Weapons of The Barbary War?

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TNGhost

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Anyone know or have any source of references to what weapons were used in the First Barbary War?

I have searched and found plenty of general historical information on the war, but none weapons specific. It would be interesting to see what "General" William Eaton armed himself with, and how Lt. O'Bannon and his Marine detachment were equipped. Muskets or rifles? Revolutionary War surplus? Something more advanced? Did they use sidearms?

Also what kind of weapons their recruited "army" used and what kind of weapons they faced from their foes in Derna?

Sorry if this question is in the wrong sub forum, the war was from 1801 to 1805 so this seemed to be the closest fit.
 

Artificer

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Hi TNG,

In 1975, there were three of we Marines who got "volunteered" to assist a public relations event by The Marine Corps Museum and in the course of getting period uniforms issued to us, I asked similar questions of Mr. Ken Smith Christmas, who was then curator of Arms and Equipage, later on the Director of The Marine Corps Museum. The following comes from some of what he informed me and my own further investigation in more recent years.

U.S. Officers in that period were required to furnish their own "Arms," which meant their sword and one or sometimes two flintlock pistols. There were general approved patterns of swords for Officers and they varied a great deal how closely the swords followed the patterns, though the pistols were pretty much left up to their own discretion and would have been single shot flintlock pistols.

Unfortunately, period portraits of Major Eaton do not show his sword. When he was a Captain with Wayne's Legion, his sword probably would have resembled the following:

However, the assumption is that Major Eaton would have provided himself with a fancier sword for his diplomatic mission. So by that time, it would have been an Eagle Head pommel sword, more likely a flattened front side D shape guard like the sword above, though possibly more curved D shaped and the grip could have been exotic wood, bone, or possibly ivory, depending on the depth of his pocket book. Though a bit early and I think less likely, the grip may also have been wrapped in an exotic leather.

We are more fortunate to have a period drawing/engraving/painting of Lt. O'Bannon where we can see the grip of his sword. It has the Eagle head pommel, flattened front side D guard and fluted Ebony Grip.

Earlier information I received and the following link identifies Lt. O'Bannon's Enlisted Marines came from the U.S. Brig, the Argus, a ship big enough to have the seven or eight enlisted Marines (the numbers vary in different accounts) under O'Bannon's command, though that may have been most of, if not all the Marine Detachment from the Argus.

The following link identified the Argus received her Armament from Providence, Rhode Island, which could be important to which arms the Enlisted Marines were issued. This because it would have been more likely the Ship's Muskets came from Springfield Armory in MA. BTW, a Ship's Muskets were intended for use by both Sailors and Marines, when needed. As far as I've ever heard, the actual inventory of weapons and where they came from when the Argus received them, is lost to history.

Side Note: U.S. Marines were not issued rifles in any quantity, if at all, prior to the Mexican War when some were issued the Breech Loading Flintlock Hall Rifle. So we can rule out Lt. O'Bannon's Marines had rifles and they were indeed armed with muskets.

I'm going to end this as Part 1. because it has gone on so long and I don't want to lose what I have already typed.

Gus
 

Artificer

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Part 2

Though the early history of the Corps is known, much of the details has been lost to time.

The Continental Marine Corps had been authorized on 10 Nov 1775 by Congress, but was disbanded in 1783 at the close of the AWI when the Navy was disbanded. The Corps was not resurrected until 11 July 1798. At that time, in preparation for the Quasi-War with France, Congress created the United States Marine Corps. Marines had been enlisted by the War Department as early as August 1797, though.

The first permanent home of the Marine Corps, the Barracks at 8th and I Streets, Washington, DC was not established until 1801 and the Home of the Commandant, was not finished until 1806, about a year after the raid in Tripoli. However, part of the mission of the Barracks was to recruit and train Enlisted Marines.

“Gentlemen” who were to be commissioned as Marine Officers reported to the Commandant for their Commissions and were sent from there to their Duty Stations. When their tours aboard ships were completed, they reported back to the Barracks for future assignments. So we actually know much more about the Officers than we do about the Enlisted Ranks.

The idea was the Enlisted Marines would be chosen from the ranks at the Barracks and then either transported to where the ship was being commissioned or the ship would pick them up near Washington shortly after commissioning. However, it didn’t always happen that way. Sometimes only the Senior Marine NCO, a Corporal or Sergeant depending on the size of the ship, accompanied the Marine Officer and the rest of the Ship’s compliment of Enlisted Marines were recruited locally where the ship was being built, as it had been during the AWI.

Not only that, but when and where the Enlisted Marines were issued their Arms had everything to do with what Arms they were issued and here is where it really gets murky from known facts down to informed speculation. The first U.S. Marines were most likely issued Arms that came from Springfield Armory. Since that was in 1797-8, that meant French Model 1763/4 Arms left over from the AWI that Springfield had refurbished and/or assembled from the parts for that Model and new stocks.

Things may or probably had changed by July 1803 when the Argus received her Arms in Rhode Island. By this time Springfield had been producing complete muskets for at least a couple years and seems probable they supplied the ship’s muskets to the Argus. Harpers Ferry had also begun full scale production a year before this of similar Muskets. Since Harpers Ferry was so much closer to Washington, they MAY have already begun supplying their new muskets to the Marines and if the Marines brought their Arms with them, it is possible the muskets were from Harpers Ferry, though new production muskets from either Armory were still basically patterned after the French Model 1763/4.

OK as to Swords for Enlisted Marines. At this time, only Sergeants were normally issued swords but not yet every one of them. Marine tradition has it that one of the 7 or 8 Enlisted Marines under Lt. O’Bannon was a Sergeant. If that was correct and if he had been the Senior Marine on board the Argus, he may have been issued an NCO Sword. If he had, it would have looked similar to the type of sword shown in Part 1 owned by William Eaton when he was a Captain, though even a bit plainer than that. Even if the Sergeant had been issued such a sword, I’m not sure if he would have carried it on the raid, though. We just don’t know. I would bet he was armed with a musket and bayonet like the other Enlisted Marines and probably left his sword aboard the Argus.

OK as to Pistols for Enlisted Marines. Traditionally Enlisted Marines were not issued pistols at this time period, except it is possible when fighting hand to hand aboard ship. I don’t see the Enlisted Marines would have carried pistols on the raid, though.

Marines did learn how to throw hand grenades, but this was also in fighting in close action ship to ship. They did not normally carry hand grenades for landing parties and I can’t imagine they took hand grenades with them on the raid.

Gus
 

Artificer

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This is a partial list of where I got information on the two part posts above;

References from my own personal library, though not all of them I have that pertain to the subject:

The American Sword 1775-1945
Swords for Sea Service, Volumes I and II,
Small Arms of the Sea Services: A history of the firearms and edged weapons of the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard from the Revolution to the present
Military Uniforms in America, “Years of Growth, 1796-1851”
U.S Military Firearms by Major Hicks,
Springfield Shoulder Arms, 1795-1865
Springfield Armory Infantry Muskets 1795-1844
The guns of Harpers Ferry, by Stuart Brown
Relevant Articles over the years from various issues of “FORTITUDINE,” The Bulletin of the Marine Corps Historical Program


Plus two trips to the Harpers Ferry NPS site and three trips to the Springfield Armory NPS site, the most recent in September of last year
Also:
Numerous trips to The Marine Corps Museum and conversations with Mr. Ken Smith Christmas from 1974 to present

Gus
 

TNGhost

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Many thanks.

I found the history and account of Eaton and O'Bannon's trek across the desert and the wherewithal it took amazing. Tremendously difficult, but it seemed lady luck was on their side, up until the fate of a final bitter ending for their mission, yet not entirely so for the U.S.

Theirs was was a feat of tremendous logistics and a dramatic gutsy victory in the battle at Derma where they were well outnumbered. Truly a tale of Lawrence of Arabia proportions.
 

FlinterNick

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Volumes 1 and 2 American longarms by Moller really gives some nice details on early muskets of the US military, militia and Navy.
 

TNGhost

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Any info out there on the weapons used by the opposition?
 

FlinterNick

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Any info out there on the weapons used by the opposition?
The Barbary States were principalties of the Ottoman Empire so, I would speculate they were armed by the Ottomans and Ottoman contractors from France.
 

TNGhost

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The Barbary States were principalties of the Ottoman Empire so, I would speculate they were armed by the Ottomans and Ottoman contractors from France.
Indeed, and I am finding Rudyard's thread on Ottoman guns in the "preflintlock" section quite fascinating.

I know little to nothing about that pattern of firearm and am learning a lot just from that one thread.
 

cyten

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This video shows an actual Barbary rifle from the war. The "expert" is way off on his estimate on age and calls it smoothbored when it is clearly rifled etc, but it has provenance
 

TNGhost

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Super interesting video. Thanks for posting that. Fascinating rear sight on that rifle too.
 

rickystl

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Hi TNGhost

Thanks for the invitation to join your Thread ref Ottoman guns during this period. For weapons in general (guns, blades, armour, etc.) used/produced during the Ottoman Empire, two good reference books: Islamic Weapons, Maghrib to Moghul by Anthony Tirri. And Arms of Greece and Her Balkan Neighbors, by Robert Elgood.
For just firearms and their accouterments, another book by Elgood: Firearms of the Islamic World.

My collecting and study interest is primarily with the Ottoman guns. So I can't offer much information in the edge weapons of the period. But, there are others with the blade knowledge that can. I do have a fairly comprehensive library of photos I can post here of the Ottoman produced guns that could/would have seen use during the Barbary Coast Wars period. Let me know if you would like me to post some examples with brief descriptions.

Unlike their European counterparts, it would seem that the Ottomans (I use this term broadly for ease of discussion) kept very few WRITTEN records of their guns. While you will find a lock or barrel with a maker's mark, there doesn't appear to be any records of who they are or where they worked. Little, if any records of preferred gun design, loading data, ballistics, etc. Most of what we know today is from decades of study by collectors and educators/researchers studying actual remaining originals - and there are many to study. We do know that flintlock guns were in use throughout most of the Ottoman Empire from at least the late 18th Century all the way up through at least the third quarter of the 19th Century. Which probably accounts for the many remaining originals today. There are percussion lock guns, but very few compared to flintlocks. Likely due to the cost and availability of percussion caps in the region. And the basic gun design changed little over 100+ years. Combined, this makes it very difficult to date these guns. Also, since the beginning, the Ottomans had the tradition of decorating their guns. Even the ones relegated for military use. Unless made as a pair, I've never seen any two exactly alike. Although certain popular design patterns did emerge from the different countries. Many of the guns made at the many gun making centers were assembled/stocked using locks and barrels imported from various parts of Europe. This exporting of barrels and locks, and even complete guns (especially pistols) were a huge business for areas of Europe for over 100 years. With the local trade across cultures, it's likely a variety of guns from different Ottoman regions found their way during the Barbary Wars.

Gus: Thanks for the comprehensive history. Very interesting.

Rick
 

TNGhost

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Thanks Rick. Definitely hard to find information on these interesting firearms and the military forces that used them and how they were employed. I ordered the book on Greece and her Balkan neighbors, but the other two are kind of pricey where I have found them so far, perhaps later.

I stumbled upon the story of William Eaton and the First Barbary war not long ago and found it fascinating. Hence my interest.



 

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