An Age of Patriotism

Burrows WW 001
William Ward Burrows I

William Ward Burrows (16 Jan 1758 – 6 March 1805) was born in Charleston, South Carolina.  He served with distinction in the Revolutionary War with the South Carolina state militia.  After the war, he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to practice law.  On the day following an act of Congress to establish a permanent United States Marine Corps (11 July 1798), President John Adams appointed Burrows Major Commandant.  During his tenure as Commandant, the manpower strength of the Marine Corps never exceeded 881 officers, noncommissioned officers, privates, and musicians.  Note that by tradition, Samuel Nicholas was the first officer to serve as Commandant of Continental Marines, but Burrows was the first appointed Commandant of the U. S. Marine Corps.  In history, Burrows is regarded as the Second Commandant of the Marine Corps.

After the United States won its independence from Great Britain, America no longer benefitted from the protection of the British Navy.  America was suddenly facing the arduous and expensive task of protecting its own seacoast and merchant fleet.  Few American ships were available to take on this task, and few were even capable of such a mission.  The Kingdom of France was a crucial ally of the United States during the Revolutionary War, had loaned the Continental Congress large sums of money, and in 1778, signed an agreement with the United States for an alliance against Great Britain.  In 1792, Louis XVI was overthrown during the French Revolution and the French monarchy was abolished.

In 1794, the United States forged an agreement with Great Britain in the Jay Treaty, which was ratified in the following year.  The Jay Treaty resolved several issues between the US and Great Britain that had lingered since the end of the revolution.  The Jay Treaty encouraged bilateral trade and expanded trade between the two nations, the effects of which stimulated America’s fledgling economy.  Between 1794 and 1801, the value of American exports tripled.  Not every American supported the Jay Treaty, however. Jeffersonian Democrat-Republicans were pro-French and fought an alliance with Great Britain at every turn.

France and Great Britain were at war, but the United States declared neutrality.  As US legislation was being formulated for a trade deal with the British, Congress refused to continue making payments on the debt owed to France from the Revolutionary War.  The United States argued that their obligation was to the King of France.  Since there was no longer a king in France, the United States no longer had an obligation to pay this debt.

France was not pleased. Initially, the French government authorized privateers to seize American ships trading with Great Britain, taking the ships to France as prizes of war, and sold for compensation.  Next, the French refused to receive the United States Ambassador to France, Charles C. Pinckney.  The effect of this was the complete severance of diplomatic relations between the United States and France.  President John Adams delivered his annual message to Congress, reporting to them that France refused to negotiate a settlement.  Adams warned Congress: the time had come “to place our country in a suitable posture of defense.”  The so-called XYZ Affair (French agents demanding bribes before engaging in substantive negotiations with US diplomats) incensed members of Congress and the general population.

It was in this setting that the Navy and Marine Corps had their humble beginnings.  The Navy had few ships, and the Marines had few troops.  Still, six or so months in advance of hostilities with France, the War Department began recruiting and enlisting able seamen to serve as Marines aboard frigates that had been authorized by Congress to meet the French threat.  These initial units were small detachments assigned to ships of the U. S. Navy; ships that were still under construction.

During Major Burrows first several months, his principal concern was supplying men to serve with sea-going Marine Detachments.  At this time, Headquarters Marine Corps was situated at a camp near Philadelphia until the national capital in Washington was ready to receive the government in 1800.  Burrows sent a Marine guard detail to the Washington Navy Yard in March to protect government property.  Burrows and his staff relocated to Washington in late July, settling into what today is called the Marine Barracks, 8th& I Streets.

Burrows was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on 1 May 1800.  The Quasi-War with France continued until September when the two countries finally settled their differences —and once these matters were resolved, Congress had no further interest in maintaining a naval establishment. Congressional attitudes embarrassed Burrows because he was trying to establish a war-ready Marine Corps on a peace time budget.  The Barbary Wars broke out soon after the end of the Quasi-War.  Adams lost the Presidency in 1801, and Thomas Jefferson, who was no friend of the Navy or Marine Corps, was inaugurated as President.  In spite of Jefferson’s lack of interest, Burrows continued his struggle to man the much needed ship’s detachments gearing up for duty in the Mediterranean.

Lieutenant Colonel Burrows’ stewardship is credited with beginning many of the Marine Corps’ institutions, most notably the U. S. Marine Corps Band (now called the “President’s Own”). To create the band, Burrows relied heavily on personal contributions from his officers.  Burrows was also a disciplinarian, demanding high standards of professional conduct from his officers.  Due to ill health, which may be related to his relocation to Washington City, then an insect infested swamp, Burrows resigned his office on 6 March 1804.  He died a year later while still residing in Washington.  He was initially buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery in Georgetown, but on 12 May 1892, his remains were re-interred at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Part of Colonel Burrows’ legacy is his son, William Ward Burrows II (1795 – 1813), who served in the United States Navy from 1799 to his death in 1813.  Lieutenant Burrows distinguished himself at Tripoli while serving aboard the USS Constitution.  He died from wounds received during an engagement with HMS Boxer, while in command of the brig [1] USS Enterprise during the War of 1812 (derisively known at the time as Mr. Madison’s War).  Burrows was buried at Eastern Cemetery in Portland, Maine, next to the slain commander of HMS Boxer, Samuel Blyth.

In recognition of his courage under fire, Lieutenant Burrows was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal [2]:

Congressional Gold Medal
Congressional Gold Medal; See endnotes for attribution.

That the President of the United States be requested to present to the nearest male relative of lieutenant William Burrows, and to lieutenant Edward R. McCall of the brig Enterprise, a gold medal with suitable emblems and devices; and a silver medal with like emblems and devices to each of the commissioned officers of the aforesaid vessel, in testimony of the high sense entertained in the conflict with the British sloop Boxer, on the fourth of September, in the year one thousand eight hundred and thirteen. And the President is also requested to communicate to the nearest male relative of lieutenant Burrows the deep regret which Congress feel for the loss of that valuable officer, who died in the arms of victory, nobly contending for his country’s rights and fame.

Endnotes:

[1] A brig is a sailing vessel with two square-rigged masts.  They were fast and maneuverable and used as both warships and cargo vessels.  Brigs were among the first casualties of the age of steam because they required relatively large crews for their small size, and they were difficult to sail into the wind.  A war brig was outfitted with between ten and eighteen guns.

[2] Since the American Revolution, Congress has commissioned gold medals as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions. Shown above is the gold medal issued to John Paul Jones, the only Continental Navy Officer to receive this award. I could not find a likeness of the medal issued to Lieutenant Burrows.  Credit for the image of the gold medal belongs to Jules Jaquemart, Loubat, J. F.  Medallic History of the United States of America, New Milford (1878).

Marine Security Guards

MSG Shield 001Marine Corps history reveals a lengthy relationship with the United States Department of State, beginning in 1805 at the Battle of Derna —the tale of this beginning is interesting.

When Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated President of the United States in March 1801, he inherited troubled relations with the Barbary States —otherwise known as the Ottoman Regencies of Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, as well as with independent Morocco.  The United States had diplomatic treaties with all four, but tensions were high and getting worse.  Mr. Jefferson was partially responsible for this anxiety long before he became President.

Regional American diplomats wanted the assurance of an American naval presence (which given Mr. Jefferson’s loathing for the Navy, arguing that it was too much of an expense), must have been an irritation.  These early diplomats regularly urged Jefferson to bolster a naval presence, if not in exact word, then certainly of similar pleadings as from Lisbon in 1793: “When we can appear in the ports of the various powers, or on the coast of Barbary with ships of such force as to convince those nations that we are able to protect our trade, and compel them if necessary to keep faith with us, then, and not before, we may probably secure a large share of the Mediterranean trade, which would largely and speedily compensate the United States for the cost of a maritime force amply sufficient to keep all those pirates in awe, and also make it their interest to keep faith.”

As noted above, Mr. Jefferson was well aware of the situation unfolding in the Mediterranean. In 1784, Congress appointed Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin as peace commissioners.  Their task was to negotiate treaties of amity and commerce with the principal states of Europe and the Mediterranean, including the establishment of relations with the Barbary States.  What these men learned was that European states had concluded treaties with the Barbary states, which involved agreements to pay them tribute, which in those days were called an annuity.  This was necessary because any merchant ship found operating in the Atlantic or the Mediterranean Sea without this protection placed itself on the mercy of state-sponsored marauders.  These raiders were also referred to as corsairs or pirates.  The peace commissioners reported this information to Congress and requested its guidance.

In December of that year, having learned that a small American brig had been seized by a Moroccan corsair in the Atlantic, Jefferson developed a no-nonsense approach to the problem.  He wrote, “Our trade to Portugal, Spain, and the Mediterranean is annihilated unless we do something decisive.  Tribute or war is the usual alternative of these pirates.  If we yield the former, it will require sums which our people will soon feel.  Why not begin a navy and then decide on war?  We cannot begin in a better cause nor against a weaker foe.”  At this time, Jefferson believed that going to war was more honorable, more effective, and less expensive than paying tribute.

In 1786, while serving as the United States’ first Ambassador to France, Mr. Jefferson and John Adams (then serving as the US Ambassador to Great Britain), met in London with Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja, the Tripolitan ambassador to Great Britain. American flagged ships had already been captured by corsairs and their crews and passengers imprisoned and held for ransom.  The Americans wanted to negotiate a peace treaty that would spare their ships from pirate attacks.  Congress had been willing to appease the Barbary pirates, but only if they could gain peace at a reasonable price.

During the meeting with Rahman, Jefferson and Adams asked him why Moslems held such hostility toward the United States, a nation with which they had had no previous contacts. Jefferson later related the ambassador’s response to John Jay: the reason for Moslem enmity was that “It was written in their Koran that all nations that had not acknowledged their prophet were sinners; it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave the infidel.”  Rahman assured them that every Mussulman [Moslem] who was slain in this warfare was sure to achieve paradise in the afterlife.  After the meeting, Jefferson purchased a Koran.  Should war with these Moslems be necessary, he wanted to find out what kind of religion these people believed in.

The Barbary challenge to American shipping sparked a great deal of debate in the United States over how to cope with the aggressive behaviors of the Barbary States. Jefferson’s early view guided him in future years.  In 1786, he doubted whether the American people would be willing to pay an annual tribute (bribe), and he wondered if it would not be better to simply offer these Barbary states an equal treaty.  Should they refuse,  the United States could go to war with them.

Mr. Jefferson believed that America needed to become a trading nation.  Jefferson wrote to James Monroe, “… this will require a protecting force on the sea.  Otherwise, the smallest powers in Europe, every one which possesses a single ship of the line, may dictate to us and enforce their demands by captures on our commerce. Some naval force then is necessary if we mean to be commercial.”  Jefferson added, “And if it be decided that their peace shall be bought it shall engage my most earnest endeavors.”

John Adams favored the same approach, which is to say that he believed paying bribes would be cheaper than convincing the American people that the United States needed a navy.  Congress did decide to pay the bribes, commissioning Thomas Barclay (to Morocco) and a merchant sea captain by the name of John Lamb (to Algiers) to effect treaties.  In Morocco, the American proposal was accepted with only minor changes. Jefferson, Adams, and the Congress were very pleased because the agreement only entailed a one-time payment.

The agreement with Morocco did not serve as a template for the other North African tribes.  Algiers was more dependent on the fruits of its pirating operations: captured goods, slaves, ransoms, and tribute —so they were less amenable to a peace treaty with the United States.

In the midst of these negotiations, Barclay and Lamb learned that two ships had been captured by Algerian corsairs: The Maria and the Dauphin.  Mr. Lamb was instructed to negotiate a ransom for the captives in Algiers and to broker a treaty to prevent further attacks on American shipping, although the amount of money sequestered for this purpose was much too small to suit the Algerians.  The Lamb mission failed.

Over the next several years —both as Secretary of State under George Washington and as President himself— Jefferson made further attempts to re-start negotiations with Algiers.  Every effort failed, and the only safety accorded to American shipping came from joining European convoys.  American ships even flew European flags, which of course was illegal (not to mention dishonorable).  Nevertheless, American ships benefitted from the protection offered by the Portuguese Navy for several years.  This ended in 1793 when it was time for Algiers and Portugal to renegotiate their treaty.  Within a few months, Algerian corsairs had seized eleven American ships, ten of these in the Atlantic; more than 100 crewman and passengers were taken captive.

After Jefferson’s tenure as Secretary of State, the United States finally did secure an agreement with Algiers in 1795.  An annual tribute was part of this treaty.  A year later, Algiers released their hostages, which included a few survivors of the Maria and Dauphin.  A treaty was concluded with Tripoli in 1796, Tunis in 1797, and it wasn’t long after that when the United States appointed emissaries to each Barbary state.

America’s consuls awaited the new administration of Thomas Jefferson, but their communiques over the previous months were nothing if not distressing.  Tensions with Tripoli were high because the ever-sensitive Pasha Yusuf Qaramanli believed that the Americans had slighted him.  He threatened war with the United States. Five months before Jefferson assumed office, in October 1800, Consul James Cathcart in Tripoli received an ominous message from the Pasha: “If you don’t give me a present, I will find a pretext to capture your defenseless merchantmen.”  Cathcart dutifully notified other consuls of the possibility of hostile actions.

When the Quasi-War with France [1] ended by the convention of 1800, newly inaugurated Jefferson could turn his attention to the Barbary coast.  The US Navy was a fledgling force at this time, but new ships were coming online from contracts awarded in 1793.  Thus, in early June 1801, a small squadron of three frigates [2] and a schooner [3] sailed for the Mediterranean under Commodore Richard Dale. Dale was ordered to protect American shipping if, upon arrival, he found that a state of war existed.  In that case, Dale was to “chastise their insolence by sinking, burning, or destroying their ships where they were found, blockade the harbor of any of the regencies that had declared war on the United States, and convoy merchantmen as best he was able. [4]”  Dale was also ordered to transmit to the rulers of Algiers and Tunis letters, gifts, and tribute payments so long as no state of war existed.

On 14 May 1801, the Pasha of Tripoli declared war on the United States.  The first assault came that very morning when the Pasha ordered the flagpole outside the consulate chopped down.  Commodore Dale arrived at Gibraltar on 1 July.  He was promptly informed that a state of war existed between Tripoli and the United States.  For a number of months, the American squadron played patty-cake with Tripolitan ships.  The only real action involved the schooner USS Enterprise in engagement with the Tripolitan ship Tripoli off the coast of Malta on 1 August.  Tripoli was soundly defeated in this encounter.  Given the speed of communications of the time, Jefferson wasn’t able to inform Congress of these actions until four months later.

Over the next three years, the Pasha’s obstinance forced the United States to devise a rotational schedule for its Mediterranean squadrons.  In 1802, corsairs from Tripoli successfully evaded American blockades to attack US merchantmen.  Nor did the blockade prevent trade among the Barbary states; it was only a minor inconvenience.   Other Barbary rulers sided with Tripoli and in late 1802, the United States was faced with the possibility of an expanding war with Tunis and Morocco.  Mr. Jefferson had other problems, too.  The challenge of Tripoli could not be ignored, but neither could he ignore America’s rising national debt.  Jefferson thus debated which would be less costly: tribute, or war?  Should the United States be practical, or principled?

EATON Wm 001
William Eaton

Secretary of State James Madison sent a note to Consul Cathcart suggesting that it was not necessary to confine himself to a single position: he might agree to pay the tribute, but neither should he exceed authorized dollar amounts; if engagements were necessary, Madison instructed, they should be kept small, if possible.  In time, Mr. Cathcart was no longer welcomed in Tripoli, Tunis, or Algiers.  Mr. William Eaton [5] had also been asked to leave Tunis.  Both men returned to the United States.  Tobias Lear assumed the duties of Consul General in Algiers in November 1803, replacing Richard O’Brien.  Lear also took over negotiations with the Pasha of Tripoli. Commodore Dale was replaced by Edward Preble.  When Preble arrived on station, he learned that Morocco was at war with the United States.

In October 1803, the frigate USS Philadelphia ran aground near Tripoli.  Corsairs swept in to take advantage of the Philadelphia’s condition and her 307-man crew was imprisoned.  Philadelphia was re-floated and repaired, but before the Pasha could make use of her, a U. S. Navy team led by Lieutenant Stephen Decatur slipped into Tripoli harbor after dark and fired the ship.  Philadelphia was totally destroyed, but the crew remained captive.  When this news finally reached the United States, the American people were very unhappy with Mr. Jefferson; the loss of a U. S. Navy vessel had happened on his watch. Jefferson requested that Congress provide two additional frigates to deal with the Barbary problem.  Congress funded the President’s request.

In 1804, the former Consul to Tunis, William Eaton, returned to the Mediterranean Sea with the title Naval Agent to the Barbary States.  Mr. Eaton had been granted permission from President Jefferson to support the claims of Hamet Qaramanli (the rightful heir to the throne of Tripoli), who had been deposed of his title by his brother Yusuf.  Eaton sought out Hamet, who was then in exile in Egypt and made a proposal to reinstate him in exchange for a mutually agreeable treaty.  Hamet agreed to Eaton’s plan.

OBANNON PN 001
Presley Neville O’Bannon

Commodore Samuel Barron, now commanding the Mediterranean squadron, provided Eaton with naval support from the USS Nautilus, USS Hornet, and USS Argus.  The frigates were to provide offshore bombardment support. A detachment of seven (7) U. S. Marines under the command of First Lieutenant Presley Neville O’Bannon [6], USMC was detailed to assist Eaton in an overland campaign from Egypt to Tripoli.  With the help of Hamet, Eaton and O’Bannon recruited 400 Arab, Turkish, and Greek mercenaries.  Eaton appointed himself a general and Commander-in-Chief of the makeshift multinational force.  The campaign took the Marines and mercenaries 500 miles across the Libyan-North African desert.  During the 50-day march, Eaton and O’Bannon had to contend with strained relationships between Moslem and Greek Christian mercenaries.

On 26 April 1805, Eaton sent a letter to Mustafa Bey, the governor of Derne, asking for safe passage through the city and an opportunity to resupply his force.  Mustafa replied, “My head or yours.”  USS Argus transferred one its cannon ashore to assist Eaton in the attack on the fortification at Derne and then joined the other two ships in a general bombardment of Derne’s defensive batteries.

With ships directing offshore fire, Eaton divided his force into two assault groups.  Hamet would lead the Arabs southwest to cut the road to Tripoli and then turn to attack the weakly defended governor’s palace. Eaton, the Marines, and the remaining force would attack the harbor fortress.  The attack began near mid-afternoon. Lieutenant O’Bannon and his Marines, along with 50 Greek gunners and the Argus’ cannon, led the assault. The fighting was bloody, and Eaton was wounded during the assault.  Once the Marines had breached the walls of the shore battery, the defenders fled, leaving behind their loaded cannon.

Lieutenant O’Bannon raised the American flag over the battery.  It was the first time the United States Flag was raised over a foreign territory.  Unbeknownst to either Eaton or O’Bannon, this one event signaled the beginning of the Marine Corps’ long relationship with the United States Department of State. Marines were subsequently called upon to serve the interests of the State Department in 1845 (the secret mission of Archibald Gillespie), the siege of the Foreign Legation in Peking, China in 1901 (the Boxer Rebellion), and upon other occasions when the need for guards and couriers were needed at U. S. Embassies, consulates, and delegations, and as security for senior diplomatic officials in unsettled areas of the globe.

Today, the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group, headquartered at Quantico, Virginia, carries on this tradition.  Their motto is Vigilance, Discipline, Professionalism.  Marine Corps Security Guards, in their present form, have been in place since December 1948 as authorized by the Foreign Service Act of 1946.  The act authorized the Secretary of the Navy to assign Marines to serve with the U. S. State Department under the supervision of the senior diplomatic officer at embassies, legations, or consulates. This authorization continues today under Title 10, United States Code 5983.

Crossed Swords

End Notes:

[1] The Quasi-War was an undeclared conflict fought almost entirely at sea between the United States and France from 1798 to 1800 during the presidency of John Adams.  Following the French Revolution, the United States refused to continue paying its debt to France, which had supported it during its own revolution.  The United States claimed that the debt had been owed to a previous regime.  In addition, France was outraged that the United States was trading with Great Britain, with whom they were then at war.  The French reaction was to authorize privateers to attack American shipping.  The United States retaliated in kind.

[2] Frigates were ships with three masts and a single gun deck.  The number of guns would depend on the size of the ship.  Early American frigates were called “heavy frigates” because they were rated as 44-gun ships, but in actuality, these ships carried 56 to 60 24-pound long guns and 32-pounder or 42-pounder carronades on two decks.

[3] Schooner were rigged according to their size.  In the late 1700s and early 1800s, American schooners were two-mast vessels with fore and aft rigs with one or more squared topsails.  Armament consisted of 12 6-pound long guns, but in some cases, this was increased to 12 18-pound carronades.

[4] Commodore Dale had a total of four ships at his disposal.

[5] Sixteen-year-old William Eaton enlisted in the Continental Army in 1780 and served until 1783, achieving the rank of sergeant.  In 1790 he graduated from Dartmouth College and found work as a clerk in the Vermont legislature.  In 1792, Eaton was commissioned a captain in the Legion of the United States, retaining his commission until 1797 when he accepted an appointment to serve as United States Consul at Tunis.  Following the Second Barbary War, Eaton returned to his home in Brimfield, Massachusetts where he served one term in the state legislature.  Suffering from rheumatism and gout, and having taken to drink, Eaton died at his home on 1 June 1811, 47 years of age.

[6] A United States Marine Corps Officer most remembered for being the first man to raise the American Flag on foreign soil on April 27, 1805, during the Barbary Wars.  O’Bannon was born in Fauquier County, Virginia and named for his cousin, who had served with distinction as an officer in the Revolutionary War.  After his service in the Barbary Wars, he continued to serve in the Marine Corps, being promoted to Captain, until March 6, 1807.  He resigned his commission and moved to Kentucky.  He later served in the Kentucky State Legislature.  He is often remembered today by the words in the Marine Corps Hymn, to wit: To the shores of Tripoli.  His Mameluke sword, which was presented to him by Hamet, has become the model of all Marine Corps officer swords since 1825.  The United States Navy has named three destroyers in his honor. O’Bannon passed away on 12 Sep 1850, aged 73 or 74.  Initially put to rest in the Dutch Tract Cemetery in North Pleasureville, Kentucky, his remains were later exhumed and reinterred in Frankfort Cemetery.

 

 

Lieutenant Colonel Commandant

Franklin Wharton Lieutenant Colonel Commandant
Franklin Wharton
Lieutenant Colonel Commandant

Franklin Wharton was born into a prominent Philadelphia family on July 23, 1767. He had forsaken a successful business career to enter the Marine Corps, receiving a commission to Captain in August 1798. Captain Wharton’s first assignment took him to the Marine Barracks, Philadelphia, but within a few weeks, he was assigned to the frigate USS United States. He commanded the ship’s Marine Detachment until the close of the so-called Quasi-War (1801).

At the age of 36 years and only five years of service as a Marine, Franklin Wharton was appointed Major Commandant of the Marine Corps. He was the third commandant, following Lieutenant Colonel William Ward Burrows I. When the nation’s capital was moved to Washington DC, Wharton was advanced to the rank and position of Lieutenant Colonel Commandant and the first Commandant to occupy the official residence of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, which continues to serve in that capacity.

At the time Wharton assumed his office, the US Navy was engaged with the Barbary Corsairs. The Commandant’s principal task was supplying Marines to serve aboard an increasing number of frigates. At the conclusion of the Barbary Wars, Congress demanded an inflexibly frugal economy. As ships returned from the North African coast, they were either decommissioned or their crews were significantly reduced.

By 1810, the mood inside the Nation’s Capital was grim; there was a war coming, and the difficulties facing the Marine Corps were considerable. Even after the formal commencement of hostilities with the British, Congress refused to increase the size of the Corps. Congress nevertheless expected Wharton to supply Marines for duty at sea; Marines participated in land engagements at Annapolis, Fort McHenry, Portsmouth, Chaney Island, Bladensburg, and in New Orleans.

Funding was not Wharton’s only problem. The Act of 1798 was written in such a way to produce significant confusion from the office of the Secretary of the Navy down through both the Navy and Marine Corps chain of command. The Secretary of War interpreted the legislation to mean that while Marines served aboard ship, they belonged to the Navy; when Marines served ashore, they belonged to the ranking Army commander of that department. Even while at war with Great Britain, Marine officers were placed under arrest and court-martialed for refusing to obey the orders of a senior Army officer. This problem did not “go away” until 1834.

To make matters worse for Wharton, there were a few Marine officers who greatly desired to become Marine Corps Commandant, and one of these in particular began to encourage others to publicly question Wharton’s competence to remain in office. Of concern to a few was Wharton’s “failure to take to the field” as the British approached Washington. In fairness, it was a confusing time. There was no rapid communications, and I am quite certain that Wharton did not know with any degree of certainty the displacement of his forces. With important documents in hand, Wharton and his staff made their way to the Washington Navy Yard. Although instructed by the Secretary of the Navy to rally at Frederick, Maryland, Wharton placed himself at the disposal of Commodore Thomas Tingey, U. S. Navy, and Commandant of the Navy Yard. Tingey instructed Wharton to leave the Navy Yard; he was set to set it afire. Wharton, it was said, seemed confused. He left the Navy Yard by small boat.

One of Wharton’s political enemies, the insubordinate Brevet Major Archibald Henderson, argued that Wharton has injured the good reputation of the Marine Corps. Charges were filed and the Secretary of the Navy ordered a court-martial, which convened on September 20, 1817.

The President of the Court was Colonel William King, 4th Infantry, U. S. Army. Board members included Colonel T. J. Jessup, 3rd Infantry, U. S. Army, Major Richard Smith, USMC, Major J. M. Davis, General Staff, U. S. Army, Captain Robert D. Wainwright, USMC. The Specific charges made by Brevet Major Archibald Henderson were as follows: Charge 1: Neglect. Specification 1, that LtCol Wharton never commanded any parade in the Marine Corps; Specification 2, that LtCol Wharton never commanded any Marine Corps unit in the field; Specification 3, that LtCol Wharton never inspected any Marine Corps unit; Specification 4, that LtCol Wharton neglected to provide Captain Robert D. Wainwright the information he needed to execute the sentence of a courts-martial; and Specification 5, that due to LtCol Wharton’s neglect, Private Peter Moore had been unnecessarily and oppressively held in confinement beyond the end of his enlistment.

The charges were outlandish, of course and LtCol Wharton was acquitted of all charges, but the episode created ill feelings among the Corps’ senior officers. Lieutenant Colonel Wharton died while serving in office a little less than one year later, on September 1, 1818.

Lieutenant Colonel Commandant Wharton did make substantial contributions to the efficient organization of the emerging Marine Corps. For the first time the uniforms and equipment were standardized for all Marines, traditions and practices well established and reinforced, and it was during his command that the United States Marine Corps Band began their award winning tenure as “The President’s Own.” Colonel Wharton is buried in the cemetery of Trinity Church, New York City.

Archibald Henderson did eventually become Commandant of the Marine Corps; a post he held for 39 years —but not before he battled with Major Anthony Gale over the right of succession. Gale was eventually cashiered from the Marine Corps after a year in office but given Henderson’s revolting behavior toward Wharton, we can only imagine what intrigues he might have arranged against Anthony Gale.

At Tripoli —Part II

Algerian Corsair Andries Van Eertvelt
Algerian Corsair by Andries Van Eertvelt

It is hard to imagine how the Barbary States (Morocco, Tunisia, Tripoli, and Algiers) might have competed with European nations at the end of the 18th Century, and at the beginning of the next. What did they have to trade that anyone wanted? Well, the Berbers did have the sea and what might be caught in it, and they also had sleek corsairs capable to running across the waves at a fast clip, overtaking merchantmen whose holds were filled with vast riches, and/or whose passengers may be important to someone back home. In the Berber countries, wealth was never something evenly distributed among the inhabitants of those lands. Rather than piracy being done in order to achieve national wealth, it had more to do with making an already prosperous Islamic leader even wealthier.

Thus, piracy became a state-sanctioned enterprise in the same way that terrorism has; barbarity has its purpose.  To understand it, one has to understand the Mohammedan mindset—which is an enterprise that interests me little.  Neither do I have the band width.  It may be suffice to say Islamic parents have long sent their sons out to perform a jihad after someone has deposited a large sum of money into their pockets (large sum being entirely relative). In more recent times, Saddam Hussein paid $2,500.00 to the families of young men and women who blew themselves to hell, taking dozens of innocents along with them.

One simple fact is that it was profitable to seize European and American merchant vessels; were this not so, then the pirates would have found another line of work. From the perspective of the nations who lost these vessels, heads of state may have reasoned that it was cheaper to pay tribute than to go to war with the Barbary States. As for paying ransoms —only someone likely to bring a hefty price would escape the depredations of white slavery.

Barbary Pirate
Barbary Pirate

Water was the most economical way to transport goods. An emerging United States had things to sell, but getting these goods to market may have entailed sailing them through the Mediterranean Sea to a buyer. Presidents Washington and Adams were among those who reasoned that paying tributes was cheaper than fighting wars —even when paying tribute was no guarantee at all for the safety of ships, crew, or cargo. It must have occurred to the various heads of the Barbary States that from their perspective, piracy was a very worthwhile investment and worth the risk.  Moreover, if the Americans were willing to pay some amount of money in tribute, perhaps they would be just as willing to may more and so the price of tribute for return of US ships and crew (never what was in the ship’s hold) kept going up.

The First Barbary War was nothing if not anti-climactic. Yes, Jefferson did achieve a peace with Tripoli, but his rules of engagement were too restrictive, the conflict took too long, and the result was dishonorable. We sent Consul-General/Navy Lieutenant Eaton to solve the problem. In solving the problem, Eaton made an agreement with Hamet Karamanli. The United States government reneged on its (Eaton’s) agreement. Of course, one may argue that Eaton exceeded his authority in making such agreements with Hamet, but that is quite beside the point. Having commissioned Eaton to solve the problem, his words must be honored as much as if Jefferson himself had spoken them.

Having signed a treaty with Tripoli, the United States proceeded to sign accords with Algiers and Tunis, as well. And piracy did decline somewhat in 1807, except that Algeria was quite aggressive in its resumption of privateering against American flagged ships. Spain also maintained an aggressive program of guarding their territories and inspecting American ships. In 1808, a first mate recorded in his journal, “Privateering has likewise become very trifling to what it once was.” He added, “Men who obtain their sovereign commission to annoy the Enemy for want of other Employ are sure trouble to Friends.”

He may have been speaking about the alliance between Great Britain and Algeria. With the outbreak of the War of 1812, the British turned to their Algerian allies and urged them to declare war against the United States —which is, of course, exactly what the Algerians did. But for the present time, the Algerians would have to wait their turn.

With the British blockage along the Atlantic seaboard, American trade anywhere within the Mediterranean came to a halt. President Madison did request that Congress declare war on Algeria, and this authorization came on February 23, 1815. On May 20, 1815, Commodore Stephen Decatur led a ten-ship squadron to Algiers; an even larger force commanded by William Bainbridge was close behind.

USS Constellation
USS Constellation

Operating off the Algerian coast on June 17, 1815, the frigate USS Constellation drove the 44-gun frigate Meshuda (flagship of the Algerian Fleet) directly into the guns of Decatur’s flagship . With two broadsides, everyone on Meshuda not already killed or dying fled to below decks and the flagship surrendered. Algeria’s senior-most naval commander was among the dead.

Two days later, USS Guerriere led the squadron in driving a 22-gun brig ashore. USS Guerriere arrived at Algiers on June 28, 1815 —prepared to capture every Algerian ship that entered port unless the Dey of Algeria ratified the terms of a peace treaty sent ashore to him on June 30th. The treaty was ratified. Next, USS Guerriere led the squadron in a show of force that resulted in a peace settlement with Tunis on July 13, 1815 and with Tripoli on August 9, 1815.

There were no amphibious landings during the Second Barbary War —no long marches through a sweltering desert, no engagements where the officer commanded his men, “Fix Bayonets!” But this isn’t to say that the Marines were not fully engaged as part of ship’s company. Wherever the Navy went, they took their Marines with them. If Stephen Decatur departed New York with ten ships, then he also took with him ten Marine Detachments. It might also be interesting to note that in 1800, the U. S. Marine Corps consisted entirely of 25 officers, 343 enlisted men. In 1810, the strength of the Marine Corps was 10 officers, 513 enlisted men.

Marines had four duties aboard ship: provide musket fire aboard ship in combat when opponents were in close proximity; provide boarding parties when the order was given to assault an opposing vessel; provide a landing party when ordered to go ashore; provide sentries outside the captain’s cabin and at such other places as the ship’s commander deemed necessary.

First Lieutenant, USMC
First Lieutenant, USMC

The Marine Detachment Commander had two masters: he reported to the Commandant of the Marine Corps in matters relating to professional fitness, training, supply, pay, and the discipline of his men. He reported to the Ship’s Captain for the daily employment of his Marines. The Detachment Commander was more likely as not a first lieutenant; his second in command was a second lieutenant. It is likely that a Marine Captain served aboard the squadron or fleet flagship as principal advisor to the commodore.

So —while true that the Second Barbary War lacked drama and heroic demonstrations of the earlier conflict in Tripoli, it was nevertheless an important gain for American prestige and an excellent demonstration of the skill of the United States Navy.

Finally, the United States realized that while the Barbary States had witnessed an important demonstration, they were, after all, Mohammedans who are famous for breaking treaties. In 1816, Algeria attempted to renege on their agreements and President James Madison wasted no time deploying US squadrons to the Mediterranean Sea. In August of that year, a combined British-Dutch fleet attacked the city of Algiers, forcing the Dey to release over 1,000 European slaves. Still, several European states continued paying the Algerians tributes through 1822 and, no surprise, the piracy continued through 1830.

At Tripoli —Part I

The opening line of the Marine Corps Hymn is, “From the Halls of Montezuma, To the Shores of Tripoli…” Whoever wrote the hymn has these events out of sequence, but I’ve tried it the other way around and it simply doesn’t work —so we will have to acknowledge some poetic license and I vote we keep the hymn the way it is now.

The brevity of the refrain leads people to think that at some point, Marines stormed ashore at some place called Tripoli. My guess is that most high school graduates, along with 85% of all college graduates, have no idea where Tripoli is—or even what happened there. It is more complex than most think.

Berber Corsair
Berber Corsair

The practice of state-supported piracy was a common practice in the 18th and 19th centuries. One may recall that the fledgling United States went to war for a second time with Great Britain because the British navy accosted US flagged ships and impressed their crew to serve involuntarily aboard British ships of the line. Additionally, European maritime states hired privateers to attack each other’s shipping. The decision of Great Britain and France to pay tribute to the Barbary pirates encouraged the scallywags to increase their piracy —which benefitted England and France through less competition in the Mediterranean. And, of course, the navies of England or France were not the huckleberries a pirate vessel would want to challenge.

Before American independence, extortion along the North African coast was not an American problem. We were then a colony of Great Britain; the problem was theirs. After independence, American shipping enjoyed no protection whatsoever from either England or France. After independence from Great Britain, our English cousins were quick to inform the Barbary Pirates that they could avail themselves of American shipping at their leisure. It didn’t take long; in 1785, Dey Mohammed of Algiers declared war on the United States and captured several of our maritime vessels. The financially troubled confederation was hardly in a position to pay exorbitant ransoms for the return of ships or ship’s company. Nor could the Americans raise a navy —or pay tribute. The United States attempted to negotiate with the pirates.

The Barbary States consisted of several North African states. Morocco, an independent kingdom, seized a US merchant vessel in 1784 after the Americans ignored their diplomatic overtures, but once the US acknowledged Morocco’s strategic position, negotiations progressed smoothly and productively; by 1786, a trade agreement did exist between the US and Morocco. Algiers, on the other hand, assumed a belligerent, condescending tone in demanding tributes that the United States simply could not afford. In an effort to circumvent Algiers, the US Minister to France attempted to establish a coalition of weaker naval powers to defeat Algiers. In this, our minister was unsuccessful; his name was Thomas Jefferson. However, Portugal was also at war with Algiers. It’s navy was strong enough to block Algerian ships from sailing past the Straits of Gibraltar an so for a time, American merchantmen had safe passage.

A brief Portuguese-Algerian peace once again exposed American merchant ships to extortion in 1793. The efforts of diplomats sent to North Africa in 1795 concluded treaties with Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. The treaties agreed to pay tribute to these states, and the treaty with Algiers resulted in the release of about 80 sailors.

It wasn’t until after ratification of the US Constitution in 1789 that the federal government had the authority to levy taxes and raise and maintain an armed force. When Algiers seized American ships in 1794, Congress authorized the construction of six ships for the U. S. Navy.

In 1797, William Eaton (a former Army officer) was appointed Consul General of the United States. President Adams sent him to Tunis to negotiate peace and trade agreements with the governor (Bey) of Tunis. Tunis was the closest neighbor to Tripoli and the place of exile of the former Pasha of Tripoli, Hamet Karamanli (the elder brother of the reigning Pasha Yusuf Karamanli).

While in Tripoli, Easton devised a plan whereby the United States would support the restoration of the deposed Pasha. This, Eaton argued, would garner respect for the United States throughout the Mohammedan world. Eaton had no support for his plan in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, the Bey continued to demand tributes and Eaton refused to convey any of his demands to the US government and the Bey of Tunis ordered Eaton to leave his country. Hamet Karamanli fled Tunis for Egypt.

In 1801, the Pasha of Tripoli sought to punish the United States for its failure in making timely payments of tribute; he demanded higher tributes and polished off these demands by declaring war on the United States. Algiers followed suit. This was the first Barbary War; it was fought between 1801 and 1805.

The First Barbary War began during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, who refused to pay the Barbary States any tribute at all. Aligned with the United States was the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. In sending a squadron of ships to the Berber Coast, it was Jefferson’s intention to block the harbor at Tripoli and force the Pasha to capitulate his position.

USS ConstitutionCommand of the squadron went to Commodore Richard Dale. The squadron consisted of Dale’s flagship USS President, commanded by Captain Samuel Barron, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur in command of USS Essex, Lieutenant William Bainbridge in command of the USS Philadelphia, and Lieutenant Andrew Sterett in command of the USS Enterprise.

En route to the North African coast, Dale encountered adverse winds, delaying his arrival at Gibraltar until July 1, 1801. There he learned Tripoli had already declared war on the United States and that there were two Tripolitan warships of sizeable consequence berthed at Gibraltar. Their captains claimed they had no knowledge of the war. Dale made the assumption that they were about to embark into the Atlantic to prey on American shipping. Dale ordered the Philadelphia to remain behind and guard the enemy vessels[1].  On August 1, 1801, Enterprise soundly defeated the 14-gun corsair Tripoli.

In 1802, President Jefferson received a Congressional mandate through “An act for the protection of commerce and seamen of the United States against the Tripolitan cruisers.” The act permitted the United States Navy to seize vessels belonging to the Pasha of Tripoli with the capture property distributed to those who brought the vessels into port.

In 1803, the question remained unanswered; while the US Navy went unchallenged at sea, the Tripolitans had not capitulated and a state of war continued to exist. Jefferson increased the US Navy presence along the Berber coast. The squadron of ships was increased to a fleet, which now included Argus, Chesapeake, Constellation, Constitution, Enterprise, Intrepid, Philadelphia, and Syren (later, Siren).

Firing the Philadelphia
Firing the Philadelphia

In October 1803, Tripoli’s fleet was able to capture USS Philadelphia intact after Lieutenant Bainbridge ran her aground. Efforts of the Americans to float the ship while under fire failed. On the night of 16 February 1804, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur led a small detachment of Marines aboard a captured Tripolitan ship (re-Christened Intrepid) and, deceiving the enemy guards aboard Philadelphia boarded that ship, overpowered the Tripolitan guards, fired the ship denying her use by the enemy. British Admiral Horatio Nelson proclaimed the operation, “…the most bold and daring act of the age.”

The capture and firing of Philadelphia and the repatriation of the members of its crew held on board motivated President Jefferson to send Consul General William Eaton, who was known for his brash and defiant diplomacy, back to the Berber Coast in 1804, this time on a military mission. In May 1804, Eaton was commissioned a U. S. Navy lieutenant and placed under the command of Commodore James Barron. He was ordered to find Hamet Karamanli, enlist his cooperation in the war, and free 300 American hostages in Tripoli. This would become America’s first clandestine mission designed to overthrow the head of a foreign government.

Eaton located Karamanli in Alexandria and signed an agreement with him to provide cash, ammunition, and provisions in the prosecution of war against his brother, and re-installation of Karamanli as the lawful ruler of Tripoli. In order to ensure American command and control of this operation, Eaton’s agreement with Karamanli also designated Eaton as “General and Commander in Chief” of the land forces that would be used to make the attack. The agreement defined the relationship between Eaton and Karamanli, but the US Senate never ratified it.

Eaton’s land force consisted of himself in command, assisted by Navy Lieutenant John H. Dent (later replaced by Midshipman George Mann), a force of 400 men (38 Greek mercenaries, 25 European artillerists, 90 armed men in service to Karamanli directly, 190 camels and their drivers, a small force of Arab cavalry, and eight United States Marines commanded by First Lieutenant Presley Neville O’Bannon. Eaton and Karamanli made the 600-mile march to Derne through the Libyan Desert from Alexandria, Egypt. Military professionals today continue to wonder what prompted Eaton to take on this forced march without a single map to guide him.

Numerous challenges presented themselves to Lieutenant Eaton over the period of fifty days it took him to cross the Libyan Desert, not the least of which shortages of food, threatened mutiny by Arab factions, squabbling among Christians and Mohammedans, and the physical struggle of march across loose and packed sand in sweltering heat. Lieutenant Isaac Hull commanding the USS Argus was able to resupply Lieutenant Eaton at the Gulf of Bomba —but it was a close call.

Battle of Derne, 1805
Battle of Derne, 1805

Eaton expected Derne to be no more than a layover before proceeding to Tripoli; instead, he found the city heavily fortified. A fervent desire to avoid unnecessary casualties prompted Eaton to demand the surrender of the Bey of Derne; his response was a model of efficiency: “My head or yours.”

An eight-hour battle thus unfolded. Three American Navy frigates began to support Eaton by pounding away at Derne’s guns in the harbor fort, and these were eventually silenced. From then on, as in common in battle, the fight became a one-minute to the next affair. Hamet’s cavalry bogged down when it assaulted a determined outpost and Lieutenant O’Bannon and his contingent staggered under a murderous musket defense. Eaton rushed reinforcements to stiffen the assault, but a stalemate developed. The situation was desperate for the attackers; time was not on their side. Finally, Eaton decided that it was time to swim or sink. With sword extended forward, he led a charge —a gamble that paid off while outnumbered ten to one.

Lt. O'Bannon's Assault
Lt. O’Bannon’s Assault

The battle wasn’t over. The Marines engaged in bitter street fighting; every yard contested—but eventually the Marines secured the fort and Lieutenant O’Bannon raised the US Flag —signaling America’s first victory on foreign soil. Two Marines paid the ultimate price: John Whitten and Edward Steward lay dead. Their bodies were laid to rest in Derne.

The victory of Derne was short-lived. On the next day, the Pasha appeared with reinforcements and the town was soon surrounded. For a month, Eaton held out against a force easily three or four times that of his own. During this time, there were constant skirmishes and raiding parties keep everyone on edge.

The Pasha made a last furious attack on June 11, 1805 ripping apart Hamet’s cavalry. Charge, counter-charge went on for four hours; eventually Hamet’s forces proved the better and the road was finally open to Tripoli. On June 12, 1805, the USS Constellation arrived to inform Eaton that he and his Marines were no longer needed: the United States had successfully concluded a treaty with the Pasha. Eaton was ordered to take Hamet with him, and the rest of the army was abandoned. The directive confirmed for Hamet that the Americans could not be trusted to abide by their agreements.

It may be true that some Marines made it to the shores of Tripoli —but it wasn’t Lieutenant O’Bannon or any of his handpicked squad of deadly riflemen. Yet if there is anything that can be said about the Barbary Wars, it is that American diplomacy is amazingly consistent —and incompetent.

Notes:

[1] I do not know what Dale’s orders were beyond “guarding” the Tripolitan ships; if they left Gibraltar, was Bainbridge to attack them?