19 March 2006

US Navy vs the Pirates part 2

Yesterday I presented a short history lesson on the first conflict of the US that didn't involve Britain and relating how the US Navy and Marine Corps has been fighting Piracy since the birth of the nation. All going back to how a number of people seemed surprise that some Somalia pirates have engaged some modern US Warships.
Well actually it wasn't the first time yesterday and it wasn't the first time that the US battled pirates back in 1801. I had a friend of mine point that over a cup of coffee this morning as we were talking during a get together. Actually the first attempt of the USN/USMC team to battle piracy actually came during a war with of all nations France. Now before you turn this off and think that I am going to go on a Franco-bashing turn I am not. I actually have some respect for the French. They have in the past be a very competent military force and one that is very professional when every I have served along side with them. That being said, now is time yet step back into the "Wayback Machine" with Peabody and his pet boy Sherman and appear in France in 1798.

Hopefully, you know all about the French Revolution. The whole Louis the 16th, "Let them eat cake", storming of the Bastille's, etc. So here we have the king is disposed in 1789 and the US started to not pay the debts that the new nation owed to the French nation. So the French National Assembly started to authorize her Navy and selected privateers (or Corsairs) to start raiding American Merchant Men. On top of that the US signed a minor treaty with England that allowed Royal Navy and US Navy ships to visit either nations ports for provisions and allowed the policy of "Hot Pursuit" into their waters while chasing said French privateers.
So we have all this coming up, then on the 7th of July of 1798. The American Congress pushed a bill through to John Adams that basically rescinded all the treaties that the two nations had together. Remember that it was the French Arms, French Navy, along with training offered by French Ad visors (such as Comte de Rochambeau and Marquis de La Fayette) that allowed the new nation of United States of America to really stand up and defeat the Royal Army and Royal Navy.
So the French were rightly pissed off, so what did they do? Well they started to have their Navy and corsairs capture American merchant ships and seize not only crews but also goods. Well the New England Yankee's who owned those ships saw their lively hood being destroyed. So they petitioned their representatives and Congress informed the first Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert to have the new Navy which wasn't very big to start challenging these pirates and the French Navy on the high seas. It was during this time that the first bills for the fast frigates that I mentioned in my previous post were thought of and the attempts by Stoddert to have Congress pay for them was announced. Stoddert intially wanted a decent size fleet, but all Congress was willing to pay for was six.
The first frigate commissioned was the USS Constellation and she along with about 8 smaller ships (a mixed bag of converted merchant hulls and seized ships from the Revolutionary War) were the first of the US Navy units along with her complement of US Marines in the sail tops went out to challenge and either sink or seize for themselves the privateers. The war only lasted about 2 yrs and at the end did the rest of the first true US Man-O-war started to appear. A quick link to Wikipedia's list of USN hulls involved.
The war was primarily concentrated in Caribbean along the trade routes between American ports in places such as Charleston, Norfolk, Savannah. These trade routes would stretch out to the English and Spanish colonies or ports in Bermuda, Cuba, Virgin Islands, Jamaica. There were raids on French ports in places such as Haiti, Martinique, and other French ports. However it also stretch to pitched battles along the American coast near the Virginia and N. Carolina capes and as far around the globe as US Naval Units chased French Merchants in the Indian Ocean near the Gulf of Sudan.
The war was ended by Napoleon Bonaparte with the convention of 1800. Since by that time Napoleon was on a war march through Europe and didn't want to see either the US drawn into the English side nor did they want to see the US as the French allies since that would allow the English to divert troops and easily crush the small nation. So the French and the US broke all treaties with each other and treated each other as people that didn't know each other. That way the French could get a decent price on raw US goods (such as textiles out of the south and US grain from the Mid-Atlantic region) and the French could use her full military force to bring Napoleon's idea of a United Europe to the world. Another benefit was that with the war ended and the costs of of buying those goods and the war for France. Napoleon sold to Jefferson's administration the Lousiana Terroritory for almost a steal.

A couple other links around the wild web that mention the Quasi-War between the US and France

Naval Historical Center's write up

The History Guy's write up with some other links

A Yale Law school project that covered the various letters between Congress and President Adams

The Mariner's Museum in Newport News, VA web page about the war

A decent book about.
Stoddert's War: Naval Operations During the Quasi-War With France, 1798-1801


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