April 27th marks the anniversary of a great American military victory, yet most citizens in this nation are simply unaware of the date, and the implications of the event.
On April 27, 1805, First Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon, a United States Marine Officer assigned to the USS Argus and under the command of General William Eaton, led Marines into Battle against the Muslim forces in Tripoli at Derne. This was the first war the United States fought after the revolution and the first time the America flag was planted on foreign soil in combat. And we won.
O’Bannon is a legend in the Marine Corps, but this war – and it was a declared “War” by the U.S. – was the result of years of the U.S. paying more and more tribute to the Islamic nations (“Barbary States”) to ensure the safe passage of U.S. ships and their crews. It is the reason “Letters of Mark” are mentioned in our Constitution.
Here is the official account by the U.S. Marine Corps Historical Division:
For many years the United States had maintained peace with the Barbary States (Algiers, Morocco, Tunis, and Tripoli) by “buying” treaties and paying tribute to the reigning pasha. Although Algiers, Morocco and Tunis were not entirely satisfied, they were more or less complacent, whereas Tripoli continued to make threats against the United States while demanding larger and more frequent “payments.” Finally, on 14 May 1801, the Pasha of Tripoli, Yusut Karamanli, indicated his extreme dissatisfaction with our “tribute” by having the flagstaff cut down in front of the U.S. Consulate. This act led to a declaration of war against Tripoli and the sending of more U.S. war vessels to the Mediterranean. During a storm one of the ships, the USS Philadelphia, went on the rocks off Tripoli and her crew was captured and imprisoned at Derne. After a bombardment of Tripoli by U.S. vessels and the offer of $100,000 ransom for the crew of the Philadelphia had failed to move the Pasha, William Eaton, “Navy Agent for the several Barbary Regencies,” suggested forming an alliance with Hamet, elder brother of the reigning sovereign of Tripoli. The plan was approved by the U.S. Government and Eaton commenced putting his plan into execution.
On 29 November 1804, Eaton, First Lieutenant O’Bannon, Midshipmen George Mann, U.S. Navy, and seven Marines landed at Alexandria, Egypt, from the USS Argus, and a few days later proceeded to Cairo. The party arrived at Cairo on 8 January 1805, where they learned that Hamet and a few Tripolitans had joined a band of rebellious Mamelukes who were defying the rule of the Turkish viceroy. Eaton then pushed on to Fiaum where he communicated with Hamet and made arrangements with him for his cooperation with the expedition against Derne, Tripoli. On 8 April, Eaton and his motley army of about 500 men, 100 camels and a few mules started the long march across the Libyan desert. He arrived at Derne the night of 25 April, and the next day, under a flag of truce, offered terms of amity to the Governor of Derne on condition of allegiance and fidelity to Hamet. The reply to this offer was “My head or yours.” Shortly thereafter, the USS Nautilus arrived in the harbor of Derne, and the next day the USS Argus and Hornet dropped anchor nearby. When the combined land-sea attack commenced on 27 April, Lieutenant O’Bannon, with his Marines, a few Greeks, and as many of the cannoniers as could be spared from the field piece, passed through a shower of enemy musketry, took possession of one of the enemy’s batteries, planted the United States flag upon its ramparts and turned the guns upon the enemy. After two hours of hand-to-hand fighting, the stronghold was occupied and for the first time in history the flag of the United States flew over a fortress of the old world.”
Today, let us remember the victory of America’s first military victory as a nation after the Revolutionary War. Since the Muslims get to celebrate the first Islamic military victory of Muslim forces over non-Muslim forces at the White House – Eid al Fitr – it seems relevant for us to simply acknowledge that our first foe in combat as a nation was an Islamic nation.