To the Shores of Tripoli

Most Americans are unfamiliar with the First and Second Barbary Wars fought in 1801-1805 and 1815, which is a shame.  They were filled with enough derring do to fill an Errol Flynn movie.  If Mr. Flynn had made a movie set in that period, a great role for him to have played would have been that of Marine First Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon, the man whose exploit caused the line “To the Shores of Tripoli”, to be inserted in the Marines’ Hymn.

The Barbary Pirates were muslim corsairs who operated out of North African ports, primarily Tunis, Tripoli and Algiers.  Since the 16th century these bandits had been preying upon European shipping, with European nations sometimes fighting them, but often paying them protection money to be left alone.  The young American republic attempted initially to have peaceful relations with the Barbary States controlled by the pirates.  When that proved futile, President Thomas Jefferson decided to fight.  The war was waged on the sea by American naval squadrons.

In 1805 one of the most colorful characters in American history, William Eaton, a former US consul at Tunis, hatched a plan to topple the government of the Barbary State, Tripoli, and reinstall Hamet Caramanli as Pasha of Tripoli.  Assembling a motley force of 500 Greek, Arab and Berber Mercenaries, and 8 Marines at Alexandria, Egypt, he embarked upon this unlikely adventure on March 8, 1805.

Leading the Marines was First Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon.  Born in the year of his nation’s birth, 1776, O’Bannon was a Virginian and had been a member of the Corps since 1801.  His Marines were the only portion of his force that Eaton could rely upon and  were instrumental in putting down attempted mutinies by some of the mercenaries during the 50 day trek across the Sahara. (more…)