Stephen Decatur

STEPHEN DECATUR, a celebrated American naval officer, was born January 5, 1779, on the eastern shore of Maryland, whither his parents had retired while the British were in Philadelphia. He entered the American navy in March, 1798, and was soon promoted to the rank of first lieutenant. While at Syracuse, attached to the squadron of commodore Preble, he was first informed of the fate of the American frigate Philadelphia, which, in pursuing a Tripolitan corsair, ran on a rock about four and a half miles from Tripoli, and was taken by the Tripolitans, and towed into the harbor. Lieutenant Decatur conceived the project of attempting her recapture or destruction. He selected, for this purpose, a ketch, and manned her with 70 volunteers. February 16, 1804, at 7 o'clock at night, he entered the harbor of Tripoli, boarded the frigate, though she had all her guns mounted and charged, and was lying within half-gun shot of the bashaw's castle and of his principal battery. Two Tripolitan cruisers were lying within two cables' length, on the starboard quarter and several gun-boats within half-gun-shot on the starboard bow, and all the batteries upon the shore were opened upon the assailants. Decatur set fire to the frigate, and continued alongside until her destruction was certain. For this exploit, the American congress voted him thanks and a sword, and the president immediately sent him a captaincy. The next spring, it being resolved to make an attack upon Tripoli, commodore Preble equipped six gun-boats and two bombards, formed them into two divisions, and gave the command of one of them to captain Decatur. The enemy's gun-boats were moored along the mouth of the harbor, under the batteries, and within musket-shot. Captain Decatur determined to board the enemy's eastern division, consisting of nine. He boarded in his own boat, and carried two of the enemy's boats in succession. When he boarded the second boat, he immediately attacked her commander, who was his superior in size and strength, and, his sword being broken, he seized the Turk, when a violent scuffle ensued. The Turk threw him, and drew a dirk for the purpose of stabbing him, when Decatur, having a small pistol in his right pocket, took hold of it, and, turning it as well as he could, so as to take effect upon his antagonist, cocked it, fired through his pocket, and killed him. When Commodore Preble was superseded in the command of the squadron, he gave the frigate Constitution to Decatur, who was afterwards removed to the Congress, and returned home in her when peace was concluded with Tripoli. He succeeded commodore Barron in the command of the Chesapeake, after the attack made upon her by the British man-of-war Leopard. He was afterwards transferred to the frigate United States. In the war between Great Britain and the United States, while commanding the frigate United States, he fell in, Oct. 25, 1812, with the Macedonian, mounting 49 carriage-guns, one of the finest of the British vessels of her class, and captured her after an engagement of an hour and a half. When captain Carden, the commander of the Macedonian, tendered him his sword, he observed that he could not think of taking the sword of an, officer who had defended his ship so gallantly, but should be happy to take him by the hand. In a letter written five days after the capture, he says, " I need not tell you that I have done every thing in my power to soothe and console captain Carden; for, really, one half the pleasure of this little victory is destroyed in witnessing the mortification of a brave man, who deserved success quite as much as we did who obtained it." In January, 1814, commodore Decatur, in. the United States, with his prize the Macedonian, then equipped as an American frigate, was blockaded at New London by a British squadron greatly superior in force. A challenge which he sent to the commander of the British squadron, sir Thomas Hardy, offering to meet two of the British frigates with his two ships, was declined. In January, 1815, he attempted to set sail from New York, which was blockaded by four British ships; but the frigate under his command, the President, was injured in passing the bar, and was captured by the whole squadron, after having maintained a running fight of two hours and a half with one of the frigates, the Endymion, which was dismantled and silenced. After the conclusion of peace, he was restored to his country, in 1815. The conduct of the Barbary powers, and of Algiers in particular, having been insulting to the United States, on the ratification of peace with Great Britain, war was declared against Algiers, and a squadron was fitted out, under the command of commodore Decatur, for the purpose of obtaining redress. In the spring of 1815, he set sail, and, June 17, off cape de Gatt, captured an Algerine frigate, after a running fight of 25 minutes, in which the famous admiral Rais Hammida, who had long been the terror of the Mediterranean sea, fell. The American squadron arrived at Algiers June 28. In less than 48 hours, Decatur terrified the regency into his own terms, which were, mainly, that no tribute should ever be required, by Algiers, from the United States of America; that all Americans in slavery should be given up without ransom; that compensation should be made for American property seized; that all citizens of the United States, taken in war, should be treated as prisoners of war are by other nations, and not as slaves, but held subject to an exchange without ransom. After concluding this treaty, he proceeded to Tunis, where he obtained indemnity for the outrages exercised or permitted by the bashaw. Thence he went to Tripoli, where he made a similar demand with like success , and procured the release of 10 captives, Danes and Neapolitans. He arrived at the United States Nov. 12, 1815, was subsequently appointed one of the board of navy commissioners, and was residing at Washington, in that capacity, when he was killed in a duel with commodore Barron, March 22, 1820, occasioned by his animadversions on the conduct of the latter. Courage, sagacity, energy, self-possession, and a high sense of honor, were the characteristic traits of Decatur. From his boyhood, he was remark able for the qualities which presage eminence in naval warfare. He enjoyed the sea as his element. He possessed an active, muscular frame, a quick and penetrating eye, and a bold, adventurous and ambitious spirit.