Sunday, March 20, 2011

Why "Shores of Tripoli" are in the Marine hymn

Many Marines and non Marines alike know the words to the Marine Hymn, including the line, "To the shores of Tripoli."

With Libya the latest place we are involved with militarily, many are wondering how Tripoli, part of modern Libya, is a part of Marine history. That will take a little doing to explain it.

The shores of Tripoli refer to the First Barbary War. A war that few people know or care about.

In the 1700's, the north shore of Africa was called the Barbary States. It was an independently controlled section of Africa, but still part of the Ottoman Empire. This Barbary Coast was very much controlled by people who were, well, pirates. British and French navies were largely responsible for the policing of this area, and both countries were getting fed up with piracy. By 1783, America was its own country and had to protect its own interests now. This included also protecting their trading ships from pirates.

Problem was, the United States had little or no navy by which to do this. So instead, in 1784 congress set up kind of a slush fund for paying off pirates. Yes, you read right. Paying off pirates.

It did not take long before before some money was demanded. In 1785, Algiers took two American ships and asked for $60,000 ransom. Our ambassador to France at the time, Thomas Jefferson, did not wish to pay this. He stated that it would only lead to more captures and more ransoms.

Believe it or not, the United States did just the opposite of what Jefferson had advised. Get this: Over the next fifteen years the U.S. paid millions of dollars for just such ransoms or threats. That's not something you read about in history books, is it? These payments amounted to one fifth of all revenues for the U.S. government even.

Thomas Jefferson kept up the fight. In 1794, America once again had its Navy. More leaders of the United States also opposed the payments. Momentum was building to stop them. The tide turned in 1801 when Thomas Jefferson became president.

Jefferson refused to pay $220,000 demanded by the pasha of Tripoli. He instead send a group of frigates to the region.

At first, the American Navy was successful. This group of ships included the USS Constitution, USS Constellation, the USS Intrepid, as well as others. These ships were under the command of Commodore Edward Preble who blockaded many Barbary ports and succeeded in attacks and raids on pirate strongholds.

In 1803, Tripoli was able to capture the USS Philadelphia and hold all men as hostages. You may be familiar with next part. Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, Jr. disguised a ship as the Intrepid, invaded Tripoli, and burned the Philadelphia so it could not be used against the United States. Decatur became a hero.

On July 14, 1804, the United States attacked Tripoli. The USS Intrepid was to be loaded with explosives and blown up in the harbor destroying the fleet of Tripoli with it. It exploded before it got there. The U.S. carried out more raids. Now we get to the Marines.

A land force made up of Marines, Arabs, and other mercenaries attacked the Tripolitan city of Derna. This became the Battle of Derna. It gave the Americans a huge advantage now. Tripoli, having grown weary of the raids and a successful blockade, signed a treaty on June 10, 1805.

That's the story of the shores of Tripoli. We must note, however, that the name of this war was the "First" Barbary War. That's because this war did little to stop the piracy on the Barbary Coast. That would be dealt with in the Second Barbary War some years later. We will let you research that. We don't have to mention that Tripoli is now in modern day Libya, right?

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