The Barbary Wars (1801-1805 & 1815)

America's First Foreign Conflicts

Barbary Wars Battle Streamer
Barbary Wars U.S.Navy Battle Streamer


Barbary Wars  

The burning of the Frigate USS Philadelphia in Tripoli Harbor

The Barbary Wars were a series of (largely) naval conflicts between the young United States of America and several of the Muslim nations on the coast of North Africa in the early 1800's. To the 'Western' point of view, these North African countries on the "Barbary" coast engaged in piracy on the open seas against merchant shipping. The piracy against American shipping continued until the U.S. gained the military and naval strength to protect American-flagged ships. It is significant to note that this was the first conflict in which America fought a war in the "Old World" rather than in her "New World" neighborhood. To these nations in North Africa, attacking American and European ships was an extension of an ages-long holy war against non-Muslims. Regardless of the reasons, the young United States had to do something about this problem.  The solution was war.

The First Barbary War, also known as the Tripolitanian War, lasted from 1801 to 1805, and is considered by many to be America's first "foreign war." This conflict also featured America's first attempt at "regime change" as the Marines attempted to place an ally on the throne in Tripoli. U.S. Marines led a rag-tag group of foreign mercenaries from Egypt across the deserts to the "Shores of Tripoli" with the goal of putting a pretender on the throne of Tripoli. The naval conflict, in concert with this land invasion, led Tripoli to negotiate a peace with the U.S., thus ending this war.

The Second Barbary War, also known as the Algerine War, was a short conflict in 1815 against the Barbary State of Algiers. During America's war with Britain (The War of 1812), the U.S. could not do anything about the resumption of pirate attacks on U.S. ships, but after that war concluded, the U.S. Navy sailed to Algiers to put an end to the problem. They Bey of Algiers negotiated very soon after the U.S. Navy arrived.

With the advent of modern piracy off the coast of another African Muslim country, Somalia, comparisons are being made between the Barbary pirates of the 1700s and 1800s on the one hand, and the Somali pirates of the early 21st century. See also the page on the attack on the U.S. ship Maersk Alabama in April of 2009.


 Barbary Wars

"Decatur Boarding the Tripolitan Gunboat" painting by Dennis Malone Carter (1827-1881)


Swords of the Marine Corps: The Mameluke Sword--An explanation of where the traditional Marine Corps sword originated.

Wars of Libya

The Marine's Hymn--Looks at the origins of the Marine Hymn and the line "From the Shores of Tripoli."

Barbary Wars--From Global

First Barbary War--a Wikipedia article

Second Barbary War--a Wikipedia article

Victory in Tripoli: Lessons for the War on Terrorism--by Joshua E. London--Heritage Lecture #940, delivered on May 4, 2006



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