In 1805, the United States government refused to continue paying Barbary Coast pirates to refrain from raiding American merchant ships. When negotiations for a treaty failed, President Thomas Jefferson assembled an expeditionary force of Marines to respond.
With naval bombardment from USS Nautilus, USS Hornet, and USS Argus, on April 27, Lieutenant Presley O'Bannon and his Marines marched across 600 miles of the Libyan Desert to successfully storm the fortified Tripolitan city of Derna and rescue the kidnapped crew of the USS Philadelphia. The Marines' victory helped Prince Hamet Bey reclaim his rightful throne as ruler of Tripoli. In gratitude, he presented his Mameluke sword to Lt O'Bannon.
This famous sword became part of the officer uniform in 1825, and remains the oldest ceremonial weapon in use by United States forces today.
The Battle of Derna was the Marines' first land battle on foreign soil and is notably recalled in the first verse of the Marines' Hymn: "From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli, we fight our country's battles in the air, on land and sea."
To learn more about the history of the Marine Corps, go to http://www.marines.com/history-heritage/.