by SWJ Editors
Irregular Warfare and the Vandalia Expedition in Fiji, 1859
by Dr. Timothy L. Francis, Small Wars Journal
Irregular operations have a long history in the U.S. Navy. From cutting out expeditions against West Indian privateers in the 1790s, the sailing Navy's version of visit-board-and-search operations off Tripoli in 1801 or skirmishes against rioters or Chinese troops during the Taiping rebellion in 1855, American Sailors were comfortable conducting irregular or ad hoc combat operations ashore. Under the command of skilled officers and experienced chief petty officers, veteran Sailors put the mission first, accomplishing remarkable feats at a then acceptable cost in lives. One of many examples took place in the South Pacific in the 1850s, an area of great interest to American merchants and traders.
It was cold and dark at 0300 on 9 October 1859 when the 40 Sailors and 10 Marines under Lt. Charles Caldwell prepared for battle, arming themselves with minié rifles, swords and a wheeled 12-pounder howitzer. Their ship, the chartered schooner Mechanic lay off Waya, a small, rugged island at the western edge of the Fiji archipelago. The expedition intended to climb the steep hills, pass into the interior and, as put by Lt. Caldwell in his diary, "destroy the town [of Somatti] and bring the natives to an engagement - It was a novel undertaking to assault and destroy a mountain tribe in their stronghold with a party of Seamen."