1804 - America and the Barbary States - War with Tripoli


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Naval History of Great Britain - Vol III
1804 War with Tripoli 293

In recording the exploits of " Americans," it is but to lop off the qualifying adjunct " adopted, " and every native reader feels a hero's blood flowing in his veins. On the other hand, should disgrace be attached to the deed, Mr. Clark (the American naval historian) and his brother-writers, anticipating the reader's wishes, seldom fail to state, that the parties were not American, but British sailors. " *

We must premise, also, that the only accounts we have to refer to are those written by the Americans. The Tripolitans have no annalist to compile, no state-historiographer to magnify and blazon, the feats performed by themselves ; nor have they any acute and patriotic writer, to expose the exaggerations, or disprove the mistatements, published by their enemies. With such a one-sided case before us we almost fear to proceed ; and yet we should be sorry to omit recording, or, by doubting throw a slight upon, an act of genuine gallantry, achieved by Frenchman or American, Christian or Mahomedan.

Feeling a laudable desire to prevent the Tripolitans from making any use of the fine frigate which, by an accident so untoward, had fallen into their hands, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, of the United States' 44-gun frigate Constitution, submitted to Commodore Preble a plan for setting fire to and destroying the Philadelphia in the harbour of Tripoli. The Commodore first thought the enterprise too hazardous, but at length gave his consent. On the 3d of February, having embarked with volunteers, including Lieutenant James Lawrence and Midshipman Charles Morris, on board a Turkish prize ketch, newly named the Intrepid, Lieutenant Decatur sailed from Syracuse, accompanied by the 18-gun brig Syren, Lieutenant Charles Stewart ; whose boats, covered by the brig's fire, were to co-operate in the attack.

On the 18th, in the evening, the Intrepid and Syren arrived off the harbour of Tripoli ; but it appears that the two vessels " by a change of wind " separated, and that at 8 p.m. the Intrepid entered the harbour alone. The Philadelphia lay within half a gun-shot of the Bashaw's castle and principal battery, with two Tripolitan cruisers at the distance of about 200 yards on her starboard quarter, and on the same bow a number of gun-boats. " All her guns were mounted and loaded." At about 11 P.M. just as the Intrepid had arrived within 200 yards of the larboard and outward side of the Philadelphia, the latter hailed and desired the ketch to anchor on peril of being fired into. The Pilot of the Intrepid, as he had been instructed, and who, we imagine, was himself a mussulman answered that they had lost all their anchors. Upon this the ketch was suffered to advance ; and, so well was the deception kept up, that a rope was

* James's Naval Occurrences between Great Britain and America, p. 73.

Clark's Naval history of the United States, vol. i. P. 153, This wants confirmation.

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