It is never pleasant to realize any capture of a naval, military seafaring vessel by those national forces that would oppose the United States. However, the particular case of the USS Philadelphia, the frigate in 1803 having been sent and commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson merits a proud review of the incident. This ship was captured in Tripoli off the coast of Libya, set afire, resulting from a series of attacks on United States’ merchant vessels exploring Mediterranean trade opportunities (“Lieutenant Stephen Decatur’s Destruction of Philadelphia”). Specific historical naval events shape the heritage of current policy, contributing to the fashion of all overarching traditional components.
Leading up to its capture by Tripoli military forces, an ongoing siege had sustained a raging war since 1801, according to data from the U.S. Naval Institute (Melero 2015). Leadership from command to rank-and-file soldier, have learned to embrace a proud heritage of traditions set forth in response to the lessons of past adversity. This essay discusses the situational circumstances amid the burning of the USS Philadelphia frigate heroically accomplished by Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, followed by an overview of current naval practices in the context of traditions and heritage command.
The fact that the story of the Philadelphia’s capture at sea in Mediterranean waters did not foil a heroic plan carried out by Lieutenant Stephen Decatur to implement destruction of the frigate, is remarkable. History reports that the capture of the USS naval frigate turned the entire situation of the Tripoli War, suddenly garnering the ability of America’s enemies to access the bargaining ransom-power of 307 prisoners (Melero, 2015). At the time, the USS Philadelphia frigate mastered a 40-gun arsenal ruled by the highest military technology in warships available at the time (Melero 2015). As the youngest captain so appointed at the time, Stephen Decatur stepped in to boldly destroy the frigate in an effort to thwart its weaponized technology to fall into enemy hands – from reproduction of its naval apparatus.
The USS Philadelphia represented a key asset to Tripoli’s military forces, having been securely captured, guarded, and instigating a thorn in the side of operations Commander, Edward Preble that October 31st, 1803. According to historical accounts, the raid to burn the frigate involved a team of 75 sailors, yet this culmination of troubles had ensued with the escalation of attacks on American merchant ships (“Lieutenant Stephen Decatur’s Destruction of Philadelphia”). The attacks alone were not the sole culprit of the constant physical attacks on United States merchant ships. The American government grew angrily weary of the hostility, also, because of French and British neutrality violations. Furthermore, it is important to note that the U.S. Navy had only recently been established via Congressional authorization in March of 1798, in terms of ratification. At the behest of Commander Preble, Stephen Decatur executed a decision for a secret plan.
Encountering seafaring threats to both merchant ships, as well as American military sea vessels, the threat alerted then-President Thomas Jefferson. However, by the time Commander Preble had written for reinforcements to arrive expecting to assign junior captains to the task, it was discovered that there were not enough of those officers to go around (Melero,2015). At that point Preble appointed Stephen Decatur to complete the mission to burn the frigate, secretly, on the most dangerous mission to date. Additionally, Commander Preble’s choice of leadership assignment fell to Decatur because of his great ability to motivate his men, especially since the collective team were all volunteers.
This factor brings to mind the seedlings of the Naval Military’s noble sailor’s creed. Part of that creed sustaining a heritage kept alive to this day recites that, “I will represent the fighting spirit of the Navy and those who have gone before me to defend freedom and democracy around the world” (“Customs and Traditions”). Enduring the foul stench of a dirty vessel, filled with vermin, the sleep-deprived crew under the auspices of Stephen Decatur disguised as a trader from Malta cast the USS Philadelphia’s destruction. To date, such an accomplishment had never been achieved in an international response to foreign threats after capturing such a military asset. Yet, this incident set the tone of personalities of valor shaping the heritage of U.S. Navy Command and history.
The burning of the USS Philadelphia frigate not only provided the documentation of a historical personality in Stephen Decatur but marked a triumph celebrating success of a top American naval military mission. It was clear that Thomas Jefferson had ordered the U.S. naval vessels’ presence in the Mediterranean Sea, as a deterrent. That action was designed to protest raid on America’s merchant ships from piracy along the Algerian-Tunisian-Moroccan states (“1804 the most daring act of the age”). Ever since, the complexities of Naval Heritage elements have flanked areas of athletics, burial at sea, commissioning pennant, and orientation collection of nautical terms, customs, and traditions.
Today, Navy heritage and traditions entail a sense of reflected nobility, team work, and bravery entrenched in its ships, personnel, and basic traditions. The official Navy colors of blue-and-gold spark feelings of nobility. Approximately one hundred years after Lieutenant Stephen Decatur burned the USS Philadelphia frigate to deny its accessibility to Tripoli military forces, the official Navy ‘hymn-lyrics’ of Anchors Aweigh was created in 1906 (“Customs and Traditions”). The song represents an important component of U.S. Naval officers’ training, remaining an officially regulated designation to the military institution’s protocol. The case of the USS Philadelphia, the frigate in 1803 reveals a rich U.S. Naval historical heritage that attributes responsibility to individual leadership, motivation, and recognition worthy of honor.