Above: First Lieutenant Presley O'Bannon, USMC (with raised rifle) at Derna. Source: Colonel Charles Waterhouse, U.S. Marines (Marine Corps Art Collection). Public Domain.

The Battle of Derna was fought and won during the First Barbary War, also known as the Tripolitan War and the Barbary Coast War, a conflict that pitted the United States against Tripolitania over trade disputes. At the time, it was common practice for Tripolitian pirates to raid merchant ships passing through the Mediterranean sea and hold them for ransom. European powers had long been paying tribute to the pirates in exchange for safe passage for their ships, but the United States, under the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, refused to do so.

In order to put an end to the piracy issue once and for all, Jefferson dispatched a naval fleet to the Mediterranean. However, the mission faced challenges due to a shortage of troops on the ground. Enter William Eaton, a diplomat to Tripoli, and Presley O'Bannon, a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps. The two men recruited and led a small team of 8 U.S. marines and mercenaries, mostly Arab and Greek soldiers, and set out on a 521-mile march through the North African desert from Alexandria, Egypt, to Derna, Libya.

The city of Derna was strategically located and heavily fortified, with a much larger and more experienced Tripolitanian army guarding it. However, the bravery and skill of Eaton's small force prevailed against all odds, and they methodically fought their way through the Tripolitanian forces, eventually laying siege to the city.

The assault on the city was led by O'Bannon, who famously stormed the city's fortifications carrying a sword in one hand and the American flag in the other. This brave act, which has since become the symbol of the U.S. Marine Corps, led to the surrender of the Tripolitanian forces and the successful capture of Derna. - Scott Lyons, Ed.

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