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Lieut.-Decatur ordered to take command of the brig Argus—Fortunate and unfortunate ships—Ideas of seamen concerning them. —He sails in the Argus, and joins the third Mediterranean Squadron under Com. Preble—Com. Preble and the Emperor of Morocco–Decatur leaves the brig Argus, and takes command of the schooner Enterprise—Disastrous loss of the frigate Philadelphia—Lieut 1)ecatur captures a Tripolitan corsair, and calls her “Ketch Intrepid”—Rendezvous at Syracuse—Brief sketch of Jussuff, Bashaw of Tripoli—Sufferings of Capt. Bainbridge and crew—Lieut. Decatur volunteers to attempt the destruction of the frigate Philadelphia.
AFTER Lieut. Decatur returned to America in the second Mediterranean Squadron, he was ordered by the Navy Department to take command of the brig Argus. It might be deemed rather fanciful by a grave and fastidious reader, to remark, that it was a fortunate circumstance with Lieut. Decatur, at this period of his eventful life, that he had never yet held any command in a disgraced ship. Indeed there never has been but one disgraced ship in the American navy. But more of this hereaster. Although seamen may be ranked with the most gallant and brave of men, I believe the fact will not be denied, that no class of men are so much influenced by ideas of fate and destiny, more harshly called superstition. If a merchant vessel meets with an untoward accident, eyen at its launch, it is remembered by the sons of Neptune, and often decides their conduct in regard to her. If she has been partially wrecked at sea,
robbed by an enemy, lost many of her men by contagious sickness, or has often been driven on shore by gales, it is sometimes difficult to ship a crew for her. This sentiment is, if possible, more prevalent with the seamen in the naval than in the merchants” service. With a high sense of honour, and proud of the name of an American, they will hardly enlist inder an officer who has even been unfortunate— much less if he has been degraded. This almost unaccountable influence has an equal control over their minds in regard to the ship. Decatur had acted as Lieutenant on board the United States frigate in the short naval warfare with France, and in the Essex in the early stages of the warfare with Tripoli. Although these frigates had not then acquired the fame which is now attached to their names, they had been almost constantly in commission sit-ce they were first fitted for sea, and had rendered services which can hardly be estimated. The Argus, to which he was ordered as commander, bears a proud name with American seamen. The Argus was a fine vessel of her class, mounting eighteen guns. Although the command of a Seventy-four, or a frigate, gives to the commander a superior rank to him who commands a sloop of war, yet the duty and responsibility is no less important. The same system is to be pursued—the same discipline exercised, and the same obedience to be shown. It is believed, that at the time Decatur took the command of the Argus, the rank of JMaster-comman
dant, had not been established in the American navy; for he took command of her as Lieutenant. The fact, however, is immaterial, as the duties devolving upon him were the same. To one wholly unacquainted with the system of naval tactics, it would excite astonishment to observe the inimitable precision with which every operation is performed on board an armed ship. To describe it, would require a volume larger than some of our systems of military exercise. Lieut. Decatur had become master of his profession; and the Argus, being the first vessel of which he was first in command, he could introduce on board of her that discipline, which, by unremitted exertions for six years, he had become so perfectly acquainted with himself. Although he was ordered to surrender the command of the Argus to Lieut. Hull “ upon his arrival in the Mediterranean, and take the command of the schooner Enterprise, then commanded by that gallant and accomplished officer, yet he did not in the least, remit his accustomed vigilance in preparing his crew for the arduous duty which they would probably have to discharge under another commander. Stephen Decatur, however much he might wish to signalize himself by personal achievements, had no views unconnected with the glory of every officer, seaman and ship, in the American navy. He felt, and he acted, as if every one of the two first were his brothers, and every one of the last ought to swim or sink in defending the rights, and in advancing the glory of his country. Numerous interesting incidents, of no greatimportance, however, might be mentioned, which took place in the passage of the Argus across the Atlantic, and up the Mediterranean. But why swell the volume with the minor events of a man’s life, when it is so exceedingly fertile with those of a more exalted character ? When he arrived in that sea, which was shortly to resound with the fame of his gallant, and I may say romantic, and perhaps desperate, “deeds of noble daring,” he joined, as previously . ordered, the squadron of Com. PREBLE. In the very brief and imperfect notices which have been made of the rise, progress and achievements of the navy of the Republic, as connected with the life of Decatur, we now have reached the second period of the naval renown of our country, as the period of Truxton's command may emphatically be denominated the first. Yes, Truxton may be called the Father, as Preble may be denominated the Preceptor, of the brilliant constellation of gallant oceanwarriors, who now grace the Naval Register of our country. It would be a most grateful task for the writer of these imperfect sketches of the life and character of Stephen Decatur, if he were able to blend with them a suitable eulogy on the character of PREBLE, his favourite commander. But any language he could use, would lag far behind the feelings of those who
* Now Commodore Hull.
served under that truly great naval officer, and would—
“Fall in the ear profitless as water in a sieve.”
Preble was, like Decatur, bred a seaman. He early saw the gathering storm which hung, in lowering darkness, over the wide spread, and rapidly spreading commerce of America. He knew it must be protected, or withdrawn from the ocean, the highway of nations, which, like the highways on land, is infested with robbers. He did not sink down in despair, and lament that the merchants of the Republic should be suddenly driven from the seas, but early tendered his service to his country to aid in protecting it. His active services did not escape the notice of a government, ever wishful to bestow its honours upon those whose merit richly deserved them. The eyes of the nation were fixed upon Preble as the leader of that gallant band of heroes who were destined to avenge the injuries sustained by our countrymen from the wretched descendants of Ishmael, and the merciless followers of Mahomet. The choice of him, for that gigantic undertaking, evinced the penetrating sagacity of our government.
Fearful of involving the nation in an endless and increasing load of taxes by a ponderous navy, our rulers had thus far only extended protection to our Mediterranean trade. But the measures of mildness towards the infernal hordes upon the Barbary coast, only increased their barbarous ravages and implacable cruelty against christian merchants. More effi