The Second Battle of Tripoli Harbor was a naval action that occurred during the American naval blockade which took place in Tripoli Harbor on July 14, 1804. The battle was part of the First Barbary War between forces of the United States and the forces of the Eyalet of Tripolitania.
|Second Battle of Tripoli Harbor|
|Part of the First Barbary War|
Burning of the frigate Philadelphia in the harbor of Tripoli, 16 February 1804, Edward Moran
|Commanders and leaders|
|Yusuf Karamanli||Edward Preble|
1 brig |
1 frigate |
2 bomb vessels
1 bomb ketch
|Casualties and losses|
54 killed and wounded |
1 frigate scuttled
1 bomb ketch sunk
Commodore Edward Preble had assumed command of the U.S. Mediterranean Squadron in 1803. By October of that year Preble had begun a blockade of Tripoli harbor. The first significant action of the blockade came on October 31, when USS Philadelphia ran aground on an uncharted coral reef and the Tripolitan Navy was able to capture the ship along with its crew and Captain William Bainbridge. Philadelphia was turned against the Americans and anchored in the harbor as a gun battery.
On the night of February 16, 1804, a small contingent of U.S. Marines in a captured Tripolitan ketch rechristened USS Intrepid and led by Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, Jr. were able to deceive the guards on board Philadelphia and float close enough to board the captured ship. Decatur's men stormed the vessel and decimated the Tripolitan sailors standing guard. To complete the daring raid, Decatur's party set fire to Philadelphia, denying her use to the enemy. Decatur's bravery in action made him one of the first American military heroes since the Revolutionary War. The British Admiral Horatio Nelson, himself known as a man of action and bravery, is said to have called this "the most bold and daring act of the age." Even Pope Pius VII stated, "The United States, though in their infancy, have done more to humble the anti-Christian barbarians on the African coast than all the European states had done..."
Preble attacked Tripoli outright on July 14, 1804, in a series of inconclusive battles, including a courageous but unsuccessful attack by the fire ship USS Intrepid under Master Commandant Richard Somers. Intrepid, packed with explosives, was to enter Tripoli harbor and destroy itself and the enemy fleet; it was destroyed, perhaps by enemy guns, before achieving that goal, killing Somers and his crew.
The actions against Tripoli harbor continued to prove indecisive until September when Commodore Samuel Barron assumed command of the Mediterranean Squadron and focused the fleet's attention on supporting William Eaton's attack on Derne, which ended in a victory.
Several of the United States' early naval heroes served in the blockade including Stephen Decatur, William Bainbridge, Charles Stewart, Isaac Hull, David Porter, Reuben James and Edward Preble. Collectively referred to as Preble's Boys, many of these officers would play a significant role in the upcoming War of 1812.
- Naval Documents Related to the United States Wars With the Barbary Powers, Vol. 4, Naval Operations Including Diplomatic Background from April to September 6, 1804. (Washington, DC: Office of Naval Records and Library, 1942): 292-310
- Tucker, Spencer. Stephen Decatur: a life most bold and daring. Naval Institute Press; 2005. ISBN 978-1-55750-999-4. p. xi.
- See, Leiner, Frederick C., "Searching for Nelson’s Quote", USNI News, United States Naval Institute, February 5, 2013, setting forth the evidence for and against that quote.
- Anthony, Irvin (1931). Decatur. Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 153. Retrieved April 2, 2020 – via Google Books.
- The Barbary Wars, 1801-1805
- Tripolitan War
- Burning of the Frigate Philadelphia, 16 February 1804
- Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy by Ian W. Toll, 2005
- If By Sea by George C. Daugham, 2008