Thursday, April 22, 2010

Presley Neville O'Bannon
Lieutenant, U.S. Marine Corps

Sep. 12, 1850

He's most remembered for being the first man to plant the American Flag on a foreign soil, which was done on April 27, 1805 during the Barbary Wars.

Born in Fauquier County, Virginia, he was named for his cousin, who had been an American officer in the Revolutionary War, served as the aide-de-camp to General Marquis de Lafayette and married to the daughter of General Daniel Morgan.

In 1805, Tripoli (now Libya) and the Barbary Coast "pirates" had raided shipping in the Mediterranean Seas for years, exacting tribute in return for not attacking ships of a given nation, or seizing ships and sailors and selling them into slavery.

Before American Independence, American ships had enjoyed the protection of the British Navy, but after independence, America was forced to pay tribute to avoid pirates (it was determined that it was less costly to pay the tribute then to respond with military action).

In 1801, the Pasha of Tripoli, Yusat Karamanli, demanded additional tribute, and when refused, he declared war against the United States.

The United States proposed to depose of Yusat, replacing him with his brother, Hamet.

Lieutenant Presley O'Bannon, Marine officer assigned to the "USS Argus", took seven marines and marched with Hamet and 500 of his men from Alexandria, Egypt to Derna, Tripoli, a distance of over 600 miles, arriving on April 25, 1805.

When O'Bannon demanded Yusat to surrender, Yusat replied "My head or yours." O'Bannon led a daring frontal assault on the harbor fort, raising the American Flag over the fort after two hours of hard fighting.

This was the first time the Stars and Stripes had been raised on foreign soil.

The fall of the fort disenchanted Yusat's soldiers and they fled Derna, only to return in a fierce counter-attack, which O'Bannon and his men successfully fought off.

He continued to serve in the Marine Corps, being promoted to Captain, until March 6, 1807, when he resigned and moved to Kentucky, where he later served in the Kentucky State Legislature.

Today, he is remembered by the words "to the shores of Tripoli" being a part of the Marine Corps Official Song, and his Mameluke sword, presented to him by Hamet, has become a standard for Marine Officers since 1825.

In addition, the United States Navy has named in its history three destroyers after him (DD-177, DD-450, and DD-987).