This Day In History: September 4th, 2013: The Failure of the Fireship, Intrepid

The first post of (hopefully) many in this long-imagined, recently created series!

The First Barbary War was fought between the United States and the Barbary States, located in modern Tripoli.  When Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated, Yusuf Karamanli, the Pasha (governor or general) of Tripoli, demanded what was essentially a mafia-style shakedown, demanding money for “protection.”  War was declared shortly after.

The United States was mostly unopposed on the high seas, with mighty frigates fighting one-sided battle against the Tripolitan sailors.  Tripoli Harbor, the base of operations for the Barbary ships, was still active and Commodore Edward Preble began attacks on the harbor in the July of 1804.  The battle proved inconclusive, so a much more dastardly plan was hatched.

The USS Intrepid was a ship captured by the U.S. Navy earlier in the war.  Lieutenant Richard Somers, along with a crew of volunteers, manned the “floating volcano,” also known as a fireship.  Loaded with a hundred gunpowder barrels and one hundred and fifty shells, the plan was to sail the ship into the harbor, light fuses, and watch (from a safe distance) as the Tripolitan ships are destroyed.

Unfortunately, Lt. Somers never reached his destination.  The Intrepid came under fire shortly after entering the harbor.  The ship detonated prematurely, killing all aboard.  Whether the ship was destroyed by cannon fire or Lt. Somers is still unknown.

On the Tripoli Monument, the first military monument created by the United States, Lt. Somers is honored as a hero during the First Barbary War.

I hope you enjoyed the first installment of This Day In History.  I aim to bring to light the lesser known people and events from the past in a quick and (relatively) painless manner.  Stay tuned for more!

~Nick

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