Friday, May 30, 2008

Ode to the Captain of the Enterprise

At only 25 years of age, Commodore Stephen Decatur, Jr. (1779 – 1820) was the youngest man to reach the rank of captain in the history of the United States Navy.

Given his first command, the brig Argus in 1803, he took it to the Mediterranean for service in the First Barbary War against Tripoli.

Once in the combat zone, then Lieutenant Decatur commanded the schooner Enterprise and, on 23 December 1803, captured the enemy ketch Mastico.

Renamed Intrepid, that vessel was used by Decatur on February 16, 1804 to execute a night raid into Tripoli harbor to destroy the former U.S. frigate Philadelphia, which had been captured after running aground at the end of October 1803.

Admiral Lord Nelson is said to have called this "the most bold and daring act of the age."

"Burning of the Frigate Philadelphia in the Harbor of Tripoli, February 16, 1804", by Edward Moran (1829-1901), 1897.


To honor Decatur after Tripoli was vanquished in 1805, Francis Scott Key wrote the following verse:


Song

When the warrior returns, from the battle afar,
To the home and the country he nobly defended,
O! warm be the welcome to gladden his ear,
And loud be the joy that his perils are ended:
In the full tide of song let his fame roll along,
To the feast-flowing board let us gratefully throng,
Where, mixed with the olive, the laurel shall wave,
And form a bright wreath for the brows of the brave.

Columbians! a band of your brothers behold,
Who claim the reward of your hearts' warm emotion,
When your cause, when your honor, urged onward the bold,
In vain frowned the desert, in vain raged the ocean:
To a far distant shore, to the battle's wild roar,
They rushed, your fair fame and your rights to secure:
Then, mixed with the olive, the laurel shall wave,
And form a bright wreath for the brows of the brave.

In the conflict resistless, each toil they endured,
'Till their foes fled dismayed from the war's desolation:
And pale beamed the crescent, its splendor obscured
By the light of the star-spangled flag of our nation.
Where each radiant star gleamed a meteor of war,
And the turbaned heads bowed to its terrible glare,
Now, mixed with the olive, the laurel shall wave,
And form a bright wreath for the brows of the brave.

Our fathers, who stand on the summit of fame,
Shall exultingly hear of their sons the proud story:
How their young bosoms glow'd with the patriot flame,
How they fought, how they fell, in the blaze of their glory.
How triumphant they rode o'er the wondering flood,
And stained the blue waters with infidel blood;
How, mixed with the olive, the laurel did wave,
And formed a bright wreath for the brows of the brave.

Then welcome the warrior returned from afar
To the home and the country he nobly defended:
Let the thanks due to valor now gladden his ear,
And loud be the joy that his perils are ended.
In the full tide of song let his fame roll along,
To the feast-flowing board let us gratefully throng,
Where, mixed with the olive, the laurel shall wave,
And form a bright wreath for the brows of the brave.


Brushed up and revised a little for the War of 1812, and set to the same music (To Anacreon in Heaven), it has enjoyed considerable success since.


The Star-Spangled Banner

Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen thro' the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream:
'T is the star-spangled banner: O, long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash'd out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their lov'd homes and the war's desolation;
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserv'd us as a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause. it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust"
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

2 comments:

cruzatte said...

Thanks for the wonderfully succinct description of Decatur's deeds and their relationship to F.S. Key's work. I'm researching Key and the War of 1812 for a music/history program and had just read today (in _Star-Spangled Books_) how all the different stories about one person or another setting Key's "Defense of Fort McHenry" to the tune of "Anacreon..." are all bunk; Key clearly had the tune in mind when he wrote the song.

Musically yours,

-Daniel Slosberg
http://www.cruzatte.com

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