To the Shores of Tripoli: The Birth of the U. S. Navy and Marines

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Often-overlooked yet significant and prophetic event in U.S. history, the Barbary War was America's first battle against an Arab despot and President Thomas Jefferson's first major challenge to U.S. foreign policy. As described by A.B.C. Whipple, it is a great yarn as well as first-rate history. The author skillfully combines vivid accounts of derring-do with shrewd appraisals of contemporary politics and diplomacy. Because the Continental Navy had been disbanded, there was an urgent need to develop a new Navy and Marine Corps. Faced with the choice of trading arms for hostages or meeting force with force, Jefferson sent a squadron of warships to the Mediterranean while Congress was in recess, prompting the first major debate on the war-making powers of a U.S. president. The war included a blockade of Tripoli, sustained bombardment by the Navy's new frigates, and finally a ground war fought by a U.S. Army captain, eight Marines, and a rabble of Christians and Arabs sent to free the hostages.

Whipple's rousing narrative is filled with fascinating personalities. In addition to Jefferson, there is Commodore Edward Preble, the quarter-deck tyrant who commanded the first naval forces into battle; the bold junior officer Stephen Decatur; the tyrannical bashaw, Yusuf Karamanli; William Eaton, an early-day Lawrence of Arabia; Marine lieutenant Presley O'Bannon; and a host of others.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
For centuries, Barbary Coast pirates had been terrorizing merchant shippers and forcing their governments to pay tribute--until the frigate Philadelphia was captured in 1803 and President Thomas Jefferson decided to put an end to the extortion. Whipple ( The Challenge ) shows how the Barbary War in the early 19th century included the first major challenge to U.S. foreign policy, America's first hostage crisis and the first subversive plot to overthrow the head of an unfriendly government (the war also served as the first proving ground of the U.S. Navy and Marines). Jefferson sent four successive naval squadrons against Tripoli. All failed to gain the release of the Philadelphia 's crew. Finally, an Army captain named William Eaton (``one of the lost heroes of U.S. history'') led a handful of Marines and a polyglot mercenary mob on a 500-mile epic journey across the Libyan desert. Their capture of the city of Derna led indirectly to the release of the prisoners and a treaty (1805), but did not end the threat of piracy to U.S. shipping. Whipple's vigorous you-are-there style brings to life all the color and drama of this neglected period in American history. (July)
Kirkus Reviews
America's first hostage crises date back to its formative years, when Muslim pirates operating out of city-state ports along North Africa's Barbary Coast preyed on its merchant vessels in the Mediterranean. Here, with considerable analytic flair, Whipple (The Challenge, 1987) sorts out Washington's often irresolute response to these seizures and the incarceration of US sailors. In his engrossing narrative (which neither ignores nor belabors obvious parallels to latter-day events in the Middle East), the author skillfully combines vivid accounts of derring-do with shrewd appraisals of contemporary politics and diplomacy. Among other events, the many-splendored story line encompasses the first US attempt to overthrow the head of a hostile government (the bashaw of Tripoli), plus America's initial effort to isolate another nation via blockade—and bombardment. Covered as well are our nation's earliest debates on defense budgets, foreign intervention, the President's war-making powers, and allied issues that have proved nothing if not perdurable. In addition to the satisfyingly treacherous villains, the plot features a great many authentic American heroes and more than a few shady middlemen offering to swap arms for captives. Standouts in the white-hat ranks include Edward Preble (a quarter-deck tyrant who commanded the first US Navy forces to go into battle), Stephen Decatur (then a junior officer of notable boldness), and William Eaton. As a self-styled general, Eaton led a rabble of Arabs, Christians, and eight US Marines out of Egypt across the Libyan desert to free the 307-man crew of an American warship captured by the Tripolitans. How legates with their own agendas cheated him(and the US) of a hard-won victory at the 11th hour makes a fascinating and cautionary tale. Americana at its rousing and resonant best.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781557509666
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/1901
  • Series: Bluejacket Books
  • Pages: 358
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface 5
Acknowledgments 9
Pt. I Thomas Jefferson 13
Ch. 1 Prologue in the Desert 15
Ch. 2 Ransom, Tribute, or War? 19
Ch. 3 Six Frigates to Fight the Dey 35
Ch. 4 "Chastise Their Insolence..." 59
Ch. 5 "The Commodoress" 83
Pt. II Edward Preble 103
Ch. 6 Disaster on Kaliusa Reef 105
Ch. 7 Singeing the Bashaw's Beard 123
Ch. 8 Assault by Gunboat and Fireship 145
Pt. III William Eaton 175
Ch. 9 A Foreign Legion of Marines and Mercenaries 177
Ch. 10 Rendezvous at Bomba 197
Ch. 11 Betrayal at Derna 219
Pt. IV The Price of Peace 241
Ch. 12 A Presidential Change of Mind 243
Ch. 13 "Treason Against the Character of the Nation" 265
Epilogue 283
App. A 285
App. B 287
Notes 291
Bibliography 341
Index 351
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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2003

    One of the best books I ever read

    Very well written. I read the book in two days. Extremely relevant to understanding events today by showing you how nothing has changed in 200 years. Absolutely wonderful, I can't recommend it strongly enough.

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