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War with the Barbary Pirates (Tripolitan War)

1801 - 1805 and 1815
  • Between the War for Independence and Operation Iraqi Freedom, the armed forces of the United States have participated in twenty-one principal wars and in numerous smaller conflicts and operations. In each of these American men and women have paid a high price for the nation's freedom, selflessly sacrificing life or limb for an honorable cause.

    Principal sources of information for the figures, explanatory text and illustrations appearing below include the National Archives and Records Administration; U.S. Navy Historical Center; Department of Defense; Department of Veterans Affairs; and The Oxford Companion to American Military History, from which all quotations are taken.

    War with the Barbary Pirates (Tripolitan War)

    During the 1780s and '90s, European states paid the rulers of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli (the North African region known collectively as the Barbary Coast) to capture their competitors' ships. This raiding was "an organized government activity, not piracy; the United States and other powers negotiated with the North African states to protect their commerce." The U.S. was slow to send the tribute it had promised in 1795 for the purpose of freeing more that one hundred American sailors captured two years before, causing the Pasha of Tripoli to demand payment in terms just short of a declaration of war in 1801. President Thomas Jefferson sent the much-diminished U.S. Fleet to the Mediterranean, where in cooperation with ships from Sweden, Sicily, Malta, Portugal and Morocco, they forced the Pasha to back down. From then on, a small naval squadron patrolled the North African coast, until the U.S.S. Philadelphia ran aground in 1803, and the Triplolitans seized the ship and her 300-man crew. Lieutenant Stephen Decatur earned his captain's bars as well as recognition as a true American hero in 1804 when he entered the harbor at Tripoli, burned the Philadelphia, and bombarded the city. The American consul in Tunis, William Eaton organized a force composed of Arabs, Greeks and U.S. Marines to attack the Tripolitan city of Derne, which they captured just as the U.S. finalized a peace agreement with the Pasha. Decatur returned to the scene once again in 1815 to negotiate a settlement with Algiers, which had declared war on the U.S. in 1807, although no battles were fought due to the fact that the embargo and War of 1812 kept Americans out of the Mediterranean throughout those years.

    American Casualties, Tripolitan Wars

    Branch of ServiceKilled in ActionWounded in Action
    Navy    31    54
    Marines      4    10