Happy Birthday, America

Your Marines have been with you every step of the way.

Marines—defined as soldiers, who serve at sea, are as old as naval warfare. When Themistocles mobilized Athenian sea power against invading Persians in 480 BCE, one of his first decrees was to order the enlistment of Marines for the fleet. He called these enlistees Epibatae; heavily armed sea soldiers. He assigned them to triremes at Salamis and they fought successfully against Xerxes and saved Athens. Much later, the Romans employed what Polybius described as Milites Classiarii (soldiers of the fleet), a category of legionnaire organized and specially armed for duty on Roman warships. One of the earliest of these was a young officer named Julius Caesar. However, it was not until much later that the British and Dutch almost simultaneously rediscovered a distinct role for Marines. They raised the first two modern corps of Marines in 1664 and 1665, respectively.

Revolution Marines 001Americans of the 17th and 18th centuries were notably a maritime people. The British colonies were close to the sea, but scattered along 1,000 miles of coastline. In the absence of good roads, communication took the form of ships at sea; ships that required protection from raiding adversaries. Maritime training took place in the northeastern colonies where men learned how to handle small vessels along the Newfoundland banks, in all seasons of the year, in all kinds of seas. This was how large numbers of colonists evolved into a maritime society. They learned the art and science of naval warfare while serving on British ships, who frequently warred with the European powers of the time. Americans were first employed as Marines by Admiral Edward Vernon who commanded the British fleet against the Spaniards in the War of the Austrian Succession.

There being no further use for Marines after the Peace of Utrecht in 1712, the British government disbanded all but four small companies. However, with the outbreak of hostilities with Spain in 1739, King George II once more ordered Marines to serve aboard ships of the line. Subsequently, the government authorized six regiments of Marines, each consisting of 1,100 officers and men. Soon after, however, the British crown authorized three additional regiments for duty in the colonies. The British Crown seized upon a notion put forward by Alexander Spotswood to recruit Marines for service in the colonies from the colonies. Men for war were somewhat scarce in England.

Gooches Marines 1740It was argued that no one was better suited for service as Marines than men in the colonies who, by 1739, had established a strong maritime tradition. An order went out to the ten colonial governors to raise 30 companies of 100 men each. Each company would consist of one captain, two lieutenants, one ensign, four sergeants, and four corporals. Colonel Spotswood would command these Marines in the colonies. Not all colonies responded to the demand for Marine companies, but eventually the companies combined into a single regiment. With Spotswood’s death, command of the regiment passed to the lieutenant governor of Virginia, Colonel William Gooch. Gooch’s Marines joined Admiral Vernon’s fleet in October 1740 and served as an attacking force at Cartagena, New Granada (Colombia). The general attack began on 9 March. In one month, English and American Marines were fighting side-by-side at Fort Lazar —but it was a poor effort. Forced back by overwhelming musket fire, the American Marines left stranded their English counterparts and the battle turned into a disaster for the English. No more than one in ten American Marine returned home after this war with Spain.

American Marines again served the British Fleet during the Seven Years’ War. It was thus that American colonists gained the necessary training and experience, which made them the best material for an efficient Marine force. There did remain significant limitations on the Americans, however: there was no tradition of naval leadership in the colonies at the outbreak of the American Revolution, the Americans faced an overwhelming force, and the colonies, individually and collectively, could ill-afford a strong military force. What the colonists did have, however, was patriotism toward the cause for liberty.

The Gentlemen delegates of the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia on the morning of 10 November 1775. They discussed the unhappy facts that confronted them. First, a course of action regarding a petition from the inhabitants of Passamaquoddy, Nova Scotia whose citizens asked for admittance to the association of North Americans, and for preservation of their rights and liberties.

Second, delegates knew that Colonel Benedict Arnold was somewhere near the St. Lawrence River and prevented from mounting an attack against the city of Quebec because of the horrible weather. Time was of the essence because British reinforcements were on the way to protect the city. Arnold had barely 350 men.

At the same moment, General Washington camped with 17,000 troops outside the city of Boston, short of everything needed to command an efficient field operation in what appeared to be an endless siege.

Revolutionary Marines 003The Committee of Five soon arrived to offer their recommendations respecting the petition from Nova Scotia. The committee, consisting of John Jay of New York, Silas Deane of Connecticut, Stephen Hopkins of Rhode Island, John Langdon of New Hampshire, and John Adams of Massachusetts, presented its proposal in simple, straightforward language: first, create two battalions of Marines from the forces then under the command of General Washington. The Marine force would require one colonel, two lieutenant colonels, two majors, with the remaining commissioned and non-commissioned structured to mirror the organization of an Army regiment. At the conclusion of their presentation, the Continental Congress resolved:

That two battalions of marines be raised, consisting of one colonel, two lieutenant colonels, two majors, and other officers as usual to other regiments, and that they consist of an equal number of privates with other battalions, that particular care be taken that no person be appointed to office or enlisted into said battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve to advantage by sea when required: that they be enlisted 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.

G Washington 1774Delegates passed another resolution later in the day: it left the fate of Nova Scotia in the hands of General Washington. President Hancock transmitted the adopted resolutions to Cambridge for Washington’s information and comment. Alas, General Washington was not at all pleased.

Published by


Retired Marine, historian, writer.

16 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, America”

  1. thank you for your service Mustang.:) Blessed Independence Day to you and yours my friend!!! red white and blue hugsssssssss!!! 🙂


    1. It was an honor to serve the American people. I am not at all sure that the Marine serving today shares this sentiment. The American today hates his country and sides with communists against it. Hard to believe, I know.


  2. Very interesting, Mustang! Julius Caesar – who knew?

    George Washington’s older brother Lawrence served under Admiral Vernon (“Old Grog” – so named for formalizing the English seaman’s rum ration). He was the captain of the marines on Vernon’s flagship at Cartagena and apparently admired the admiral, for he named his estate after the seaman, Mount Vernon.


  3. @Mustang: “I am not at all sure that the Marine serving today shares this sentiment.”
    Could you elaborate? This is disturbing.


    1. This may be entirely my own analysis —not shared by anyone else, but I will nevertheless endeavor to give this notion some context. Our World War II veterans came home with the deep gratitude of the people back home —people that shared in the sacrifice of a great struggle. All of America went to war. The next war occurred too soon, prompted in large measure by the utter stupidity of Truman/Acheson. We had insufficient time to lick our wounds and sort out just what it was that had just happened. Few Americans turned out to welcome home our bloodied troops after MacArthur’s Romanesque triumph. In the 1980s, we began to call Korea our “Forgotten War.” No one who fought in Korea ever forgot it; many of these were also World War II veterans. The juxtaposition of one man, a veteran of two wars, hailed as a hero in one, completely ignored after the other, may be explained by examining the evolution of progressive politics.

      In the next iteration, these progressives took America to war and then adopted policies guaranteed to ensure we could not achieve victory —even after we had won all the battles; even after giving up 58,000 dead. Once more, American warriors returned home bloodied and no one cared. These were the heady years of John Kerry lying before Congress, when Ted Kennedy scheduled treasonous meetings with the enemy, and Jane Fonda earned how she will always be remembered: collaborator.

      I am unable to speak on behalf of the men and women who served in the other services, but I do have a good sense of how Marines react to an ungrateful society and an incompetent government. It is that the Marine Corps is a brotherhood that includes all Marines, past, present, future, male, female, white, black, brown, tall or short. Semper Fi, Mac. No matter what happens, we have that.

      For me personally, I have always thought of the American people as the glue that keeps our nation together. They are people who our warriors have always fought for, suffered grievous injury for, and died for … so that they may remain free. I was proud to serve our people in the preservation of our US Constitution, and I did so not once expecting anyone to say “thank you.” In my generation, Americans never looked upon their service men with appreciation, or pride. Exhibit A is this: if the American people really cared about their soldiers, they would do a better job electing the people who send them into harm’s way.

      More recently, our president sent our troops into harm’s way, and as our young men and women began dying, he looked into the camera and told the American people to go shopping. The folks back home have been at the mall ever since. While at the mall, they began to argue that no one went to war for them. They never asked anyone to go to war, and they do not support what we did in that war. We hear such statements with increasing frequency these days. And of course, the government began accusing our troops of war crimes that they did not commit. The government put these Marines and soldiers in jail for serving their country. Some were in pre-trial confinement for three years before being pronounced “not guilty.” Grateful nation, indeed.

      Our young warriors see what is going on in America today. They see Obama is destroying the nation they went into harm’s way to defend, and they know who elected him —twice. They see the sticker proclaiming, “I support our troops,” and cannot remember a single time receiving a thank you card addressed to “Any soldier in Afghanistan.” Our warriors today see how easy it is for a politician to expend lives in Benghazi. They see a former POW in the Senate who is willing to provide arms and munitions to the same people who, in a few years, will use those weapons against younger American service men and women. They hear progressives denouncing them, they see how Americans live inside their Androids, and they see how Americans prefer the antics of Miley Cyrus to the patriotism of Chris Kyle. How do our service men and women derive honor from a society like that? Well, among Marines —past and present, if they’ve kept the faith, they have each other … and that’s it.


  4. Mustang,
    if the American people really cared about their soldiers, they would do a better job electing the people who send them into harm’s way.

    I think that a lot of Americans do care, but somehow they don’t make the connection between for whom they vote and the impact upon American soldiers.

    Just my two cents.


    1. Yes, I think that is true … and yet, at what point must we hold voter’s responsible for their horrible decisions on Election Day. I mean, we only ask them to vote once every two years. Is even that too hard for the average American?


  5. No, Colonel, your assessment and iteration is dead-solid in the X ring, as far as I’m concerned. But, who listens to a PFC in charge of burning the heads? As Gunny used to say, “Viet Nam ain’t a good war, but it’s the only one we got.” I learned a whole lot from Gunny… but, he was always on my case about how I burned those damn heads.
    Semper Fidelis!


  6. Thank you for that careful analysis. Very thoughtful.

    You also make me glad I stopped to put a thank you note on a truck with Marine stickers. Whether a family member or the soldier himself, it was in the parking structure of a high-brow class A office building on the ‘west side’ of LA where one might conclude you’re less welcome as a service member. I wanted them to know that some of us are grateful for the men that stand in the gap between us and foreign trouble. For we truly are. Including you and many of your respondents here.


Comments are closed.