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Second Battle of Tripoli Harbor

Second Battle of Tripoli Harbor
Part of First Barbary War

Burning of the frigate Philadelphia in the harbor of Tripoli, 16 February 1804, by Edward Moran, painted 1897, depicts a naval action of the First Barbary War
Date 14 July 1804
Location Tripoli, Ottoman Empire (present-day Libya)

American victory

  • Grounded USS Philadelphia, crew and captain captured
  • Successful American raid; Destruction of USS Philadelphia by American forces and liberation of its crew and captain
United States Eyalet of Tripolitania
Commanders and leaders
Edward Preble Unknown
11 frigates,
3 brigs,
3 schooners,
2 bomb vessels,
10 gunboats,
1 ketch
Unknown number of marines and sailors
1 brig,
2 schooners,
2 galleys,
19 gunboats,
115 shore batteries
Casualties and losses
1 frigate scuttled,
1 ketch sunk,
Total killed: 30
Total wounded: 24
Among the Dead
Capt. Richard Somers
Lt. James Decatur
Lt. James Caldwell
Lt. Henry Wadsworth
Lt. Joseph Israel
25 Sailors,
1 Marine
Capt. Stephen Decatur
Capt. Isaac Happs
Lt. John Trippe,
15 Sailors,
4 Marines[1]

The Second Battle of Tripoli Harbor, was a naval action during a naval blockade which took place in Tripoli Harbor in 1804. The battle is part of the First Barbary War between forces of the United States and the forces of Tripoli.


  • Background 1
  • Battle 2
  • Notable veterans 3
  • Notes 4
  • Sources 5


Commodore Edward Preble had assumed command of the U.S. Mediterranean Squadron in 1803. By October of that year Preble had begun a blockade of Tripoli harbor. The first significant action of the blockade came on 31 October when the USS Philadelphia ran aground on an uncharted coral reef and the Tripolitan Navy was able to capture the ship along with its crew and Captain William Bainbridge. The Philadelphia was turned against the Americans and anchored in the harbor as a gun battery.

On the night of 16 February 1804, a small contingent of U.S. Marines in a captured Tripolitan ketch rechristened USS Intrepid and led by Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, Jr. were able to deceive the guards on board the Philadelphia and float close enough to board the captured ship. Decatur's men stormed the vessel and decimated the Tripolitan sailors standing guard. To complete the daring raid, Decatur's party set fire to the Philadelphia, denying her use to the enemy. Decatur's bravery in action made him one of the first American military heroes since the Revolutionary War. The British Admiral Horatio Nelson, himself known as a man of action and bravery, is said to have called this "the most bold and daring act of the age.[2]" Even Pope Pius VII stated, "The United States, though in their infancy, have done more to humble the anti-Christian barbarians on the African coast than all the European states had done...[3]"


Preble attacked Tripoli outright on 14 July 1804 in a series of inconclusive battles, including a courageous but unsuccessful attack by the fire ship USS Intrepid under Master Commandant Richard Somers. Intrepid, packed with explosives, was to enter Tripoli harbor and destroy itself and the enemy fleet; it was destroyed, perhaps by enemy guns, before achieving that goal, killing Somers and his crew.

The actions against Tripoli harbor continued to prove indecisive until September when Commodore Samuel Barron assumed command of the Mediterranean Squadron and focused the fleet's attention on supporting William Eaton's attack on Derne, which ended in a victory.

Notable veterans

Several of the United States' early naval heroes served in the blockade including Stephen Decatur, William Bainbridge, Charles Stewart, Isaac Hull, David Porter, Reuben James and Edward Preble. Collectively referred to as Preble's Boys, many of these officers would play a significant role in the upcoming War of 1812.


  1. ^ Naval Documents Related to the United States Wars With the Barbary Powers, Vol. 4, Naval Operations Including Diplomatic Background from April to September 6, 1804. (Washington, DC: Office of Naval Records and Library, 1942): 292-310
  2. ^ Tucker, Spencer. Stephen Decatur: a life most bold and daring. Naval Institute Press; 2005. ISBN 978-1-55750-999-4. p. xi.
  3. ^ Anthony, Irvin. Decatur. Charles Scribner's Sons; 1931. p. 153


  • The Barbary Wars, 1801-1805
  • Tripolitan War
  • Burning of the Frigate Philadelphia, 16 February 1804
  • Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy by Ian W. Toll, 2005
  • If By Sea by George C. Daugham, 2008

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