Battle of Puerto Plata
Possibly the first amphibious operation of the United States Navy
The Quasi-War with France (1798-1800) was the first military action of the new United States against a foreign nation. It was conducted almost entirely at sea, consisting mostly of engagements between the naval forces of the United States and the even newer French Republic. The United States Navy was initially established to fulfill military requirements precipitated by conflicts with the Barbary pirates, leading to construction and commissioning of six so-called super-frigates, including USS Constitution (“Old Ironsides”). The growing conflict with the French Republic proved to be a better use of the new vessels. In May 1800, USS Constitution, Captain Silas Talbot commanding, was cruising off the north coast of Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo (present day Dominican Republic) was a colony of Spain, a French ally. After capturing the French sloop Sally, the Constitution observed the French privateer Sandwich anchored in the harbor of Puerto Plata, under the protective guns of Fortaleza San Felipe. The fort had been commissioned by King Felipe II in 1564 and completed in 1577. Not to be deterred, Captain Talbot, on May 11, 1800, landed a force of 90 marines and sailors under First Lieutenant Isaac Hull outside of the fort’s range. The captured sloop, with a prize crew on board, approached from the sea. The privateer was surprised, overwhelmed, and captured. The Spanish fort then fired on the Americans. After a brief fight, the landing party overran the fort and spiked its guns. Constitution sailed away and the two prizes were sent to the United States for adjudication. The Battle of Puerto Plata was one of the few land engagements of the Quasi-War, which ended on September 30, 1800. Its employment of an amphibious landing foretold a future tradition for both the US Navy and the US Marine Corps.