A Bad Place Full Of Bad Jerks

HistorySpin: Stephen Decatur, American Bad Ass - Part 2

Holy shit! Remember this guy? It’s crazy how life can get in the way of writing stupid pieces about dudes that no one cares about for free on the internet. Anyway, I said this would be three parts, so here is part two. Look for the next one sometime shortly after we have colonized Mars. If you need a refresher, here is part one.

What’s so great about Decatur’s life is that if you were to break it into three parts, you would realize that part one has a perfect ending point. And, because I’m an idiot, it’s the story I’m about to tell to kick off part two. So, sit back, relax, and let’s talk about this crazy asshole just a little bit more.


First Barbary War - Part 2

So it’s August 1804. The fact that Decatur is hard as fuck is kind of starting to get around. Since the burning of the Philadelphia, Decatur has been promoted to Captain. He was 25 at the time - the youngest dude ever to hold that rank in the US Navy.

Anyway, Edward Preble is in command of the fleet off of Tripoli, and he decides it’s time to kick their asses once and for all and plans an assault on Tripoli harbor. He breaks his fleet in two divisions, with Decatur in command of one of them.

The fighting is insane. Three solid hours of ship-to-ship combat. Bombs going off, cannons firing, ships’ masts and rigging falling all over the damn place. During the fighting, Decatur and his crew board a Tripolitan ship and take control of it after an intense hand-to-hand battle. As Decatur and his crew are celebrating this small victory within the larger battle, a small American boat approaches their gunboat.


The news is heavy. James Decatur, Stephen’s brother, has just been killed. He and his crew were straight hoodwinked. They boarded a boat full of Tripolitans that had waved the white flag of surrender. But, as they boarded, they were cut to pieces.


Decatur, being the guy that he is, loses his god damn mind. He leaves his prize ship in command of someone else and takes his ship out hunting for the dude who killed his brother. Eventually, he finds them. His crew is outnumbered five to one, but they board anyway, fighting hand-to-hand. Decatur finds the ship’s captain and they have a straight up sword fight. The stories of the battle would have you believe the guy is basically a giant. During the fight, another Tripolitan swings his sword at Decatur’s head, but a young member of Decatur’s crew dives in front of him and takes a sword to the dome in order to save Decatur’s life. The Tripolitan gets the upper hand in the fight and they roll around on the deck of the ship. Just as the Tripolitan captain is about to stab Decatur in the heart, Decatur is able to pull out his pistol and blast the dude in the chest, killing him instantly. Pretty sweet revenge.

Anyway, blablabla, the First Barbary War ends, who cares what happens. Decatur is given command of the USS Constitution for a little while just after all this happens. And that’s pretty fucking cool.


Chesapeake-Leopard Affair

Alright, this is weird, even for me. Decatur isn’t even involved in this. But it almost started the War of 1812 five years early, and is important because it’s the reason Decatur’s going to die in fifteen years. It’s a long story that probably deserves its own post. But, I’m lazy, so here’s the short version of the short version.


Some important facts: (1) being in the British Navy sucked pretty hard; (2) people wanted out; (3) the Brits claimed they had a right to search basically any ship they wanted to find “British citizens” that had deserted and impress them into the British Navy.

Also during this time, the Brits are fighting Napoleon. They’re blockading Chesapeake Bay because two French warships are chilling there. Some dudes deserted a British ship and were thought to have joined the American Navy.


So, James Barron is in command of the Chesapeake and sails out of Norfolk, Virginia. Remember, Barron commanded the first ship Decatur ever served on. He was Decatur’s mentor for years. Anyway, the ship is a damn disaster. Shit is everywhere all over the deck, the crew isn’t trained, it ain’t in fighting shape. When he heads out, he’s hailed by the Leopard. The Captain of the Leopard sends his Lieutenant over with a search warrant saying he wants to find the British dudes he thinks are on the ship. Barron ain’t having that, and says he won’t let the ship be searched.

The Leopard’s Lieutenant heads back to his ship. Barron tries to get his crew to quarters and get ready for battle because he thinks something might be up, but the ship isn’t ready for fighting, the guns aren’t loaded. As the Lieutenant gets back to the Leopard, the Leopard just blasts the shit out of the Chesapeake with a couple of broadsides. It’s mayhem on board the Chesapeake. Masts are coming down, splinters are flying everywhere, 18 people are wounded. The crew of the Chesapeake only manages to fire one gun before pathetically striking its colors and surrendering.


This is a MASSIVE embarrassment for the U.S. It’s a huge ass scandal. So, here’s why it’s important: Decatur sat on the board of James Barron’s court martial. He talked all kinds of shit on Barron, most of it deserved. Barron was suspended from the Navy for five years. This is one of the major causes of the War of 1812. It’s more interesting than this dumb summary makes it seem. I promise.

War of 1812

The War of 1812 was 50/50 for Decatur. While in command of the USS United States, he captured the British frigate Macedonian. This is fucking AWESOME in the history of US Naval warfare. Someday maybe I’ll write a post about the Naval War of 1812 - or you could just read Teddy Roosevelt’s book of the same title and learn about it.


Then he got blockaded in for most of the rest of the war. He also lost the USS President, a sister ship to the Constitution, but probably better in every way, and the fastest frigate in the US fleet at the time. Unfortunately, Decatur was seriously outgunned in the battle and his only options were strike his colors or have his whole crew killed. Kind of a bummer, but no one was too mad at him about it. So, the War of 1812 ends. No one knows who won. If you have an opinion, leave it in the comments below, but only if your opinion is that America won.

Second Barbary War

The Algerians, Tunisians, and Tripolitans start acting a damn fool again after the War of 1812 ends (it ended in 1815 in case you’re some kind of god damn moron). So two squadrons are dispatched to kick their asses. Decatur is in command of one, William Bainbridge is in command of the other. Decatur’s squadron leaves first.


While Decatur is on his way over there, his ship meets up with the Algerian frigate Mashouda. Decatur and crew kick those dumb Algerians’ asses. He takes the ship and 400 prisoners. He goes to Algeria and basically forces them to give in to everything the US wants. Then he does the same thing in Tunis and Tripoli. He is a damn hero because he basically negotiated treaties to end the War without any kind of crazy ass fighting.

Bainbridge, who outranks Decatur, shows up in all these places with his squadron and realizes that Decatur has beaten him there and basically stolen all the glory that was supposed to be his. He is PISSED.



Five years later, Stephen Decatur gets killed in a duel. Maybe there’s a massive conspiracy involving Bainbridge and other high-ranking Navy types. Maybe there’s not. I’ll tell you next time.


Hey, here’s Part 3!

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