How a small group of Marines overthrew a pirate regime

Jessica Evans
Apr 3, 2023 12:16 PM PDT
3 minute read
battle of derna

William Eaton leading the attack on Derna.


The Battle of Derna lasted from April 1805 until May 1805. It isn’t a battle many people talk about often….

The Battle of Derna lasted from April 1805 until May 1805. It isn’t a battle many people talk about often. However, it was a deciding factor in the history of the Marine Corps and the First Barbary War. In fact, Marines sing about it every in the first verse of their hymn. “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli, we fight our country’s battles in the air, on land, and sea.”

Derna: A Landmark Battle in Marine Corps History

Marines are proud to have a long and storied history, dating back to 1775. There have been many pivotal moments that have shaped Marine Corps history. One such moment occurred on April 27, 1805, at the Battle of Derna.

Derna was a city located in present-day Libya. At the time it was controlled by the Barbary pirates. These pirates had been attacking American merchant ships and enslaving the crews for years, despite paying tribute to the US government. Negotiations broke down. So, a small detachment of Marines was dispatched to help overthrow the pirate regime.

What followed was one of the most significant battles in Marine Corps history. This victory helped to solidify America's presence in the Mediterranean. It also served as a rallying cry for Marines everywhere - "to the shores of Tripoli!"

The Battle Itself

The Battle of Derna began with a direct assault on the city. The well-armed pirates had a fortified position, but the Marines were undaunted. After hours of fighting, they finally managed to breach the walls and make their way into the city.

Once inside, they quickly secured key positions and drove the pirates out into the open. The fighting was fierce, but eventually, Marines defeated the pirates and drove them from the city. This victory marked a turning point in America's fight against piracy in North Africa. It also dealt a serious blow to the Barbary pirate operations.

Aftermath of the Battle

In addition to being an important military victory, the Battle of Derna also had far-reaching political implications. America's success in this battle sent a message to European powers that we would no longer tolerate their attacks on our shipping interests. This victory established America as a force to be reckoned with in international affairs.

The Battle of Derna was a defining moment in Marine Corps history. Not only did it result in a significant military victory, but it also had far-reaching political implications. This battle helped to establish America as a major player on the international stage. It also cemented our reputation as a force to be reckoned with. Today, Marines still remember and honor those who fought at Derna by chanting "the shores of Tripoli!" whenever they pass through Islamic countries during deployments.

First Lieutenant Presley Neville O'Bannon

History of First Barbary War

Although it is not well-known today, the First Barbary War and the battle of Derna were both important conflicts in America's early history. In 1801, the United States found itself at war with the Barbary states of North Africa. Why? Because the Barbary states were pirates, and they had been attacking American ships for years, plundering their cargo and kidnapping their crews for ransom. The First Barbary War was fought largely to stop these attacks and to free the American captives.

Attacks on American Ships

The first recorded Barbary pirate attack on an American ship took place in 1785. That's when the brigantine Betty was seized off the coast of Malta. Over the next 15 years, similar attacks became increasingly common, as Barbary pirates targeted American ships in the Mediterranean Sea. These pirates were relatively easy to avoid—that is, until 1800, when Algeria declared war on the United States. All of these hostilities eventually led to the Battle of Derna.

FAQs about the Battle of Derna

How old is the Marine Corps?

The USMC can trace its roots back to 1775.

Why does the Marine Corps have a hymn?

The hymn is both a reflection of Corps history and a reminder of what it mean to be a Marine. Read more about the hymn here.

When is the Marine hymn sung?

Marines sing at the passion of attention as a gesture of respect. The third verse is often a toast during the USMC Birthday Ball.


Sign up for We Are The Mighty's newsletter and receive the mighty updates!

By signing up you agree to our We Are The Mighty's Terms of Use and We Are The Mighty's Privacy Policy.