Normally, a structure begins with a solid foundation, construed to mean “at ground level,” and works itself upward to its pinnacle. The United States military awards system works just the opposite. The current system begins at the pinnacle and works its way downward. At the pinnacle of this system is the United States Medal of Honor.
The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest military award for bravery, awarded by the President of the United States in the name of the United States Congress. For this reason, the medal is often referred to as the Congressional Medal of Honor, but its official title is simply the Medal of Honor. So far in its history, since its introduction in 1863, the Medal of Honor (also, MoH) has been awarded 3,512 times to 3,493 recipients. Nineteen individuals have been double recipients of the award. Since the award’s inception, the laws and regulations that apply to it have changed. In some instances, the award has been rescinded. Six rescinded awards have been reinstated.
On several occasions, legislation has been offered to waive certain restrictions — to encourage the President to award the Medal of Honor to particular individuals. In the most general sense, this type of legislation is rarely enacted. In limited number of cases, the medal has been awarded outside legal restrictions concerning time limits. These cases are often based on technical errors, lost documents or eyewitness accounts, or other factors that justify reconsideration. Such cases are an exception to the rule.
At the beginning
The tradition of recognizing American military men (later, women) dates to the American Revolution. In the American colonies, the oldest military decoration was the Fidelity Medallion, created by the Continental Congress in 1780 and presented to the men responsible for capturing British Major John André — the officer who worked with Benedict Arnold to betray the colonies.
The recipients of the Fidelity Medallion were members of the New York militia: Privates Isaac Van Wart, David Williams, and John Paulding. The medal was never again awarded — and it is for this reason that the first United States (as opposed to Continental) medal awarded was the Badge of Military Merit, created in 1782. In the new egalitarian America, it is also significant that the first medals were awarded to enlisted men, not officers.
On 7 August 1782, General George Washington designed the Badge of Military Merit. It was a cloth or silk figure of a heart, recognizing meritorious or gallant conduct. But credit for instigating the practice of awards recognition belongs to George Washington. Only three men received this hand-made decoration: (a) Sergeant Elijah Churchill: 2nd Regiment, Light Dragoons. He was awarded the badge for his part in two successful raids behind British lines in Nov. 1780 and in October of 1781. (b) Sergeant William Brown: 5th Connecticut Regiment. Awarded the badge for leading an advance party — with only bayonets — penetrating the British lines at Yorktown, VA on 14 October 1781, and (c) Sergeant Daniel Bissell: 2nd Connecticut Regiment. Awarded the badge for masquerading as a British soldier from August 1781 to September 1782. Again, all three recipients were enlisted men — and this design, by General Washington, became the forerunner of the modern Purple Heart Medal.
Between General Washington’s Merit Badge and the American Civil War, government officials issued certificates of merit and “brevet promotions” to recognize courageous conduct and meritorious military service. Thus, the first military decoration formally authorized by the United States government to symbolize valorous conduct was the Medal of Honor, approved for enlisted men of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. President Lincoln signed the authorization on 21 December 1861. In July 1862, Congress approved a Medal of Honor suitable for the U.S. Army (and Volunteer Army of the United States).
During the Civil War, more than 2,000 Medals of Honor were issued. Allegations of fraud and shady politics in the award of the medal led to a review of all those issued to Army members prior to 1917. A commission of five retired general officers determined that 911 of the medals had been improperly awarded. Those awards included medals given to members of the 27th Maine Regiment for reenlisting during the Civil War, along with those presented to members of the Presidential Honor Guard at Lincoln’s funeral. Also included was the only MoH awarded to a woman: Mary Walker, a union surgeon.
Fifty-four years after the creation of the Medal of Honor (1861), at a time when the Medal of Honor was the only U.S. award for valor, officials of the Navy Department and War Department understood that servicemen were still behaving with extreme courage on the battlefield, but simply not to the level expected of the Medal of Honor. For this reason, the Navy and Army developed additional decorations designed to recognize battlefield bravery of a lesser standard than that of the Medal of Honor.
In the Navy, officials ordered the creation of the Navy Distinguished Service Medal as second in line to the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross Medal as third in line. Army officials approved the Army Distinguished Service Medal and the Army Distinguished Service Cross. In 1942, the precedence of these awards was reversed so that the Navy Cross and Army Distinguished Service Cross became the second highest awards, followed by the Distinguished Service medals as the third highest awards.
Within the Navy Department, the Navy Cross was created to recognize valorous sailors and Marines whose performance would not qualify them for thenation’ss highest award. The Navy Cross, designed by James Earle Fraser, has been awarded 6,300 times. Since 2001, the Navy Cross has been awarded 47 times — in two instances, the name of its recipient was classified secret.
The Navy Cross may be awarded to any member of the U.S. Armed Forces while serving with the Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard (when serving under the Navy Department) who distinguish themselves by extraordinary heroism, not justifying an award of the Medal of Honor. Such actions must take place under one of three sets of circumstances:
In combat action, while engaged against an enemy of the United States; or,
In combat action, while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or,
In combat action while serving with friendly foreign forces, who are engaged in armed conflict in which the United States is not a belligerent party.
The act(s) of heroism must be performed in the presence of great danger or at great personal risk and must be performed in such a manner as to render the individual’s action(s) highly conspicuous among others of equal grade, rate, experience, or position of responsibility. An accumulation of minor acts of heroism does not justify an award of the Navy Cross.
One of the recipients was a war dog handler —
William B. Soutra is a son of Worcester, Massachusetts. When he joined the U.S. Marine Corps, he became the third generation of his family to serve as a Devil Dog. William, who everyone calls Billy, did more than serve his country; he made history.
Soutra’s plan was simple enough. He wanted to sign on the dotted line, enlist for a few years, do some growing up, and then return home with all kinds of stories to tell. Once he was in the Corps, he wanted to do more than the average Marine (as if being a superhero isn’t enough excitement). What Billy wanted to do is become a K-9 handler.
It was a tough program to get into, but Soutra managed it. He initially worked with police dog breeds on basic patrol and scout work. In 2006, the war was ramping up, and the Marines needed more dog handlers. Following basic training, the Marine Corps selected Soutra to attend the specialized search dog (SSD) course, which at the time was a new frontier — its demand was the result of a new threat everyone was calling an Improvised Explosive Device (I.E.D.). It was a competitive selection, and Soutra made the cut.
In February 2007, Soutra was posted to Security Battalion, Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, CA. His first dog post-graduation was a Belgian Malinois (also, Belgian Shepherd). The team would deploy together in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. They performed combat patrols in Fallujah. The dog, named Dina, was highly protective and intelligent. She responded to hand signals from Soutra. In 2008, Billy and Dina returned to Camp Pendleton. Dina was seven years old; she was ready for retirement.
His next dog was a completely black male German Shepherd named Posha. His reputation was aggressive and fearless; he didn’t play nice with the other animals. Posha was an Alpha Male. During their deployment to Iraq in 2009, Soutra and Posha’s teamwork was so precise and seamless that, in a rare event, the Marines meritoriously promoted Soutra to Sergeant and, by extension, Posha to Staff Sergeant.
As the Marine Corps was in the process of developing three Military Working Dog platoons, there was an immediate need for Soutra and Posha, which in 2010 took the team to Company B, 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. While patrolling with Afghan Commandos in Helmand Province, Soutra’s unit became pinned down by a complex ambuscade initiated by an I.E.D. that mortally wounded Soutra’s element leader, a staff sergeant. In the following actions, Sergeant Soutra distinguished himself, earning the nation’s second-highest decoration for heroism on the battlefield.
With the team leader incapacitated, Soutra immediately assumed command of the element and, with complete disregard for his own life, moved across the open terrain to each commando’s position, orienting them and directing their fires upon the enemy.
Under intense fire, Soutra fearlessly moved forward with the team Corpsman to reach the fallen element leader. While the Corpsman rendered aid, Sergeant Soutra placed a tourniquet on a severely wounded commando nearby and pulled him to safety. Repeatedly exposing himself to enemy fire, he again moved from position to position to orient and direct friendly fire and accurately relay enemy information to supporting aircraft overhead. Professionally and calmly, Soutra enabled coordinated a successful evacuation of the casualties, personally carrying one of the wounded men 75 meters to safety.
Nearly 70 minutes later, Sergeant Soutra rallied the platoon and maneuvered them safely out of the kill zone, with Posha remaining at his side throughout the actions. It was Soutra’s decisive leadership, his exceptional courage in the face of heavy enemy fire, and his complete dedication to duty that earned him the Navy Cross.
Official military news releases use phrases such as — “moving exposed down the line,” and “rushed into the kill zone,” and “flurries of insurgent machine gun and mortar fire.” But when Soutra speaks of this period, he mostly speaks of his combat partner. He’ll even tell you that Posha owns half of that Navy Cross. According to Soutra, “Posha made me the Marine I am today.”
Sergeant Soutra cannot say enough good things about Posha. “During all of the gunfire, as we moved into the firefight, he didn’t hesitate, he didn’t cower, he did everything exactly when and how I did it for two straight days. If he had faltered or balked at any point, it could have been different.” He added, “He always reacted the same way. He saved my life.”
While Posha made it through the second combat deployment, he later succumbed to cancer and was euthanized in 2011. His loss was particularly difficult for Billy Soutra. In 2012, Soutra said, “It’s been a year now, but it still hurts when I think about how he got cancer and had to be put down.”
Posha’s ashes rest in an urn at a place ofSoutra’st Soutra’s bedside. If Soutra has his way, his German Shepherd hero, now buried in his heart, will one day be buried with him — so that they’ll always be together.
Semper Fi, Posha.
 The Continental Congress did vote to award George Washington, Horatio Gates, and John Paul Jones with gold medallions in recognition for their efforts in defeating the British forces, but none of these were awarded until after the end of the Revolutionary War, in 1790.
 The information gathered by Sergeant Bissell helped the Continental Army prepare for an attack on the British in New York City.
 Navy and Marine Corps officers were not eligible to receive the Medal of Honor until 1915.
It is true — war dogs served the Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, Britons, and Romans. They served as sentries, area security patrol dogs, and attack dogs. Atilla used large dogs in his campaigns, and these were often gifted among European royalty. Frederick the Great used them to carry messages, and the French used dogs to guard naval installations in the 1700s.
In East Asia, the 15th-century Vietnamese emperor Lé Loi raised a pack of over 100 hounds, tended and trained by Nguyễn Xí, whose skills earned him a promotion to the emperor’s commander of shock troops.
The first official use of dogs for military purposes in the United States was during the Seminole Wars. Union troops routinely destroyed packs of bloodhounds because they were used for hunting down runaway slaves. In the Civil War, hounds were employed to pass messages and guard prisoners. During World War I, dogs were used as mascots in propaganda and recruiting posters.
In the Marines — World War II
The Marine Corps decided to experiment with war dogs in the late summer of 1942. A new turn for the Marines, but not for the dogs — as I said, they’ve been doing warfare things for a long while. The only question was, should they use Mastiffs, as did the Romans — or Shih Tzu, like the French?
Previously, in the 1920s, a Marine serving as an officer in the Garde d’Haiti trained a dog to work at the point of his combat patrols to alert him to bandit ambuscades. Marine historians believe that it’s probable that this Marine’s experience was later responsible for suggesting the use of dogs in jungle warfare (Small Wars Operations).
In World War II, the Marine Corps war dog training program was initiated at the direction of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, who directed the Commanding General, Training Center, Fleet Marine Force, Marine Barracks, New River, North Carolina (designated Camp Lejeune in December 1942) to initiate a training program for dogs when personnel and material become available. Shortly after, one officer and 19 enlisted Marines began training at the Fort Robinson, Nebraska, dog school. Four additional Marines began temporary duty at Fort Washington, Maryland — also in connection with training dogs.
The plan was that upon completion of training, Marines in Nebraska would return to Camp Lejeune, each with two dogs; the Marines at Fort Washington would return each with two messenger dogs. An additional twenty dogs would be procured by Miss Roslyn Terhune, given obedience training in Baltimore, and shipped to Camp Lejeune by the end of January 1943.
After procuring sixty-two dogs (42 from the Army), the Marine Corps received additional animals from various sources (Dogs for Defense, Inc., Doberman Pinscher Club of America, and private individuals willing to offer their animals as donations to the war effort). These were the primary sources of procurement of Marine Corps war dogs until 1 March 1945. After then, the Marine Corps and Coast Guard established and operated a joint procurement agency.
Marines considered an animal’s breed of secondary importance to the general excellence of war dogs. Still, the breeds found most suitable for German Shepherds (Alsatians), Belgian Sheepdogs, Doberman Pinschers, Collies, Schnauzers, Airedales, Rottweilers, and some mixtures of these animals. Other breeds could be acceptable, provided the individual animal met the required specifications in other respects.
Dogs accepted into the Corps had to be one to five years of age, of either sex, 25 inches high, weighing at least 50 pounds, pass a rigorous physical examination, and be proven not to be gun shy.
In the earliest days, the Marines highly regarded the Doberman Pinscher, rightly or wrongly, because:
(1) It was generally believed that the shorthaired Doberman was more adaptable to the heat of the tropics than many of the long-haired breeds (dog experts and fanciers held divided opinions on this point)
(2) Dog handlers were almost unanimous in their praise of the Doberman Pinscher and the German Shepherd for scout and messenger work; and,
(3) In the early days of the war dog training program, the Doberman Pinscher Club of America procured a large proportion of the dogs enrolled, which means that the emphasis was on Dobermans — hence an early preponderance of this breed over others.
However, the Marine Corps clarified that it had not established a policy favoring Doberman Pinschers over any other breed. In early 1945, the Marine Corps declined an invitation to have some of its Dobermans participate in a show out of concern that others may interpret that the Marines preferred one breed over another.
Most of the first dogs shipped overseas (the 1st War Dog Platoon) were Doberman Pinschers; the remainder were German or Belgian Shepherds.
When the Marine Corps initiated its war dog program, the Army, Navy, and Coast Guard had already instituted working dog programs with established training centers with several training programs for different purposes. The Marine Corps, however, is a combat organization. Senior officers saw no point in dedicating manpower resources unless dogs contributed directly to killing the enemy or reducing combat casualties. Consequently, Marine war dogs were confined to two types:
Scout and messenger dogs. At that time, the 1st Marine Division was still fighting on Guadalcanal. It was apparent that the South Pacific plans of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for a march up the Solomons chain meant that Marines would continue to operate in jungle terrain for a while at least, where concealment by the enemy was relatively easy. Infiltration tactics were the order of the day.
At first, it was difficult to find trainers thoroughly appreciating this combat angle. Marine planners initially selected trainers because they had civilian experience training dogs. Senior officers at HQMC visualized this program as one involving dog training — for training dogs rather than teaching them for a combat role. This lack of appreciation for reality training made combat Marines hesitant to volunteer for the program. It soon became apparent that if dogs were to be helpful in combat, their trainer and handler would have to be good combat Marines, capable of scouting and patrolling, with the dog being the means of increasing the radius of operations.
At the same time, operations officers understood that tactical situations might dictate a need for messenger dogs, and the best animals for that mission were the Dobermans and German Shepherds. There were other great breeds, as well — it was only that Dobermans and Shepherds performed in a consistently exceptional manner.
The training cycle at War Dog Training Company (Camp Lejeune) lasted 14 weeks. Selection for specific skill training took two weeks — and a time when dogs and Marines became acquainted with one another. Two Marines, selected for their experience in handling dogs, were assigned to each dog as trainer and attendant — a relationship carried into combat: two Marines and their dog forming a “dog unit.”
The next six weeks were devoted to training the dogs to interpret and obey the various commands and to familiarize the men with their dogs’ mental workings and reactions. Successful training was accomplished only through intelligent, patient, and sympathetic handling and treatment, and the chief reliance was made solely on praise and scolding. The final six weeks of the course were given to more advanced work, including combat work, which meant attacking any person or place the dog had become alert on command.
The initial advanced training for scout dogs started with the dog being fastened to a chain fixed to a post or wall with his handler beside him. A stranger approached threateningly, the handler commanding the dog to “watch.” When the dog showed aggressiveness towards the stranger, the latter ran away, and the handler praised the dog.
As training progressed from day to day, the dog was shifted from the chain to the leash in the hands of the handler, and the work was continued until the dog attacked persons, first on the training field and later in the woods or jungle. In the end, the dog was always alerted to discover the enemy when put on “watch” by his handler. The manner of his alerting could take various forms, one might strain at the leash, another show general excitement, another by crouching. Whatever the method, the handler, during the training, learned to “read” his dog’s reactions and act accordingly.
Messenger dogs were trained by first having one of the handlers move away a few yards. The other handler then put the messenger collar on the dog and ordered him to “report.” The first handler then called the dog and praised him when the dog reported. By slow degrees, the distance between the distant handler and the dog was increased until the former was out of sight and sound. Finally, the messenger dog would travel several miles from one handler to the other. This way, communication could be established between patrols, outposts, and the command post.
Throughout their training, the dogs, both Scout and Messenger, and their handlers were regularly subjected to small arms and high explosive gunfire.
The dog handlers were selected for their intelligence, character, physical ability, and any previous training as scout snipers (without dogs). When such men were unavailable, they had to be trained as scout-snipers concurrently with dog handling. Since dogs, from the point of view of training, can only respond successfully over limited periods, it was possible to spend half the time of the men training dogs and half the time training the men as scout-snipers. Paradoxically, the dog on duty could outperform a human in alertness, lack of sleep, and general condition, but in actually learning his lessons, it was found necessary to give frequent breaks and not spend too many hours a day on the lessons. Previous experience as a dog handler was not a prerequisite, but men who had associated with animals and had that indefinable ability to read their minds and understand them were the most successful.
No known means of compelling a man to be an expert dog handler existed. Many of the best handlers came from farms that had handled hunting dogs and farm stock. Some men soon learned they were not war dog men and were immediately transferred to other duties. In the same way, the dogs demonstrating that they did not have the qualities of a war dog in the Marine Corps were returned to their former owners.
Before leaving the War Dog Training Company at Camp Lejeune, the men, and dogs were formed into platoons consisting of 1 officer, 65 men, and 36 dogs (18 scout and 18 messenger). One man was assigned to each of the 18 scout dogs as handler, and two men to each of the 18 messenger dogs as handlers. The unit was further divided into three squads composed of 6 scout dogs — 6 handlers, 6 messenger dogs — 12 handlers, and a noncommissioned officer in charge. In addition, there were six supernumeraries, two for each squad, which provided relief for the regular handler in case of illness or casualty, and a platoon sergeant.
Each Marine infantry regiment incorporated a war dog platoon. An officer serving on the regimental staff became the Commanding Officer’s advisor in using dogs and commanding the platoon. The tactical use of the dog platoon always depended upon the mission of the regiment and its subordinate units. The war dog platoon could be employed as a unit or subdivided as needed.
The first Marine Corps dog unit sent to the Pacific was the 1st Marine War Dog Platoon, arriving in the South Pacific on 11 July 1943. This unit went into the Bougainville operation while attached to the 2d Marine Raider Regiment. Marine Raiders were enthusiastic over the performance of the war dogs during Bougainville.
Marine War Dogs also served on Guam, Iwo Jima, Okinawa — and during occupation duty in mainland Japan following the surrender.
The Vietnam War introduced American troops to a new kind of warfare. Patrolling inside thick, triple-canopy jungles was dangerous by day and even more perilous by night. Enemy fighters used the jungle to their advantage, employing guerilla tactics (such as ambushes, mines, tunnels, and traps) in ways that U.S. troops hadn’t encountered before. A well-trained dog became an extension of his handler’s senses — seeing, hearing, and smelling otherwise undetectable danger.
The German Shepherd (Alsatian) was the most common service dog in the Vietnam War, used for scouting, sentry duty, mine/tunnel detection, and water patrols. Labrador retrievers were also widely used, primarily as trackers. Dogs were trained to alert their handlers to hidden dangers, from snipers to tripwires and weapons caches. Dogs could even detect enemy fighters submerged in rivers, breathing through hollow reeds, and waiting to attack American watercraft.
War analysts claim that these animals (and their handlers) are credited with saving as many as 10,000 U.S. lives and preventing certain injuries for countless more. They were so effective that they became special targets for the enemy, who began attacking kennels and offering bounties for the shoulder patch of a dog handler or the tattooed ear of a service dog. Many handlers wanted to bring their dogs home to America when the war ended. But in a decision by a Democrat-run Defense Department, these dogs were classified as equipment. At this time, dog handlers were not allowed to adopt their animals. Most animals were left behind, transferred to the South Vietnamese Army, systematically euthanized, or abandoned. America’s war dogs were the only combat troops that never went home.
One doesn’t have to be crazy to be a U.S. Marine — but it helps.
Third Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment (also 3/5), was initially activated in 1917 to participate in World War I. Its initial complement included veterans of the Spanish-American War (1898), the Boxer Rebellion (1900 — 1901), and raw recruits who needed and deserved the firm hand of America’s finest noncommissioned officers.
Following the war to end all wars, 3/5 participated in the so-called Banana Wars and guarded the U.S. Mail. During World War II, 3/5 fought at Guadalcanal, New Guinea, Peleliu, and Okinawa. As one of the regiment’s three battalions, 3/5 participated as part of the 1st Marine Brigade — the fire brigade in the Pusan Perimeter, the landing at Inchon, and the battles of Seoul and Chosin Reservoir. The Battalion’s nickname came from its field radio call sign, chosen by its Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Taplett, U.S.M.C. (deceased): Darkhorse Six.
Between 1966 – 1971, Darkhorse fought with distinction in the Vietnam War, with battles at Chu Lai, Da Nang, Quang Nam, Que Son, An Hoa, and the Ross Combat Base. Nineteen years later, 3/5 deployed to the Middle East with the 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade supporting Operation Desert Shield, and thirteen years after that, as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and battles in Fallujah.
The battle-tested Third Battalion, Fifth Marines is entitled to display 77 decorations. It is a high standard shared by nearly every U.S. Marine Corps infantry organization. Winning battles is what Marines do.
Early on 25 March 2003, Darkhorse moved north on Highway One toward Ad Diwaniyah. The Battalion was mounted on a motorized convoy. Intelligence reports indicated the presence of an Iraqi enemy, but no one was quite sure where or how many. The Marines were on edge — as they should be. Weapons were locked and loaded. Marines scanned the area from front to rear and flank to flank.
The Marines were looking for a fight because that is the mission assigned to infantry battalions. The Marines of 3/5 found their fight within a single instant as an overwhelming number of enemy mortars, rockets, and small arms fire descended upon them, transforming morning calm into morning chaos. Explosions and bullets were flying everywhere. Marine leaders began shouting commands because shouting was the only way anyone could hear them.
First Lieutenant Brian R. Chontosh commanded the Combined Anti-Armor Team (C.A.A.T.), Weapons Company, 3/5. The team’s mission was to provide protective fire to support the Battalion’s reinforcing tanks. When the enemy fire opened up, the tanks blocked the road ahead, potentially locking the C.A.A.T. into a dangerous kill zone. Chontosh occupied the first vehicle behind the tanks. He was accompanied by Lance Corporal Armand McCormick (driver), Lance Corporal Robert Kerman (rifleman), and Private First Class Thomas Franklin as the machine gunner. Franklin was a big man — which is how he became known to his friends as “Tank.” Private First Class Ken Korte served as Chontosh’s radioman.
From Franklin’s position in the vehicle’s turret, he could see hundreds of enemy troops. There were so many enemies that it was impossible for Franklin not to hit them with his fifty-caliber weapon, which chewed up the bodies of Franklin’s targets. The chatter of the machine gun was constant. Except for the loudness of the explosion, a rocket-propelled grenade landed harmlessly thirty feet in front of Chontosh’s vehicle.
Corporal Scott Smith drove Chontosh’s second vehicle. The platoon corpsman was Hospital Man Third Class Michael Johnson, known simply as “Doc.” Doc occupied the back seat, while Frank Quintero occupied the turret, manning a Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wireless-guided (TOW) missile launcher. An RPG ripped through the side of the second Humvee, but even though it failed to explode, the munition hit Quintero in the abdomen and smashed Doc in the head, throwing him outside the vehicle, killed instantly.
Chontosh’s vehicle was in the middle of the pandemonium. Smith’s radio call dominated the airwaves, “Johnson’s dead! Johnson’s dead!” With tanks ahead of him, vehicles to the rear, and sand berms left and right, Chontosh concluded that he had but one move — the stuff one sees in typical Hollywood films. He ordered McCormick to turn right and drive straight into the center of the enemy’s attack formation. By the time the vehicle reached the sand berm, the Humvee was going as fast as it could. Witnesses claimed that the move was utterly insane, and all the while, Tank kept firing his .50 as enemy dead fell left and right. McCormick later testified that had it not been for Franklin’s exceptional delivery of lethal fire, they’d all be dead.
Closing in on the enemy, McCormick noticed a dip in the berm — a passageway into the jaws of death where they could attack the Iraqis from their rear. “Take it,” Chontosh ordered, killing two Iraqis thinking they would impede the attack. McCormick shot through the opening and crashed the Humvee into a dry irrigation ditch — one that was full of Iraqi fighters. Lieutenant Chontosh leaped from the vehicle shouting, “Let’s go!” Chontosh was armed with his M-9 service pistol, so he grabbed McCormick’s M-16, jumped into the trench, and began killing Iraqis.
McCormick tossed up a resupply of ammo to Franklin, who was still firing; Korte assisted Tank in reloading the weapon, the muzzle of which was probably near to melting. With that task done, McCormick and Kerman joined their lieutenant in the trench. The sight of these Marines stunned the Iraqi fighters, and the sound of Franklin’s gun terrified them. Those who didn’t die took off running in the opposite direction. Chontosh, having emptied his service rifle and pistol of ammunition, grabbed a discarded enemy weapon and continued his assault. Rounds from an enemy weapon kicked up sand all around Franklin, but he kept firing from his exposed position.
At one point in the battle, Chontosh picked up two discarded AK-47s and accurately fired them at the enemy — one in each hand. When the ammunition had been expended, the lieutenant picked up a discarded RPG and fired it into the middle of a group of retreating enemies. When Chontosh’s audacious assault ended, he had cleared 200 yards of the enemy trench, killing more than twenty Iraqis and wounding another score of unlucky enemy soldiers.
When Lieutenant Chontosh and his Marines returned to the roadway, he noted two or more dozen enemy dead where the Battalion had fought them. More than one-hundred enemies died, with fifty more taken prisoner — all within fifteen minutes. Many of these men had run over the berm to escape Chontosh and his Marines, running into 3/5’s automatic weapons.
Later promoted to captain, Chontosh received the Navy Cross for his courageous actions on 25 March 2003. Lance corporals McCormick and Kerman received the Silver Star, and Franklin and Kore received Navy-Marine Corps Commendation medals. The ambush took the life of Doc Johnson, and Quintero survived his severe wounds. Had it not been for Chontosh’s incredibly audacious act, far more Marines would likely have been killed or injured. Captain Brian Chontosh subsequently earned two Bronze Star Medals (with a Combat V device). After his promotion to major, Chontosh retired from active duty in October 2013.
On 18 December 1903, Secretary of the Navy William Moody directed the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Brigadier General George F. Elliott, to personally report to the President of the United States. His orders from President Roosevelt were to “proceed in person, taking passage aboard USS Dixie, from League Island to Colón, Panama. Take command of the entire force of United States Marines and seamen that may be landed for service in the State of Panama.”
The President’s order was significant because no Commandant had been ordered into the field since Colonel Commandant Archibald Henderson was sent to Florida to deal with the Indians in 1836. Moreover, no commandant has been ordered into the field since 1903.
Why would the President order the Marine Corps Commandant into the field? President Roosevelt had great trust and confidence in the Navy-Marine Corps to carry out his orders without delay or fuss. Faced with the possibility of conflict in Panama in late 1903, Roosevelt instinctively reached out for sea power. This time, however, he needed naval infantry, as well. When Panamanian revolutionaries declared independence, Colombia threatened to use force to recover its lost province. General Elliott’s presidential mission was one of the most strategically audacious gambits of the early 20th century. When he sailed south to assume command of the rapidly growing force of U.S. Marines, he carried plans for the invasion of Colombia and the occupation of one of its major cities.
Based on Colombia’s behavior in early to mid-1903, President Roosevelt anticipated that Colombia would likely attempt to retake its lost province. In mid-November, Washington began forwarding intelligence reports to U.S. military and naval commanders concerning Colombian troop movements —reports estimating that as many as 15,000 soldiers were moving toward Panama.
Rear Admiral Henry Glass (Commander, Pacific Squadron) at Panama City and Rear Admiral Joseph Coghlan (Commander, Caribbean Squadron) at Colón believed that Panamanian weather would serve the interests of the Americans. Both officers remained confident of the fighting spirit and strength of the U. S. Marines in Panama, and both admirals reported to Washington that there was no chance that a Colombian force would advance upon them until after the dry season. Admiral Glass must have developed a case of indigestion a few days after learning that a Colombian expedition of 1,100 men had already tested an overland route into Panama.
President Roosevelt had received that same report from a separate source in Colombia. Roosevelt was informed that the Colombians intended to establish a forward base at the mouth of the Atrato River, near the Panamanian border. Moreover, American diplomats reported deep-seated anger toward Americans in Bogota’s capital city.
The new government of Panama was still organizing. It did not have a force able to defend against a significant assault by Colombian troops — and it was clear to all concerned that Colombia intended to reclaim its province. It was up to the Americans to defend the new state of Panama — it was up to the Marines.
As reports of a likely invasion started flowing into his headquarters, Admiral Glass wired Washington for instructions on the extent of his authority to defend the new republic. On 10 December, Secretary Moody drafted a reply that would order Glass to establish camps of fully equipped Marine battalions at inland points to forcibly prevent hostile entry by land into the State of Panama. The draft also directed that he maintain good communication between Marine ground units and Navy vessels and that he cut trails and buy or hire pack animals as necessary to support overland expeditions. Moody’s order was never sent, however. When Moody presented his draft to the President, Roosevelt ordered him to hold off until the matter could be considered in greater depth.
The next day the Secretary of the Secretary of the Navy, presumably acting on Rosevelt’s further consideration, transmitted an order that marked a dramatic shift in the rules of engagement for U.S. forces in Panama: “Establish strong posts, men and Marines with artillery in the direction of the Yavisa or other better positions for observation only and rapid transmission of information but do not forcibly interfere with Colombian forces advancing by land.”
Secretary Moody again changed the rules of engagement a week later. The Secretary directed Glass to assume an almost entirely defensive role. In doing so, he retreated from previous instructions from Washington, which ordered Glass to defend all territory within 50 miles of the Panama Railroad, which carried a vast amount of commercial goods across the narrow Isthmus and thus represented the most commercially and strategically important Panamanian national asset.
According to this clarification, telegraphed in cipher, Moody’s instructions to Glass on 11 December were: “… maintain posts in the vicinity of Yavisa for observation only. Do not have posts beyond support from ships or launches. Withdraw your posts if liable to be attacked. The government intends to continue active defense against hostile operations near the railroad line on the IIsthmus and for its protection. Disregard all previous instructions that may appear to conflict with these.”
Roosevelt’s earlier threats may have been bluster, but it is also possible that Colombia’s military expedition caused Roosevelt to reconsider America’s long-term interests in the region. There’s also a third possibility: Roosevelt shifted his strategy for dealing with Colombia. His new strategy? A Marine assault in Colombia.
General Elliott assumed his duties as the tenth Commandant of the Marine Corps on 3 October 1903 —one month before the revolution in Panama. Elliott was the only Marine Corps Commandant educated at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He made the unusual decision to accept a commission in the Marines late in 1870. Subsequently, his exemplary performance of duty in Cuba during the Spanish-American War and in the Philippines during the insurgency against the American occupation resulted in his rapid promotion.
In mid-December 1903, President Roosevelt called upon Elliott’s knowledge of tropical warfare in dispatching him to Panama. After meeting with Secretary Moody on 18 December, General Elliott proceeded to assemble his force. The Commandant made it clear to his officers that the men needed to be prepared for service in “heavy marching order” and for rapid movement and sustained combat.
On 11 December, the cruiser U.S.S. Prairie departed Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with a battalion of Marines under the command of Major Louis C. Lucas. Arriving at Colón on the 13th, Lucas took his Battalion into camp at Bas Obispo. At League Island, the auxiliary cruiser U.S.S. Dixie recently returned from delivering Major John A. Lejeune’s nearly 400 Marines to Panama, embarked Elliott’s two additional Marine battalions, the first under the command of Major James E. Mahoney, the second led by Major Eli K. Cole. With the combined force of 642 Marines, General Elliott departed Philadelphia on 28 December and arrived at Colón on 3 January 1904. The 1st Provisional Marine Brigade was thus formed.
General Elliott’s priorities included establishing his Marines in the field and realigning the command structure to match the size of his force. Ellio ordered Major Cole’s Battalion to proceed to Empire, a town along the railroad approximately 30 miles from Colón; there, they would take quarters alongside Lejeune’s Battalion, which had come ashore on 4 November to coerce a Colombian Battalion into leaving the newly declared republic.
Lejeune’s men then spent the intervening month providing light security and communications relay before receiving orders to move into base camp at Empire. Major Lejeune’s professionalism and attention to detail (as well as the welfare of his Marines) led him to order an extensive reworking of the existing facilities of the former French Canal Company’s buildings at Empire. New freshwater and sewage systems were installed, jungle growth cleared, and the houses for the Marines cleaned and disinfected with healthy doses of carbolic acid. Only then did Lejeune allow his Marines to move into the quarters they would occupy for most of the following year. Lejeune’s and Cole’s battalions were designated 1st and 2nd Battalions, respectively, 1st Marine Regiment, Colonel W. P. Biddle (pictured right), Commanding.
Major James Mahoney’s Battalion proceeded to Bas Obispo, where it was quartered alongside Major Lucas’s Marines. These two units comprised the 2nd Marine Regiment, Colonel L. W. T. Waller (pictured right), Commanding. Both regiments, together, counted approximately 1,100 men.
General Elliott’s priorities also included reporting to the senior Navy officers in the country to present his orders. He first called on Admiral Coghlan at Colón. Shortly thereafter, he rode a train across the isthmus to meet with Admiral Glass. To each, he presented a letter from the Secretary of the Navy, part of which read: “The Department forwards herewith, in charge of Brigadier General Elliott, USMC, a plan for the occupation of Cartagena, Colombia. As will be seen, the plan contemplates occupation against a naval enemy, but the information it contains and the strategy involved may be readily applied to the present situation.”
General Elliott’s plan was almost certainly a regional modification to several operational plans formulated during the late 1890s. The plan was a bold military and diplomatic strategy that reflected well on the sophistication of American military planning that had been noticeably lacking throughout most of the nineteenth century. After nearly five years of frustrating American involvement against jungle-based Filipino insurrectionists, and two months of armed reconnaissance in Panama, President Roosevelt recognized the futility of defending Panama’s numerous bays, ill-defined borders, and porous mountain passes. He, therefore, chose to forgo a defensive strategy in favor of offensive action on a battlefield of his own choosing.
The battlefield of President Roosevelt’s choosing was Cartagena, no doubt anticipating that with U.S. Marines walking post inside his capital city, the President of Columbia would prefer a negotiated settlement. The naval force would first capture the port and customs house, then its defense installations, and then occupy the city itself. If the plan was successful, Roosevelt would dictate terms.
In the meantime, General Elliott instituted a training program to maintain his Marines at a high level of combat readiness. Simultaneously, he dispatched his forces on quick “out-‘n-back” expeditions that fulfilled the dual purposes of maintaining security while building Marine’s understanding of the surrounding countryside.
On 21 January, General Elliott reported that he had constructed rifle ranges in the two camps and directed the regiments to practice their marksmanship with rifles and automatic weapons. The Marines also practiced assault tactics, entrenching procedures, and the construction of obstacles to slow and confuse a counter-attacking enemy force. In short, General Elliott knew these were the skills his Marines would need to capture and defend Cartagena. Marine commanders dispatched reconnaissance parties throughout the small country to map roads and trails. This effort resulted in the first comprehensive survey of the isthmus of Panama. Meanwhile, the Leathernecks’ morale and discipline remained high — with a few minor exceptions, of course.
Word soon came to the Marines —a rumor— that Colombian insurgents planned to poison their water supply. General Elliott acted immediately: he ordered that anyone attempting to tamper with the water supply be shot on sight. Admiral Glass quickly reminded the General, “a state of war does not exist on the Isthmus of Panama.” Perhaps Elliott should simply take additional precautions to guard his water barrels. General Elliott no doubt appreciated the Admiral’s advice but let his order stand.
Meanwhile, Secretary Moody wrote to update Elliott on the situation at hand. After expressing his pleasure with the professionalism displayed by the Commandant and his staff throughout their deployment to Panama, the Navy secretary informed him, “If Colombia actually begins hostilities against us, a Brigade of the Army will proceed to the Isthmus.” This force, Moody cryptically explained, would allow Elliott to disengage his Marines in Panama and turn his attention to another “important” duty.
If Colombia decided to accept the new status quo in Panama, the secretary suggested Elliott’s force might take part “in some operations connected with the winter maneuvers.” Moody also enjoined Elliott to communicate frequently with Washington and clarified who the intended recipient of the communiqués would be: “Let the Department know through the proper channels of your daily operations. Remember, the Department is always annoyed by a long silence, and please also remember that the Army, which has only a couple of officers down there, is furnishing the President every day with pages of cipher cable, much of which, though dealing with small matters, is of considerable interest. Let your scouting be thorough and extend a long distance and give us daily accounts of it.“
On 12 January 1904, following a cabinet meeting, Secretary of War Elihu Root issued a statement denying any plan on the part of the United States to dispatch troops to Panama to fight Colombian forces. This appears to have been classic disinformation. While Army troops would be dispatched to Panama in the event of a Colombian invasion of the new republic, the real strategic response would come from the Marines on the ground in Panama. But they were not intended to battle Colombians in Panama; they would fight Colombians — and do it in Colombia.
By the end of January 1904, General Elliott’s brigade of Marines, backed by ships of the Pacific and Caribbean squadrons, were ready to assault Cartagena to ensure the continued independence of Panama. The invasion, of course, never took place. Colombia protested, probed, and negotiated but never seriously attempted to reoccupy its former province and, hence, never triggered Roosevelt’s audacious plan.
A treaty between Panama and the United States, the Isthmian Canal Convention, was ratified by the U.S. Senate on 23 February 1904 and signed by President Roosevelt two days later. According to its terms, the United States guaranteed the independence of the Republic of Panama.
General Rafael Reyes-Prieto, commander-in-chief of the Colombian Army and presumptive political heir to the country’s presidency, had traveled to Panama shortly after the revolution in an attempt to lure the nascent republic back into the Colombian fold, but on realizing he would be unsuccessful, he continued on to the United States. There, was treated with every courtesy, but when the question of Panama’s independence was raised, it was understood, in the words of a contemporary observer, “that what has been done could not be undone.” Reyes understood that American public opinion was behind Roosevelt’s policy of upholding the revolution in Panama.
Finally, Reyes hoped that the $10 million promised to Colombia under the rejected Hay-Herrán Treaty might still find its way into the country’s treasury. And by the end of January 1904, rumors that Colombia would “sooner or later receive a certain financial consolation for her loss of territory provided she abstains from violent proceedings” were circulating throughout Washington — and that’s what happened.
By the middle of March, Colombian troops operating along the Panamanian frontier were withdrawn, and the government declared that it did not intend to invade its former territory. In 1921 the U.S. Senate ratified the Thomson-Urrutia Treaty that provided Colombia $25 million for the loss of Panama.
A large portion of the 2d Marine Regiment was withdrawn from Panama on 14 February 1904 and redeployed to Guantanamo Bay to take part, as Secretary Moody had previously suggested, in annual winter maneuvers. General Elliott and his staff departed two days later, leaving Colonel Waller in command of the 800 remaining Marines.
On 7 March, Colonel Waller took a battalion back to League Island, leaving Major Lejeune behind with his original Battalion of 400 men to provide security aBattalionaissance on the isthmusIsthmusBattalionBalion remained for another nine months. U.S. Marines would remain a presence in Panama until 1912 when Captain John F. Hughes led his force of 389 men home.
Except — I served in Panama during the emergency of 1964 while a member of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines.
Wicks, D. H. “Dress Rehearsal: United States Intervention on the Isthmus of Panama, 1886. Pacific Historical Review, 1990
Collin, R. H. Theodore Roosevelt’s Caribbean: The Panama Canal, the Monroe Doctrine, and the Latin American Context (1990)
Graham, T. The Interests of Civilization: Reaction in the United States Against the Seizure of the Panama Canal Zone, 1903-1904. Lund Studies in International Relations, 1985.
Nikol, J. and Francis X. Holbrook, “Naval Operations in the Panama Revolution, 1903.” American Neptune, 1977.
Turk, R. “The Uni ed States Navy and the Taking of Panama, 1901-1903.” Military Affairs, 1974.
 George Frank Elliott (30 November 1846 – 4 November 1931) was promoted to Colonel in March 1903 and advanced to Brigadier General on 3 October 1903 when he assumed the post of Commandant of the Marine Corps.
The start date for history is that first moment in time when a human being recorded some past event — that, were it not for the record of that event, we could not know about it. In Panama, that moment occurred in 1501, when Rodrigo de Bastidas began his exploration of the Isthmus of Panama’s east coast. This is not to say that there were no human beings in Panama — only that we don’t know very much about them beyond the guestimates of archeologists and anthropologists.
Christopher Columbus’s fourth voyage in 1502 took him in a southeasterly direction from the upper region of Central America to the areas of Bocas del Toro, Veragua, the Rio Chagres and Portobello (named by Columbus). In these early times, Spanish explorers referred to the Isthmus of Panama as Tierra Firme.
Several years later, the Spanish Crown granted Alonso de Ojeda and Diego de Nicuesa the right to colonize the area between the Gulf of Uraba (northern Colombia) and present-day Honduras. The plan was to create a unitary administration somewhat similar to what later became Nueva España (New Spain (Mexico)). Tierra Firme was later appointed to control over present-day Jamaica and several other Caribbean islands. Vasco Nunéz de Balboa created the first permanent settlement, called Santa Maria la Antigua del Darien (later, Dariena) (northern Colombia) in 1513, from which he began his famed expedition — one that made him the first European to set eyes on the Pacific Ocean — which he named the South Sea.
It was Balboa’s fantastical descriptions of the isthmus that prompted King Ferdinand II to name this new territory “Golden Castile.” Ferdinand appointed Pedro Arias Divila (also Pedrarias) (a veteran soldier) as its governor. He arrived in the New World in June 1514 with 22 ships and 1,500 men. In 1519, Pedrarias moved his capital to Castilla del Oro, founding a new location for a city he named Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de Panamá (Panama City). Without any concrete evidence to support this contention, the origin of the word “Panama” is believed of native origin, its meaning “many fish.” Pedrarias was also instrumental in settling present-day Nicaragua.
Panama remained part of the Spanish Empire for over 300 years. In the total of the Americas, no other region would prove to be as strategically or economically important. Encroachment attempts by other European countries to seize Panama prompted the Spanish Crown to establish the Viceroyalty of New Granada in 1713 and Panama was placed under its protection. Unfortunately, the capital of New Granada was located at Santa Fe de Bogotá — its remoteness was a major obstacle in effective governance. Equally problematic was the competition between the Viceroyalty of Bogotá and the Viceroyalty of Peru — a somewhat infantile competition that lasted for over a hundred years.
The Spanish Empire reached its zenith under Habsburg rule in the late 18th century. But as order unraveled in Europe in 1808, political instability in new world colonies increased as well. It was the beginning of the Latin American independence movement that swept through Spanish-American colonies like a cholera pandemic.
New Granada finally achieved full independence from Spain in 1819, freeing Panama as well. The citizens of Panama considered uniting with Peru or other Central American federations but eventually joined Gran Colombia at the urgings of the much-admired Simón Bolívar. Panama declared its independence in 1821.
The very notion of a man-made canal between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea originated in the 1500s when Señor Balboa envisioned a shortcut across the narrow isthmus. But at the time, such an undertaking was deemed impossible — which is where the matter stood until around 1826 when U.S. Secretary of State Henry Clay considered the advantages of a canal across the newly independent Federal Republic of Central America. By this time, of course, American engineers had bragging rights over the construction of the Erie Canal — demonstrating that men were not just dreamers, they were also doers.
Secretary Clay’s idea (and those of others) was to cut across Nicaragua to the lake of the same name, which would, he supposed, provide a ready supply of water for a canal with locks to raise and lower ships for the journey from the Pacific and Atlantic. Congress, however, turned Clay down because of Nicaragua’s political instability. There was some talk about the likelihood that Nicaragua would separate into a half-dozen countries. If this should happen, the instability would interfere with American ambitions. In fact, political power in Colombia changed several times.
In 1843, Great Britain announced its plans to embark on a canal project, focusing its attention on Panama. Compared to Nicaragua, the distance in Panama coast-to-coast was less, but it too was a fleeting idea — one taken up by the famed engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps, builder of the Suez Canal.
In 1846, the United States signed the Mallarino-Bidlack Treaty with New Granada (Colombia y Panama) — a mutual cooperation treaty granting the U.S. significant transit rights within the isthmus, as well as certain military powers to suppress social conflicts and independence struggles targeting Colombia. Over the years, the United States intervened in Panama many times — usually confronting rebellious civilians, peasant guerrillas, or independence struggles.
From the beginning of the California Gold Rush (1848), the U.S. spent the next seven years building a trans-isthmian railway, a project which (according to the Mallarino-Bidlack Treaty), granted the U.S. political and economic access to Panamanian affairs. The province of Panama, of course, was part of New Granada — later an independent country of the same name.
In March 1885, Colombia reduced its military presence in Panama by reassigning troops to quell disturbances in Cartagena. Panamanian insurgents, with fewer soldiers to shoot at them, took full advantage of the situation, and this, in turn, triggered U.S. intervention pursuant to the Treaty of 1846.
Between 1869 – 1877, U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant ordered seven survey expeditions to study the feasibility of a cross-isthmus canal. As travel and trade in the Western hemisphere increased, the desirability of a canal increased. The distance between New York and San Francisco around Cape Horn, through treacherous seas, was 13,000 miles. The journey took months.
The War of the Pacific
This conflict involved Chile vs. the Bolivia-Peruvian alliance that lasted between 1879 – 1884. It was a territorial dispute that eventually increased the territory of Chile. Initially, the argument involved Bolivia and Chile; Peru was dragged into the fray because of its alliances with Bolivia. Chilean armed forces occupied the Bolivian port city of Antofagasta on 14 February 1879.
Oddly, hostilities weren’t declared between Chile and Bolivia until 1 March, and another month passed before Peru joined the fight. Initially, the fight was a naval campaign with Chile struggling to establish a seaborne supply corridor for forces operating in the world’s driest desert. Subsequently, Chile’s land campaign became overwhelming. Bolivia withdrew after late May 1880, and Chilean forces occupied Peru’s capital in January 1881. Afterward, the fight became a guerrilla war that simply wore down Peruvian forces to the point of agreeing to territorial concessions. The three countries signed peace accords in 1883 and 1884.
The U.S. Navy had no part in this war, but this is not to say that there was no connection to the United States. During the war, a lone U.S. Navy ship sat in the harbor at Callao, Peru — ostensibly to protect American interests during the war’s final stages. The ship was U.S.S. Wachusett (commissioned in 1861), and its commanding officer was a somewhat mediocre seaman named Alfred Thayer Mahan. Sitting in a foreign port isn’t a very exciting duty, although it was probably great fun for the crew. As for Captain Mahan, he spent his time reading books in the English Gentleman’s Club. Historians tell us that it was at Callao that Mahan began to formulate his concept of sea power.
The Chilean Navy had recently acquired a protected cruiser from a British shipbuilder known as Armstrong-Mitchell in 1882 or 1883. A protected cruiser is constructed in such a way as to provide maximum protection to that area of the ship most critical to its operation: the propulsion plant and its magazines. The Chilean navy commissioned this ship Esmeralda and proclaimed her the swiftest and most powerfully armed cruiser in the world. In 1885, Esmeralda appeared along the coast of Panama to observe U.S. activities ashore. The ship was, in its time, an awesome sight, particularly when compared to the wooden-hulled ships of the line of the United States Navy.
President McKinley and Roosevelt’s Canal
In 1897, President McKinley became the 25th President of the United States. He was an advocate of protectionist policies and tough diplomacy. Within twelve months, McKinley took the United States to war with a major European power (although one on standing on its last Imperial legs). The United States won the Spanish-American War (in record time), but that feat had more to do with Spanish incompetence than American might. The war might have gone “the other way” had it not been for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps … and one very talkative Assistant Secretary of the Navy whose name was Theodore Roosevelt.
The condition of the American navy following the Civil War was abysmal. The Navy’s ships were rotting at the waterline. The Navy and Congress were guilty of criminal neglect. The Navy for not raising holy hell about the state of its ships, and Congress for failing to provide sufficient funds to maintain the fleet. Worse, perhaps, the Navy didn’t have much of a mission, and its officers were retired on active duty. In short, the U.S. Navy was a disgrace.
How bad was it, really? In 1884, a French naval officer visited a U.S. Navy ship and complimented its captain for the ship’s brilliant display of antique weaponry — suggesting, of course, that an American ship of the line was a floating museum. A year later, President Grover Cleveland’s first message to Congress was a scorching indictment of the U.S. Navy. In the President’s opinion, what made the state of the Navy humiliating was that Italy, Spain, and Holland boasted a more powerful navy than the United States — and Chile had more powerful ships, as well. Captain Mahan must have been deeply embarrassed.
The impetus for a modernized, stronger Navy capable of projecting U.S. power overseas was competition for colonial possessions, the creation of numerous coaling stations, and an 1889 war scare between the United States and Germany over territorial claims in the Samoan Islands. Two years later, a Chilean mob attacked U.S. sailors on shore leave in Valparaiso, killing 2 and wounding 17. President Benjamin Harrison tried to take a hard line, but as soon as the President understood that Chile had a stronger navy than his own, he soon backed off.
In 1897, the U.S. Navy was not ready for war — simply “more ready” than the Army, and that wasn’t saying much. The one service that was ready for war was the U.S. Marine Corps. See also First Marine Battalion.
The one thing the U.S. Navy/Marine Corps did not lack in 1898 was a strategic vision. Even though the U.S. and Spain had been at peace for over 80 years, Navy and Marine Corps thinkers imagined and contemplated war with Iberia and planned for it. These men were keen observers of the conflict between Spain and the Cuban revolutionaries (1868 – 1878).
President McKinley, of course, was assassinated in 1901, which propelled Theodore Roosevelt into the presidency. Arguably, the most important action President Theodore Roosevelt ever took in foreign affairs related to the construction of the Panama Canal. It was controversial abroad —it was controversial at home. Those who opposed the canal claimed that Roosevelt’s actions were unconstitutional. The charge was possibly true — the denizens of Washington never worry about such things as violations of the U.S. Constitution. Roosevelt, of course, was a man of action.
Driven by patriotic fervor, supported by the investments of a hundred-thousand investors and the expectation of great wealth, the Compagnie Universelle du Canal Interoceanique began work that would cross the Colombian isthmus of Panama and unite the Atlantic with the Pacific. There was ample evidence that Lesseps had done his due diligence.
The Panama Railway had made in excess of $7 million in the first six years of its operations. The railroad, which had cost upwards of 6,000 human lives to build, failed to dampen Mr. Lesseps’ enthusiasm. The project would be a sea-level canal dug along the path of the Panama Railroad. It would extend fifty miles in length (half as long as the Suez Canal), and it would cost around $132 million. Lesseps estimated a project lasting 12 years.
The canal became a French project on 1 February 1881, but ultimately, it was another failed attempt. Neither Lesseps nor any of his company was prepared for the harsh Central American environment. Ultimately, Mr. Lesseps gave up 22,000 workers who died of one cause or another; all the money spent on the project was wasted, and the project ended in 1888.
Shortly after ascending to the presidency, Theodore Roosevelt spoke of the Panama Canal in a speech to Congress. He argued enthusiastically, “No single great material work which remains to be undertaken on this continent is as of such consequence to the American people.” The President acted quickly. In 1902, the United States reached an agreement to buy the rights to the French canal and property and its equipment for a sum of $40 million. The U.S. then began to negotiate a treaty with the government of Colombia. The U.S. Department of War would direct the excavation. The American public sensed a scandal in the making — or worse, good money is thrown after bad.
In a short time, Colombia grew reticent in its negotiations. Roosevelt and Panamanian business interests collaborated on the instigation of a revolution. The battle lasted only a few hours because Colombian troops in the city of Colón accepted bribes to lay down their arms. On 3 November 1903, the Colombian province of Panama became the independent country of the same name. And, since the U.S. initiated the hullaballoo in the first place, it assumed a parental interest in Panamanian affairs. Members of the Roosevelt administration prepared Panama’s Constitution in advance of the “revolution,” the wife of a prominent Panamanian lobbyist sewed the country’s first flag (her husband became the Panamanian ambassador to the United States), and a treaty was signed that were favorable to American interests. The United States promptly deposited $10 million to the Panamanian government.
(Continued next week)
Wicks, D. H. “Dress Rehearsal: United States Intervention on the Isthmus of Panama, 1886. Pacific Historical Review, 1990
Collin, R. H. Theodore Roosevelt’s Caribbean: The Panama Canal, the Monroe Doctrine, and the Latin American Context (1990)
Graham, T. The Interests of Civilization: Reaction in the United States Against the Seizure of the Panama Canal Zone, 1903-1904. Lund Studies in International Relations, 1985.
Nikol, J. and Francis X. Holbrook, “Naval Operations in the Panama Revolution, 1903.” American Neptune, 1977.
Turk, R. “The United States Navy and the Taking of Panama, 1901-1903.” Military Affairs, 1974.
 The idea of a canal across Nicaragua did not end in the mid-1800s. The United States ordered a survey in 1916 as a hedge against the unworkability of the Panama Canal, and the People’s Republic of China evaluated prospects in 2012. Concern for the safety of Lake Nicaragua settled the matter — for now.
The act of mutiny occurs whenever a group of people (especially soldiers or sailors) refuses to obey orders and (or) attempts to take control away from their lawfully appointed officers or senior NCOs. In all, there were 19 mutinies in the Royal Navy. Two of these occurred in 1797, known as the Spithead and Nore mutinies — the first in an increasing number of outbreaks of maritime radicalism in the so-called Atlantic passage. At the first, the Spithead mutiny was peaceful and successfully addressed common economic grievances. The Nore mutiny was just the opposite.
A Word About Marines
Historically, as a principal duty, marines serve as naval infantry. The word is French for “by sea,” which is probably why the French have always referred to English troops as marines. They always arrived by sea.
Initially, a ship’s crew assumed the tasks of marines at sea. They were, first, sailors. There was not much distinction between sailors and soldiers aboard ships because, for the most part, the crews of vessels fighting one another met in close combat, and it was a melee. Sailors had to know how to fight. But they also had to know how to fight once they reached their destinations.
In antiquity, Roman soldiers fought on Roman combat ships as marines. The Italians were the first to employ specially trained sailors to serve as naval infantry (c. 1200s). The chief magistrate of Venice assigned ten companies of these specialized troops to a naval squadron and sent them off to address some disagreement with the Byzantines. The mission went well for the Italians, and so they decided to retain such men and called them “sea infantry.” Soon after, the idea caught on with other countries. The Spanish Marine Corps, founded in 1537, is the world’s oldest (still-active) corps of marines. The Netherlands created its corps of marines in 1665. In most cases, though, modern marines are specially trained sailors.
The British Royal Marines were the first naval infantry who were NOT sailors. During the 1600s and 1700s, the Royal Navy would form regiments of marines by taking soldiers from the British Army and disbanding them when no longer needed on active service. In 1775, the American Congress formed Marine battalions modeled on the role of their British counterparts — to serve as naval infantry. Today, U.S. Marines are trained from the beginning of their commissions/enlistments to serve as naval infantry — although the Continental Congress stipulated in the recruitment of marines “that particular care be taken, that no persons be appointed to office or enlisted into said battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve to advantage by sea, when required.”
The employment of Marines as general handymen and orderlies for flag officers of the Navy is no innovation. So ingrained had this idea become by 1881 that a naval encyclopedia in that year defined the word “orderly” as “a Marine private detailed as a messenger for the commanding officer.” The admiral’s orderly, therefore, had to be a leatherneck — a bluejacket wouldn’t do. And it became the role of marines, not engaged in combat at sea, to preserve order aboard ship. In port, sentinel posts were established to prevent desertion — and at all times, marines kept an ear cocked for the faintest rumblings of mutiny.
Mutiny at sea was always problematic — and in 1797, what made it so was the fact that Great Britain was at war with Revolutionary France. The Royal Navy was a primary component of the war effort. There were also concerns among home offices — that the mutinies might be part of broader attempts at revolutionary sedition instigated by “troublemaking organizations,” such as the London Corresponding Society and the United Irishmen (see also: “Conclusion”).
Spithead was an anchorage near Portsmouth, and at anchor were sixteen ships under the command of Admiral Alexander Hood, Lord Bridport. No country has done a marvelous job caring for its Navy’s ships or the men who handle them, and the United Kingdom is no exception. And the men were not happy. Between 16 April to 15 May, the men of the channel fleet protested against the living conditions aboard ship, they demanded more pay for their services, better food, increased shore leave, and compensation for sickness and injury.
On 26 April, a supportive mutiny broke out on the additional 15 ships, each of which sent delegates to Spithead to participate in negotiations. It was probably about time for a review of pay accorded to the men of the sea. Their pay tables dated to 1658. The pay was still reasonable for those times — even through the Seven Years’ War. But in the last decades of the 18th century, nations experienced high inflation rates. Sailors with families to support were struggling to make do.
Another sore point for the Navy was the fact that, in recent years, the government granted pay increases to the British Army, to militia forces, and even to naval officers. But another issue affecting morale — and perhaps the Royal Navy’s budget- was its new practice of coppering the hulls of its warships. In 1761, coppering meant that combat ships no longer had to return to port as often to have their hulls scraped. The additional time at sea significantly altered the sea service rhythm, yet the Admiralty had made no adjustments. Senior officers were slow to grasp the difficulty of the deck-hands work. Impressment was a common practice suggesting that some of the crew served against their will.
Finally, in the war with France, the British Admiralty announced a new quota system known as the Quod. More than one clever politician discovered that sending convicted criminals to serve with the Navy was convenient. Generally, these “conscripts” did not mix well with a ship’s company. Dissention aboard ship was one of the items on a marine’s to-do list.
The mutineers were led by elected delegates and tried to negotiate with the Admiralty for two weeks, focusing their demands on better pay, demanding an end to the so-called 14-ounce purser’s pound. And the men wanted to get rid of a few officers, as well. No one mentioned flogging or impressment … but they could not abide an ass wearing an officer’s uniform. Throughout the mutiny, the crews maintained their regular naval routines aboard their ships and their discipline, and they consented to allow some ships to leave Spithead for convoy escort duties or combat patrols and promised to suspend the mutiny and go to sea immediately if French ships were spotted heading for English shores.
Negotiations broke down over such issues as pardons for mutineers, and some minor incidents broke out with a few unpopular officers. When the situation calmed down again, Fleet Admiral Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe (brother of Major General Sir William Howe) intervened to negotiate an agreement to obtain a royal pardon for all crews, the reassignment of some unpopular officers, a pay raise, and abolition of the purser’s pound.
The Nore Mutiny
The Nore is a long bank of sand and silt running along the south-central portion of England’s final narrowing of the Thames Estuary. Until 1964, it was the seaward limit of the Port of London. It was so dangerous that the world’s first lightship was established there in 1732.
Inspired by the example of their comrades at Spithead, the sailors at The Nore also mutinied an incident that began on 12 May 1797. The sailors of HMS Sandwich seized control of the ship, and several other ships within call’s reach followed their example. Other ships quietly slipped away despite gunfire from the ships in rebellion. Scattered ships make it difficult to organize mutinies among other ships, but each involved vessel quickly elected its delegates. The men of HMS Sandwich elected Seaman Richard Parker to serve as President of the Delegates of the Fleet.
Seaman Parker was a former master’s mate who was reduced in rank at a court-martial for insubordination and subsequently discharged. Life was hard for Parker in Exeter, and he fell into debt. This situation caused the county council to nominate Parker for duty with the Navy, and he found himself as an ordinary seaman aboard Sandwich. He had only recently joined the crew when the mutiny broke out. Parker, an older and more experienced man, fully aware of the squalid conditions aboard Sandwich, took no part in the mutiny, but he did empathize with the crew, and he agreed to represent them with the officer commanding — even though he exercised no control over the actions of the mutineers.
Crewmen formulated a list of eight demands and, on 20 May 1797, presented them to Admiral Charles Buckner. They wanted pardons, increased pay, and modifications of the Articles of War and demanded that the King dissolve Parliament and make immediate peace with France. As one might imagine, the demands infuriated the Admiralty, which offered nothing in return except a pardon (and the concessions already made at Spithead) in return for an immediate return to duty. By the first of June, mutinied ships formed a blockade of the Thames.
Captain Sir Erasmus Gower, commanding HMS Neptune in the upper Thames, put together a flotilla of fifty loyal ships and determined to use them to prevent mutineers from reaching the City of London. It was essentially Gower’s intentions that made the mutineers at Nore begin to waiver, but not before they made the wrong decision to blockade London, which prevented merchant vessels from entering port. Parker then decided to move the mutinied ships to France — which infuriated the regular English sailors and caused them to take back a few ships.
Among most of the mutineers at The Nore, if anyone was thinking about treason, it was only a few. Most men simply wanted less squalid living conditions, better food, and better pay. Parker issued orders to allow passage to merchant ships on the Thames but ordered the detention of the Royal Navy’s victualling ships. Historians claim that Parker wanted the Admiralty to have a good impression of the mutineer’s intent; other academics argue that it was a bit more complex than that. And, in any case, Parker was out of his depth.
After the successful resolution of the Spithead mutiny, the Admiralty was not inclined to make any further concessions, mainly as they felt some leaders of the Nore mutiny had political aims beyond improving pay and living conditions. The rebellion fell apart when Parker signaled ships to sail to France. When the mutineers (on most ships) observed the signal, they refused.
It did not take long for the Royal Navy to convict Seaman Parker — of treason and piracy. It also did not take the Royal Navy to hand him from the yardarm of Sandwich. Shown at right is Parker’s death mask.
Following Parker on the yardarm were 29 other seamen. An additional 29 went to prison. Nine men received a flogging, and several more found themselves headed for the penal colony in Australia. Most men, however, received no punishment — which until then was unheard of in the Royal Navy.
One tidbit: posting the watch
Ship’s crews stand their watches (periods of duty) according to the hour of the day. In the days of sail, watches were divided into two sections: port and starboard. Each of these was on duty for four hours, and then they were off duty for four hours. One stroke of the bell indicates the first half hour of the watch. An additional bell strikes for each succeeding half-hour. Eight bells indicate the end of a four-hour watch. Whenever the time calls for two or more bells, they are sounded in groups of two.
The first five watches
First watch: 20:00 to 00:00
Middle watch: 00:01 to 04:00
Morning watch: 04:01 to 08:00
Forenoon watch: 08:01 to 12:00
Afternoon watch: 12:01 to 16:00
Following the afternoon watch, the next four hours are divided into two “Dog Watches.” The first dog watch occurs from 16:01 to 18:00, and the second dog watch from 18:01 to 20:00. The dog watch can be changed every day so that each watch gets a turn at eight hours of rest at night. Otherwise, each crew member would be on duty for the same hours daily.
Before The Nore mutiny, Royal Navy vessels sounded five bells to signal the end of the last dog watch; after The Nore mutiny, five bells no longer signified the last dog watch because that was the signal aboard Sandwich to begin the mutiny.
There have seldom been what one might call “good feelings” between the English and the Irish. The Society of United Irishmen was a sworn association in the Kingdom of Ireland formed after the French Revolution to secure “equal representation” of all the people. In 1798, the society instigated a republican insurrection in defiance of the British Crown. Espousing principles they believed had been vindicated by the American Revolution, and the French Declaration of the rights of man, Presbyterian merchants who formed the organization in Belfast vowed to make cause with their Catholic brethren. In 1800, England abolished the Irish legislature, and everything went downhill from that point forward.
At the time of the Spithead and The Nore mutinies, British politicians assumed that the United Irishmen were behind these troubles as part of a plot to overthrow the British monarchy and establish in its place a British Republic. This was not true, of course, but given their turbulent past, everyone (Irish or British) was prepared to believe it.
Nalty, B. Certain Aspects of Manpower Utilization in the Marine Corps: Historical Background. Marine Corps Historical Reference Series, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1959.
Roulo, C. Why Are Marines Part of the Navy? U.S. Department of Defense, online publication.
Manwaring, G. E. The Floating Republic: An Account of the Mutinies at Spithead and The Nore in 1797. Harcourt-Brace, 1935.
Woodman, R. A Brief History of Mutiny. Carroll & Graff, 2005.
 Introduced by Prime Minister William Pitt (the Younger) in 1795. The system required every British county to provide a certain number of men for service in the Royal Navy. The quota depended on the population of the counties. In some cases, county commissions found it difficult to meet their quota, so they offered bounties to landsmen, which created some dissension among regular swabbies. The system lasted through 1815, when the British decommissioned most of its navy.
 The purser’s pound was an arrangement where the ship’s purser was allowed to keep 2 ounces of food for every 16 ounces of food sold to the crew.
 Howe commanded HMS Baltimore during the Jacobite Uprising in 1745.
 Master’s Mate is no longer a rank in the British or American navies. Originally, the master’s mate was an experienced senior petty officer who assisted the ship’s master but was not in line for an officer’s commission. By the mid-18th century, though, this rate was a senior midshipman awaiting a commission to lieutenant.
There are two Banastre Tarleton’s. The first one — the real one — is part of British Army history and, of course, that of the American Revolution. The second Banastre is an invention of Hollywood writers and every historian content to evaluate history through 21st-century rose-colored lenses.
I have no inside information about what goes on inside Hollywood production studios. I simply know that whenever Mel Gibson begins a project having anything to do with British history, the British always come out looking horrible. He did that with the film about William Wallace, which was more fiction than fact — and he did it with the film The Patriot, where he painted Cornwallis as dishonorable and Banastre Tarleton as a war criminal. Placing “entertainment” aside, if that’s what fictional history is, Gibson and others are teaching their American audiences revisionist history. Given the current state of education in the United States, one may argue that Americans don’t need any help learning the wrong history.
Taking another look
Banastre Tarleton was born on 21 August 1754. I’ve read that he was either the second, third, or fourth of seven children of John Tarleton, the former lord mayor of Liverpool, a money lender, a merchant, and a slave trader. Banastre was fortunate to have a wealthy father — just not lucky enough to be his father’s first born son. Although his father paid for his education at prestigious Oxford University, his was a rather undistinguished learning experience. He seemed more interested in drinking, gambling, and consorting with loose women than studying. When his father died in 1773, Banastre inherited £5,000, which he promptly squandered. The purchase of his military commission was a gift of his mother, who promised her son that he’d seen his last monetary gift from the home front.
What kind of person was Banastre Tarleton? For a young man raised in the home of a slave trader, we might expect that he developed a cold-hearted worldview. In later life, as a member of Parliament, Tarleton rigorously defended the slave trade (upon which his family’s fortunes rested), and he was known to verbally attack abolitionist politicians.
Coronet Tarleton arrived in North America in 1776 and was assigned rather mundane duties of an administrative manner. It did not take him long to run up another £2,500 of debt. We may not have heard any more about Banastre Tarleton were it not for the stunning defeat of General John Burgoyne at Saratoga in 1777.
A twenty-one-year-old Banastre Tarleton sailed from Cork in December 1775 with Lord Cornwallis. Cornwallis’s mission was to capture Charleston, South Carolina. This expedition failed, but in the following year, Tarleton joined the main British Army under General William Howe in New York. Coronet Tarleton was assigned to Colonel William Harcourt.
Coronet Tarleton was part of a scouting party ordered to gather information about the movements of General Charles Lee in New Jersey. On 13 December 1776, Tarleton surrounded a house in Basking Ridge and forced General Lee, dressed in his nightgown, to surrender by threatening to burn down the house. Lee surrendered.
Subsequently, Tarleton’s campaign service in 1776 earned him the position of brigade major; he was barely 22 years old. He was promoted to captain on 13 June 1778, having served in several combat engagements — including the Battle of Brandywine and others (1777 – 1778). One such battle was an attack on a communications outpost in Easton Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, which was guarded by Captain Henry Lee III. In this battle, the patriots repulsed the British assault. Captain Tarleton was wounded in this action.
Burgoyne’s defeat at Saratoga led senior British commanders to shift their efforts to the southern colonies, where they believed Loyalists would help them to win the war. To help accomplish that, General Sir Henry Clinton created a British Legion from among the communities of British loyalists. Formed in July 1778, the Legion initially consisted of several small loyalist militia units from New York, placed into a single organization of mounted infantry, cavalry, and “flying” artillery.
In 1778, Tarleton was 24 years old. His mission was to patrol, track, raid, assault, shock, and destroy enemy guerrilla forces. Between 1778 – 1782, the British Legion participated in 15 separate combat operations — but, by every account, Tarleton completed his mission enthusiastically, efficiently, and ruthlessly … giving rise to the claim that the young colonel was guilty of war crimes.
Any British notion that southern loyalists would save the day was a substantial miscalculation because what the British had to contend with in the Carolinas was the backcountry Scots-Irish who had been pushing British buttons since 1740.
In 1778, these hard-headed people (and their offspring) had become rebel militiamen and guerrillas. Colonel Tarleton’s attitude was that if these people were going to ruthlessly attack British formations and baggage trains, then they should be prepared for some ruthlessness in return. To his credit, Tarleton’s legion was constantly in the saddle, far afield from regular garrisons. They seized what they needed to sustain themselves — from the King’s subjects, which was only proper. These rebels were, after all, committing their treason on the King’s land.
At most, Tarleton had around 500 men in uniform. On average, it was probably closer to 300. When the Legion needed more men, Tarleton’s officers recruited them from among the loyalist communities (and rebel deserters). He motivated the men by convincing them that they were the British Army’s elite fighters. They distinguished themselves by wearing green uniforms rather than redcoats. Tarleton’s standing order to his men was to give the enemy “fire and sword.” And that’s what they did.
Charleston, South Carolina, fell to General Sir Henry Clinton’s British forces on 12 May 1780. A column of around 380 patriot reinforcements known as the Third Virginia Detachment, serving under Colonel Abraham Buford, failed to reach the city before it’s capitulation. Once they realized that the city had fallen, they withdrew. Buford’s command involved two companies of the 2nd Virginia Regiment, 40 light dragoons, and two six-pound cannons.
Having taken the city, General Clinton prepared to return to New York, appointing his deputy, Lieutenant General Cornwallis, to assume command of the southern army. Even though a week had elapsed when Cornwallis learned of Buford’s presence, he dispatched Colonel Tarleton to pursue him. At that time, Tarleton’s command consisted of around 230 Legionnaires, reinforced by 40 men from the 17th Light Dragoon and a three-pound cannon.
Colonel Tarleton aggressively moved his men 150 miles rapidly, catching up with Buford on the afternoon of 29 May. The area in which the two forces caught sight of each other lies along the border of North and South Carolina — an area known as the Waxhaws. Colonel Tarleton sent a message to Buford demanding his surrender. Initially, Buford refused and ordered his baggage and weapons train to continue moving northward in all due haste. He then formed a battle line in an open field across his route of march, placing his infantry in a single line with orders not to fire until the British approached within ten yards.
While approaching Buford’s position, Tarleton organized his force into three attacking columns. He deployed 120 British dragoons on his right flank, intending to dismount his infantry to fire upon the Americans and pin them down. His center column consisted of his elite force, regulars of the 17th Light Dragoons and Legionnaires to charge straight ahead, and a left flank column of 30 legionnaires under his personal command, intending to sweep the American right flank and drive for their baggage and reserves. Tarleton retained his only cannon in reserve.
Colonel Tarleton ordered his attack as soon as its elements were in position. Buford’s men, having been ordered to withhold their fire, were overwhelmed by the speed and aggressiveness of the British assault. Tarleton’s three columns devastated the American defenders. As quickly as it had begun, the battle was over. British casualties were slight, with five killed and 14 wounded. The American losses were 113 men killed and 203 wounded — with Colonel Buford escaping to safety. When Buford was out of danger, he reported the engagement as a massacre of surrendered men. Even now, the American Battle Trust refers to this engagement as the Buford Massacre.
Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton tells us a different story. In A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the Southern Provinces of North America (1787), Tarleton tells us that after arriving at Camden, he obtained intelligence from local citizens that Colonel Buford had quit Rugeley’s Mills on 26th May and was marching in all haste to join a corps thought to be marching on the road between Salisbury and Charlotte town in North Carolina. With this information, Tarleton moved vigorously to prevent the union of these troops.
Tarleton’s men reached Rugeley’s Mill in daylight and learned that the Continentals were in full retreat some twenty miles down the road toward Catawba. Motivated by his enthusiasm to meet the enemy, Tarleton quickened his pace, sending Captain Kinlock ahead with a message to the American commander: surrender his force. Buford turned back to meet the British foe.
By this time, heat and humidity had defeated many of the British cavalry and dragoons, men who were so worn out that they began to drop out of the formation and fall into the rear of the column. This was the condition of Tarleton’s men as he approached the Americans — and the commander realized that his men did not have the energy for a prolonged engagement. This is why Tarleton decided to attack the enemy as soon as possible — and to prevent reinforcements from reaching the American line. At this moment, the only circumstance favorable to the British light dragoons was the known inferiority of the American cavalry.
At 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the advanced guard of the British charged a sergeant and four men of the American light dragoon and made them prisoners. Colonel Buford readied his 380 men for action, forming them in a single line with a small reserve, and ordered his baggage and wagons to continue their march.
Tarleton formed his men for an attack with haste. He assigned 120 mounted men to the right flank under Major Cochrane. He ordered Cochrane to dismount 60 dragoons to gall the Americans’ flank. He directed Captain Corbet and Captain Kinlock to charge the center, and he would lead 30 men to sweep the American right flank.
Thus far, Buford had not fired upon Tarleton. When the British arrived within fifty yards of the American line, Buford ordered the riflemen to present — but their officers ordered them to hold fire. In accordance with Buford’s intention, the Americans would only have one shot before the British were inside the line.
The American riflemen took their shot when the British were within ten yards. Colonel Tarleton’s horse was shot, and he collapsed with the animal. Tarleton quickly recovered, but his men, thinking he was shot, unleashed their rage upon the Americans, and Buford’s battalion was soon broken and “no quarter” delivered before Tarleton could regain control of this force.
When the Americans had taken their shot, Tarleton’s horse was shot, and he collapsed with his horse. Tarleton quickly recovered, but his men, thinking he was shot, unleashed their rage upon the Americans, and the battalion was soon broken with no quarter delivered before Tarleton could regain control of his men. Given the over-stimulation and vindictiveness of the legionnaires, the loss of American officers and men was significant.
The wounded (American and British) of both parties were collected with all possible dispatch and treated with equal humanity. The American officers and soldiers who were unable to travel were paroled the next morning and placed at the neighboring plantations and in a meeting house not far distant from the field of battle: Surgeons were sent from Camden and Charlotte town to assist them, and every possible convenience was provided by the British.
To dispel the idea popular among some American historians that General Cornwallis countenanced “war crimes” in his command, he actually did not seem to have much patience for misbehavior among his soldiers. In 1781, Lord Cornwallis rode to the front of Tarleton’s regimental column and ordered Colonel Tarleton to dismount his regiment and have his men and officers stand at attention by their mounts.
Tarleton, as we now know, was one of Cornwallis’ favorite officers. Was he too lax with his men? Perhaps. Although, what he may have lacked in disciplinary judgment, he made up for in his enthusiasm and battlefield courage. As his men stood at attention, Lord Cornwallis and several civilians walked down the line looking at each trooper, inspecting each face. From time to time, Cornwallis and the civilians engaged in hushed conversations. Finally, Cornwallis ordered his guards to seize two men — a private and a sergeant and pulled them out of the ranks. The two legionnaires appeared before a court martial charged with rape and robbery. Found guilty, Cornwallis had them hanged.
The British Army could be brutal. Some will argue that harshness to influence discipline is part of military virtue. Either the men are disciplined, or they are not. No doubt, Colonel Tarleton was feeling uncomfortable as he observed his men swinging from the gallows. General Cornwallis had warned his favorite officer to bring his legionnaires to heel because he believed they were playing fast and loose with proper decorum as representatives of His Majesty’s Army.
There is little doubt that Tarleton’s command was ruthless. War is a ruthless business, and there can be no doubt that rebellious colonists were traitors to the Crown. Tarleton was walking a tightrope. How much ruthlessness is acceptable? Where does one draw the line?
In South Carolina, Francis Marion (also known as the Swamp Fox) had long served as a British and later state militia officer. Marion never served in command of a field army or participated in a major engagement, but his expertise in irregular (guerilla) warfare earned him a promotion to brigadier general. Throughout the southern campaign, Colonel Tarleton did everything within his power to disrupt and, if possible, capture General Marion — without success.
Marion was a popular son of South Carolina, and he had no problem gaining the support and assistance of local citizens. Tarleton, on the other hand, unapologetically took what forage he needed to support his men. South Carolinians were less inclined to support the rash British dragoon. It was a matter of culture: Tarleton treated the people of South Carolina for what they were — the King’s subjects. In time, even the loyalists began to resent Tarleton’s haughtiness and became less inclined to offer any support.
Colonel Tarleton was instrumental in helping General Cornwallis win the Battle of Camden in August 1780. He also defeated Thomas Sumter at Fishing Creek (Catawba Fords) but was less successful with Sumter at Blackstock’s Farm (November 1780).
Colonel Tarleton’s forces were virtually destroyed on 17 January 1781 by General Daniel Morgan at the Battle of Cowpens. Tarleton and 200 men managed to escape the battlefield. Colonel William Washington commanded the rebel cavalry when attacked by Tarleton and two of his men. Washington stopped Tarleton by aggressively assaulting him with his sword and challenging him by saying loudly, “Where is now the boasting Tarleton?”
A young coronet of the 17th Dragoons, Thomas Patterson, rode up to strike Washington but was shot and killed by Washington’s orderly. In this encounter, Washington wounded Tarleton in his right hand, and Tarleton returned the favor by shooting Washington, wounding him in the knee, and also wounding his horse. Washington, incensed, pursued Tarleton for sixteen miles, finally losing sight of him at the Goudylock Plantation.
Banastre Tarleton was a gallant military officer — one who took his duties seriously, and perhaps, in some instances, too seriously. But he was no war criminal, and he did not die in a hand-to-hand fight with Mel Gibson. Tarleton returned to Great Britain and entered the world of politics. His combat wounds served him well as a returning hero. Not everyone agreed with General Tarleton’s account of the Southern Campaign, of course … proving that the British Army, like most other armies, are highly political.
In 1812, Tarleton was commissioned to full general. He anticipated being appointed to command British forces in the Peninsular War, but that assignment went to Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke Wellington. Instead, Tarleton held military command in Ireland and England.
Bass, R. D. The Green Dragoon, Sandlapper Publications, 2003
Reynolds, W. R. Jr. Andrew Pickens: South Carolina Patriot in the Revolutionary War. McFarland & Company, 2012.
Scotti, A. J. Brutal Virtue: The Myth and Reality of Banastre Tarleton. Heritage Books, 2002.
Wilson, D. K. The southern strategy: Britain’s conquest of South Carolina and Georgia, 1775–1780. University of South Carolina Press, 2005.
Raddall, T. H. Tarleton’s Legion. Collections of the Nova Scotia Historical Society, 1949.
Tarleton, B. A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the southern provinces of North America. 1787. Kindle Edition.
 Historian Michael Bryant states that the first use of the term “war criminal” occurred in 1906 in a book on international law, suggesting also that the concept existed much earlier than that.
 Coronet was the lowest commissioned grade of the British Cavalry, equivalent to modern-day second lieutenant.
 A brigade major is the chief of staff of a brigade. It is a job position, not a rank; however, such men commonly held the rank of major (but also captain), but intentionally below the rank of lieutenant colonel who generally served as officers commanding subordinate battalions. Brigades major provided detail concerning and executed the intentions of the brigade commander.
 Flying artillery was a new concept in 1778. It involved fast-moving cavalry, swift movement of artillery, and mounted infantry (dragoons) formed from Caledonian Volunteers, West Jersey Volunteers, Captain Kinloch’s independent New York Dragoons, Philadelphia Light Dragoons, the Prince of Wales’s American Volunteers, and the 16th Light Dragoons. To lead the Legion, Tarleton was advanced to lieutenant colonel and ordered to move his 250 cavalry and 200 dragoons to the Carolinas.
 A geographical region extending beyond both sides of the North and South Carolina border within Lancaster, Union, and Mecklenburg counties.
Nearly everyone recalls that the Seven Years’ War (1756 – 1763) was a global conflict that involved most of Europe’s great powers. It was primarily fought in Europe, in the Americas, and the Asian Pacific — but there were concurrent conflicts that included the French and Indian War (1754 – 1763), the Carnatic Wars (a series of conflicts in India’s coastal Carnatic region, 1744 – 1763), and the Anglo-Spanish War (1762 – 1763).
Opposing European alliances were led by Great Britain and France, both of which were seeking to establish global pre-eminence at the expense of the other. France and Spain opposed Great Britain in Europe and overseas with land armies, naval forces, and colonial forces. Great Britain’s ally, Prussia, sought territorial expansion in Europe and consolidation of its power. Great Britain also challenged France and Spain in the West Indies — with consequential results. Prussia wanted greater influence in the German principalities, and Austria wanted to regain control of Silesia and contain Prussian influence.
The conflict forced the realignment of traditional alliances (known as the Diplomatic Revolution of 1756), where Prussia became part of the British coalition (which included a long-time competitor of Prussia, the principality of Hanover — which was in personal union with Britain). At the same time, Austria ended centuries of conflict between the Bourbon and Habsburg families by aligning itself with France, Saxony, Sweden, and Russia. Spain also aligned with France (1761). Smaller German states joined the war or supplied mercenaries to the parties involved.
Additionally, Anglo-French conflicts broke out in their North American colonies in 1754, when British and French colonial militias and their respective Native American allies engaged in small skirmishes and later full-scale colonial warfare. These colonial conflicts became a theatre of the Seven Years’ War when war was officially declared two years later. In the end, France lost most of its land on the Continent. Some historians claim that it was the most important event to occur in North America during the 18th century — prior to the American Revolution.
Spain entered the war on the side of France in 1762, but the effort to invade British ally Portugal was unsuccessful. As it turned out, Spain’s alliance with France was a disaster because the British gained footholds in Havana, Cuba, and in Manila, The Philippines.
Inside Europe, the area that generated most of the conflict was Austria’s desire to recover Silesia from Prussia. This contest was resolved in 1763, but more importantly, the war’s end signaled the beginning of Great Britain’s rise to become the world’s foremost colonial and naval power. Until after its revolution, France had no chance of becoming a supreme power. Prussia confirmed its status as a great power and, in doing so, altered the balance of power in Europe.
What most people do not realize, however, is that The Seven Years’ War marked a new beginning in the art and science of warfare. Frederick the Great embarked on land campaigns that later influenced Napoleon’s field commanders. Such terms as command and control and maneuver warfare both belonged to Frederick the Great. At sea, the British Royal Navy committed to decisive action under the leadership of Admiral Horatio Nelson. His innovations gave us Rule Britannia and the British Way of War.
What sets the Seven Years’ War apart from all prior Anglo-French experiences is not in the evolution of its transatlantic maritime conduct but in the innovation of a distinct military theory: amphibious operations.
Central to this doctrinal leap was Sir Thomas More Molyneux’s 1759 masterpiece, titled Conjunct Expeditions. It begins: “Happy for that People who are Sovereigns enough of the Sea to put [Littoral War] in Execution. For it comes like Thunder and Lightning to some unprepared Part of the World.”
Sir Thomas was an Oxford-educated guards officer serving on half-pay and a member of Parliament. His masterpiece was a unique addition to existing professional military literature. But while certain accomplishments were recognized for their importance as strategic blows, Quebec for example, none have become as studied or analyzed as Molyneux’s dissertation on amphibious warfare. The doctrine belongs to him alone.
There were indeed insulated instances of tactical flag signals and landing schemes that pre-date Molyneux’s Conjunct Expeditions, but his effort was the first to codify methods for employment by both land and sea forces.
Although he was writing primarily for a military audience (his training was Army, after all) rather than to a naval assembly, he sought to reduce, “if possible, this amphibious kind of warfare to a safe and regular system and to leave as little as we can to fortune and her caprices.” Sir Thomas was a brilliant man, an instinctive thinker who understood that every new expedition will, in all probability, produce some new improvement. He knew that while theory informs practice, its execution demands good judgment. His brilliance is illustrated by the fact that he placed “doctrine” second to the objectives and aims of the nation. The purpose of doctrine was to serve the national interests — as was a knowledge of geography, proper utilization of resources, galvanized political will, individual courage, and devotion to the success of such operations.
His understanding of the relationship between political ends and military means elevated his work to the level of that of Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz, who much later developed treatises on military theory incorporating the moral, psychological, and political aspects of war. Molyneux understood the importance between strategic intent and doctrinal capability. He knew that the disconnect between the two, or a failure to adapt to an evolving situation, brings forth the likelihood of defeat. Such principles are observable during The Seven Years’ War: Great Britain adapted its war aims and methods — France did not.
The world’s vast oceans presented Great Britain’s navy with significant challenges beyond navigation and regular seamanship. There was a question of how best to project the Royal Navy’s power from sea to shore — a challenge that lasted two-hundred years. Today, naval and military war planners give as much thought and consideration to warfare in the littoral (nearshore) regions as they do the deep blue sea. But close-to-shore operations offer complex challenges that no one thought of in 1754. And opportunities that no one imagined. Molyneux indeed put in writing concepts that had never before been put to paper, but amphibious operations (without doctrine) had been a fact of warfare for three-thousand years. It had simply not reached its full potential.
We believe that the ancient Greeks were the first to use amphibious warfare techniques. This information was passed to us from Homer’s The Iliad and the Odyssey. It is, of course, possible that such an operation may have occurred at an earlier time, at a different place, but was simply not recorded in history. Still, according to the Iliad, Greek soldiers crossed the Aegean Sea and stormed ashore on the beaches near Troy, which began a siege lasting ten years. Then, in 499 B.C., the Persians launched a waterborne attack against the Greeks. At the battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. Persian forces established a beachhead in their attempt to invade Greece. They employed ships specifically designed for off-loading ships near shore, and while the Persians successfully executed their amphibious operation, the Greeks defeated the Persian armies as they moved inland.
At the beginning of 56 B.C., Caesar split his army up and sent them out from their winter quarters to the various corners of Gaul. He dispatched his lieutenant in charge of cavalry, Titus Labienus, to Belgae to fend off German tribalists at the Rhine. To Quintus Titurius Sabinus and three legions, he assigned responsibility to pacify the Venelli on the northern coast. He directed Publius Crassus to lead twelve cohorts to southeast Aquitania near Hispania to pacify the ancient Basque. Caesar’s plan was intended to prevent rebellious tribes from joining forces against Roman authority.
In the winter of 57 BC, the tribes inhabiting the northern coast of Gaul surrendered their allegiance to Rome — and then, almost immediately raised an insurrection against their Roman governor, Julius Caesar. The insurrection was led by Veneti (modern-day Brittany) and Venelli (modern-day Normandy). There was no formal Roman government to rebel against, but as a matter of principle, the tribalists felt obliged to rebel against Roman authority.
With his remaining four legions, Caesar himself moved east from Belgae territory toward the Veneti on the eastern coast of Gaul. In fear of Rome’s infantry, the Veneti began abandoning their villages to set up fortified strongholds along rivers and tributaries where tides made passage difficult. None of those conditions stopped the Romans, however. Having seized the Veneti strongholds, Caesar forced them toward the sea, where the rebels had collected a large naval force from among their fleets docked between Gaul and Britannia — about two hundred and twenty ships strong.
Caesar had no intention of allowing the Veneti to succeed in their rebellion. He ordered assistance from the Roman navy in building ships, a project that took all summer. A member of Brutus’s family was placed in command of this fleet while Julius Caesar stood aground with his land force on the coastline to observe the fight.
The challenge facing the Romans was not the size nor the skill of the enemy but the construction of their ships. Roman ships were lighter with deeper hulls — ill-suited to traverse the rocky, shallow coastline. The Veneti’s ships were constructed of heavy oak, flat-bottomed, and suitable for nearshore operations. The strength of the oak and its thickness made the Roman technique of ramming ineffective. But the Veneti ships were also slower. The Romans were engineers. They developed a long pole with a large hook fastened to its tip, which would be shot at the yards and masts of the Gallic ships. The effect of such hooks destroyed the sails of the Veneti ships while keeping them afloat in the water. The device used to project these poles was re-engineered ballistae. After encircling the Veneti boats, Roman marines boarded them and put the crew to the sword. From this experience, the Romans learned how to utilize boats to land on Britannia’s shore. However, as a historical footnote, the tribes in Gaul were not, as they say, very fast learners. See also: Mare Nostrum.
Beginning around 800 A.D., the Norsemen (Vikings) began their raids into Western Europe via major rivers and estuaries. The people living along these rivers were so terrified of these raiders that even the lookout’s shout was enough to cause cardiac arrest in some people. In 1066, William the Conqueror successfully invaded England from Normandy, and he successfully imposed his will upon the Angles and Saxons then living in what became known as Angle Land (England). But other efforts to force a sea-to-shore landing weren’t as successful. Spain’s Armada came to a disastrous result while attempting to land troops in England in the year 1588.
The Marines and their Corps
The first U.S. Navy amphibious landing occurred during the American Revolution when in 1776, sailors and Marines stormed ashore in the British Bahamas. The Nassau landing wasn’t much to brag about (back then or now), but it was a start. Among the more famous amphibious raids conducted by Marines assigned to ship’s detachments occurred during the Barbary Wars.
While Marines did conduct ship-to-shore raids during the American Civil War, the Union Army conducted most amphibious raids because, in those days, the principal mission of American Marines was to serve aboard ship, not conduct raids ashore. Following the civil war, however, in the 1880s and 1890s, Navy squadron commanders occasionally dispatched their Marine Detachments ashore (augmented by ship’s company (called Bluejackets)) to emphasize Navy power in connection with U.S. gunboat diplomacy. The reader will find an example of such “amphibious operations” in the story of Handsome Jack.
U.S. Marines became serious students of amphibious warfare beginning with the landing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 1898 — by every measure, a complete success and a demonstration to the nation that the Navy and Marine Corps had a unique skill set that might prove useful in future conflicts. In 1910, the Marines moved one step closer to forming a Fleet Marine Force organization with its creation of an Advanced Base Force — a concept seeking to provide an adequate defense of naval bases and installations within the Pacific Rim.
Other countries attempted to employ amphibious operations, but mostly with disastrous results — such as during the Crimean War (1853) and the debacle at Gallipoli (1915 – 1916). As a consequence of the Gallipoli disaster, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps began studying Amphibious Warfare in earnest in the 1920s and 1930s.
During the inter-war period (between world wars), international committees met to discuss how to achieve world peace. Among the recommendations was an agreement to impose a reduction to naval armaments. This effort was an unqualified disaster (and probably did as much to ignite World War II as the Allies’ unreasonable demand for reparations in 1919), but while government leaders hemmed and hawed, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps proceeded with the development of specialized amphibious warfare equipment and doctrine.
Additionally, new troop organizations, landing craft, amphibious tractors that could travel on water and land, and landing tactics were devised, tested, re-examined, and retested. Training exercises emphasized using naval artillery and carrier-based aircraft to provide close fire support for assault troops. Combat loading techniques were developed so that ships could quickly unload the equipment required first in an amphibious landing, accepting some reductions in cargo stowage efficiency in return for improved assault capabilities.
To facilitate training for officers and NCOs in these newly acquired capabilities, a Marine Corps School was established at Quantico, Virginia — where subject matter could not only be taught but rehearsed, as well. In 1933, the Navy and Marines established the Fleet Marine Force (FMF) concept from what had been known as the Advance Base Force. The FMF became America’s quick-reaction force and became the standard vehicle through which emerging ideas about amphibious warfare could be tested through annual fleet landing exercises.
By 1934 Marine tacticians had developed effective amphibious techniques, and it was in that year the Marine Corps published its Tentative Landing Operations Manual, which today remains an important source of amphibious warfare doctrine. These preparations proved invaluable in World War II when the Marines not only spearheaded many of the attacks against Japanese-held islands in the Pacific War but also trained U.S. Army divisions that also participated in the Atlantic theater as well as the island-hopping Pacific Campaigns.
After a succession of U.S. defeats by the Imperial Japanese Navy, the tide of war turned. At Coral Sea in the southwest Pacific and Midway in the central Pacific, U.S. aircraft carriers stopped the Japanese advances in history’s first carrier-versus-carrier battles. Quickly taking the initiative, the United States began its offensive campaigns against the Japanese when, on 7 August 1942, the 1st Marine Division assaulted Tulagi Island and invaded Guadalcanal in the southwest Pacific. For an account of this engagement, see the series: Guadalcanal: First to Fight.
In the European-Mediterranean theaters, the distances were shorter from allied bases to the assault beaches, but the demand for amphibious expertise was equally high. Allied naval forces scrambled to secure amphibious shipping and landing craft to support the Atlantic-Mediterranean war effort. Senior Marine officers assigned to Naval Planning Staffs played an important role in the success of the invasion of North Africa (1942), Sicily, and Salerno (1943). The Atlantic War was challenging from several different aspects, and some of these efforts weren’t revealed until well after the end of the war. Colonel Pierre Julien Ortiz served with the OSS behind the lines, and Hollywood actor Sterling Hayden served as a U.S. Marine captain with the OSS in the Aegean Sea.
When Germany surrendered to the allied powers on 7 May 1945, Pacific War planners were putting the final touches on their invasion plan for mainland Japan. They were also awaiting the arrival of additional shipping and manpower from the European Theater. No one with any brains was enthusiastic about the idea of having to invade Japan.
The Battles for Saipan, Guam, Tinian, Peleliu, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa established one painful reality: an invasion of mainland Japan would be costly. Allied war planners had learned an important lesson from the Japanese during their island-hopping campaigns. The Japanese were using a suicidal defensive strategy. They realized they could not stop the Allied juggernaut — but they could certainly kill a lot of allied troops in their “defense in depth” strategy. This fact led allied war planners to envision another one million allied infantry dead before Japan finally capitulated — that is … unless a miraculous alternative somehow presented itself.
And one did
Much has been written about the decision to drop (two) atomic bombs on Japanese cities. Even General MacArthur argued that the Japanese were already beaten — that there was no justifiable reason to drop “the bomb.”
One can argue that General MacArthur was in a position to know whether atomic warfare was necessary, but in 1945, General MacArthur was 65 years old. He was from the “old school” American military. He did not believe that dropping nuclear weapons on innocent citizens was a moral course of action — and this was a fine argument. But then, neither was sending another million men into harm’s way when there was an alternative course of action. And, in any case, the Japanese themselves — by adopting their defense-in-depth strategy — signaled their understanding that they could not win the war. If the Japanese had to die in the war, then by all means, take as many Allied troops as possible along. This appalling (and incomprehensible) attitude pushed allied war planners into making that horrendous decision.
Two significant facts about this decision stand out. First, Japanese arrogance did not allow senior Japanese officials to admit they were beaten. They were happy to “fight on” until every Japanese man, woman, and child lay dead on the Japanese archipelago. Second, it took two (not one) atomic bombs to convince the Japanese they were beaten. Two. There was no need for two, but the Japanese would not capitulate until the bombing of Nagasaki three days after Hiroshima.
When the Japanese finally did surrender, on 2 September 1945, World War II ended. The suffering of the Japanese people, however, continued for many years. Between 1945 – 1948, thousands of people died from starvation or exposure to frigid weather every single night for nearly three years. While this was happening, Allied forces had to manage the repatriation of Japanese Imperial forces throughout the Far East. In 1946, the Chinese civil war resumed and continued through 1949. In the face of all this, President Truman set into motion the deactivation of America’s wartime military (even though some of these men were still in harm’s way in China).
Following hostilities, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) reviewed all after-action reports from amphibious operations. As expected, many landing craft and amphibious-vehicle casualties were due to enemy action — but many were also related to problems with tidal waves and rip currents caused by undersea mountains that contributed to capsizing, swamping, or broaching landing craft.
For example, the analysis revealed flaws involving amphibious boats and tracked vehicles operating on confined landing areas, the slope of the beach, water levels, and soil. ONR found that saturated sand near the water’s edge would liquefy (and trap) landing vehicles due to the vibrations produced by an overabundance of vehicular traffic. One of the reasons allied forces continued to conduct training exercises on war-torn beaches (such as Iwo Jima) was to observe these conditions in detail and prepare findings that would improve the capabilities of U.S. amphibious assault vehicles.
When the Korean War exploded late in June 1950, America’s military hierarchy, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), had already made up its mind that amphibious warfare was a relic of the past. They could not have been more wrong about that. The North Korean attack was lightning quick, overwhelming, and entirely the fault of Mr. “The Buck Stops Here Truman.” The poorly trained South Korean military was swept aside like a pile of autumn leaves — and the small American military advisory group with it. Nor were any of General MacArthur’s occupation forces serving in Japan any help. The only two services ready for this event were the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps — but only barely.
The North Korean Army was stopped in August 1950, but it was an awful bloody event that Truman somewhat dismissively linked to police action. It raged for three years and set into motion a series of armed conflicts that lasted twenty-five years. What turned this looming disaster around was an amphibious assault — one that General Omar Bradley, the JCS Chairman, said couldn’t be done. It took a Marine Corps two-star general to prove Bradley wrong. While the North Korean Army began its stranglehold of the Pusan Perimeter, Major General Oliver P. Smith was planning the invasion of Inchon, Korea. On 16 September 1950, the amphibious assault that couldn’t be done had become a matter of history.
Following the Korean War, the United States permanently assigned naval task forces to the western Pacific and Mediterranean areas. In each of these strategically vital locations, one or more reinforced Marine infantry battalions served as the special landing force within the fleet amphibious ready group. The ARG/SLF provided quick responses to crises in Lebanon (1958), Laos (1961), Thailand (1962), the Dominican Republic (1965), and the Republic of Vietnam (1965).
More recently, 45 amphibious ships carried Marines to the Middle East and supported them in the late 1980s and 1990s — essentially, 75% of the Navy’s total active fleet. Before 1991, generally regarded as the Cold War period, U.S. Marines responded to crises about three to four times a year. Following Operation Desert Storm, the Marine Corps’ amphibious capabilities were called on roughly six times a year. Why? Because it is more cost-effective to maintain a rapid reaction force of Marines than to maintain the costs of maintaining American military bases overseas.
Today, the U.S. Marine Corps maintains three Marine Expeditionary Forces to respond to any crisis — no matter where in the world it might occur. Each MEF, working alongside a U.S. Navy Fleet command, can deploy any size combat structure from battalion landing teams and Marine Expeditionary Units (air, ground, logistics support capabilities) to expeditionary brigades and reinforced MEFs.
During the Vietnam War, III MEF became the largest Marine Corps combat command in the entire history of the Corps — exercising command authority over 80,000 Marines assigned to the 1st Marine Division, 3rd Marine Division, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, the Force Logistics Command, and numerous U.S. Army and Vietnamese infantry organizations and their supporting elements. Over a period of more than six years, III MEF participated in 400 combat operations. Each Marine Expeditionary Force has the same quick-reaction capability.
No matter where these Marines might originate, there is one guarantee: when they arrive at their destination, they will be ready to fight a sustained engagement. At that instant, when they bust down the enemy’s front door, the enemy will know that these Marines have come from across the sea — just as Sir Thomas More Molyneux envisioned that they should.
Anderson, F. The War that Made America: A Short History of the French and Indian War. Penguin Books, 2006.
Baden, C. The Ottoman Crimean War (1853 – 1856). Brill Publishing, 2010.
Blanning, T. Frederick the Great: King of Prussia. Yale University, 2016.
Fehrenbach, T. R. This Kind of War. Brassey’s Publications, 1963.
Fowler, W. H. Empires at War: The Seven Years’ War and the Struggle for North America. Douglas & McIntyre, 2005.
Heck, T. and B. A. Friedman, Eds., On Contested Shores: The Evolving Role of Amphibious Operations in the History of Warfare. Marine Corps University, 2020.
Marine Corps Publication: III Marine Expeditionary Force: Forward, Faithful, Focused, (2021).
Ricks, T. E. The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today. Penguin Press, 2012.
Savage, M. U.S. Marines in the Civil War. Warfare History Network, 2014.
Taylor, A. J. P. The Struggle for Mastery in Europe: 1848 – 1918. Oxford Press, 1954.
Willmott, H. P. The Last Century of Sea Power: From Port Arthur to Chanak, 1894 – 1922. Indiana University Press, 2009.
 “Personal Union” simply means that two countries share the same head of state — in this case, the monarch, George II.
 Anderson, F. Crucible of War: The Seven Years War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766. Random House, 2007.
 The ancient city of Troy was called Ilion (hence, the poem called Iliad). The city actually existed around 1,400 years B.C., and although the poem was believed written down around 800 B.C., it was carried down from one generation to the next as part of an oral tradition for several hundred years. Homer, of course, receives credit as its author.
 After full and frank discussions between the War and Navy departments, the Navy decided (and the War Department agreed) that there was no significant role for the U.S. Army in the matter of defending advanced naval bases/coaling stations in the Pacific Rim. For one thing, the Navy envisioned a defense force that it actually owned/controlled. That would be the Marines, of course. For another (as reflected in the Army’s rather poor showing during the Spanish-American War), the Army is simply too large/too heavy to operate as a strike force.
 For many years after the war, Japanese officials complained that ground zero at Nagasaki was an orphanage. This may be true. There were no “surgically precise” bombs in World War II. On the other hand, why did it take two atomic bombs to convince Japanese officials that the war was over?
 In 1946, General Bradley also predicted there would never again be a need for an amphibious operation.
Lieutenant Colonel William Washington of the 3rd Continental Light Dragoons rode quietly at the head of his regiment. He was a large man for a light horseman. He was over six feet tall with bear-like shoulders, a ruddy face, and clubbed brown hair. One of his commanding generals described him as the “Hercules” of his day. Perhaps. That isn’t what we see in his portraits. We see an ordinary-looking man with no wig or hat, a round, honest face, and a casual open stare.
By September 1781, Colonel Washington was 29 years old. A wounded veteran of six years’ service, a former minuteman in Stafford County, Virginia, and a member of the Old Dominion gentry. His cousin, of course, was the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army.
William did not share those aristocratic attributes — he was more comfortable in the saddle than in parlors and drawing rooms drinking tea and discussing politics. No, William was a fighter. He amused himself with horse racing, good cigars, fine whiskey, and a modest wager. He was unassuming, respectful of others, self-confident, good-humored, and friendly. But there was also another side to William Washington: he was hot-tempered when his blood was up. When he led his regiment into the fight, he was always the first man across the line of departure. Like a badger, once he had hold of his enemy, he wouldn’t let go. But, as with all good soldiers, it was only a matter of time before his luck ran out.
George Washington was 20 years old when Cousin William was born in 1752 — and only two years away from igniting the Seven Years’ War. William’s parents were Bailey Washington, Sr., and Catherine Storke Washington, who were married in 1749. William was their second-born child, whom Bailey named William after Catherine’s father, William Storke, the Sheriff of Stafford County. Bailey was moderately wealthy — the owner of 1,200 acres of prime agricultural land near Aquia Creek. The bad news for William was that he would not stand to inherit this property. Still, he was raised in a privileged environment, and while 1,200 acres wasn’t as large as the estate at Mount Vernon, it was large enough to require an investment in horses. William Washington was raised in an environment of horse breeding, horsemanship, and horse racing.
At one time, Stafford County was part of Westmoreland County, created in 1664 as the Virginia colony sought to organize itself through a series of commonwealth structures. In time, Stafford County (named after Staffordshire, England) gave way to such jurisdictions as Arlington, Fairfax, and Prince William counties and the city of Alexandria.
As a southern planter, Bailey Washington raised his children within the context of Anglo-Virginian culture, suggesting that William was brought up as a gentleman. Beyond his primary education, William trained to become a church minister. His post-primary education included Greek, Latin, mathematics, and theology. William was well into training when the American Revolution sent him in a completely different direction.
In 1775, William Washington was 23 years of age with an incredibly acute sense of duty and of right and wrong. When Virginia began raising troops to resist Great Britain, William gave up his studies and life as a planter’s son to join the patriot cause. Patrick Henry delivered his Liberty or Death speech to the Virginia Convention in March. Lord Dunmore, Virginia’s governor, wisely removed gunpowder from the public warehouse in Williamsburg to prevent it from falling into “local” hands, which only aroused the patriots even more.
Subsequently, news arrived from Massachusetts detailing the Battles of Lexington Green and Concord. Like many of his fellow citizens in Stafford County, he was raised in the tradition of the Common Burden. He was among the first of Virginia’s youth to answer the call “to arms.” Already a member of the minutemen organization in Stafford County, he formed a militia company in the early summer. In Richmond, the convention created three infantry regiments commanded by Patrick Henry, William Woodford, and Hugh Mercer. On 12 September, at a meeting at the Spotsylvania Courthouse, local minutemen elected William Washington and Townshend Dade to serve as captains in Hugh Mercer’s 3rd Regiment of Infantry. Assisting Mercer was Lieutenant Colonel George Weedon and Major Thomas Marshall. Later that year, the regiment became part of Brigadier General Hugh Mercer’s Brigade of the Continental Army in New York and was assigned to the command of Major General Nathaniel Greene.
Fighting in the mid-Atlantic region, young Captain Washington commanded the 7th Company. Lieutenant James Monroe, later the 5th President of the United States, served as Washington’s second-in-command. During the Battle of Trenton, Captain Washington and his XO distinguished themselves by leading a charge against a battery of Hessian artillery. Washington and Monroe received serious wounds; both received the personal thanks of their Commander-in-Chief, General George Washington. While recovering from his injuries, the Continental Army advanced William Washington to the rank of major and, on 27 January 1777, provisionally assigned him to serve in the newly created 4th Regiment of Continental Light Dragoons.
During the night of 26 September 1778, the 3rd Regiment of Continental Light Dragoons, serving under the command of Lieutenant Colonel George Baylor, had found billeting in the town of Old Tappan, New Jersey. A town citizen with loyalist sentiments notified British forces, and Baylor’s command was attacked in their quarters while still asleep. Colonel Baylor, wounded in the lung by a British bayonet, was captured and taken prisoner. A short time later, Baylor’s XO, Major Alexander Clough, also injured, died of his wounds. In light of the loss of the regiment’s two principal command officers, Continental Army HQ advanced Major William Washington to Lieutenant Colonel and ordered him to assume command of the 3rd Dragoons.
Between September 1778 and the late summer of 1779, Colonel Washington recruited replacements and supervised their training. On 19 November, the Army HQ ordered Washington to join the command of Major General Benjamin Lincoln in Charleston, South Carolina.
Southern Department Fights
On March 10, 1780, Washington’s regiment joined forces with the remnants of the 1st Continental Light Dragoons at Bacon’s Bridge, South Carolina. His mission was to reconnoiter and screen against advancing British troops. On 26 March, Washington had his first encounter with the British Legion, a brigade-sized unit of dragoons under Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton. It was a minor victory near Rantowle’s Bridge on the Stono River. Afterward, on the Ashley River during the fight at Rutledge’s Plantation, Colonel Washington again bested a detachment of Tarleton’s Dragoons.
On 14 April 1780, Colonel Tarleton assaulted the encampment of General Isaac Huger at Monck’s Corner, successfully routing the Continental force (including Washington’s Dragoons). Washington’s losses included 15 dead, 17 wounded, 100 captured, and the loss of 83 horses.
Colonel Washington led his remaining troops across the Santee River to escape capture. The severe attrition of Washington’s command forced its amalgamation with the 1st Continental Light Dragoons under Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Walton White. While waiting to cross the flooded Santee River, British forces surprised and defeated Colonel White’s dragoons at Lenud’s Ferry on 6 May 1780. With Colonel White’s capture, command of the dragoons passed to Colonel Washington. Washington moved the regiment to North Carolina for recruitment, provision, and training when General Lincoln surrendered the southern army and the city of Charleston to Cornwallis on 12 May.
British forces defeated the reconstituted southern army, formed under General Horatio Gates, at the Battle of Camden, South Carolina, on 16 August 1780. This loss opened up the south to British control. General Nathanael Greene soon replaced Gates, whose cowardice in the field permanently discredited his former service in the northern theater
General Greene divided his army between himself and General Daniel Morgan. Colonel Washington was placed under Morgan, who tasked Washington with conducting raids in western South Carolina. Washington’s two notable successes included capturing Rugeley’s Mill on 4 December. In this engagement, Washington bluffed 112 loyalists into surrendering a strongly fortified structure without firing a single shot. To achieve the bluff, Washington used a Quaker Gun — a felled tree placed in the wagon bed and shaped to look like a large cannon.
In the second engagement at Hammond’s Old Store in the Little River district, Colonel Washington defeated 250 Georgian loyalists, killing or wounding 150 men and capturing the remaining one-hundred troops.
Colonel Washington’s successes became a source of irritation to General Charles Cornwallis, who soon turned to Colonel Tarleton and ordered him to “chase down” General Morgan’s “flying corps.” Tarleton’s orders led directly to the Battle of Cowpens on 17 January 1781.
General Morgan’s battle plans called for Washington’s group of 80 Continental dragoons and 45 mounted Georgia infantry to serve as either a defensive or offensive unit (as the situation required). Washington’s first encounter with the enemy involved the rescue of a South Carolina militia unit as it was reloading behind the front lines of Morgan’s left flank. The unit was under an aggressive assault by Colonel Tarleton’s Legion. Colonel Washington crushed the attackers, regrouped, and then pursued the British left flank infantry. After repeated assaults by Washington, the Americans moved through the British infantry and attacked a small artillery position behind Tarleton’s front lines.
Surrendering troops create battlefield confusion. This is what happened when the main British infantry decided to surrender their arms after Tarleton attempted to withdraw. Washington, in close pursuit, found himself in an isolated position and, because of it, soon found himself the focus of an attack by Colonel Tarleton and two of his aides. The courageous Washington met Tarleton head-on, calling out to him, “Where is now the boasting Tarleton?”
A young coronet of the 17th Dragoons, Thomas Patterson, rode up to strike Washington but was shot by Washington’s orderly as Washington struck Tarleton with a blow from his sword. Colonel Tarleton returned the favor by shooting Washington in the leg, which luckily only creased his knee but also wounded Washington’s horse.
Colonel Tarleton turned his horse and withdrew from the engagement. Washington, whose temper had not yet cooled, pursued him for sixteen miles — eventually giving up the chase at Thickitty Creek, near the plantation of Adam Goudylock. For his valor at Cowpens, Colonel Washington received a Congressional silver medal.
After the Battle of Cowpens, Washington’s dragoons assisted the withdrawal of General Nathanael Greene to Dan River, Virginia, by providing rearguard actions against British forces under General Cornwallis. Subsequently, Colonel Washington returned to North Carolina as a vanguard for Greene’s re-emerging army.
In March 1781, Washington’s dragoons fought at the Battle of the Guilford Court House, Greensboro, North Carolina. This battle successfully fought as a defensive action gave General Cornwallis a victory — but an expensive one. The fight only lasted around 90 minutes, but in that time, Cornwallis gave up a quarter of his men to death or incapacitation. Upon learning of the battle’s details, Sir Charles James Fox, a British Member of Parliament, quipped that with another victory, such as at the Guilford Court House, the British Army in North America would be in ruins.
According to Cornwallis’ report, the British gave up three officers and 88 men of other ranks killed, with 24 officers and 374 men of other ranks wounded, with 25 men “missing in action.” Colonel Tarleton was one of the wounded officers.
The Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill (also, the Second Battle of Camden) occurred on 25 April 1781 when British forces under Major General Francis Rawdon assaulted Continental troops occupying Hobkirk’s Hill. After a fierce clash of arms, during which Colonel Washington could not assault Rawdon’s flank, General Green ordered a withdrawal, leaving Rawdon’s smaller force in possession of the hill. Despite the British victory, Rawdon eventually fell back to Camden, abandoned it, and withdrew to Charleston. Greene was willing to accept defeat in this and three other engagements for the longer-term benefit of depriving the British of their control of South Carolina beyond the city of Charleston.
The last Carolinas engagement during the American Revolution occurred at the Battle of Eutaw Springs. In early 1781, Major General Greene initiated the campaign to end British control over the South Carolina backcountry. His first objective was to capture a village designated as Ninety-Six. On 22 May, Greene laid siege to the fortified village — but its loyalist residents would not budge.
Within thirty days, Greene became aware that General Rawdon was leading reinforcement to offer relief to Ninety-Six. A Continental assault against the village was repelled, so to avoid having to confront Rawdon, General Green withdrew toward Charlotte, N.C.
General Rawdon did pursue Greene for several days but abandoned the pursuit because his men were exhausted and in need of resupply. Ninety-Six was the only remaining inland British outpost after the fall of Augusta. Unable to sustain the outpost, General Rawdon decided to burn the village and withdraw to Charleston. General Rawdon, being in poor health, decided to return to England, leaving command of Charleston in the hands of Colonel Alexander Stewart.
By mid-July, General Greene moved his exhausted army to a bivouac on the High Hills of Santee. The men needed the rest, and Greene needed a place to await the arrival of reinforcements.
On 13 August, Colonel Stewart led around 2,300 men to Thompson’s plantation (south of the Congaree River). He then fell back to Eutaw Springs on 27 August (about 2 miles east of present-day Eutawville). The Battle of Eutaw Springs was Colonel Washington’s final Revolutionary War action. Midway through the fight, Greene ordered Washington to assault a portion of the British line positioned in a blackjack thicket along Eutaw Creek. The order was not only stupid, but it was also a needless sacrifice of good cavalry: the thicket proved impenetrable and British fire repulsed Washington’s mounted charges. During the last charge, Washington’s mount was shot from under him, and he was pinned beneath his horse. British troops bayonetted Washington, and he was taken prisoner and held under house arrest until the end of the war.
On September 8, 1781, Washington’s final action was the Battle of Eutaw Springs, the last major battle in the Carolinas. Midway through the battle, Greene ordered Washington to charge a portion of the British line positioned in a blackjack thicket along Eutaw Creek. The thicket proved impenetrable and British fire repulsed the mounted charges. During the last charge, Washington’s mount was shot out from under him, and he was pinned beneath his horse. He was bayoneted, taken prisoner, and held under house arrest in the Charleston area for the remainder of the war. General Charles Cornwallis said of Colonel William Washington, “There could be no more formidable antagonist in a charge, at the head of his cavalry, than Colonel William Washington.”
The list of patriot officers of William Washington’s quality is very small. That Colonel Washington compares favorably with the most notable American Revolution heroes is indisputable — it is a shame that few Americans today know about this tremendously aggressive, tactically proficient, and strategically adept regimental commander.
Our schools teach that the American Revolutionary War ended with General Cornwallis’ surrender to George Washington at Yorktown, Virginia, on 19 October 1781. The worst of it is that it isn’t true. Considerable fighting occurred in the two years after Yorktown and even expanded to the European continent. After Yorktown, there were at least 200 additional fights in South Carolina alone — most often between Whig (patriot) and Tory (British loyalist) militias. Moreover, a violent civil war occurred between 1781 – 1783 as Indian tribes raged against each other, offering no quarter.
After Yorktown, the British embarked on an aggressive policy to reestablish its hold on the Caribbean. After Yorktown, the British confronted the combined forces of Spain, France, and the Dutch Republic. There was also the matter of French meddling in India, British mischief in Vermont, and the role of the Dutch navy in keeping the British “on alert.”
The last British soldier withdrew from the newly created United States on 25 November 1783 — three months after the signing of the instrument of peace (known as the Treaty of Paris of 1783) — a process that was begun in 1782, after Parliament voted to suspend military operations following Cornwallis’ surrender in late 1781.
Colonel William Washington met Jane Elliott of Sandy Hill, South Carolina, when she made his regimental battle flag, which he carried with him from the Cowpens to Eutaw Springs. Retained under arrest in Charleston through the end of 1782, Colonel Washington nevertheless made good use of his time. He and Jane Elliott were married on 21 April 1782. Washington, unable to inherit his father’s Virginia estate, became quite wealthy through marriage (as did his cousin George). Miss Elliott owned the Sandy Springs plantation and several other properties in St. Paul Parish.
In 1785, William and Jane Washington purchased a townhouse at 8 South Battery in Charleston. They pursued low-country farming and raised thoroughbred horses. William was elected to the state legislature between 1787 – 1804 and accepted the post of brigadier general of the state militia in 1794.
Following his presidency, George Washington retired to Mount Vernon to struggle with his predicament of being land-rich and cash poor. He had vast acreages in the Virginia piedmont but could not sell the land due to the encroachment of squatters. Ultimately, he grew restless in retirement, prompted by tensions with France. In 1798, as part of the continuation of the French Revolutionary Wars, French privateers began seizing American ships — the so-called Quasi-War that lasted until 1800.
On 4 July 1798, President John Adams nominated Washington to serve as a lieutenant general as Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armies. President Washington accepted the post and served in it until his death 17 months later. His work involved planning for a provisional army without offering specific details (to avoid political implications). In recommending individuals to serve at high rank, Washington broke with the recommendations submitted by Thomas Jefferson. By this time, the two men had become enemies.
While serving as Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Army, Washington offered his cousin William a commission as brigadier general in the U.S. Army. William accepted the commission, particularly as it involved defensive works in South Carolina and Georgia, should the French attempt an invasion of the United States. During this period, William served as an officer on his cousin’s staff.
In his late 50s, William Washington became ill and suffered from a lingering ailment — likely cancer. He passed away on 6 March 1810, aged 58 years. He was survived by Jane, his wife, and their son and daughter (Elizabeth). Elizabeth was married to Major General Alexander Spotswood, the grandson of Colonial Virginia’s lieutenant governor.
Brigadier General William Washington — was one of America’s finest Revolutionary War officers.
Babits, L. E., and J. B. Howard. Long, Obstinate, and Bloody: The Battle of the Guilford Courthouse. The University of North Carolina Press, 2009.
Glen, J. The Washington’s: A Family History. Savas Publishing, 2014
Glickstein, D. After Yorktown: The final struggle for American Independence
Haller, S. E. William Washington: Cavalryman of the Revolution. Heritage Books, 2001.
Murphy, D. William Washington, American Light Dragoon: A Continental Cavalry Leader in the War of Independence. Westholme Publishing, 2014.
 Do not confuse the subject of this essay, William Washington (1752 – 1810), with a distant relative, William Augustine Washington (1757 – 1810). William Washington was George Washington’s second cousin once removed; William Augustine Washington was George Washington’s nephew.
 Beginning in 1774, minutemen were organized from within the ranks of colonial militia but trained specifically as an early form of special operations infantry. These men were the “rapid reaction” force of the colonial militia. They held themselves in readiness to report/respond to emergencies within moments of an alert. The name derived from the fact that they were expected to respond “within a minute” of an alert.
 Dr. Hugh Mercer was a Scot who eventually achieved the rank of Brigadier General in the Continental Army. He previously fought as a Jacobite in the Battle of Culloden, in the Seven Year’s War, and in the early battles of the American Revolution. He was killed in action at the Battle of Princeton.
 The “second-in-command” of an American military unit is variously referred to as “executive officer” or “deputy commander.” The executive officer is usually referred to as simply XO, while a deputy commander is generally referred to as “deputy.” When serving in temporary command, the XO or deputy will sign official documents as “Acting Commander.”
 The United States Army never had a cavalry component until 1861. Before then, the horse-mounted troop was referred to as dragoons. In effect, dragoons were horse-mounted infantry. They would ride into battle, dismount, and fight as infantry. After 1861, horse-mounted troops were called cavalry with a distinctly different mission.
 George Baylor previously served as General Washington’s aide-de-camp. The 3rd Dragoons often served as security escorts for Martha Washington, who accompanied her husband during his military campaigns, and also served as Washington’s reconnaissance force, collecting and reporting information about the disposition of British Forces.
 The British Legion was an organization recruited and formed in the colonies of British loyalists. A regimental-sized cavalry, the commander of the British Legion was Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton.
 A British version of this fight can be found in the records of the 17th Dragoons (Ch. 33)
 The Battle of the Cowpens was significant because the Americans totally destroyed the Brigade of Dragoons under Colonel Banastre Tarleton. Such losses made the conflict a turning point in the war. General Morgan’s success came as a result of his effective employment of a double envelopment of Tarleton’s force. Of Tarleton’s 1,000 men, all of whom were British loyalists, 850 were killed or captured.
 Blackjack red oak is a deciduous tree growing about 15 meters tall.
 Balch, Thomas, ed., Letters, and papers relating chiefly to the provincial history of Pennsylvania. Applewood books, 2009, attributed to a letter written by Major William Jackson quoting General Lord Cornwallis.
 Such terms as patriot and loyalist are far too imprecise to use in any discussion about the American Revolution. Glickman suggests using the words Whig and Tory … so that everyone knows who did what. British loyalists were, after all, patriots as well.
Anyone who believes that the American Revolution was a war easily fought doesn’t know enough about American history. We might argue that the revolution first occurred as an idea in the heads of British citizens who began to wonder if they could forge their future without the interference of the king or parliament. Fighting the revolution was an entirely different matter. Still, before we get to that discussion, we need to explore what else was happening in the world besides men muttering over their mead in a Massachusetts pub about burdensome taxes.
In the last years of the Seven Years’ War (also called the French and Indian Wars), British fleets and armies ranged across the world stage, dismembering France and Spain’s colonial empires. But in London, from around 1750, British ministers had to consider the prospect of defending British territories from a wide range of enemies.
Looking at North America, it was logical to assume that some colonies could defend themselves, but there were questions about the other colonies. Nova Scotia would be a problem — French catholic priests would see to that. In any case, if the British knew anything about the French from the previous 400 years, it was that the French could not be trusted. One could always tell when a French diplomat was lying because his lips were moving. In any case, if the French seized Halifax, all the other British American colonies could be rolled up without much effort.
The Virginia colony was always reliable and well-populated with men who knew how to fight. Pennsylvania’s Quaker politicians would open their doors to the French without a quibble. No one knew where the ethnic German colonists would come down on the question of war with France. Georgia and South Carolina could not defend themselves against the Cherokee, much less French marines. In the West Indies, enslaved Black people outnumbered British Army regulars and colonists. The thought of a slave revolt was disturbing, indeed. This was only the tip of the iceberg.
Yes, the French Bourbons were threatening, but so too were the highland Scots, Irish Catholics, and North American Indians, and there was this ongoing and highly perturbing talk inside England about republicanism. British politicians decided it was time to act. Highlanders became the flower of the British Army, and Irish Catholics were recruited as well. In Pennsylvania, German colonists formed two regiments of Royal American infantry. Amazingly, 21,000 American colonists stepped up to defend the British colonies in 1758. Before 1763, most native Indian tribes had sided with the British. Arcadian troublemakers found themselves deported to Louisiana. There was even some talk of forming a pro-British French militia.
And yet, the preceding concerns were only half of the problem. North America had no four-lane highways to move large numbers of troops. Those troops would have to be transferred by ship if that were necessary. The Atlantic coastline was the only highway. Additionally, there were no “fast means of communication.” Coordinating widely dispersed military forces was difficult in the extreme.
The revolutionary campaigns were complex, made so by weather, climate, the distances between cities, thick foliage, and the lack of adequate roads to move troops, artillery, and supply wagons. The British Army was, in 1775, the world’s premier land army. Who, in their right mind, would challenge it?
In those days, armies depended on foraging to feed the men and animals. There was no question that the British Army could forage; the king owned everything — he could take what he needed. His subjects might be compensated, or they may not. The Continental army had to rely on the patriotic spirit of local farmers. A third of these farmers were British loyalists, with another one-third opportunists who would offer forage to whoever paid the highest.
The American Revolutionary War was a complicated series of campaigns. It is hard to imagine the distances in an age where automobiles can travel five hundred or more miles in a single day. It would take an American or British soldier 33 days to march 500 miles in 1775. Granted, the number of men who participated in the American Revolution pales compared to modern warfare, but the number of combatants was significant for those days. As with all armed conflicts, whatever could have gone wrong, did.
American land forces included (in total over seven years) 200,000 patriots. American naval forces included 106 Continental and State-owned ships. We don’t know how many men served in the navy, but Continental Marines had 132 officers and 2,000 enlisted men. The Americans were aided by 53 French navy ships and an unknown number of French land forces. Including all losses (Continental Army/State militia and civilian populations), the Americans gave up 70,000 war dead, 6,100 wounded in action, 17,000 losses from disease, and around 130,000 additional deaths attributed to smallpox.  The total of French allied dead was 2,112. Setting aside America’s war dead, the average life expectancy for a white male adult in 1780 was 39 years.
Opposing the Americans during the revolution were 48,000 British troops, 30,000 German troops, 25,000 loyalist troops, and 13,000 American Indians. What we know of British casualties is limited. Historians contend that British combat dead totaled 5,500 men; German allies lost 7,774 men, of which 1,800 died in battle. Nearly 5,000 German troops deserted in North America. Of British loyalists, 7,000 died during the American Revolution, including 1,700 combat dead and 5,300 from unspecified diseases.
American Marines were created upon the recommendation of the Naval and Marine Committees of the Second Continental Congress in October and November 1775. The officer commissioned to recruit the two Marine battalions was Samuel Nicholas, a native of Philadelphia. Nicholas was born in 1744 (d. 1790), the youngest of three children of Anthony and Mary Chute-Cowman Nicholas. Anthony was a blacksmith; Mary’s uncle Attwood Shute was the mayor of Philadelphia from 1755-58. Samuel graduated from the College of Philadelphia (present-day University of Pennsylvania) in 1759. On 28 November 1775, Sam Nicholas was commissioned by the Second Continental Congress to serve as Captain of Marines. He was the first officer commissioned in the Continental Naval Service.
Upon confirmation of his appointment, Captain Nicholas started planning his recruitment campaign around the number of ships that would require a complement of Marines. Captain Nicholas’ secondary assignment was the command of the Marine Detachment aboard USS Alfred. In this capacity, Captain Nicholas answered to Commodore Esek Hopkins.Alfred sailed on 4 January 1776 for Nassau (See also, The Marine’s First Amphibious Raid). Nicholas returned to Philadelphia in April 1776 and resumed command of the Marine battalions. In June, Congress promoted Nicholas to Major Commandant Continental Marine Corps.
In October 1776, the people of Philadelphia speculated that when British General Sir William Howe was tired of chasing patriots in New York, he would march his army to invade their fair city. Fearing such an eventuality, the Continental Congress organized committees and met with various members of the Pennsylvania legislature to plan a defense of the city. A Pennsylvania committee submitted its recommendations to the Continental War Board. They proposed that Congress permanently assign four companies of Marines in Pennsylvania or at Trenton to defend Philadelphia from British or Loyalist troops. The Pennsylvania committee also suggested an additional two Virginia militia battalions and a German militia battalion.
Contrary to the general concerns of Philadelphia citizens, British General William Howe was already engaged in Westchester County and, for the time being, posed no threat to Philadelphia. Major Nicholas and his staff continued recruiting and training Marines in Philadelphia through the fall of 1776. By then, the First Battalion was well-organized, disciplined, and (more or less) functional. Nicholas adequately provided for their nutritional needs and saw they were accorded comfortable billets. Still, some Marines deserted from their service responsibilities, with few returning to face the consequences.
Private Henry Hassan took his punishment but, within a month, deserted for a second time. Even then, the Marine Corps was not everyone’s cup of tea. One Marine who returned may have regretted his decision when, having been found guilty at a court-martial of desertion and quitting his post without authority, received fifty lashes on his bareback for desertion and twenty-one additional lashes of the whip for quitting his post.
The Marines Mobilize
Suddenly, in mid-November, Philadelphia was abuzz with rumors of an approaching British fleet. Congress directed the Marine Committee to arrange its naval forces in the Delaware River. Accordingly, USS Randolph was made ready for sea. Major Commandant Nicholas ordered Captain Shaw to select Marines from the First Battalion, prepare them for duty at sea, and report to the officer commanding the frigate.
Captain Shaw’s Marines reported to Randolph before the ship’s crew. In 1776, few mariners were interested in serving in the Continental Navy with British sloops of war roaming the American coastlines and taking station in busy seaports. The rumor of an approaching British fleet was only that; the fleet was actually several British merchantmen, but Randolph’s preparations continued.
Meanwhile, the land war was turning against General Washington. After defeats at Long Island, White Plains, Fort Washington, and Fort Lee, General Washington began his long retreat through New Jersey. He was in desperate need of veteran soldiers. The British Army’s march to Trenton posed a real threat to Philadelphia. By late November, General Washington was in a precarious situation; the British pushed him from Harlem Heights to Upper Westchester County. He crossed the Hudson on 13 November and began his painful and embarrassing withdrawal to Hackensack, Newark, Elizabeth Town, and Brunswick.
From Brunswick, Washington sent a letter to President (of Congress) John Hancock begging for immediate reinforcements. Hancock wanted to help, but with common knowledge that 10,000 British troops were enroute, there were no long queues of volunteers at the recruiting offices. Washington led his under-staffed army out of Brunswick on 2 December, marching them through Princeton and finally halting them on the banks of the Delaware River.
When General Howe occupied Brunswick, everyone still above the ground inside Philadelphia went into cardiac arrest. All Philadelphia shops and schools closed by order of the Council of Public Safety. All able-bodied citizens and militia took up arms to defend the city. What actually happened was that the good citizens of Philadelphia, able-bodied or not, ignored the Council of Public Safety, loaded their wagons, and deserted the city. There was much to accomplish in such a short period of time, and defending the city was not very high on anyone’s agenda.
Once city officials realized their fellow citizens were gutless wonders, they urgently appealed to the Congress for Continental Marines. Responding to the will of Congress, Major Nicholas detailed three companies of Marines for the defense of Pennsylvania. Company officers inspected their men and readied them for service in the field. With orders to report to General Washington, Major Nicholas marched his Marines down to the waterfront to board gondolas.
The Marines’ departure from Philadelphia did nothing to bolster the morale of its few remaining citizens. While Major Nicholas proceeded to General Washington’s camp, city officials formed a regiment of militia — three battalions — in all, around 1,200 men. These were citizens who didn’t get away from Philadelphia fast enough. They were well-clothed but poorly armed. Within a few days, the regimental commander, Colonel John Cadwalader, was ordered to proceed and report to General Washington.
General Washington was happy to receive reinforcements — even Marines — but he wasn’t sure what to do with them. This problem was solved when Colonel Cadwalader arrived on 5 December. Since Cadwalader and Major Nicholas were Philadelphians, Washington asked Cadwalader to absorb the Marine battalion into his regiment, along with the USS Delaware and USS Washington crews under captains Charles Alexander and Thomas Read. Colonel Cadwalader’s regiment became a de facto brigade with these additional forces.
However, General Washington had far more on his plate than personnel issues. For one thing, Washington was puzzled by General Howe’s delay in Brunswick. Washington decided to march his men toward Princeton on 7 December. Informants cautioned Washington that he was walking into a collision with the British. Since it was not the time or place of his choosing, General Washington again retreated to Trenton and withdrew across the Delaware River. In this process, Washington ordered his men to remove or destroy anything valuable to the enemy.
General Washington did not know that Similar problems plagued general Howe. He did not have timely or reliable information about his enemy. Wisely, Howe was cautious in his pursuit of Washington but unwisely divided his force into two corps. The first, under Major General James Grant, Howe ordered to Trenton. The second corps, under Major General Charles Cornwallis, General Howe ordered to Maidenhead — a position halfway between Trenton and Princeton.
The vanguard of Grant’s force reached Trenton just as the last of Washington’s army crossed the river into Pennsylvania. General Cornwallis’ troops reached the East bank of the river 15 miles above Trenton, but Washington had wisely removed all boats from that location and positioned his field canon on the west bank. These measures brought General Grant’s advance to a screeching halt.
Once General Howe became aware that Grant and Cornwallis lost their momentum, he abandoned his immediate plan for a Pennsylvania campaign. Instead, he ordered Grant and Cornwallis to establish winter camps. Ultimately, these cantonments stretched from Hackensack to Burlington on the Delaware River. General Howe then went to his winter camp.
Observing British forces constructing bridges and river-side docks, Washington logically concluded that Howe’s delay was only temporary. Desperate for reliable knowledge concerning British activities, General Washington sent a letter to Pennsylvania’s Council of Safety asking them if it would be possible to send Commodore Thomas Seymour upriver to reconnoiter the area. He also ordered Colonel Cadwalader to send a battalion to Dunk’s ferry. The battalion’s two-fold mission was to guard the crossing and scout the area of Bordentown across the Delaware River.
On 11 December 1776, Hessian Colonel Carl E. U. von Donop departed Trenton with a force large enough to seize Bordentown and Burlington. Von Donop encountered only light resistance from local militia, but his presence forced Washington’s scouting party back across the river. The Germans had no problem occupying Burlington, but local Loyalists complained that his presence would only attract the attention of the Continental Navy. Von Donop organized a delegation of Burlington citizens to confer with Commodore Seymore to receive his assurances and gain information from Seymour that might benefit General von Donop. Meanwhile, Hessian troops began patrolling inside the town.
Commodore Seymour met with citizen delegates and, to his credit, was direct in response to their inquiries. Seymour would have no sympathy for Burlington if von Donop occupied it. As soon as he observed the Hessian town patrols, Seymour opened fire, forcing von Donop’s army to withdraw northward and aggravating the ulcers of the townspeople.
On 12 December, Marines from USS Hancock, serving under Marine Captain William Shippin, occupied Burlington. Reports from Seymour and his scouts confirmed Washington’s suspicions. Consequently, Washington established a defensive perimeter on the West Bank of the Delaware south of Burlington. Brigadier General Philemon Dickinson secured Yardley’s Ferry and tied his defense line with that of Brigadier General James Ewing. Colonel Cadwalader’s force tied in with Ewing from Hoop’s mill to Dunk’s Ferry.
While General Washington created his line of defense, militia General Israel Putnam supervised the defense of Philadelphia. In the middle of these preparations, such as they were, HMS Roebuck anchored just inside Delaware Bay. Roebuck’s position prohibited ships from reaching the open sea. Congressional delegates ordered the Marine Committee to send warnings of Roebuck’s station to local merchantmen.
The Committee then considered the employment of Randolph and Hornet — both ship’s captains received instructions placing them under General Putnam’s orders. Congress offered a $10,000 bounty to the crew and Marines of Randolph if Captain Nicholas Biddle could bypass HMS Roebuck and get into the open sea.
Having done its duty in defense of Philadelphia, Congress promptly removed itself to Baltimore. Congressional delegate Robert Morris, however, remained behind as a congressional liaison to General Putnam. He advised Putnam to send Randolph and Hornet to sea without delay. Putnam agreed and ordered both frigates readied for sea. Morris’ idea was to send Biddle to sea in search of British ships operating off the coast of New York. Despite Biddle’s recruitment of sailors from the city prison to man his ship, he did not have a full crew complement and was reluctant to shove off without an entire crew.
Captain James Nicholson, commanding Hornet, received different instructions. Since Hornet had a barely adequate crew, Morris and Putnam ordered Nicholson to sail to South Carolina and, once clearing the capes, proceed to Martinique, where he might find crewmen and military stores needed for Washington’s army.
Both Continental ships set sail on 14 December, setting a course for Hog Island. The following day, a messenger vessel overtook them with instructions to put into Chester to await the arrival of merchantmen destined for France. While anchored in Chester, another boat arrived from Philadelphia, recalling both ships. After Morris learned that HMS Falcon and two bomb ketches (ships rigged for firing mortars) had arrived to reinforce Roebuck, he recalled Randolph and Hornet, fearing their loss to the Royal Navy.
Morris was also concerned about Captain C. Alexander’s frigate Delaware; he asked Washington to release the ship back to Philadelphia. Colonel Cadwalader, under whose command Delaware was placed, concurred. Major Nichols formed a detachment of Marines for service on Delaware, placing them under the command of First Lieutenant Daniel Henderson and Second Lieutenant David Love. The shifting of officers led to the temporary appointment of Sergeant James Coakley to First Lieutenant. The loss of 20 Marines from Cadwalader’s command had little effect on Washington because, on 14 December, the British had gone into winter quarters.
The Marines under Major Nicholas numbered around 130 officers and men. While under Cadwalader’s command, the Marines shared the usual service duties with the brigade, including guard duty. Cadwalader, well aware of General Washington’s concerns about gaining intelligence about enemy movements/intentions, assigned his guard units the additional task of obtaining information and passing it up the chain of command. Guard units were also instructed to harass the enemy whenever possible.
Washington appreciated Cadwalader’s foresight. He constantly fretted over the possibility of a sudden attack by Howe’s forces, particularly since Washington’s army was weak and under-equipped. An army collapse at that point would be a disaster for the patriot cause. Of additional concern to Washington was that most of his army’s enlistments would expire on 31 December 1776. These factors prompted General Washington to seize the initiative against Howe while he still had an army. News of Howe’s withdrawal and the scattering of his forces encouraged Washington’s line of thought. By 24 December, General Washington had formulated a plan for offensive operations.
Washington’s primary objective was Trenton. His plan called for crossing the Delaware River at three locations, executed by Cadwalader’s brigade, Hitchcock, Ewing, and a militia company under Captain Thomas Rodney. Captain Rodney would cross the river near Bristol and join Colonel Griffin, who was already in New Jersey. Together, this force would march on Trenton and join Washington’s main body. Ewing would cross the river at Trenton Ferry to the north of Cadwalader. Ewing’s primary task was to capture the Assunpink Bridge to prevent the Hessians from escaping Trenton. Washington commanded 2,400 troops and decided to cross at McKinley’s Ferry, ten miles above Trenton. Once his three brigades reformed in New Jersey, Washington intended to march on Princeton and Brunswick.
Trenton was under the control of Hessian Colonel Johann Gottlieb. In keeping with German tradition, Gottlieb’s regiment celebrated Christmas with feasting and strong drink. Washington readied his men in Pennsylvania, but a fierce winter storm set in as the day progressed. Snowfall was dense, and the temperature was agonizingly bitter. Nevertheless, by 1800, Washington had sent his advance force across the Delaware River. Poor weather, dropping temperatures, and coagulating river ice impeded Washington’s operations by midnight. By then, Washington’s operation was already three hours behind schedule.
The army wasn’t assembled and ready to march until 0400. Throughout the night, the storm worsened. General Washington divided his command into two corps. Brigadier General Nathanael Greene led the first of these toward the left and seized the Pennington Road, while Colonel Arthur St. Clair proceeded southeast, down the river road.
Within a mile of Trenton, Greene deployed his men to form a half-circle around the town. Greene’s approach alerted the Hessians. A number of pickets retreated to an area north of town. Washington launched his main assault at around 07:00. Patriot artillery opened fire into the ranks of Hessians, whom Gottlieb had formed to repel the patriot force. The barrage decimated the Hessians, and they withdrew to the edge of town. German officers rallied their men, reformed the ranks, ordered “fix bayonets,” and started back to confront Washington’s force. Soon aware that they were outnumbered, the Hessians began a fighting withdrawal. Unhappily for the Germans, they withdrew into elements of Ewing’s force at the Assunpink Bridge. With their officers dying right and left, the German troops became confused and soon surrendered.
The second group of Hessians rallied under Major von Dechow to re-take the bridge, but they were soon defeated. The battle lasted barely two hours. Washington suffered the loss of one man killed and three wounded. The Hessians lost 22 killed, 83 wounded, and 891 captured. Six hundred Germans managed to escape capture and moved rapidly toward Bordentown.
As it turned out, Washington’s force assaulted the Hessians without the support of either Cadwalader or Ewing’s full complement. As Cadwalader attempted to cross the Delaware River, the storm increased in intensity; dangerous ice impeded his movements. Out of concern that the storm might cause the loss of his canon, Cadwalader delayed sending his main force across the Delaware River.
General Ewing faced the same predicament and, with the exception of his initial advance guard, made no further attempt to cross the river. General Washington, meanwhile, was unaware of any of these circumstances. Having defeated the Hessians, his mission accomplished, General Washington returned across the Delaware River. He dispatched a force to accompany his prisoners to Philadelphia and resumed his defense of the West Bank.
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, Robert Morris had no success recruiting crews for Pennsylvania’s militia Navy. Service at sea with low pay may have been too much to ask. Captain Biddle grew obstinate about not having a full crew, but with Washington’s victory at Trenton, there was no longer a reason to send Randolph to sea.
Late in the day on 26 December, General Washington received a letter from Cadwalader explaining his reasons for failing to complete his mission. When General Cadwalader wrote his letter, he did not know where Washington was. He informed Washington that he intended to cross the Delaware River “the following morning.” By then, Washington had returned to Newtown, Pennsylvania. Washington’s reply asked Cadwalader to delay crossing the river until the two men could confer. Of course, except for one regiment under Colonel Hitchcock, Cadwalader had already crossed.
Having received General Washington’s instructions, Colonel Hitchcock canceled his planned movement across the river. He dispatched a messenger to Cadwalader advising him of recent events and instructions. Cadwalader conferred with his officers. Ultimately, Cadwalader decided to remain in New Jersey and make an attack against Burlington. He sent Colonel Joseph Reed ahead with a small scouting force. At 0400 on 28 December, General Cadwalader marched to Bordentown and took possession of the military stores abandoned by the Hessians. There being no food for his men, however, Cadwalader proceeded to Crosswicks, where he located food stores.
Major Nicholas’ Marines, being attached to Cadwalader’s brigade, did not participate in the Battle of Trenton, but they would not have long to wait for their first taste of land warfare. From Crosswicks, Cadwalader rejoined Washington outside of Princeton on the night of 2 January 1777. Washington attached Cadwalader’s brigade to Brigadier General Greene’s Division. At dawn on the morning of 3 November, Major Nicholas’ Marines arrived at the outskirts of Princeton. Green placed the Marines in reserve.
General Washington’s plan called for a dawn assault on Princeton, but at dawn, he was still two miles from the town. Intending to delay Cornwallis, Washington sent 350 men under Brigadier General Hugh Mercer to destroy the bridge over Stony Brook. Shortly before 0800, Washington wheeled his army to the right through Clarke’s farm and proceeded to enter Princeton through an undefended section.
En route to Stony Brook, Mercer’s brigade encountered two British infantry regiments and a cavalry unit under Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mawhood. This collision of combatants was the initiating engagement in the Battle of Princeton. Mercer and his men put up a stout defense against overwhelming forces. The British, mistaking Mercer for Washington, quickly surrounded him and demanded his surrender. Incensed, Mercer drew his sword and attacked his captors. Defending themselves, the enemy beat him to the ground and bayoneted him repeatedly.
With Mercer’s executive officer dead, junior officers and troops became disorganized. Having observed the fight, General Washington rallied what troops remained of Mercer’s force and pushed the British back.
Upon hearing the clatter of muskets, Brigadier General Cadwalader led his 1,100 men against Colonel Mawhood, whose men at the time were disorganized. Mawhood rallied his men, reorganized them, and put them into ranks for an assault or defense. Cadwalader’s brigade was mostly composed of untrained, inexperienced, poorly armed militia. Nicholas’ Marines occupied the brigade’s right flank, but observing Mawhood’s battle line, the militia on the left began to falter.
General Washington, observing Cadwalader’s hesitance, ordered Colonel Edward Hand to move his sharpshooters forward to the right of the Marines. Washington courageously rode amongst the young militiamen and encouraged them. Colonel Hitchcock’s regiment soon arrived and took a position to Colonel Hand’s right. The Americans advanced against Mawhood’s left and center, forcing the British to withdraw and scatter. Despite Mawhood’s efforts to rally his men, the British line was defeated.
Washington’s Continentals controlled Princeton within an hour, and the British withdrew to Maidenhead. Washington estimated enemy casualties were around 500 incapacitated and 100 left dead on the field. Of his own, Washington reported 30-40 slain, including Brigadier General Mercer, Colonel John Haslet, Captain Daniel Niel, Ensign Anthony Morris, Jr., and Marine Captain William Shippin.
The Battle of Princeton was the first time in the Revolution that General Washington’s army saw the fleeing backs of British Redcoats — and the Continental Marines had their first taste of land battle. General Howe regarded Washington’s victories at Trenton and Princeton as minor inconveniences, but to the Americans, having taken on the world’s greatest land army, the victories proved that the British could be beaten. In writing of the American victories at Trenton and Princeton, modern British historian Sir George Trevelyan observed, “It may be doubted whether so small a number of men ever employed so short a space of time with greater and more lasting effects upon the history of the world.”
Collins, V. L. A Brief Narrative of the Ravages of the British and Hessians at Princeton, 1776-1777. New York: Arno Press, 1968.
Fischer, D. H. Washington’s Crossing. Oxford University Press, 2006.
Ketchum, R. The Winter Soldiers: The Battles for Trenton and Princeton. Holt Publishing, 1999.
McCullough, D. 1776. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006.
Smith, C. Marines in the Revolution: A History of the Continental Marines in the American Revolution, 1775-1783. Washington: Headquarters U. S. Marine Corps, 1975.
 Most of the 17,000 dead due to disease involved Americans imprisoned on British prison ships. British prison ships were obsolete, captured, or damaged ships used to house American prisoners of war. Conditions aboard these ships were appalling; far more men died as British prisoners than died in actual combat. The men languished in frigid conditions without adequate nourishment or clean water. According to historian Edwin G. Burrows, disease and starvation killed half of those taken on Long Island and as many as two-thirds of those captured at Fort Washington in 1776 — a realistic estimate of between 2,000 and 2,500 men in the space of two months. British guards harassed and abused the men constantly. Of the total, 10,000 men died from simple neglect. When they died, the British simply threw their bodies overboard into the New York harbor. Well over 1,000 prisoners were transported to England, where they performed forced labor in the mines. The British released some prisoners after they agreed to serve in the British Navy.
 Commodore was an honorary title (not a formal rank) bestowed on navy captains serving in command of two or more vessels of the Continental (later U. S.) Navy. Esek Hopkins was forced out of the Navy in 1778.
 There were around 80 Marine privates in a company and five companies of Marines in a battalion. It is amazing to imagine that the war board imagined that ten companies of Marines could defend against one or more British regiments.
 A Revolutionary War (period) gondola (also a gunboat) was a 54-foot, 29-ton boat armed with a single 24-pound bow canon.
 During the period from the Revolutionary War to the end of World War II, the Army operated under the War Department, and the naval forces operated under the Navy Department. When Nicholas reported to General Washington, the Army Commander-in-Chief was uncertain that the naval forces were reliable (or useful) — one problem was that they had no obligation to obey Washington’s orders. They were in the Navy Department with a completely different chain of command.
 On 6 July 1776, Pennsylvania’s Committee of Safety authorized the purchase of ships for the defense of Philadelphia. By October, thirteen small ships had been constructed, six of which were operational by August: Bulldog, Burke, Camden, Congress, Dickinson, Effingham, Experiment, Franklin, Hancock, Ranger, and Warren. Deciding overall command of the fleet was contentious, however. The first commodore was Thomas Caldwell, who resigned due to ill health. Caldwell was replaced by Samuel Davidson, a junior captain whose appointment ahead of more senior men nearly caused a mutiny of officers. Davidson was removed from naval service and replaced by Thomas Seymour. Captain John Hazelwood objected to serving under Seymour owing to his advanced age. Eventually, the Committee of Safety removed Seymour and appointed Hazelwood in his place.
 This reflects that even in these early days of American Marines, the Marine Corps placed tremendous trust and confidence in their noncommissioned officers and offered the most exceptional among them advancement into the officer ranks.
 Washington promoted Cadwalader to Brigadier General.
 Mercer, later discovered on the battlefield, was rushed to the home of two Quaker women. They nursed Mercer for nine days until he passed away.
 Actual British casualties were 270 men of all ranks.