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American Heros

King's Mountain
Our fortress is the good greenwood, Our tent the ...

George Rogers Clark And The Conquest Of The Northwest
Have the elder races halted? Do they droop and end the...

The Death Of Stonewall Jackson
Like a servant of the Lord, with his bible and his sword...

The Cruise Of The Wasp
A crash as when some swollen cloud Cracks o'er th...

Farragut At Mobile Bay
Ha, old ship, do they thrill, The brave two hundre...

Charles Russell Lowell
Wut's wurds to them whose faith an' truth On war'...

Remember The Alamo
The muffled drum's sad roll has beat The soldier'...

Hampton Roads
Then far away to the south uprose A little feathe...

Daniel Boone And The Founding Of Kentucky
... Boone lived hunting up to ninety; And, what's s...

The Battle Of Trenton
And such they are--and such they will be found: No...

The Burning Of The Philadelphia
And say besides, that in Aleppo once, Where a mali...

Francis Parkman
(1822-1893) He told the red man's story; far and wide...

Bennington
We are but warriors for the working-day; Our gayne...

The General Armstrong Privateer
We have fought such a fight for a day and a night As m...

General Grant And The Vicksburg Campaign
What flag is this you carry Along the sea and sho...

John Quincy Adams And The Right Of Petition
He rests with the immortals; his journey has been long: ...

The Charge At Gettysburg
For the Lord On the whirlwind is abroad; I...

The Flag-bearer
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;...

Robert Gould Shaw
Brave, good, and true, I see him stand before me n...

Lincoln
O captain. My captain. Our fearful trip is done; T...



The Burning Of The Philadelphia






And say besides, that in Aleppo once,
Where a malignant and a turban'd Turk
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by the throat the circumcised dog
And smote him, thus.
--Othello.


It is difficult to conceive that there ever was a time when the United
States paid a money tribute to anybody. It is even more difficult to
imagine the United States paying blackmail to a set of small piratical
tribes on the coast of Africa. Yet this is precisely what we once did
with the Barbary powers, as they were called the States of Morocco,
Tunis, Tripoli, and Algiers, lying along the northern coast of Africa.
The only excuse to be made for such action was that we merely followed
the example of Christendom. The civilized people of the world were then
in the habit of paying sums of money to these miserable pirates,
in order to secure immunity for their merchant vessels in the
Mediterranean. For this purpose Congress appropriated money, and
treaties were made by the President and ratified by the Senate. On one
occasion, at least, Congress actually revoked the authorization of some
new ships for the navy, and appropriated more money than was required
to build the men-of-war in order to buy off the Barbary powers. The fund
for this disgraceful purpose was known as the "Mediterranean fund," and
was intrusted to the Secretary of State to be disbursed by him in his
discretion. After we had our brush with France, however, in 1798, and
after Truxtun's brilliant victory over the French frigate L'Insurgente
in the following year, it occurred to our government that perhaps
there was a more direct as well as a more manly way of dealing with the
Barbary pirates than by feebly paying them tribute, and in 1801 a small
squadron, under Commodore Dale, proceeded to the Mediterranean.

At the same time events occurred which showed strikingly the absurdity
as well as the weakness of this policy of paying blackmail to pirates.
The Bashaw of Tripoli, complaining that we had given more money to
some of the Algerian ministers than we had to him, and also that we had
presented Algiers with a frigate, declared war upon us, and cut down the
flag-staff in front of the residence of the American consul. At the same
time, and for the same reason, Morocco and Tunis began to grumble at the
treatment which they had received. The fact was that, with nations as
with individuals, when the payment of blackmail is once begun there is
no end to it. The appearance, however, of our little squadron in the
Mediterranean showed at once the superiority of a policy of force over
one of cowardly submission. Morocco and Tunis immediately stopped their
grumbling and came to terms with the United States, and this left us
free to deal with Tripoli.

Commodore Dale had sailed before the declaration of war by Tripoli was
known, and he was therefore hampered by his orders, which permitted
him only to protect our commerce, and which forbade actual hostilities.
Nevertheless, even under these limited orders, the Enterprise, of
twelve guns, commanded by Lieutenant Sterrett, fought an action with the
Tripolitan ship Tripoli, of fourteen guns. The engagement lasted three
hours, when the Tripoli struck, having lost her mizzenmast, and with
twenty of her crew killed and thirty wounded. Sterrett, having no orders
to make captures, threw all the guns and ammunition of the Tripoli
overboard, cut away her remaining masts, and left her with only one spar
and a single sail to drift back to Tripoli, as a hint to the Bashaw of
the new American policy.

In 1803 the command of our fleet in the Mediterranean was taken by
Commodore Preble, who had just succeeded in forcing satisfaction
from Morocco for an attack made upon our merchantmen by a vessel from
Tangier. He also proclaimed a blockade of Tripoli and was preparing
to enforce it when the news reached him that the frigate Philadelphia,
forty-four guns, commanded by Captain Bainbridge, and one of the best
ships in our navy, had gone upon a reef in the harbor of Tripoli, while
pursuing a vessel there, and had been surrounded and captured, with all
her crew, by the Tripolitan gunboats, when she was entirely helpless
either to fight or sail. This was a very serious blow to our navy and to
our operations against Tripoli. It not only weakened our forces, but it
was also a great help to the enemy. The Tripolitans got the Philadelphia
off the rocks, towed her into the harbor, and anchored her close under
the guns of their forts. They also replaced her batteries, and prepared
to make her ready for sea, where she would have been a most formidable
danger to our shipping.

Under these circumstances Stephen Decatur, a young lieutenant in command
of the Enterprise, offered to Commodore Preble to go into the harbor and
destroy the Philadelphia. Some delay ensued, as our squadron was driven
by severe gales from the Tripolitan coast; but at last, in January,
1804, Preble gave orders to Decatur to undertake the work for which
he had volunteered. A small vessel known as a ketch had been recently
captured from the Tripolitans by Decatur, and this prize was now named
the Intrepid, and assigned to him for the work he had in hand. He took
seventy men from his own ship, the Enterprise, and put them on the
Intrepid, and then, accompanied by Lieutenant Stewart in the Siren, who
was to support him, he set sail for Tripoli. He and his crew were very
much cramped as well as badly fed on the little vessel which had been
given to them, but they succeeded, nevertheless, in reaching Tripoli in
safety, accompanied by the Siren.

For nearly a week they were unable to approach the harbor, owing to
severe gales which threatened the loss of their vessel; but on February
16 the weather moderated and Decatur determined to go in. It is well to
recall, briefly, the extreme peril of the attack which he was about to
make. The Philadelphia, with forty guns mounted, double-shotted, and
ready for firing, and manned by a full complement of men, was moored
within half a gunshot of the Bashaw's castle, the mole and crown
batteries, and within range of ten other batteries, mounting,
altogether, one hundred and fifteen guns. Some Tripolitan cruisers, two
galleys, and nineteen gunboats also lay between the Philadelphia and the
shore. Into the midst of this powerful armament Decatur had to go with
his little vessel of sixty tons, carrying four small guns and having a
crew of seventy-five men.

The Americans, however, were entirely undismayed by the odds against
them, and at seven o'clock Decatur went into the harbor between the
reef and shoal which formed its mouth. He steered on steadily toward the
Philadelphia, the breeze getting constantly lighter, and by half-past
nine was within two hundred yards of the frigate. As they approached
Decatur stood at the helm with the pilot, only two or three men showing
on deck and the rest of the crew lying hidden under the bulwarks. In
this way he drifted to within nearly twenty yards of the Philadelphia.
The suspicions of the Tripolitans, however, were not aroused, and when
they hailed the Intrepid, the pilot answered that they had lost their
anchors in a gale, and asked that they might run a warp to the frigate
and ride by her. While the talk went on the Intrepid's boat shoved off
with the rope, and pulling to the fore-chains of the Philadelphia, made
the line fast. A few of the crew then began to haul on the lines, and
thus the Intrepid was drawn gradually toward the frigate.

The suspicions of the Tripolitans were now at last awakened. They raised
the cry of "Americanos!" and ordered off the Intrepid, but it was too
late. As the vessels came in contact, Decatur sprang up the main chains
of the Philadelphia, calling out the order to board. He was rapidly
followed by his officers and men, and as they swarmed over the rails and
came upon the deck, the Tripolitan crew gathered, panic-stricken, in a
confused mass on the forecastle. Decatur waited a moment until his men
were behind him, and then, placing himself at their head, drew his sword
and rushed upon the Tripolitans. There was a very short struggle, and
the Tripolitans, crowded together, terrified and surprised, were cut
down or driven overboard. In five minutes the ship was cleared of the
enemy.

Decatur would have liked to have taken the Philadelphia out of the
harbor, but that was impossible. He therefore gave orders to burn the
ship, and his men, who had been thoroughly instructed in what they were
to do, dispersed into all parts of the frigate with the combustibles
which had been prepared, and in a few minutes, so well and quickly was
the work done, the flames broke out in all parts of the Philadelphia. As
soon as this was effected the order was given to return to the Intrepid.
Without confusion the men obeyed. It was a moment of great danger, for
fire was breaking out on all sides, and the Intrepid herself, filled
as she was with powder and combustibles, was in great peril of sudden
destruction. The rapidity of Decatur's movements, however, saved
everything. The cables were cut, the sweeps got out, and the Intrepid
drew rapidly away from the burning frigate. It was a magnificent
sight as the flames burst out over the Philadephia and ran rapidly and
fiercely up the masts and rigging. As her guns became heated they were
discharged, one battery pouring its shots into the town. Finally the
cables parted, and then the Philadelphia, a mass of flames, drifted
across the harbor, and blew up. Meantime the batteries of the shipping
and the castle had been turned upon the Intrepid, but although the
shot struck all around her, she escaped successfully with only one shot
through her mainsail, and, joining the Siren, bore away.

This successful attack was carried through by the cool courage of
Decatur and the admirable discipline of his men. The hazard was very
great, the odds were very heavy, and everything depended on the nerve
with which the attack was made and the completeness of the surprise.
Nothing miscarried, and no success could have been more complete.
Nelson, at that time in the Mediterranean, and the best judge of a naval
exploit as well as the greatest naval commander who has ever lived,
pronounced it "the most bold and daring act of the age." We meet no
single feat exactly like it in our own naval history, brilliant as that
has been, until we come to Cushing's destruction of the Albemarle in
the war of the rebellion. In the years that have elapsed, and among the
great events that have occurred since that time, Decatur's burning of
the Philadephia has been well-nigh forgotten; but it is one of those
feats of arms which illustrate the high courage of American seamen, and
which ought always to be remembered.





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