Days after taking office in 1801, President Thomas Jefferson dispatched warships to blockade and attack Tripoli and its pirate fleet. For 200 years, the Northern African Islamic states of Tripoli, Algiers, Tunis, and Morocco had seized European trading ships, enslaved Christians, and extorted ransom, treaties, and annual tribute. Jefferson, however, refused to truckle to the Islamists and sent the Navy’s “super frigates” to settle accounts.
From this four-year war emerged the first 19th-century U.S. naval heroes: Stephen Decatur, Edward Preble, and Andrew Sterrett, and dozens of blooded naval officers who would fight the War of 1812. But the war’s climax was a land operation: a 520-mile desert march led by William Eaton and a few U.S. Marines. With an army of Arabs, disaffected Tripolitans, and European renegades, they captured Derna, and forced Tripoli’s bashaw to sue for peace.
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