Decatur and the Prisoners
William J. Prom
Frederick Leiner’s “Killing the Prisoners” from the December issue (pp. 26–31) provides a stark look at an often overly romanticized event in early U.S. naval history. Leiner does an excellent job demonstrating that people, and events, of the past are as passionate and complex as ourselves. The mission to burn the Philadelphia, however, was not the only time Stephen Decatur may have killed prisoners.
Decatur’s younger brother, James, was a lieutenant in command of Gunboat No. 2 in the 3 August 1804 attack on Tripoli Harbor. During the battle, the younger Decatur forced the surrender of a Tripolitan gunboat. When James came alongside to take possession of the vessel, several of the Tripolitan crew opened fire, killing him with a shot through the forehead.