May 15, 1718 Rapid Fire

The lightly armed merchant vessel of the 18th century was ill equipped to oppose the swarming attack of a hundred or more pirates.  Enter history’s first, machine gun.

A story comes to us from the Revolution, of a battle near Boonesborough, Kentucky. A British officer dared to poke his head out from behind a tree. A split-second later he was dead, a lead ball in his head. It was a near-miraculous shot for the day, nearly 250-yards distant from the shooter. The man with the rifle was Daniel Boone.  The weapon was his famous Kentucky long rife.

It was a good thing that the man could shoot that weapon, because it took about a minute to load, aim and fire.  The smooth-bore weapons of the age were a little quicker. A skilled shooter could could get off 3 rounds per minute, but aimed fire was all but impossible at any kind of distance.

Kentucky Rifle Vignette_6-10-13
Kentucky Long Rifle

Military tactics on land evolved toward massed firepower.  When large groups of men fired at one another, something was going to get hit.  Defending yourself at sea, was another matter.

Long before the revolt in Great Britain’s American colony, European navies abandoned oar-powered vessels in favor of sailing ships carrying tons of powerful cannon.  Not so the corsairs of the North African coast.

d6170-4
Ottoman privateer Murat Reis, the Elder

 

The “Barbary pirates” of the Ottoman provinces of Algeria, Tunisia & Tripolitania and the independent sultanate of Morocco favored small, fast galleys, powered by combinations of sail and oar and carrying a hundred or more fighting men armed with flintlock, axe and cutlass.

Barbary navies never formed battle fleets, and would flee at the sight of European frigates.  These people were looking for lightly armed merchantmen.  They came to take hostages for the Arab slave markets.

The Arab slave trade was never racialized in the way of trans-Atlantic, chattel slavery.  Black Africans and white Europeans alike, were fair game.  Some historians assert that as many as 17 million entered the Arab slave markets, from Western Asia, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, Southeast Africa and Europe.

It was the enslaved mercenary armies of the Ayyubid dynasty of Egypt and Syria, the Mamālīk (singular Mamlūk), who expelled the last Christian armies from the Levant in 1302, ending the era of the Crusades. For five-hundred years, elite slave armies called “Janissaries” formed the bulwark of Ottoman power from southeastern Europe to western Asia and north Africa.

Ohio State University history Professor Robert Davis estimates that Barbary corsairs captured as many as 1 – 1¼ million Europeans between the 16th and 19th centuries alone, kidnapped from seaside villages along the Mediterranean coast, England, and as far away as the Netherlands, Ireland and Iceland. Some 700 Americans were held in conditions of slavery in North Africa, between the period of the American Revolution and the War of 1812.

The lightly armed merchant vessel of the 18th century was ill equipped to oppose the swarming attack of a hundred or more pirates.  Enter history’s first machine gun.

PuckleGun
The “Puckle Gun”, patented this day in 1718

James Puckle (1667–1724) was a British inventor, barrister and author. The Puckle Gun, also called the “defence gun”, was a tripod-mounted, single-barreled flintlock fitted with a revolving cylinder.  At a time when a trained shooter could load and fire no more than three times per minute, James Puckle’s weapon was capable of  nine.

The Puckle gun was intended for naval use, to prevent the boarding of ships at sea.  There were two variations, the first intended for use against Christian adversaries.  This one fired round balls. The second version was considered to be the more lethal of the two and fired square bullets, intended for use against Muslim Turks. According to the patent, square bullets would persuade the Turks of the “benefits of Christian civilization”. The weapon could also fire shot, with each discharge containing up to sixteen musket balls.

Among investors, there was little interest in the Puckle Gun, and the weapon never gained wide acceptance. Before the era of mass production,  gunsmiths had trouble reliably producing its small, complicated parts. One newspaper quipped that the gun “only wounded those who hold shares therein”.

In time, humankind would become much more adept at killing itself. Dr. Richard Gatling invented his multi-barrel, crank fired “Gatling Gun” in 1861, writing that his creation would reduce the size of armies and so reduce the number of deaths by combat and disease. With a rate of fire of up to 900 rounds per minute in the .30 caliber model, Gatling’s gun was popular from the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 to the Anglo-Zulu war of two years later, and the “Rough Riders” assault up San Juan Hill.

American-British inventor Hiram Maxim invented the first true “machine gun” in 1884, by harnessing  the weapon’s recoil.  The Hiram gun was a favorite of colonial wars from 1886–1914, and variants entered the trenches of WW1.

It would take about a hot minute with the search engine of your choice, to realize that the practice of Muslim slavery, primarily (though not exclusively) at the expense of black Africans, continues to this day.

Advertisements

February 16, 1804  The Most Daring Act of the Age

Even a former adversary couldn’t help but admire the feat.  Days later, British Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson called Decatur’s raid the “most bold and daring act of the age.”

Historic accounts differ as to the early success of the Islamic conquests.  Contemporary Christian sources saw them as God’s punishment for the sins of fellow Christians.  Early Muslim sources describe the rising empire as evidence of divine favor, reflections of the religious zeal of the conquerors.

Be that is it may, Islamic expansion enveloped the Arabian Peninsula in the last ten years of the life of Muhammad (622-632), at the expense of the Roman Byzantines and the Sassanid Empire of the Persians.  Syria fell in 634, followed by Egypt, Mesopotamia and Persia.  By 750, the Umayyad Caliphs had subjugated much of the Balkan states, part of the Indian sub-continent, all of North Africa, most of Spain, and parts of Southern France and Sicily.  By the age of Columbus, the Mediterranean was a place where you traveled at your own risk.

Those of us of European ancestry owe our heritage, if not our existence, to the Christian warriors who defeated the Jihadist time after time. There was Pelagius, who stopped a military force of the Umayyad Caliphate at Covadonga in 722, without which there would be no Reconquista, no Ferdinand and Isabella, and we wouldn’t know the name of Christopher Columbus.

The father of Charlemagne, Charles “The Hammer” Martel, blocked the Muslim advance into Western Europe at the Battle of Tours, in 732.

charles-martel-c688-741-granger

If Marcantonio Bragadin is remembered at all, it is for being betrayed, tortured and skinned alive by Lala Mustafa Pasha. Yet, it is Bragadin’s stubborn defense of the eastern Mediterranean outpost of Famagusta in 1571, which gave European principalities time to assemble naval forces in numbers sufficient to defend the European coast, near a place called Lepanto.

The 1683 Siege of Vienna, at the crossroads of eastern and western Europe, was a hard fought contest which could have gone either way, until the arrival of a Polish army under King Jan Sobieski. The Ottomans were defeated and turned back from the conquest of Eastern Europe by the largest cavalry charge in all of history, 18,000 horsemen of the Polish King and the Holy Roman Emperor, thundering down the hill and into the lines of Mustafa Pasha.

reversing

Throughout the period, “Saracens” plundered everything that could be carried away: animals, provisions, fabrics, precious metals and money:  especially men, women and children who could be sold for a good price at the slave markets.  Redemption of captives being among the corporal works of mercy, the “Mathurins” Order of the Holy Trinity was founded in 1198 for the purpose of paying the ransom of Christians held captive by non-Christians, as a consequence of crusading and pirating along the southern European coastline.

Even Ireland, with its northern latitude, wasn’t immune to such raids. The renegade Dutchman-turned Barbary pirate Murat Reis attacked the village of Baltimore in County Cork, in 1631. With him were pirates from Algiers and armed troops of the Ottoman Empire, who captured all the villagers they could find, taking 107 away to the slave markets of North Africa.  Years later, three women were ransomed and returned to Ireland.  The rest lived out their lives as slaves, or locked away in harems or inside the walls of the sultan’s palace.

From-Baltimore-to-Barbary-the-1631-sack-of-Baltimore-2
“Engraving of a Moorish slave auction from Pierre Dan’s Historie van Barbaryan en des zelfs Zee-Roovers (Amsterdam, 1684). There they were paraded, chained and nearly naked, while prospective buyers inspected the merchandise”. H/T Historyireland.com

Sidi Muhammad ibn Abdallah, Sultan of Morocco, opened his ports to trade with the fledgling United States in 1777, making Morocco the first country whose head of state publicly recognized the United States.  Abdallah saw the future for his country in foreign trade, and actively sought a treaty relationship with the US, well before war ended with Great Britain.  The treaty signed by Thomas Barclay and Sultan Muhammad III in 1786 and ratified by the Confederation Congress the following July is still in effect today, the longest continuous treaty relationship in United States history.

Diplomacy had succeeded with Morocco, but not with Algiers, Tunis or Tripoli, each of which demanded $660,000 in tribute.

Algeria captured the schooners Maria and Dauphin in 1785, the captured crews held in conditions of slavery for over a decade. The sum negotiated for their release exceeded $1 million, more than 1/6th the entire budget of the United States.  Eleven American ships were captured in 1793 alone, their crews and stores held for ransom.

Yusuf Karamanli, Pasha of Tripoli, demanded $225,000 in tribute on President Jefferson’s inauguration, in 1801.  At this time, Federal revenues were barely over $10 million.  Jefferson refused, resulting in the first Barbary War, a conflict memorialized in a line from the Marine Corps Hymn “From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli”.

USS-Enterprise-barbary-war
USS Enterprise, Barbary war

Limited to small confrontations for the first two years, more sustained combat began in June 1803 when a small American force attacked Tripoli Harbor in modern Libya.

While giving chase and firing on a pirate vessel, USS Philadelphia ran aground on an uncharted reef, two miles outside of Tripoli.  Fearing the 1,240 ton, 36-gun frigate would be captured and added to the Tripolitan navy, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur led a daring expedition into Tripoli harbor to destroy the captured vessel.

hqdefaultOn the evening of February 16, 1804, Decatur entered Tripoli Harbor with a force of 74 Marines.  With them were five Sicilian volunteers, including pilot Salvador Catalano, who spoke fluent Arabic.  Disguised as Maltese sailors and careful not to draw fire from shore batteries, Decatur’s force boarded the frigate, killing or capturing all but two of its Tripolitan crew.  Decatur and his marines had hoped to sail Philadelphia out of harbor, but soon found she was in no condition to leave.  Setting combustibles about the deck, they set the frigate ablaze.  Ropes burned off, setting the Philadelphia adrift in the harbor.  Loaded cannon cooked off as the blaze spread, firing random balls into the town. It must have been a sight, when gunpowder stores ignited and the entire ship exploded.

By that time Decatur and his men had slipped away, without the loss of a single man.  Even a former adversary couldn’t help but admire the feat.  Days later, British Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson called Decatur’s raid the “most bold and daring act of the age.”

October 21, 1797 Old Ironsides

Freshly restored and re-fitted, Old Ironsides took her first sail in three years only yesterday.  220 years since her own launch, and to honor the 242nd birthday, of the United States Navy.

When the United States won its independence from Britain in 1783, the young nation soon learned that freedom was not without disadvantages. One being that America had lost its protector at sea.

British and French vessels harassed American merchant shipping, often kidnapping American sailors and forcing them to serve in their own navies.

barbary-warBarbary pirates were a problem for Mediterranean shipping, and throughout parts of the Atlantic. Predominantly North African Muslims with the occasional outcast European, the Barbary pirates operated with the blessing of the Ottoman Empire, the Barbary Coast states of Algiers, Tunis & Tripoli, and the independent Sultanate of Morocco. The Barbary Corsairs had long since stripped the shorelines of Spain and Italy in search of loot and Christian slaves.

Many villages wouldn’t be re-inhabited until the 19th century.  Between the 16th and the 18th centuries, thousands of ships were captured and held for ransom.  Somewhere between 800,000 and 1.25 million Europeans disappeared into the Arab slave markets of North Africa and the Middle East.

Barbary pirates began to harass American shipping as early as 1785.  They captured 11 American vessels in 1793 alone, holding the ships and crew for ransom.

Congress passed the Naval Act of 1794, appropriating funds to build a fleet of 6 three-masted, heavy frigates for the United States Navy. The act included a clause halting construction, in the event of a peace treaty with Algiers.   No such treaty was ever concluded.

Launched this day in 1797 and named by George Washington himself, USS Constitution was one of these six. Her hull was made of the wood from 2,000 Georgia live oak trees, and built in the Edmund Hartt shipyard of Boston, Massachusetts.

USS_Constitution_underwayConstitution’s first duties involved the “quasi-war” with France, but this was not the France which helped us win our independence. France had been swallowed up in a revolution of its own by this time.  Leftists calling themselves “Jacobins” had long since sent their Bourbon King and his Queen Consort to the guillotine. Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette and Hero of the American Revolution, languished in an Austrian prison.

The French Monarchy would one day be restored, but not before a Corsican Corporal rose to the rank of Emperor to meet his Waterloo, fighting (and winning) more battles than Julius Caesar, Frederick the Great, Alexander the Great, and Hannibal, combined.  But I digress.

The Barbary pirates were paid “tribute” during this time to keep them quiet, but that ended in 1800.  Yusuf Karamanli, Pasha of Tripoli, demanded $225,000 from the incoming Jefferson administration. Jefferson refused, and Constitution joined in the Barbary Wars in 1803, a conflict memorialized in a line from the Marine Corps Hymn “From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli.”

USS_Constitution_underway, turningTwo months after the War of 1812 broke out in June, Constitution faced off with the 38 gun HMS Guerriere, about 400 miles off the coast of Halifax. Watching Guerriere’s shots bounce off Constitution’s 21” thick oak hull, an American sailor exclaimed “Huzzah! her sides are made of iron!” Guerriere was reduced to an unsalvageable hulk in twenty minutes, and the nickname “Old Ironsides” was born.

The month before, Constitution had put to sea intending to join a five ship squadron off the coast of New Jersey. Spotting five sails and thinking that they had found their squadron on July 17, Constitution was disabused of that notion when lookouts reported the next morning that they were 5 British warships, and they were giving chase.

That soon to be famous “iron” hull would have been useless in a five to one fight. A common naval tactic of the day was to close to short range and fire at the masts and rigging of opposing vessels, disabling the ship’s “power plant”. A disabled vessel could then be boarded and a bloody fight would ensue with cutlass and pistol. Those 5 British captains would have considered Constitution to be a great prize; the ship faced a race for survival and the stakes were life and death.

Conditions were near dead calm and all six vessels were wetting sail, trying to get the most out of light winds. In a process called “kedging“, Constitution’s boats were rowed out ahead of the ship, dropping small “kedge anchors”. Sailors would then haul the great ship up the anchor chain, hand over hand, repeating the process over and over. The British ships soon imitated the tactic.  What followed was a slow motion race lasting 57 hours in the July heat.

h52488

Constitution’s crew dumped everything they could find overboard to lessen the weight, including 2,300 gallons of drinking water. Cannon fire was exchanged several times, though the shots fell short of their mark. Constitution pulled far enough ahead of the British ships that they abandoned the pursuit on July 19.

Old Ironsides, Drydock
Old Ironsides, in Drydock

USS Constitution is still in service today, the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel still afloat. She went into dry dock for major overhaul in October 2014 and re-floated on July 23 this year.  Freshly restored and re-fitted, Old Ironsides took her first sail in three years only yesterday.  220 years since her own launch, and honoring the 242nd birthday, of the United States Navy.