Marines in Panama, 1903-04 (Part I)

Roosevelt TR 001
President Theodore Roosevelt

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.  If true, then so too were Thomas Jefferson’s actions when he acquired the Louisiana Territory.  At different times, the congressional do-nothings accused Roosevelt of usurping their authority. They must not have known Roosevelt very well; he was a man of action.

Some background

A canal across the isthmus of Panama was first discussed in 1534, when Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain ordered a survey for a route through the Americas that would shorten the voyage for ships traveling between Spain and Peru.  In 1668, the British physician and philosopher Sir Thomas Browne speculated that such an undertaking would be a good idea; after all, it only involved “but a few miles” across the isthmus.  A little more than 100-years later, Thomas Jefferson (then US minister to France), suggested to the Spanish that they proceed with their project; after all, it would be far less treacherous than sailing ships around the tip of South America. Besides, he added, the tropical ocean currents would naturally widen the canal thereafter and it would be easy to maintain it.

By the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, numerous canals were constructed in other countries.  Engineers were learning how to do this.  The success of the Erie Canal in the 1820s was inspiring, and the collapse of the Spanish Empire in the New World led to a surge of American interests in building an inner-oceanic canal.

Of course, in the first eighty-years following independence from Spain, Panama was a department (province) of Colombia.  Panama voluntarily joined Colombia in 1821.  It was not a happy marriage, however, and the Panamanians made several attempts to secede, notably in 1831 and again during the Thousand Days War of 1899-1902.  Among the indigenous people, the struggle was one for land rights [1] under the leadership of Victoriano Lorenzo [2].

Panama outline mapEarlier, in 1826, American officials attempted to open negotiations with Gran Colombia (present-day Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama) to gain a concession for the construction of a canal.  Fearing domination by an American presence, Gran Colombian president Simón Bolívar and officials of New Granada politely declined American offers.

The British also opened discussions about constructing an Atlantic-Pacific canal in 1843  but in the absence of any Colombian interest, no plan was ever formulated.  Moreover, negotiations to construct a isthmus-wide railroad were similarly ignored.   However, in 1846, New Granada officials and the United States negotiated the so-called Mallarino-Bidlack Treaty. The treaty granted the United States transit rights through Panama, and, while acknowledging the right of the United States to protect these transit rights, also pledged America’s neutrality in matters pertaining to the internal affairs of New Granada.

With the discovery of gold in California in 1848, renewed interest in a sea-to-sea canal was undertaken by William H. Aspinwall, an American shipping magnate. His efforts resulted in a steamship route from New York City to Panama, and from Panama to San Francisco, with an overland portage through Panama.  It was one of the fastest routes between San Francisco and the East Coast of the US —about 40 or so days in total.  Nearly all of the gold taken from California was shipped through this routing.  The ever-competitive Cornelius Vanderbilt similarly established steamship routes to Nicaragua [3] and an overland route to the Pacific.

Between 1850-55, the United States constructed a railroad in Panama; it became a vital link in trade (and later, the route for the Panama Canal).  Late in 1855, the engineer William Kennish published a report entitled The Practicality and Importance of a Ship Canal to Connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  Twenty-two years later, two French engineers surveyed the route and submitted a French proposal for a canal through Panama.

In March 1885, Colombia reduced its military presence in Panama in order to address rebellions in other areas.  With a reduced military footprint, Panamanian rebels began an insurgency.  The US Navy was dispatched to protect US personnel and property.  Establishing a base of operations at the city of Colón, the American Navy was soon challenged by the Chilean Navy, who at the time had the strongest naval force in the Americas.  The Chilean cruiser Esmeralda was dispatched to seize and control Panama City.  Esmeralda was instructed to “stop by any means possible the eventual annexation of Panama by the United States.”  Note: I’m not quite sure how Chile intended to accomplish this with their ships on the Pacific Coast, and most of the US Navy on the Caribbean side of Panama.

Meanwhile, undaunted, the French proceeded with their Panama Canal operations between 1881-94.  Ferdinand de Lesseps [4] was able to raise considerable funds for this undertaking, mostly from revenues generated by the Suez Canal, but in practical terms, the undertaking in Panama was far more complex than the Suez project due to the terrain and tropical climate.  As time progressed, the French discovered that they were completely unprepared for such an undertaking in Panama.  There were no similarities between the Suez Canal and one like it in Panama.  Tropical Panama was a nest of poisonous snakes, spiders, and insects.  The rainy season transformed the Chagres River into a raging torrent exceeding ten feet above normal in depth.  Moreover, Panama was a land of malaria and other diseases.  By 1884, the death rate among French workers averaged 200-men per month.  Labor recruiters in France downplayed these conditions by not mentioning them.

Bunau-Varilla 001
Phillipe Bunau-Varilla

Eventually, French money ran out.  By 1889, the French had expended $287-million; twenty-two thousand men died from diseases and accidents, and more than 800,000 investors lost their money, which must have been devastating.  Work was suspended on 15 May 1889; the scandal became known as the Panama Affair, and those deemed responsible were hauled into French courts —including Gustave Eiffel [5].  Despite this setback, another company was formed in 1894, but its efforts were mostly confined to managing the Panama Railroad, maintaining costly French equipment, and the sale of idle assets.  By then, the French were hoping to recoup $109-million. Eventually, its manager, Phillipe Bunau-Varilla [6] became convinced that canal efforts should pursue a lock-and-lake project rather than a sea-level canal modeled after the Suez project.

In 1898 Manuel Antonio Sanclemente was elected President of Colombia; José Manuel Marroquin-Ricaurte became his Vice President.  On 31 July 1900, Marroquin executed a coup d’état by imprisoning Sanclemente at a location a few miles outside of Bogota. Due to the mysterious disappearance of the President, Marroquin declared himself the sole power in Colombia.  In plain language, he became a dictator.  The absence of Sanclamente from the capital became permanent upon his death in prison in the year 1902.

The (centralist) Colombian constitution of 1886 denied to Panama the right of self-government; all power was vested within the Colombian regime.  When Panamanians declared their independence on 3 November 1903, there was no Colombian Congress.  As we will see, Marroquin’s coup d’état did not work out to the overall best interests of the Colombian people.

From the American perspective in 1900, if there was any lessons to be learned from the Spanish-American War, it was that the United States needed a canal somewhere in the Western Hemisphere.  The question to be answered was “where.”  There were two possibilities: a canal across the isthmus of Panama, or a canal across Nicaragua.

Meanwhile, in order to liquidate French interests in Panama, project manager Phillipe Bunau-Varilla wanted $100-million; eventually, he would end up settling for $40-million.

José Manuel Marroquín
José Manuel Marroquin-Ricaurte

In 1902, the United States Senate voted in favor of the Spooner Act, a commitment to pursue the Panamanian option —provided that the US could obtain the necessary rights from Colombia.  President Marroquin authorized his Ambassador to negotiate a treaty with the United States. Thus, on 22 January 1903, US Secretary of State John Hay and Colombian Charge-de-affairs Dr. Tomás Herrán signed a treaty for the construction of a canal in Panama.  Colombia would gain $10-million and an annual payment, and the United States would achieve a renewable lease in perpetuity for the land proposed for the canal. The US Senate ratified the treaty in March.

President Marroquin wielded absolute power in Colombia.  It was entirely up to him whether to accept the Hay-Herrán accord or reject it.  He decided to reject it —and in order to provide an excuse for doing so, he devised the plan of summoning a special session of Congress —a puppet congress that would do as they were told.

By July 1903, when the course of internal Colombian opposition to the Hay-Herrán Treaty became obvious, a revolutionary junta emerged in Panama. The junta was led by José Augustin Arango, an attorney for the Panama Railroad Company.  He was aided by Manuel Amador Guerrero and Carlos C. Arosemena, all of whom represented prominent Panamanian families.  Arango was the brain of the revolution; Amador was the junta’s visibly active leader.

With financial assistance arranged by Philippe Bunau-Varilla, a French national representing the interests of de Lesseps’s company, native Panamanian leaders conspired to take advantage of the United States’ interest in a new regime on the isthmus.

In August 1903, Theodore Roosevelt became convinced that Colombia was likely to repudiate the agreed-to treaty.  At the President’s direction, Secretary Hay, personally and through his Minister [7] at Bogota, repeatedly warned Colombia that grave consequences might follow a rejection of the treaty.  There were two possibilities: one was that Panama would remain loyal to Colombia.  In this case, Roosevelt was prepared to occupy the isthmus of Panama and dig his canal anyway.  Subsequently, Roosevelt and Hay met with Phillipe Bunau-Varilla, who informed the president of the likelihood of a revolt by Panamanian rebels, whose desire it was to sever their ties to Colombia.  Bunau-Varilla expressed his hope that should such a thing occur, that the United States would support Panama.

This information was confirmed on 16 October by two US Army officers (Captain Humphrey and Lieutenant Murphy), who had recently returned to Washington from Panama.  They informed President Roosevelt that, in their opinion, Panama would most-assuredly revolt against the Colombian government.  The Panamanian people were united in their criticism of the government in Bogota; the people were disgusted by Marroquin’s silence on the pending treaty —but that Panamanians would likely await the results of Colombia’s puppet congress before making their move —sometime around the end of the month.  President Roosevelt then directed the Navy to station warships at several locations in Panama and be ready to respond to any crisis that may arise.

The possibility of ratification did not wholly pass away until the close of the session of the Colombian Congress on the last day of October. To no one’s surprise, Colombia’s legislature unanimously voted to reject the treaty.  Having thus voted, the Congress was immediately dismissed.

Marines in Panama 1903
US Marines guard rail depot, Colon, Panama 1903

Panama declared its independence on 3 November 1903. President Roosevelt enthusiastically recognized the new government on 4 November.  US warships blocked sea lanes against any possible Colombian troop movements on 5 November.  Meanwhile, in Panama, practically everyone on the isthmus, including Colombian troops stationed there, joined the revolution.  Initially, there was no bloodshed.  But on 6th November four hundred new Colombian troops were landed at Colón.  USS Nashville arrived at Colón at about the same time.  When the Colombian commander foolishly threatened the lives of Americans in Colón, Nashville’s commanding officer landed his Marines and sailors to protect them.  Through a mixture of firmness and tact, Commander Hubbard not only prevented any assault on American citizens, but he also persuaded the Colombian military commander to reembark his troops for Cartagena.  On the Pacific coast, a Colombian ship shelled Panama City; one man was killed —the only life lost in the entire revolution.

On 16 December, the Marines from Nashville were relieved by a 400-man Marine Battalion from USS Dixie under the command of Major John A. Lejeune [8], USMC.

No one connected with the American Government had any part in preparing, inciting, or encouraging the revolution, and except for the reports of our military and naval officers, which I forwarded to Congress, no one connected with the Government had any previous knowledge concerning the proposed revolution, except such as was accessible to any person who read the newspapers and kept abreast of current questions and current affairs.  By the unanimous action of its people, and without the firing of a shot, the state of Panama declared themselves an independent republic. The time for hesitation on our part had passed.

 —President Theodore Roosevelt

The rights granted to the United States in the so-called Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty were extensive. They included a grant “in perpetuity of the use, occupation, and control” of a sixteen-kilometer-wide strip of territory and extensions of three nautical miles into the sea from each terminal “for the construction, maintenance, operation, sanitation, and protection” of an isthmian canal.

The United States was also entitled to acquire additional areas of land or water necessary for canal operations and held the option of exercising eminent domain in Panama City. Within this territory, Washington gained “all the rights, power, and authority . . . which the United States would possess and exercise if it were the sovereign . . . to the entire exclusion” of Panama.

The Republic of Panama became a de facto protectorate of the United States through two provisions: the United States guaranteed the independence of Panama and received in return the right to intervene in Panama’s domestic affairs.  In exchange for these “rights,” the United States was to pay the sum of $10 million and an annual payment (beginning 9 years after ratification), of $250,000 in gold coin. The United States also purchased the rights and properties of the French canal company for $40 million.  In 1977, President Jimmy Carter agreed to relinquish US control of the Panama Canal Zone effective at midnight on 31 December 1999.  Carter’s action was the end of a process that began at the direction of President Lyndon Johnson in 1967.

Unsurprisingly, Colombia was the harshest critic of United States foreign policy at the time —but President Roosevelt wasn’t quite finished with Colombia just yet …

Continued next week …

Sources:

  1. Wicks, D. H. “Dress Rehearsal: United States Intervention on the Isthmus of Panama, 1886.  Pacific Historical Review, 1990
  2. Collin, R. H. Theodore Roosevelt’s Caribbean: The Panama Canal, the Monroe Doctrine, and the Latin American Context (1990)
  3. 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.
  4. Nikol, J. and Francis X. Holbrook, “Naval Operations in the Panama Revolution, 1903.” American Neptune, 1977.
  5. Turk, R. “The United States Navy and the Taking of Panama, 1901-1903.”  Military Affairs, 1974.
  6. Hendrix, H. J. Commander, USN.“TR’s Plan to Invade Colombia.”  S. Naval Institute, Proceedings Magazine.

Endnotes:

[1] Hispanic society was nothing if not harsh.  If you weren’t born into wealth (which is to say, entitled to land), then you would never achieve a higher station in life.  It remains that way to this very day.

[2] The political struggle in Panama was one between federalists and centralists following independence from Spain.  Under the centralist regime, Panama was established as the Department of the Isthmus; during federalist regimes, it was the Sovereign State of Panama.

[3] The genesis, perhaps, of America’s problem with Nicaragua.  At this time, the Nicaraguans (wisely) did not trust the motives of the American government.

[4] Vicomte de Lesseps (1805-1894) was a French diplomat, entrepreneur, developer of the Suez Canal, and the Chief Operating Officer for the Panama Canal project.

[5] Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (1832–1923) was a French civil engineer and a graduate École Centrale Paris.  He made his name building various bridges for the French railway network, most famously the Garabit viaduct.  He is best known for the world-famous Eiffel Tower, built for the Universal Exposition in 1889 in Paris and his contribution to the construction of the Statue of Liberty in New York.

[6] Bunau-Varilla (1859-1940) was a French engineer, soldier, diplomat, and entrepreneur.  Through American lawyer William Nelson Cromwell, he became quite influential with Theodore Roosevelt and Secretary of State, John Hay.

[7] American diplomats accredited to foreign governments from the time of Benjamin Franklin through the late-nineteenth century held the rank of Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, or in abbreviated terms, “Minister.”  Within the diplomatic corps, the term Ambassador (short for Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary) is a diplomatic agent of the first class.  The term Ambassador has become the generic title for the chief of a diplomatic mission.  Before the twentieth century, only major powers sent and received ambassadors.  The term “extraordinary” was originally applied to an envoy sent on a special mission, as opposed to “ordinary,” which meant an envoy in residence.  Today the term Extraordinary is widely used in diplomatic circles.  The term “plenipotentiary” originally meant having the authority to conduct normal diplomatic business, as opposed to the function of negotiating treaties, which required special authority.

[8] John A. Lejeune later served as Commanding General, US 2nd Army Division in World War I and the Thirteenth Commandant of the U. S. Marine Corps.

Marine Detachments (1775-1998)

Resolved, That two Battalions of marines be raised, consisting of one Colonel, two Lieutenant Colonels, two Majors, and other officers as usual in other regiments; and that they consist of an equal number of privates with other battalions; that particular care be taken, that no persons be appointed to office, or insisted 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: that they be insisted and commissioned to serve for and during the present war between Great Britain and the colonies, unless dismissed by order of Congress: that they be distinguished by the names of the first and second battalions of American Marines, and that they be considered as part of the number which the continental Army before Boston is ordered to consist of.

Continental Congress, 10 November 1775

OLD EGA 001This was the instrument that created the Marine Corps.  The entire purpose of the Marines back then was to serve aboard ships of the Continental Navy —its original purpose and duty, but the concept of such employment goes back much further in history.  Roman ships had detachments of naval infantry whose purpose it was to take the battle to the decks of enemy ships, but seagoing marines have been a fact of naval warfare long before then —which is to say marines in some form or fashion, even if not referred to as such.

We cannot speak of American Marines 2,500 years ago, of course, but we do know that the first American Marines were British colonialists who first served as such under Colonel Alexander Spotswood and Colonel William Gooch (both of whom served as lieutenant governors of the colony of Virginia) during the War of Jenkin’s Ear in 1741.  Four battalions were raised for this purpose, but the enterprise did not end well for those men.  Most were defeated by rampant tropic diseases, which made them ineffective as a fighting force.

After the Congress’ authorization for a Corps of Marines, Tun Tavern [1] in Philadelphia became the main recruitment office for Marines.  Here, able bodied seamen were lured into Marine Corps service for six and two-thirds dollars per month, a daily ration of bread, one pound of pork or beef, potatoes or turnips, or a half-pound of peas, and a half-pint of rum.  Recruits were also promised butter once a week, pudding twice each week, and an allotment of cheese three times a week. Their uniforms included green overcoats and white trousers —so long as clothing was available.

Samuel_Nicholas
Captain Samuel Nicholas

In 1775, the owner of the Inn was a man named Samuel Nicholas [2].  Nicholas was commissioned a captain of Marines and charged with the initial recruitment effort.  He was responsible for leading the first 300 Marines in a raid at New Providence Island in the Bahamas to seize war materials greatly needed by General George Washington.  Ultimately, the Marines seized two forts in the face of almost no British resistance and helped themselves to available guns, powder, cannon balls, mortars, and various caliber of shells.  Marines did receive three rounds of British cannon fire, but no one was injured.

On their return voyage, the Continental Navy suddenly faced the twenty or so guns HMS Glasgow at Block Island.  When the smoke cleared, seven Marines lay dead and four others required treatment for serious wounds.  British casualties included four killed or wounded.

Seagoing Marines (also referred to as seadogs) were involved in many of the battles in the American Revolution.  Marine sharpshooters stationed on platforms above the masts delivered devastating fire to the decks of enemy ships. Occasionally, the Marines would conduct raids ashore along America’s long coastline.

When peace finally came in 1783, the Congress decided that it could no longer afford a naval establishment and the Continental Navy and Marine Corps were disbanded.  Up until then, the Continental Marines had consisted of 124 officers and 3,000 enlisted men.  There was no naval force in the United States between 1783 and 1794; in that year, Congress authorized the construction of six frigates, all of which would have stationed aboard them detachments of US Marines.  They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and so it was with the reemergence of the Navy and Marine Corps.  Moorish raiders operating in the Mediterranean and Atlantic seaboard had begun seizing US flagged vessels and holding them, their cargoes, and crews, for ransom.  In 1793 alone, the US lost eleven merchantmen to Barbary pirates.  Added to this, European wars continued to involve American ships and the newly-created United States of America was forced to break free of its isolationist policies.

Three frigates were launched in 1797; they were christened USS United States, USS Constellation, and USS Constitution.  A congressional act on 1 July of that year reactivated the Marine Corps.  The Act called for five lieutenants, eight sergeants, eight corporals, three drummers, three fifers, and 140 privates to man these ships in Marine Detachments.  From this point forward, the strength of the Marine Corps seagoing Marines continued to grow.

In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson, who was no friend of the American Navy, decided that the country could ill-afford to maintain the naval establishment.  Ships were decommissioned or dismantled, and the Marine Corps was cut to 26 officers and 453 enlisted men.

Yet, even as the President was looking to reduce America’s debt, the Navy-Marine Corps team had managed to create turmoil among French privateers operating in the West Indies during the so-called Quasi-War [3] (1798-1800).  The war was “quasi” because it was undeclared.  The French were surprised by the fighting skills of America’s fledgling Navy, among whose senior officers included Stephen Decatur, Silas Talbot, and William Bainbridge.

Overwhelmed at sea, French ships withdrew to littoral areas of the West Indies and adopted the tactics of ambushing American commercial ships.  Undaunted, the US Navy pursued the French into shallow waters.  USS Delaware was the first American warship to claim a French prize.  USS Constellation captured the French ship Insurgente, a 40-gun ship of the line, on 7 February 1799.  Constellation also captured the 52-gun Vengeance after a five-hour battle in 1800.  Both of these vessels sustained heavy damage, however.

Lieutenant Bartholomew Clinch commanded the Constellation’s Marine Detachment during both sea battles; his Marines were recognized for delivering devastatingly accurate fire upon the French ship.  Lieutenant James Middleton led a landing party of Marines from USS Merrimack and USS Patapsco to defend the port of Curacao from a French raid.  Marines were also employed to seize an English ship being held under heavy cannon fire at Puerto Plata in Santo Domingo.

Suffering these depredations at the hands of the American Navy and Marines, the French soon signaled their interest in ending the war —but not before Marines from USS Enterprise captured nine French privateers, defeated a Spanish brig, and re-captured eleven American vessels.  In December 1800, Enterprise also defeated L’Aigle and Flambeau with much credit given to Marine sharpshooters.

Firing Pennsylvania
Firing the Philadelphia

President Jefferson’s frugality campaign came to an end when he realized that Algerian, Moroccan, Tunisian, and Tripolitan raiders were costing the Americans several million dollars a year, or roughly one-fifth of the nation’s income, paid either as ransom for captured Americans, or in bribes paid to allow US merchantmen to sail in Mediterranean waters.  In 1805, Tripoli’s pasha foolishly declared war on the United States by capturing USS Philadelphia and imprisoning its crew, which included 44 Marines.  To prevent the Tripolitans from using Philadelphia against the American Navy, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur led a raid into the harbor aboard the captured French ketch, USS Intrepid, boarded Philadelphia, overpowered the pirates, and burned the ship to its waterline. An eight-man squad of Marines participating in this raid was led by Sergeant Solomon Wren.

One of the more audacious actions during the Barbary Wars was the overland expedition led by William Eaton and Marine First Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon, who had recruited mercenaries and marched six-hundred miles through the Libyan desert to attack the fort at Derna.  After heavy fighting, during which Eaton was wounded, O’Bannon’s remaining force assaulted the fort and defeated it.  This was the first time the United States flag was raised over foreign territory and the origin of the words to the Marine Corps Hymn, “…to the shores of Tripoli.”

Seven years later, during the War of 1812, Marine Lieutenant John Marshal Gamble became the only Marine Corps officer to command a U. S. Navy ship, the captured British whaling ship Greenwich.  Lieutenant Colonel Gamble retired from active service in 1834.

During the War of 1812, a young officer by the name of Captain Archibald Henderson served aboard USS Constitution, distinguishing himself in engagements with HMS Java, Cyane and Levant.  He was brevetted to Major in 1814.  Colonel Henderson was later appointed to serve as the fifth Commandant of the Marine Corps, a post he would retain for 38-years.  He was brevetted to Brigadier General in January 1837.

Numerous men of Marine Corps fame served as seagoing Marines, including Henry Clay Cochrane, John Twiggs-Myers, Smedley D. Butler, and John Quick.  An overview of combat service involving ship’s Marine Detachments includes:

  • Barbary Wars
  • Florida Indian Wars
  • Operations in Haiti
  • Firefighting at St. Thomas, Virgin Islands
  • Falkland Islands engagement
  • Slave suppression operations in South America
  • Diplomatic security in Japan
  • Operations ashore in China to protect American lives and property
  • Fiji Island raids to avenge the murders of American seamen
  • Union and Confederate forces in the American Civil War
  • Combat operations in Korea, 1870s
  • Peace-keeping missions in Haiti and Egypt
  • Spanish-American War (Philippines and Cuba)
  • Panamanian revolution and construction of the Canal

With the outbreak of the so-called Great War, Marine Corps senior officers began planning for a significant increase in troop strength.  The demand for amphibious/land forces began to outpace the requirement for shipboard detachments.  These continued, of course, but in smaller numbers.

During World War II, Marine Detachments performed strategic raids as part of the Atlantic and Pacific fleets.  In 1942, the Marines serving aboard USS Philadelphia (CL-41) landed at Safi, French Morocco to secure the airfield until relieved by Army units.  On 6 June 1944, shipboard Marines participated in the Normandy invasion by detonating floating mines blocking the path of US Navy ships operating in the English Channel.  They also manned secondary batteries aboard Navy cruisers and battleships.  On 29 August 1944, during the invasion of southern France, Marines from USS Philadelphia (CL-41) and USS Augusta (CA-31) went ashore to take charge of 700 Germans who had been manning fortified garrisons around the French harbor in Marseilles.  In the Pacific, the seadogs manned naval guns as Japanese kamikaze bombers attempted to destroy Navy vessels operating off the coast of Okinawa.  On 2 September 1945, Marines aboard the USS Missouri participated in ceremonies accepting Japan’s unconditional surrender to allied forces in Tokyo Bay.

The end of World War II propelled the world into the atomic age and cold war with the Soviet Union and China.  With war at an end, the United States reexamined its military footprint.  Under President Truman, the size of the military was sharply reduced.  Both the Navy and Marine Corps were reduced by one-third of their operating forces. The National Security Act of 1947 (Title 10, United States Code 5013) reaffirmed the seagoing mission of the Marine Corps: “… the Marine Corps shall provide detachments and organizations for service on armed vessels of the U. S. Navy and shall provide security detachments for the protection of naval property at naval stations and bases.”

Due to significant cutbacks in the operating forces under the Truman administration, the Navy and Marine Corps were barely able to respond to North Korean aggression in 1950.  Ships that had been mothballed were reactivated.  The same carriers, battleships, and cruisers that had served in World War II were brought back for the Korean War.  There would be no sea battles, however.  Off shore navy platforms provided air support and battleships and cruisers provided naval gunfire support to the land forces.

The cold war produced significant advances in technology.  The US Navy continued to protect sea lanes throughout the world and participated in operations in Lebanon, Santo Domingo, Formosa, Cuba, and a then relatively unknown placed called Viet Nam.  Marine Detachments continued to serve aboard cruisers, battleships, and carriers, but their roles were changing.  Some of these ships had been transformed into nuclear powered vessels; additional security was needed to safeguard “special weapons.”

On 29 July 1967, while serving at Yankee Station, an aircraft aboard the USS Forrestal (CVA-49) exploded setting off a series of fires and secondary explosions.  This was another important function of seagoing Marines: firefighting. Among the casualties from this incident were 134 sailors killed, 64 seriously wounded.  On 14 January 1969, another fire erupted aboard USS Enterprise (CVAN-65) while operating off the coast of Hawaii, resulting in 28 deaths, 128 injuries, the destruction of 15-aircraft, and a monetary loss of more than $128-million.  Few events are more deadly at sea than a shipboard fire.

In the post-World War II period, the duties of seagoing Marines were set forth in U. S. Navy Regulations (1047): “A Marine Detachment detailed to duty aboard a ship of the Navy shall form a separate division thereof.  Its functions shall be (1) Provide for operations ashore, as part of the ship’s landing force; or as part of the landing force of Marines from ships of the fleet or subdivisions thereof; or as an independent force for limited operations.  (2) To provide gun crews.  (3) To provide internal security of a ship.  (4) To provide for the proper rendering of military honors.  In addition to these duties, Marines also provided the ship’s captain with a Marine orderly, brig sentries, and guards for special weapons.

Eventually, the Navy replaced their deck guns with guided missiles and computer-controlled weapons systems.  There was no longer a need for Marines to man antiquated naval guns.  USS Oklahoma (CL-91) was the Navy’s last gun cruiser.  She was retired in the late 1970s, replaced in 1979 by the amphibious command ship USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19).  Her sister ship was USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20), placed in service in 1981. Initially, both of these ships had Marine Detachments, but because of their mission of directing amphibious operations, and because these ships incorporated Marines especially trained for planning and conducting amphibious operations, the detachments were deemed excess to requirements and were removed.

In small but steady increments, ship’s detachments were reduced in the Navy fleet. In 1979, the Commandant of the Marine Corps changed the mission of seagoing Marines.  From that time, Marine duties involved little more than providing security for special weapons storage spaces, the transfer of such weapons aboard ship, provide security for the ship, provide gun-crews as required, and such other duties as may be assigned by competent authority.  Marines no longer performed landing operations or brig security.  In 1986, the Commandant specifically precluded Marines from performing any duty that would detract from their primary role of safeguarding special weapons.

Between the early 1980s and 1990s, the battleships USS New Jersey and USS Iowa were reintroduced into naval fleets.  When one of the gun turrets of the Iowa exploded, killing 47 crewmen, Marines helped in firefighting and damage control operations.  Still, the accordion effect of manpower management caused the Navy and Marines to again reevaluate the Marine Detachments.  By the early 1990s, the United States entered another dangerous period: international terrorism.  In meeting this demand, Headquarters Marine Corps created the Marine Corps Security Forces (MCSF) with the stated mission of providing trained personnel and cadres to security departments at designated naval installations. The MCSF also provided mobile training teams to support anti-terrorism training at navy bases.

Detachments of Marines served exceptionally well aboard US Navy vessels since Corps’ very beginning; this ended in 1998. The last Marine Detachment bid farewell to the USS George Washington (CVN-73) on 1 May 1998.  A 223-year tradition of service at sea came to an end. Time marches on.

MARDET CINCLANT
Marine Detachment CINCLANT

Personal note: it was my privilege to serve at Marine Detachment, CINCLANT/ CINCLANTFLT/SACLANT in Norfolk, Virginia from June 1964 to October 1966.  Today, the detachment is known as Marine Security Guard (MSG) Detachment, U. S. Fleet Forces Command.  At that time, it was the only non-seagoing detachment in the Marine Corps.  The two detachment commanders during this period were Major Figard and Major Kraynak. The executive officers were 1stLt Gaumont and 1stLt Ahern.  The First Sergeant was Donald A. Whiteside (retired in grade of Captain).  I was promoted to corporal and sergeant while stationed in Norfolk.

Endnotes:

[1] Tun Tavern was established in 1686 by Joshua Carpenter, the brother of Samuel who was a wealthy Quaker merchant.  The brewery and pub was located on King Street (later, Water Street) and Tun Alley, a caraway that led to Carpenter’s wharf.  The word “Tun” comes from old English meaning barrel or keg of beer.  The tavern became an early meeting place for a number of notable groups, including Freemasons in early America.

[2] While not officially appointed as such, Nicholas is traditionally regarded as the first Commandant of the Marine Corps.

[3] This conflict erupted during the administration of John Adams.  After the French monarchy was abolished in September 1792, the United States determined that its debt to France was cancelled. The French Republic thought otherwise and began to seize American ships and sell them as repayment of America’s debt.  The war was fought almost entirely at sea.

Behind the Lines

Two awards of the Navy Cross; a Legion of Merit; two Purple Heart medals; Officer Order of the British Empire; Chevalier du Legion of Honor; Medaille Militaire, three Croix de Guerre; Order of Quissam Alaoouite.  These were the personal decorations of one Marine during his service in World War II representing the gratitude of three allied nations.

ORTIZ PJ 001Friends and enemy alike called him Peter.  His eventual rank was colonel, but long before he arrived at that point, he was in the trenches, behind the lines in German-occupied North Africa and France.  His full name was Pierre Julien Ortiz (5 July 1913—16 May 1988) and he was a U. S. Marine attached to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

Born in New York, his mother was an American of Swiss descent, his father a French-born Spaniard.  Educated in Europe, Peter spoke ten languages fluently.  There was a reason for this—at the age of 19, on 1 February 1932, Peter enlisted in the French Foreign Legion for a period of five years. He was assigned to North Africa and received his initial training at Sidi Bel Abbes, Algeria.  While serving in Morocco, he was promoted to corporal (1933) and sergeant (1935).  He received two awards of the Croix de Guerre during a campaign against the Rif [1].  During his service as an “acting lieutenant,” Peter was awarded the Médaille militaire [2].  The Legion offered Peter a commission as a second lieutenant, but he instead opted to accept his discharge in 1937.

With the outbreak of World War II and the neutrality of the United States at the time, Peter re-enlisted in the French Foreign Legion in October 1939; he was reappointed to the rank of sergeant.  In May 1940, he received a battlefield commission.  During the Battle of France, Peter was wounded during the process of blowing up a German fuel dump and was taken captive by the Germans.  He escaped in 1941 and made his way back to the United States.  On 22 June 1942, Peter enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corps.  His previous training and experience prompted the Marines to commission him a second lieutenant after only 40-days service.  In December 1942, Peter was advanced to the rank of captain and placed in the service of the OSS.

With his in-depth knowledge of the region, with the cover of his assignment as Assistant Naval Attaché, Tangiers, the OSS sent him to North Africa, where he performed behind-the-lines reconnaissance operations.  According to Kermit Roosevelt [3], in his official history of OSS operations in World War II, “In War Report of the OSS and an official history of OSS operations in World War II, “Participation in this British operation constituted the first OSS experience in sabotage and combat intelligence teams in front areas and behind enemy lines.  That the jobs actually done by the handful of OSS men who joined the SOE Tunisian campaign were not typical of future activity was due as much to the exigencies of the battle situation as to the misunderstanding of their function by the British and American Army officers whom they served.” In other words, rather than conducting intelligence collection and sabotage missions, staid military officers ordered these men to locate and destroy Germans.  Highly qualified intelligence operatives were being under-utilized.

In February 1943, Peter Ortiz witnessed the American disaster at Kasserine Pass [4].  Ortiz found himself traveling alone across the battlefield area, observing the panicked flight of American soldiers.  Ortiz briefly fought alongside a British armored reconnaissance unit and then attached himself to an element of the US 1stArmored Division.  In this capacity, Ortiz fought a desperate action near Pichon.

In March, Ortiz was handed a series of deep-penetration missions.  One of these was launched on 18 March supporting General Robinett’s Combat Command Bravo.  Ortiz almost lost his life.  After setting up a base camp in the dead of night, Ortiz struck off alone in search of indications of the presence of enemy forces.  The weather was horrible, the knee-deep mud from days of rain hampered Ortiz’ progress. He was about to turn back when a burst of automatic fire shattered his right hand and wounded him in the leg. Ortiz fell to the ground and spotted a machine gun and vehicle thirty or so yards distant.  With his good left hand, he tossed a sticky bomb and scored a direct hit.  Avoiding further enemy fire, Ortiz managed to crawl back to his camp, despite his loss of blood and suffering from shock.  Ortiz was airlifted to the United States and assigned to Washington DC during convalescence.

When Peter was back on his feet, the OSS sent him for training in preparation for his new assignment with the Jedburgh Group [5].  His training was completed at the end of December 1943.  In early January 1944, Ortiz air-dropped into the Haute-Savoie region of the Alps, along with British SOE colonel H. H. A. Thackthwaite and French Colonel Pierre Fourcaud [6] of the French Secret Serviceas part of Operation Union I.  Their mission was to assess the capabilities of the maquis units operating in SavoieIsere, and Drome, and assist them in organization and supply.  After landing, Thackthwaite and Ortiz changed from the covert clothing into their military uniforms —thus becoming the first allied officers to appear in uniform in occupied France since 1940.  In Ortiz’ case, he wore his U. S. Marine Corps service uniform with American and French decorations and badges, which was designed to impress the French resistance. Colonel Thackthwaite later wrote of this: “Ortiz, who knew not any fear, did not hesitate to wear his Marine Corps uniform into town, which cheered the French, but alerted the Germans and the mission was constantly on the move.”

ORTIZ PJ 002
Peter Ortiz, behind the lines. Picture by Raymond Bertand.

The Union I team soon discovered that the French Resistance, while willing to fight, lacked everything needed in order to do that: arms, ammunition, radios, money, and clothing.  The team quickly organized base camps, medical facilities, and for the families of French fighters to receive stipends.  Morale among these men dramatically improved.  Then, as war materials arrived, the team began to train the resistance in their use.  While wearing his Marine Corps uniform, Ortiz helped to lead covert missions; he believed that his uniform would give courage to the resistance.

(Then) Captain Ortiz was also instrumental in helping downed airman evade German capture and reach the safety of neutral Spain. His role in rescuing four RAF flight officers in February 1944 resulted in his spectacular act of theft, one that infuriated the Gestapo, and led to the award of the Order of the British Empire.  In his citation, we can read: “In the course of his efforts to obtain the release of these officers, he raided a German military garage and took ten Gestapo vehicles, which he used frequently.  He procured a Gestapo pass for his own use, even though he was well-known by the enemy.”

During this same period, Ortiz (by now notorious in his reputation with the Germans) committed an even greater act of daring: A group of officers from the German 157th Division, which had previously suffered at the hands of Ortiz and his resistance, were drinking in a local bar … one that Ortiz regularly visited.  They were loudly cursing the “American Marine,” President Roosevelt, and the United States Marine Corps.  Sitting at a table in the bar was Ortiz dressed in civilian attire.

He soon returned to his safehouse, changed into his Marine Corps Uniform, armed himself with two .45 pistols, pulled on his civilian raincoat, and returned to the bar.  Ortiz ordered drinks for the German officers and when all had been served, Ortiz removed his raincoat, revealing his Marine Corps uniform with accoutrements. The German officers were stunned into silence.  Ortiz then produced the sidearms and said in German, “A toast to the President of the United States.”  When the Germans downed their drinks, Ortiz ordered another round.  “Gentlemen, a toast to the United States Marine Corps.”

The story has more than one version.  In one of these, following the German toast to the U. S. Marine Corps, Ortiz then shot all the officers, killing them.  Ortiz claimed that he didn’t shoot anyone.  He left them alive because, by letting them live, the story of his action would boost even more his legend and further erode German morale.  The story is true, even if it would make one of the greatest of all Marine Corps sea-stories, and so too is the account of Ortiz wearing his uniform throughout all of his “covert” operations (See picture of Ortiz, above).

The Union I team was evacuated to England to await reassignment on 20 May.  In England, Ortiz was promoted to major and awarded his first Navy Cross.  In August 1944, Ortiz returned to the Haute-Savoie as the leader of Union II.  He was supported by Gunnery Sergeant Robert LaSalle, Sergeant Charles Perry, Sergeant John Bodnar, Sergeant Fred Brunner, Sergeant Jack Risler, USAAF Captain John Coolidge, and a Free French officer named Joseph Arcelin.  Arcelin carried papers that identified him as a US Marine.  This mission reflected the OSS’ change in priorities in the post-D-Day period: readiness for Operation Dragoon and the Allied landings in southern France.  Union II was an operational group: heavily armed and capable of direct action against retreating Germans.

In addition to acts of sabotage, Union II resistance units were ordered to seize and hold key installations and, if possible, prevent their destruction by the Germans.  In spite of this increased activity, the Germans were not intimidated.  On 14 August, Ortiz and his men found themselves in unfamiliar territory and they narrowly avoided capture.  Ortiz’ luck finally ran out two days later when his team encountered a German troop convoy near the village of Centron.  The fighting was intense, and significantly outnumbered, mindful of German reprisals against innocent civilians, Ortiz consulted with his team and they agreed to surrender.

An officer named Major Kolb commanded the German force.  Ortiz spoke to Kolb in German, saying that he and his men would surrender provided that Kolb give his word as an officer and a gentleman that none of the villagers would be harmed.  Kolb, thinking that he opposed a company sized unit, agreed to these terms.  Kolb was furious when only Sergeants Bodnar and Risler emerged from cover.

Ortiz remained in German custody until April 1945, when he and three other prisoners escaped while being transported to another camp.  After ten days without food, the three men returned to their old POW camp, only to discover that the prisoners had taken control.  The camp was liberated by allied forces on 29 April.

In 1946, Peter Ortiz was promoted to lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve and released from active duty.  From 1946 on, Peter worked in Hollywood as an actor and advisor to such film directors as John Ford.  He appeared in a number of films, not all of them credited.  He played a supporting role in the 1950 Ford production of Rio Grande, which starred John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Ben Johnson, Harry Carey, Jr., Chill Wills, and Victor McLaglen.  Ortiz played the part of Captain St. Jacques.

According to Peter’s son, who also served as a U. S. Marine, “My father was an awful actor, but he had great fun appearing in movies.”  Two Hollywood films were based on Peter’s exploits during World War II: 13 Rue Madeleine (1947), directed by Henry Hathaway, starring James Cagney and Richard Conte, and Operation Secret (1952), directed by Lewis Seiler, starring Cornel Wilde, Steve Cochran, and Karl Malden.  He  participated in several additional films, although not always in a credited role: Task Force (1949), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), Sirocco (1951), Flying Leathernecks (1951), What Price Glory (1952), The Desert Rats (1953), and The Wings of Eagles (1957).

Lieutenant Colonel Peter Ortiz, Sr., retired from the U. S. Marine Corps Reserve in 1955.  In recognition of his extraordinary combat service, he was advanced to the rank of colonel upon his retirement.  Ortiz passed away in 1988 at the age of 74 years. He was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

Sources:

  1. Lacy, L. H. As a Young Man and Legionnaire, Ortiz: To Live a Man’s Life.  Phillips Publications, 2014
  2. Edwards, H. W. A Different War: Marines in Europe and North Africa.  USMC Training and Education Command, Quantico, Virginia, 2010
  3. Zimmerman, D. J. The Incredible Saga of OSS Colonel Peter J. Ortiz in World War II.  Defense Media Network, 2014.

Endnotes:

[1] A Berber speaking people of Northwestern Africa who derive their name from the Riff region in the northern edge of Morocco.  They belong to six separate tribal groups and five tribal confederacies.

[2] A decoration awarded for acts of bravery by the French Republic, the third highest decoration in France but the most senior award for military service.

[3] Highly energetic, unquestionably courageous, psychologically fragile son of Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States.

[4] The battle was the first major engagement between American and Axis forces in World War II. Inexperienced and poorly led American soldiers suffered many casualties and were quickly pushed back over 50 miles from their positions west of Faïd Pass.

[5] A clandestine group consisting of American, British, French, Dutch, and Belgian personnel whose mission was to collect intelligence, conduct sabotage, form and lead local resistance groups against German forces.

[6] Fourcaud (1898-1998) was among the first in France to rally to Charles de Gaullein 1940. He was prominent in the creation of the French Secret Service of post-War France, the Service de Documentation Extérieure et de Contre-Espionnage (SDECE).

The Twiggs-Myers Family, Part III

Marion Twiggs, the daughter of Major General David E. Twiggs, married a young Army officer named Abraham Charles Myers, from Georgetown, South Carolina.  Myers was born on 14 May 1811, the son of Abraham Myers, a practicing attorney.  Myers was accepted into the US Military Academy at West Point in 1828 but was held back at the end of his first year due to deficiencies in his studies.  He graduated with the class of 1833.  Upon graduation, Myers was brevetted to Second Lieutenant and posted at Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Myers AC 001Myers served two tours of duty in Florida during the Seminole Indians Wars—from 1836-38, and 1841-42.  During this time, he was promoted to captain in the quartermaster department.  During his service in Florida, Myers was responsible for the construction of a key fortification and re-supply center—Fort Myers was named for Captain Myers, although I suspect that most people living there do not know this bit of history.

During the Mexican-American War, Myers served under General Zachary Taylor in the Texas campaign.  In recognition for his gallant and meritorious conduct in the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, Myers was brevetted to major.  He was later transferred to Winfield Scott’s command, where he again distinguished himself in combat at Churubusco and received a brevet promotion to lieutenant colonel.

From April to June 1848, Myers served as the chief quartermaster of the Army in Mexico.  After the war, and for the next thirteen years, Myers served at various posts and stations in the southern regions of the United States.  It was during this time that he married Marion, the daughter of Major General David E. Twiggs, who at the time was the Commanding General, Department of Texas.

On 28 January 1861, Myers was serving in New Orleans, Louisiana.  On this date, by virtue of the outbreak of the American Civil War, Louisiana officials demanded that Myers surrender his quartermaster and commissary stores to the Confederacy.  Myers promptly resigned his commission from the United States Army and turned his supplies over to Confederate authorities.  On 16 March 1861, Myers accepted appointment to lieutenant colonel in the quartermaster department of the Confederate States Army.  On 25 March, he assumed the duties as acting quartermaster-general until December, when he assumed the post of quartermaster-general of the Confederate States Army.  In this capacity, he was advanced to colonel on 15 February 1862.

During the first months of the war, Myers was able to purchase much-needed supplies from the open market, contracting with local manufacturers for cotton, woolen cloth, and leather goods.  He also established shops for making clothing, shoes, tents, wagons, and other equipage, and purchased livestock at market prices for as long as possible.  By the spring of 1862, however, he was forced to resort to impressment of necessary supplies. The problem was two-fold: the availability of goods and insufficient funds provided to him by the government of the Confederacy.  Added to this was the devaluation of currency, poor railway transportation.

By mid-1863, Myers had established an extensive organization of purchasing agents, local quartermasters, shops, and supply depots. It was still insufficient, and the Confederacy soon resembled a rag-tag army, particularly in clothing and footwear. The quartermaster department soon became the target of much criticism, and in spite of his personal efficiency, he was unable to overcome the laxity and carelessness of remote subordinates. There was no doubt a considerable black-market operation in the works, as well.

On 7 August 1863, President Jefferson Davis (formerly a US Senator and Secretary of War) replaced Myers with Brigadier General Alexander Lawton.  Jefferson reasoned that the change was in the interest of efficiency.  Colonel Myers and his many friends resented his removal from office.  In January 1864, the Confederate senate reinstated Myers to the post, claiming that Lawton had not been properly nominated for either the post or his promotion. President Davis then formerly nominated Lawton, and Lawton was finally approved to serve as the new quartermaster-general.  Myers, humiliated and deeply offended by Davis’ actions, refused to serve under Lawton and resigned his commission.  He lived throughout the rest of the war in Georgia, and according to records found in the Bragg papers (Western Reserve Historical Society), lived “almost in want, on the charity of friends.”  This may not be true, since Myers traveled extensively  in Europe between 1866 and 1877.  His son John was born in Wiesbaden, Germany in 1871.  Eventually, Colonel Myers made his home in Maryland and later in Washington DC, where he passed away on 20 June 1889.  Myers never reconciled with Jefferson Davis.

John Twiggs Myers (1871-1952) is quite literally the kind of man that Hollywood films are made of, with two blockbuster films surrounding his exploits as a United States Marine.  Moreover, “Handsome Jack” was the last in a long line of tremendously patriotic Americans stretching from the American Revolution to the conclusion of his own forty-years of service in 1935.  He was the great-grandson of General John Twiggs, a revolutionary war hero, the grandson of Major General David Emanuel Twiggs, a leading figure in the Mexican-American War, and the son of Colonel Abraham C. Myers, who served as the quartermaster-general of the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. His uncle was Major Levi Twiggs, U. S. Marine Corps, who was killed during the Battle of Chapultepec, Mexico, and a cousin of Second Lieutenant David Decatur Twiggs, US Army, who was also killed in Mexico—a mere thirty days before the death of his father, Levi.

After resigning his commission as quartermaster-general of the Confederate Army, Abraham C. Myers traveled in Europe for about eleven years.  John Twiggs Myers was born in Wiesbaden, Germany on 29 January 1871.  Returning to the United States with his family at the age of eight years, Jack was appointed to attend the United States Naval Academy in 1892.  Two years later, he received an appointment as an assistant engineer, and six months after that he applied for, and received a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the U. S. Marine Corps.  By virtue of his grandfather’s service in the Mexican-American War, he was granted Hereditary Companion of the Military Order of Foreign Wars, and later, a Veteran Companion of the same order by virtue of his own service in the Spanish-American War, Boxer Rebellion, Philippine Insurrection, and World War I.

Twiggs-Myers 002Having completed his studies at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, Myers began his service with the line during the Spanish-American War.  Stationed with the Asiatic Fleet, Myers led a Marine Detachment that participated in the capture of Guam from its Spanish garrison.  He served successively aboard the USS Charleston, which operated off the coast of the Philippine Islands, and then with the USS Baltimore.  During the Philippine Insurrection (also known as the Philippine-American War), Myers led several amphibious assaults against Filipino rebels in 1899.  These resulted in Myers gaining a reputation for gallantry and coolness under fire. He was promoted to Captain, U. S. Marine Corps in 1899.

In May 1900, Jack was sent to China aboard the battle cruiser USS Newark and put ashore with a detachment of 48 Marines [1] and three sailors to guard the US Legation at Peking, China from rampaging “Boxers,” known to history as the “Boxer Rebellion” [2].  Captain Myers and his Marines occupied a wall defending the international legations, the most vulnerable section of the wall.  Supported by Russian and British troops, Myers led an attack that dislodged the main Boxer position along the war [3].  The battle that ensued was, by every account, up-close and personal.  Myers was wounded in the leg by a Chinese lance, but the Chinese were pushed back.  British Consul Sir Claude Maxwell MacDonald reported through diplomatic channels that Myers’ attack was one of the most successful operations of the siege.  As a result of his courage in the face of overwhelming odds, Myers was brevetted to Major.  He was later awarded the Marine Corps Brevet Medal for this action.

After recovering from his wound, Myers was assigned as Provost Marshall on American-Samoa, with later service at the Marine Barracks, Bremerton, Washington.

In May 1904, Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli, a Moor bandit, kidnapped Ion Perdicaris, Ellen Varley (the wife of British telegrapher C. F. Varley), and Ellen’s son Cromwell, demanding a ransom for their safe return. It sparked an international incident because Ion Perdicaris was the son of a former US diplomat and because President Theodore Roosevelt [4] felt obliged to react militarily to the situation in North Africa.  The president dispatched a naval squadron to Tangier and, leading a detachment of Marines aboard the USS Brooklyn, Myers played a significant role in obtaining the release [5] of Ion Perdicaris and Ms. Varley.

In later assignments, Jack Myers attended the US Army War College (1912), participated in expeditions to Santo Domingo (1912), Cuba (1913), and during World War I, Myers served as the counterintelligence officer of the US Atlantic Fleet.  As he progressed through the ranks, General Myers served severally as Fleet Marine Officer in both Atlantic and Asiatic fleets, as the officer commanding several Marine Barracks at different locations, as a battalion commander with the 2ndProvisional Marine Regiment, Commanding Officer, 1stBattalion, 4thMarines, Adjutant and Inspector General, Department of the Pacific, Commanding General, Marine Corps Base, San Diego, California, Commanding General, 1stMarine Brigade, and Commanding General, Fleet Marine Forces, Pacific.  Myers retired as a Major General in 1935.  He was advanced to the rank of Lieutenant General on the retired list in 1942 in recognition of his highly decorated combat service while on active duty. General Myers lived out the balance of his years in Coconut Grove, Florida.  He passed away on 17 April 1952.

Sources:

  1. A Continent Divided: The US-Mexico War, Center for Greater Southwestern Studies, University of Texas, Arlington, 2019
  2. Winters, J.D. The Civil War in Louisiana, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1963
  3. Warner, E. J. Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders.  Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959
  4. Russell K. Brown, New Georgia Encyclopedia, History and Archeology, 29 Jan 2010: John Twiggs

Endnotes:

[1] Including a Marine private by the name of Dan Daly.

[2] The Boxer uprising was an anti-Imperialist, anti-colonial, anti-Christian uprising that took place in China between 1899-1901.  The Boxers, so called because they belonged to an organization that was known as The Righteous and Harmonious Fists.  See also: Send in the Marines; China Marines (series).

[3] This action formed the basis of the 1963 Hollywood film, “55 Days at Peking,” which starred Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, and David Niven.  The film was constructed around a novel of the same name by Noel Gerson.

[4] Whatever Theodore Roosevelt’s faults, he was a fierce nationalist and not at all inclined to accept foreign insult.  Given the history of the Barbary Pirates, he may have wanted to squelch the renewal of North African kidnappings.

[5] This was the second action involving Jack Myers that eventually became a major Hollywood film. Titled The Wind and the Lion, the film starred Sean Connery, Candice Bergen, Brian Keith, and John Huston—released in 1975.  While the story was restructured to fit Hollywood artistry, actor Steve Kanaly did a superb job as “Captain Jerome,” a portrayal of John Twiggs Myers

The Twiggs-Myers Family, Part II

TWIGGS Levi 001Major Levi Twiggs was the younger brother of David E. Twiggs, born in Richmond County, Georgia on 21 May 1793.  Upon the declaration of war against Great Britain in 1812, the nineteen-year-old Levi Twiggs wanted to join fight but was prevented from doing so by his parents, who insisted that he remain with his studies.  Levi obediently continued his studies at Athens College for several more months.  Ultimately, however, Levi was unable to repress his passion for military service and, having been motivated by the reported exploits of Commodore Decatur of the American Navy, Levi left school and begged his parents’ permission to join the United States Marine Corps.

Levi was commissioned a Second Lieutenant on 10 November 1813.  After his initial training and indoctrination, Levi was assigned to the Marine contingent at Patuxent River.  The mission of these Marines was to oppose any passage of the British fleet, which was then hovering along the coastal regions of the Chesapeake Bay.  During this initial assignment, Lieutenant Twiggs displayed exceptional leadership ability and energy in leading his small force of Marines, traits that would continue to distinguish his service as a U. S. Marine.

He was next assigned to the frigate USS President, then commanded by Commodore Decatur. Twigg’s assignment would be as second-in-command of the Marine Corps detachment, then numbering around 56 seasoned Marines.  Upon reporting aboard ship, however, his senior officer was not present, and Twiggs assumed command of the detachment.

USS President sailed from New York on 14 January 1815.  Due to ill-marked channel markers, the ship ran aground along the outer banks of the harbor.  Stranded on a sandbar for a full lunar cycle, the ship lifted and dropped with the incoming tides.  It was not long before her hull had been significantly damaged, her timbers twisted, and masts sprung.  Damage to the keel caused the ship to sag amidships.  It was Commodore Decatur’s judgment to return to port for repairs, but once the ship was clear of the sandbar, strong winds and tidal currents contrived to push her out to sea.

Decatur realized that his ship was unseaworthy. Under these circumstances, he set a course to avoid the British fleet, which was believed to be operating along the coast of the Chesapeake Bay.  Decatur set out in search of a safe port for much-needed repairs.

Within a few hours, Decatur spotted enemy sails on the horizon.  President being sluggish underway, Decatur ordered expendable cargo thrown overboard, but the British frigate HMS Endymionsoon overtook President and began delivering broadsides.  President put up a gallant defense and unmercifully raked the enemy with ball, bar, and chain shot, but ship’s damage adversely affected her maneuverability and HMS Endymion was a better ship.  The battle raged for hours as Endymion and President jockeyed for advantages.  Decatur finally surrendered his ship to the British at midnight.

During the President’s engagement, Twiggs acquitted himself with gallant energy and a cool frame of mind while under fire, displaying the composure of a more experienced officer.  His men having discharged more than 5,000 cartridges with accurate and deadly fire, Commodore Decatur pronounced the detachment’s combat efficiency as “incomparable.”

Taken as prisoners of war, the President’s officers were transported and detained in Bermuda until the peace accord was signed.  Upon return to the United States, Commodore Decatur and ship’s officers were referred to a court of inquiry and court-martial but all were acquitted of wrong-doing.  Meanwhile Commodore Decatur offered First Lieutenant Twiggs glowing praise for his performance of duty.

From 1816 to 1823, Twiggs was attached to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  During this time, he became engaged to and married Pricilla Decatur McKnight [1].  In 1824, Twiggs was once more ordered to sea, this time under the command of Commodore Lewis Warrington’s West Indian Squadron where he served for two years in efforts to suppress piracy in the Caribbean, Greater Antilles, Lesser Antilles, and Lucayan Archipelago.  On his return, Twiggs was assigned to the Navy Yard at Philadelphia.  He was advanced to brevet Captain on 3 May 1825. In November of that year, he assumed command of the Marine Barracks at the Norfolk Navy Yard (in Virginia).  In June 1826, Captain Twiggs was ordered to Florida where he participated in the Seminole Indian wars.

The Seminole Indian Wars were a trial for the Americans. They confronted with dangerous hostiles, of course, but also had to contend with dangerous reptiles, pestilence, swamp fevers, and dehydrating heat and humidity.  From 1828 until 1843, Major Twiggs served in routine assignments at various posts and stations in Washington, New York, and Philadelphia. His overall performance of duty was regarded as exceptional.

In 1843, Major Twiggs assumed command of the Marine Barracks at the Philadelphia Navy-Yard.  By this time, Twiggs had earned an enviable reputation as a professional Marine and a refined southern gentleman.  During his long period of thirty-four years’ service, Major Twiggs requested leave of absence on one occasion: the illness of a member of his family.  He was absent from duty for one week in 34 years.

Considering the size of the United States in 1846, comparing that to its population, the Mexican-American War was a massive undertaking. If one were looking at a list of navy vessels in 1846, one might easily conclude that the size of the Navy was massive. It was not.  There were but two squadrons: The Home Squadron (Commodore David Conner, later Matthew C. Perry), and the Pacific Squadron (Commodore John Sloat, later Robert F. Stockton, W. Branford Shubrick, James Biddle, and Thomas ap Catesby Jones).  Each of these squadrons had ships, of course, and a list of them would appear impressive. There were ships of the line, but most of the Navy’s vessels were cargo ships, revenue cutters, paddle steamers, riverine craft, and barges.  Nor was the war (which is to say, the Navy’s mission) confined to old Mexico.  There was a war to be won in California, as well—which was largely a Navy operation supported by the Army.  In Mexico, it was an Army operation, supported by the Navy.

The missions included blockading Mexican ports, or seizing and hold them, amphibious operations, and riverine assaults.  At this time, the entire Marine Corps consisted of only 63 officers and 1,200 enlisted men.  These were distributed about the Navy’s ships of the line, and guarding shore activities (Navy Yards).  In order to provide a battalion of fighting Marines, the Commandant of the Marine Corps (Colonel Archibald Henderson) was required to strip the barracks at Boston, Gosport, Brooklyn, and Philadelphia to no more than a sergeant’s guard. Additionally, new recruits were shipped out with inadequate training.  There were simply an insufficient number of Marines to man a 600-man combat regiment.  Henderson decided to form a battalion, instead.  Three hundred Marines formed the battalion, divided into six-line companies.

General Zachery Taylor approached Mexico through Texas. He commanded a force of about 4,000 soldiers.  General Winfield Scott commanded a force of about 12,000 Army, Navy, and Marine Corps personnel.  The Mexican force outnumbered the Americans —by 20,000 troops.  The Mexicans had the ability to replace their war casualties. The Americans didn’t have this flexibility.

With only 63 Marine officers serving on active duty, there was a scramble to be included in the Marine Battalion.  Major Levi Twiggs one of these.  The battalion departed the United States on 2 June 1847.  More than 300 officers and men sweltered in the heat as the sailing ships slowly made their way south.  The ship stopped for supplies at Havana, Cuba on 17 June with only two days in port.  The battalion of 22 officers, 2 Navy doctors, and 270 enlisted men arrived at Veracruz on 29 June under the command of brevet Lieutenant Colonel Samuel E. Watson. Another 66 Marines arrived from Pensacola, Florida a few days later.

Watson’s battalion remained near Veracruz for two weeks before marching inland.  He was ordered to join Winfield Scott’s army, then at Puebla.  Upon arrival, the Marines were attacked to General Franklin Pierce’s [2] brigade.  Bad weather, deep sand, and enemy harassment hampered the Marine’s progress.  Pierce assigned the Marines to form a rearguard for the brigade

On 21 July, Pierce’s brigade reached the National Bridge over the Antigua River.  The Marines repulsed an enemy attack as they approached the bridge.  In the fighting there, young Second Lieutenant George Decatur Twiggs, Levi’s son, serving with the 9thUS Infantry, was killed in action.

The march had taken three weeks; the Marines and soldiers of Pierce’s brigade were weary as they finally reached Puebla.  Scott was ready to move —but the troops needed a rest. They got two days.  Scott assigned Watson’s Marines to General Quitman’s 4thInfantry Division.  Quitman assigned Watson to command a brigade consisting of a detachment of the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment and the Marine Battalion.  Major Twiggs, as Watson’s executive officer, assumed command of the Marine Battalion.

Meanwhile, Mexican President-General Antonio López de Santa Anna fortified Mexico City and all approaches to it.  Scott was taking a big risk marching inland; outnumbered, hampered by citizen insurgents and unfamiliar terrain, Scott faced the real possibility of being cut off from any retreat to the coast.  It was a rough route of march, the same one taken by Cortez in 1519.  The Americans marched through wide valleys and scorching deserts.  There was a steep climb to a narrow plateau, the apex of which was 10,500 feet above sea level.  From the point, the Americans could see the valley of Mexico, encircled by rugged mountains.

Scott’s force moved steadily toward Mexico City. The Americans fought a series of minor engagements along the way.  On 20 August 1847, the Mexicans were defeated at Contreras and Churubusco and fled toward the capital.  Enroute to Mexico City, the Marines were assigned to guard the supply train. When engagements erupted, the Watson’s Brigade (and the Marines) were kept in reserve. On 23 August, both sides agreed to an armistice and a peace commission met in an attempt to bring an end to the fighting.  From the Mexican point of view, the willingness of the Americans to even discuss peace at this stage was a sign of weakness; they used the armistice period to further reinforce their positions.  The ceasefire ended on 6 September—Scott claiming that the Mexicans had violated the terms on several occasions and the Americans moved forward once more.

On 11 September, General Scott convened a war council to discuss the next step.  After listening to what his subordinates had to say, Scott decided on an assault upon the Castle of Chapultepec before going into Mexico City.  Sited on a hill overlooking Mexico City, the citadel was the key to the city …  American batteries began shelling the citadel on 12 September.  Major Twiggs led a detachment of Marines to reconnoiter to determine enemy concentrations.  Twiggs and his Marines came under heavy fire, and Major Levi Twiggs fell, mortally wounded. The Marines, however, had accomplished their mission by drawing the Mexicans out of the fortress.

On the day the Marines entered the citadel, Sam Watson was directed to assume command of the Army’s 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, and with Twiggs killed in action, Major William Dulaney assumed command of the Marine Battalion.  Watson’s health, however, had given out and he departed Mexico City for return to the United States in early November.  He died at Veracruz, Mexico on 16 November 1847.  He was laid to rest in the same grave as Major Twiggs at Veracruz.

Sources:

  1. A Continent Divided: The US-Mexico War, Center for Greater Southwestern Studies, University of Texas, Arlington, 2019
  2. Winters, J.D. The Civil War in Louisiana, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1963
  3. Warner, E. J. Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders.  Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959
  4. Russell K. Brown, New Georgia Encyclopedia, History and Archeology, 29 Jan 2010: John Twiggs

Endnotes:

[1] Priscilla was the daughter of Captain James S. McKnight, U. S. Navy.  When McKnight was killed in action, she was adopted and raised by Stephen Decatur.  Priscilla was the mother of Lieutenant George Decatur Twiggs, US Army, who was killed in action during the Mexican-American War while serving with the 9thUS Infantry, engaged with the enemy at Natural Bridge in the Mexico City campaign on 12 August 1847.  She never recovered from the loss of both her husband and her son in the same war.

[2] President of the United States, 1852-1856.

The Twiggs-Myers Family, Part I

TWIGGS John 001John Twiggs (c. 1750-1816) was a prominent military leader during the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), leading Georgia militia against both the British and back-country Cherokee Indians.  After the war, Twiggs remained politically and militarily active in the area of Augusta, Georgia.  Twiggs County, Georgia was named in his honor.

While there is not an abundance of information about his early life, we know that John Twiggs was born on 5 June 1750, in the Maryland colony.  His parents’ names are unknown, and his antecedents and early life are shrouded in obscurity. Unsubstantiated family history records indicate that he may have been descended from the Jamestown colony, but later biographical sketches place him in Georgia around the 1760s, accompanying the family of David Emanuel, Sr., who had emigrated from either Maryland, Pennsylvania, or Virginia to St. George’s Parish (present-day Burke County), Georgia.  In his youth, Twiggs may have been trained as a carpenter or millwright.

John Twiggs married Ruth Emanuel, a daughter of his guardian.  Ruth was the youngest sister of David Emanuel, a prominent Georgia politician and former acting governor.  Together, John and Ruth Twiggs had five sons and a daughter.

John Twiggs began his military career in the Georgia militia.  In August-September 1775 he was a member of Captain John Lamar’s militia company, a unit organized by the Council of Safety and the Committee in Augusta.  During the Cherokee War of 1776 he commanded a company in Colonel Samuel Jack’s Georgia regiment.

During the Revolutionary War, the Georgia militia opposed the British advance on Augusta.  Twiggs fought as part of Lachlan McIntosh’s [1] brigade at the abortive Franco-American attack on Savannah in October 1779.  Twiggs was commissioned a colonel and appointed to command the Fourth Militia Regiment.  When Tory troops reoccupied Augusta in June 1780, Twiggs and his family escaped to the Georgia backcountry.  In the following autumn, Twiggs accompanied Elijah Clarke’s exodus to the Carolina mountains.  John Twiggs’s name appears on a list of Georgia Whigs proscribed from political activity by royal decree, that of Georgia Governor Sir James Wright, in the summer of 1780.

Twiggs and his regiment participated with Colonel Thomas Sumter in the defeat of British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton at Blackstocks, South Carolina in November 1780.  Twiggs was promoted to brigadier general in August 1781.  He was tasked with two important missions: drive the British out of Georgia and quell disturbances among the Creek Indians.  As a result of his efforts, Twiggs became known as the “Savior of Georgia.”

In addition to his military activities, Twiggs was named to Governor George Walton’s executive council, and served as a land settlement commissioner in the Georgia backcountry.  Twiggs served as a member of the State Legislature in 1779, 1781, and 1782.  In 1782, Twiggs was appointed to serve as Justice of the Peace in Burke County.

After the Revolutionary War, Twiggs and his family settled in Richmond County, located south of Augusta along the Savannah River. He established a working plantation of approximately 1,500 acres which he called New Hope [2].  He continued his public service as State Indian Commissioner and in this capacity was able to conclude land cession treaties with the Creek Indians.  When George Washington visited Georgia in 1791, John Twiggs was part of the welcoming committee.  He also served on the commission that selected the site for the University of Georgia and served as a trustee during the university’s earliest days.

In 1795, Twiggs and six others formed a partnership to invest in the so-called Yazoo lands.  The effort didn’t work out, however, and after the scandal [3] was made public, Twiggs aligned himself with the efforts of James Jackson to demand land reform [4].

John Twiggs died on 29 March 1816 and was buried in the family cemetery, where his grave marker stands.  Among John’s six children included Major General David Emanuel Twiggs, USA/CSA, Major George Lowe Twiggs, USA, Abraham Twiggs, and Major Levi Twiggs, USMC, all of whom served during the Mexican-American War (`846-1848).  A great-grandson of John Twiggs was Lieutenant General John Twiggs Myers, USMC.

TWIGGS D E 002David Emanuel Twiggs (14 February 1790—15 July 1862) was the eldest son of John Twiggs, who served during the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War, the Mexican-American War, and the American Civil War.  David Twiggs was born on the Good Hope plantation in Richmond County, Georgia.  He was the nephew of David Emanuel, a governor of Georgia, through his mother.

At the outset of the War of 1812, David was commissioned a captain and subsequently decided to make a career in the Army.  In 1828, he was dispatched to lead three companies of the First Infantry Regiment to Wisconsin in order to establish a fort at the portage between the Fox and Wisconsin rivers.  The fort was named Fort Winnebago, which became the primary base of operations during the Black Hawk War.

In 1836, David Twiggs served as the colonel commanding the US Second Dragoons during the Seminole Wars in Florida.  His fierce temper earned him the nickname “Bengal Tiger.”  Twiggs was an aggressive military commander who decided to launch pre-emptive offensive operations against the Seminole, rather than waiting for them to make the first strike.  To avoid the American army, many Seminole moved deep into the Everglade Swamps. The Seminole never surrendered and, with but few exceptions, the Seminole were able to avoid being forcibly removed to the Indian Territories in present-day Oklahoma.

During the Mexican-American War, David Twiggs led a brigade in the US occupation at the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma.  He was advanced to brigadier general in 1846 and in this capacity, commanded a division of infantry during the Battle of Monterey.  Subsequently joining Winfield Scott’s expedition, he commanded the 2ndDivision in all its battles, from Veracruz to Mexico City.  Twiggs was wounded during the assault of the citadel at Chapultepec.  After the fall of Mexico City, Twiggs was appointed military governor of Veracruz. In recognition for his service in Mexico, the US Congress awarded him a ceremonial sword.  Twiggs was a founding member of the Aztec Club of 1847, a society of US military officers who had served during the war with Mexico.

At the conclusion of the Mexican-American War, Twiggs one of four general officers serving on active duty in the United States Army [5].  Advanced to brevet major general, he was placed in command of the Army’s Department of Texas, a position he held until the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861.

In 1860, Twiggs wrote to the Commanding General, U. S. Army (Winfield Scott) to inform him that as a son of Georgia, he would follow his state in the matter of secession from the Union.  At this time, Twiggs commanded about twenty percent of the entire US Army.  General Scott undertook no action to relieve Twiggs of his command in Texas.  As the southern states began to secede, Twiggs met with a trio of Confederate commissioners (including Philip N. Luckett [6] and Samuel A. Maverick [7]) and surrendered his command to the Confederacy. The surrender included the arsenal at the Alamo, all federal property in Texas, and all of his men (4,000) —including Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee, who was then commanding Fort Brown (present-day Brownsville, Texas).  In addition to the 20 federal installations, Twiggs turned over 44 cannon, 400 pistols, 1,900 muskets, 500 wagons, and nearly 1,000 head of horses—all valued at around $1.6 million.

In his agreement to surrender, however, Twiggs insisted that federal officers be permitted to retain their personal firearms and all flags and standards of the U. S. Army.  Notwithstanding this chivalry, the United States government was not at all pleased with General Twiggs and he was subsequently “dismissed” from the service effective on 1 March 1861.  In May 1862, he accepted a commission as a major general of the Army of the Confederacy and appointed to command the Confederate Department of Louisiana (which included Louisiana and the southern portions of Mississippi and Alabama).  By this time, David E. Twiggs was 71-years of age and, owing to his poor health, Twiggs resigned his commission on 11 October 1861, turning his command over to Major General Mansfield Lovell.  Returning home to Augusta, Twiggs passed away from pneumonia on 15 July 1862.  He was placed to rest on the Good Hope Plantation in Richmond County.

Sources:

  1. A Continent Divided: The US-Mexico War, Center for Greater Southwestern Studies, University of Texas, Arlington, 2019
  2. Winters, J.D. The Civil War in Louisiana, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1963
  3. Warner, E. J. Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders.  Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959
  4. Russell K. Brown, New Georgia Encyclopedia, History and Archeology, 29 Jan 2010: John Twiggs

Endnotes:

[1] McIntosh emigrated to Georgia with his family from the Scottish Highlands in 1736.  Lachlan came of age during the time when Darien township Scots defended the Georgia colony during England’s commercial war with Spain (1739-1748).  After his father, John McIntosh Mohr was captured and imprisoned by the Spanish in 1740, Lachlan was placed in the care of George Whitefield at the Bethesda orphanage in Savannah.  In 1742, General James Oglethorpe appointed Lachlan to serve as a cadet in the military regiment at Fort Frederica.  Lachlan solidified his sympathies with the American protest movement and worked to help organize delegates to the Provincial congress.  Promoted to colonel in 1776, he was appointed to command the Georgia Battalion in the defense of Savannah.  McIntosh was later commissioned brigadier general in the Continental Army.

[2] This land was partially comprised of lands confiscated from British sympathizers awarded to Twiggs for his war time service. He farmed tobacco and engaged in shipping and warehousing.  Twiggs was a slave-owner, but as to the number of slaves he may have had, we only know that when he died, he left his widow with seven persons in human bondage. New Hope later became part of Augusta’s Bush Field Airport and the only remnant of the estate is the family cemetery.

[3] The Yazoo land fraud was one of the most significant events in the post-Revolutionary War period (1775-83) history of Georgia. The bizarre climax to a decade of frenzied speculation in the state’s public lands, led by then Governor George Mathews and cronies in the Georgia General Assembly.  In essence, Georgia politicians sold large tracts of land in portions of present-day Alabama and Mississippi to political insiders at very low prices.  The laws passed to enable this fraud were overturned in the following year, but the issue was challenged in the courts and eventually reached the US Supreme Court (Fletcher v. Peck (1810).  The Yazoo sale of 1795 did much to shape Georgia politics and to strain relations with the federal government for well over a generation.

[4] Land speculation was one frequently overlooked cause of the American Revolution.  In the 1740’s land companies (Ohio Land Company and Vandalia Company) formed to claim lands west of the Appalachian Mountains in territories claimed by France.  The shareholders of these companies had tremendous influence in the colonial assemblies and in the British Parliament.  Their first concern was to remove the threat to their claims by the French, achieved for the most part by the French and Indian War.  The land companies were then thwarted further by the British Proclamation of 1763, which prohibited settlement in these western territories.  To remove British control over these western lands, the land companies supported the American independence movement, hoping for better terms and a stronger influence within a new government.  Federal land policy governing the expansion westward proceeded without clear direction throughout the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The Ordinance of 1785 initially laid out the orderly protocol by which the western territories were to be settled and incorporated into townships. Under the ordinance, each township was allotted 640 acres, in the expectation that no single farmer would be able to afford all 640 and that groups of farmers from the same region in the East would join together to form western townships. However, during the 1790s, the Federalist Party, in control of the national government, favored the sale of large parcels of land to wealthy speculators who bought the parcels in anticipation of their rising value, and then sold them in smaller pieces to farmers. To this end, the Federalists passed a law setting the minimum individual purchase at 640 acres and the minimum price at two dollars per acre, which was by far more onerous than land development in Texas in the next several decades.

[5] Along with Winfield Scott, John Wool, and William Harney.  As there was no mandatory retirement at this time, all four generals were over the age of 60-years, and three of these men had served in the War of 1812.

[6] Luckett was a graduate of the USMA and a physician who established roots in Texas after the Mexican-American War.  In Texas, he served as a physician with the Texas Rangers under Captain John Ford.  An ardent advocate of States’ Rights, he was elected as a delegate to the Texas State Secession Convention in late 1861 and when Texas voted to secede from the Union, Luckett was appointed to the commission of public safety, whose aim was to secure the transfer of federal military property to the Confederacy without engaging in hostile actions.  Luckett was later appointed as the Quartermaster General of the Confederate States’ Army in Texas, serving under Earl Van Dorn.

[7] Maverick was a signatory of the Texas Declaration of Independence in 1835, a land baron and cattle rancher.  His name is the source of the term “maverick,” which means “independently minded.” As a rancher, he steadfastly refused to brand his cattle or enclose his property.  Consequently, unbranded cattle found wandering the open range were called “mavericks.”

The Pork & Beans War

I’m always amused when historians label a particular incident “a war,” particularly when in spite of displays of hostility, not a single shot was fired in anger.  The Pork and Beans War [1] (also known as the Aroostook War) was more on the order of a diplomatic kerfuffle, an undeclared confrontation.  So —no war.  Sorry.

UK-US FlagsThe relationship between the United States and Great Britain between 1812 and 1850 was one of continual disagreement and some of these had significant consequences.  In 1838-39, the United States and Great Britain had one of several disagreements over the international boundary between British North America (Canada) and the US state of Maine.  The dispute was eventually resolved but going down that road both sides began ruffling their feathers and squawking about going to war.  The rattling of swords did little more than upset people who lived in the area of contention.

High tensions and heated rhetoric in Maine and New Brunswick led both sides to raise a militia, arm them, and march them to the disputed territories.  President Martin Van Buren quickly sent Brigadier General Winfield Scott and Daniel Webster to work out a compromise —which they did.  It was called the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842, establishing an agreed-to boundary between Canada and the United States.  Most of the disputed area went to Maine and the British were accorded a vital connection between the Canadian provinces.

The Treaty of Paris (1783) ended the Revolutionary War, but it failed to clarify the British Canadian/US border.  Thereafter, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts began issuing land grants in its (then) district of Maine —including areas that the British claimed were theirs. During the War of 1812, Great Britain occupied most of eastern Maine, including the counties of Washington, Hancock, and portions of Penobscot.  The British occupation lasted eight months.  While it was Britain’s intent to permanently annex the region to Canada when the war ended with the Treaty of Ghent in 1814, the initial understanding from the Treaty of Paris left intact.

Both the Americans and British made a collaborative effort to survey and mark the source of the St. Croix River, which was the primary geographical feature identified in the earlier treaty.  The eastern boundary of the United States ran north to the highland, where it met the northwest angle of Nova Scotia.  A marker was placed where the waters passed through the Chiputicook Lakes.

When Maine broke away from Massachusetts in 1820 as a separate state, the status and location of the border emerged as a chief concern to the new state government.  Massachusetts asserted a continual interest in the matter, as it retained half of the public lands in Maine, including a large part of the disputed territory as its sole property.

As late as September 1825, land agents in both Maine and Massachusetts were issuing deeds, timber permits, collected census data, recorded births, deaths, and marriages within the contested area of the St. John River valley and its tributaries.  Massachusetts Land Agent George Coffin, exercising his duty, recorded that a thunderstorm had ignited a forest fire.  The Miramichi Fire destroyed thousands of acres of prime New Brunswick timber, killed hundreds of settlers, left thousands more homeless, and destroyed several thriving communities. The journal entries of the newly appointed Governor of New Brunswick also recorded this destruction with comments indicating that the economic survival of New Brunswick depended on the vast forests in the disputed area.

A mixed population inhabited this region, mostly early Acadians (descendants of the original French colonists) that settled in Saint John and the Madawaska River basins. Some Americans later settled in the Aroostook River Valley.  Between 1826-1830, provincial timber interests also settled the west bank of the Saint John River and its tributaries; British families made their homes in Woodstock, Tobique, and Grand Falls, in New Brunswick.

The French-speaking population of Madawaska were nominally British subjects —who considered themselves otherwise.  They belonged to the unofficial “République du Madawaska.“  They professed no allegiance to the United States or to British Canada. The population of the area increased with migratory lumberjacks, which caused some anxiety in the governments of Maine and Massachusetts.  After all, in their view, the states were responsible for the protection of natural resources within their borders and were entitled to the revenues of their respective states.  Some itinerant lumbermen eventually settled year-round in the Saint John valley.  The remoteness of the land and the penchant the states had for taxing settlers caused them to ignore making land claims.  Various groups maneuvered for control over the forested areas caused disputes.

Then, on 4 July 1827, patriotic John Baker raised a homemade American flag above his homestead; he was arrested by British authorities and fined £25.  To ensure the flag wasn’t raised again a second time, the British held Baker in jail until he paid the fine.

In preparation for the US census of 1830, the Maine Legislature sent John Deane and Edward James to northern Maine (also regarded as northwestern New Brunswick) to document the numbers of inhabitants and to assess the extent of British trespass. Their point of view was hardly subjective, however.  Later in that summer, several residents of the west bank of the Saint John River at Madawaska filed requests for incorporation into Maine. Acting on the advice of Penobscot County officials, a meeting was called to select representatives preparatory to incorporating Madawaska township.  A local resident from the east bank of the Saint John river alerted local representatives of the New Brunswick militia, who entered the meeting hall and threatened to arrest any resident attempting to organize.  Reflecting the stubbornness of local culture, these citizens continued their meeting.  The militia called for reinforcements and New Brunswick authorities ended up arresting some residents while others fled into the nearby wood.  Local Americans notified Maine authorities of the incident, and they also sent letters to the United States Government in the city of Washington, which prompted the US Secretary of State to contact his British counterpart.

The Acadian majority was ambivalent about joining either the United States or British Canada but they identified more with French-speaking Quebec and supported its territorial claims in Madawaska.

In 1830, someone even went so far as to petition King William I of the Netherlands to arbitrate the border dispute.  King William thought the best solution was a compromise between the squabbling parties. He suggested a border very close to the eventual settlement.  Surprisingly, the British accepted King William’s solution.  Not surprisingly, the State of Maine rejected it, arguing that King William exceeded his authority.  More to the point, the king represented an unwarranted (and unwanted) foreign influence upon the prerogatives of the United States.  Beyond this, King William’s proposal would surrender territory to Britain that US citizens and residents of Maine and Massachusetts had already surveyed, sold, and settled.  Neither Maine nor Massachusetts was interested in surrendering a territory held by them since 1800.

President Andrew Jackson was inclined to accept King William’s proposal, if for no other reason than to avoid diverting attention away from his Indian removal policy, and particularly with regard to the emerging Republic of Texas.  Moreover, the United States Constitution forbade the federal government from altering state ownership of properties without the consent of the state government, which Maine and Massachusetts would not grant.

US Senator Peleg Sprague of Maine was outspoken in his opposition to Jackson’s Indian policy and of the president’s interference in the internal affairs of the government of Mexico.  Sprague led the US Senate to reject King William’s proposal.

Great Britain and the United States agreed to a provisional settlement in 1831-32 —the band-aid approach.  Both government’s agreed that the territory already in the exclusive jurisdiction and authority of the respective state and provincial authorities would remain as such and that neither would be permitted to extend jurisdictional authority over areas still in dispute.

As a consequence of President Jackson’s closing the Second Bank of the United States in 1837, Maine decided to issue a refund to all its residents who paid taxes.  The state also created a special census to determine the identity of eligible recipients.  Penobscot County’s Census Representative thus began work in the upper Aroostook River territory.  Word of an official from Maine offering money to settlers quickly reached New Brunswick authorities.  The newly appointed governor of New Brunswick, Sir John Harvey, ordered the arrest of the Census Representative.  Additionally, New Brunswick accused the Governor of Maine of bribery and threatened military action if Maine continued to exercise jurisdiction in the basins of the Aroostook river and its tributaries. Maine Governor Robert Dunlap issued a general alert announcing that a foreign power had invaded Maine.

According to the legislature of Maine, both American and New Brunswick lumbermen were cutting timber in the disputed territory during the winter of 1838-39.  On 24 January 1839, the Maine Legislature authorized the newly elected Governor John Fairfield to send the Maine State Land Agent, Rufus McIntire, the Penobscot County Sheriff, and a posse of volunteer militia to the upper Aroostook to pursue and arrest the squatters from New Brunswick.  The posse left Bangor, Maine, on 8 February 1839 and established an encampment at the junction of the Saint Croix River and the Aroostook River.  They confiscated New Brunswick lumbering equipment and arrested foreign lumbermen. After learning of these activities, a group of New Brunswick lumbermen broke into the Woodstock arsenal.  Now armed, they formed their own posse and arrested the Maine Land Agent and his assistants in the middle of the night. Both men were transported in chains to answer charges in Woodstock.

Describing these two officials as political prisoners, Sir John Harvey notified the US government in Washington that since he lacked the authority to act on the arrests both men would remain in custody until he received instructions from the British government.  Meanwhile, he intended to exercise his authority over the Aroostook.  He also demanded the removal of Maine officials from the contested region.  To back up his demand, he dispatched a militia to confront Maine officials and order them to depart Brunswick territory.

Maine officials refused to leave the area and to underscore this point, arrested the senior Brunswick militia commander.  On 15 February 1839, the Maine Legislature authorized Major General Isaac Hodsdon to lead 1,000 volunteers to augment the posse on the upper Aroostook River.  Sir John Harvey warned that the British government had ordered in regular army reinforcements from the West Indies.  Beyond this, the Mohawk nation offered their allegiance and services to Quebec.

The Governor of Maine ordered the conscription of citizens to augment the State Militia.  Infantry and dragoon companies mustered in Bangor and on 26 February 1839, began moving toward Fort Fairfield along the Upper Aroostook.

Back in Washington, Representative Francis Ormand Jonathan Smith briefed the House of Representatives on these events.  Smith emphasized that it was the federal government’s responsibility to protect and defend American territory and its citizens but declared that Maine would defend its territory alone if the government chose to not fulfill its obligations.  It was at this point that President Van Buren directed General Winfield Scott, who was then involved with Cherokee relocation, to attend the area of the border dispute.  He arrived in Boston in early March 1839.

In May 1839, the US Congress appropriated $10-million and authorized a military force of 50,000 men, placed at the disposal of the President in the event foreign military troops crossed into United States territory.  Maine committed an additional 10,000 militia —one of these was a young lieutenant by the name of James Henry Carleton.

During the War of 1812, Sir John Harvey had supervised (then) Lieutenant Colonel Winfield Scott during the time he spent as a prisoner of war.  President Van Buren and his advisers saw this relationship as one of mutual respect.  Pursuant to the terms of the truce for administration within the disputed area, and with the advice of General Scott, Maine recalled its militia, substituting instead a civil posse of armed men.  Deputy Land Agent William Parrott and Captain Stover Rines supervised the posse. Meanwhile, the US Army began construction of permanent structures at Fort Fairfield and Fort Kent.  Major R. M. Kirby commanded the military barracks at Hancock near Houlton, Maine; his forces included an artillery regiment.

Representing Canada were four companies of the British 11th Regiment from Quebec; they began to construct a barracks across the St. Johns River.  New Brunswick authorities provided regular and militia forces and stationed them at every tributary of the Saint John River that flowed from the Aroostook Territory.

In 1840, Maine created Aroostook County to administer the civilian authority of the area. However, reports of collusion resulted in the Maine Executive Council assigning Alphus Lyons to investigate County Sheriff Packard and County District Attorney Horace Tabor.  As Brunswick and Maine continued to squabble, American and British diplomats agreed to refer the dispute to a boundary commission.

Daniel Webster and Alexander Baring, 1st Baron Ashburton settled the boundary dispute in 1842.  Included in the agreement was not only a resolution to the Maine/Canada border issue but also the boundary between Canada and New Hampshire, Michigan and Minnesota.  The treaty awarded 7,015 square miles to the United States and 5,012 square miles to Great Britain.  The British retained the northern area of the disputed territory, including the Halifax Road with its year-round overland military communications between Quebec and Nova Scotia. The U.S. federal government agreed to pay the states of Maine and Massachusetts $150,000 each for the loss of the lands of their states while the United States reimbursed them for newly acquired territory in the Northwest Territories and for expenses incurred during the time Maine’s armed civil posse administered the truce period.

Webster used a map that Jared Sparks, an American citizen, discovered in the Paris Archives (and which Benjamin Franklin supposedly marked with a red line in Paris in 1782) to persuade Maine and Massachusetts to accept the agreement. The map showed that the disputed region belonged to the British and so helped convince the representatives of those states to accept the compromise, lest the truth should reach British ears and convince the British to refuse.

Later historians have varying points of view with regard to this map.  Some claim that the Americans hid their knowledge of the Franklin map.  Others say that Britain apparently used a map supposedly favorable to the United States claims but never revealed its reliance on this map.  Some even claim that Britain faked the Franklin map to pressure the American negotiators.  Available evidence today, however, suggests that the British map did place the entire disputed area on the American side of the border.

The only real losers to this dispute were native Indians in the region.  Moreover, the Aroostook War, though devoid of actual combat, did not lack casualties.  Private Hiram T. Smith from Maine died of unknown causes in 1828.  Additional Maine militiamen died from illness or injury while engaged on the Aroostook expedition and several more went out on patrol and were never seen again.

Endnotes:

[1] I would like to see what a Pork and Beans Campaign Medal looks like …