The life of the eminent naval hero that focuses on the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death as well as his military accomplishments.
As depicted by naval historian de Kay (The Rebel Raiders, 2002, etc.), Stephen Decatur (1779–1820) seemed destined for greatness at an early age. His father spent the Revolutionary War hunting down English merchant vessels, and Stephen earned his own glory in a navy very different from the service today. In the early-19th century, much of an officer’s income came from his share of property seized from the enemy, who in those days tended to speak French. Decatur distinguished himself by battling Arabs who spoke Italian, and he gave the young republican navy a resounding motto when an Algerian admiral asked him “Dove andate?” (“Where are you going?”), to which he replied, “Dove mi piace!” (“Where I please!”). Decatur’s initial course took him in the path of an older officer named James Barron, who at first was an important ally and friend; “in later years,” de Kay writes, “Decatur would freely admit that he had once revered Barron as his own father.” But the younger man’s reverential attitude disappeared when, in 1807, Barron struck his colors before an attacking English vessel without firing a shot. The attack, one of many incidents that helped precipitate war with England five years later, cost Commodore Barron his command, and Decatur served on the court that sentenced his onetime friend to a five-year suspension from the service. Protesting his innocence, Barron waited out his suspension as a merchant skipper in Denmark, then returned and requested reinstatement. Decatur, now a member of the Board of Naval Commissioners, outspokenly opposed this, and in response Barron challenged him to a duel—an act engineered by a third party, de Kay suggests—that cost Decatur his life.
Well-researched and engaging.