PRESLEY NEVILLE O'BANNON
Presley Neville O'Bannon was born on 1776, in Fauquier County,
Virginia. First appointed a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps on 18 January 1801, he served in various
stations in the United States prior to assignment onboard USS ADAMS. Following a deployment to the Mediterranean on the ADAMS,
First Lieutenant O'Bannon returned to the United States in November 1803. He was assigned to duty at Marine Barracks, Washington D.C.
In 1804, First Lieutenant O'Bannon was again called to sea duty, this time onboard USS PRESIDENT. Setting sail for the Mediterranean in May 1804, the PRESIDENT arrived at Gibraltar in August. Following several months in the Mediterranean, First Lieutenant O'Bannon was transferred to another warship, USS CONSTITUTION, and then to USS ARGUS. While serving as the Marine Officer on the later vessel, he was selected for a mission that later was commemorated in the colors of the Marine Corps and recorded in the Marine Hymn in the words "to the shores of Tripoli".
For many years the United States had maintained peace with the Barbary States by "buying" treaties and paying tributes to the Pasha. The states of Algiers, Morocco, and Tunis remained reasonably complacent under this system, though Tripoli continued to demand larger payments and make threats against the United States.
Finally, (May 14th 1801) the Pasha of Tripoli, Yusat Karamanli, demonstrated his dissatisfaction by cutting down the flag staff in front of the U.S. Consulate. This led to a declaration of war by the United States and more warships being dispatched to the Mediterranean. During a storm, one of these, USS PHILADELPHIA, went on the rocks off Tripoli, with her crew being captured and imprisoned at Derna.
This event, and the inability of U.S. agents to ransom the crew of the PHILADELPHIA, led to the formation of a bold rescue plan, which included First Lieutenant O'Bannon. The plan, conceived by Naval Agent William Eaton, proposed the formation of an alliance with Hamet, elder brother of the Pasha of Tripoli.
In January of 1805, First Lieutenant O'Bannon, in command of a Marine Detachment consisting of one sergeant and six privates, joined Eaton's allied force at Alexandria, Egypt. This army of 500 men then began an expedition against Derna. The ships HORNET, NAUTILUS, and ARGUS further augmented the force. Under a bombardment provided by these ships, Lt. O'Bannon led his force on March 27th 1805 through a shower of musketry and stormed the principal edifices, routing the enemy in such haste that their guns were left loaded and primed. First Lieutenant O'Bannon planted the United States Flag upon the ramparts and then turned the guns upon the enemy. After some two hours of hand-to-hand fighting, the stronghold was occupied and for the first time in history the flag of the United States flew over a fortress of the Old World.
The Tripolitains counter-attacked the fortress a number of times, but were repelled with heavy losses. Finally, through a spirited bayonet charge, the enemy was driven from the vicinity of Derna. This stubbornness and pugnacity by the Americans led to an almost mythical belief in their fighting ability.
On the occasion of his departure, Hamet honored Presley O'Bannon by giving him his jeweled sword with a Mameluke Hilt. This sword was the model for the dress sword used by Marine Corps Officers today, making it the oldest continuously used weapon in the U.S. Military Arsenal. Upon his return to the United States, the state of Virginia presented O'Bannon a sword modeled after the original Mameluke blade given him by Hamet.
Hailed as a national hero, "the hero of Derna", Presley O'Bannon resigned from the Marine Corps on March 6th, 1807. He went to Kentucky and served in the State Legislature. He died on September 12th, 1850 at the age of 74. A monument to his memory was erected over his grave in the state cemetery in Frankfort, Kentucky.