Tag Archives: US Navy

Facts in Five

Stephen Decatur edition…

  • British Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson declared Decatur’s mission to burn the USS Philadelphia in Tripoli harbor, “The most bold and daring act of the age…”
  • Decatur commanded some of America’s greatest warships including: USS United States, USS President, and USS Constitution
  • He was the youngest man to reach the rank of Captain in the history of the US Navy
  • Decatur dictated favorable treaties with all the Barbary states in 1815- including reimbursements for lost cargo during the War of 1812
  • When the Dey of Algiers demanded gunpowder as a gift during negotiations, Decatur resounded that, “you must expect to receive {cannon} balls with it!”
Most bold and daring

Most bold and daring

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Facts in Five

Don’t call him “Teddy” edition

  • No one called him “Teddy” to his face; the nickname he preferred was  TR.
  • TR claimed he decided to be a Republican after watching Lincoln’s funeral parade from his grandfather’s Manhattan townhouse.
  • Frightened of his activism, the Republican party decided to “hide” Roosevelt on McKinley’s ticket in 1900
  • Roosevelt’s Progressive politics can be traced to the time he spent representing a poor, predominately immigrant district in the New York legislature
  • It was TR that ordered Commodore George Dewey’s squadron to the Philippines in anticipation of war with Spain
Always be ready to use the Big Stick

Always be ready to use the Big Stick

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They are Ours!

Light winds on September 10, 1813… turned the battle of Lake Erie into a slug fest.  Neither commander could gain any true advantage in weather gauge- the two squadrons lay opposite one another, blasting away.  American Oliver Hazard Perry’s flagship, Lawrence  was taking the brunt of British fire as the rest of his command struggled to follow his aggressive example.  Two British brigs pounded Perry’s ship until every gun was disabled and four-fifths of the crew was dead- Perry fled on a dingy, rowing a half-mile to the brig Niagara.  Novelist and historian CS Forester wryly noted, “…it was as fortunate for the Americans that the Lawrence still possessed a boat that would float, as it was that Perry was not hit.”

Never give up the ship

Never give up the ship

Perry brought the rest of the American squadron… into line and drove the Niagara directly through the British formation.  Perry’s aggressiveness overwhelmed the slower British ships- nearly every man aboard the two largest was killed.  The surrender took place at approximately 3:00pm, just three hours after the first shot was fired.  Perry accepted the surrender aboard the recaptured Lawrence, so the British officers could see the carnage his command endured.  Perry cabled his counterpart on land, General William Henry Harrison;

Dear General:

We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop.

Yours with great respect and esteem,
O.H. Perry

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It Takes Guts

A time for action…running the gauntlet

David Glasgow Farragut had guts…and it showed in his decision to push past the forts protecting New Orleans.  For seven full days, the Union navy had shelled Forts Jackson and St. Philip.  Some ships were shaken to pieces by the repeated concussions, well over 15,000 shells were fired.  Farragut had enough by April 24, 1862, ordering his ships to steam past the forts at 2a.m.  Aggressive action was lacking in the Union war effort through most of 1862.  Farragut’s decision was precisely the type Lincoln had been waiting for.

Confederate defenses approaching New Orleans

Farragut’s fleet took damage… but the Confederates had no answer for the boldness of the move.  Once past the forts, Farragut’s ships easily defeated a makeshift fleet sent to meet them at the mouth of the harbor.  A desperate attempt to set Farragut’s flagship on fire was also stymied and the city was his for the taking.  At noon on April 25, 1862, Farragut climbed onto the levee of New Orleans.  Four days later, 10,000 Union troops occupied the city.

Forget heroics, it just takes guts

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Great American Duels #2

Challenger: James Barron-  Former Commodore, United States Navy

Challenged: Stephen Decatur-  Commodore, Commissioner, United States Navy

The Offense:  James Barron was court martialed for his poor handling of the USS Chesapeake during the confrontation with the HMS Leopard in 1807.  Decatur served on the court and recommended Barron be barred from command for five years.  Barron spent those five years in Denmark composing a lengthy defense of his actions.  Upon his return, he applied for reinstatement to Naval command.  Decatur was one of many officers who opposed Barron’s reentry into the service.  Long jealous of Decatur’s fame, Barron singled out his younger rival and challenged him to a duel. 

Relegated to historical obscurity

Background:  Stephen Decatur’s naval career was marked by acts of heroism and exceptional performance under fire.  He was the youngest man in naval history to reach the rank of Captain and distinguished himself in the first and second Barbary Wars.  His stunning victories early in the War of 1812 helped keep morale high during some of the darker days of the conflict.  These exploits established him as one of country’s first heroes and earned the resentment of many fellow officers.   James Barron served without much distinction along side Decatur, rising to the rank of Commodore by 1812.  Barron’s failure to properly oppose the boarding action of the HMS Leopard cost him his commission.  Decatur’s position on the court-martial, as well as his vocal opposition to Barron’s reinstatement led to the duel.  By 1820, dueling was such a problem for the US Navy’s officer corps, there was actually a shortage of properly trained commanders.  

A life most bold and daring….

The Field of Honor:  March 22, 1820–Neither Second in the duel was a suitable choice, for both men wanted to see Stephen Decatur dead.  Barron’s Second was the unpredictable Jesse Elliott, an officer known for his burning ambition and hatred of Decatur.  Commodore William Bainbridge was chosen by Decatur, which was an unfortunate decision.  Bainbridge blamed Decatur for stealing his command during the second Barbary War.  The Seconds negotiated a deadly eight pace turn, guaranteeing bloodshed.  Decatur, a crack shot, did not plan on killing his challenger and made it known in the negotiations.  It is doubtful  either Second mentioned this to Barron.  The count was given by Bainbridge, shots had to be fired after ‘one’ and before ‘three’.  The duelists fired before ‘two’  and both went down with serious wounds.  Barron was struck in the lower abdomen but would survive.  Decatur was hit through the pelvis, severing three arteries, sealing his fate.  Decatur cried out, “Oh Lord, I’m a dead man!”   Barron answered back, “I forgive you, God bless you Decatur!”    The hero’s  funeral was attended by every member of Congress, the entire Supreme Court, President James Monroe, and over 10,000 citizens. 

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We Shall Never Strike

“Let every midshipman who passes through this institution remember, as he looks upon the tomb of John Paul Jones, that while no courage can atone for the lack of that efficiency which comes only through careful preparation in advance, through careful training of the men, and careful fitting out of the engines of war, yet that none of these things can avail unless in the moment of crisis the heart rises level with the crisis.”   Theodore Roosevelt, Naval Historian- President of the United States.  April 24, 1906
Father of the US Navy

Father of the US Navy

Historians have spilled plenty of ink…trying to prove that John Paul Jones never uttered his now immortal words.  What we do know is that Jones didn’t surrender- and shouted defiantly at his enemy.  Roosevelt’s remarks at the dedication of Jones’ tomb in Annapolis provide the proper prospective.  Regardless of what was said, Jones rose to the occasion(a most admirable trait in TR’s eyes)– at the moment of crisis, John Paul Jones triumphed.  Critics can waste time and ink trying to diminish one of the great patriotic tales in America’s story, but the man of action still stands tall.
"I have not yet begun to fight"

“I have not yet begun to fight”

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Book Review

Toll, Ian, Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the US Navy, Norton Publishing, New York, 2007- ISBN 978-0-393-05847-5

Toll

Ian Toll has written that rare book… that provides a fresh look at a little studied historical period, while remaining true to research pioneers in the field.  Other studies, like Teddy Roosevelt’s Naval War of 1812, have examined the history of the fledgling US Navy, but Toll’s work fills the obvious gaps in historiography.  Writers such as Roosevelt, Christopher McKee, Henry Adams, and even CS Forester have all studied the characters, battles, and politics of the Age of Sail, Toll’s book serves as an authoritative compendium to the previous histories.

 

“Joshua Humphreys proposed, in short, to build exceptionally large, heavily armed, fast-sailing frigates…”     Toll is at his best when describing the intrigue surrounding the formation and construction of our first fleet.  The same radicalism that had separated us from European monarchy and aristocracy was driving our chief shipwright to challenge ship building norms.  America’s first warships were going to be exceptional- Humphreys is Toll’s unlikely hero.    Just as America  was designed to be unconventional, so would our Navy.  Politics proved ruinous from the start, and Toll does the research required to show how second-guessing and patronage nearly ruined Humphreys’ exceptional fleet.  On far too many occasions, the young US government allowed partisanship to risk our national security interests-  Toll’s analysis fits into debate over current events as well.

 

Toll’s ability to focus his writing… on the original six frigates shows commendable restraint and prevents this study from deteriorating into muddled mass of dates, places, and names.  Utilizing prior studies, Toll’s historical recounting of the Golden Age of Sail is both gripping and realistic.  The narrative effortlessly guides the reader from the Quasi-War in the Caribbean to the Barbary Wars in the Mediterranean.  Stephen Decatur and John Rodgers figure prominently in Toll’s story, but so do oft overlooked figures like Edward Preble, William Bainbridge, and Jesse Eliot.  The founding of the American Navy was a difficult and sometimes bloody affair- Toll astutely points out how dueling nearly brought the officer corps of the Navy to it’s knees by the mid-19th century.  And this is the essence of Ian Toll’s study– more than just battles and larger than life heroes– founding the US Navy was about blood, sweat, and good strong oak.

USS Constitution

USS Constitution

 

 

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