October 31 This day during the First Barbary War

October 31, 1803 – The Second Battle of Tripoli Harbor was a naval action during a naval blockade which took place in Tripoli Harbor in 1804. The battle is part of the First Barbary War between forces of the United States and the forces of Tripoli. Commodore Edward Preble had assumed command of the U.S. Mediterranean Squadron in 1803. By October of that year Preble had begun a blockade of Tripoli harbor. The first significant action of the blockade came on 31 October when the USS Philadelphia ran aground on an uncharted coral reef and the Tripolitan Navy was able to capture the ship along with its crew and Captain William Bainbridge. The Philadelphia was turned against the Americans and anchored in the harbor as a gun battery. On the night of 16 February 1804, a small contingent of U.S. Marines in a captured Tripolitan ketch rechristened USS Intrepid and led by Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, Jr. were able to deceive the guards on board the Philadelphia and float close enough to board the captured ship. Decatur’s men stormed the vessel and decimated the Tripolitan sailors standing guard. To complete the daring raid, Decatur’s party set fire to the Philadelphia, denying her use to the enemy. Decatur’s bravery in action made him one of the first American military heroes since the Revolutionary War. The British Admiral Horatio Nelson, himself known as a man of action and bravery, is said to have called this “the most bold and daring act of the age.” Even Pope Pius VII stated, “The United States, though in their infancy, have done more to humble the anti-Christian barbarians on the African coast than all the European states had done. Preble attacked Tripoli outright on 14 July 1804 in a series of inconclusive battles, including a courageous but unsuccessful attack by the fire ship USS Intrepid under Master Commandant Richard Somers. Intrepid, packed with explosives, was to enter Tripoli harbor and destroy itself and the enemy fleet; it was destroyed, perhaps by enemy guns, before achieving that goal, killing Somers and his crew. The actions against Tripoli harbor continued to prove indecisive until September when Commodore Samuel Barron assumed command of the Mediterranean Squadron and focused the fleet’s attention on supporting William Eaton’s attack on Derne, which ended in a victory. 

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