Posted by: Dominic | July 1, 2013

The Battle of Derna, 1805: Primary Sources (Part Deux)

Here is the second primary source on the 1805 Battle of Derna during the First Barbary War. It was written by William Eaton, commander of the American-led mercenary force against Yousef Karamanli, the Pasha of Ottoman Tripoli, modern Libya. I have taken an excerpt out of the letter, for there is much reporting on other matters that gets in the way of the narrative. The letter was addressed to Captain Samuel Barron, the overall naval commander of the Mediterranean squadron at the time. Eaton’s official title was U.S. Navy Agent for the Barbary Regencies.

William Eaton

William Eaton

The Bashaw to which Eaton refers is Hamet Karamanli, the brother of Yousef, whom Eaton was trying to install as the Pasha of Tripolitania in order to secure a pro-American regime. The Bey is Mustafa, the governor of the city.

To Captain Samuel Barron, U.S. Navy, from William Eaton, U.S. Navy Agent for the Barbary Regencies

DERNE April 29th 1805

[On 25th April 1805] We took post on an emminence in the rear of Derne. Several chiefs came out to meet the Bashaw with assurances of fealty and attachment; By them I learn’d, that the City was divided into three departments, two of which were in the interest of the Bashaw and one in opposition — This department ‘tho fewest in numbers, was strongest in position & resources, being defended by a Battery of eight guns — the blind walls of the houses, which are provided in all directions with loop holes for Musketry, and by temporary parapets thrown up in several positions, not covered by the Battery, this department is nearest the Sea and the residence of the Bey.

On the morning of the 26th terms of Amity were offered the Bey on condition of allegiance and fidelity, The flag of Truce was sent back to me with this laconic answer “my head or yours!” At 2 P M discover’d the Nautilus & spoke her at six, in the morning of the 27th the Argus & Hornet, to approach the shore, which is a steep & rugged declivity of rocks With much difficulty we landed and drew up the precipice one of the field pieces, both were sent in the boat for the purpose, but the apprehension of loosing this favorable moment of attack, induced me to leave one on board. We advanced to our position, Lieut. Evans stood in and anchoring within one hundred yards of the battery, opened a well directed fire Lieut. Dent dropped in and anchor’d in a position to bring his guns to bear upon the Battery & City, Cap. Commandant Hull brought the Argus to anchor a little South of the Nautilus so near as to throw her 24 Pd. Shot quite into the Town — A detachment of six American Marines, a company of 24 Cannoniers and another of 26 Greeks including their proper Officers, all under the immediate Command of Lieut. OBannon, together with a few Arabs on foot, had a position on an emminence opposite to a considerable party of the enemy, who had taken post behind their temporary parapets and in a ravine at the S E quarter of the town — The Bashaw seized an old Castle which overlook’d the town on the S. S. W. disposing his Cavalry on the plains in the rear. A little before 2 P M the fire became General in all quarters where Tripolitans and Americans were opposed to each other. In three quarters of an hour the Battery was silenced but not abandoned, ‘tho most of the enemy withdrew precipitately from that quarter, and join’d the party opposed to the handful of Christians with me, which appeared our most vulnerable point. Unfortunately the fire of our field piece was relaxed, by the rammer being shot away.

The fire of the enemy’s Musketry became to[o] warm, and continually augmenting. Our troops were thrown into confusion, and undiciplined as they were, it was impossible to reduce them to order. I perceived a charge — our dernier and only resort. We rushed forward against a host of Savages, more than ten to our one. They fled from their Coverts, irregularly, firing in retreat from every Palm tree, and partition wall in their way. At this moment I rec’d. a Ball through my left wrist, which deprived me of the use of the hand and of course of my Rifle. — Mr OBannon, accompanied by Mr Mann of Annapolis urged forward with his Marines, Greeks, and such of the cannoniers as were not necessary to the management of the field Piece, pass’d through a shower of Musketry from the Walls of houses, took possession of the Battery, planted the American Flag upon ‘its ramparts, and turn’d ‘its guns upon the Enemy, who being now driven from their Out Posts fired only from their houses, from which they were soon dislodged by the whole fire of the Vessels, which was suspended during the charge being directed into them, the Bashaw soon got possession of the Bey’s Pallace; his Cavalry flank’d the flying enemy, and a little after four OClock, we had compleat [sic] possession of the Town. The Action lasted about two hours & a half. They Bey took refuge, first in a Mosque & then in a Hiram the most sacred of Sanctuaries, among the Turks, and is still there. But we shall find means to draw him thence — As he is the third man in Rank inthe Kingdom, he may perhaps be used in exchange for Captain Bainbridge. —

I have fixed my post in the Battery, raised parapets and mounted Guns towards the Country, to be prepar’d against all events, ‘tho I have no serious apprehensions of a Counter revolution. …



Source: Naval Documents Related to the United States Wars with the Barbary Powers, Volume V (1944): pp. 553-555.

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