commodore's brother) with Essex would make a show of force at Tangier and then sail east to rejoin the squadron. Prebel returned home. The President and Secretary Smith went to considerable pains that they were not disasisfied with him. Even so, Prebel thought that he had failed, but was surprised to find upon arrival that he was a national hero. Americans admired how he had taken the fight to the enemy. By this time after being battered by Prebel the Bashaw was wavering. Baron's arrival with additional ships, four new frigates, shocked Yusuf. He could not understand why these Americans were prepared to go to so much expense to avoid paying tribute.
Barron's command of the squadron was impaired by illness. But it is at this time that another front was opened by the Americans in the person of William Eaton. Eaton had been appointed consul to Tunis (1798). When the Bashaw deckared war (1801), he and special diplomat James L. Cathcart attempted to work out a settlement. They reached the conclusion that Yusuf would not make peace. Tgey came up with the idea of reinstalling his exiled brother, Hamet Karamanli. Eaton returned to the states to present their plans plot to the Administration and Congress. He received support for his undertaking. Eaton returned to the Mediterranean with the new title "Navy Agent to the Barbary States" (1804). He organized a force in Egypt to replace Yusuf. A small force of Hamat's supporters, 70 Greek mercenaries, 300 Arabs and Bedouines, and 8 marines set out from Alexandria. The plan was to take Benghazi and tghen storm Tripoli itself. Somehow Eaton managed to keep his fractious force together. They attacked abd took Derna (February 27, 1805). Their attack was supported by asmall naval force (Argus, Hornet, and Nautilus commanded by Issac Hull. Now there was a land force that could participate in the summer offensive against Tripoli. The Marines in Eaton's force were imortalized in the Marine's battle hymn--"to the shores of Tripoli". It is at this time rgat the Marines began wearing leather collars. It reduced the possibility of being beheaded while boarding enemy ships. This was the origin of the nickname Leathernecks.
The American attacks, arrival of more frigates, the overland attack, and the inability to make money with his corsairs bottled up in Tripli convinced the Bashaw to compromise. After Prebel's attacks, his primary goal became to get the Americans out of the Mediterranean as soon as possible. Tobias Lear was the U.S. Consul assigned to negotiate with Tripoli. The Bashaw at first attempted to get $200,00 from the Americans. Commodore Baron's possession of five figates instead of Prebel's one along with news of the fall of Derna to Eaton and Hamet seemed to have finally changed Yusuf's mind. And Lear was abel to convince Baron that a treaty could be had at a minor cost. Even if Tripoli could be taken, there was no assurance that they could free the American captives.
Events may have been different if Prebel was still in command, but Baron accepted Lear's logic. Thus Lear was abel to negotiate a peace settlement (June 3, 1805). While the failure to defeat the Bashaw was a disappointment, he was forced to accept only a symbolic payment of $60,000. It was clearly stipulated as a rabnsom rather than tribute. It was justified by the fact that the Bashaw held more prisoners. The Bashaw freed about 300 U.S. captives including the crew of the Philadelphia. The United states freeed 100 Tripolitan prisoners.
With the signing of the treatly, Eaton was ordered to abandon the overland camo=psign. He as aesult was bitter for the rest of his life. The war with Tripoli and treaty is important not only because it ehded the Bashaw's attacks on American shipping, but also because Tunis and Morocco seeing the formidable American ships and willingness of the Americans to aggressively use them deemed it prudent not to follow the Bashaw's example and target American ships.
After the Treaty was signed John Rogers commanded the final squadron. He had commanded the John Adams in fighting with the Tripoltanians. His fighting record earned him the command of the Constelation. When Coomoder Baron returned home. Rodgers was put in command of the remaining ships. He had been involved with a simmering dispute with the Baron brothers that could have resulted in a duel--a persistent problem in the early years of the Navy.
Oren, Michael B. Power, Faith, and Fantasy (2007).
Toll, Ian W. Si Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy (W.S. Norton & Co.: New York, 2006), 560p.
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