Stephen Decatur: A Life Most Bold and Daring (Library of Naval Biography)
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Please enter your name. The E-mail message field is required. Please enter the message. Please verify that you are not a robot. Would you also like to submit a review for this item? You already recently rated this item. Your rating has been recorded. Write a review Rate this item: 1 2 3 4 5. Preview this item Preview this item. Series: Library of naval biography. His short and dramatic life is a story of triumph and tragedy told by the noted historian and author of some twenty books, Spencer Tucker. Decatur's raid into Tripoli Harbor in to burn the Philadelphia, a prized U.
An admiring Horatio Nelson described the feat as "the most bold and daring act of the age. Navy, the author notes that it set a standard of audacity and courage for generations of future naval officers. In describing Decatur's life, the author also examines Decatur's relationship with James Barron, a Navy captain who fatally shot Decatur during a duel. Read more Allow this favorite library to be seen by others Keep this favorite library private. Find a copy in the library Finding libraries that hold this item Annapolis, Md. Reviews User-contributed reviews Add a review and share your thoughts with other readers.
Be the first. Add a review and share your thoughts with other readers. While the ship was berthed there, Commodore Barry received orders to prepare for a voyage to transport two U. During the crossing the ship encountered gale force winds, and at their insistence the two envoys were dropped off at the nearest port in England. Consequently, the vessel was taken up the Delaware to Chester, Pennsylvania , for repairs. In May the Norfolk sailed to the West Indies to patrol its waters looking for French privateers and men-of-war.
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During the months that followed 25 armed enemy craft were captured or destroyed. With orders to rendezvous with merchantmen bound for America, Norfolk continued on to Cartagena Colombia with orders to escort the ships back to the United States, protecting them from pirates and privateers. Decatur transferred back to United States by June ; with extra guns and sails and improved structure the refurbished ship made her way down the Delaware River. Following the Quasi-War, the U. Navy underwent a significant reduction of active ships and officers; Decatur was one of the few selected to remain commissioned.
By the time hostilities with France came to a close, America had a renewed appreciation for the value of a navy. The first war against the Barbary States was in response to the frequent piracy of American vessels in the Mediterranean Sea and the capture and enslavement of American crews for huge ransoms. President Jefferson , known for his aversion to standing armies and the navy, acted contrary to such sentiment and began his presidency by sending U. Departing for the Mediterranean on June 1, this squadron was the first American naval squadron to cross the Atlantic.
On July 1, after encountering and being forestalled by adverse winds, the squadron sailed into the Mediterranean with the mission to confront the Barbary pirates. At this time there were two Tripolitan warships of sizable consequence berthed in Gibraltar's harbour, but their captains claimed that they had no knowledge of the war. Dale assumed they were about to embark on the Atlantic to prey on American merchant ships. With orders to sail for Algiers , Tunis and Tripoli, Dale ordered that Philadelphia be left behind to guard the Tripolitan vessels.
While en route to Tripoli the five-ship squadron to which New York was attached encountered gale-force winds, lasting more than a week, which forced the squadron to put up in Malta. While there Decatur and another American officer were involved in a personal confrontation with a British officer which resulted in Decatur returning to the United States. In exchange Decatur was given command of Enterprise , a gun schooner. On board were a small number of Tripolitan soldiers. After a brief engagement Decatur and his crew captured the ship, killing or wounding the few men defending the vessel.
On October 31, , Philadelphia , under the command of Commodore William Bainbridge , ran aground on an uncharted reef known as Kaliusa reef near Tripoli's harbor. After desperate and failed attempts to refloat the ship she was subsequently captured and her crew imprisoned by Tripolitan forces. In an elaborate plan put together by Lieutenant Decatur,  Decatur sailed for Tripoli with 80 volunteers most of them being U.
Marines intending to enter the harbor with Intrepid without suspicion to board and set ablaze the frigate Philadelphia , denying its use to the corsairs.
Before entering the harbor eight sailors from Syren boarded Intrepid , including Thomas Macdonough who had recently served aboard Philadelphia and knew the ship's layout intimately. On February 16, , at seven o'clock in the evening under the dim light of a waxing crescent moon, Intrepid slowly sailed into Tripoli harbor. Decatur's vessel was made to look like a common merchant ship from Malta and was outfitted with British colours.
To further avoid suspicion, on board were five Sicilian volunteers including the pilot Salvatore Catalano, who spoke Arabic. The boarding party remained hidden below in position, prepared to board the captured Philadelphia. The men were divided into several groups, each assigned to secure given areas of the ship, with the additional explicit instruction of refraining from the use of firearms unless it proved absolutely necessary. Decatur's ship was within yards of Philadelphia , whose lower yards were now resting on the deck with her foremast missing, as Bainbridge had ordered it cut away and had also jettisoned some of her guns in a futile effort to refloat the ship by lightening her load.
As Decatur approached the berthed Philadelphia he encountered a light wind that made his approach tedious. He had to casually position his ship close enough to Philadelphia to allow his men to board while not creating any suspicion. When the two vessels were finally close enough, Catalano obtained permission for Decatur to tie Intrepid to the captured Philadelphia. Decatur surprised the few Tripolitans on board when he shouted the order "board!
Only one of Decatur's men was slightly wounded by a saber blade. There was hope that the small boarding crew could launch the captured ship, but the vessel was in no condition to set sail for the open sea. Decatur soon realized that the small Intrepid could not tow the larger and heavier warship out of the harbor. Commodore Preble's order to Decatur was to destroy the ship where she berthed as a last resort, if Philadelphia was unseaworthy.
With the ship secure, Decatur's crew began placing combustibles about Philadelphia with orders to set her ablaze. After making sure the fire was large enough to sustain itself, Decatur ordered his men to abandon the ship and was the last man to leave Philadelphia. While Intrepid was under fire from the Tripolitans who were now gathering along the shore and in small boats, the larger Syren was nearby providing covering fire at the Tripolitan shore batteries and gunboats.
Decatur and his men left the burning vessel in Tripoli's harbor and set sail for the open sea, barely escaping in the confusion. With the cover of night helping to obscure the enemy gunfire, Intrepid and Syren made their way back to Syracuse, arriving February At Naples , Decatur was praised and dubbed "Terror of the Foe" by the local media. Upon hearing the news of their victory in Tripoli, Pope Pius VII publicly declared that "the United States, though in their infancy, had done more to humble and humiliate the anti-Christian barbarians on the African coast in one night than all the European states had done for a long period of time.
With the significant victory achieved with the burning of Philadelphia , Preble now had reason to believe that bringing Tripoli to peaceful terms was in sight. Preble planned another attack on Tripoli and amassed a squadron consisting of the frigate Constitution , the brigs Syren , Argus and Scourge , and the schooners Nautilus , Vixen and Enterprise , towing gunboats and ketches. Light vessels with shallow drafts were needed to make their way about in the shallow and confined waters of Tripoli's harbor.
Preble divided his gunboats into two divisions, putting Decatur in command of the second division. At Preble raised his signal flag to begin the attack on Tripoli. It was elaborate and well planned, brigs, schooners and bomb ketches coming into the attack at various stages.
Throughout the month of August Preble used these gunboats to launch a series of furious attacks on Tripoli, forcing the residents to flee into the country-side. During this time Decatur in command of the gunboats captured three Tripolitan gunboats and sank three others. On board the vessel were official documents promoting Decatur to the rank of captain.
John Adams also brought news that, upon the loss of the frigate Philadelphia , the government was sending four additional frigates, President , Congress , Constellation and Essex , to Tripoli with enough force to convince the Pasha of Tripoli that peace was his only viable alternative. Because Preble's rank was not high enough for this command John Adams also brought the news that he would have to surrender command to Commodore Barron.
The fighting between the squadrons and the bombarding of Tripoli lasted three hours, with Preble's squadrons emerging victorious. During the fighting Decatur's younger brother, James Decatur , in command of a gunboat, was mortally wounded by a Tripolitan captain during the boarding of a vessel feigning surrender. Decatur had just captured his first Tripolitan vessel and upon receiving the news turned command of his captured prize over to Lieutenant Jonathan Thorn and immediately set out to avenge his brother's treacherous injury.
Decatur and his crew were outnumbered 5 to 1 but were organized and kept their form, fighting furiously side by side. He was a large and formidable man in Muslim garb, and armed with a boarding pike he thrust his weapon at Decatur's chest. Armed with a cutlass Decatur deflected the lunge, breaking his own weapon at the hilt. The struggle continued, with the Tripolitan captain, being larger and stronger than Decatur, gaining the upper hand.
Armed with a dagger the Tripolitan attempted to stab Decatur in the heart, but while wrestling the arm of his adversary, Decatur managed to take hold of his pistol and fired a shot point-blank , immediately killing his formidable foe. Later James Decatur was taken aboard Constitution where he was joined by his brother Stephen, who stayed with him until he had died.
The next day, after a funeral and military ceremony that was conducted by Preble, Stephen Decatur saw his brother's remains committed to the depths of the Mediterranean. When a good number of days passed without the reinforcements of ships promised by president Jefferson , the attack on Tripoli was renewed by Preble on August As the days passed, Tripoli showed no signs of surrender, which now prompted Preble to devise another plan.
Intrepid , the same ship that captured Philadelphia , was loaded with barrels of gunpowder and other ordnance and sent sailing into a group of Tripolitan vessels defending the harbor.
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The attack on the harbor and Tripoli proved successful and ultimately caused the Bashaw of Tripoli to consider surrender and the return of American prisoners held captive, including Commodore Bainbridge of Philadelphia , who had been held prisoner since October when that ship was captured after running aground near Tripoli harbor. On June 4, , the Bashaw of Tripoli finally surrendered and signed a peace treaty with the United States. Shortly after his recapture and destruction of Philadelphia , Decatur was given command of the frigate Constitution , a post he held from October 28 to November 9, Decatur was promoted to captain with the date of rank February 16, On September 10, , Commodore Barron arrived at Tripoli with two ships, President and Constellation , whereupon Commodore Preble relinquished command of his blockading squadron to him.
Before returning to the United States he sailed to Malta in Constitution on September 14, so it could be caulked and refitted. From there he sailed to Syracuse in Argus , where on September 24 he ordered Decatur to sail this vessel back to Malta to take command of Constitution. From here Decatur sailed Constitution back to Tripoli to join Constellation and Congress , the blockading force stationed there now under the command of Commodore Barron. On November 6, he relinquished command of Constitution to Commodore John Rodgers , his senior, in exchange for the smaller vessel Congress.
In need of new sails and other repairs Rodgers sailed Constitution to Lisbon on November 27, where it remained for approximately six weeks. She was well known for her beauty and intelligence among Norfolk and Washington society. They had met at a dinner and ball held by the mayor for a Tunisian ambassador who was in the United States negotiating peace terms for his country's recent defeat at Tunis under the silent guns of John Rodgers and Decatur. Navy and maintained that to abandon his service to his country for personal reasons would make him unworthy of her hand. For several months after their marriage the couple resided with Susan's parents in Norfolk, after which Stephen received orders sending him to Newport to supervise the building of gunboats.
In the spring of , Decatur was given command of a squadron of gunboats stationed in the Chesapeake Bay at Norfolk, Virginia, the home of his future wife, Susan Wheeler. He had long requested such an assignment; however, one of his colleagues believed that his request was also motivated by a desire to be close to Wheeler. While stationed here Decatur took the opportunity to court Miss Wheeler, whom he would soon marry that year. After their marriage in March, Decatur lived with his wife's family in Norfolk until June when Secretary of the Navy Robert Smith gave him orders to supervise the building of four gunboats at Newport, Rhode Island, and four others in Connecticut of which he would later take command.
Having drawn many illustrations of and designed and built many models of ships, along with having experience as a ship builder and designer from when he was employed at Gurney and Smith in while overseeing the construction of the frigate United States , Decatur was a natural choice for this new position. Decatur and his wife Susan lived together all through this period. After overseeing the completion of gunboats, Decatur returned to Norfolk in March and was given command of the Naval Yard at Gosport.
While commissioned there he received a letter from the residing British consul to turn over three deserters from the British ship Melampus who had enlisted in the American Navy through Lieutenant Arthur Sinclair , who was recruiting crew members for Chesapeake , which was at this time in Washington being outfitted for its coming voyage to the Mediterranean. Sinclair also declined to take any action, claiming that he did not have the authority or any such orders from a superior officer. The matter was then referred to the British minister at Washington, a Mr.
Erskine, who in turn referred the matter to the Navy Department through Commodore Barron, demanding that the three deserters be surrendered to British authority. It was soon discovered that the deserters were Americans who were forcibly impressed into the British Navy, and since the existing American treaty with Britain only pertained to criminal fugitives of justice, not deserters in the military, Barron accordingly also refused to turn them over.
Soon thereafter Chesapeake left Norfolk, and after stopping briefly at Washington for further preparations, set sail for the Mediterranean on June Upon closing with Chesapeake , Barron was hailed by the captain of Leopard and informed and a demand from Vice-Admiral Humphreys that Chesapeake be searched for deserters. Barron found the demand extraordinary and when he refused to surrender any of his crew, Leopard soon opened fire on Chesapeake. Having just put to sea, Chesapeake was not prepared to do battle and was unable to return fire. Inside twenty minutes, three of her crew were killed and eighteen wounded.
Barron struck the ship's colors [f] and surrendered his ship, whereupon she was boarded and the alleged deserters were taken into British custody. News of the incident soon reached President Jefferson, the Department of the Navy and Decatur, who was outraged was the one who was first confronted with the matter.
The incident soon came to be referred to as the Chesapeake — Leopard Affair ,    an event whose controversy would lead to a duel between Barron and Decatur some years later, as Decatur served on Barron's court-martial and later was one of the most outspoken critics of the questionable handling of Chesapeake. On June 26, , Decatur was appointed to command Chesapeake , a gun frigate, along with command of all gunboats at Norfolk.
Commodore Barron had just been relieved of command following his court martial over the incident. Decatur was a member of that court martial, which had found Barron guilty of "unpreparedness", barring him from command for five years. Unable to command, Barron left the country for Copenhagen and remained there through the War of During this segment of his life, Decatur's father, Stephen Decatur Sr. Both parents were buried at St. Peter's Church in Philadelphia. In May Decatur was appointed commander of United States , a heavy frigate with 44 guns. This was the same vessel that he supervised the building of while employed at Gurney and Smith, and the same ship, then under the command of John Barry , on which he had commenced his naval career as midshipman in The frigate had just been commissioned and was outfitted and supplied for service at sea.
After taking command of United States , now the rallying point of the young American Navy, Decatur sailed to most of the naval ports on the eastern seaboard and was well received at each stop. In he sailed with Argus and Congress but were soon recalled upon receiving news about the outbreak of war with Britain. On this cruise Rodgers failed to accomplish his mission of intercepting the fleet of English West-Indiamen.
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On October 8, he sailed a second cruise with Rodgers' squadron. The desire for expansion into the Northwest Territory , the capture and impressment of American citizens into the Royal Navy along with British alliance with and recruitment of American Indian tribes against America were all events that led into the War of Consequently, the war was fought mostly in the naval theater where Decatur and other naval officers played major roles in the success of the United States' efforts during this time.
Upon the onset of the war President James Madison ordered several naval vessels to be dispatched to patrol the American coastline. The U. Secretary of State James Monroe [g] had originally considered a plan that would simply use U. The squadron patrolled the waters off the American upper east coast until the end of August, their first objective being a British fleet reported to have recently departed from the West Indies. Rodgers' squadron again sailed on October 8, , this time from Boston, Massachusetts.
At dawn on October 25, five hundred miles south of the Azores , lookouts on board reported seeing a sail 12 miles to windward. Macedonian and United States had been berthed next to one another in , in port at Norfolk, Virginia. The British captain John Carden bet a fur beaver hat that if the two ever met in battle, Macedonian would emerge victorious. During the engagement Decatur was standing on a box of shot when he was knocked down almost unconscious when a flying splinter struck him in the chest.
Wounded, he soon recovered and was on his feet in command again. Eager to present the nation with a prize, Decatur and his crew spent two weeks repairing and refitting the captured British frigate to prepare it for its journey across the Atlantic to the United States.
Stephen Decatur : a life most bold and daring
On May 24, , the squadron departed New York. On that same night United States was struck by lightning which shattered its main mast. Realizing his only chance for escape was to set a course for New London , Decatur was forced to flee and take refuge at that port where they were blockaded until the end of the war.
Decatur attempted to sneak out of New London harbor at night in an effort to elude the British blockading squadron. On the evening of December 18, while attempting to leave the Thames River , Decatur saw blue lights burning near the mouth of the river in sight of the British blockaders. Decatur was furious, believing that various residents had set the signals to betray his plans. He abandoned the project and returned to New London. The allegations of treason soon became public, causing controversy and debate among New London residents and others over the matter. A congressional investigation was called while Decatur made efforts to discover who was responsible but was unsuccessful.
Whether the signals were given by a British spy or an American citizen remains uncertain. Unable to get his squadron out of the harbor, Decatur decided to write a letter to Captain Thomas Hardy offering to negotiate a resolution of the situation at a prearranged meeting. He proposed that matched ships from either side meet and, in effect, have a duel, to settle their otherwise idle situation. The letter was sent under a flag of truce but was in violation of orders, as after the loss of Chesapeake , Navy Secretary Jones forbade commanders from "giving or receiving a Challenge, to or from, an Enemy's vessel.
After several communications it was ascertained that neither side could trust the other and so the proposal floundered, never coming to fruition. Library of Naval Biography. Theodore And Franklin D.
Roosevelt Prize In Naval History Other Editions 3. Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
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To ask other readers questions about Stephen Decatur , please sign up. Lists with This Book. This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Community Reviews. Showing Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Jun 27, Peregrine 12 rated it it was amazing Shelves: history. One of the most gripping historical accounts I have ever read.
It's the kind of story that is so well-written it transports you to the place you're reading about rather than where you actually are. Insight into US history, past cultures, and previous value systems is fascinating. I'd never heard of Decatur before picking this up from the library. I could recommend it to any fan of military history, US history, or action stories. This book reads like a novel, except that this is all tr One of the most gripping historical accounts I have ever read. This book reads like a novel, except that this is all true, even though it's a better story than many fiction accounts written today.
Robin Cherry rated it liked it Nov 26, Jim Chase rated it really liked it Jul 12, Shelley rated it liked it Feb 24, Steve Paradis rated it it was amazing Apr 17, Trevor rated it really liked it Feb 11, Bill rated it really liked it Aug 09, Matt Phillips rated it liked it Aug 15, John Tveter Jr.