Captain Levi Myers Harby was born in 1793 in Charleston, South Carolina, which had the largest and most active community in American Jewry. He had his heart set on a naval career and, as a young man, he enlisted as a midshipman in 1807. He was 19 when the War of 1812 began.
His ship was involved in many battles and he was finally captured by the British. He was interned in the notorious prisoner of war stockade in Dartmoor, England.
An interesting story is told regarding his imprisonment. It seems that a Jewish baker sold his bread daily among the prisoners. One day Myers was offered a loaf of bread, which at first he refused to buy. The baker insisted on the sale and Harby reluctantly gave in. Breaking open the bread, he found a newspaper telling of the great American victory at the Battle of New Orleans.
Harby didn't wait to be formally released; he escaped to return to the United States. He then joined Commodore Decatur's fleet as a captain of a ship. The fleet was dispatched to the Mediterranean to crush the Barbary Pirates that were roaming the waters and pillaging commercial vessels.
After a number of naval and land engagements, the Barbary Pirates were defeated. Tunis, Algiers and Tripoli, who were abetting the pirates, were made to compensate the victims.
Captain Harby came back to the United States and left the Navy. He became militarily involved in the Seminole Indian War in Florida in 1828, after which he joined in the struggle for Bolivia's indepen- dence. In 1835, Texas sought help in its battles with Mexico to gain independence. Harby responded to the call for volunteers and once again was militarily involved.
Harby was 68 years old when the Civil War erupted. Despite his age, the Confederacy needed his half-century of naval experience and gave him command of the fighting ship NEPTUNE. His naval skills proved a factor in the South's victory in the Battle of Galveston. The Union had blockaded the Gulf Coast and had captured Galveston Island in the bay. The Confederacy waited for the right time, then struck back with more than one thousand men and ships in a daring counter attack. After much land and sea fighting, in which Captain Harby played an important role, the Confederacy recaptured the island and the coast.
Captain Harby was decorated for his leadership and bravery.
This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes and Heroines of America, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.
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Last updated 12 May 2011