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Argus I (Brigantine)

(Brig:- t.- 299; l.- 94'6";- b.- 28'2";- dph.-- 12'8";- cpl.-- 142; a.- 2 12-pdrs., 1624-pdr. car.)


A monster with a hundred eyes supposedly slain by the Greek mythological messenger of the gods, Hermes.


The first Argus, a brig, was laid down as Merrimack on 12 May 1803 at Boston, Mass., by Edmund Hartt; renamed Argus on 4 June 1803; and launched on 21 August 1803.

Though no document recording the date of her commissioning has been found, Argus set sail from Boston on 8 September 1803. She put into Newport on the 18th in some unspecified state of distress and remained there for 10 days. The brig returned to sea on the 28th, set a course for the Mediterranean Sea, and arrived at Gibraltar on 1 November. There, her first commanding officer, Lt. Stephen Decatur, relinquished command to Lt. Isaac Hull and assumed command of Hull's former ship, Enterprise. She made a brief cruise to the east and then returned to Gibraltar to watch the Moroccans while the rest of Commodore

Preble's squadron sailed east to blockade Tripoli. During the early part of 1804, she cruised the western Mediterranean in an unsuccessful search for a Tripolitan cruiser reportedly operating in that area. In March 1804, she received orders to join the rest of the squadron off Tripoli.

She arrived at Tripoli in company with Constitution and Enterprise on 19 June, but left the blockade late in the month to join a neutral ship at Syracuse and escort her back to Tripoli with supplies for the captive officers and crew of the frigate Philadelphia which had been taken by the Tripolitans after she had run aground on an uncharted reef off that port the previous October.

Argus resumed her blockade duties on 7 July. At that point, Preble began preparations to chastise the Tripolitans with a shore bombardment. Heavy weather, however, postponed the action until early August. On 3 August, the squadron moved in to provide long-range support for the gunboats and mortar boats actually engaged in the bombardment. The bombardment was considerably less damaging to the defensive works protecting Tripoli than hoped for, though the American gunboat crews boarded and carried several of the Tripolitan vessels sent out to engage them. The squadron conducted another ineffectual bombardment of Tripoli on the 7th; and, two days later, Commodore Preble embarked in Argus to reconnoiter Tripoli harbor. During that mission, shore batteries fired upon the brig, and she was struck below the waterline by a single shot. Fortunately, the shot did not pass all the way through her hull; and she remained on station off Tripoli following the attack. On the 28th of August, the squadron conducted a third bombardment of the defenses of Tripoli in which its guns inflicted severe damage. A week later, on the night of 4 September, Argus was among the ships that escorted the ill-fated fire ship Intrepid to the entrance of Tripoli harbor. When Intrepid blew up prematurely, Argus remained there to pick up survivors, but none had appeared by sunrise when she mournfully returned to her blockade station.

Through the winter of 1804 and 1805, the brig alternated between blockade duty off Tripoli and periods in port at Malta and Syracuse. In the spring of 1805, Argus participated in one of the more celebrated episodes of American naval history, the capture of Derna. During the preceding months, she had made severalvoyages to Egypt in support of Consul Eaton's efforts to raise a force of men to take Derna in conjunction with the deposed, but rightful, pasha. After a march of over 600 miles across the desert in what is now known as Libya, the polyglot army, there were only 10 Americans in the whole force, arrived at Derna on 25 April 1805. Argus had met the army a day or two earlier at the Bay of Bptnba to provide provisions. Now, she made preparations to provide bombardment assistance for the landward assault.

The "American" force launched its attack on the 27th. Argus and Nautilus anchored about half a mile to the eastward of the fortifications. The Tripolitans opened fire almost immediately upon Argus and upon Hornet, anchored quite a bit nearer than her two consorts. By 2:45 that afternoon, gunfire from the ships silenced all of the guns in the city. A desperate charge led by Lt. O'Bannon, USMC, managed to carry the gun batteries by storm and breathed new life into the assault. After hoisting the American flag over the battlements, he ordered the already loaded captured guns to be turned on the town. By 4:00 that afternoon, the entire town had fallen to Eaton's army, and the enemy fled to the hinterland. The capture of Derna has been immortalized in the words of the Marine's Hymn, ". . . to the shores of Tripoli."

Eaton's mixed force held the town until almost the middle of June. However, after Eaton's and O'Bannon's victory, a Tripolitan army, which had been sent to reinforce the town, arrived and began preparations to retake Derna. There, Argus remained offshore to provide gunfire support in the defense of their own throughout the occupation of Derna. When the Tripolitans finally assaulted the town on 13 May, Argus joined in the fray and enabled the defensive forces narrowly to beat back the charging enemy troops. Argus' guns wreaked havoc among the enemy forces during their headlong retreat. Between that time and early June, the Tripolitans made a few more half-hearted approaches during which Argus'  long 12-pounders came into play. However, things remained relatively quiet, for negotiations with the pasha in power were already underway. On 11 June, orders arrived to evacuate Derna as negotiations had been concluded. The Christian troops and the deposed pasha were embarked in Constellation that evening, and the American ships quitted the area.

Argus continued to cruise the Mediterranean until the summer of 1806. She returned to the United States at the Washington Navy Yard on 13 July and was laid up there in ordinary until 1807. At that time, she was fitted out at the Washington Navy Yard and began a series of cruises along the Atlantic coast of the United States. Those cruises lasted into 1813 after America's entry into war against Great Britain. During one cruise between 8 October 1812 and 3 January 1813, she captured six valuable prizes and eluded an entire British squadron during a three-day stern chase. Through clever handling, she even managed to take one of the prizes as she was fleeing from the overwhelmingly superior English force.

On 18 June 1813, Argus put to sea from New York bearing the honorable William H. Crawford, the United States minister to France. She arrived in L'Orient, France, on 11 July, disembarked the minister, and put to sea again on the 14th. She spent the next month conducting a highly successful anticommerce cruise in the English Channel, thence around the southern coast of England and into St. George's Channel. At that point, early in the morning of 14 August, Argus ran afoul of HMS Pelican. Failing to gain the weather gage, Argus shortened sail and ran along the starboard tack as Pelican came up from behind. Argus wore ship and opened with her port battery. Pelican answered with her starboard guns. Soon into the action, Argus' commanding officer, William H. Allen, suffered a mortal wound when a round shot amputated his right leg. The captain, however, remained at his station until he fainted from loss of blood. Pelican's gunfire did fierce damage to Argus' rigging. Within 15 minutes, Argus was unmanageable for all practical purposes, and Pelican raked her at will. At 6:45, the British ship was in position to board; but, as her seamen began to storm on board, Argus struck her colors. During the 45-minute action, Argus lost 10 men killed, including her captain, and 13 wounded.


During the War of 1812, Argus, an 18-gun sloop of war laid down at the Washington Navy Yard in 1813, was still on the ways when the British advanced on the National Capital late in the summer of 1814. To prevent her capture by the enemy, she was burned on the ways on 24 August 1814.

Published: Thu Jun 18 11:40:24 EDT 2015