Action of 1 August 1801

Last updated
Action of 1 August 1801
Part of the First Barbary War
EnterpriseTripoli.jpg
US Schooner ENTERPRIZE capturing the Tripolitan Corsair TRIPOLI, 1 August 1801, William Bainbridge Hoff
Date1 August 1801
Location
Result American victory
Belligerents
Flag of the United States (1795-1818).svg  United States Flag of Tripoli 18th century.svg Tripolitania
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the United States (1795-1818).svg Andrew Sterett Flag of Tripoli 18th century.svg Mahomet Rous [1]
Strength
1 schooner 1 polacca [2]
Casualties and losses
1 schooner damaged 60 killed and wounded
1 polacca disabled

The Action of 1 August 1801 was a single-ship action of the First Barbary War fought between the American schooner USS Enterprise and the Tripolitan polacca Tripoli off the coast of modern-day Libya. As part of Commodore Richard Dale's Mediterranean Squadron, Enterprise had been deployed with the American force blockading the Eyalet of Tripoli. Enterprise, under the command of Lieutenant Andrew Sterett, had been sent by Commodore Dale to gather supplies at Malta.

Contents

While cruising towards Malta, Enterprise engaged Tripoli, commanded by Admiral Rais Mahomet Rous. Tripoli put up a stubborn fight and perfidiously feigned surrender three times in an engagement lasting three hours before the polacca was finally captured by the Americans. Although the Americans had taken the vessel, Sterett had no orders to take prizes and so was obliged to release her.

Enterprise completed her journey to Malta, and received honor and praise from the squadron's Commodore on her return to the fleet. The success of the battle boosted morale in the United States, since it was that country's first victory in the war against the Tripolitans. The opposite occurred in Tripoli, where morale sank heavily upon learning of Tripoli's defeat. Despite Enterprise's triumph, the war continued indecisively for another four years.

Background

Following the independence of the United States in 1783, the new country's early administrations had elected to make tribute payments to the Eyalet of Tripoli to protect American commercial shipping interests in the Mediterranean Sea. Tripoli, nominally a subject of the Ottoman Empire, was practically autonomous in conducting her foreign affairs, and would declare war on non-Muslim states whose ships sailed in the Mediterranean in order to extract tribute from them. In 1801, the payments demanded by Tripoli from the United States were significantly increased. The newly elected administration of Thomas Jefferson, an opponent of the tribute payments from their inception, refused to pay. [3] As a result, Tripoli declared war on the United States, and its navy began to seize American ships and crews in an attempt to coerce the Jefferson administration into acceding to their demands.

When word of these attacks on American merchantmen reached Washington, the Jefferson administration gave the United States Navy the authority to conduct limited operations against Tripoli. As part of the American strategy, a squadron under Commodore Richard Dale was dispatched to blockade Tripoli. [4] By July, Dale's force had begun to run low on water. In order to replenish his supplies, Dale dispatched the schooner USS Enterprise, commanded by Lieutenant Andrew Sterett, to provision at the British naval base on Malta, while the commodore himself remained off Tripoli with the frigate USS President to maintain the blockade. Soon after leaving the blockade, Enterprise came upon what appeared to be a Tripolitan warship sailing near her. Flying British colors as a ruse, Enterprise approached the Tripolitan vessel and hailed her

The Tripolitan answered that she was seeking American vessels. At this Enterprise struck the British colors, raised the American flag, and prepared for action. [5] The Tripolitan vessel, Tripoli, and Enterprise were quite evenly matched. Enterprise, with a complement of 90, was a 12-gun, 135-ton schooner built in 1799 that had seen action in the Quasi-War. [6] In contrast, Tripoli, a lateen-rigged polacca with two masts, was crewed by 80 men under Admiral Rais Mahomet Rous and armed with 14 guns. [7] Although the Tripolitans held a slight advantage in firepower, Enterprise had to its advantage the larger crew and the element of surprise. The Americans were also significantly more experienced in gunnery action than the Tripolitans, who preferred to attack by boarding and taking over their opponents' ships. [1]

Battle

USS Enterprise pursuing Tripoli, by Thomas Birch. CaptureoftheTripolibytheEnterprise.jpg
USS Enterprise pursuing Tripoli, by Thomas Birch.

Shortly after Sterett had the American colors raised, he had his men open fire upon the Tripolitans at close range with muskets. In response, Tripoli returned fire with an ineffective broadside. [8] The Americans returned fire with their own broadsides, which led Rous to break off the engagement and attempt to flee. Neither able to fight off the American vessel nor outrun her, the Tripolitans attempted to grapple Enterprise and board her. Once within musket range, Enterprise's marines opened fire on the Tripoli, foiling its boarding attempt, and forced Tripoli to try to break away once more. Enterprise continued the engagement, firing more broadsides into the Tripolitan and blasting a hole in her hull. [9] Severely damaged, Tripoli struck her colors to indicate surrender. As Enterprise moved towards the vessel to accept its surrender, the Tripolitans hoisted their flag and fired upon Enterprise.

The Tripolitans again attempted to board the American schooner, but were repelled by Enterprise's broadsides and musketry. After another exchange of fire, the Tripolitans struck their colors a second time. Sterett once more ceased firing and moved closer to Tripoli. [10] In response, Rous again raised his colors and attempted to board Enterprise. Enterprise's accurate gunnery once more forced Tripoli to veer off. As the action continued, Rous perfidiously feigned a third surrender in an attempt to draw the American schooner within grappling range. This time, Sterett kept his distance, and ordered Enterprise's guns to be lowered to aim at the polacca's waterline, a tactic that threatened to sink the enemy ship. The next American broadsides struck their target, causing massive damage, dismasting her mizzen-mast, and reducing her to a sinking condition. [11] With most of his crew dead or wounded, the injured Admiral Rous finally threw the Tripolitan flag into the sea to convince Sterett to end the action. [9]

Aftermath

At the end of the action Tripoli was severely damaged; 30 of her crew were dead and another 30 were injured. The polacca's first lieutenant was among the casualties and Admiral Rous himself was injured in the fighting. In what amounted to a total American victory over the Tripolitans, Enterprise had suffered only superficial damage and no casualties. [5] Sterett, whose orders did not give him the authority to retain prizes, let the polacca limp back to Tripoli. However, before setting her free, the Americans cut down Tripoli's masts and sufficiently disabled her so that she could barely make sail. Sterett then continued his journey to Malta and picked up the supplies for which he was sent before returning to the blockade. [9]

After Enterprise left, Tripoli began its journey back to the port of Tripoli. On the way it ran into USS President and asked for assistance; Rous falsely claimed that his vessel was Tunisian and that it had been damaged in an engagement with a French 22-gun vessel. [12] Dale suspected the vessel's true identity and merely provided Rous with a compass so he could find his way back to port. When he finally arrived at Tripoli, Rous was severely chastised by Yusuf Karamanli, the Pasha (ruler) of Tripoli. Stripped of his command, he was paraded through the streets draped in sheep's entrails while seated backwards on an ass before suffering 500 bastinadoes. [13]

Enterprise's victory over Tripoli had very different consequences for the two nations involved. In Tripoli, the defeat, combined with severity of the Rous' punishment, severely hurt morale throughout the city, and led to significant reductions in recruitment for Tripolitan ships' crews. [14] In the United States, the exact opposite occurred, with wild publicity surrounding the arrival of news that the Americans had won their first victory over the Tripolitans. The American government gave a month's pay as a bonus to each of Enterprise's crew members, and honored Sterett by granting him a sword and calling for his promotion. Fanciful plays were written about the victorious Americans, and morale and enthusiasm about the war reached a high point. The victory did not have any long-term consequences in the conduct of the war, however. Dale's blockade of Tripoli was ineffective in preventing ships from entering and leaving the port, and was equally ineffective in altering the Pasha's diplomatic stance toward the Americans. Dale's squadron was relieved in 1802 by another under Richard Morris. [15]

Notes

  1. 1 2 Whipple 1991, p. 79.
  2. Allen 1905, p. 95
  3. Allen 1905, p. 91
  4. Boot 2002, p. 13.
  5. 1 2 Fremont-Barnes 2002, p. 40.
  6. Dobbs 2005, p. 138.
  7. Smethurst 2006, p. 81.
  8. Wheelan 2003, p. xix.
  9. 1 2 3 Whipple 1991, p. 80.
  10. Wheelan 2003, p. xx.
  11. Allen 1905, p. 96.
  12. Wheelan 2003, p. 118.
  13. Boot 2002, p. 14.
  14. Allen 1905, p. 97.
  15. Wheelan 2003, p. 119.

Related Research Articles

William Bainbridge Commodore in the United States Navy (1774–1833)

William Bainbridge was a Commodore in the United States Navy. During his long career in the young American Navy he served under six presidents beginning with John Adams and is notable for his many victories at sea. He commanded several famous naval ships, including USS Constitution, and saw service in the Barbary Wars and the War of 1812. Bainbridge was also in command of USS Philadelphia when she grounded off the shores of Tripoli in North Africa, resulting in his capture and imprisonment for many months. In the latter part of his career he became the U.S. Naval Commissioner.

USS <i>Enterprise</i> (1799) 1799 schooner

The third US ship to be named Enterprise was a schooner, built by Henry Spencer at Baltimore, Maryland, in 1799. Her first commander thought that she was too lightly built and that her quarters, in particular, should be bulletproofed. Enterprise was overhauled and rebuilt several times, effectively changing from a twelve-gun schooner to a fourteen-gun topsail schooner and eventually to a brig. Enterprise saw action in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean again, capturing numerous prizes. She wrecked in July 1823.

Andrew Sterett United States Navy officer

Andrew Sterett was an officer in the United States Navy during the nation's early days. He saw combat during the Quasi-War with France and in the Barbary Wars, commanding the schooner USS Enterprise in both conflicts.

USS Adams was a 28-gun (rated) sailing frigate of the United States Navy. She was laid down in 1797 at New York City by John Jackson and William Sheffield and launched on 8 June 1799. Captain Richard Valentine Morris took command of the ship.

First Barbary War War between United States and the Barbary states, 1801-1805

The First Barbary War (1801–1805), also known as the Tripolitanian War and the Barbary Coast War, was the first of two Barbary Wars, in which the United States and Sweden fought against the four North African states known collectively as the "Barbary States". Three of these were autonomous, but nominally provinces of the Ottoman Empire: Tripoli, Algiers, and Tunis. The fourth was the independent Sultanate of Morocco.

Barbary Wars conflicts fought over the issue of Barbary piracy

The Barbary Wars were a series of conflicts culminating in two main wars fought between the United States, Sweden, and the Barbary states of North Africa in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The Swedes had been at war with the Tripolitans since 1800; they were joined by the Americans.

USS <i>President</i> (1800) United States Navy frigate

USS President was a wooden-hulled, three-masted heavy frigate of the United States Navy, nominally rated at 44 guns. She was launched in April 1800 from a shipyard in New York City. President was one of the original six frigates whose construction the Naval Act of 1794 had authorized, and she was the last to be completed. The name "President" was among ten names submitted to President George Washington by Secretary of War Timothy Pickering in March of 1795 for the frigates that were to be constructed.Joshua Humphreys designed these frigates to be the young Navy's capital ships, and so President and her sisters were larger and more heavily armed and built than standard frigates of the period. Forman Cheeseman, and later Christian Bergh were in charge of her construction. Her first duties with the newly formed United States Navy were to provide protection for American merchant shipping during the Quasi War with France and to engage in a punitive expedition against the Barbary pirates in the First Barbary War.

Edward Preble American commodore

Edward Preble was a United States naval officer who served with great distinction during the 1st Barbary War, leading American attacks on the city of Tripoli and forming the officer corps that would later lead the U.S. Navy in the War of 1812.

USS <i>Intrepid</i> (1798) 1798 United States ketch

The first USS Intrepid was a captured ketch in the United States Navy during the First Barbary War.

USS <i>Argus</i> (1803)

The first USS Argus, originally named USS Merrimack, was a brig in the United States Navy commissioned in 1803. She enforced the Embargo Act of 1807 and fought in the First Barbary War – taking part in the blockade of Tripoli and the capture of Derna – and the War of 1812. During the latter conflict, she had been audaciously raiding British merchant shipping in British home waters for a month, when the heavier British Cruizer-class brig-sloopHMS Pelican intercepted her. After a sharp fight during which Argus's captain, Master Commandant William Henry Allen, was mortally wounded, Argus surrendered when the crew of Pelican were about to board.

USS <i>John Adams</i> (1799)

The first John Adams was originally built in 1799 as a frigate for the United States Navy, converted to a corvette in 1809, and later converted back to a frigate in 1830. Named for President John Adams, she fought in the Quasi-War, the First and Second Barbary Wars, the War of 1812, the Mexican–American War and the American Civil War. At the end of her career, she participated in the Union blockade of South Carolina's ports. She then participated in a historic raid that Harriet Tubman, the former slave and Union operative, organized with Union colonel Montgomery. John Adams led three steam-powered gunboats up the Harbor River to Port Royal. The squadron relied on local black mariners to guide it past mines and fortifications. The squadron freed 750+ slaves and unsettled the Confederacy. Tubman was the first woman in U.S. history to plan and execute an armed expedition.

John Trippe United States Navy officer

John Trippe was an officer in the United States Navy during the Quasi-War with France and the First Barbary War.

USS <i>Vixen</i> (1803) United States Navy schooner

USS Vixen was a schooner in the United States Navy during the First Barbary War. Vixen was one of four vessels authorized by Congress on 28 February 1803. She was built at Baltimore, Maryland, in the spring of 1803; and launched on 25 June, Lieutenant John Smith in command.

Mediterranean Squadron (United States)

The Mediterranean Squadron, also known as the Mediterranean Station, was part of the United States Navy in the 19th century that operated in the Mediterranean Sea. It was formed in response to the First and Second Barbary Wars. Between 1801 and 1818, the squadron was composed of a series of rotating squadrons. Later, squadrons were sent in the 1820s to the 1860s to suppress piracy, primarily in Greece and to engage in gunboat diplomacy. In 1865 the force was renamed the European Squadron.

Action of 16 May 1797 Naval battle near Tripoli, Libya

The action of 16 May 1797 was a naval battle that took place near Tripoli in Ottoman Tripolitania. The Danish squadron was victorious over a Tripolitan squadron that outnumbered them in terms of the number of vessels. The result was a peace treaty between the Bey of Tripoli and Denmark.

Second Battle of Tripoli Harbor

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.

First Battle of Tripoli Harbor

The First Battle of Tripoli Harbor was a naval battle fought on May 16, 1802 in Tripoli Harbor between a combined force consisting of the American frigate USS Boston and two Swedish Navy frigates against several Tripolitan Barbary corsairs. The Swedish-American force was enforcing the blockade when an engagement broke out between it and Tripolitan forces. The Allied fleet damaged the Tripolitan squadron as well as the harbor fortifications before withdrawing and resuming the blockade.

USS <i>Enterprise</i> vs <i>Flambeau</i> naval battle in 1800

USS Enterprise vs Flambeau was a single ship action fought in October 1800 during the Quasi-War, and the final battle between French and American forces. During the action, USS Enterprise defeated the French brig Flambeau off the leeward side of the island of Dominica in the Caribbean Sea. Although Enterprise was outgunned by Flambeau, she was still able to take her as a prize after a short battle. The battle helped bring to fame Enterprise's commanding officer, John Shaw, who added the capture of Flambeau to his already long list of French prizes.

West Indies anti-piracy operations of the United States

The West Indies Anti-Piracy Operations refer to the United States Navy presence in the Antilles, and surrounding waters, which fought against pirates. Between 1817 and 1825, the American West Indies Squadron constantly pursued pirates on sea and land, primarily around Cuba and Puerto Rico. After the capture of Roberto Cofresi in 1825, acts of piracy became rare and the operation was considered a success although limited occurrences went on until slightly after the start of the 20th-century.

Stephen Decatur United States Navy officer

Stephen Decatur Jr. was a United States naval officer and commodore. He was born on the eastern shore of Maryland in Worcester County, the son of a U.S. naval officer who served during the American Revolution. His father, Stephen Decatur Sr., was a commodore in the U.S. Navy, and brought the younger Stephen into the world of ships and sailing early on. Shortly after attending college, Decatur followed in his father's footsteps and joined the U.S. Navy at the age of nineteen as a midshipman.

References

Coordinates: 32°52′34″N13°11′15″E / 32.876174°N 13.187507°E / 32.876174; 13.187507