Monday, May 30, 2011
History: America's Oldest Monument to Those Who Serve
The Barbary Wars have of course been discussed many a time here at Triple P. The fight against North Africa’s notorious pirates was the young United States’ first major conflict as an independent nation. It also established the United States Navy as not just a little flotilla of six frigates, but a global military force. That tradition continues to this day.
In 1807 Captain David Porter, who himself had been a prisoner in Tripoli in 1803 during the First Barbary War, was given the task of procuring the materials for and erecting the monument. It would memorialize those who lost their lives in the war on piracy and specifically honor six fallen officers: Caldwell, Dorsey, Somers, Israel, Wadsworth and, curiously, Decatur. Stephen Decatur was in fact a flamboyant naval hero who was key to the U.S. success against Barbary. He did not lose his life fighting pirates, however, but in a duel against fellow officer James Barron.
Porter, not only a brilliant naval strategist but a born statesman who would die as the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, managed to recruit the Bishop of Florence to help procure marble and the services of sculptor Micali of Leghorn at very little cost. The monument went up the next year and, according to architect Benjamin Latrobe, was:
…the principle object of view to all those who enter the yard, either by land or water, and to an extensive portion of the City and of the port.
By 1831 the Navy Yard was in decline and Congress moved the monument to the west end of the city. Its new position was offensive to many in D.C. and to most all of the naval men who held it dear. Porter wrote of it to Daniel Tod Patterson:
And to cap the climax of absurdity, the Naval Monument had, as an evil omen I presume, been placed in a small circular pond of dirty fresh water – not large enough for a duck puddle – to represent the Mediterranean Sea!
Porter’s indignation was shared by many and in 1860 the monument was moved to Annapolis. Though it has been moved within the grounds of the academy since, it holds a place of honor in the hearts and minds of all who appreciate the hard work and sacrifice of America’s military. For more on the monument and her history, see today’s post at The Naval History Blog; and happy Memorial Day to all the American Brethren.
Header: Tripoli Monument at Annapolis via edsel12 on flickr