The Marine Corps Brevet Medal, also known as the Brevet Medal, was a military decoration of the US Marine Corps, created in 1921. Its purpose was to to recognize living Marine Corps officers who had received a brevet rank during their term of active duty service. It’s significance in history is that it was only issued/presented to twenty-three officers from its date of issuance to the date it ceased to exist as a recognition of intrepidity in combat.
The Articles of War adopted in 1776 (revised, 1806) created the use of brevet rank as a reward for especially meritorious service or conduct in time of war. A brevet promotion entitled an officer to be recognized at the higher grade, but with limited effect. The promoted officer was not entitled to higher pay, nor did it allow him to be considered for a higher command unless the promotion was ordered by the President of the United States, did not affect the officer’s overall seniority in the service or his permanent rank. In 1818, brevet commissions also required senate confirmation in the same manner as regular officer promotions.
Brevet promotions were first used by the US Army during the Revolutionary War. The justification for such promotions was that the Continental Congress could not find suitable positions for foreign officers seeking commissions. Most of these at the time were from France. In the 19thCentury, brevet promotions were common in the US Army because of the increasing numbers of frontier forts and the demand for higher ranking officers to command these establishments. Because each service had an assigned ceiling on the number of officer’s commissions by rank, brevet promotions were always intended as temporary advancements—lasting until either an authorized position became available, or the officer was reassigned from a position that required a higher rank.
During the Civil War, almost all senior Army officers received brevet promotions. In most cases, the brevet came in recognition for gallantry or meritorious service. In 1863, Congress authorized brevet promotions to officers of the United States Volunteers , which resulted in more frequent use of brevet ranks throughout the US Army. The Confederate States Army, while providing for the use of brevet ranks did not actually use them at all during the war between the states. The U. S. Marine Corps also used brevet promotions during the Civil War; it’s Brevet Medal was issued to living officers who had received brevet promotions between 1861 and 1915.
In 1921, then Commandant of the Marine Corps Major General John A. Lejeune requested that a Marine Corps Brevet Medal be authorized; after it was approved and created, the decoration was given to the last 20 living Marine Corps officers who received brevet promotions. Three officers who were designated to receive this medal passed away before they could be presented.
The Marine Corps Brevet Medal was considered to be more or less equivalent to the Navy Cross medal, which today is the second highest recognition for bravery in combat for members of the US Navy and Marine Corps. The medal was designed by Sergeant Joseph A. Burnett, USMC.
Why was the Brevet Medal phased out? There were two reasons. First, in 1870 Congress passed a law stating that no officer could wear, nor be addressed by their brevet rank. Thus, brevet promotions became an honorary designation only. Because of this new law, the last nine brevet promotions awarded by the Marine Corps occurred during the Boxer Rebellion. On 7 June 1921, Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby approved the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ request for a medal denoting the holder of a brevet promotion to be issued. Accordingly, Marine Corps Order #26 was issued on 27 June 1921, authorizing the medal to be ordered and by November 10, 1921 the medals had been created. This decoration was justified on the grounds that, until 1915, Marine Corps officers were not eligible to receive the Medal of Honor. Second, Congress changed the rules for awarding the Medal of Honor, allowing both officers and enlisted men to receive it.
In 1940 the Marine Corps declared the Brevet Medal obsolete and the medal was never again issued. The concept of brevet commissions was phased out of the US Armed Forces and was replaced by temporary and field promotions, which were actually awarded more frequently than brevet ranks.
Of the twenty-three officers designated to receive the Brevet Medal, several of these are already known to my regular readers. A few are not well known, so let me briefly tell you about them.
Colonel Philip Michael Bannon, from Jessup, Maryland, graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1895. He accepted a Marine Corps commission to Second Lieutenant on 1 July 1897. During the Battle of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Bannon distinguished himself in combat, receiving brevet promotion to First Lieutenant on 13 June 1898. This promotion qualified him for the award of the Brevet Medal. Later participating in the Boxer Rebellion, then Captain Bannon led a company of Marines that marched to Tientsin to join the International Relief Force. During this engagement, Bannon was cited for gallantry, meritorious, and courageous conduct on 13 July 1900. He retired from the U. S. Marine Corps in 1928 and passed away on 25 June 1940.
Colonel Carl Gamborg-Andresen was Norwegian-born, immigrating to the United States, and, gaining a commission in the U. S. Marine Corps, participated in the Boxer Rebellion. Cited for distinguished conduct and public service in the presence of the enemy during the Boxer Rebellion, he was brevetted to Captain on 13 July 1900.
Colonel Allan Cunningham Kelton was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 24 June 1846. He was cited for distinguished conduct and public service in the presence of the enemy at Guantanamo, Cuba and brevetted to Major on 11 June 1898. Kelton retired from the U. S. Marine Corps in 1909 and passed away on 22 November 1928.
Two Marine Corps officers selected to receive the Brevet Medal were subsequently appointed to serve as Commandants of the Marine Corps: William Phillips Biddle, and Wendell Cushing Neville.
 United States Volunteers were separate from the regular Army; such designation was the federal government’s primary means of raising large forces of citizen-soldiers that were needed in time of war to augment a small regular army. It was the forerunner of the National Army during World War I and the Army of the United States in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam conflicts.